6:17–18 True Christians, however, will never live as slaves to sin, for God has transformed their hearts at conversion, so that they will now grow in their love of righteousness and in living according to God’s Word.
6:17 you: Paul moves from the principle (v. 16) to the experience of the Roman believers. Form of doctrine is a unique expression. Form means “pattern,” “type,” or “example.” The gospel message is the pattern. It is the message that Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3, 4). This message demands a response from the hearer and with it must be the command to believe (Acts 16:31). Obeyed from the heart: The Roman believers voluntarily obeyed the message. There was no external law imposed on them.
6:18 slaves of righteousness: Being a slave in the ancient world meant being owned by a master. Whether slaves obeyed did not change their status as slaves, although it would affect the relationship between slave and master (Luke 19:20–26). The question is one of obligation. A person who has been freed from sin can act as though still a slave to sin (v. 16), or that person can live as a “slave” to righteousness, as a servant to a kind master who gives great rewards.
6:17. Since God makes overcoming sin possible (v 14), Paul says, God be thanked. He explains why by writing that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. Prior to becoming Christians the readers were in bondage to sin. However, this is not their present position. Usually Paul refers to doctrine being “delivered” or “handed over” to the church (cf. 1 Cor 11:2, 23; 15:3). Yet, here, it is Christians that are delivered to doctrine. Though unusual, Paul wants to convey that deliverance from sin’s mastery begins by faith in Christ (through dying with Him in Spirit baptism), and continues by obedience to this doctrine.
6:18. To confirm the new status and realm where believers reside, Paul uses “freedom” language for the first time, saying that we have been set free [eleutherōthentes] from sin. The passive voice of the verb eleutherōthentes indicates God was the One who set Christians free from the lordship of sin. Also, the passive voice of the verb edoulōthēte (you became slaves) indicates God placed Christians under a new mastery and realm of righteousness by which they can serve. As a result of being set free, all believers are now legal slaves of God, and therefore free to resist sin and live as slaves of righteousness (i.e., moral righteousness).
6:17 “Thank God that you, who were at one time the servants of sin, honestly responded to the impact of Christ’s teaching when you came under its influence” (JBP). The Roman Christians had given wholehearted obedience to the gospel of grace to which they had been committed, including all the doctrine Paul teaches in this Letter.
6:18 Correct doctrine should lead to correct duty. Responding to the truth that they had been set free from sin as master, they became slaves of righteousness. The phrase free from sin does not mean that they no longer had a sinful nature. Neither does it mean that they no longer committed acts of sin. The context shows that it is referring to freedom from sin as the dominating power in life.
6:17–18. This discussion reminded the Apostle Paul of what the grace of God had already accomplished in his readers’ lives and he burst forth in praise. Before they responded to the gospel they had been slaves to sin, but they wholeheartedly (lit., “out from hearts,” thus inwardly and genuinely, not merely externally) obeyed (cf. “obedience” in 1 Peter 1:2) the form of teaching to which they were entrusted. Hearing the teaching of God’s Word, they committed themselves to those truths. That commitment was evidenced by their response to the gospel and their being baptized. The result was that they have been set free from sin and have become slaves (past tense in Gr.) to righteousness (cf. Rom. 6:22). This is positional and must be manifested in daily experience, but it demonstrates again that there is no middle ground. Christians are not to give in to sin because they are dead to it and no longer slaves of it. It is totally contrary to God’s plan for slaves of righteousness to become enslaved to sin!
6:17. Paul commends the Roman believers for, in practice, fulfilling what he has been explaining to them in principle: obeying the form of teaching to which [they] were entrusted. Two things are worthy of note here. One is the form of teaching. It is easy to forget that first-century believers did not have “Bibles” as we refer to them today—convenient, codified collections of the canon of Scripture. The Old Testament existed on scrolls in synagogues, and the New Testament was being written. Instead of written copies of Scripture, oral tradition was the means for transferring history and teaching from one place, or one generation, to another.
The Oriental practice of oral tradition has never been illustrated as dramatically as it was in Alex Haley’s monumental fictionalized chronicle, Roots (1976). Haley, a modern African-American, traced his family roots back hundreds of years to his homeland, Africa, and ended up in a village in an area where his ancestors apparently lived. Because there were no written historical or genealogical records in which he could search for the name of his ancestor, Kunta-Kinte, he had to sit and listen to a village elder recite from memory the lengthy genealogies of the tribe. In the midst of the scores of the names the elder was reciting—so-and-so begat so-and-so—Haley suddenly heard the name of his ancestor, Kunta-Kinte. He knew he was home!
The oral genealogies the elder recited were of the same style as the genealogies and lists found in Genesis 4, 5, 10, 11; 1 Chronicles 1–9; Ezra 2, 8; Nehemiah 7; Matthew 1; and Luke 3. Genealogies, history, and eventually moral and ethical codes (cf. the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, as a summary of the entire Mosaic Code, which was eventually summarized by Jesus in just two commandments; Exod. 20:1–17; Deut. 5:1–21; Matt. 22:36–40) were all first codified in forms easily transferred by language before writing became widespread.
There is evidence from ecclesiastical history that, even in the early days of Christianity when writing was common (but “publishing” was still laborious, so copies were limited), that the corpus of Christian teaching was in verbal form which could be easily transferred and taught to new converts. Liturgical denominations today still “catechize” new and young converts with a question-and-answer format which teaches them the basics of the faith in a form easily understood and remembered.
In their attempt to avoid the dangers of rote worship through the repetition of written or memorized liturgies, many modern (independent, nondenominational) evangelical churches have cut themselves off from the historic precedent and continuity of the past by failing to expose their members to the great creeds of the Christian church—even theological summaries given by Christ himself such as “the Lord’s Prayer.” Many adult Christians today, having grown up in liturgical churches as young people where they memorized the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, find the form of teaching of those historic statements coming back to them readily when they attend churches where the creeds are used.
