Vol. IX — No. 32 August 11, 1968


The Slave Is Free; the Free Is a Slave!

Romans 6:19-23

I speak after the manner of men because of V the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. what fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In Christ Jesus, who has rescued us from the slavery of sin and made us slaves of righteousness, Fellow Redeemed:

He spoke last Sunday of the righteousness that is better than the best that man can produce. That is the righteousness of Christ which is ours by faith. That better righteousness is never to be abused. The child of God is not to say or even think; “By faith I have the righteousness of Christ and the daily forgivenss of my sins, so it really doesn’t make any difference how I live.” No, a thousand times no! That righteousness, which is ours by Faith, is to be reflected in a corresponding righteousness of life. The Lord spoke of that at length in the Sermon on the Mount. St. Paul likewise speaks of the righteousness of life—how a child of God should conduct himself in this world—in all of his letters. We have such a section before us this morning in his letter to the Romans.

Paul approached this matter of the righteousness of life from the viewpoint of a paradox—that a slave is necessarily free and the free are necessarily slaves. Sounds strange, does it not—but true. The slave was bound to his master’s will, but that slavery freed him from much decision-making. The tree can make decisions of his own, but he is a slave to the necessity of making a living and to other responsibilities that family, society, church and state make upon him. In the old line communist countries there is but a single slate of candidates when the voters go to the polls. They are slaves of that slate of candidates, but are thereby freed from the necessity of making decisions. We have free elections with competing political parties and candidates. That automatically forces and compels us to some serious decision-making. Our free system enslaves us to the necessity of making decisions. You see, then, how the concept of slavery depends upon the concept of freedom, and freedom necessarily brings with it a form of slavery. This paradox Paul used to present the case for the believer’s righteousness of life. Let us examine his line of thought by considering the paradox:


I. The slave of sin is free from righteousness; he remains enslaved to his wages—death.

In this section Paul states a fact that may tend to startle many people. The fact is that all men are spiritual slaves. That sounds strange in our day and age when we hear so much of freedom. We think especially now of the cry for freedom from the “Puritan” ethic or Freedom from the laws of God and freedom from the old creeds that once used to bind the members of the great denominations. This new cry for freedom is really but a new disguise of Satan for a very old, old slavery. In some verses preceding our text Paul writes, “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” Whenever anyone enters into an obedience relationship with another, he makes himself a slave to that person. Spiritually ail people are either slaves of sin or of righteousness. There is no neutral ground or third possibility. Paul speaks of the implications of this situation in the verses of our text.

“I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flash.” Paul wants to put this matter in a plain and simple manner so that everyone will be sure and understand. In order to do this he refers back to the condition of the Romans before they became believers and so slaves of righteousness. At that time “ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity.” The Romans had surrendered the use of their bodies to sin, which Paul describes with two terms—uncleanness and lawlessness. It is well known that the pagan society in which the Christian Church took root and grew was Very free and easy going in regards to matters of sex relationships. Sexual lust was considered as natural and as moral as thirst or hunger. It was satisfied as conveniently as possible—without regard for the sixth commandment. Because of these conditions prevailing in the society of that day we find so many exhortations towards cleanness in the relationship of the sexes to each other in the epistles. The slave of lust simply used his body for the satisfaction of his lusts. The other word that Paul used was a word that has found its way also into the English language—anomie, which the dictionary defines as “a state of society in which normative standards of conduct and belief are weak or lacking.” This lawlessness or anarchy. The slave of sin doesn’t want to be bound by any law, either of man or of God. And he uses the members of his body to implement his way of lawless life.

Paul continues by applying the paradox that this slavery to sin involves also a freedom, “for when ye were the servants or slaves of sin, ye were free from righteousness.” When the Romans, before their conversion, were slaves of sin using and abusing their bodies in that slavery to sin, they felt no obligation towards and no desire to pursue righteousness. They weren’t tied to righteousness in any way. They were cut off from it and set freely adrift on the sea of sin. Reflecting back on these days the Romans had just cause to be ashamed.

Let us realize that most people that we see and meet are slaves of sin who use their bodies in the interest of that slavery and who are completely free from righteousness. Our society falls condemned to having dedicated itself to uncleanness. Anyone can go to a news stand and buy any number of magazines that feature nudes of both sexes in suggestive poses. The movies make light comedy of sexual sin. The degeneration of the last decades is impressed upon one by the seeing of the old film, “Gone With The Wind,” and then by sitting through one of the modern films. The modern movie and modern literature, for the most part, are saturated with uncleanness. Uncleanness is big business. Thousands dedicate their whole lives to it. Our youth and all of us are daily exposed to a systematic break-down of standards of decency and morality. We stand in danger of becoming so influenced that we too become slaves of uncleanness.

