Enslaved To…?: Obedience in Light of God’s Grace (Pt. 1)
March 4, 2018
When the word “slavery” is spoken, it inevitably produces a sense of shame, regret, and sorrow. We don’t have to have been slaves or slave owners to feel the pain that is in that word. And we are hardly the only country to associate “slavery” with “shame.” Virtually the entire world has some experience with slavery, either as those who have been enslaved or those who enslaved others. And it has been that way for most of the history of the world. And that story of slavery has never been a good story. For instance, Plato wrote this about the master’s relationship to his slave:
He is a troublesome piece of goods, as has been often shown by the frequent revolts of the Messenians…
Slaves ought to be punished as they deserve, and not admonished as if they were freemen, which will only make them conceited. The language used to a servant ought always to be that of a command, and we ought not to jest with than, whether they are males or females… [Laws VI, 777-8; cited by Yamuchi, “Slaves of God,” 37.]
Writing somewhat later, Roman philosopher Seneca noted the sad state of the slave:
The poor slaves may not move their lips, even to speak. The slightest murmur is repressed by the rod; even a chance sound,—a cough, a sneeze, or a hiccup,—is visited with the lash. There is a grievous penalty for the slightest breach of silence. All night long they must stand about, hungry and dumb. [Yamuchi, 38.]
It is well known that there were a great many slaves in the Roman empire — some estimate that there may have been as many as 60 million slaves. And in addition to slaves who did menial tasks and served as laborers, there were many slaves whom we would consider “white collar” — doctors, teachers, musicians, actors, slaves, stewards, and more. While there were free men in Rome, a vast number of the population was enslaved. And while some were treated well, they were still slaves, deprived of rights of personhood.
What is most remarkable is that Paul uses this word “slave” to indicate the believer’s relationship with Christ in Romans 6:15-19. He will note in v. 19, in a nod to the harshness of the term, slavery is inadequate to express our relationship with Christ, yet there are close corollaries that must be understood and embraced if we are to know the fullness of our fellowship with Christ.
Cultural slavery served as a helpful reminder for the believers of the early church of the spiritual principle that not just many men, but all men are slaves. All people everywhere are slaves. There are no free individuals. There are no autonomous individuals. No one who has the freedom to do what he wants. All men are enslaved. And all men are enslaved to one of only two rulers — either sin or God. There are no other options. The bad news is that if someone has rejected Christ, he is not his own master, but he is enslaved to sin and sin is his wicked and harsh taskmaster.
But the good news is that if one is a believer in Christ and united to Him, then he is not a slave to sin, but is a slave to Christ. And because he is a slave to Christ, he not only is enabled to obey Christ, but obeying Christ is the normal necessity of his life. That’s what Paul will explain in Romans 6:15-23. And that explanation is really an explanation about grace and what it means to be “under grace” (Rom. 6:14).
We can say it this way…
Living by grace means living obediently to God.
What do we need to know about grace so that we can live obediently to the Lord? Here are four truths about grace the we must know and believe and live…
- A Question About Grace (v. 15a)
- A Misunderstanding About Grace (v. 15b)
- A Correction About Grace (v. 16)
- What Grace Does in Us (vv. 17-19)
Download the rest of this sermon on Romans 6:5-19.
The audio will be posted on the GBC website tomorrow morning.