Proper 7 · Romans 6:12-23 · June 22, 2008
By Anthony Cook,
Introduction to the Sixth-Eighth Sundays after Pentecost
As I began to prepare homiletical helps for Propers 7-9,I realized that the three sequential texts comprise the central portion of a larger section of Romans normally identified as Romans 6:1-8:39. This section transitions from the previous section, Romans 5:12-21, which contrasts Adam’s disobedience and its destructive impact on humanity with Jesus’ obedience and the resulting gift of grace and righteousness. The section immediately preceding Proper 7, Romans 6:1-11, rejects the idea that because of the grace we received through Jesus we are free to sin boldly so that grace might abound. Paul instead describes the connection that Christians have to Jesus through their Baptism. The Christian has been baptized into Jesus’ death, set free from the dominion of sin, and given a new life in Christ. Paul exhorts the readers to consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. The Epistle’s focus on the justifying work of Jesus now turns to new life in Jesus and what it means to walk in the newness of this life. The encouragement to walk in the new life that we have received through Jesus, and the difficulties involved in doing so, are the focus of Propers 7-9. While each text could be preached as separate sermons, I have chosen to present them as a three-part sermon series. I tided the series, “Portraits of Faith: Images of Our New Life in Christ” in order to place the texts under the umbrella of Romans 6:1-8:39.I also created a PowerPoint template that is available for download at www.ConcordiaTheology.org for use with the suggested three-part series. For those of us who get nervous dealing with texts focused on sanctification, I offer the following quote from Martin Franzmann on this section of Romans:
Until now Paul has concentrated on the new status the Gospel creates for man. This is all God’s doing…There is no activity of man’s here…But the creative force of the Gospel as the power of God for salvation is not exhausted in creating a new status for man…Man only receives from the giving hand of God; but he does receive, and he works with what he has received.¹
The three-part series below is my second revision. Originally, I failed to see the three portraits of who we are and who we are becoming as children of God (slave, bride, and soldier). While there are other ways that the texts can be connected, I thought that taking the approach of painting a portrait fit well and avoided the “just do it” approach that can be characteristic of sermons that deal with sanctification. Below is the suggested sermon series outline:
Portraits of Faith: Images of Our New Life in Christ · Romans 6:12-7:25a
I. Heart-Obeying Slave (Romans 6:12-23)
II. Fruit-Bearing Bride (Romans 7:1-13)
III. War-Waging Soldier (Romans 7:14-25a)
This text cannot be properly understood outside of its immediate context and the overarching theme of the Gospel’s saving and transforming power found throughout Romans. This text assumes a baptized audience. The Church in Rome was well established and, as Paul states in 1:8, their faith was “proclaimed in all the world”. The themes of being a slave to God, obedience of faith, and the tension between righteousness and unrighteousness that are woven throughout the epistle’s sixteen chapters can only be properly understood in light of the free gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ and the new life our unity with Him brings.
One of the most interesting aspects of this text is the use of παρίστημι. παρίστημι means to place something or someone at the disposal of another. It is also used in the sacrificial sense of “offering up” a sacrifice to God. These two uses come together in Paul’s concept of the Christian life as a “living sacrifice” in Romans 12:1-2:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)
It is the same “presentation” of our new lives to God that is encouraged in our text. The Christian is no longer under sin, but grace. Sin has lost its dominion. Sin is no longer our master. This new-found freedom in Christ does not, however, give the Christian license to continue in sin. Paul addresses this in verse 15 when he says, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” While it might seem absurd to conclude that the forgiven Christian can find comfort and even boldness in sin, because of God’s grace, it is deceptively easy to abuse our God-given freedom by obeying sinful passion. Because of this, Paul encourages us to reject the reign of sin and instead place our lives at the disposal of God, who brought us back from spiritual death through our baptismal union with Jesus’ death and resurrection. As a side note, while preparing this homiletical help, I spent time thinking and praying about what it means to place myself at God’s disposal. How would my daily life be different? How would God use me in my broken state to further His kingdom and accomplish His will? Paul provides a starting place for the exploration of these questions by illustrating the act of presentation or “placing ourselves at the disposal” of God in two ways. The first is as an instrument of righteousness and the second is as a slave of righteousness.