There is a comfort and security in declaring, testifying, confessing out loud the same things that millions of other believers in generations past have confessed—that “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ” (the Apostles’ Creed), or “I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And of all things visible and invisible” (the Nicene Creed), or the words of other equally orthodox creeds of the church. Certainly these creeds were not the form of teaching to which Paul referred, as they were not formulated until hundreds of years after Paul wrote Romans. But there was some form of teaching that the Rome believers were adhering to. On other occasions, Paul makes reference to teachings and traditions that were extant in the church in some corporal form, and the teaching he refers to here is undoubtedly of the same kind (see 1 Cor. 11:2; 15:3; 1 Thess. 4:1; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6; 2 Tim. 1:13).
Whatever the content of the teaching was that the Rome believers had received, it was apostolic and Paul was pleased with their adherence to it. They perhaps did not know, until they had the benefit of hearing the words of Romans 6, that they had been slaves to sin—but they had been. Just as Paul used Romans 5 to explain the basis of justification (which he had presented in Rom. 4), so here he is using the second half of chapter 6, to illustrate (using the analogy of slavery) the truths presented in the first half of the chapter.
The second thing to note in this verse can easily be overlooked by careless reading. Paul does not refer to the “form of teaching which was entrusted to you.” Rather, he says the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. Paul had had the gospel committed to him by God (1 Tim. 1:11) and he, in turn, had committed it to Timothy and others (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:14). But not to the Romans. In fact, he committed the Romans to it! C. K. Barrett has the best insight on what Paul is doing here: “One expects the doctrine to be handed over (the verb—paradidonai—is used for the transmission of traditions; 1 Cor. 11:23; 15:3) to the hearers, not the hearers to the doctrine. But Christians are not (like the Rabbis) masters of a tradition; they are themselves created by the word of God, and remain in subjection to it” (Barrett, p. 124).
6:18. Not only were the Roman believers entrusted to the word of God; they were made slaves to righteousness. When they offered themselves to Christ (v. 15), they became the slaves of Christ, and to the righteousness which is the opposite of the sin to which they had died.
6:17 “But thanks be to God” Paul often breaks out into praise to God. His writings flow from his prayers and his prayers from his knowledge of the gospel. See Special Topic: Paul’s Prayer, Praise, and Thanksgiving to God at 7:25.
© “you were … you became” This is the IMPERFECT TENSE of the VERB, “to be,” which described their state of being in the past (slaves of sin) followed by an AORIST TENSE which asserts that their state of rebellion has ceased.
© “You became obedient from your heart to that form of teaching” In context, this refers to their justification by faith, which must lead to daily Christlikeness. The term “teaching” referred to Apostolic teaching or the gospel.
© “heart” See Special Topic: Heart at 1:24.
|NASB||“that form of teaching to which you were committed”|
|NKJV||“that form of doctrine to which you were delivered”|
|NRSV||“to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted”|
|TEV||“the truths found in the teaching you received”|
|NJB||“to the pattern of teaching to which you were introduced”|
The problem is the word tupos (form), which has a variety of uses.
1. Moulton and Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, p. 645
c. form or manner of writing
d. decree or rescript
e. sentence or decision
f. model of human body as votive offerings to the healing god
g. verb used in the sense of enforcing the precepts of the law
2. Louw and Nida, Greek-English Lexicon, vol. 2, p. 249
a. scar (cf. John 20:25)
b. image (cf. Acts 7:43)
c. model (cf. Heb. 8:5)
d. example (cf. 1 Cor. 10:6; Phil. 3:17)
e. archetype (cf. Rom. 5:14)
f. kind (cf. Acts 23:25)
g. contents (cf. Acts 23:25)
3. Harold K. Moulton, The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised, p. 411
a. a blow, an impression, a mark (cf. John 20:25)
b. a delineation
c. an image (cf. Acts 7:43)
d. a formula, scheme (cf. Rom. 6:17)
e. form, purport (cf. Acts 23:25)
f. a figure, counterpart (cf. 1 Cor. 10:6)
g. an anticipative figure, type (cf. Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 10:11)
h. a model pattern (cf. Acts 7:44; Heb. 8:5)
i. a moral pattern (cf. Phil. 3:17; 1 Thess. 1:7; 2 Thess. 3:9; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:3)
In this context letter (i) above seems best. The gospel has both doctrine and lifestyle implications. The free gift of salvation in Christ also demands a life like Christ!
6:18 “having been freed from sin” This is an AORIST PASSIVE PARTICIPLE. The gospel has freed believers by the agency of the Spirit through the work of Christ. Believers have been freed both from the penalty of sin (justification) and the tyranny of sin (sanctification, cf. vv. 7 and 22).
© “you became the slaves of righteousness” This is an AORIST PASSIVE INDICATIVE, “you became enslaved to righteousness.” See Special Topic at 1:17. Believers are freed from sin to serve God (cf. vv. 14, 19, 22; 7:4; 8:2)! The goal of free grace is a godly life. Justification is both a legal pronouncement and an impetus for personal righteousness. God wants to save us and change us so as to reach others! Grace does not stop with us!
17, 18. But thanks be to God: you were slaves of sin, but you wholeheartedly obeyed the pattern of teaching to which you were delivered; and having been set free from sin, you have entered the service of righteousness.
Note the following:
a. “Thanks be to God!” Paul does not praise the Roman church for having turned to God; he thanks God for having brought them where they are today. See also 7:25; and cf. 1 Cor. 15:57; 2 Cor. 2:14; 8:16; 9:15; 1 Peter 2:9. Nevertheless, he also generously acknowledges that these people “wholeheartedly,” that is, not merely formally but with zeal, had obeyed “the pattern of teaching,” that is, the gospel or sound doctrine, as it was being proclaimed everywhere in the Christian community, both now and later (1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1).
b. “(the pattern) to which you were delivered.”
