Mr. and Ms. Chretien, took a wrong path and the consequences were serious. Mr. Chretien owned an excavation business in Penticton, BC and they had been heading to a trade show in Las Vegas. They took a wrong turn east of Boise, Idaho, and, trying to find their way back to the highway, ended up on a logging road on the edge of the Humboldt National Forest. Their van became stuck and they were unable to get out. After two days, no one came to find them and Mr. Chretien left to go for help. After 7 weeks, Mrs. Chretien was found, and has recovered, but I don’t believe they have found Mr. Chretien, who likely died in the forest. When they chose to take the logging road, they didn’t know that they had taken a road that would lead to all the trouble they experienced and to his death.
We are all on a path in life, but we can know exactly where that path leads and whether it leads to life or destruction. The Bible is very clear about where the path we are on leads.
In Romans 6, Paul asks a question about whether we should continue in sin because we are under grace. His strong statement that we cannot continue in sin is followed by several arguments which call for those who follow Christ to walk in righteousness. This morning as we examine Romans 6:19-23, we will examine the two paths which we can be on and be encouraged to live the life lifestyle.
The text does not speak of two paths, but of two slaveries. Yet when the passage asks the question about where these two slaveries lead, then we are talking about the concept of a path. There are two different ways in which we can live our lives. We can be slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. We can be on the path to death or we can be on the path to life. So let us examine these two paths or these two slaveries and see where they lead.
The one path is described in verse 19 in this way, “…you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever increasing wickedness.” This is the path of sin. It is the path in which we walk our own way and live in a self centered way.
Along this path is impurity. As we think of impurity, we may think of sexual impurity, but I think we need to make sure that we don’t limit impurity to this one area. Impurity refers to that which is mixed. Last week when I was on the canoe trip with my son and grandsons, we drank water from the lake. The water is impure; it is not clean enough to drink so we had to purify it. One time I had gotten water from near the shore and after we had purified it and had used some of it, we noticed that there were particles floating in the water. Not harmful, but not appetizing either. So impurity is that which is mixed. It can be mixed thoughts such as love and hatred towards a person. It can be mixed motives, such as selflessness and selfishness. It can be impure words, such as blessing and cursing. When we look at it that way, slavery to sin is very familiar.
The other word used to describe this path is wickedness. Some people like to describe things as “wicked awesome” which seems to make wickedness a good thing. It is not. Wickedness is that which is evil, that which is harmful and that which destroys.
This is a brief glimpse of the path of sin and the text invites us in verse 21 to consider, “What benefit did you reap at the time from these things…” This question recognizes that the path of sin leads somewhere. Where does it lead?
I have been on hikes in which the path became narrower and narrower and then became a mere trail barely marked and then deteriorated into a boggy mess? I kept going because I thought that it would eventually improve, but it never did and I had to turn back. The path of sin isn’t an improving path. The text says that wickedness leads to ever increasing wickedness. This danger is seen particularly in the area of addictions. It may begin with purchasing one lottery ticket, but in some cases it leads to more and more until gambling becomes an addiction. It happens when a person feels comfortable with one lie and soon accepts more lies. It happens when the thrill of the first sin is gone and is followed by greater evil.
In this way, the path of sin is slavery. A slave is owned by someone. If we are slaves to sin, then sin owns us and we have no choice but to obey it.
Another consequence of sin is that it results in shame. Why is it that we want to hide what we do wrong? It is because we are ashamed of the wrong we have done. Sin always leads to shame.
In the end, the path of sin leads to death. The path of death is not always obvious at first, but every sinful act is a little bit of dying. Every act of sin does not immediately result in death, but every act of sin is a part of a process of dying a little bit. I have heard cigarettes called coffin nails. Each cigarette does not kill you, but Health Canada does make a pretty strong statement that smoking has serious health risks. In a similar way, any individual sin may not kill you, but in the end it will. Today you may not notice that death is brought closer by how you have sinned, but the path leads there as certainly as night follows day. Proverbs 9:17, 18 illustrates that path when it says, “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious! But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave."
Verse 23 assures us of that truth when it says, “the wages of sin is death.” John Toews suggests a different translation. He suggests that it would be better to translate “the provision of sin is death.” He explains, “Slaves were not paid wages…Slaves are given goods to sustain them.” “The provisions of the master, sin, are deadly; they are poisonous, and produce death when consumed.” If we are slaves to sin, the provision, that is, what is given us because of that slavery is terrible, it is death.
