20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.
The “for” here explains the analogy of slavery in verse 19 and the need to choose to follow God’s system of life in Christ via grace.
when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness [God’s righteousness].
The mastery of sin in one’s life demonstrates that God’s power does not have any impact on those who do not have Him in their lives. They have no connection to God’s righteousness. Their only orientation comes from being in Adam, not Christ. They cannot reform their lives without Christ because their entire orientation is without God.
There is no middle ground between the Christian life and the non-Christian life. Being free from righteousness means the state of being a non-Christian. The work of Christ on the cross was not applied to these people.
The idea of freedom from righteousness does not mean that non-Christians never do anything right but that they are not in phase with God, who is right. There are many law-abiding and decent people in the world who are not Christians. Apart from salvation through Christ, their orientation is to sin; they are deaf to God’s requirements. In that sense, their freedom is a grim picture.
What fruit did you have then [as non-Christians] in the things of which you are now ashamed?
The word “fruit” means benefit. The idea is, “What benefit is there in what you did as non-Christians?” The emphasis in Paul’s question is on the word “now.” Paul wanted the Roman church to look at their present spiritual lives. They were now ashamed of their sin-dominated lives as non-Christians apart from grace in Christ. There is no benefit to a life oriented to sin; everything that the lost do stands in God’s condemnation.
Shame is self-reproach. Remorse of conscience stings the soul. That is the perception of the believer’s old life in Adam. Anything in the life of Adam is worthy of eternal damnation.
For the end of those things is death.
Paul answered his question: the ultimate end of a life of self-gratification as non-Christians is “death.” The idea of death is separation. Here it is separation from God, eternal death, the death of the soul.
Later in verse 23 he wrote of the wages of sin being death but the gift of God being eternal life. The wages of self-gratification is ultimately eternal death, but the gift of becoming a Christian is eternal life by the grace concept.
But now having been set free [at one point in the past] from sin, and having become slaves of God,
Now, as Christians, believers are free from sin because of the cross in terms of its ultimate penalty. All Christians are equally free from the bondage to sin and all Christians are equally enslaved to God.
you have your fruit to holiness,
The final result or outcome of what Christ did on the cross is ultimate sanctification (“holiness”) in the eternal state. This is eternal positional truth. There will be a time when Christians will be free from all sin not only positionally in time but positionally in eternity.
and the end, everlasting life.
Having been set free at one point in the past from sin through the grace of God, Christians possess eternal life or eternal fellowship with God freely. Eternal life is a present possession for believers and it will have a future consummation in its “end.”
Holding the status of being in Christ by grace leads to eternal fellowship with God.
The reward for giving ourselves to God is eternal life by grace. The Christian leads a God-directed life because it is a God-centered life.