Romans, Rightly Divided & Verse-by-Verse
Session 16 | Romans 6:15-24
Romans 5:12-8:39 | Giving Testimony To The Validity Of The Mystery
Supplemental Resource, Romans Graphically Presented, pg. 28
Romans 6:1-7:25 | A Message To Believing Jews In Overlap Times
Supplemental Resource, Romans Graphically Presented, pgs. 32-34
Romans 6:15-23 | Living Unto Christ
Supplemental Resource, Romans Graphically Presented, pgs. 34
#### Verse 15 – Blue
Paul now returns to the first-person plural, returning full circle to the rhetorical question put forth in the first verse of the chapter. The answer is, of course, very clear: God forbid.
There have been very few who officially promoted a “sin because we are under grace” doctrine in Christian history, and, at least in my experience, very few who ever adopted such a doctrine privately. Most of Christendom has not had enough grace teaching to even consider this as an issue, for most Christian doctrine leans more strongly to a “Lordship Salvation” concept, which requires works of proof, rather than a free-grace concept. Within grace-based communities, excessive sinning (so that grace may abound, v. 1) has not been a noticeable problem, though non-grace-based communities preach of “cheap grace” as if it is a problem.
So, if I analyze Christian culture correctly in stating that a “sin freely” doctrine has not been an issue, why does Paul address it so clearly? One could argue that Paul’s argument was so successful that Christianity simply obeyed, but this would be hard considering the almost wholesale rejection of other Pauline theology. More likely, the church so strongly adopted Petrine doctrine, and thus has been devoid of grace-doctrine, that this issue never became a problem.
#### Verse 16 - Blue
I am of the opinion that this is a general truth rather than a doctrinal statement. All people everywhere and in all dispensations are servants to whatever it is they have chosen to obey. The choice for every individual is to determine what forces and doctrines they will obey.
#### Verses 17-18 – Green
Paul is speaking to the Roman Jews about their Judaism, not about their salvation under grace. I think it would be hard to argue that the form of doctrine which was delivered you (v. 17) was the Pauline message (which is only now being delivered by Paul). It was this Jewish/Kingdom doctrine which they had obeyed from the heart (v. 17). Having obeyed Jewish Law, they were made free from sin (v. 18). But this sin freedom is not in the sense of forgiveness but in the sense of overcoming sin by choice of being servants of righteousness (v. 18).
#### Verse 19 – Green
Verse 19 is complicated…and simple.
It is complicated because Paul asks his audience to yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness, but had just finished saying that they had become the servants of righteousness (v. 18). So which direction have they gone?
It is simple because Paul introduces the instruction by saying, I speak after the manner of men. This tells us that Paul is not giving some deeply spiritual secret, but all along has been speaking of human tendencies. It is the manner of men to move quickly from serving sin to serving righteousness, and back again. This is a problem of the infirmity of your flesh.
In short, Paul says that they were servants of sin (v. 17), and became the servants of righteousness (v. 18) and now, as they had previously been servants to uncleannesss (v. 19) he wants them to continue to be servants to righteousness (v. 19).
#### Verses 20-21 – Green
Prior to being servants of righteousness (v. 18) they were servants of sin (v. 18, v. 20). At that time, they were free from righteousness. But Paul asks a practical question in verse 21, what fruit had ye then…? The things which they thought were fruitful now bring shame, and had they continued, the end of those things is death (v. 21).
#### Verse 22 – Green
The phrase being made free from sin should not be taken in a Calvinistic sense. The previous verses tell us that they became free from sin by their obedience to the righteousness of Judaism (vv. 17-18). In the same sense in which John 8:22 teachers that ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free, so also these Jews obeyed from the heart (v. 17) and were made free from sin (v. 18).
To put it bluntly, if you want to be made free from sin, then quit serving sin!
On the flip side, to become servants to God simply start serving God!
But how does this bring about everlasting life as Paul says? In what way is this not works? I think that the only responsible way to deal with this issue is to recognize that Paul was speaking to Jews about something that had already taken place prior to any revelation of the mystery. The Jews had been faithful, and had attained a fruit unto holiness which would eventually bring about everlasting life. But such is not the case with us today, for we are not Jews, and the Law and its fruit is not available to us today.
Because Christianity insists on applying this directly to the Christian life, its commentaries and sermons inevitably create a works-based fiasco in interpretation of this verse. For example, [BibleRev.Com](http://BibleRev.Com), a ministry of GotQuestions has this commentary on verse 22:
“Paul now writes that, by trusting in Christ for our salvation, we have entered into that same relationship with God. Our identity is so closely connected to Christ that we are being changed to people who are bound to do what is right. This is who we are now. This is good news. Why? Because the “fruit”—the natural consequence—of serving righteousness is sanctification and eternal life.”<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Note clearly that this commentary says that “sanctification and eternal life” are the fruit "of serving righteousness”. It is no wonder the man in the pew gets frustrated with the doublespeak coming from the pulpit, for in one moment it preachers’ faith alone and in the next that eternal life comes from righteous service.
