Calvary Road Baptist Church


Romans 6.15-23

With this message I wrap up what is really a brief three-part study of Romans 6.15-23, a passage in which the Apostle Paul is inspired by the Holy Spirit to orchestrate one of the most masterful expositions of the Christian’s relationship to sin found anywhere in the Bible.

Remember, Paul writes his letter to the Christians in Rome while he is in Cenchrea, a port city suburb of Corinth, as he is about to depart Greece on a journey back to Jerusalem to take the special offering he has gathered for the purpose of buying food for the starving Jewish Christians in famine-ravaged Judea. On his journey he will visit for the last time a number of the Churches he has established. Most notably he will visit with spiritual leaders serving in Ephesus, giving final instructions to men that he has brought to Christ, discipled, prayed with, and served God with for three years.[1]

The reason for his letter to the Romans is because Paul has prayerfully and wisely determined that his future ministry lies far to the West end of the Mediterranean. And while Antioch had been a good base of operations for his ministry thus far, Rome would have to be his new base of ministry operations for him to reach his goal of taking the Gospel to Spain. So Paul writes to Rome for a number of reasons, not the least of which is notifying them of the significant role they could play in seeing Spain reached for Christ if they become strong supporters of his ministry. He also wants to verify his doctrinal unity with them, showing that he and they stand on common ground. It’s not enough that they know Jesus Christ and have been fairly well taught. He wants these people to be truly sound in the Christian faith. He wants them to have a thorough understanding of what God does to give a sinful person right standing before Him and how that individual’s new standing before God will affect his behavior and influence the conduct of his ministry as a Christian.

Paul knows that his Lord Jesus taught that truth is a means by which God sets men free from slavery to sin and Paul wants his readers to thoroughly know the truth about sin, about salvation, and about service to God after one comes to faith in Christ. But remember, no man can serve two masters. The Lord taught that truth Himself.[2] So Paul uses all of Romans chapter 6 to explain, in a most diligent and complete way, that the child of God does not have two masters. We have only one. And He has chosen to use grace not only to save us but also to lead and direct our lives after trusting Christ.

Misunderstood by his opponents, Paul asks two questions in chapter 6, as being representative of the position that his opponents routinely took when disputing his teachings. If grace is always supplied with sufficiency to deal with any sin, should not the devout man commit more sin to increase the supply of grace? In verses 1-14 Paul shows that such reasoning springs only from ignorance of what grace accomplishes in the believer’s life. No, you most certainly should not commit more sins so that more grace will come your way. The second question dealt with by Paul has to do with a misconception of what freedom and liberty really are. Does the grace of God permit me, now that I am a Christian, to go out and do anything I want since believers in Christ are not under the rule of Law?

Romans 6.15-23 tell us that the grace of God does not suggest, permit, or imply that we have been given license to commit sin. And how have we seen this? In two ways, so far. The time before the last time we were in Romans we saw that the experience of the Roman Christians witnessed to the fact that those who were blessed by the grace of God did not live as though they had been given license to commit sin. Then, the last time we were in Romans we saw that the exhortation to the Romans witnessed to the fact that those who experienced the grace of God did not have to live as though they had been given license to commit sin.

At this time, in our final look at Romans 6.15-23, we see that the evidence of the Christian’s life shows that those who have experienced the grace of God do not live as though they have been given license to commit sin. I invite you to stand and read along quietly with me Romans 6.20-23: 

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. 

Notice how the evidence leads to an obvious conclusion about the believer’s relationship to sin: 


In verse 20 Paul portrays what the Roman Christians, and what we, at one time were; slaves: 

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

Keep in mind how very strongly the Apostle Paul contrasts the former life with the present life for the Christian. It’s what you were versus what you are. It’s what you used to be contrasted with what you presently are. And in this verse Paul describes what the Romans were, what every Christian used to be, and what you used to be, my friend. Before you knew Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, prior to your glad reception of the Gospel message which resulted in the salvation of your soul, you were the servant, which is to say you were the slave, of sin. And it is possible that sin’s mastery of you was so complete that you had no knowledge at that time of your bondage to sin. You thought your sinning was the result of your free will. But you know it now to have been the bondage of your will. Did you know that when you were a slave to sin you were actually free? Sure. Paul even says you were free. He points out that when we were the servants of sin we were free, free from righteousness. We had no personal righteousness whatsoever.

