Calvary Road Baptist Church


Romans 6.15-23 

On a Wednesday night long ago, at the conclusion of our midweek Bible study, and before we went to prayer, I asked those in attendance for questions about the passage in the four Gospels we had just concluded studying. It was not unlike most Wednesday night Bible studies. One question I received, which was not directly related to the passage I had taught that night, was nevertheless a very good question. I was asked if a Christian’s past, before he had trusted Christ as his savior, greatly affected his Christian life after his conversion.

The answer, of course, is that your life before Christ has a great impact on your Christian life. Turn now to Romans chapter six. As you are turning, be mindful of a bit of the history of the Christians the Apostle Paul was writing to in the city of Rome which will shed some light on only one way in which a Christian’s past affects his life after coming to know the Savior. With at least one half of the more than one million who lived in Rome at the time Paul was alive being slaves, it should come as no surprise to us to realize that the Christian population in Rome was composed of a large percentage of slaves or former slaves who had achieved freedman status in one way or the other.

I think there is ample evidence Paul had that type of demographic in mind when he wrote this epistle, as we shall see in a few moments. That being true, we are about to deal with a portion of Scripture that can be especially appreciated by a believer who lives with the memory of having been a slave. And second only to the believer in that situation would be a believer who has never personally been a slave, but who is descended from slaves and who has the culturally preserved memory of slavery. Of all the ethnic groups who live in the United States of America, only the black segment of our society, whose ethnic roots reach back to Civil War America and the Jim Crow South, have as a group retained a cultural memory of the sting and the hatefulness of slavery. For that reason alone it may be possible for the Christian who is black and who identifies with the heritage of black people in America to more readily identify with and appreciate the thrust of Paul’s teaching in Romans 6.15-23. The same may be true of Christians of the Caribbean region and Brazil who are black.

Then there is the Emancipation Proclamation, President Abraham Lincoln’s executive order declaring slaves to be free men. The Emancipation Proclamation meant one thing to the slave, but quite another thing to the man who had never been a slave. And it still means one thing to the man or woman whose great great grandparents were slaves, but another thing to the man or woman who has no cultural memory of such slavery. Please try to keep this in mind as we proceed this evening. The Apostle Paul had to deal with two types of objections to his Gospel of justification by faith in Christ. One group of Paul’s opponents thought that if grace overwhelms sin as Paul taught, they should just sin more to get more grace. In Romans 6.1-14 Paul showed that such a belief is entirely inconsistent with God’s plan of salvation. That objection was dealt with the last time we were together in Romans.

At this time we begin to look at the second objection to salvation by grace through simple faith in Christ apart from works of righteousness performed to earn one’s salvation. This second objection springs from the thought that since salvation is by grace, and is without the Law, what is to prevent me from doing just anything I want after I am saved? To address that question we will first read our text for today. I invite you to stand for the reading of Romans 6.15-23: 

15  What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

16  Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

17  But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.

18  Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.

19  I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.

20  For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.

21  What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.

22  But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.

23  For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Just as the first half of Romans chapter 6 began with a question (“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”), followed by a decisive answer (“God forbid.”), and then an explanation, so the second half of Romans chapter 6 begins the same way: 


“What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the Law, but under grace?”

Though you will see evidence for what I am saying through the rest of the chapter, let me just state now what misconception gives rise to this kind of question. I’m sure every one of you has heard variations on this theme in your witnessing experiences.

Paul’s opponents, Jewish men who opposed his Gospel message, some of whom may have already begun to talk with the Jewish inhabitants in Rome, took great comfort and assurance from the fact that the Jewish people had from Mount Sinai been under the authority structure of the Law of Moses and the Mosaic economy. They saw the Law of Moses as their permanent heritage as Jewish people, rather than as a temporary covenant arrangement until the coming of Christ.

Therefore, when Paul comes along and indicates that salvation is provided apart from the Law and that no believer lives under the authority of the Law, (“For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace,” Romans 6.14), his Jewish opponents can only visualize something akin to spiritual anarchy. Their fearful imagination envisions believers running around doing anything they want to do and not being bound or restricted by the Law from committing the most flagrant sorts of sins.

