Proper Understanding of Terms Requires God’s Truth: Romans 6:15-23

Introduction:  This blog: A Proper Understanding of Terms requires God’s Truth conveys the message that some terms are under attack at God’s and the believer’s expense. Terms must be understood from God’s perspective not man’s or culture’s. A proper understanding of terms leads to knowledge, wisdom, joy, and peace.

Some terms are being challenged and even removed  from the public. However, some terms have greater theological and practical value. A proper understanding of terms requires the use of God’s truth. To determine the validity of this thesis we must use a proper standard. Which one? As Isaiah wrote in 8:20: to the law and to the testimony – to God’s Word – the Bible. The term slavery is one of those terms. Only God’s word will give a proper understanding of terms and this a proper meaning and usage. The term slavery is one of those terms. The idea of slavery denotes loss of freedom, captivity, bondage, and servitude. The word is relational. There is a master who is in charge and a person who does the master’s bidding.

Romans 6:15-23 powerfully explains why slavery is alive and well throughout all ages. A proper understanding of terms including this one forces us to study the Bible. We must go to the truth about God, ourselves, the origin of the term, and the term itself. It is truth that sets you free – free from the bondage of deadness, darkness, and depravity (John 8:31-32). The truth, a Person and God’s Word, sets us free (John 14:6; 17:17). In Romans 6:15-23, Paul further clarifies John’s word.

Paul began verse 16 with the words: don’t you know. Paul assumed common knowledge in regards to slavery. Slavery was a common phenomenon in the Roman culture. Moreover, everyone is a slave. He serves some master. Paul wanted his readers to focus on this fundamental fact. Slavery is of the whole person: thoughts, desires and actions. A person is a slave of and to sin, self, and Satan or he is a slave of and to God. The unsaved slave marches to the drumbeat for self, to self, and by self. The saved slave marches to another drumbeat: for God, to God, and by God. The results are either disobedience, uncleanness, and lawlessness (a law unto one’s self) or obedience, righteousness, and life: v.17-19. These definitions highlight the fact that proper understanding of terms requires God’s truth.

A proper understanding of terms such as slavery forces us to see what God says. Slavery is a worship activity (v.16,19). One presents his whole person (himself) to his master. One master is self and the other God. Many would substitute a variety of objects such as money, fame, possessions, or positions to mention a few. But in really the person is serving himself through things or others. He is a slave to himself! others. Serving Satan and serving self are versions of the same activity – anti-God rebellion.

The believer is still a slave but a slave unto God (v.17-20). In verse 17, Paul described the results of a radical transformation in the believer: But thanks to God that though you were once slaves to sin…. Paul used the same metaphor elsewhere (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 2:1-3). By God’s supernatural activity the believer has a new heart and a new-heart obedience. Paul did not mean that the unbeliever obeys from something other than the heart. The unbeliever functions whole-heartedly and is fully-devoted to self in place of God. Biblically, from the heart means a whole-person activity from a changed inner man. The slave of God thinks and desires God’s thoughts and desires and the resultant actions are designed to please God simply because He is God and He deserves praise and adoration. Every believer’s desire is to be like Christ – a slave to the Father! A proper understanding of terms requires a proper definition and that begins and ends with God.

Verse 18 speaks of freedom from a power or authority: You have been set free from sin and have slaves to righteousness.  Paul describes this moral drama being played out in the whole person in Romans 7:14-25. For the believer, the new operative principle ushers in a new mindset and lifestyle. The master and operative principle has changed – from sin, self, and Satan to God and from self-pleasing to pleasing God. The relationship to God has changed. Slave, yes, but it is a freeing-slavery because it is unto God. It is characterized by God-pleasing and righteousness. Trust and obedience in and to the old master is being set aside and in its place is trust and obedience out of awe, respect, and gratitude for Who God is and of what the new slavery consists. God’s truth is the only for a proper understanding of terms.

Luke records Jesus’ words in His inaugural public sermon in the synagogue (Luke 4:18-22). Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61:1. It is a powerful vision for release from bondage and blindness and of the joy of that deliverance. Both Paul and Luke used the metaphor of sin/self and God as slave-masters to help you and me understand the bad news of sin, misery, and death and the good news of salvation and sanctification individually and corporately (the church).

In Romans 6:20-22 (v.20: When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. v.21: What benefit did you reap from the things that you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death. v.22: But now that you have been set free from sin and become slaves to God the benefit that you reap leads to holiness and the results are eternal life), Paul picked up the tempo. He does not want his people to be content in the change but in changing. Paul expected fruit (v.21). He encouraged his readers to look back at their past in order to live better in the present and future (1 John 3:1-3). The fruit that Paul expected was becoming more like Christ (v.22). In Romans 13:14, Paul drew the line in the sand, so to speak, that differentiated the two slaveries. The believer is to be putting off self and self-pleasing and putting on Christ which means pleasing the Father by becoming more Christ-like in thought, desire, and action.

1. Do you have a biblical construct re: slavery or do you let the culture determine how to interpret terms?
2. Describe your slavery and its results (see Proverbs 26:11).
3. What patterned thoughts, desires, and actions of self-pleasing and slavery to self have you brought over into the Christian life that you are replacing guided by enabling grace and biblical truth? How are you progressing?