In verse 21 Paul portrays what the Roman Christians and what we before coming to Christ produced in our lives; fruit: 

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

The Lord Jesus Christ told His disciples that “by their fruits ye shall know them.”[3] Well, Paul is here simply asking his readers to examine their own fruit, produced by those activities of which they are now properly ashamed. And by the way, no matter what kind of life other people think you lived as a lost person, whether it be socially repugnant or seeming to be morally upright, if you are not now ashamed of your former life there is something seriously wrong with your understanding of the situation you were then in. The point being, there was nothing worthwhile produced by any of our lives or activities before we trusted Christ. That’s the reason Paul referred to all of his former achievements, which were amazing from a human perspective, as so much “dung” in Philippians 3.8. What can be said, then, about Paul’s portrayal of the lost? Well, we can say that it’s accurate. Then we can say that it’s tragic. It’s shameful to have to admit, but admit we must, that absolutely nothing that we accomplished before Christ means anything. And not only did we produce nothing worthwhile, what we did produce was downright shameful. Our lives were shameful. Our values were shameful. Our philosophy was shameful. Our motives were shameful. 


In verse 22, Paul portrays what we now are as Christians; slaves: 

“But now being made free from sin, and become servants of God” 

Look at what Paul writes here. In one respect nothing has changed. Before you trusted Christ you were a slave from one viewpoint, and you were free from another viewpoint. And now that you are a Christian you are still a slave from one viewpoint, and you are still free from another viewpoint. But whereas you were servants of sin, you are now servants of God. And whereas you were free from righteousness, you are now free from sin. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. God’s intention has always been for human beings to be servants, slaves if you will. When sin entered we became slaves of sin. When Christ enters the picture we become slaves of God, as God’s purpose for us originally was. But slaves we have always been and slaves we will always be. The only significant distinction is who will be the master? Sin? Or God? Christian? We have God as our master.

In the rest of the verse, take note of what we produce in our lives; fruit: 

“ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” 

This first phrase might be paraphrased “ye have your fruit leading to sanctification.” Paul is stating, here, that as Christians their lives produced byproducts that had the effect of making them more like the Lord Jesus Christ and less like they were before they trusted Him. This falls right in line, if you will remember, with what I said last time about “holiness.” “Holiness” as it applies to believers is not a state so much as it’s a process of growth and maturity and drawing nearer to God, while shrinking away from those things that displease Him. This happens in the life of each person who genuinely knows Jesus Christ as personal Savior. And what is the final result of this spiritual growth and development process? 

“and the end everlasting life.” 

This uneven and typically erratic but inevitably advancing progress toward “holiness” will continue until, finally, the child of God gets to heaven. That’s what is meant here by “everlasting life.” Of course, when you get to heaven “holiness” is no longer a process but becomes a state of spiritual purity. Thus, while we see that Paul’s portrayal of the lost was accurate, we recognize that it was also tragic. Paul’s portrayal of the saved is also accurate, but it’s additionally glorious. Think about it, Christian. What Paul says about Christians in verse 22 is true and correct: 

“and the end everlasting life.” 

That means truly born again Christians really are free from sin. Truly saved Christians really are servants of God. Christians who are genuinely justified by faith in Christ really do have fruit unto holiness. And those Christians who have experienced the miracle of the new birth really will go to heaven. So we have a dilemma. Paul says this about Christians. But let’s say a person says he is a Christian and this that Paul has written about Christians is not true about him. What gives in such an instance? Someone is obviously not telling the truth. 