But there is another path for the people who belong to God and that is the path of righteousness. Righteousness is doing things right, doing what is good.
This path also leads somewhere. If we are slaves to righteousness, the place where this will lead is first of all to holiness. This idea is communicated both in verse 19 and in verse 22. Holiness is the opposite of impurity. It is being unmixed, being pure. When a person walks in sin, we never know what their reaction will be or we are afraid that we know exactly what their reaction will be – not good. When a person consistently walks in righteousness, then we also know what their reaction will be. We will know what we can expect from them because they walk in holiness. The more we make righteousness part of our life, the more we learn and grow in holiness. Since God is holy, becoming holy will make us more like our heavenly Father.
The other place where righteousness leads is to life. Both verse 22 and 23 tell us that the path of righteousness leads to eternal life.
These are the two paths which are available and we as Christ followers have been set on one of these paths path by God. We have been made slaves to righteousness by God. How has that happened? What does it mean to be on that path?
The text indicates that we “were slaves to sin.” The starting point for every person on earth is that we were on the path we described earlier. That means that we were on a path of growing wickedness which leads to death.
There is no exception to that reality. Every person on earth, which includes you and me are on that path. Romans 3:23 says, “…all have sinned…”
Interestingly, Paul mentions in verse 20 that when we were on that path, we were “free from the control of righteousness.” I do not think that means that people who are not Christians never do good things or think about good things. Yet righteousness is not what controls them. Sometimes they do good things, sometimes evil things. When the man we call the prodigal son was on his party ways, he did not think about what was right. He was controlled by the party ways. It was not until he was feeding pigs and starving himself that the text says, “he came to his senses.” The death dealing pain of evil forced him to recognize where sin had led him. Murray puts it this way, “They were carefree in respect of the demands of righteousness; with undivided heart and a single eye they were the bondservants of sin…”
In order to come out from under the bondage to sin, there is one important first step and that is the acknowledgement that we are on the path to sin. The way in which we started on the path to life was through repentance. II Corinthians 7:10 says, "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret…”
Upon repentance, God stepped in and we read that a significant change took place. Slavery has images of bondage, of chains. If you have ever read some of the books on slavery like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, you have some understanding of the limits which were placed on those who were slaves and what it meant to be owned by someone. As long as we were in sin, we were similarly owned, but when we repented, God set us free. I like to imagine the chains falling off our arms, or perhaps our heart and our mind.
Or we could put it another way. As long as we were living in sin, we were under the power sphere of sin, but when we repented, God came and the power sphere of control over our lives changed.
Whether we speak of being set free, of being released or of being given space, it helps us rejoice that sin no longer controls us.
And yet the language which we read in this passage speaks of being slaves to God. What does that mean? Have we simply exchanged one form of slavery for another?
Especially for those who were in the church in Rome the idea of slavery would not have been pleasant to think about. They knew what slavery meant because many of them had been slaves or had owned slaves. To speak to them about giving up slavery to sin only to become slaves again might not have been all that comfortable. But I think there are two important differences.
First of all, slavery to sin was involuntary. It is similar to human slavery in which every slave was either born as a slave or was purchased and had no say over the bondage. Slavery to righteousness, on the other hand is voluntary. It is entirely our choice to give ourselves to God, but when we do, we are invited to give ourselves to him completely. That is perhaps why the Good News Bible translates the idea of being slaves to righteousness in verse 19 as “surrender yourselves entirely.”
The other difference is whom we serve. When we were slaves to sin, we served a tyrant. When we surrendered ourselves to God, we became slaves to a loving Father.
The other jarring contrast presented in this passage is that found in verse 23. As we saw earlier, sin is rewarded with the wage or provision of death. It is what we deserved. When we die because of our sin, it is what we have coming to us.
It is a very different thing to realize however, that when we repented and when God set us free, we received this as a gift. We deserved death, we do not deserve life and it is a wonderful thing to recognize that we have been given this gift. Matthew Henry says, “The death is the wages of sin, it comes by desert; but the life is a gift, it comes by favor. Sinners merit hell, but saints do not merit heaven.”
