What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 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 greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6: 15-23
We must choose: slavery, or slavery. What will it be?
I used to be so bothered by paradoxes in scripture. I wanted everything line up neat. But I have come to love the paradoxes in scripture. And this paradox, to me, is beautiful. Saint Paul, backing off his usual poetic tendencies (it is Romans after all), makes an incredible argument of logic. He essentially has just told the Exodus narrative. They have just come through the redeeming waters of baptism where death and slavery were swallowed up by the awful Grace of God. Now they face a decision. Slavery or slavery?
Paul makes his argument. He essentially says this – remember your life before God, when you were slaves to sin? How’d that work for ya? Now, think on your life with God. How’s that working for ya? The answer, in Saint Paul’s mind, is rather obvious.
But what is the bit about slavery? What exactly does Saint Paul mean when he says “slaves of righteousness?”
When we talk about righteousness in our culture, dominated with language that equates God to moral checkpoints on a scale that mostly measures sexuality, we typically mean “moral purity”. So when we think of God’s righteousness, we think scripture means that God is morally pure. And God is certainly morally pure.
But that is not what righteousness means in scripture. It never meant it in the Hebrew text and it isn’t what is meant in the New Testament either.
Righteousness has Jewish roots and comes from the Hebrew word Tsedeqah, which means something like “restorative justice”. That is, the Hebrew people longed for God to establish his righteousness among his people – which meant he would “set things right again”. Something had gone terribly wrong with the fabric of the cosmos, and God needed to repair what was broken. The word for that repairing and restoration was “Tsedeqah”, or Justice or Righteousness.
And the beauty of the gospel is this. God, in and through his Agent, Jesus Christ, has launched/innaugurated his Reign or Kingdom. And the primary indicator of that Kingdom is the righteousness of God. That is, in and through his Spirit-filled people, the people who submit their lives the Lordship of Jesus and follow him, are the agents by which God is working his righteousness. God, through us is setting things right again.
And Saint Paul, here in Romans 6 is providing us an either/or sort of worldview. Either we are slaves to the vicious cycles of brokenness that has and continues to destroy God’s world and people, or we are slaves to the vicious cycles of restoration and renewal – of setting things right again.
And this is the really beautiful part. Being a slave to the Kingdom of God and its restorative work… sets you free from slavery to the brokenness that once dominated your life. You see, we haven’t only been saved FROM something, we have been saved FOR something.
It is for freedom that you have been set free. – Saint Paul