There are those who consider “But you … delivered” to be a gloss (unauthentic insertion), and that Paul simply dictated the words, “You were slaves of sin, but you have been set free.” But anyone who has devoted years to the study of Paul’s epistles knows that if this reasoning were correct, one would have to find hundreds of glosses in these writings. The apostle’s sentence structure is often rather involved.
Paul does not say, “… the pattern of teaching which you accepted,” but (ascribing all the honor to God) “to which you were delivered.”
c. “and having been set free from sin, you have entered the service of righteousness.”
For the believer freedom never means laziness. It always means opportunity for rendering service. Notice that slaves to sin enjoy (?) liberty not worthy of the name (see verse 20). On the contrary, those who have entered the service of righteousness enjoy true liberty, namely, freedom from sin; not, however, in the sense that they never commit any sin, but in the sense that Sin is no longer their Master!
Vers. 16–18. Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey.
The service of sin and the service of righteousness:—
I. The criterion of both—obedience. A disobedient servant is a contradiction in terms. Disobedience vitiates service and ensures formal dismissal from it. By obedience to the behests of sin sinners are to be distinguished. Sin’s code is the ten commandments with the “nots” omitted; and the world swarms with men and women who yield the most constant and earnest obedience to each. From these the servants of righteousness are distinguished not by their profession, garb, postures, ritual, and shibboleth of righteousness, but by their obedience to the commands of righteousness. Many will present themselves before the Great Tribunal on other grounds, but the King of Righteousness will judge them exclusively by this criterion. “Not every one that said unto the Lord, Lord,” &c.
II. The characteristics of the two services. 1. The service of sin is—(1) Wrong. A usurper is served in a way which wrongs the lawful master and the rightful law; and inasmuch as men were made for righteousness they wrong themselves. (2) Fruitless (ver. 21). Sin’s service is disappointing, and sinners are deluded in it. Apart from what it ends in, “the way of transgressors is hard.” (3) Ruinous—“sin unto death” (see also ver. 23). 2. The service of righteousness is—(1) As the name implies, right. That should settle the matter. Only when a man yields to it does he put himself right with God, the law, his own conscience, the universe. (2) Fruitful. Its “ways are ways of pleasantness,” &c. Even in this life it is worth all it costs. Righteousness is a good master and pays as it goes along. (3) Eternally profitable—life is the guerdon of righteousness.
III. The change from one service to the other. 1. All men are servants. Man was not made, and will never become independent. Servitude is the law of his nature, and of the two masters he must serve one. 2. All men have been the servants of sin. They are born in it and continue in it; some all their lives, others up to a certain point. 3. All men may become servants of righteousness. (1) By a definite act of self-devotion. (2) By a precious act of Divine acceptance. (J. W. Burn.)
Master or servant:—One day a Mr. Charles was about to start from home to fulfil a preaching appointment, when rough weather set in, and he hesitated whether he ought to brave the storm. He consulted a Mr. John Evans on the point. “Tell Mr. Charles,” was the message returned, “that if he is a master he may stay at home, but if a servant he ought to keep his appointment.” (Christian Journal.)
Obedience to Christ:—Come to Him. “I do not know what it is to come,” says one. Well, coming to Christ is simply the trusting Him. You are guilty, trust Him to save you. “But if I do that,” says one, “may I then go on and live as I did before?” No, that you cannot. If a ship at sea needed to be brought into harbour, and they took a pilot on board, he would say to the captain, “Captain, if you trust me I will get you into the harbour all right; let that sail be taken down.” But they do not reef it. “Here,” says he, “attend to the tiller and steer as I bid you.” But they did not attend. “Well,” says the pilot, “I thought you said you trusted me.” “Yes,” says the captain, “and you said that if we trusted you you would get into port, and we are not into port.” “No, but I understood if you trusted me you would do as I bade you. It cannot be a true trust that is disobedient to my command.” If then you trust Christ you must do as He bid you, take up His cross and follow Him, and then that trust of yours shall surely have its reward. You shall be saved now, and saved for ever.
The devil’s slaves:—If a pirate, or, worse, the master of a slave-ship, has made a good thing of his unlawful traffic, I do not see why he should reluctate about going into a lawful traffic on the ocean, because he does not know what the ocean will do to him. If a man is safe in sailing against God’s laws and everything that is good, how much more will God prosper him if he applies to legitimate commerce the same skill and enterprise and industry that he is now applying to that which is illegitimate. I have seen men work ten times as hard to be villains as they would have been obliged to work to be honest men. The greatest slaves I know anything about are those whom the devil has got the upper hand of, and whom he is compelling to dodge between the supreme law of God and their worldly prosperity. They may secure some sort of prosperity, but, you may depend upon it, they work hard for it. (H. W. Beecher.)
Moral slavery:—James II., on his death-bed, thus addressed his son, “There is no slavery like sin and no liberty like God’s service.” Was not the dethroned monarch right? What think you of the fetters of bad habits? What think you of the chains of indulged lust? The drunkard who cannot resist the craving for the wine—know you a more thorough captive? The covetous man who toils night and day for wealth—what is he but a slave? The sensual man, the ambitious man, the worldly man, those who, in spite of the remonstrances of conscience, cannot break away from enthralment—what are they, if not the subjects of a tyranny than which there is none sterner, and none more degrading? (H. Melvill, B.D.)
Ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine.