This may be part of the doctrinal divide that separates good brethren of the Wesleyan tradition from most of those of us who are Baptists. If so, let us explore the matter. Haven’t you heard someone say, “If I believed like you believe there’d be nothing to keep me from committing all sorts of sins”?

The question that Paul deals with, then, is whether the grace of God gives believers the license to sin, since being under grace they are not under the restraining influence and authority of the Law. 


At the end of Romans 6.15, he writes, “God forbid.” 

This is the fifth of nine times that the Apostle Paul uses this phrase in his letter to the Romans. And every time he uses this phrase to express an extremely forceful denial. Let me paraphrase him: “Does salvation cut me loose so that I can do anything I want to do? Am I no longer under an authority structure of any kind since I am now under grace and not under the Law of Moses?” Paul’s response is absolutely not. Absolutely not. No way. No way.

Anyone who would suppose that what Paul’s doctrine leads to is loose living and the freedom to sin simply does not comprehend what Paul is all about or what Paul’s inspired letters teach. That applies both to the person who thinks that “once saved always saved” means Christians are free to commit any sin they want, and to the believer who mistakenly thinks that his relationship to Jesus Christ does not absolutely demand holiness.

Does the grace of God lead to, allow me to, or motivate me to, commit sin? No how. No way. 


Paul’s explanation and exhortation are contained in verses 16 through 23 and will be the focus of the rest of this message, as well as my next two messages in Romans. For right now, let’s begin to look at Paul’s explanation of why the grace of God cannot give license to commit sins. In verses 16-18 Paul appeals to the believer’s own experiences to show this to be true: 

16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.

18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. 

First, Paul appeals to the common experience of human beings in verse 16: 

“Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey...?” 

You don’t have to be a Christian either to understand this or to perceive this on your own. Throughout human history, the observant among us have realized that who you serve is your master. Whose bidding you do is, for all intents and purposes, your master. This is not something that you or I have to be spiritual to understand. This is common knowledge among human beings, be they adults or be they, children. You walk down the street and see two men, one telling the other what to do, followed by listener’s obedient response. Does anyone doubt who is the boss and who is the worker, who is the master and who is the servant? No. The same is true in marriages. Amen? Overhear a guy saying, “Yes, dear. Yes, dear,” on the phone and you automatically know who the boss is. Though this is an undisputed reality in every walk of life, Paul felt the compulsion to specifically apply the principle to the realm of spiritual things, as well. And why does Paul do this? Because people will readily admit that this principle applies everywhere, but seem to take exception to the principle in spiritual matters for some reason. Notice the end of verse 16: 

“whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” 

When it comes to spiritual matters people frequently begin to equivocate and to hum-haw, they begin to mumble and try to find gray areas between what’s right and what’s wrong. But Paul points out that this principle of who you obey being your master is just as true about spiritual matters as to anything else. If you disobey God, then sin is your master, and the consequence will be death. If you obey God, then God is your master, and the consequence will be righteousness. Paul, then, is telling us that what we know to be true in other areas of life, from our common human experiences, also applies to spiritual matters.

Paul then addresses the Christian experience of his readers. In verses 17 and 18 he expresses his thanks for what God has brought them to. Notice that they started out as servants of sin: 

“But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin.” 

Isn’t that a good description of you and me before we experienced the grace of God in Christ? We were the slaves of sin. Whether it was the sins of the body or the sins of the mind, drunkenness and fornication or pride and arrogance, sin was the master, and we served sin. Now read along with me the last half of verse 17: 

“...but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” 

