III.4. Romans 6:15-23. The Perfect Freedom is God's Service.
The reiterated mention of the deliverance of the Christian from the yoke of the law — 'You are not under law, but under grace' — brings up the excuse for licentious living in a new form: — 'This very abolition of the strict power of the law in favour of a system of which the ruling principle is God's goodness, at least makes one willing to contemplate any particular act of sin, with a good hope of escaping punishment.' St. Paul meets the suggestion with a 'God forbid,' and then gives a deep reason for repudiating it, a reason however which is but a version of our Lord's saying, 'Every one that commits sin is the slave of sin.' Every man is always acting under obedience. What he does in a particular case represents an act of obedience to some master; that is to say, a taking service with him. Moreover it appears on reflection that it must be with one of two masters and cannot be with both, for 'no man can serve two masters.' It is either with sin, whose service ends in spiritual as well as physical death, or with Him to whom obedience is properly due, whose service ends in righteousness. What gives St. Paul reason for thankfulness in thinking of the conversion of the Christians at Rome, is not that those who became Christians became thereby exempt from obedience, but that they changed their allegiance from sin to Christ. At their conversion they gladly submitted to a pattern or standard of teaching — the teaching of Christ — to which they were handed over for the fashioning of their lives — that is to say, they were made free from sin only to become slaves to righteousness. He uses the word slavery because so long as their weak flesh shrinks from divine obedience, they must recognize that the life which is really liberty must be accepted even as a bondage, till it cease to seem so. In old days they offered their limbs as slaves to uncleanness and lawlessness, and the result was a lawless life. Now they must yield their limbs as slaves to righteousness with a view to a consecrated life. And the change of allegiance is surely matter for congratulation. They can recall the days when they were free from the service of righteousness, as being slaves of sin, and they can remember what fruit they enjoyed as the result of experiences which they now blush to bring to mind. Of such experiences death, moral no less than physical, is the result. Now, set free from sin's slavery and made God's slaves, they enjoy the present fruit of consecration to God and the ultimate prospect of eternal life. So long as Sin was their master he would pay them their wages, and the wages which Sin pays is always death. But now that they are surrendered into God's hands, and simply dependent on His loving-kindness, there is no question of wages, but the gift of His bounty is eternal life, in Him whose life includes their own, Jesus Christ their Lord.
What then? shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? God forbid. Know you not, that to whom you present yourselves as servants to obedience, his servants you are whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that, whereas you were servants of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto you were delivered; and being made free from sin, you became servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as you presented your members as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity to iniquity, even so now present your members as servants to righteousness to sanctification. For when you were servants of sin, you were free in regard of righteousness. What fruit then had you at that time in the things of what you are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit to sanctification, and the end eternal life. For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
1. St. Paul is here expounding the real meaning of human liberty. It is generally regarded as the power 'to do as one pleases' or a state of independence. But such a state does not exist. There is indeed such a thing as the absence of external control up to a certain point. That is an element of liberty, but it reaches but a little way. The true liberty is the power to realize one's nature and make the best of oneself — the power to be what one ought to be or is meant to be. The instinct of language, as applied to man, recognizes this. When we see a drunkard, we recognize a man the balance of whose nature is upset. The higher part of his nature is being dragged at the chariot-wheels of his lower. So, be he never so free a citizen, we call him a slave — a slave of drink. On the same principle we speak of the slaves of lust or the slaves of money or the slaves of fashion or the slaves of popularity. By these phrases we describe various moral states in which some external or purely animal force dominates a man, and he loses his self-control, and his whole nature becomes disordered. The true order of human nature is that a man's body should be controlled by his will. Then he is self-determined. His whole life is the expression of a rational principle. He makes the best of himself. He is free to be a real man, according to the proper idea of humanity.
But how can this be? Can this reason or rational will in man stand and work of itself? Is it so constructed as to be independent? No. Just as truly as a man's bodily forces are drawn from sources outside himself, so his spiritual being depends on sources and motives beyond himself.
