Last Sunday we took a whirlwind tour of Romans 1:1-6:11, and saw that the Apostle Paul is writing to Jewish Christians who believe that following Jesus won’t save you from God’s anger, unless you also obey all the Old Testament laws perfectly – the Ten Commandments, the food laws described in Leviticus, and so on. He shows them that if they are trusting in their own ability to please God, they have no hope. Because the purpose of the law is to show us just how far short of God’s goodness we fall, how desperately we need his help; and to send us to him asking for mercy. We need to put our trust in Jesus, because he fulfilled all of God’s laws, and when he died for us, he set us free from our sin, and its consequences.
Now that we have been set free, what does following Jesus require? In Romans 6:12-23 Paul says firstly, don’t let sin keep calling the shots, and don’t allow ourselves to be tools, used by evil to perform unrighteous actions. Instead, we need to let God be our new boss, and allow ourselves to be his workshop appliances, used by God to do good things.
Many of the ‘employees’ of Paul’s day were slaves, captured in military conflict, or born into slavery. But it was also possible for someone to offer themselves as a slave to someone, to pay off overwhelming debts. From then on they had no choice but to obey their new master. Paul says, we may be tempted to think that since God is willing to forgive, we can sin as much as we choose. But the moment we choose to sin, we have offered ourselves to sin as a slave; we are no longer free. If we choose to follow Jesus, we are instead offering ourselves as a slave to righteousness.
Slave to righteousness? How can that be a good thing? Paul compares the two masters – one makes us do what’s harmful and wrong, and what we earn is death. The other provides strength and guidance to do what’s wholesome and good, and however imperfectly we serve our new master, he gives us the gift of everlasting life.