The wording here is a little rough for us to understand, but attention to two phrases will greatly clarify what Paul is saying. When he refers to obeying from the heart, he is contrasting in the minds of his Roman Christian readers the difference between someone who is depending upon Christ for his salvation and someone who is depending upon the Law of Moses to give him standing before God. Later on, in Romans Paul will point out that “with the heart, man believeth unto righteousness.” Paul’s Jewish opponents were depending on mental and intellectual responses to the dictates of the Law to merit salvation, not a genuine relationship with the Savior, which is an issue of the heart. So, Paul’s Gospel is superior to the Law in that while it is certainly not anti-intellectual, it is not only intellectual. Paul’s Gospel has to do with the entire being of the believer, not just your intellect and not just your will. What are the implications of this reality? There are two: First, you are not a Christian just because you decided to become a believer. Remember, the miracle of the new birth has to take place for someone to be born again, and no one tells God when to work a miracle. Second, you are not a believer just because you embrace as true the facts of the Gospel. Remember again, the miracle of the new birth has to take place. That said, the Jewish person might still see salvation apart from the Law as opening up the opportunity for lawlessness. He would think that no longer being under the Law meant no structure, no guidelines, and no direction in the Christian life. And no doubt he would liken salvation by grace apart from the Law to the only other situation he had ever seen in his life without the Law . . . the Gentiles. And what sinfulness they exhibited. The next phrase has to do with “that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” Pick up a commentary and you will see a great deal of discussion about this phrase. If it’s a good commentary, that is. Let me summarize what Paul is trying to get across to his readers at this point. Though the word order is somewhat difficult to follow, Paul is pointing out to his readers that no sinner come to Christ has been left without guidance and direction after having come to know Christ and not being under the Law. We who are come to Christ have been delivered to an authoritative body of truth which should guide our lives. But note that our verse says believers were delivered to “that form of doctrine.” Notice. It was not that form of doctrine which was delivered to believers. God’s Word has not been given to us! We have been given to God’s Word, so that we might conform to it as Jell-O to a mold, conforming us to the image of Christ. This speaks to a serious problem among Christians today. So many professing believers do not understand that God’s Word has authority over them and that we have been delivered to Scripture so that we will be conformed by God’s Word to Jesus Christ. Paul thanks God, then, that his readers, who had been servants to sin, were delivered to that form of doctrine which they had obeyed from their hearts. That is, they responded to the authority of God’s Word in their lives with a heartfelt commitment to obedience. And what did that obedience from the heart to God’s Word result in? Verse 18: 

“Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” 

How in the world could anyone who properly understood Paul’s doctrine think that the grace of God would actually free someone from the Law only to give him license to do wrong? Such confusion could only result from a complete misunderstanding of what freedom in Christ really is. The Biblical concept of freedom leaves absolutely no room for the sinner to have a license to do wrong but is completely given over to the idea of the Christian’s liberty to do right. So, when you have been set free from slavery to sin, in the Biblical conception of spiritual reality, you are not in any way independent. You are not autonomous. What you now are is a slave to righteousness. And the readers of this letter from Paul could give testimony to the fact that since they trusted Christ, they indeed had begun to serve righteousness instead of serving sin. And remember, these people, as well as any people who had ever lived, knew what slavery was. 

Some of you appreciate better than do I how uncomfortable it must have been for the Romans to hear Paul speak about the Christian life regarding slavery. If the Christian life is a life of joy unspeakable and full of glory, if it’s a life of forgiveness of sins if it is truly a life of liberty in Christ, how could it in any way be likened to slavery? In the very next verse, which I will deal with subsequently, Paul admits that he is uncomfortable as well with the parallel he uses, but that it was necessary to highlight a profound spiritual truth. And what is that truth? It’s a truth that is found in the experience of every real Christian. Certainly, the Roman believers were already experiencing this before they received Paul’s letter, as he suggests in Romans 6.17-18. It’s the truth that when you are set free from slavery to sin you are not just cut loose to drift.

The bottom line is this: You and I were created by God to be slaves. Ugly word “slave.” But setting aside the horror and the degradation, the humiliation, and the hopelessness, and concentrating only upon the relationship of master to slave, the lead and follow the situation, we have always been, and we will always be in that type of arrangement. There is simply no such thing as spiritual independence and autonomy. And the greatest indication of spiritual slavery is seen in the mind of that silly fool who thinks he can simply do what he wants. He is the greatest slave of all since even his mind is held captive.

So you see, God’s grace does not give license to sin, and cannot give license to sin, because God’s grace does not free you from being a servant. God’s grace delivers you to a different master. And who you serve indicates whether that delivery has actually taken place or not. Therefore, who do you serve? No matter who you imagine that you serve, if you don’t serve God, you’re serving sin. That means sin is your master. Slice it any way you like.

Think about it. If you have to have a master (and every person has a master), doesn’t it make good sense to have the Lord Jesus Christ as your master? After all, He has your best interests at heart. He loves you. He proved it by dying on the cross for you. Surely, then, He is the master you can trust.

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