In this final, brief look at sanctification, I want to consider the phrase “slaves to God” (Romans 6:22). We've already seen that when we were lost, we were slaves to sin. We also saw that conversion leads to a change of heart that makes us slaves to righteousness. This next phrase, "slaves to God," doesn't indicate a third, different kind of slavery. Rather, Paul is broadening our view to see that when we were made slaves to righteousness, we became slaves to God. In other words, we did not come under the influence and power of some abstract idea of righteousness. We came under the influence and power of a righteous God. Having been saved, we are under His power and control. It is He who will bring us along on this journey of sanctification, and He that will ensure we arrive safely at the end.
It might be good to remind ourselves of the relationship between His work and ours. His work assures us of the eventual completion of our sanctification. Our responsibility is to willingly participate in it. This is a critically important component of the Christian life! Our participation in sanctification is required but is nonetheless dependent on His initial work. Both parties are engaged in the process: He must work and we must strive. “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.” (Philippians 1:6)
J.C. Ryle wrote, "In justification the word to be addressed to man is believe — only believe; in sanctification the word must be 'watch, pray, and fight.'
Finally, I would remind us of the debt owed by the slaves to the Master. God justified us when we were saved- He declared us righteous. We now strive to live out that holiness, but it is not paying back what is owed. We do not strive toward holiness to somehow prove we were worthy of justification. In fact, just the opposite is true- every step taken toward holiness is yet another grace given by God. So as we strive, we are not paying back, but growing increasingly in His debt. Why? Because our sanctification is for His Glory! That has been one of His purposes in calling a holy people for Himself, since the beginning. So He gets all the credit for the progress we make.
Paul asserts in verse 22 that the end of sanctification is eternal life. I can think of at least 3 applications of this passage (Romans 6:17-22):
The first pertains to salvation. To which of these entities Paul names are you a slave? And which is the fruit for your service to that master: life, or death? It must be one or the other. One way to discern that is to determine what your heart really wants. What do you think of a life lived in obedience to him? Would that be a cold prison? Or would it be freedom from the things of the world that can no longer satisfy you?
The second application pertains to struggling with sin in the Christian life. You may be tempted to conclude that if you are still struggling with sin, something has gone terribly wrong. You may think that sanctification is so much your own responsibility that you give up, and fall away. But the struggle with sin is a battle you can fight, because the war is already won in Christ. Don’t let little defeats discourage you- stay the course and press on toward greater obedience. There is sufficient grace in Christ for second chances again and again- so when you fail, begin again in Christ!
A third application pertains to a lackadaisical attitude about sin. We can sometimes jump to the conclusion that because the war is already won in Christ, we no longer need to fight. That’s sanctification weighted toward His responsibility. But this battle is not a charade. If you are not engaged in putting sin to death and pursuing Godliness with all your heart, there is a very good chance you are not on the road to righteousness and eternal life at all.
If you have never placed your faith in Christ and repented of your sin, cry out to God to deliver you from the bondage to sin. The message of the Gospel is: He will hear you. He will come and break the bondage of sin and make you His own. Or, if you need to shake off some deceptions from the Enemy, and get back in the fight against sin, then seek out accountability with a believer you trust - and go to war. Whatever the case, let's join the battle, and fight as those who are sure of victory. The God who calls us to the sanctified life is worthy of our every effort.