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Douglas Moo: Paul carries forth the theme of 6:1–14 in this section. He continues to proclaim that believers are set free from sin (vv. 18, 22). But the emphasis shifts slightly. Whereas freedom was the dominant motif in verses 1–14, slavery now takes center stage. Paul uses this imagery both to remind us of what our state used to be (“slaves to sin,” vv. 17, 20) and to encourage us to recognize what we have now become in Christ (“slaves to righteousness,” v. 18; “slaves to God,” v. 22). This paragraph focuses, therefore, on the transfer from one state of slavery to another and the implications that ensue from that transfer.

Thomas Schreiner: The thrust of Paul’s argument in verses 16–23 is that being under grace doesn’t encourage believers to sin. If their lives are characterized by slavery to sin, the consequence will be eternal destruction. The power of grace must lead to a transformed life, for holiness of life is necessary for life eternal.

Frank Thielman: In 6:15–23 Paul focuses on the metaphor of slavery and explains two further consequences of the believer’s freedom from sin. First, freedom from sin and the law entails the domination of other powers: grace (6:15), righteousness (6:18), and God (6:22). Serving one’s self is not an option.  To serve one’s self, as we just saw in the application of 6:1–14, is to serve sin, and as 6:16 and 18 make clear, one serves either sin or righteousness.

Second, Paul emphasizes the important role of the human will in living outside the power of sin. He started to address this second issue in the imperatival language of 6:11–14, but now his appeal to the human will becomes even more pronounced. Believers are not the helpless victims of powerful forces beyond their control, whether death (5:17), the law (5:20; 6:14–15), or sin (5:21; 6:6, 12–14). Instead, because God has freed them from these powers, they can place themselves at the disposal of righteousness and God (6:15–18), and they must do this if they are to live in a way that is consistent with the gift of righteousness that God has graciously bestowed on them in Christ (6:19–23). . .

Main Idea: People are either slaves of sin, which leads to death, or slaves of God, choosing to act in righteous ways and, in the end, receiving eternal life. God has broken the power of sin over believers, and they are now under the power of his grace. As believers choose to live in a way that is consistent with this truth, they live righteous lives that identify them as the people of God.

Paul wants to show in this passage that the freedom of believers from sin and from sin’s use of the law does not mean that believers are now free to sin. Rather, the reverse is true. Believers are now obligated to God and capable of serving him by means of righteous behavior because sin’s sway over them has ceased. As Paul’s twofold use of the term “sanctification” (6:19, 22) shows, moreover, this new obligation plays an important role in God’s purposes for his people.

Grant Osborne: In verse 1, Paul was challenging the crude assumption that sinning will give God the opportunity to exercise more grace. Here, Paul is guarding against the assumption that because sin is no longer our master, we can indulge in sin without fear of being controlled by it. Being under grace and under the mastery of Christ allows us the freedom not to sin. Any attitude that welcomes, rationalizes, or excuses sin is not grace, but slavery to sin itself. . .

All human beings are enslaved. While this idea clashes with our goal of independence, the fact is that we were created for interdependence. Paul is using a “human term” (6:19) to make an important spiritual point. Life is filled with choices about who and what we will obey. Another way of expressing Paul’s phrase is, “You are a slave to whomever or whatever you commit yourself to obey.” This means that friendships, goals, employment, citizenship, membership, education, career, debt, and marriage all include aspects of slavery. We should choose our slavery wisely. When sin is our master, we have no power except to do what it bids us.

Michael Bird: In terms of flow of thought,

(1)  Paul opens with a rhetorical question about the possibility of remaining in sin if one abides in grace and not law (v. 15).

(2)  This is answered with a further rhetorical question requiring a negative answer since servitude implies obedience. Obedience to sin leads to death, while obedience to God leads to righteousness (v. 16).

(3)  Furthermore, the Roman believers have been set free from slavery to sin by obeying the pattern of teaching given in the gospel and so become slaves to righteousness (vv. 17 – 18).

(4)  That point is underscored by contrasting slavery in sin leading to wickedness and slavery to righteousness leading to holiness (v. 19).

(5)  Paul follows it up with a biographical reminder about their former way of life controlled by sin, which led to shame and death, and their new life in Christ, which leads to holiness (vv. 20 – 22).

(6)  Finally, Paul recaps his main point that believers are free from sin and slaves to God and are thus able to receive the gift of eternal life (v. 23).



A.  (:15) Absurd Question: Does Grace Encourage Sin?

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?

May it never be!