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

This is one of the most well known verses in the Bible, at least to Christians. Look closely with me to the contrast of principles drawn in this verse:

First, look at what sin pays; death: 

“For the wages of sin is death” 

Two words here and an admission, on my part, that for a number of years, until almost twenty-five years ago to be somewhat precise, I did not understand this phrase as much as I had thought I did: First, the word “wages.” This word is found four times in the New Testament. Twice it refers to the wages soldiers received for soldiering and once it is used by Paul to refer to the salary he received from Churches he ministered to.[4] Here is the fourth time the word is used and here, as well, it refers to getting paid. Only here it isn’t financial remuneration, but spiritual compensation. Next, we have the word “death.” It’s quite obvious that the most observable consequence of sin is physical death. This phrase does not, however, refer primarily to physical death, but to spiritual death. Now, to point out to you what I once believed about this verse. Formerly, I had thought and taught that what this verse meant was something like this: What you receive as a result of being a sinner is death. But as I study this entire chapter and as I see sin contrasted with God here in this verse I came to understand that I was wrong. What this phrase really means is that sin is likened to a master who pays wages to those who are his servants. And when sin is your master the pay you receive from sin is death. Eternal death.

Contrasted with this is the truth of what God gives; life: 

“but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

My goodness, what a contrast we have here. How could there be a more stark contrast drawn between the unsaved person’s existence and endless torment and the Christian’s life and eternal bliss? First, God is contrasted with sin. Imagine. The Holy One of Israel is contrasted with sin. And since God is so holy that He cannot look upon sin, you can’t contrast more than between God and sin.[5] Second, the contrast is between what is earned from sin and what is unearned from God. Sin pays wages that are earned. What the sinner gets from sin, death, is very much deserved. What the saint receives from God, on the other hand, is not deserved, but is the result of grace, and is actually a gift.[6] After all, it cannot be earned and it cannot be paid for and still be called a gift. Third, the contrast is made between the eternities each master affords for his servants. Serve sin, lost friend, and you experience eternal and never-ending death. Serve God, on the other hand, which is what happens to those who are given the gift of eternal life, and you will dwell in heaven for all eternity. Finally, and here is possibly an implied contrast that accompanies the clearly stated contrast between what happens through you and what happens through Christ, if the parallel is studied, we see that we have a contrast between sin and God, between wages and gift, and between death and eternal life. But for the phrase “through Jesus Christ our Lord” to be a part of the parallel, something else must be implied in the first part of verse 23. I am of the opinion that what is implied but not clearly stated, because it was so readily understood by Paul’s Roman readers, is you and me before we were saved, or you here now if you are not a Christian. If you depend upon you, then sin is your master, and the wages that sin will pay you is death. But when you are brought by the workings of the Holy Spirit in a sinner’s life to the end of yourself and you turn to Christ you are given the gift of eternal life. Yourself and lost, or not yourself but Christ and saved. 

Allow me to review Paul’s accurate portrayal of the unsaved. Truthful. Tragic. Worthless. Shameful. Then there is his portrayal of the saved. Truthful. Wonderful. Worthwhile. Blessed. The principle of death versus life? It is a stark contrast, indeed. There is nothing in common between the two. How could anyone think that you can actually be one and yet live like the other?

No, my friend. God’s grace does not result in saved people living like lost people, serving sin. Quite the opposite. When you’ve experienced the grace of God through saving faith in Christ your life becomes so unlike your former life that you quite honestly become ashamed of it.

What about those of you who have had some type of spiritual experience, but it did not result in a new life in Christ, fruits unto righteousness, or your deliverance from the old master of sin to a new master, Jesus Christ, the Lord? Ah, then you need to be about the business of seeking the LORD while He may be found, of striving to enter the strait gate, and of pressing into the kingdom.[7] Read God’s Word, pray to God for saving faith in Christ, and then come to Christ for forgiveness full and free.

And how will you know you are truly born again, you are really saved and not entertaining a false hope? If you have a new master you are a new Christian.


[1] Acts 20.31

[2] Matthew 6.24; Luke 16.13

[3] Matthew 7.16, 20

[4] 1 Corinthians 9.7

[5] Habakkuk 1.13

[6] Ephesians 2.9

[7] Isaiah 55.6; Acts 17.27; Luke 13.24; 16.16

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