Romans 6:12-22 Slaves to Righteousness (Rev. Erik Veerman)

Jun 25, 2023    Erik Veerman

Romans 6:12-22

Slaves to Righteousness

Rev. Erik Veerman


A big thank you to David Fraser for preaching last week. Aren’t we always blessed by his rich insights into the Gospel of Mark?

A couple of weeks ago we started a summer sermon series in the book of Romans chapters 6 and 7. That will be our focus for the next 5 weeks. 

These are two chapters where the apostle Paul answers the question, “should we sin because we’ll get more grace?” And as we considered two weeks ago, the emphatic answer is, “heaven forbid!” And he goes on to answer why.

The reason we started with the first 11 verses are their emphasis on knowing. If you remember, that word “know” is used three times in those opening verses. Well, as we get to these next 11 verses it shifts to two things. 

•First, action. Over and over we’re called to respond. As I read, listen for the word “present” as in “present yourself.” That’s one emphasis, our responsibility. 

•But second, there’s also an emphasis on something done to us. We’ve received action from God. Also listen for the phrase “have become” or “have been” as in “have been set free.”

Those two ideas are interwoven throughout these verses. Our responsibility as a result of what God has done for us in Christ.

Reading Romans 6:12-22 (Page 1120)


I bought a lemon tree this week. It’s too small right now to produce lemons, so I made some paper lemons so you can imagine it. This lemon tree is called a Meyer Lemon tree. The root system is not the original root system for this small tree. No, this stem with its branches had been cut off from its own roots and grafted into a new root structure. And as you can see, it’s alive! One of the reasons for grafting fruit trees into new root stock is that it helps protect the fruit tree from disease and it gives it strength and durability in different environments.

In the first 11 verses of Romans 6, we learned how believers in Christ have been grafted into him. The language used in verse 5 is “united.” We’ve been united to Christ. And let me say, it’s one of the most theologically beautiful concepts in the whole of the Bible. Believers in Christ are united to him in a mysterious way. If you know and believe in Christ as your Savior, you have been grafted into him like this lemon tree has been grafted into a new root system. It’s through that union that you receive the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Through his death, you’ve died to your sin and its consequences, and through his resurrection you have assured hope beyond the grave.

That’s what the first 11 verses reveal - the great truth of your union with Christ; that your old self died with him and your new self is alive in him. Christ is now the source of your strength. All the nutrients and blessings of Christ are flowing through you because you are in him and he is in you.

So, with that truth, the rest of this chapter now turns to the consequences of your union with Christ.

And when you think about it, it’s profound! Knowing that when you came to Christ as Lord and Savior, the change in your life was more than just setting your mind and heart on God. You became one with him, as a branch that has been grafted into the vine. The Holy Spirit united you to him. Even though we can’t comprehend how that union that happens, it’s true, andd it has deep implications for how we live our lives. And that’s what this second half of chapter 6 focuses on.

Two points. [CHECK: They are on the back of your bulletin.] I also included some of the related verses that go with each.

1. First, You’ve been freed from your slavery to sin. (Romans 6:14, 17, 18, 20, 22)

2. Second, Therefore, live as slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:12, 13, 16, 19, 21)

You’ve been freed from your slavery to sin. Therefore, live as slaves to righteousness.

1. You’ve been freed from your slavery to sin (Romans 6:14, 17, 18, 20, 22)

Another way to describe point #1 is your status. You are freed. Or another word: redeemed. Or rescued. Or delivered. It’s not something that you’ve accomplished yourself, rather, it’s something that God has accomplished on your behalf.

Look down at verse 14. This is right after that apostle Paul says you are to be an “instrument for righteousness.” We’re going to come back to that in point 2. But look at what he says in verse 14. “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Do you see how this is a statement of your status? Sin “will not have dominion over you.” “will not.” It’s referring to the fact that because of your union with Christ, sin is no longer in control. And let me define sin again. Sin is when you break God’s commands in what you think, say, or do… or in what you don’t think, or don’t say, or don’t do.

In other words, sin used to be in control of your life, but since you are in Christ, sin is no longer in control. 

The end of verse 14 further explains. “You are not under law but under grace.” If Christ is your Lord and Savior, your status is no longer condemned by God’s law, but rather your status is redeemed by God’s grace. Grace is God’s free and underserved gift of salvation.

Imagine chains tied to your arms and legs and secured to the wall of a prison cell. That’s an image of your old self under the power of sin. You were bound by it.

I was thinking of Les Mis this week. I’ve used this illustration before but there’s an angle that connects really well with Romans 6. Jean Valjean is the protagonist. And the story starts out with Valjean in prison. We learn he had stolen bread to feed his sister’s family.

And his punishment is forced labor for years and years. He’s consigned to grueling work in the galley and quarry. The guards constantly driving the prisoners like cattle. There’s no escaping. That’s like our old self, bound by sin, slaves of sin. 

