Sanctification sometimes feels as though God is bringing about circumstances in life which will make us both very holy and very unhappy. But that isn’t how it really is. Sanctification is an ongoing struggle, a battle waged against sin and the flesh. But while the battle sometimes seems to be trench warfare, there also great joys that come with victories. And the march is one that leads to home, heaven, and Christ Himself.
The New Testament uses the term “Sanctification” in three different tenses: past, present, and future.
In the past: referring to the moment of regeneration, when the believer was set apart from sin positionally. In the present: when the believer is being set apart from the power and practice of sin. And in the future: when the believer will be set apart from the possibility and presence of sin.
So Sanctification is being made holy – being set apart. And while we do participate in our present-tense, ongoing sanctification, our contribution is completely dependent on God. No one grows holy by themselves. That is what I want us to see over our next few posts: How God makes sanctification possible for us, and how we should respond in light of what He has done.
Romans 6:17-22 "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."
So our first point is this: Before our salvation, we were Slaves of Sin. (v. 17)
What does Paul mean by “slaves to sin?” Romans Chapter 6 is Paul’s argument that saving faith does not produce people who are tolerant of sin. Christians who have been justified by faith and regenerated to new life are not casual or cavalier about sin.
Just think of scriptures like 1 Peter 1:14-16 “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
What part of God’s holiness is cavalier toward sin?
In the first part of the chapter, vs. 1-14, Paul explains that our old self is crucified with Christ and we must now consider ourselves dead to sin. Here, in the second section, Paul uses the imagery of bondage or slavery- and he says in verse 19: "I am speaking in human terms so you can understand." Bondage and Slavery is something that First Century Christians could see and understand. It was all around them.
It is also of utmost importance that we understand sin as being more than a single infraction. It’s a state, a nature, a power. Being a slave of sin means being held under sin's authority, under its power, and being completely unable to change our condition. That's what "bondage" means.
We learn in verse 19 that we presented our members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, leading to more lawlessness. Not only were we powerless to change our bondage to sin- it’s much worse than that- we wouldn’t have called our bondage “bondage” at all! This slavery is not at all being made to do what is against our will. It is that our will has been taken captive! “We present ourselves.”
When we were lost, we were quite happy with our sin! We’re not happy with other peoples’ sin, but we can’t wait to participate in our own. So, we presented our members to impurity and lawlessness. And that leads to more of the same thing. That’s the problem with a corrupted appetite- it’s insatiable. The thing that made us happy is the thing we want more of.
In verse 20, Paul says when we were slaves to sin, we were free in regard to righteousness. That means sin held us in bondage, but righteousness had no power over us- no appeal whatsoever.
You’ve probably heard reasoning like this, before: "Who wants to have to be righteous? Rules and regulations and observances and prohibitions… I don’t want to be prisoner to that! I’m free from all of that."
That’s how badly sin messes us up! Sin-sick people look straight in the face of freedom and call it bondage; and then go right back to the enslavement that makes them happy.
Last time, I brought up the Israelites who wanted to return to Egypt. That little illustration still fits. In Numbers 11, the people were lamenting the manna. So they cried at the doors of their tents for meat. And they said, “Remember in Egypt, we ate fish!” and get this- I’m not making this up! This is Numbers 11:5. “We ate fish in Egypt that cost nothing.” Now that is insanity! In Egypt, if you were a Hebrew, you could have free fish. They also murdered your children and whipped you with Lashes and gave you tasks like “bricks now, without straw.” Of course the fish was free. Tim Keller said, “What rational person looks at this and says, “well there was a perk. The fish was free.”
Think of it! Freedom and provision literally raining down from heaven rejected because they wanted to satisfy their bellies.
So we were slaves to sin, and we didn’t want holiness or righteousness. We were in bondage: endlessly presenting ourselves before sin, our master, and always wanting more. In verse 21, Paul shows us the fruit of this bondage: death. But for those who would believe in Christ, the story doesn't end with death! The call of scripture is to come to Christ in faith and repentance, when God Himself will exchange our bondage to sin with bondage to righteousness. In the next post, we'll see how God makes that possible.