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The Struggle with Sin

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 6:15–22

We are all slaves to the one we serve. As Christians we are slaves to God. This means we obey Him and lead lives characterized by righteousness.


I have an announcement to make as we set sail again in our study of Romans 6. You are a slave. That’s right. No matter what your nationality, ethnicity, creed, citizenship, or heritage, you are a slave right now.

If that is not startling enough, the Bible does not condemn one kind of slavery; in fact, it actually commands it! In verses 15-22, you can circle eight different times the apostle Paul refers to slaves or enslavement.

Now the idea of slavery was familiar to everyone in first-century Rome. Historians tell us the population of Rome was comprised of at least one-third slaves. So vast was the slave population that the suggestion that slaves be made to wear a distinctive style of clothing was abandoned because it would reveal their numerical strength. Many were slaves from birth; abandoned babies were often taken and raised as slaves; and selling yourself into slavery in order to pay off debts was very common[1]—a form of what we call today indentured servanthood.

Probably as many as one-half of the Roman church either were or had been slaves at some point in their lives. One thing is for sure, everyone who read Paul’s letter knew immediately what Paul meant when he said we are slaves (doulos) either to sin or to righteousness.

Let’s start at verse 15: “Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” Paul already answered this question back in verse 1. Grace does not give us a free pass to sin. His point there was that believers do not want to live in sin because of who they are. Now here in verse 15, Paul is saying, “You do not want to live in sin because of what you will become.”

This is the point he emphasizes in verse 16, as he writes:,“You are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness.” In other words, you are either mastered by sin or mastered by God.

With that Paul encourages his readers in verses 17-18:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

What is this “standard of teaching” he is talking about here? The Greek word translated “standard” is tupon. In classical Greek, the word was used of molds into which molten metal for castings was poured. So, Paul is saying that we are taking on a new shape because we are being formed by the teaching we have received and are now committed to obeying. J. B. Phillips translates Romans 12:2 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.”[2]

And what a great thought that is! We are being molded into a new shape, a new way of thinking, a new way of feeling, a new way of living! And what are we being molded into? Slaves of righteousness—right living—who have been set free from slavery to sin.

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

I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. (verse 19)

Jesus Christ bought you out of the slave market of sin. You now belong to Him—you are His slave. Someone might say, “What is the advantage of being the slave to God rather than the slave to sin? You are still a slave; so, you are still not free.”

Let me respond to that question with another question: How do you define freedom? Freedom is not democracy, because people are still bound in their personal sinful lives; freedom is not license to do whatever you want, because living for yourself means that you have become a slave to your own desires.

The Bible defines true freedom as slavery to the right master—we have been set free from the bondage to sin, not to do anything we want, but to do what God wants, because we now belong to Him.

That might raise another question in your mind. Maybe you are thinking, If I am freed from enslavement to sin, then why do I still struggle with sin? That is a great question. Let me give you four reasons why. And I need to warn you, these are transparent and convicting, but they are true reasons why we struggle with sin.

First, we struggle with sin because we like it! Sin is appetizing. If we did not like sin, we would not be tempted to commit it. Let me tell you, I have never been tempted to eat spinach, and that is because I don’t like it. Just because it grows on land does not mean it is not seaweed. You can’t fool me.

Second, we struggle with sin because we think we can get away with it. Every time we lie, our noses do not grow longer, like Pinocchio’s, do they? Come to think of it, it would be a great deterrent to lying if they did.

Third, we struggle with sin because we tend to redefine it; we tell ourselves it is something that is acceptable so we can do it and still feel good about ourselves.

Some time ago I had a man in my office who had done something inappropriate. I called him in to challenge him. He admitted it was not the wisest thing he had ever done, and he agreed that he needed to apologize for it. But when I told him it was a sin and he needed to ask God for forgiveness, he wrinkled up his nose and said, “That wasn’t a sin! Why would you call it a sin?”

Well, because it was.

We struggle with sin because we rename it. We think we can manage it rather than admit it.

Fourth, we struggle with sin because we ignore how offensive it is to God.

Joseph’s response to the temptation of Potiphar’s wife provides a wonderful example of avoiding sin. He most certainly was tempted, and Potiphar would have been clueless. Yet Joseph refused, and he stated his reason quite clearly: “How … can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9).

This is the motive Paul wants us to remember. God redeemed us and rescued us from slavery to sin. How, then, can we turn around and serve our old master and offend the heart of God and grieve the Holy Spirit?

Satan does not want us to think that way. That “angel of light” wants to deceive us into thinking sin is a great idea. And today, beloved, the world calls sin freedom. The Bible calls slavery to Christ freedom!

Paul put it this way:

But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. (verses 21-22)

Ray Stedman, a pastor for many years, told of walking down a street in Los Angeles one day and seeing a man coming toward him with a sign hung over his shoulders. The sign on the front read, “I am a slave for Christ.” After the man passed him, Stedman turned around to see that the sign on his back read, “Whose slave are you?”[3]

That is a great question today. You are somebody’s slave! The only question that remains is, Whose slave are you?

[1] See R. Kent Hughes, Romans: Righteousness from Heaven (Crossway, 1991), 131; S. S. Bartchy, “Slavery,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, fully revised, Vol. 4, ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Eerdmans, 1988), 539-46.

[2] David Jeremiah, Romans, Volume Two (Walk Through the Bible Publishers, 1999), 90.

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