The bottom line answer – committing sin cannot even be an option – don’t even go there in your thinking

David Thompson: In this verse we see the desire or wish of God is that we never allow sin to master us. Now there is a very important difference between the question in this verse and the question in verse 1. The difference is the tense of the verb. In verse 1 it is present tense meaning continuing in sin, and in verse 15 it is an aorist tense meaning a specific moment of sin.

By using this tense we learn an important point and that is, a series of specific moments of sin are that which lead sin to have mastery over an individual.

Frank Thielman: The passage begins with a rhetorical question in 6:15 that Paul’s potentially controversial statement about the law at the end of the previous section (6:14) prompted. If Christians are not under the law but under grace, then what guides their behavior?

Thomas Schreiner: The question posed in verse 15 restates in different terms the question raised in verse 1 (Murray 1959: 231). The two questions are distinct in that verse 1 asks whether sin should be pursued so that grace would increase, while verse 15 queries whether sin should be committed because (ὅτι, hoti) believers are free from the law and under the power of grace (cf. D. Moo 1991: 413).  The questions are similar in that the same result is contemplated: Does the presence of grace justify or encourage continued sin?

John MacArthur: And this is always the antagonist’s criticism of the message of grace, that grace leads to lawlessness, grace leads to antinomianism, grace leads to unbounded liberty, grace leads to abuse. And so, people say, “You can’t just preach grace. You can’t turn people loose. You’ve got to preach the law and the rules,” and so forth. And so, the question comes, “Shall we sin because we’re not under the law, but under grace?” Do people who are under grace just go wild on their sin? The answer is, “God forbid. No, no, no.”

B.  (:16) Your Allegiance Determines Your Moral Behavior and Ultimate Destiny

Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?

Everybody makes the choice to obey (submit) someone or something.  That becomes your Master.

Thomas Schreiner: The contrast between “sin” and “obedience” helps us grasp the meaning of the term “sin” here as well. Doubtless sin continues to be understood as a power, since as we saw above, the text often portrays people as slaves to sin. It would be an error, however, to separate sin as a power from specific acts of sin. This is borne out by the contrast between sin and obedience in verse 16, for just as obedience entails submission to specific precepts, so too sin is translated into concrete acts. That sin involves specific actions is also suggested by verse 19. Instead of the word “sin,” the words ἀκαθαρσία (akatharsia, uncleanness) and ἀνομία (anomia, lawlessness) are found, both of which surely denote particular sinful behaviors. It is not surprising that both the power of sin and sinful actions are intended here, since the two are logically connected.

John Murray: the apostle shows in this verse that there are only two alignments in the ethico-religious realm and that the criterion of our alignment is that to which we render obedience, whether it be “sin unto death” or “obedience unto righteousness”.

What is meant by “death” in this instance is difficult to determine. Most probably it is used inclusively to refer to death in all its aspects, culminating in that eternal death of “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power” (II Thess. 1:9). Sin is deathly and death in every respect follows in its wake. Similarly the righteousness which obedience promotes should also be interpreted inclusively to refer to righteousness in all its aspects, culminating, indeed, in the consummated righteousness of the new heavens and the new earth.

Grant Osborne: What are the Characteristics of Obedience?

  • Willing loyalty
  • Quick responsiveness
  • Intuitive understanding
  • Readiness to change
  • Eagerness to learn

Douglas Moo: Some interpreters think that “righteousness” here has forensic flavor and refers to vindication at the judgment (see “life” in vv. 22, 23).   But Paul is obviously using dikaio-language in a different nuance here from what he did in chapters 1–4. In keeping with Old Testament and Jewish usage, righteousness has a moral sense: conduct pleasing to God.

John MacArthur: Here, the idea is the slavery analogy.  When you became a Christian, what did you say, in effect?  I submit myself to whom?  To God through Christ.

Now let me put it as simply as I can.  There is no salvation apart from such a conscious submission.  That would destroy Paul’s whole point here.  When you come to Christ, you come as a slave to a master, as a servant to the Lord.  No other terms.  And when you say, “I come as a slave or a servant to the Lord and Master,” you are affirming your commitment to be subject to Him. . .

Start with the position; you’re either in slavery to sin or slavery to God. The practice; your life is either progressing viler and viler and viler, or holier and holier and holier. And then the promise, the end over here is “death”; the end over here is “everlasting life.”