The apostolical form of doctrine:—
I. What is it?
II. How should it be received?
III. What is its effect?
IV. What feelings ought this result to inspire? (J. Lyth, D.D.)
Obedience to the form of doctrine:—1. The question, Whose servants are ye? resolves itself into a matter of fact. The apostle, on looking to his disciples, pronounces them by the test of obedience to have become the servants of righteousness. And he not only affirms this change, but he assigns the cause of it. They obeyed from the heart. There might have been the form of a yielding; but some latent duplicity brought a flaw unto it by which it was invalidated. Now God be thanked, says the apostle, this is not the way with you. I look at your fruit, and I find it the fruit of holiness. I look at your life, and I find it to be the life of the servants of God. 2. But what is it that they are said here to obey from the heart? The term “doctrine” in the original may signify the thing taught, or the process of teaching—a process which may embrace many items, and consist of several distinct parts, to obey which from the heart is just to take them all in with the simplicity and good faith in which a child believingly reads its task-book. This last view is very much confirmed by the import of the Greek equivalent for “form,” viz., a mould that impresses its own shape to the yielding substance whereunto it is applied. And it would be still more accordant with the original if we render the whole sentence. The mould or model of doctrine “into which ye have been delivered.” Christian truth, in its various parts and various prominences, is likened unto a mould, into which the heart or soul of man is cast that it may come out a precise transcript. 3. It should be obedient to every touch, and yield itself to every character that is graven thereupon. It should feel the impression, not from one of its truths only, but from all of them, else, like the cast which is in contact with the mould but at a single point, it will shake and fluctuate, and be altogether wanting in settled conformity to that with the likeness of which it ought to be everywhere encompassed. You know how difficult it is to poise one body upon another when it has only got one narrow place to stand upon, and that, to secure a position of stability, there must at least be three points of support provided. There is something akin to this ere the mind of an inquirer is rightly grounded and settled on the basis of God’s revealed testimony. How it veers and fluctuates, when holding only by one article and fails of a sufficiently extended grasp on the truths of Christianity! How those who talk, e.g., of the bare fact of faith vacillate and give way in the hour of temptation. How those who admit both the righteousness of Christ and the regeneration of their own characters to be alike indispensable, have nevertheless been brought to shipwreck; and that just because, though adhering in words to these two generalities, they have never spread them abroad over their whole history in the living applications of prayer and watchfulness. They need the filling up of their lives and hearts with the whole transcript of revelation. One doctrine does not suffice for this, for God in His wisdom has thought fit that there shall be a form or scheme of doctrine. The obedience of the heart unto the faith is obedience unto all that God proposes for the belief and acceptance of those who have entered on the scholarship of eternity; and for this purpose there must be not a mere assent of the understanding to any given number of articles, but a broad coalescence of the mind with the whole expanse and magnitude of the book of God’s testimony. 4. A scheme of doctrine, then, implies more truths than one; and St. Paul has now gone beyond the announcement of his one individual item. He was very full on Christ as the propitiation for sin, and on the righteousness of Christ as the plea of acceptance for sinners; and then, when he came to the question, Shall they who are partakers of this benefit continue in sin that they may get still more of the benefit? he pronounces a negative. Here there was not one truth, but a compound of truths; a mould graven on both sides of it with certain various characters, and the softened metal that is poured therein yields to it all round and takes the varied impression from it. And so of him who obeys from the heart the form of doctrine into which he is delivered. He does not yield to one article and present a side of hardness and of resistance to another article. He is thoroughly softened and humbled under a sense of sinfulness, and most willingly takes the salvation of the gospel on the terms of the gospel. He does not, like the sturdy controversialist, cull out from the Word his own favourite position; but, like the little child, he follows on to know the Lord, just as the revealed things offer themselves to his docility and notice on that inscribed tablet which the Lord hath placed before him. 5. The way for you to make good the transition from sin to righteousness is to have the same obedience of faith. It is to spread out the tablet of your heart for the pressure thereupon of all the characters that are graven on the tablet of revelation; it is to incorporate in your creed the necessity of a holy life, in imitation and at the will of the Lord Jesus, along with a humble reliance on His merits as your alone meritorious plea for acceptance with the Father; it is to give up the narrow, intolerant, and restrictive system of theology which, by vesting a right of monopoly in a few of its favourite positions, acts like the corresponding system of trade in impeding the full circulation of its truths and of its treasure through that world within itself, which is made up of the powers and affections. Be your faith as broad and as long as is the record of all those communications that are addressed to it—and be very sure that it is only when you yield yourselves up in submission to all its truths that you can be made free from sin by sharing in the fulfilment of all its promises. 6. You often hear of the power of the truth. It is a just and expressive phrase, and is adverted to in the text. But this power of the truth is the power of the whole truth. Mutilate the truth and you cripple it. Pare it down and you paralyse its energies. And thus, as you hope to be rescued from the tyranny of sin by the power of Christian truth, you must foster the whole of it. Divide, and you darken. The whole of that light which one truth reflects upon another is extinguished when the inquirer, instead of looking fearlessly abroad over the rich and varied landscape of revelation, fastens his intent regards on one narrow portion of the territory and shuts out the rest from the eye of his contemplation. Yet let us not think that we, of our proper energy, can supply as it were the first condition on which our deliverance from sin is made to turn. The glory of this is due to grace, which has softened your hearts under the impression of the truth, which has moved you to an aspiring obedience thereto, which will lead you, I trust, to carry out the principle into practice, which will vent itself upward to the sanctuary in prayer, and bring down that returning force which can unchain you from the bondage of corruption and give you impulse and strength for all the services of righteousness. (T. Chalmers, D.D.)
The form of teaching:—There is room for difference of opinion as to what Paul precisely means by “form” here. It signifies originally a mark made by pressure or impact; then a mould, pattern or example, then the copy of such an example or pattern, or the cast from such a mould. It also means the general outline which preserves the distinguishing characteristics of a thing. Now we may choose between these two meanings in our text. If the apostle means type in the latter sense of the word, then the rendering “form” is adequate, and he is thinking of the Christian teaching which had been given to the Roman Christians as possessing certain well-defined characteristics which distinguished it from other kinds of teaching—such, for instance, as Jewish or heathen. But if we take the other meaning, then he is, in true Pauline fashion, bringing in a vivid and picturesque metaphor to enforce his thought, and is thinking of the teaching which the Roman Christians had received as being a kind of mould into which they were thrown, a pattern to which they were to be conformed.
