The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Romans 6:15-23

Slaves to Whom We Obey

Christians today have a problem when reading Scripture that is due to inhabiting a thought world which is quite different from that of Paul and the rest of the apostles and the early Church in general.  When we hear the words, “free” or “freedom,” “liberty,” or any of their cognates, we think of self-determination—individuals choosing for themselves their own paths based upon their own desires, needs, or goals.  When we see these words in Scripture, we must rid ourselves of these secular notions.  I do not say that there is anything wrong with these definitions as long as we understand and rightly apply them to our secular context; indeed, I certainly favor individual freedom in a context of ordered liberty, the latter term being of significant consequence to our American founders—but that’s another matter.  The biblical understanding of freedom is exactly how Paul describes it here: Freedom from sin, and freedom to love and serve God.

The passage begins with a similar question to verse one: “Are we to sin because we are not under the law but under grace?”  And, of course, the answer is a resounding, “No!”  In an effort to explain, Paul uses an analogy from the ancient world (which still exists in ours but in even more degraded forms), that being the institution of slavery.  You see, as the Bible presents it, everyone is a slave to someone.  Thus, the question is not whether or not one will be a slave, for that was decided in our creation.  The only question is the identity of the master to whom the slave belongs.  Is one a slave to sin and self, or is one a slave to Jesus Christ (as Paul often identifies himself in the opening of his letters, e.g., 1:1), which is the only true freedom there is?  And how does one know which of the two is his master?  Paul answers, “The one whom you obey.”  Moreover, each master leads his slave to the proper end which that path leads: The lord and master Sin leads his slave to eternal death; the Lord and Master Jesus Christ leads his slave to life everlasting.

I am intrigued by verse seventeen: “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves to sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.”  The Christian faith is not based on a feeling; it is not a proper sentiment that one should nurture.  The Christian faith is certainly life and joy, but it is based upon a “standard of teaching” which we do not get to modify according to our contemporary standards and tastes.  And what is that standard of teaching?  Well, that is what the whole Bible seeks to answer and what the Church has taught for centuries.  And obedience to God’s word is the means for our freedom.

Author: The Reformed Baptist

My name is Stephen Taylor, ordained Baptist minister of eighteen years pastoral experience with a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Better than that, I am married to a godly woman, Karla, who has been very patient with me since 1989. I have two daughters, both of whom I homeschooled for extended periods of time, who became godly young women, and who ran off and married godly young men, all of which is very proper. The oldest daughter has even seen fit to bless me with a grandson and a granddaughter, and my youngest daughter with a grandson, all three of whom are bundles of exceeding joy. As you can see, I am quite blessed. This website is dedicated to helping people grow in the wisdom and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ through the gift of writing that the Lord has given to me. It is specifically about helping His people grow in godliness, the theme you see repeated above. I write devotions with this aim and hope that they might be of some help to God’s people. Full disclosure: I am of a Reformed bent, meaning that my understanding of Scripture is primarily informed by the Reformers and their successors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, as a student of church history and theology, I strive to remain true to that teaching handed down once for all unto the saints through every age of the Church. I like to think of myself as a “catholic” Christian, as the Reformers thought of themselves. At any rate, feel free to read, pray, and contact me if you wish, or correct me if need be. As you can see, I tend to follow the church year. Of course, I make no special claims about these devotions. I know very well that others have written better and plumbed the depths of God’s word with greater insight. But if my musings help someone draw closer to the Lord, well then, I have my reward. Blessings to you and may the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ speak to you that word which He knows you especially need to hear. Grace & peace, Stephen Taylor

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