But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were taught, and having been liberated from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.
A believer must know and understand the nature of his new life in Christ and apply it, and he must understand the nature of his old sinful life to oppose it. Man is born with an old sin-nature, which means he is physically alive but spiritually dead. In Ephesians 2 Paul tells us that everyone is born dead in their sins, which means they are physically alive but spiritually dead. It means that the essence of their being is rooted in an old sin-nature. They have no link to God, because they have not yet trusted in Christ as their Saviour and been given a new, born-again spirit.
In Romans 6 Paul describes the condition of the natural man.. the unbeliever, who is dead in his sin, and he reminds the Roman believers that they were like this before they were saved. He looks back to their pre-salvation life and reminds them: at one time you also were servants and slaves of sin. Before salvation they were enslaved by the old sin-nature – they were in bondage to sin and slaves of sin, but after salvation, they were given a new nature and became servants of Christ – with a new life and a born-again spirit.
Sin in this verse does not refer to the actual acts of sinning, which are specific sins we actually commit, whether in the body or mind. Sin is anything we do that is performed in our own strength and apart from God. The word 'sin' in Romans 6 refers to the inner being of man – the old sin-nature within man, that everyone inherits from Adam. An unbeliever has only one way to function – through the old sin-nature, which makes every human being a servant to sin and incapable of pleasing God.
But Paul reminds the Christians in Rome that although they used to be slaves of sin and serve the sin-nature they were born with, they believed the gospel of grace, trusted Christ and obeyed from the heart. They obeyed all Paul taught them about how to live as a Christian. They paid attention to the new spirit of Christ they received at rebirth, which set them free from slavery to sin and made them slaves to righteousness.
Paul explains that by trusting Christ we have now become servants of righteousness. We have been set from sin and from serving the fleshly old sin-nature because we are born from above. Now we are serving the spirit and not the flesh. Now we are servants of the new nature in Christ rather than the old sin-nature, and these verses contrast an unbeliever’s former relationship as slaves of sin with a believer’s new relationship to their new life-in-Christ, which we all receive at salvation and which has made us all servants of righteousness.
A slave of sin functions through the old sin-nature, while a slave of righteousness functions through the new life in Christ. A servant of sin relates to the old sin-nature, while a servant of righteousness relates to the new life in Christ. The old sin-nature is in servitude to sin and functions under the law of sin and death, while the new life in Christ is in servitude to righteousness and functions under the law of Christ – the Spirit of life.
The unbeliever can only function as a slave of sin, which is automatically and uniquely under the law of sin and death from physical birth. Whether an unbeliever does good works or evil actions – whether he shows kindnesses or behaves wickedly, all he does emanates from the old sin-nature. The unbeliever is dead in sins (i.e. he has no relationship to God) but he is alive to sin (i.e. he functions under the law of sin). The believer is dead TO sins (i.e. he has a relationship to God) and he is alive to God (i.e. he functions under the law of Christ).
The believer has only two ways to function – either as a slave to sin or as a servant of Christ. He has two ways to live his Christian life – either under law or under grace. A believer has two choices – he can either submit to the evil enticements of the sin-nature, or he lives his life through the new life in Christ. And the believer is empowered to live his life this way, by virtue of what Christ did on the cross – because we are now free from sin. Remember the nature that we ‘feed’ is the one that will grow.
Now, this is vital.. at salvation, connection with the sin-nature was severed, but sin’s influence remains throughout our life. Although severed, the sin-nature doesn’t disappear when an unbeliever is saved, although as believers we are empowered to function apart from it. The sin-nature does not cease its demands on a believer when he receives his new nature. The connection with the sin-nature is severed but the influence of the sin-nature remains throughout our life. However, the more we starve sin by submitting to the new life in Christ, the more our new nature will grow.
At salvation the believer also receives the permanent presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit, causing two sets of demands to have an influence on a believer’s life. The spirit makes demands because we are now servants of righteousness, but the severed sin-nature also makes demands, by enticing us back into slavery to sin. A believer should respond to the spirit but may respond to the sin-nature – often causing inner conflict and confusion. But choices must be made and in Galatians chapter 5, Paul gives the prescription:- Walk by means of the spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. Gal.5:16
The lust of the flesh does not refer to any physical activity of sin, (which is the fruit of sin). It refers to the inner nature and origin of sin, (which is the root of sin). The new nature in Christ (the spirit of righteousness) is able to cancel out the activity of the old nature, but the choice remains with the believer, and so an inner conflict begins to rage: for the flesh has a strong desire against the spirit, and the spirit has a strong desire against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. Gal.5:17ff
From rebirth, ALL believers start to have this inner conflict with these two actively opposing forces, and so a believer must learn to walk by means of his new born again spirit, and this can only be done through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Only as he submits to the leading and guiding of the Spirit in his life will his new born-again spirit be empowered to live in newness of life. To understand that this inner conflict is a normal part of the spiritual growth of a believer is an important step toward learning to walk in spirit and truth rather than walking in the flesh.
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