I. Paul’s gospel was a definite body of teaching. The gospel in its first form as it comes to men fresh from God is not a set of propositions, but a history of deeds that were done upon earth. And, therefore, is it fitted to be the mould of every character. Jesus Christ did not come and talk to men about God, and say to them what His apostles afterwards said, “God is love,” but He lived and died, and that mainly was His teaching about God. He did not come to men and lay down a theory of atonement or a doctrine of propitiation, or theology about sin and its relations to God, but He went to the Cross and gave Himself for us, and that was His teaching about sacrifice. He did not say to men, “There is a future life, and it is of such and such a sort,” but He came out of the grave and He said, “Touch Me, and handle Me. A spirit hath not flesh and bones,” and therefore He brought life and immortality to light, by no empty words but by the solid realities of facts. He did not lecture upon ethics, but He lived a perfect human life out of which all moral principles that will guide human conduct may be gathered. And so, instead of presenting us with a botanic collection of scientifically arranged and dead propositions, He led us into the meadow where the flowers grow, living and fair. His life and death, with all that they imply, are the teaching. Let us not forget, on the other hand, that the history of a fact is not the mere statement of the outward thing that has happened. Christian teaching is the facts plus their explanation; and it is that which differentiates it from the mere record which is of no avail to anybody. So Paul Himself in one of His other letters puts it. This is his gospel: Jesus of Nazareth “died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was buried, and rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures.” That is what turns the bald story of the facts into teaching, which is the mould for life.
II. This teaching is in Paul’s judgment a mould or pattern according to which men’s lives are to be conformed. There can be no question but that, in that teaching as set forth in Scripture, there does lie the mightiest formative power for shaping our lives, and emancipating us from our evil. Christ is the type, the mould into which men are to be cast. The gospel, as presented in Scripture, gives us three things. It gives us the perfect mould; it gives us the perfect motive; it gives us the perfect power. And in all three things appears its distinctive glory, apart from and above all other systems that have ever tried to affect the conduct or to mould the character of man. We have in the Christ the one type, the one mould and pattern for all striving, the “glass of form,” the perfect Man. And that likeness is not reproduced in us by pressure or by a blow, but by the slow and blessed process of gazing until we become like, beholding the glory until we are changed into the glory. It is no use having a mould and metal unless you have a fire. It is no use having a perfect Pattern unless you have motive to copy it. If we can say, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me,” then the sum of all morality, the old commandment that “ye love one another,” receives a new stringency, and a fresh motive as well as a deepened interpretation, when His love is our pattern. The one thing that will make men willing to be as Christ is their faith that Christ is their Sacrifice and their Saviour. Still further, the teaching is a power to fashion life, inasmuch as it brings with it a gift which secures the transformation of the believer into the likeness of his Lord. Part of “the teaching” is the fact of Pentecost; part of the teaching is the fact of the ascension; and the consequence of the ascension and the sure promise of the Pentecost is that all who love Him, and wait upon Him, shall receive into their hearts the “spirit of life in Christ Jesus,” which shall make them free from the law of sin and death.
III. This mould demands obedience. By the very nature of the teaching, assent drags after it submission. You can please yourself whether you let Jesus Christ into your minds or not, but if you do let Him in, He will be Master. There is no such thing as taking Him in and not obeying. And so the requirement of the gospel which we call faith has in it quite as much of the element of obedience as of the element of trust. And the presence of that element is just what makes the difference between a sham and a real faith. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Moulded by the truth:—The gospel here is compared to a mould into which the soul is delivered. We take our character from the truth we receive. Our affections are moulded, formed, fashioned, directed by the gospel we obey. Sometimes it is compared to a mirror (2 Cor. 3:8). The gospel reveals to us Jesus, and as we look into that glass the light falls upon our souls and assimilates us to Him. Here it is a mould. We are cast into the mould of the truth which from the heart we obey. The gospel is not only a directing power, but a transforming influence; you cannot believe it without being moulded by it. Any man who says he believes it, whose character is not moulded by it, is deceiving himself. How, then, can this be corrected? Not by poring over the thoughts and feelings of our own poor hearts, but by examining the testimony God has given us concerning Christ, by mixing faith with the promises given us, that by them we might be partakers of the Divine nature. The entrance of His Word will not only give light to our understandings, but it will transform us into His image; and as we receive the doctrine into our hearts, we shall be delivered into it as into a mould, and our tastes and character and desires and ways and aims, will be fashioned thereby. This is the constant teaching of Scripture (Eph. 2:10; Luke 1:74; Titus 2:11). (M. Rainsford, B.A.)
