You’re Gonna Have to Serve Somebody!

Title: You’re Gonna Have to Serve Somebody

Text: Romans 6:15-23

Time: September 17th, 2006

In the late 70s and early 80s, Bob Dylan the folk singer wrote a song during the time he was searching for God called “Serve Somebody,” where one of the lines goes: “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. It might be the devil or it might be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” What he was saying is that each of us, all of us, are going to serve somebody or something whether we know it or not. We either serve this, that, or the other, but we are all going to be serving something or someone with our lives; there’s no getting around it. The Apostle Paul makes the same point in this next passage, 6:15-23, from the Book of Romans. Jesus made the same point earlier in His teachings when He reminded everyone that they each carry a burden in life, but they can choose which burden they will choose to carry. He invites everyone: “Take My yoke upon you, for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” Jesus invites everyone to serve Him and take upon themselves His yoke and burden, which, compared with the yoke and burden of sin, is easy and light. But everyone has to make that decision himself or herself. Now the Apostle Paul wants to encourage Christians to always choose to be slaves of righteousness and never go back into the slavery of sin, because now for the first time they truly have a choice. Whereas before, as children of Adam with inherited sin and death, we were all by nature slaves to unrighteousness, but now that we are freed from sin and death through the sacrificial life and death of Christ, we are free to choose righteousness and life. Now some Christians during the time of Paul misunderstood what he was saying and starting thinking that he was giving them a license to sin, since if we are truly free, we must be free to sin. Romans 6:15, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” Paul wants to argue that while we are technically free to sin, why would we, how could we? We have been set free from the necessity of sin, we are no longer slaves to our old evil natures, why would we, how could we, use our freedom to go back into slavery? It doesn’t make any sense. That’s what Paul wants to convince people — that it doesn’t make any sense to finally be freed from the power of sin only to use the freedom to go back into the bondage to sin. The Apostle explains this in terms of the human institution of slavery, which was a common fact of life during the time of Paul in the 1st century. He tries to explain that through Jesus Christ we are now truly free; we now have a choice. He also explains that even though we are free to choose sin again and literally return to the slavery of sin, we shouldn’t, because it negates everything Christ did to set us free. Finally, he explains why we should use our freedom to choose righteousness and life — which is the very reason why Christ set us free to begin with. This is a very practical teaching because it reminds us all to reject sin and choose righteousness in our daily manner of life. Romans 6:15-23 (read).

First, You are no longer a slave, now you are free! Romans 6:16-18, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” According to Jesus, everyone is a slave to something, everyone carries a burden, and everyone has a yoke to carry. Jesus invites everyone to accept his burden, take upon his yoke, because it is easy and light, compared with its alternative, sin and death. Paul explains here that now we have a choice who and what we will serve, whereas before we had no choice because we were bound by sin and death. As the result of Adam’s sin, we all inherit sin and death. We don’t even have a choice in the matter. Just as we were not asked whether we wanted to be born, we were not asked whether we wanted to be slaves to sin and death; we just are by virtue of being born into a sinful, fallen human race. We didn’t even know it but we sinned because we were slaves to sin, even though we didn’t think of ourselves as slaves of sin. Paul explains: “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey, whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness,” Romans 6:16. The difference now is that whereas before, we were all slaves without any choice in the matter, now we can choose whom we will serve. Like the Bob Dylan song says we all have to serve somebody (or something). According to Paul, whatever we offer ourselves to, to that we are slaves. If we live our lives according to our sinful nature, we are slaves to sin. But if now that we have a free choice, we offer ourselves to God, we make ourselves slaves to righteousness. And the difference is — now we can choose to be voluntary slaves to righteousness. We didn’t know it or not, but before we were set free through Jesus Christ, we were slaves, slaves to sin, slaves to rebellion against God, slaves to things that lead to death. We got that through our inheritance of original sin from our original father Adam. We were born into slavery because Adam became a slave to sin and death after he and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden. Following Adam, the whole human race is born into sin and everyone becomes a slave to sin whether they know it or not. But when we put our faith in Christ we were freed from the bondage of sin, and now we are free to serve righteousness. “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness,” Romans 6:18. We choose now who we serve, which is why Paul urges us to make the right choice.

