Romans Bible Guide – Day Sixteen
March 1, 2016
Previously, in Romans: Paul is discussing how to live in the new reality of acceptance by God, which he describes as union with Jesus.
12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
15 What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 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? 17 But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18 and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.
20 When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Points of Interest:
- ‘No longer present your members to sin…’ – When I first read this verse in my late teens, with the comment about what to do with one’s member, so close to the word passion, I thought, “Oh, my gosh, the Bible is telling me what do with that particular part of my body!” Paul isn’t talking about any one particular part of your body, though, but every part of one’s body, personality, and mind.
- ‘instruments of wickedness, instruments of righteousness’ – Instruments here invokes martial imagery. All Romans were familiar with weapons in the service of a soldier. Here Paul says every part of us can be in the service of wickedness, or in the service of righteousness. We can use every aspect of our being to reduce our own and other’s humanity, which Paul ties to death. Or we can use all of our being to serve God’s new and right agenda of life.
- ‘not under law but under grace’ – As Paul sticks with the image of slavery, he clarifies just who is in charge for those united with Jesus. Paul has said previously that big efforts toward rule compliance breed hypocrisy, judgment, and exposition of guilt and failure. Grace doesn’t only produce the acceptance and standing (what Paul has been calling “justification”) that the law can’t; this acceptance also provides power and incentive to live differently.
- ‘if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves’ – This statement reflected the reality of the pervasive slavery of the Roman empire. Get into debt and present yourself to someone as a slave, and you will in fact become slave. On moral or spiritual terms, this is also true, we’re told. We become slaves of whoever or whatever we obey. Our first yes toward any obligation or habit may feel freely given, but our 57th yes is likely to be habitual and compulsory.
This perspective on human nature undercuts some modern ideas about human autonomy and liberty. But it is affirmed by sources as diverse as behavioral psychology and Bob Dylan. Psychology highlights the power of repetitive thought and behavior, whatever that thought and behavior is. And Dylan sang a generation ago, “You’ve gotta serve somebody.” None of us are free actors, we all live in the service or someone or something we’ve said yes to.
- ‘I am speaking in human terms’ – Maybe Paul’s a little sheepish about such an extended use of the metaphor of slavery, given how brutal and shameful it likely was for many of his Roman readers. It’s a good reminder to take any biblical metaphor or image not overly literally, but to ask what picture it is painting, what point it is making.
- ‘slaves to righteousness for sanctification’ – The end of ‘slavery to righteousness’ is sanctification, becoming the saint that Paul said in his opening greeting all followers of Jesus are. This clearly isn’t only referring to private morality but to an ethic and experience of life that reflects the goodness and vitality of Jesus.
- ‘The end of those things is death.’ – One scholar’s take: “They now know that they had willingly participated in the culture of death, which in many ways had reached its apex in Rome’s glorifying of its violent history, in the brutal duels and executions in the public theaters and arenas…, and in the vicious policies of military expansion, occupation, and economic exploitation. The gospel of Christ crucified exposes the culture of death and leads to a shaming awareness of universal complicity in its enactment.” (Hewett, 95.)The Romans in the house churches were now ashamed of their old ties to a culture of death. I wonder what ties to 21st century culture of death we are leaving behind, or need to leave behind.
- ‘The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ – Bam, a short conclusion. Everything that is off in us that we’ve been so tied to pays us with death. Everything good God gives us is a gift – it’s not part of any system of good deeds, religious or otherwise. And what the gift gives us is the life of Jesus, in our lives. Master Jesus gives his “slaves” freedom and life.
Taking It Home:
For you – When in your life have you most felt connected to or in the service of a culture of death? If that is 100% in the past, thank God for freedom and life. If some tie remains, invite Jesus to lead you into full disconnection from that and full experience of his leadership and life.
For your 6 – With the line “instruments of wickedness or righteousness”, I think about the experience of feeling like a tool. If any of your 6 find themselves, perhaps at work, stuck in the service of someone or something they don’t want to follow, pray they’d have the freedom to be in the service of something good and true and beautiful instead.