Branded with the truth:—It was the custom to impress a distinctive mark or brand on the slaves belonging to different masters. A slave might thus, by no uncommon metonymy, be spoken of as belonging to a certain mark, the mark being put for the master whose mark it was; and when a slave was transferred from one master to another, as being delivered over to a new mark or brand, that is, to a new proprietor or master, to whom, or, by the same figure, to whose mark he was then to consider his person attached and his service and obedience due. This is probably the true meaning, “Ye have obeyed from the heart that mark [or brand] of doctrine to which ye have been delivered over”; this translation giving every word its full and proper effect. They passed from one service to another, distinguished by a new mark, to which, as reminding them of their new master, and the appropriate symbol of his property in them and his power over them, they were thenceforward to render their obedient service. The “doctrine” of Christ is the distinguishing badge, or appropriate mark, of all His servants. They bear the profession and impress of His truth; and, under the influence of that truth, they serve Him as the Master who has stamped its impression upon them, in a spirit of reverential love. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
Transformation of grace:—A short time ago the manufacturers of lighting gas were puzzled to know how to dispose of the coal-tar left in the retorts. A more useless, nauseous substance was hardly known to exist. Chemistry came to the rescue, and to-day not less than thirty-six marketable articles are produced from this black, vile, sticky slime—solvents, oils, salts, colours, flavours. You eat a bit of delicious confectionery, happily unconscious that the exquisite taste which you enjoy so keenly comes from coal-tar; you buy at the druggist’s a tiny phial of what is labelled “Otto of Roses,” little dreaming that the delicious perfume is wafted, not from “the fields of Araby,” but from the foul gas retort. Christianity is a moral chemistry. Well were it for nations if it held a higher place among their social economics. Tarsaving is all well enough, but soul-saving is better. Grace transforms a villain into an honest man, a harlot into a holy woman, a thief into a saint. Where fœtid exhalations of vice alone ascended, prayer and praise are to be found; where moral miasmata had their lair, righteousness and temperance pitch their tent. Every sort of good thing is produced by godliness, and that too in hearts once reeking with all manner of foulness. Should not this stay every persecuting hand, hush every railing tongue, and incite every sanctified spirit to continued and increasing energy. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
Freedom from sin and subjection to righteousness:—
I. The bondage supposed. Those only can be made free who were the subjects of bondage. Many resent this charge and exclaim, as the Jews did, “We were never in bondage to any man.” And so long as men remain under the infatuation that they are free, they will never welcome the tidings of a deliverance. We are in bondage—1. To a law which we have violated. A perfect nature was capable of performing the requirements of a perfect law; but an imperfect nature never can meet those requirements. Those, therefore, who are seeking acceptance with God by the works of the law, are under the curse—bound and sentenced by it. 2. To a God whom we have displeased. Perfectly sensible that “God is love,” we also believe that He is a God of justice. God’s character, regarded as a whole, demands that He should maintain the honour of His law; and therefore He is bound by every principle of His nature, and by every qualification of His office as the Ruler of the universe, to punish the sinner. 3. To corruptions which he has indulged. (1) Man has fallen under the government of the passions, of which there are three classes—the animal, which lead to all manner of impurity; the malevolent, which lead to all manner of cruelty; and the secular, which go to make men altogether base and sordid. (2) There are also intellectual sins under which men are bound, and even sold—pride, a presumptuous obtrusion into things sacred and prohibited, and infidelity in rejecting the testimony which God has given of His Son. But whether men are bound by the intellectual or sensual sins, they are alike slaves. 4. To the world which we have idolised. There are some who would not for worlds rebel against the laws of fashion. They would rather commit an enormous sin against God than they would violate the etiquette of this world. The man who is devoted to the love of money is just as much bound as ever one who was fastened to the galleys for life. The man who loves the pleasures of this world, though he turns from them with disgust again and again, yet to-morrow it is just the same thing over and over again. And as to the ambitious, see what slaves they are—how servile when they have an object to accomplish; how insolent when that object is once attained; and how dissatisfied with the highest pinnacle to which human ambition can soar. 5. To a death which we cannot shun. Some “are all their life-time subject to bondage through fear of death,” either the act itself or the consequences.
II. The freedom that is bestowed. 1. From the guilt of sin by virtue of the expiatory death and all-atoning sacrifice of the Divine Redeemer. 2. From the punishment of sin. The chain is broken—the debt is cancelled—the indictment is rebutted, and the justified believer can say, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” 3. From the dominion of sin. How can I love that which crucified the Saviour? 4. Ultimately from the presence of sin. There shall in no wise enter into the heavenly Jerusalem anything that defileth or that worketh abomination.
III. The subsequent subjection or subordination. “Ye became the servants of righteousness!” 1. By faith in the doctrine of righteousness (ver. 17). All the doctrines of the gospel are according to godliness. They fix salvation on the great principles of eternal rectitude; for God does not forgive merely by an act of clemency; but by an act of equity. 2. Love to the principle of righteousness. 3. Submission to the rule of righteousness—God’s will—not our opinion—not the laws of our fellow-creatures. 4. Studious determination and constant aim towards the practice of universal righteousness. (C. Bradley, M.A.)
Our change of masters:—1. Man was made to rule. He was intended for a king, who should have dominion over the beasts of the field, &c. Yet is it equally true that he was made to serve. He was placed in the garden to keep it, and to dress it, and to serve his Maker. Throwing off his allegiance to his rightful Master, he has become the slave of evil passions. 2. When God of His infinite mercy visits man by His Spirit, that Spirit does not come as a neutral power, but enters with full intent to reign. Man cannot serve two masters, but he must serve one. Alexander conquered the world, and yet he became the captive of drunkenness and his passionate temper. Rome had many slaves, but he who wore her purple was the most in bonds. High rank does not save a man from being under a mastery: neither does learning nor philosophy. Solomon, the most sagacious ruler of his age, became completely subject to his fleshly desires. 3. Who, then, shall be man’s master? Our text speaks of “being made free from sin,” and in the same breath it adds, “Ye became the servants of righteousness.” There is no interregnum. Man passes from one master to another, but he is always in subjection. Consider—
I. Our change of masters. 1. In describing this revolution we will begin with a word or two upon our old master “sin.” We were not all alike enslaved, but we were all under bondage. (1) Sin has its liveried servants. If you want to see these dressed out in their best or their worst, go to the prison, or to the places of vicious amusement. Many of them wear the badge of the devil’s drudgery upon their backs in rags, upon their faces in the blotches born of drunkenness, and in their very bones in the consequences of their vice. (2) But great folks have many servants who are out of livery, and so has sin. We were not all open transgressors. Selfish caution restrains from overt acts of transgression. Hypocrites are worse slaves than others, because they are laid under the restraints of religion without their consolations, and practise sins without their pleasures. (3) The servants of sin are not all outdoor servants. Many keep their sin to themselves. They are excellent in their outward deportment; but they are the indoor servants of Satan for all that. (4) There are, however, many who were once outdoor servants, sinning openly and in defiance of all law. 2. Believers are made free from sin. (1) From the condemnation of sin (chap. 8:1). (2) From the guilt of sin. As you cannot be condemned so does the truth go further, you cannot even be accused. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” (3) From the punishment of sin. (4) From its reigning power. 3. How came we to be free? (1) By purchase, for our Saviour has paid the full redemption money. (2) By power. Just as the Israelites were the Lord’s own people, but He had to bring them out of Egypt, so has the Lord by power broken the neck of sin and brought as up from the dominion of the old Pharaoh of evil and set us free. (3) By privilege. “Unto as many as believed Him, to them gave He the privilege to become the sons of God.” His own royal, majestic, and Divine decree has bidden the prisoners go forth. (4) By death. If a slave dies his master’s possession in him is ended. “He that is dead is free from sin.” (5) By resurrection. A new life has been given to us; we are new creatures in Christ Jesus. 4. Ye became the servants of righteousness. A righteous God has made us die to sin; a new and righteous life has been infused into us, and now righteousness rules and reigns in us. The text says we are enslaved to righteousness, and so we wish to be.
