Death Earned or Life Freely Given (Romans 6:18-23)

Sometimes when I read Paul, there is a tendency to get a little dizzy from the way his words go in circles around a basic truth. In the middle of this chapter he repeatedly uses the antonyms slave and free to explain our relationship with sin and righteousness. In verse 18 Paul states our position, and then in verse 20 he flips the words upside-down and backward for a mirror image of the same truth. By Paul’s reasoning, slave and free are not opposing concepts, but rather two sides of the same truth. If this seems confusing, consider Chuck Swindoll’s observations: “It is possible to be a slave to something and think you are free” and also “it is possible to be free and think you are enslaved.”

So where is Paul going with his message in chapter six? Simply said, he wants to assure the reader that Christ came to change our relationship with God. In verses 21-22 he describes how this changes the “fruit” (benefit) and end result. Without Christ, all our work only leads to shame and death. With Christ we are made righteous and given life. Paul declares a summary contrast in the often quoted verse 23. Sin earns us only death, but God gives freely (grace) the (undeserved) life eternally in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is not merely an end, but a new beginning! Paul expects believers to not just accept the gospel, but also to respond with a new way of living through obedience. Douglas Moo comments:

“Interestingly, Paul suggests that our new obedience is to mirror the old obedience. If at one time we were dedicated to serving money, or striving for status, now we are to employ those same energies in serving God and righteousness.”

next: Romans 7:1-6


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