16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
16 Do you not know
In the argument against the idea that Christians are free to live a life of absolute liberty, Paul appealed to a self-evident truth. Slavery was a well-known idea in the first century. There is no middle ground between being a slave to sin and obedience to God.
that to whom you present [offer as a pattern] yourselves slaves to obey,
Beginning with this verse to the end of the chapter, Paul presented the imagery of the slave. The cities of the Mediterranean were filled with slaves brought in from other countries. These slaves could identify with the imagery of the slave.
The word “present” carries the idea of offering ourselves to sin, or to God to do what He wishes us to do about salvation.
This phrase denotes the condition of those who presented or yielded themselves to either sin or God. Our orientation shows who our master is.
that one’s slaves whom you obey [as a pattern],
Being enslaved leads to the normal consequences of slavery and identifies the master. Obedience was essential to slavery; a slave did what he was told. There was no need to obey his former master because obedience was transferred to the new master. Obedience shows whose slave he was.
The point here is not what a person ought to be but what a person is. A non-Christian is a child of Adam; a Christian is a child of Christ. The Christian gains new status at his new birth. A Christian does not sin without recourse.
There are two masters in this passage:
whether of sin leading to [issuing in] death,
Slavery to sin leads to death (6:21, 23). The “death” here is the death of any kind–whether physical, eternal, or temporal death—to fellowship with God. Death is the complete and final expression of sin’s power. Death is ultimately separation from God, whether in time or eternity. Sin is not harmless, as some would have us believe.
or of obedience leading to [resulting in] righteousness [conformity to a norm]?
Obedience here is response to who and what we are in Christ as over against our previous state of being in Adam. Righteousness is the antithesis to death here.
Obedience to God leads to “righteousness.” This obedience brings about righteousness. This is not works-righteousness of self-achievement. The idea is of a slave who has no option but to offer obedience that produces the end product of righteousness. The imagery of slavery for Christians implies that God is their Master. Obedience is essential to a life lived by grace. The essence of obedience to God rests on what God has done for the individual. It shows whose we are.
No man is absolutely free from a master; we serve either sin or God.
Either we are slaves against our will to sin or voluntary slaves to a gracious God. Christian slavery is grateful voluntary obedience.
There is no abstract idea of grace outside daily living. Those who claim to live by grace but do not manifest it with a life that represents Jesus whatsoever are fooling themselves. Grace not only encompasses forgiveness of sins but embraces power over sin. It is one thing to have occasional lapses into sin, but loyalty to Christ does not allow the believer to remain unconcerned about his sin.
There is no room for compromise between masters. God requires that we willingly abandon ourselves to Him. This is not coercive but voluntary.
Mt 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [money].”