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(Romans 6:15-19) Whose Slave are You?

(Romans 6:15-19) Whose Slave are You?

Ref: Romans 6:15–19

Freedom. What does that word mean to you? For some it means the ability to work where you want to work and marry whom you want to marry and vote for whomever you want to vote. For others it means not having to answer to anyone. But while freedom means different things to different people, there's one thing it can never mean: the absence of authority. In this message Stephen reveals to us that we all serve some master. The question is . . . whose slave are you?


“Whose Slave Are You?”

Romans 6:15-19


I have an announcement to make as we re-engage in our study of Romans chapter 6.

It’s an announcement that will probably startle you, so fasten your seatbelt.

You happen to be a slave.

That’s right – no matter what your nationality, your color, your creed, your citizenship, your heritage . . . you happen to be a slave, right now.

In fact, all your friends are slaves too.

Your Mom and Dad are slaves.

Your sons and daughters are slaves.

Your neighbors are slaves.

Your banker, your schoolteacher, your husband, your wife – they are all slaves.

If that isn’t startling enough, you’re about to discover that the Bible doesn’t condemn this kind of slavery . . . in once sense it will actually command it!

Before we go any further, we’d better look at how Paul delivers this surprising truth.

Notice Romans 6:17 “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

In this paragraph, from verses 15 through 23, over and over again, you will find the word “slave.”  In fact you could circle the 8 different times the Apostle Paul refers to the enslavement of human beings.


Now, you need to understand that when Paul used the word doulos – or slave, he got everybody’s attention in the Roman church as well.

And that’s because all of them had been, or currently were connected in some way to slavery.

[Historians tell us that the population of Rome in the first century was comprised of at least one-third slaves.  So vast was the salve population that the suggestion that slaves be made to wear a distinctive style of clothing was abandoned because it would reveal their numerical strength. 

There were a number of ways that a person could become a slave.  The primary one was simply birth to parents who were slaves.

Another equally significant practice was selling yourself into slavery in order to attach yourself to prosperous families.

During the time of Paul, slaves were often given great responsibility. 

The cruel and heartless custom of “exposure” brought thousands of babies into slavery.  Exposure was the term for the legal right of the Roman father – if he did not want his newborn child, he could command that it be put to death or simply left on the doorstep or taken to a public square and left there.  From there the babies would be taken, often by slave traders, to be raised as slaves to be hired out; many of the female babies would be taken into brothels where they were raised for prostitution.

Children were also sold into slavery in order to financially aid their parents own desire to purchase their freedom and Roman citizenship.

Many in Paul’s day were once slaves but had earned their citizenship and freedom.]

Above statements on slavery quoted and adapted from:

R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL) 1991, p. 131

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Eerdmans Publishing Company), 1991, p. 543

That’s one of the reasons that Paul, on several occasions, announced that he was a Roman citizen by birth.  He had not earned or purchased his freedom and citizenship.  That was such an unusual status and it commanded great respect. 

One commentator suggested, I believe correctly, that as many as one-half of the Roman church either were or had been enslaved at some point in their lives.

One thing is for sure, everybody who read Paul’s letter knew immediately what Paul meant when he said we are the doulos to sin or the doulos to righteousness.

Verse 16 – you are slaves of the one whom you obey

Verse 19b – slaves to impurity and to lawlessness . . . slaves to righteousness

Verse 20 – slaves of sin . . . verse 22 – enslaved to God!

You are somebody’s slave –and what is the primary characteristic of slavery?  Obedience. 

You are either a slave, obeying sin, your master or you are a slave, obeying God, your Lord.

People will protest, I’m not a slave to anybody!  Certainly not sin!

John Calvin said over 400 years ago, “The greater the sinner, the more fiercely will they argue they are free.”

R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL) 1991, p. 131

Now, let’s start at the beginning of the paragraph, at verse 15.  What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  May it never be!