What does man's 'freedom of will' consist of? Speaking exactly, it consists of a power to direct a certain amount of physical force which passes into one's bodily frame, and to let it go out in one or another form of action, deed or word or thought, more or less moral or immoral, spiritual or carnal. And this liberty of direction, when more closely examined, is found to consist in a power which the will has to choose between motives which present themselves as ideas to the mind and to hand itself over to one or the other. Some of these motives are derived from physical or worldly appetites; some are derived through the conscience or faculty of spiritual apprehension. If, in cases where the lower motives conflict with the higher, a man still yields himself to the latter, his life is spiritual; and it is so because it is determined by motives and reinforced by influences which come from beyond himself, and are in fact the motives and forces of the Spirit of God. But in neither case is he independent and free from obedience. He stands at a meeting-point of the spiritual and material world, and must be governed by one or the other. In either case man's life is played upon and dominated by motive-forces, infinitely vaster and mightier than himself. Let him try (as he has tried) to forget his necessary dependence — to detach himself from the higher obedience and to 'be as God,' independent — and he falls necessarily under the dominion of the lower forces, of his flesh or of the world. If he is to cease to live below himself, he must consent to surrender to what is above himself. He must yield his spirit to the divine Spirit, which is its natural master. So he ceases to be carnal, or governed by the flesh, and becomes spiritual, or governed by the divine Spirit. And that is liberty. 'That man,' said Leo the Great, 'has true peace and liberty whose flesh is controlled by the judgement of his mind, as his mind is directed by the government of God.' God's service, and that only, is perfect freedom.
Man then is so constructed that he can only cease to fall below himself by being raised above himself. His life cannot fail to be stamped with the impress of sin unless it is stamped with the impress of God. The state of the Christian, surrendered to the fashioning of God, is that true dependence which is the true liberty. Independent of God, man stands at last over against God to get what his independent action has merited; and that is penal death, the inevitable outcome of misused faculties, enslaved to sin. Surrendered to God in faith, on the other hand, he receives into his nature, through all its open portals, the inflooding tide of divine love; and enters, enriched and uplifted, into the life that is eternal, the life which he shares with Jesus, the life that is truly human and really divine.
It is of great practical importance that we should get a just idea of what our freedom consists in. There are men who, under the impulse of a purely materialist science, declare the sense of moral freedom to be an illusion. This is of course a gross error. But what has largely played into the hands of this error is the exaggerated idea of human freedom which is ordinarily current, an idea which can only be held by ignoring our true and necessary dependence and limitation. It is this that we need to have brought home to us. There is an admirable story among George Crabbe's Tales, called 'The Gentleman Farmer.' The hero starts in life resolved that he will not put up with any bondage. The orthodox clergyman, the orthodox physician, and orthodox matrimony — all these alike represent social bondage in different forms, and he will have none of them. So he starts on a career of 'unchartered freedom,'
'To prove that he alone was king of him.'
And the last scene of all represents him the weak slave of his mistress, a quack doctor, and a revivalist — 'which things are an allegory.'
2. The phrase 'a form' or 'pattern of teaching,' is interesting. It suggests the idea of the Church as holding a 'pattern of sound words,' a definite body of instruction, which is to form the life of each person who gives himself over to her loving discipline. Christian faith is not a formless impulse; it is self-surrender to a corporate life ruled on a definite model of religious and moral teaching. What St. Paul has here chiefly in mind is moral teaching. But the moral teaching was inseparable from religious facts and motives. Nor is it difficult to ascertain from the allusions of the New Testament what the subjects were in which the first Christians were orally instructed, or, in other words, what constituted 'the tradition' which lies behind the written books of the New Testament. It comprised instruction in (1) the facts of our Lord's life, death, and resurrection; (2) the meaning of sacred rites — baptism, laying on of hands, eucharist — including the Lord's Prayer; (3) the moral duties of 'the way,' and the doctrine 'of the resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgement'; (4) the meaning of 'the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.' On all these subjects the books of the New Testament do not give the primary instruction, but imply that it has been already given.
3. The word rendered 'sanctification' (vers. 19, 22) is one which needs to have its primitive force restored to it. The 'saint' is the person set apart for the worship and service of God. What is here translated 'sanctification' means literally (1) 'the process of being made fit for such worship and service,' that is, consecration as of a priest; or (2) by a slight transition of meaning, the result of such consecration, i.e. 'holiness.'
 The tense of the verb in 'shall we sin' appears to indicate an act, not a habit of sin.
 John viii. 34.
 Serm. xxxix. 2.
 2 Tim. i. 13.
 Cf. Luke i. 1-4; 1 Cor. xi. 23; xv. 3, 4.
 Cf. Rom. vi. 3; Heb. vi. 1-6; 1 Cor. x. 15, 16; xi. 23 ff.; Acts ii. 38.
 Didaché, 8; cf. below, p. 293.
 Heb. vi. 1, 2; 1 Thess. iv. 1, 2; v. 2.
 See Hort, First Ep. of Peter, p. 18, for the fact that 'a recognized belief or idea [of the threefold Name] seems to be everywhere presupposed.'
 Cf. above, pp. 31, 32.
From St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, Vol. I A Practical Exposition by Charles Gore D.D. Reprinted in 1900. Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
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To the Romans, vol I - C. Gore
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