“Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living.” Romans 5:15-18
In 1979 Bob Dylan wrote a song, “Gotta Serve Somebody”
“But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”
I don’t know if Dylan was inspired by the words of Jesus or by our text, but his song certainly reflects the truth of our text. Paul says that either you are a slave of sin or you are a slave to righteousness living. Unbelievers mistakenly think that they are free when they cast off God and follow their own lusts, but we are slaves to sin. If we reject God, it looks like we have freedom, but we are slaves to sin and corruption. For we are a slave to whatever controls us. “They promise freedom, but they themselves are slaves of sin and corruption. For you are a slave to whatever controls you. And when people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before.” (2 Pet. 2:19-20). God has freed us from sin, but not to live as we please. Rather, He frees us from sin to make us slaves of righteousness. It is because of God’s grace that we give ourselves to God. Paul proved that we are not saved by the law and that we don’t live under the law. The fact that we are saved by grace does not give us an excuse to sin, but it does give us a reason to obey.
Why does Paul contrast being a slave of sin with being a slave of obedience? We might have expected him here to say, “a slave of God”. He uses obedience because he wants to make it clear that not being under the law does not in any way imply that we are free to sin. Being under grace means that we present ourselves as slaves for obedience to God. This obedience is not the means to salvation, but rather the result of it. Thus, while slavery to sin leads to death, slavery to obedience leads to righteousness. We are not saved by our obedience, but rather we are saved by faith that results in a life of obedience. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8) Remember you have “Gotta Serve Somebody.”