By Francine Grace Tan, Class of ’19
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16)
In the recent Ligonier Ministries National Conference, Albert Mohler explained that people used to gain social capital when they went to church and covered themselves with a decent, yet often thin, veneer of Christianity. They allowed themselves to become somewhat involved, enough to be respectable, but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion was a great, soft cushion. But in the hardening secularization that we are now experiencing, people are actually going to have to forfeit social capital to befriend anyone who truly believes the gospel of Jesus Christ, let alone become a true follower of Christ. People no longer want to hear the unpopular parts of Christianity, such as original sin, hell as an eternal condemnation, and being slaves to God.
In a cultural climate that holds the concepts of freedom, fulfillment, and autonomy as the highest virtues, the concept of slavery is revolting and is usually met with angst and contempt in a conversation. However, the Scripture repeatedly uses the metaphor of slavery to accurately describe man’s relationship with sin and the regenerated man’s relationship with Jesus Christ. In an unfallen Adam, the will was free: free toward good and free from evil. Because Adam fell, sin entered the world through him. As we are all of a fallen Adam, we are born with a will that is not in a condition of moral equipoise; the Bible says that we have “a heart that is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick”; our will is in bondage to a depraved heart (Jeremiah 17:9). In the Westminster Larger Catechism we read, “The sinfulness of that state into which man fell, consists the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil and that continually”. Thus the concept of slavery aptly describes the state or condition of man – dead in trespasses and sins.
In Romans 6:17-18, however, the apostle Paul talks about a different kind of slavery for the regenerated man by contrasting our new position in Christ against our former slavery to sin: “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” In the moment of salvation, God frees us from the power of sin in our lives as part of His work of regeneration. We are instantly free from the guilt and punishment of sin and given a clean slate (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Romans 6:6-7). Paul continues by saying, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:14-15). This same concept is seen in Galatians 4:1-7 and John 15:14-15. It is crucial to have an accurate understanding of the relationship of the indicative and the imperative in the Christian life. The indicative in the book of Romans refers to who we are in Christ, and the imperative is what we are called to do or to become. That is, we are not commanded to be something before God says that we are that something. The indicative comes first – because we are something, the Lord calls us to be that something. We are to become what we already are. In Christ, we are righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21), holy (Hebrews 10:10) and most importantly, we are children of God (Ephesians 1:5). There is a practical and experiential sense, in which we become righteous and holy and live as children of the Lord, but we do not do any of those things to achieve a holy, righteous or adopted status before God. That status is already ours by God’s gracious declaration through the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. So, since we were bought with a price, the blood of Christ for our lives, how can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:2).
Today, when most are asked, “What is the distinguishing mark of Christianity?” some would often reduced it to the cliché, “It is my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Many people (including Judas) had some kind of “personal relationship” with Jesus during His earthly ministry without submitting to Him as Lord. Judas was one of the twelve disciples who witnessed firsthand the life of Jesus, yet, he remained as a counterfeit disciple. He was in close proximity to Jesus but he was adept at masking his own spiritual void. He professed knowledge of Christ, but the chief pursuit of his life remained himself and tragically this resulted in his position outside of the kingdom of God. Jesus gave a serious call for self-examination when He said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21-23; John 15:14). While it is a difficult truth, slavery to Christ is not a minor or secondary feature of true discipleship. It is exactly how Jesus Himself defined the “personal relationship” He must have with His disciple, who is not only a believer, but also a follower of Christ (John 12:26, 15:20; Matthew 16:24).
Indeed, the fundamental aspects of slavery are the very features of redemption. We are chosen before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-5; 1 Peter 1:2; 2:9); bought (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23); owned (Romans 14:7-9); subject to God’s will and control (Acts 5:29; Philippians 2:5-8); called to give an account to Him (Romans 14:12); evaluated (2 Corinthians 5:10); and either chastened or rewarded by Him (Hebrews 12:5-11; 1 Corinthians 3:14). And all these are important components of slavery. Therefore as slaves of righteousness, it is impossible to remain as slaves of sin.