How much better to rightly divide this passage.
#### Verse 23 – Blue
There are two ways of taking this verse.
First, we can take it to be a continuation of the previous discussion. In this case Paul is reminding the Roman Jews what happens when a person is a servant of sin (he receives the wages of sin which is death). In this regard, then, God also has given a gift of eternal life which is from God and through Jesus Christ. This gift would correspond to the everlasting life of verse 22 and would be Kingdom related.
Second, we could take it to be the introduction of a new thought. If we take this interpretation, then Romans 6:23 belongs more with the new thinking of Romans 7:1 and following, in which Paul speaks of the new dispensation and its freedom from the Law. I have chosen this latter view.
Addressing an objection on this interpretation of Romans 6:15-22
I have taken this section to be to Roman Jews about their Judaism, and thus not directly applicable to us. This is certainly not a standard approach and is not palatable with many. But let’s take a few minutes to consider what becomes of this passage if we “make it ours.”
What happens is a works-based salvation. When we obey from the heart (v. 17) then we are servants of righteousness (v. 18) and this brings us unto holiness (v. 19). We then become free from sin (v. 22) and attain eternal life (v. 22). In addition to works-based salvation is works-based sanctification. We are sanctified only when we live right, and thus our sanctification is from ourselves rather than a gift of God.
To display some of this, let’s consider some standard evangelical commentaries on the passage.
The Baker Exegetical Commentary:
Each of the statements below is a quote from Thomas R. Schreiner in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on Romans.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>To say that believers are under grace means that they now have the power to keep the moral norms of the law (cf. 8:4; 13:8–10). Thus the freedom from the law trumpeted here does not imply that believers are free from the law in every sense…. (pg. 330)
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>Why then is “obedience” found here? Presumably because Paul wanted to emphasize that life under grace is characterized by obedience, by specific and concrete submission to the will of God. (pg. 331)
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>I need to pause here in order to emphasize the connection to the question raised in verse 15. If one claims to be “under grace” and yet lives as a slave to sin, then the claim is nullified by one’s conduct. Those who live under grace show that they are under grace because they have a new master (God) and are liberated from their old master (sin). Paul refuses to accept any abstract understanding of grace separated from concrete daily living. Grace does not merely involve the forgiveness of sins. It also involves power in which the mastery and dominion of sin are broken. (pgs. 332-333)
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>The ultimate outcome of a life of sin is death, but the outcome of righteous living is eternal life. (pg. 340)
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>Thomas R. Schreiner, [Romans](https://ref.ly/res/LLS:BECNT66RO/2009-10-27T20:24:24Z/1135814?len=100), vol. 6, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 340.
The New American Commentary
Each of the statements below is a quote from Robert H. Mounce, in The New American Commentary.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>The master we obey is clear evidence of whose slaves we really are. There is no room for compromise. (pg. 156)
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>There is a dramatic difference in the outcomes of choosing one or the other of these masters. To choose sin as a master leads to death. To choose obedience to God as master leads to righteousness (v. 16). (pg. 156)
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>But now we are set free from sin’s bondage (v. 22). We have become slaves of God. And is there benefit in this? Most certainly! The reward for serving God is growth in holiness and, in the end, eternal life. In fact, apart from holiness there is no eternal life. The author to Hebrews counseled a holy life because “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). Slavery to sin results in death. Slavery to righteousness leads to eternal fellowship with God. Or, in the words of Jesus, the broad road (the path of sin) leads to destruction, but the narrow road (the way of righteousness) leads to life (Matt 7:13–14). (pg. 158)
New Testament Commentary
The following statement is a quote from William Hendriksen and Simon Kertemaker in New Testament Commentary.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>When the law, erroneously viewed as means of salvation, ceases to exist, does this imply that the law as standard of perfection, that is, as the expression of God’s will for our lives, also ceases to exist and/or to operate, so that, as a result it is permissible to commit a sin here and a sin there? Not for a moment is Paul willing to grant even this concession to the antinomians. (pg. 204)
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>](#_ftnref1) What does Romans 6:22 mean? [https://www.bibleref.com/Romans/6/Romans-6-22.html,.(accessed March 16, 2023).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, vol. 6, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 330.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 158.
[<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>](#ftnref4) William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans_, vol. 12–13, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 204.