What a wonderful blessing to realize that we have received this gift. It reinforces that we do not have it because of our merit and that we have to hold on to it by our works. It reminds us that because we have been given freedom as a gift, the possession of it by us is entirely based on the grace of the giver. He has given it to us as a gift, knowing full well we did not deserve it. Therefore, we possess it as a gift of mercy and do not concentrate on holding on to it, but rather on rejoicing in the greatness of the gift we have been given.
All of these blessings, this path we have been set on, this salvation we have received, this slavery to righteousness to which we have given ourselves is accomplished through Jesus Christ our Lord.
It is Jesus who died on the cross for us. It is Jesus whose sacrificial death has covered our sins. It is Jesus who stands in the presence of the Father and pleads our case on the basis of His merit. It is Jesus who is the beginning and the end of our salvation. Our only hope is in Him.
Therefore, as we consider the life which we have been given, we owe everything to Jesus and we rejoice in Him alone!
So we see the two paths and we see that God has set us on the path that leads to holiness and life through Jesus Christ. Yet why is this passage written in Scripture?
The only command in this passage is the command to “offer the parts of your body in slavery to righteousness.” The question is, why is this command needed?
In verse 19, we read, “I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves.” This declares a reality that we all identify with so clearly.
When we hear testimonies at baptism, one of the recurring themes is that young people attend camp and in the atmosphere of worship and influence by godly leaders they flourish in their faith. They make decisions for God and they feel strongly that they will follow those decisions. But it doesn’t take very long after they are home that some of the old habits come back again. The enthusiasm is gone, the joy is a memory and they don’t always maintain the commitment they made at camp.
This is not only something that happens to young people at camp. It happens to every one of us. We come to church on a Sunday morning and something that happens in the worship, the sharing or the message inspires us and we are confident that God has spoken and we have a strong feeling in our heart that we will follow God’s leading. When we wake up on Tuesday morning, after being awake part of the night because the baby was crying or because of a thunderstorm or because of something we are worried about, the resolve of that moment in worship has dissolved.
We need a reminder that the path which God has set us on is the path that leads to life. We need a reminder that we have been set free from the power of sin and have been made to be slaves to righteousness.
That is the intent of this text. It reminds us that a life of following sin is not what we have been recreated to follow. It reminds us that we are people who have chosen to belong to God and that we need to follow the path that leads to holiness and life.
Paul is saying, “You are free, why would you submit again to those things that bound you in a such a terrible slavery?”
Last Sunday we looked at what it means to follow in obedience to God as we examined the Ten Commandments. We noticed that they were mostly negative prohibitions. You may remember that I suggested that a good translation of most of the commandments is “Not you shall steal” and so on.
The passage we are looking at today does not challenge us with prohibitions. It reminds us that we used to offer our bodies to sin, but it does not say, “Don’t sin” any more. Rather, these verses encourage us with a positive direction. Instead of a prohibition, the foundation of being set free is the encouragement to “offer the parts of your body in slavery to righteousness.”
The phrase “parts of your body” or as the Greek says, “your members” is interesting. It reminds us that the Christian life is not to be lived in the abstract realm of the mind. Obedience to God is not only a matter of having the right ideas or theories of things. Obedience to God is the very practical matter of offering the parts of our body to glorify Him.
So the question is, “How do we offer the parts of our body to Him in obedient servanthood?” How do we offer our hands in service to God? Would it not be as we gently stroke a child’s forehead when they are sick? Would it not be with a shovel in our hands when our neighbor needs help in the garden? How do we offer our eyes in obedience to God? Would it not be by setting our eyes on beauty and truth? Would it not be through looking directly into the eyes of another person with love? How do we offer our mouth in obedience to God? Is it not as we bless them? Is it not by speaking well of them? Is it not in speaking truth to them? How do we offer our feet as feet that walk in obedience to our Lord? Is it not by being willing to go where He sends us? Is it not in driving in such a way that we bless the other drivers on the road? How do we offer our mind to Him? How about Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things."?
Remember the electric race car sets? I remember when we bought one for our kids. After finding the right batteries and setting it all up, it was fun to have a race with each other. In the excitement of the race, it was not unusual for one of the cars to flip out of the track and we had to put it back in the track before we could resume the race. After a while, we got the hang of driving so that we didn’t flip out of the track as much.
God has set us on the track of righteousness by His grace in Jesus Christ. His invitation in this passage is to live in such a way that we stay in the track and not flip out. The invitation of these verses from God’s word is to live the life lifestyle.