By the way, that should sound familiar, right?  Paul asked the same question as he began this chapter.

It’s a little different perspective however.

The first time Paul asked it, he was asking from the vantage point of a believer who was under grace – therefore, could that believer, now under grace, live in sin?

Now, in verse 15, Paul is asking from the vantage point of a believer who is not only under grace, but not under law – therefore, could that believer, no longer under law, live in sin?

The answer remains the same – me genoito

“God forbid!” 

“May it never be!” 

“A thousand times no!”

            “Not on your life!”

Now, in the first part of chapter 6, Paul answered, “God forbid, you don’t want to live in sin because of who you are.”

Now he will answer, “God forbid, you don’t want to live in sin because of what you will become.”

And he begins to develop his response by including a very encouraging reminder in verse 17.  But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching in to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

Paul begins by praising God for a change of Heart!

You became obedient from the heart. 

Not because the law said do this or don’t do that.

My wife cooks a certain way for me and she cooks certain things for me and our children, not because I have laws tacked up on the wall of the kitchen. 

I go to that restaurant, that cook in the back doesn’t know me and certainly doesn’t love me – so I give the waitress my – what – my order!

I want my eggs cooked a certain way and I want a cinnamon roll with extra icing . . . that cook’s heart has nothing to do with it.

Paul says, we obey God, not because of the law, but out of a heart of love.

Your heart has been changed!  From the inside out, you have now become obedient to the God whom you once ran from.

Notice this phrase – in the latter part of verse 17, “obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed.”

What’s he talking about here?

What’s this form of teaching?

The Greek word translated “form” is the word tupon.  It gives us our English word type.  It is translated, example, manner or fashion.  In classical Greek, the word was used for the impression of a seal, the mark of a branding iron, a footprint, or even marks left by teeth. It was the word that was used of molds into which molten metal for castings was poured.  It would be like our Jello molds today.  It becomes a graphic picture of the believer.  We have been delivered into a mold of true doctrine. 

The believer is actually taking on a new shape because we are being formed by the doctrine we have received and are now committed to obeying.  J. B. Phillips translates Romans 12:1 with this same thought, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remold your minds from within.

Adapted from, David Jeremiah, Romans, Volume Two (Walk Through The Bible, 1999); p. 90.

What a great thought!  We are being molded into a new shape – an new way of thinking – a new way of feeling – a new way of living!

Praise God for a change of heart!

Paul not only encourages his readers to praise God for a change of heart, but he commands them to Practice a change of habit

Paul now changes the focus from our position to our practice.

A change of heart relates to our profession,

while a change of habit, relates to our pattern of life.


Notice how Paul describes the change in habit and lifestyle:

19  I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification. 

Redemption, comes from a Greek word which is one of those precious words, B. B. Warfield once wrote, and it literally means, “to buy out of slavery to sin.”

In other words, Jesus Christ bought you out of the slave market of sin.

You now belong to Him. . .you are His slave.

Someone might say, “Well, what benefit is that?  What’s the advantage of being the slave to God rather than the slave to sin?  You’re still a slave . . . you’re still not free.”

I’m so glad you said that because I’ve been wanting to say something.

How would you define freedom?

It is not autonomy, because no one is truly independent; in fact, in many ways, we are dependent on one another.

It is not a license to do absolutely anything you want, because no one can do anything they want.

I’ve heard it said that I have the freedom to swing my arm, but as soon as my hand touches your face, my freedom has gone to far.  In other words, my liberty ends where your nose begins.

So no one has the freedom to do anything.

Would it surprise you to learn that the Bible defines true freedom as slavery to the right master.

Jesus Christ was speaking one day to the religious leaders of his day.  He said to them, You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

That really offended them and they responded with anger, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.  How can you say that we shall be set free?”  (v. 33)

This response was so ridiculous.