C.  (:17-18) Transformative Change in Allegiance

  1. (:17)  Breaking the Former Allegiance to Sin by Obedience to the Gospel

But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed,

Thomas Schreiner: Paul is probably thinking of the conversion of the Roman Christians, in which they exercised “the obedience of faith” (1:5; 16:26). The word ὑπηκούσατε (you have become obedient) emphasizes the decision to submit to God, while the words ἐκ καρδίας (from the heart) reflect the depth of that obedience. No superficial obedience was involved; it was a willing and glad-hearted obedience to the gospel of Christ. Such obedience reflects God’s new-covenant work in the hearts of believers (Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 36:26–27). Nonetheless, thanks are offered to God for their glad-hearted obedience because it was his work that led to their obedience. Such a statement does not deny the authenticity of human decision in submitting to God, but in typical biblical fashion Paul attributes the decision ultimately to God’s grace and power. Indeed, God must be the one who causes obedience to rise in human hearts because all human beings are “slaves of sin.” To be a slave of sin means that one is under its lordship and dominion and thus unable to extricate oneself from its tyranny. God in his grace broke the shackles of sin so that glad-hearted obedience became a reality for the Roman Christians.

John Murray: It is “the form of sound words” (II Tim. 1:13; cf. I Tim. 1:10; II Tim. 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1), and in this instance there is stress upon the ethical implications of gospel teaching.

Douglas Moo: Why does Paul say “form of teaching”? It is unlikely that he is thinking of a certain form of Christian teaching as opposed to another form since he speaks so generally here. More likely he is contrasting the Christian pattern of teaching with the Jewish pattern (see 2:20).  Believers are not “under” the law of Moses (6:14–15), but they do have a pattern of teaching for which they are responsible.

  1. (:18)  Beginning a New Allegiance to Righteousness

and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.



A.  (:19) Obey Your Master

  1. Accommodation: Using the Analogy of Slavery

I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.

Frank Thielman: Slavery is a harsh institution and therefore an inadequate, albeit necessary, analogy to the believer’s relationship to righteousness. . .  As Paul will say in 8:15, the believers in Rome are not slaves cringing in fear of harsh masters but adopted children of God with all the affection and privilege that comes from this status. The expression “in a merely human way” refers to activity (in this case, speech) that is ordinary and therefore not ideal for an explanation of divine truth (cf. 1 Cor 2:13).  The fleshly weakness of Paul’s Roman readers makes such inadequate analogies necessary not because their ability to grasp spiritual truths is less astute than that of others (cf. 15:14) but because even believers are still in the flesh and affected by its sinful tendencies.

John Murray: When the apostle says, “I speak after the manner of men” he is referring to the form of his teaching in the preceding and succeeding verses. He describes the condition of unbelievers as slavery to sin and he also describes the state of believers as bond-service to righteousness. The institution of slavery, well known to his readers, is the medium through which he expresses the truth. In using this analogy drawn from the sphere of human relations he speaks after the manner of men. After all, the new life in Christ is not “slavery” as it exists among men; it is the highest and only freedom. But the institution of slavery does service to set forth the totality of our commitment to God in that emancipation from the bondage of sin which union with Christ involves. It is on account of the infirmity of their flesh that he speaks thus to his readers. The dullness of our understanding makes it necessary that we be taught the truth in figures drawn from the sphere of our human relations.

  1. Argument of Consistency

a.  Before Conversion You Consistently Served Sin

For just as you presented your members

as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness,

resulting in further lawlessness,

Thomas Schreiner: This verse opens an interesting window on the Pauline conception of slavery to sin. Unbelievers are totally subservient to sin as a power that exerts authority over their lives, but the slavery envisioned is not coercion. People don’t submit to sin against their will. Rather, they “freely” and spontaneously choose to sin. In other words, unbelievers are slaves to sin in that they always desire to carry out the dictates of their master. This does not mean that those with addictions (e.g., to alcohol, pornography, or gambling) never wish to be freed. It means that the desire for these things is ultimately greater than the desire to be freed from them. Only God, therefore, can release unbelievers from such subjection to sin, since new desires are necessary to escape the bondage of sin. Of course, this is precisely what God has done. He has liberated believers from the tyranny of sin so that they “have become obedient from the heart” to the gospel. He has planted new desires within them.

b.  Now Consistently Serve Righteousness

so now present your members

as slaves to righteousness,

resulting in sanctification.

