Using the death illustration (see Part 1), Paul taught that we can choose to allow God to transform our allegiance to following our desires and let Him work in us to engage a new life. Here, we’ll take apart what Paul wrote, because it has some “religious” terms that can lead us in the wrong way if we don’t carefully understand them.
First, Paul made clear in verse two that sin’s hold on us is changed because we have died as believers.
I feel alive, how about you? Who has died? Clearly what he said was that our surrender to Jesus Christ was like a “death” to self-direction, or at least that is what it was supposed to be. Let me illustrate: If I were to join military service this week, I would cease my ability to serve this congregation. I would cease making most all decisions in my life, and my days and nights would be surrendered to the military authorities to whom I gave charge of my life. I wouldn’t decide when I woke up in the morning, nor when I went to bed. My clothing, hairstyle and daily schedule would be entirely surrendered to their charge. I would eat what they told me to eat, when they told me to eat it. I would, in effect, “die” to self-choices. Paul made it clear that my commitment to Jesus was intended to be very much like that.
So that we don’t pass by it too quickly, let’s make sure we understand that God never designed the Christian life to be about our comfort or our fulfillment in this life—but rather we view our earth time as the beginning of a transforming process that continues at our death, and eventually fulfills us. Here I serve Christ, in death He offers me peace and fulfillment in His presence. The Christian life simply wasn’t designed for me to choose things that satiate my desires but dishonor my Savior. That isn’t Christian—it is selfish, soulish and disobedient. I am to make choices in life that honor the Savior—every time.
As we continue looking at verses three through five,
notice that Paul used the language of “baptism” to show a demarcation between my old life and my new one.
This is tricky, because he used a term that is “religious” and significant to the Christian faith—but it is a word that has a symbolic (metaphoric) meaning, and a literal one. As a metaphor, it was a common idiom for “identification” at that time. When people were identified with a cause or message, they could be said to be “baptized” into it. In the literal sense, it meant that you were dripping wet because of a ritual. Did Paul mean that when I was “baptized” I began following Christ? I don’t think so, but there are some scholars believe that. Yet, it is still true that when I publicly identified as a believer (whether with water or not), I declared myself under a new authority. Instead of getting caught up in the mechanism, step back for a moment and see the whole picture. Paul argued that when I was publicly identified as belonging to Jesus, my self-choices ended, and Jesus began making my choices. Our life became NEW because the One making our choices was changed. Let me lean in for a moment…. If someone were to look at your choices this week, and had the ability to see the motivation behind your choices—would they see that Jesus’ honor was the prevailing factor?
Self-willed Christians must grasp the Word and recognize they are doing something that is unnatural and unsanctioned by God. He didn’t save us so that we could keep living according to our own wisdom, chasing after our own desires. Our choices became His choices—but verse five declares they are not a heavy, dead, negative sentence, but a life-producing and exciting new life! In verse six Paul made it clear that when we served self—we served sin. We couldn’t help it. Our fallen desires led us about like a master that pulled us with a chain leash.
Finally, in the balance of verse six and seven the truth was made plain. Our commitment to Jesus broke the leash of sin’s mastery. I am no longer required to be responsive to my desires because I died to self-choice. I don’t live, as a Christian, caught up in my insatiable hungers and felt needs—I am led by the Risen Christ.
Paul continued to try to pull the truth of my freedom closer to my life and understanding—by moving from theory to practice. Why do so many people keep living as slaves to their old selfish ways? Drop a few verses down to verse eleven:
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. (Rom. 6:11)
Paul’s argument was that some believers don’t seem to understand that our allegiance to self and sin must be broken by our choice to do so. Just as Jesus was raised to a new life—so we have been given a new life. The problem is that we must recognize that the chains of sin were cut, and make daily choices based on the leading of our new Master of choices, Jesus.
What does that mean in practical terms? Verses twelve and thirteen are very direct. Paul wrote: “Don’t let your old sinful past, or your kindling of fallen desires push you around and tell you how to live now. Don’t let any part of your life be drawn back into wickedness—things God has declared unhealthy and unsuitable for believers.
The Illustration of Slavery
A few verses down, Paul offered the law in terms of an illustration that Roman citizens could really understand—that of slavery. Nearly half of the Roman empire consisted of slaves. They could be seen on virtually every city street, scurrying about in service to their masters. They were routinely bought and sold, and by the time of Paul (thankfully) they were no longer forced to be summarily executed on the death of their masters. Paul made clear that when entered the slave service to their own desires, they make a choice to follow the path to a life separated from God. He wrote:
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Rom. 6:16-18)
The simple fact is this: we were servants of sin and self-desires, but are now servants of the Savior and His desires. Since Paul has argued that sin cannot force a believer into servitude, he now clarifies the fact that it is our choice to continue to serve our own lusts. Don’t try to victimize yourself—sin is your choice. He continued:
I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness…. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:19)
Paul helps us understand something important: We choose the daily path we take. We aren’t forced to “look out for ‘number one’ ”—we do it because we are used to doing it from our former life, or we are simply not being diligent to choose in a way that honors Jesus as we should.
Here is the point: Every day we make choices about what is truly important to us.
When we choose simply on the basis of what we want, we go to work when it suits us to do so. When we love our family and want to provide for them, we choose to go to work even when we aren’t feeling well. When we love our infant child more than ourselves, we wake up and feed them in the still of the night, because they are hungry.
The problem is that far too many people think they are believers, but they have some permanent right to be selfish and spend their lives on their own lusts. They want to have stuff—so they work—not to steward the things they earn to honor God, but merely to enjoy life for themselves and do what they want with what they earn. God isn’t the God of their time—they control that part…but they do try to drop by on Sunday every now and again. God isn’t the God of their treasure—they “earn it” and spend it on whatever makes them happy.
Here is the truth: If I am freed from service as a slave of sin—then my choices to act in selfish ways are my own—and I cannot blame God, temptation, my boss, my spouse, the world around me, or the devil himself for my choice to serve my lusts, my desires, my selfish dreams. That choice is mine, and I must be honest and own it.
(To be continued.)