“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.” — Romans 6:17-18
Last week we took an initial look at why Paul describes Christians as “slaves to righteousness” in Romans 6:17-18. We saw that one reason why Paul uses this description is to teach us about our limitedness as human beings. As Christians, we are not radical free agents, we are constrained and directed by another: our Lord Jesus Christ. God rules and reigns over the entire world, including us – we are fundamentally servantsof God, not masters of our own destiny. God has made us limited, both in creation and redemption. In neither the natural nor the spiritual realms can we say “I have made myself,” but rather we must say “God is creator, and His creation is very good.”
This week we want to look at a second reason why Paul would call us slaves of righteousness: to emphasize that our salvation involves a radical transformation of life.
Last year we celebrated the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Church. One of the great truths that the reformation brought back into light is the doctrine of justification by faith alone, that we are made right with God through His grace, through our union with Him by faith. Luther realized the transformative power of that underserved grace – that our spiritual restoration to God, through a free act of divine mercy, is the way we are brought back into God’s family. Our status as children of God does not depend on how good we are at doing stuff, and does not depend on how much we do for God. It is a gift. It is free. It is undeserved.
But, the reformation also recovered another truth and called for another renewal — A Reformation of Life. All of life must be reformed, transformed, and subjected to God. We must walk in a manner that pleases God. We must walk in righteousness. We must present our very persons to God to walk in His ways. This is not in order to earn our salvation, but because we are transformed. We have been conformed to the likeness of his death, and we are being renewed in the likeness of his resurrection. Our body of sin has been done away with. We are freed from sin. We are new creations. To be a believer is to walk in a transformed manner. We present ourselves now as slaves to righteousness.
Note how this newfound slavery to righteousness is described as “obedience from the heart.” Obedience is an active thing – it’s something we must do. To be enslaved to something is to actively serve it as a master. As Paul puts it in Romans 6:16, we are all “presenting ourselves” to someone – either sin or obedience. Having been transformed by God’ grace, we now actively offer ourselves up not to evil, but to God Himself. To be a Christian is to have an active, transformed life.
If “obedience” is the activity of Christians, and if “from the heart” is the way we should do it, then “the pattern of teaching to which you were committed” is the matter or substance of it. Unlike our old conformity to sin, we now conform to a different “teaching.” Through our obedience we become more and more like God Himself – we are conformed to His image, which is holiness!
The Westminster Larger Catechism in question 97 asks “What special use is there of the moral law to the regenerate?” Its answer is rich. Part of it reads the way we would expect, that the moral law is there so that Christians take “greater care to conform themselves thereunto as the rule of their obedience.” God’s will for our lives, the pattern of sound teaching which we are to obey, directs us toward holiness and righteousness.
But, before it says that, it says that the moral law is of “special use” to Christians because it “shows them how much they are bound to Christ for his fulfilling it, and enduring the curse thereof in their stead, and for their good; and thereby to provoke them to more thankfulness.” We so often attempt to make law and gospel into enemies that passages like this can be jarring. The moral law doesn’t alienate us from God, but draws us closer to him. It makes us thankful for Christ and helps us see how our ultimate good depends upon Him. It makes us thankful. And, it inspires us to take greater care to conform ourselves to God’s image, to holiness, to Christ. Why have we given ourselves as slaves to righteousness? Because we have given ourselves as slaves to God (Rom 6:22).
In this day and age we must ask ourselves some hard questions about our allegiances. What “teaching” are we following in our lives today? Brothers and sisters, I ask you, have you given your allegiance to God? Not a political party, not a country, not your family, not your job, not your idea of yourself, not your dreams, not some fantasy of your own devising, not the practical needs of today, but have you given your allegiance to God, your loving Father and Lord? If you have, then this is what it means: we are now slaves to righteousness and we cannot, we cannot present ourselves as slaves to another.
Being saved, becoming a Christian, knowing the Gospel, means a radical reformation of life.