The slavery see-saw of Romans 6
Was speaking on the decidedly unAdventy passage (we were coming to the end of a series) of Romans 6:15-23 this Sunday. It’s certainly a challenging (but rewarding) chapter, in more ways than one. David Turner did a brilliant job on 6:1-14 last week and I struggled to get my head round the last bit. But the lights eventually came on when I put it into some sort of tabular form (I often find that – may be some weird neural characteristic I’ve got), so here goes. The chapter falls neatly and naturally into 2 parts, each opened by similar questions.
There is clearly overlap between the two sections. Both involve the key concern that is inevitable when people first understand the glories of grace – if I’m forgiven for everything, then can’t I do everything? If that has never been a question we’ve faced, we’ve never understood the gospel.
- In Part 1, (Romans 6:1-14) Paul says we now live differently because we’ve been united with Christ, as symbolised by our baptism. Where he goes, we go. He died and rose, so we too died and rose.
- In Part 2 (Romans 6:15-23), Paul says we now live differently because actually gave ourselves up for slavery when we came to Christ. That’s perhaps a shock and not exactly what you were told you were doing when you did it! But it’s surely only a logical outworking of our recognition that Jesus is our Lord.
In these verses, then, Paul see-saws between old and new, constantly contrasting why the new slavery is so much better than the old. What is clear, though, is that we can never avoid slavery!
Paul really stretches the slavery metaphor and it leads him down sometimes surprising (but of course legitimate!) paths.
I don’t think I’d ever quite understood the significance of the oft-quoted 6:23 as clearly before. It now makes perfect sense as a summary statement of all that has gone before, and prepares one for the struggles and realities of living in the New Way that we get in Romans 7. The key point in the verse is to notice the distinction between WAGES (earned and deserved) and GIFT (neither earned nor deserved).
Once we’ve come to terms that we are not our own, never have been and never will be, then we can begin to appreciate the wonder of being slaves of Christ, the one who is actually the greatest servant of all. As Eugene Peterson puts it in his wonderful A Long Obedience In the Same Direction:
I have never yet heard a servant Christian complain of the oppressiveness of his servitude. I have never yet heard a servant Christian rail against the restrictions of her service. A servant Christian is the freest person on earth. (p68)
In fact, the whole of the chapter from which this was taken (ch5 – simply titled ‘Service’) is characteristically helpful, insightful and encouraging.