Second, You can choose sin, but don’t do it! Romans 6:19-21, “I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death.” Again, Paul tries to explain how utterly foolish it would be to be set free from the slavery of sin, only to use that new-found freedom to return to the slavery of sin. Yet that is exactly what some people do if they are not careful. Slavery to sin leads to death. Now death is a lot more than physical death as we think of it, although it certainly includes that. Death in all its fullness is the original punishment that was given to Adam for his sin. Genesis 2:16-17, “And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’” We all know that Adam did disobey God, he did sin, and he was punished and he eventually died. But he didn’t die physically immediately, although he began the process of physical death that was fulfilled at a later time. So we see that death isn’t just the end result, but it’s a process. When we sin, we don’t die immediately in most cases, but we do join in to the death process. When we live a life of sin, we are living a deadly kind of life, or living death. Jesus said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly,” John 10:10. He wasn’t just speaking of biological life, physical life, but rather life as a higher form of life, more like the original kind of life God created Adam and Eve to have before the fall into sin, before the death process began. Paul urges all Christians to use their new freedom from sin for good and not for evil, for righteousness and not sin. To the question: “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” Paul would answer: “What sense would it make to return to that which you were freed from? Who would willingly become a slave again to that which he was freed?” It doesn’t make sense. Only temporary insanity could account for it. Although we do know for a fact that just after the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves in the South, there were some slaves who voluntarily turned back again to virtual slavery against their own best interests. Why would they do that? How can we explain such a thing? Why would they use their own freedom of choice to choose to return to slavery? The point is, people don’t always make the right choices, people don’t always use wisdom, and sometimes people just make foolish choices. The Apostle Paul urges Christians not to be fools and turn back into the very slavery that Christ set them free from. Maybe it just takes someone like Paul explaining it this way for it to make sense to people who lack common sense. Maybe we all need to be reminded of such basic things before we forget or get deceived from time to time. But Paul has more to say.

Third, You can choose righteousness, so do it! Romans 6:22-23, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Before we trusted in Christ we were slaves to sin, which resulted in death. We weren’t dead physically yet, but we were dead to the life God had originally intended for us to live. If we had physically died in that slavery to sin, we would have experienced not only physical death, but also ultimately spiritual death, separation from God forever in hell. That’s the ultimate death. But then we trusted Christ for salvation and we were freed from sin and death. Although we will still die physically in death, our inner spirit can begin to experience life as God intended for us to have — peace, freedom from guilty, shame, and fear. Now if we have a choice between choosing this new way of life or going back into the slavery of sin and the death it brings, what will we choose? Put that way, there really isn’t much of a choice: who would willingly return to an inferior way of life, when a better way of life is possible? Paul encourages people who are set free by Jesus to use their freedom to choose the new way of life in Christ that includes righteousness, holiness, happiness, joy, and peace. Why return to a life of guilt, fear, shame, frustration, anxiety, rebellion, and sin — when we can have peace, love, joy, hope, and security? We are to use our freedom to choose righteousness over sin, holiness over uncleanness, peace over anxiety, and joy over despair. If we become slaves to sin again, we will be serving a master who brings us to death (the things that characterize death in life, like fear, guilt, and anxiety.). But if we willfully and willingly become slaves to righteousness by serving Christ, we receive the blessings that this master gives to all who serve: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, and kindness. Only a fool would choose against Christ and go back into slavery to sin. Then why would Paul even have to give such instructions if it’s so clear? Again, because it’s possible to forget that we can live a new life, and if we forget that we can live a new life in Christ, we can find ourselves back in the old life again. Or, it’s possible to be deceived by something or someone to return back to the old life of sin. If something or someone convinces us that a new life in Christ isn’t possible, or that it’s possible but it’s too difficult or complicated or something else, we might find ourselves believing such a lie, and returning to sin. But Paul warns Christians again and again to begin and continue to live the new life in Christ, and to not listen to anything or anyone who would try to get them to go backwards.

Is your life moving forward in your new life in Jesus Christ? Or have you stalled at a certain level, a little better than before, but not much? Or worse, have you fallen backwards in life, even to the old sinful way of life? You need to remember a number of different things. First, you need to remember that Christ set you free from the law of sin and death. You do not have to live in sin; you do not have to experience the living death of sin, the guilt, shame, fear, and anxiety. You have been set free from all of this by Jesus Christ. Second, you have a real choice, you don’t have to live the way you are living, you can live in the new life Christ has for you. You may not believe that now because something or someone has convinced you otherwise, but it’s true. You can say “No” to sin, you can live in the new life of righteousness, you don’t have to serve sin, you can serve Christ because you now have the power to do so, even though you may not think you do. Third, you need to sit down and think about all the negative, bad, and ugly things that are associated with the old life of sin, and then think of all the good, positive, and beautiful things that are associated with the new life Christ is calling you to live. Then, based on these two lists, decide which kind of life you want to experience, the life of sin and the living death that it brings, or the life of righteousness and the rich life that it brings. Is there any real question which of the two you will choose? Isn’t the new life in Christ the life you really want? Fourth, then simply choose the new life and begin to walk in it. When faced with a choice between sin and righteousness, ask yourself, “Do I want to become a slave again to sin, and experience the deathly life it produces, or do I want to serve righteousness and God, and experience the good life planned for me?” And if you go through life looking at each choice as a choice between life and death, good and evil, Christ and sin, you’ll remember that you don’t really want to go back into the slavery of sin, that you really want to walk in the newness of life. The key is to always remember that you now have a choice: you can choose to be good, to do right. You can choose to reject sin, rebellion, and slavery to unrighteousness. You can choose to have love, joy, and peace. And the good thing is that as we begin to live in our new life in Christ we gain strength to live it even more and even better. As we get used to living in a new way, the old sinful, past way of life will slowly fade away from our memory and habits. We will begin to form new habits and thoughts based on the better, new way of life in Christ. Isn’t it great to know we can choose to live a better, new way of life? Let’s do so.

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