  • They had been slaves in Egypt for 100’s of years;
  • They had been slaves during the period of the judges on at least 7 different occasions;
  • They were slaves for 70 years under the Babylonians
  • At that very time when Jesus was speaking to them, they carried coins in their pockets with Caesar’s impression all over it; and Roman soldiers dominated their lives.

The Lord didn’t even stop to remind them of their obvious loss of historical truth; He just went on to say, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin . . . so if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (vv. 34, 36).

Adapted from James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Volume One (Baker Book House), 1991, p.  694

You know what freedom is? 

Freedom is a clear conscious.

Freedom is redemption.

Freedom is belonging to a new Master and Lord who bought us out of the slave market of sin; freedom is being the slave to God who says, “I will obey you, I will follow you, I will serve you, I will do whatever you ask!”

That’s freedom.

Well, you ask, dear Christian friend, if I am indeed freed from bondage to sin, then why do I still struggle with sin?

Let me add a few practical comments here before we close:

Why do we still struggle with sin? (4 reasons)

1)  Because we like it;

That’s why were tempted to sin.  If we didn’t like sin we wouldn’t be tempted to commit it.

Temptation is tempting because its tempting.

If something isn’t tempting, then it isn’t temptation (I know it’s early for such profound truth!)

I have never been tempted to eat spinach.  Just because it grows on land does not mean it isn’t seaweed.  You can’t fool me.

When I was young I was forced to eat it – now, after years of counseling, the nightmares have finally stopped.

I’ve never been tempted to eat liver and onions at the cafeteria; the very sight and smell of it repels every fiber of my being.

I have never been tempted to perform 25 sit-ups.  I am under the impression that if I wait long enough, the urge will go away.

We are tempted to gossip . . . because as Solomon said, “Gossip is sweet morsels to our mouths.”

We are tempted to pride because we like ourselves better than anybody else;

We are tempted to selfishness because we enjoy meeting our own needs.

We struggle with sin, because we prefer it.

2)  We struggle with sin because we seem to get away with it.

Every time we lie, our noses do not grow longer. 

Wouldn’t it be a great deterrent if they did? 

Wouldn’t it be great if God had designed a LCD display on our forehead that spelled it whatever sin we were committing?

Go to a car dealership and the salesmen comes up and says, “I’ve got a great deal for you.”  And the panel on his forehead starts blinking, “Liar, liar, liar.”

We could come to church – and read everybody’s forehead –  when we shake hands we would know who to avoid.

It would make my job so much easier . . . I could just go up to people and say, “Are you going to confess or what.”

We forget that God sees and that’s enough!!

3) We struggle with sin because we redefine it;

We categorize it so that we can do it and still feel self-righteous.

We have the category of consequential sin – these are the sins that hurt somebody, and ourselves; these are the dirty dozen; the big bad three.

Then we have the category of inconsequential sin – these are sins that don’t seem to have any detectable negative effects; gossip, lying, hypocrisy or lust or greed or pride.

We call that stuff by other names; is isn’t sin, it’s just an unfortunate decision.  I made a miscalculation.

We call it the way we see it!

A sports magazine ran an article about an incident that happened 3 years ago in Cuba.  The 74-year-old dictator grabbed an aluminum bat and walked to the plate in an exhibition game against Venezuela.  When Castro approached the batter’s box, the president of Venezuela walked to the mound.  His first pitch didn’t even reach the plate and Castro kept his bat on his shoulder.  Then next pitch was a strike, but Castro swung and missed.  A couple more balls and an attempted bunt later, the count was full.  Castro watched the 3-2 pitch sail through the middle of the strike zone and listened as the umpire called “strike ball – you’re out!”  Did that umpire forget where he lived?  Castro bellowed, “No, that was a ball.”  And he walked to first base.  And everybody just smiled.

Citation: Yahoo Sports! (10-29-00); 2003 Preaching & Christianity Today International

When we disobey Christ, we become the dictator of our own lives – we define what is right and wrong . . . we call the strikes and the balls . . . we make up the rules . . . and we are pulled back into the habit of sin.

