Read or listen to a sermon for Trinity 3, Sunday 28 June 2020, by Revd Aron Donaldson, based on Romans 6:12–end.
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.Romans 6:12–end
13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
15 What then? Are we to 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 who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed,
18 and, 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 lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.
22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.’Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
So begins A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. To many it’s considered to be the one of the best beginnings a novel ever written. In this grand opening, Dickens sets forth two parallel realities. In our reading, Paul also writes with two realities in mind as well.
For Dickens the two realms he is contrasting are the cities of London and Paris during the time of the French Revolution. For Paul, the two realms he is contrasting are the realms of sin and the realm of God.
Dwelling in one of these dominions leads to death, dwelling in the other leads to life. One results in the best of times, the other in the worst of times. Paul calls us to become aware of our own location. In last week’s reading we were reminded that if we have trusted in Christ’s work for us on the cross, then we have been released from the power of sin. Sin is no longer our master. Paul therefore calls us not to let sin reign in our lives again. We are called to present ourselves to God. We are called to become subjects of a new and better ruler.
Now, to some this may sound like we are to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and drag our way into the new realm of life and righteousness. However, this would be to forget all the things we have looked at in the previous chapters. Paul puts it clearly that we are already accepted by God, and given access to Him because of what Christ has done for us on the cross. We belong to God’s realm because of what He has done for us, not for what we have done for Him. We know this because Christ died for us even while we were sinners and enemies of God. God showed His love for us by saving us before we had made any move towards Him.
This idea, that we are saved by God and not by ourselves is also present in our reading today. Paul assumes that we were already delivered from the old age when we put our trust in Christ. He says:
14 you are not under law but under grace.
18 having been set free from sin, [you] have become slaves of righteousness.
We have already been delivered from the old age because of Christ’s death for us on the cross. Our futures are set, our direction secure. We have a hope of glory. What a strange thing it is to go back to sin. When we give in to sin, it is like we are presenting ourselves to a ruler that no longer has any right to tell us what to do. We have a new master. We belong to God. You have been set free. You are no longer under the dominion of sin. Why then should you listen to it?
When Christ died for us on the cross we were transferred from ruler to another. We transferred from being slaves of sin into slaves of God. This is quite a challenging viewpoint. Most people who don’t know God may think they are free to do as they please and that Christians are the ones who are restricted. However, Paul says that there is no such freedom. The human heart must serve something. We are either slaves to sin or we are slaves to God. If we choose not to orient our lives towards God, then our heart will find something (or someone) else to serve.
For example, we may become addicted to the feeling of honour, of being thought of as a good person in the eyes of others. We may become addicted to the accumulation of wealth that can express itself in feelings of jealousy and envy when we see others accumulate more than ourselves. We may completely turn in on ourselves and become addicted to pride that can express itself in anger, frustration or anxiety when our view of ourselves is challenged by the mistakes we make. These are only a few things we can devote our lives to, there are plenty of other Lords our hearts can manufacture. We can become enslaved to one of these God-substitutes or a mixture of several. The bottom line for Paul is this: do you serve sin or you serve God? If we don’t serve God, we become bound to something else.
Now, metaphors are never perfect. And Paul is fully aware of the shortcomings of using slavery as a metaphor for our relationship with God. In verse 19 he says he is speaking in human terms, because of our natural limitations. In other words, Paul is acknowledging the limitations of using slavery as a metaphor. Paul does not have in mind all the aspects that were typical for slavery. To be a slave of God does not include the degradation, fear and confinement that has accompanied the institution of slavery to the present day. Quite the opposite. To use slavery as a metaphor of our relationship with God is to communicate only that we do what He asks of us. Because of this, Paul can be so bold to say that this is a form of freedom because it is something that we do joyfully, willingly and it is something that results in our eventual good. Being slaves to God is freedom because God gives us the commands we need to become more and more like the people we were made to be.
Finally Paul sums up his message in verse 23:
21 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Note the difference between the words associated with death and the words associated with eternal life. Death is the wages of sin. Eternal life is a free gift. Death rightly comes as a result of sin as automatically as wages come as the result of a day’s work. It is a matter of justice. Work deserves wages. In the same way, sin deserves death.
Earlier this week I wrote a reflection on justification by faith which Paul talked about in chapter 5 verse 1. Incidentally, if you wish to receive the next reflection, or join in a group that will look at this passage please do send me an email. My contact details should be at the bottom of our webpage. In that reflection I said that:
Death is not seen as a natural occurrence, it is instead seen as a just punishment for sin.
It is the case that death is the result of sin because the structure of our universe is not chaotic and unintended. It is the work of a just creator. It is the intentional product of an intelligent mind. Because its creator is morally good, justice is always done in the end. God’s justice is never arbitrary or vindictive; God tends to do things differently from human beings. Death is indeed punishment for sin, but punishing sin with death is a kind of poetic justice. If a person rejects God then they reject Him-who-is-the-source-of-life. It is fitting therefore that God would let that person have what they desire. As they reject the source of life, they turn towards that which is the absence of life. Death becomes the wages of sin.
On the other hand eternal life is a free gift. It is not something we deserve. God gives it to us not on the grounds of what we have done but on what Christ has done for us. It is not an expression of necessity, it is an expression of love. We are given eternal life because of God’s love for us. God gives us eternal life because He wants to.
Paul’s message reaches its conclusion. We can be citizens of one of two realms. We can be under the rule of sin, or under the rule of God. Which then is your ruler? What do your actions of your life reveal? Do you offer yourself to God or do you offer yourself to sin?
Let us pray. Dear God, we thank you for rescuing us from sin and delivering us into your service. We thank you that you are a good ruler whose commands are always for the good of His people. We ask that you would help us to stop going back to sin and that you would aid us in our transformation into the people we were made to be.