II. The reasons for our change. 1. We changed our old master because we were illegally detained by him. Sin did not make us, does not feed us, has no right to us whatever. Besides, our old master was as bad as bad could be. We ran away from him because we had never any profit at his hands. “What fruit had ye then?” Ask the drunkard, the spendthrift, any man that lives in sin, what he has gained by it, and we will find it is all loss. Beside that, our old master brought shame. “Those things whereof ye are now ashamed.” Moreover, its wages are death. 2. But why did we take up with our new Master? In the first place, we owe ourselves wholly to Him; and in the next place, if we did not, He is so altogether lovely, that if we had a free choice of masters we would choose Him a thousand times over. His service is perfect freedom and supreme delight. He gives us even now a payment in His service.
III. The consequences of this change. 1. That you belong wholly to your Lord. Numbers of professing Christians seem mostly to belong to themselves, for they never gave God anything that cost them a self-denial. But if you are really saved, not a hair of your heads belongs to yourselves; Christ’s blood has either bought you or it has not, and if it has, then you are altogether Christ’s. Just as a negro used to belong to the man that bought him, every inch of him, so you are the slave of Christ; you bear in your body the brand of the Lord Jesus, and your glory and your freedom lie therein. 2. Because you are Christ’s His very name is dear to you. You are not so His slave that you would escape from His service if you could; you want to be more and more the Lord’s. Where there is anything of Christ there your love goes forth. Haydn one day turned into a music-seller’s, and asked for some select and beautiful music, and was offered some of his own. “Oh,” said Haydn, “I’ll have nothing to do with that.” “Why, sir, what fault can you find with it?” “I can find a great deal of fault with it, but I will not argue with you, I do not want any of his music.” “Then,” said the shopkeeper, “I have other music, but it is not for such as you.” A thorough enthusiast grows impatient of those who do not appreciate what he so much admires. You can be no friend of mine if you are not a friend of Christ’s. 3. All your members are henceforth reserved for Christ. When Satan was your master you did not care about Christ, you went wholly in for evil. You did not require to be egged on to it. Now you ought not to want your ministers or Christian friends to stir you up to good works; you ought to be just as eager after holiness as you were after sin. As you have given the devil first-rate service, let Christ have the same. Some of you never stood at any expense—I wish we could serve Christ thus unstintedly. The poor slaves of sin not only do not stop at expense, but they are not frightened by any kind of loss. See how many lose their characters for the sake of one short hour of sin. They ruin their peace and think nothing of it. They will lose their health, too; nay, they will destroy their souls for the sake of sin’s brief delights. In the same way should we serve our Lord. Be willing to lose character, health, life, all, if by any means you may glorify Him whose servant you have become. Oh, who will be my Master’s servant? Do you not see Him? He wears upon His head no diadem but the crown of thorns; His feet are still rubied with their wounds, and His hands are still bejewelled with the marks of the nails. This is your Master, and these are the insignia of His love for you. What service will you render Him? That of a mere professor, who names His name but loves Him not? That of a cold religionist, who renders unwilling service out of fear? Do not so dishonour Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The strictness of the law of Christ:—1. The apostle is not content with speaking half the truth; he does not merely say that we are set free from guilt and misery, but he adds, that we have become the slaves of Christ. He has not bought us, and then set us loose upon the world. He has given us that only liberty which is really such, bond-service to Himself, lest if left to ourselves we should fall back again to the cruel bondage from which He redeemed us. 2. This needs insisting on; for a number of persons think that they are not bound to any real service at all, now that Christ has set them free. Men often speak as if the perfection of human happiness lay in our being free to choose and to reject. Now we are indeed free, if we do not choose to be Christ’s servants, to go back to the old bondage. We may choose our master, but God or mammon we must serve. We cannot possibly be in a neutral state. Yet a number of persons think their Christian liberty lies in being free from all law, even from the law of God. In opposition to this great mistake, St. Paul reminds his brethren in the text that when they were “made free from sin,” they “became the servants of righteousness.” He says the same in other Epistles (1 Cor. 7:22, 23; Col. 3:22, 24; 1 Cor. 9:21). 3. Religion, then, is a necessary service; of course it is a privilege too, but it becomes more and more of a privilege, the more we exercise ourselves in it. The perfect Christian state is that in which our duty and our pleasure are the same, it is the state in which the angels stand; but it is not so with us, except in part. Upon our regeneration indeed, we have a seed of truth and holiness planted within us, a new law introduced into our nature; but still we have that old nature to subdue, a work, a conflict all through life. 4. Now most Christians will allow in general terms that they are under a law, but they admit it with a reserve; they claim for themselves some dispensing power.
