Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Slaves to Grace?

Romans 6
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do 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? 17But 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, 18and, 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. 22But 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.

This passage has been both an enigma and a joy to me. I remember studying it in the early 90's in preparation for a devotional I was to give at a youth gathering. I was using Cranfield's abridged commentary as a study help. It appeared to me then that Paul was laying a huge guilt trip on me. It was as if he were saying, "Just don't sin anymore, okay? If you are truly a Christian, you can do this." From that first study to today, God has helped me to see that there is more grace here than I first noticed. So much so that this morning the thought struck me that Paul is really telling us that we Christians are slaves to grace. We are slaves to grace in a similar way to our slavery to sin. Before we believed, we lived under the condemnation of the old slave master sin. Through the power of the law, he pronounced the sentence of death upon us. We lived and breathed according to his wishes. But then, as Charles Wesley puts it, our dungeons flamed with light and we rose went forth and followed Christ. Now we are no longer slaves to sin and no longer under its condemnatory power. Instead we are slaves to righteousness. Notice here that we are not free in this context but enslaved to a new slave master grace. The old master paid out our wages in the currency of death. Our new slave master pays out in eternal life. But here is the thing that really grabbed me today; we are bound by gracious chains of love to Christ through his gift. We are kept and are safe in him. This is the power of the gospel at work. I remember Cranfield said something like this:

"The man who knows that he is free from God's condemnation finds himself beginning to be free to resist the tyranny of sin with resolution and boldness."

To know this is true freedom. Freedom from condemnation but not libertarian freedom. We are slaves to grace kept by our new master. Let this channel through your heart and you too will find new strength in the battle.