But something happens to Jean Valjean when he’s release. As a former prisoner, he was considered tainted and unworthy of being hired or helped. He had nowhere to go. But a bishop takes him in and feeds him. Despite that, in Valjean’s desperation, he steals the bishop’s silver utensils. Well, soon after he left, he’s arrested and brought back to the bishop. But in an overwhelming display of grace, the bishop gives Valjean his silver candlesticks as well. Had the bishop spoken up, Valjean would have been condemned to live out his days as a slave. But instead, he’s shown favor and love. And that grace changed him. In the musical, the Bishop sings to Valjean, “I have bought your soul for God.” A little bit later, Valjean responds that this man offers me freedom. And he concludes that out of the whirlpool of my sin, a new story must begin.

Romans 6 over and over declares that your old self had been a slave to sin, or a slave to lawlessness and impurity. But, Christ bought your soul for God. You have been set free by him. That’s the language here. Verses 17 and 18 and 20 and 22. You’ve been set free. It’s a passive action that has happened to you. You see, you didn’t set yourself free. You didn’t break the power of sin. No, God has done that for you. It says, “you have been set free.”

This language of slavery and freedom is Paul illustrating your union with Christ. He’s using a metaphor. He says that right there in verse 19. “I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations.” In other word, “I’m using this life example because this is a difficult concept to understand.” You see, in the Roman Empire in the first century, indentured servitude was very common. Paul’s audience would have been very familiar with slavery. A slave was forced to obey his master. And furthermore, the terms of the slavery and freedom were not in the control of the slave. I think we all get that. The metaphor teaches that before you were united to Christ, you were bound by sin to death (verse 16). Your branch was not grafted into the life-giving source of Christ, but rather it was bound to your former self. Your old root system was dead in your sin. There was nothing you could do to come alive. But God made you alive in Christ. You were cut from that old dead root and grafted into Christ into his life-giving root structure.

The summary of point #1 is this. Sin no longer has dominion over you. God has given you his grace in Christ. You’ve been freed from your slavery to sin through your union with Christ. It’s God’s work, not your work. It’s grace because you didn’t deserve to be freed, but God has freed you.

2. Therefore, live as slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:12, 13, 16, 19, 21)

That brings us to point number 2. Therefore, live as slaves to righteousness.

The implication of the grace that we have in Christ is to live, not as slaves to sin, but instead as slaves to righteousness.

You probably noticed that the question in verse 15 is virtually the same question as in verse 1. “Are we to sin because we are not under the law but under grace?” And his answer is the same, “by no means!”

To put the answer in another way. Since God gave you his underserved grace by freeing you from sin, then why would you want to continue to be in sin?

Sometimes we call this misunderstanding “cheap grace.” The idea that because God is so gracious, we don’t need to worry about how we live. We can willfully continue to sin knowing that God will forgive us. That’s cheap grace.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who opposed the Nazi regime, wrote these words:

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, [and] grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” 

In fact, I don’t think we can even call it cheap grace. It totally misunderstands the purpose of grace.

Bonhoeffer then writes about true grace which he calls costly grace. “Costly grace ... is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble… it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.”

You see, the true grace of God causes us to pursue righteousness.

To put it in another way, as a response to God’s work in us, uniting us to Christ, we are therefore enabled and called to pursue him and his righteousness.

That idea is captured in the language of verses 12 and 13 and 19. In verse 12, Paul writes, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.” Your ears, your eyes, your mouth, your hands… each part of your body is directed by your mind and heart. God is saying in Romans 6 that as new creations in Christ, pursue the righteousness of God and not the sinful passions of your heart which are worked on in your mind, and mouth, and hands, etc.

That word “present,” as you heard, is used multiple times in these verses.

•Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, 

•but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life

“Present” meaning “to offer” or “to give yourselves in service to.” So it’s saying, because God has grafted you into Christ, so now give yourself in service to him and his righteousness. 

•If you look down at verse 19, its similar. “Just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity… 

•so now present your members as slaves to righteousness”

There’s that language again of slavery. This time, not a slave to sin, but as a slave to righteousness. 

The beautiful think about Jean Valjean’s life is how he changed. After Valjean received that undeserved grace, he dedicated his life to helping and showing grace to others. He started a business that provided for many his town. He cared for Cosette, acting as her father after Cosette’s mother passed away. He rescued Marius from the drama of the French Revolution, carrying him through the sewers of Paris to freedom. Yet the whole time he was being pursued by Javert, the inspector seeking to throw Valjean back into prison and slavery. But Valjean was a new man, with a new freedom, enslaved by grace. The ultimate picture of this was when the revolutionaries captured Javert, they planned to kill him, but Jean Valjean spared Javert’s life. Valjean had the opportunity to take revenge on the man who had hunted him through the years. But instead, Valjean returned the grace given to him so long ago. He was now a slave to righteousness.