Look about you and see slavery to anomie—to lawlessness. Civil disobedience is lawlessness, also when preached from the pulpits and advocated by the National Council of Churches. The body is used to lie down in front of traffic and disrupt it. The hand is used to reach through a broken window to loot. The finger is used to pull the trigger as the sniper seeks his prey. The tongue is used to hurl insults and threats at those in positions of responsibility in government. This is slavery to sin. This is using and dedicating the use of one’s body, strength and mind in the service of lawlessness.

This is also freedom from righteousness. The obscenity and smut peddler, whether he be movie magnate or popular writer is completely free and divorced from any righteousness of life that our God demands. The sniper and looter and arsonist and also the preacher of civil disobedience are also free from, separated from and opposed to righteousness.

All such—in high and low places—are daily working and earning a wage. For sin is a slave master that always and unfailingly pays off. He pays off with death, “for the wages of sin is death.” The righteous also die, but for them death is a transition unto life. When the slaves of sin die, that physical phenomenon is but the prelude to eternal separation of body and soul from God in hell. The slave of sin, who has dedicated the use of his body to the service of sin, may laugh, may mock, may ridicule this possibility. But in the moment of death all laughing stops, and the slave of sin finds himself hopelessly enslaved to his wages—death in its fullest and eternal sense, the death of eternal separation from God and eternal torment. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked!”

On the other hand—

II. The free from sin is a slave of righteousness; he shall receive the gift of eternal life.

Paul speaks of the present condition of the Romans in these words, “even so now yield your members servants or slaves to righteousness unto holiness.” Their former slavery had been broken by a stronger power. Christ had entered their lives with His double blessing of forgiveness for their former slavery to sin and power to yield their members to righteousness unto holiness. Righteousness is that which is right according to the standard of God. When we think of the righteousness of life, that standard is the law of God—which, in turn, is a reflection of the holiness of God. Holy is such an overpowering word. It has a positive and a negative side. Its primary meaning is positive: splendid, beautiful, pure, and uncontaminated. The negative side is separated—separated from all that which lacks or mars moral splendor and beauty, separated from all uncleanness, separated from all contamination by sin. What a heap of living is compressed in these Few words that we should day after day be yielding our bodies “to righteousness unto holiness.”

This is to be the all-consuming passion of our lives. This is not some mechanical formula of a good deed a day. No, this is a way of life. We have spoken of sexual uncleanness and the consuming passion of our society to yield itself to this way of life. Christian young men and women and Christian adults are not non-sexual or neuter. Quite the contrary! They have received also this part of life—this very important part—as a gift of God to be used to His glory. Our young people find the members of the opposite sex attractive and stimulating. They fall in love. They want to be together. They plan together and they dream together. They enjoy courtship. But all of this in righteousness—preserving their bodies pure for each other on their wedding night. There is nothing morbid about this. It is rather something fresh and pure, noble and right. It is something that this foul world and fouled up world needs. You young people— “yield your members servants or slaves to righteousness unto holiness.” You adults —do the same!

How should we react to the anomie—the lawlessness that characterizes our society? By yielding our members slaves to righteousness unto holiness. Certainly there are laws which we may not like. Certainly social changes are being forced by new laws. Does that give us the right to break the law and so to make ourselves a law unto ourselves? No! If St. Paul and St. Peter could urge obedience to the tyrannical government of the Roman emperors, which illegally and unjustly took their lives, we ought to obey the laws of our government—even though they may inconvenience us or conflict with our personal wishes and desires. In so doing we yield our bodies to righteousness unto holiness.

Do we thereby merit salvation? Do we thereby earn escape from damnation? Ho! Here is where the Christian religion differs from all man-made religions. The question of merit lies on the side of slavery to sin. The slave of sin merits. But not the slave of righteousness. He receives a gift. How could it be otherwise? We have been rescued from slavery to sin by the grace of our God. He could not escape that slavery ourselves. God’s Son rescued us. He forgave us our sin and continues to forgive us our lapses when in weakness we yield our members to sin. He gives us the power and strength and will to live to righteousness unto holiness. 0f ourselves we would fall back into slavery unto sin. So it is that He at the end bestows the greatest gift—“eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” that a wonderful slavery—this grace-imposed slavery to righteousness which brings with it such a wonderfully enduring gift! Amen.

—Pastor Paul F. Nolting

Preached - July 28, 1968
Holy Trinity Independent
Evangelical Lutheran Church
West Columbia, South Carolina

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