Jesus is Lord
Besides, the essential confession of faith is Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9). The expression “Lord” (kurios) speaks of ownership while “Master or Lord” (despotes) refers to an unquestionable right to command (John 13:13). These two Greek words describe Jesus as a master with absolute dominion over our lives; and this means any relationship with Him must acknowledge this Lordship through submission and repentance from sin. Another instance that commitment is not optional is seen when Jesus rebuked those who profess Him as Savior with their lips but not with their lives: “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) . This rhetorical question implies a negative answer. Those who genuinely confess Jesus to be their Lord will show the validity of their confession by their lifestyle of obedience. It is not the perfection of their lives, but the direction of their lives, that will be distinct. Jesus emphatically said: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31). True disciples are obedient to His word and such obedience must come from a heart of love for Him. Puritan William Perkins once said: “The true Christian is of this disposition of mind that if there were no conscience to accuse, no devil to terrify, no judge to arraign or condemn, no hell to torment, yet he would be humbled and brought to his knees for his sins, because he has offended a loving, merciful, and holy God”. That’s the difference. The truly repentant sinner is devastated by the way he has offended God with his sin. He’s not whimsically looking for life insurance. A true disciple loves and obeys Jesus Christ as the one true Savior and Lord.
No one could follow Christ with a divided heart. Jesus demanded this wholehearted, repentant, personal commitment when He said, “No one can be a slave to two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). This meant that no one could be a true follower of Christ and still remain committed to this world and its desires. This call demands an all-or-nothing response. Believing in Christ involves a volitional and emotional attachment to Him, accompanied by a firm purpose to obey His commandments, carry our cross, love Him, and love His people. Furthermore, there must be a reckoning of ourselves to have died unto sin and to be alive unto God in Christ. This death to the sinful self does not mean death to the flesh and its sinful tendencies. While the penalty of sin has been nullified, the weakness of our human flesh makes us often yield to sin. Christians still sin, but since we are regenerated, the Holy Spirit enables us to put to death the deeds of the body and fight our sin. The daily practice of mortifying sin, our old master, is the effect, not the cause, of our justification. In essence, we are new creations – holy and redeemed but wrapped in grave clothes of unredeemed flesh. We are like Lazarus, who resurrected from the grave, yet still wrapped from head to foot in his burial garments; hence, we still bear some of the grave clothes of our former nature (MacArthur).
The Scripture is clear on the two paths of life – the narrow way that leads to life and the broad way that leads to destruction; in other words, the way of the Spirit and the way of the flesh. There is no in-between in any of these. The apostle Paul writes: “Test yourself to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Everyone who hears the word of God must audit his or her own soul. Ask yourself this: “Are you genuinely converted, or are you clinging to an empty conversion that was not genuine?” If there is any doubt about where you are with the Lord, the Scripture tells us: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6). There is saving grace waiting for you in Him. The decision to follow Christ requires the unconditional surrender of our lives to Him. But if we commit ourselves to the Lordship of Christ, we will gain far more than we give up. We will lose our old lives and this world, but we will receive the crown of righteousness, heavenly rewards, and an eternity with God. May we continue to entrust ourselves into the hands of the Lord who will hold us fast and give us the Holy Spirit to keep us faithful and from watering down God’s holy standards to include the inordinate affections of man. It will be wonderful beyond description if, on that day, Jesus Christ our Lord can say of us, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” To hear that refrain is the desire of every true slave of Christ (Matthew 25:21).
LORD OF HEAVEN,
Thy goodness is inexpressible and inconceivable.
In the works of creation thou art almighty,
In the dispensations of providence all-wise,
In the gospel of grace all love,
And in thy Son thou hast provided for
our deliverance from the effects of sin,
the justification of our persons,
the sanctification of our natures,
the perseverance of our souls in the path of life.
Though exposed to the terrors of thy law,
we have a refuge from the storm;
Though compelled to cry, ‘Unclean’,
we have a fountain for sin;
Though creature-cells of emptiness
we have a fullness accessible to all,
and incapable of reduction.
Grant us always to know that to walk with Jesus
makes other interests a shadow and a dream.
Keep us from intermittent attention to eternal things;
Save us from the delusion of those
who fail to go far in religion,
who are concerned but not converted,
who have another heart but not a new one,
who have light, zeal, confidence, but not Christ.
Let us judge our Christianity,
not only by our dependence upon Jesus,
but by our love to him,
our conformity to him,
our knowledge of him.
Give us a religion that is both real and progressive,
that holds on its way and grows stronger,
that lives and works in the Spirit,
that profits by every correction,
and is injured by no carnal indulgence.
(Puritan Prayer, from the Valley of Vision)
 It is important to note that works are the fruits of obedience after salvation and Jesus is not asking people to do good works in order to earn their salvation.
Bennett, Arthur. 1975. The Valley Of Vision. 1st ed. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust.
Chesterton, G. K. 2017. Orthodoxy. 1st ed. [S.l.]: Centrehouse Press.
MacArthur, John. 2000. The Gospel According to the Apostles. 1st ed. Dallas: Word Pub.
Pink, Arthur Walkington. The Sovereignty Of God. 1st ed.