We struggle with sin because we ignore it’s offensiveness to the glory of God;

The life of Joseph and the temptation of Potiphar’s wife provides a wonderful example of avoiding sin;

Several observations that would make you think Joseph will definitely choose to sin with Potiphar’s wife;

  • For starters, he was not much older than 17 when Potiphar’s wife took an illicit interest in him
  • Secondly, she propositioned him every day
  • Third, Joseph’s temptation was unavoidably tied to his employment.

Perhaps you can identify – your greatest source of temptation is directly related to what you do for a living.  Your job puts you in harms way every day! 

  • Potiphar’s wife made sure detection was not a problem – in other words, no one would know but them
  • Joseph was a slave with absolutely no rights.
  • Furthermore, it was his master’s wife who was commanding him to sin
  • Add to this the fact that he had already been abandoned by his brothers; betrayed by his own family; forced to endure life as a slave when he had been the favored, pampered son of his father; transplanted to a foreign land and a foreign culture.

In other words, if anybody should sin, it would be Joseph. If anybody could sin, it would be Joseph.  If anybody had the reasons to walk away from his faith in God and the standard of God’s holiness that he had been taught, it was Joseph.

If anybody had the right to be bitter and resentful for what God had allowed, and excuse his sin against the character and desire of God, it was Joseph.

And yet he refused, and his reason was this (Genesis 39:9) “How can I do this evil thing and sin against God.”

In other words, Joseph understood that sin was a violation of the holy glory and character of God, to whom Joseph was ultimately responsible, and whose glory Joseph was diligent to reflect.

This is the motive that Paul wants us to remember.  How can you sin against God – He was the one who redeemed you and rescued you from slavery to sin . . . how can you do anything but obey and honor his glory?

In fact, if you have no desire at all to reflect His glory, you have not been redeemed!

But the truth remains, those who’ve been redeemed still struggle with sin:

  • Because we like it;
  • Because we seem to get away with it.
  • Because we redefine it;
  • We struggle with sin because we ignore it’s offensiveness to the glory of God;

I am convinced the closer you walk with Christ, the more aware of your sin you will become.

Which means, a growing Christian is a confessing Christian.

Look at the last part of verse 19b.  So now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.

Sanctification or holiness is that daily presentation of the slave to his master.

You might be sitting near someone who is a slave to their career.  They have one abiding, overarching allegiance in life and it is their career path.

Someone around you might be a slave to their emotions; they are daily following whatever seems best to them and whichever way they feel is good.

Someone around you might be a slave to their lust and passion.  Their sinful habits dominate their existence . . . all they can think about is the gratification of their desires, everything revolves around it and is determined by it – yet they are never gratified.

Someone near you might be enslaved to possessions.  All their waking thoughts are given over to taking care of what they have or dreaming about how they can acquire more.

One church leader, responding to the materialism of the average believer, wrote;  “Their possessions hold them in chains; they think of themselves as owners, whereas it is they who are owned; enslaved as they are to their property, they are not the master of their money, but its slaves.” 

This church leader, by the way, was Cyprian, and he wrote those words in the 3rd century.

The world calls sin, freedom . . . God calls sin slavery, and he calls slavery to Christ, freedom!

Paul put it this way in Romans 6:21. Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death.  22.  But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.

If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed!

Ray Stedman, pastor of the Peninsula Bible Church for many years, told of walking down the street in Los Angeles one day and seeing a man coming toward him with a sign hung over his shoulders.  The sign read, “I am a slave for Christ.”  After the man had passed him, Stedman turned around to look after this rather eccentric individual and saw that on his back there was another sign that read: “Whose slave are you?”

James Montgomery Boice, Romans: Volume One (Baker Book House), 1991, p.  689

That’s a great question . . . my friend, you are somebody’s slave!  The only question that remains is, just whose slave are you?

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