His heart had been changed and there was a new master to serve.

There’s a word at the end of verse 19 that really captures the theological heart of our response. It says, “present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” Sanctification is God’s ongoing work in us. If you will, conforming us more and more, each day, to Christ. Sanctification is also a work of grace. But we have an active part in that. Our responsibility is to respond to the Holy Spirit’s work in us through our union with Christ. That is sanctification. 

And look at verse 22. It continues that emphasis on God’s sanctifying grace in our lives. It says, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification...”

I love that phrase there. “The fruit you get.” It does not say “your fruit.” Imagine that you are this lemon tree, and you are growing yummy lemons. The thing is, you have a new root system. The nutrients that are causing those lemons to grow are flowing through you and in you to produce those lemons.

You see, it’s God working in you through your union with Christ that produces the fruit in your life.

For a long time, I misunderstood this idea of fruit in the Christian life. When people would ask if I was displaying fruit, I would always think of things external to me. Like, are people coming to faith, am I seeing others grow in discipleship. But I came to realize that the fruit of the Christian life is an internal thing. It is God working in you. Galatians 5 captures it well, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Let me put it this way, bearing fruit is allowing God to work his sanctification in you. Now, you can constrict it. Imagine you are a branch, and you say, “I don’t want fruit, I’m going to cut off the flow of nutrients to my branches.” But what will happen? Well, your leaves are also going to turn brown. And that’s going to lead to a branch that is in poor spiritual health. But that’s not what we’re called to!

Let me read our two points again and then summarize.

#1 You’ve been freed from your slavery to sin. #2 Therefore, live as slaves to righteousness.

What I’m saying is that God has taken you from death to life. Because he now lives in you, you can now live in his righteousness. It’s still God working in you. It’s God’s fruit. Don’t believe that it’s you who are producing the fruit. But you are responsible to present yourselves to God in obedience. That’s what it means to live as slaves to God and his righteousness.


Now, I think it’s important for me to answer the how question. In other words, how do we do this? Where do we start? Where do we go to fulfill this call to live as slaves to righteousness?

Well, part of the answer is right in verse 17. “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart” (and here’s the answer), “to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.” When God unites you to Christ, you become obedient from the heart (from within) to what? “to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.” It’s saying, we go to God’s Word. God commits us to it. In other words, he brings us to his standard of righteousness which is his Word. So, we read the Bible, we seek to know it, to understand it, and to apply it in our lives. And through that endeavor, God will produce that fruit which leads to sanctification.

Now, every single one of us struggles with certain temptations and sin. The journey of sanctification is not an easy one. For example, addictions are very difficult to overcome. It takes prayer and outside help and the body of Christ supporting you. Also, the impact of past situations and broken relationships and grief is hard to navigate as we seek to pursue righteousness. 

The apostle Paul is not saying that the journey is easy. In fact, in the next chapter, he’s going to be very clear about his struggles and how he looks to God’s grace.

But how do we take steps forward? Well, I want you to think about one or two areas of sin in your life. Is it sexual temptations that you act upon in your heart or mind or in pornography or adultery? Or is it anger or anxiety or covetousness? Or are there cultural idols that are distracting you from God – the love of money or you reputation or your appearance? What is it?

Now let’s apply Romans 6 to that sin. If you are a believer in Christ, you are united to him. And that gives you three things that will both challenge you and help you. 

•First, when you sin, or to use the words here, “when you present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness.” When you do that, you are sinning against Christ. Remember, he is in you. Actually, this is helpful to think about that when you are tempted… remembering that Christ is in you and you in him.

•Second, and related to that. Because you are united to Christ, you can draw on the deep nutrients of his righteousness in your life. You can allow his fruit to develop in your life as you grow in sanctification. So, go to him with your sin. Go to his Word. Seek his righteousness which in you.

•And third, because you are united to Christ, you have his grace… the grace of Jesus death and resurrection. I want you to hear me if you are struggling right now. God’s grace should not be used to justify your sin. But that does not mean that God’s grace is not sufficient for when you do sin. It is. Through your union with Christ, you are assured that you have been brought from death to life for eternity.

As we close, you probably noticed - I did not include verse 23 this morning. Romans 6:23 is one of those well know verses in the Bible. So, we’re going to consider it next week. And of course, it very much connects to the rest of chapter.

To wrap up. If you know God in Christ. If you have professed faith in him, repenting of your sin, then you have been freed from your slavery to sin. In that new life, united to Christ, your call is to live no longer as a slave to sin, but as a slave to righteousness. If that’s you, allow God to work his fruit in you, the fruit of sanctification.

But if you do not know God in Christ. You need him. You need to be united to him by faith, you need him to free you from your slavery to sin. And you need to instead be his servant. He is a loving, gracious Lord to who will free you forever.