The presentation of our bodily members to sin as an οπλον (instrument) for unrighteousness is a vivid one. The reader can imagine the horror of giving back to sin the new life that took the death of Jesus to gain. The very body that was rescued from sin’s dominion is carelessly given back to its deadly rule in order to fulfill the base passions that still lurk in human flesh. By no means! Paul presses us to present ourselves to God instead. God, who brought us from death to life, is the rightful recipient of our bodily members. We are to be instruments of righteousness in the hands of God, not to fulfill our unrighteous desires, but to fulfill His righteous ones. Under grace, our very members become instruments of the Divine. It is interesting to note that in neither case are our members instruments in our own hands. We never reach the level of being the wielder, only the instrument wielded. This thought alone goes against the mainstream thought in society today and serves to correct any hubris that remains.
Paul’s second illustration is that of a slave of righteousness. While this illustration parallels the first, it serves to reveal further facets of the dichotomy. One facet that appears obvious, but requires some thought is that when we place ourselves at the disposal of another, they have effectively become our master, and we their slave. While this might be obvious in the case of servitude to the devil, it is less obvious in the continual series of master-slave relationships we encounter on a daily basis. Paul reminds us that we are slave to anyone we obey, either to sin or to obedience.
Obedience (υπακοή) is another facet of the slave illustration that requires thought. “Obedience” is not a frequently used word in congregations today. To many Christians it smacks of legalism, and to many brides it is an archaic vestige of a male-dominated society. Christian obedience is often seen as a punishment and limitation instead of a privilege and liberation. But in the end, Paul explains that it is not a matter of being obedient, it is simply a matter of to whom your obedience is given. Obedience to sin leads to death, but obedience to God leads to righteousness. Another interesting use of υπακοή is in the phrase, ύπηκούσατε δε εκ καρδίας εις ον παρεδόθητε τύπον διδαχής (“obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed”). As Christians, we are given over to a new standard of teaching, a teaching to which a heartfelt obedience is given.
Paul concludes this section by admitting that, previously, righteousness was not a concern. Since we were slaves of sin, unrighteousness was our command, but the fruit was rotten, shameful, and ultimately led to death. But we have been set free from sin and God is our new master. Life in His service leads to sanctification and eternal life in Jesus Christ. Death was the wage paid by our previous master, but God gives us the free gift of life—now and forever. God be praised!
The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience It displays not the slightest interest in the psychological reason for a man’s religious decisions. And why? For the simple reason that the cause behind the immediate following of call by response is Jesus Christ Himself.²
Introduction: Martin Luther in his 1521 letter to Philipp Melanchthon penned the following words, “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong…” Wow, no wonder the Reformation was so popular. Could it be true that, because of the forgiveness we are given in Jesus Christ, we have a free license to sin boldly? Not exactly, a closer reading of Luther’s letter reveals that his point is not that we are free to sin, but that we are free from sin’s oppressive dominion and that no sin can separate us from the grace of God in Jesus Christ. In our text for today, Paul asks and answers a similar question, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!…But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed…” In our message for today, we will explore what it means to be a slave who is “obedient from the heart” as we explore our first portrait of faith: the heart-obeying slave.
I. Who do we obey? (12-16)
A. Our Passion or God’s Purpose
B. Deadly Sin or Righteous Obedience
II. How do we serve? (17-19)
A. From Our Heart
B. To His Standard
C. By Our Freedom
III. What do we receive? (20-23)
A. Life not Death
B. Gift not Wage
Conclusion: As we leave our first portrait of faith—the heart-obeying slave— we remember the greatest servant of all, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, who not only served from His heart of love, but fulfilled the standard that we could never fulfill. It is because of His servant heart that we can rejoice in a freedom that the world can never steal and that sin can never destroy. Paul’s portrait of the Christian as the heart-obeying servant is one of willing service in response to Jesus and empowered by Him. It is an obedience that is willing and not coerced—done according to the heart and not the flesh. An obedience that places each of us at God’s disposal: for His purpose and to His Glory.
¹ Martin H. Franzmann. Romans: A Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1968), 105.
² Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Discipleship: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, (Vol. 4) Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2003.