Michael Bird: Although Paul keeps pressing the idea of freedom from the slavery of sin across Romans 6, he nonetheless sees this freedom as meaning entering into service to God. Humanity will serve, but it will be either sin or righteousness. The believers have, by obedience, placed themselves in service to a new Lord, who summons them to a new pattern of behavior. A shift in lords requires a change in how believers use the members of their body. Moo puts it well: “The Christian is not just called to do right in a vacuum but to do right out of a new and powerful relationship that has already been established.”

Douglas Moo: “Holiness” (hagiasmos) denotes either the state of holiness or the process of sanctification.  In either case, Paul sees our commitment to righteousness as resulting in God-likeness. In an interesting comparison, Paul suggests that our commitment to serve righteousness should be just as strong as our previous commitment to “impurity” and “wickedness.” One thinks of the single-minded pursuit with which some people seek fame, money, or power. Our pursuit of righteousness and holiness should be just as dedicated.

B.  (:20-21) Overthrow Your Former Life of Sin

  1. (:20)  Slavery to Sin Made Righteousness Impossible

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.

Frank Thielman: Paul’s ethical admonition in 6:19, then, is surrounded on both sides by the change in lordships on which it is based.  The gospel has freed them from bondage to sin and placed them under the authority of righteousness.

  1. (:21)  Slavery to Sin Leads to Shame and Death

Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death.

Thomas Schreiner: Slavery to righteousness is certainly preferable to slavery to sin, since the former yields good fruit and leads to sanctification and eternal life, whereas the latter produces shame and has eternal punishment as its consequence.

C.  (:22-23) Obtain Your Benefits

  1. (:22)  Explanation of Benefits for Serving Righteousness: Sanctification and Eternal Life

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God,

you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.

Frank Thielman: The result of this fruit is sanctification, and the “goal” of this way of living is eternal life. The expression “the end” (τὸ τέλος) suggests the image of a journey that has reached its goal (τέλος). This, in turn, implies that Paul has been speaking of a way of life that progresses in sanctification, with the people of God continuing to act in righteous ways that set them apart from unbelievers and, then, in the end, sharing God’s life forever.

John Murray: The leading feature of the contrast in verse 22, however, is the emphasis upon the fruit enjoyed and the issue resulting—“ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end eternal life”. In the service of sin there was no fruit; now they bear fruit that is unto holiness.  And this fruit-bearing has its final issue in eternal life. Just as death, the issue of sin (vs. 21), should be taken inclusively, so should eternal life. While not restricted to the consummated life of the world to come this must, nevertheless, be included. The final issue of deliverance from sin, of bond-service to God, and of the fruit-bearing that is unto holiness is the possession of life incorruptible in the age to come.

  1. (:23)  Contrast with Wages of Serving Sin

For the wages of sin is death,

but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John Murray: But the precise thought is that the free gift consists in eternal life. When wages are in operation our lot is death, inescapably and in its ultimate expression. When the free gift of God is in operation our lot is life, eternal and indestructible. How totally alien to such contrasts is the importation of merit in any form or degree into the method of salvation.


Grant Osborne: You are free to choose between two masters, but you are not free to adjust the consequences of your choice. Each of the two masters pays with his own kind of currency. The currency of sin is death. That is all you can expect or hope for in life without God. Christ’s currency is eternal life—new life with God that begins on earth and continues forever with God. What choice have you made?

Review of vv. 19-23:

a.  Purpose of using the illustration of slavery: our basic human

nature is weak and needs concrete human illustrations to better

grasp the truths of God (:19a)

b.  An exhortation: we are to use our bodies in a new way (:19b)

c.  Explanation of the inconsistency of continuing to choose to act

ungodly: when we were under the dominion of sin it was understandable

(but still not right) that we chose to live in sin; but now things are different (:20)

(Illustration: a disturbance at a jail is no big deal since we expect criminals might act that way)

d.  Learning from the past: reflect on our past choices of sin before we trusted Christ — How did they benefit us? (:21)

1)  They have no benefit

2)  They bring only shame (Illustr.: overhead projector for displaying our past life of sin)

3)  They lead to death (separation from what is good, worthwhile)

e.  Reflecting upon the present (:22)

1)  we have been set free from sin’s dominion

2)  we have now become enslaved to God and His righteousness

3)  as slaves of God’s righteousness there is much benefit:

    • a)  we will bear fruit (if no changed life, then no union with Christ)
    • b)  we are maturing in personal holiness
    • c)  at the end of our journey in holiness is life eternal (:23)

1))  eternal not just in duration but in quality of life it is supreme

2))  this eternal life is not a result of righteous obedience, but a free gift

3))  God’s free gift of eternal life is granted to those who are in Christ