Enslavement to God (6:15-23)

Lesson ▪ 2002-03
Tags: Romans 6:15-23; Sin; Sanctification; Obedience; Christian life
Excerpted from God’s Righteousness Revealed: An Exposition of Romans


This passage is parallel in structure and message to verses 1-14 in many ways: It begins with “What then?” and proceeds to a rhetorical question and a strong negation (v. 15; cf. vv. 1-2). It continues with a discussion of truth so elementary that Paul introduces it by saying, “Don’t you know?” (v. 16; cf. v. 3). Finally, it provides moral exhortation, grounding subjective experience in objective reality (v. 19; cf. vv. 11-13).

Paul’s theme emerges naturally from the context of verse 14: Given that believers are no longer under the law, are they free to sin? Once again he answers with a sharp negative (v. 15). The rationale for this response is the fact that believers have been enslaved to God22 as a result of salvation (v. 22). It is true that we are no longer under the dominion of the law, but we have been freed from sin so that we can serve righteousness (vv. 16-18). Having a new master, we are to yield to the cause of righteousness (v. 19).

In verses 16-18 Paul explains why Christians should not sin. Obedience is associated with slavery; if we yield to sinful desires, we live in bondage to sin, which leads to death (v. 16). But, though we were enslaved to sin prior to trusting in Christ, God has delivered us23—and we have surrendered—to a message that has freed us from sin (vv. 17-18). As a result of this transaction, we have a new master: righteousness (v. 18). Slavery is a reality, whether we choose to serve sin or righteousness. In coming to Christ, we have not achieved an autonomous freedom, but have been delivered from a bad master to serve a good one.

In verse 19 Paul argues that, having been enslaved to righteousness (objective reality), we should yield our members to the service of righteousness (subjective experience). Here he overtly states his accommodation to the carnal weakness of his readers. Their service of righteousness was both parallel to and distinct from their past service of sin. Just as they had surrendered their bodies to uncleanness and lawlessness before, now they should yield to righteousness in the pursuit of holiness.

In the remaining verses of the chapter, Paul contrasts slavery to sin (vv. 20-21) with slavery to God (vv. 22-23). Prior to accepting the gospel, we were in bondage. Nevertheless, we were free from one thing—righteousness (v. 20). And the ultimate outcome of such shameful service was death (v. 21). By contrast, we now live with a purpose: We pursue holiness and look forward to the hope of eternal life (v. 22). Our past submission to sin had death as its rightful consequence, but in Christ God has graciously given us eternal life (v. 23). In the light of these truths, it would be foolish to continue serving sin!


[no application developed for this passage]


22 While the KJV consistently refers to “servants” in this passage, the Greek doulos and its cognates clearly denote slavery.

23 Contrary to the rendering in the KJV, the Greek grammar clearly states that we have been handed over to the doctrine, presumably by God.