I. What is the sort of man whom the world accounts respectable and religious? At best he is such as this. He has a number of good points to his character, but some of these he has by nature, others he has acquired because outward circumstances compelled him to acquire them. He has acquired a certain self-command, because no one is respected without it. He has been forced into habits of diligence, punctuality, and honesty. He is courteous and obliging; and has learned not to say all he thinks and feels, or to do all he wishes to do on all occasions. The great mass of men, of course, are far from this; but I am supposing the best—viz., those who only now and then will feel inclinations or interest to run counter to duty. Such times constitute a man’s trial; they are just the times on which he is apt to consider that he has a leave to dispense with the law, when it is simply the law of God, without being also the law of self, and of the world. He does what is right, while the road of religion runs along the road of the world; when they part company awhile he chooses the world, and calls his choice an exception. For instance—1. He generally comes to church, it is his practice; but some urgent business or scheme of pleasure tempts him—he omits his attendance; he knows this is wrong, and says so, but it is only once in a way. 2. He is strictly honest in his dealings; it is his rule to speak the truth, but if hard pressed, he allows himself now and then to say a slight falsehood. He knows he should not lie, he confesses it; but he thinks it cannot be helped. 3. He has learned to curb his temper and his tongue; but on some unusual provocation they get the better of him. But are not all men subject to be overtaken with ill temper? That is not the point; the point is this—that he does not feel compunction afterward, he does not feel he has done any thing which needs forgiveness. 4. He is in general temperate; but he joins a party of friends and is tempted to exceed. Next day he says that it is a long time since such a thing happened to him. He does not understand he has any sin to repent of, because it is but once in a way. Such men, being thus indulgent to themselves, are indulgent to each other. Conscious of what might be said against themselves they are cautious what they say against others. These are a few out of a multitude of traits which mark an easy religion—the religion of the world; which would cast in its lot with Christian truth, were not that truth so very strict, and quarrels with it—because it will not suit itself to emergencies, and to the tastes of individuals.
II. This is the kind of religion which St. Paul virtually warns us against, as often as he speaks of the gospel as being a law and a servitude. 1. He indeed glories in its being such; for, as the happiness of all creatures lies in their performing their parts well, where God has placed them, so man’s greatest good lies in obedience to God’s law and in imitation of God’s perfections. Therefore Paul insists on the necessity of Christians “fulfilling the righteousness of the law.” Hence James says, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” And our Saviour assures us that, “Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments,” &c., and that “Except our righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees,” which was thus partial and circumscribed, “we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And when the young man came to Him, He pointed out the “one thing” wanting in him. Let us not then deceive ourselves; what God demands of us is to be content with nothing short of perfect obedience—to avail ourselves of the aids given us, and throw ourselves on God’s mercy for our shortcomings. 2. But the state of multitudes of men is this—their hearts are going the wrong way, and their real quarrel with religion is not that it is strict, but that it is religion. If I want to travel north, and all the roads are cut to the east, of course I shall complain of the roads. So men who try to reach Babylon by roads which run to Mount Sion necessarily meet with thwartings, crossings, disappointments, and failure. They go mile after mile, watching in vain for the turrets of the city of Vanity, because they are on the wrong road; and, unwilling to own what they are really seeking, they find fault with the road as circuitous and wearisome. 3. But religion is a bondage only to those who have not the heart to like it. Accordingly, in ver. 17, St. Paul thanks God that his brethren had “obeyed from the heart that form of teaching, into which they had been delivered.” We Christians are cast into a certain mould. So far as we keep within it, we are not sensible that it is a mould. It is when our hearts would overflow in some evil direction, then we consider ourselves in prison. It is the law in our members warring against the law of the Spirit which brings us into a distressing bondage. Let us then see where we stand, and what we must do. Heaven cannot change; God is “without variableness or shadow of turning.” His law is from everlasting to everlasting. We must change. We must go over to the side of heaven. Never had a soul true happiness but in conformity to God. We must have the law of the Spirit of life in our hearts, “that the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in us.” 4. Some men, instead of making excuses, such as I have been considering, and of professing to like religion, all but its service, boldly object that religion is unnatural, and therefore cannot be incumbent. Men are men, and the world is the world, and that life was not meant to be a burden, and that God sent us here for enjoyment, and that He will never punish us for following the law of our nature. I answer, doubtless this life was meant to be enjoyment; but why not a rejoicing in the Lord? We were meant to follow the law of our nature; but why of our old nature and not of our new? Now that God has opened the doors of our prison-house, if men are still carnal, and the world sinful, and the life of angels a burden, and the law of our nature not the law of God, whose fault is it? We Christians are indeed under the law, but it is the new law, the law of the Spirit of Christ. We are under grace. That law, which to nature is a grievous bondage, is to those who live under the power of God’s presence, what it was meant to be, a rejoicing. (J. H. Newman, D.D.)
True liberty:—“Is it your opinion,” said Socrates, “that liberty is a fair and valuable possession?” “So valuable,” replied Euthydemus, “that I know of nothing more precious.” “But he who is so far overcome by sensual pleasure that he is not able to practise what is best, and consequently the most eligible—do you count this more free, Euthydemus?” “Far from it,” replied the other. “You think, then,” said Socrates, “that freedom consists in being able to do what is right, and slavery, in not being able; whatever may be the cause that deprives us of the power?” “I do, most certainly.” “The debauchee, then, you must suppose is in this state of slavery?” “I do, and with good reason.” (Xenophon.)
True liberty:—You think the charter would make you free—would to God it would. The charter is not bad if the men who use it are not bad. But will the charter make you free? Will it free you from slavery to ten-pound bribes? Slavery to gin and beer? Slavery to every spouter who flatters your self-conceit, and stirs up bitterness and headlong rage in you? That, I guess, is real slavery; to be a slave to one’s own stomach, one’s own pocket, one’s own temper. Will the charter cure that? Friends, you want more than Acts of Parliament can give. Englishmen! Saxons! Workers of the great cool-headed, strong-handed nation of England, the workshop of the world, the leader of freedom for seven hundred years; men, you say you have common sense! then do not humbug yourselves into meaning “license” when you cry for “liberty.” Who would dare refuse you freedom? for the Almighty God and Jesus Christ, the poor man who died for poor men, will bring it about for you, though all the mammonites of the earth were against you. A nobler day is dawning for England—a day of freedom, science, industry. But there will be no true freedom without virtue, no true science without religion, no true industry without the fear of God and love to your fellow-citizens. Workers of England, be wise, and then you must be free, for you will be fit to be free. (C. Kingsley, M.A.)
The liberty of the believer:—The liberty of the subject could never be preserved in a lawless state of society, but violence and tyranny would reduce to a slavish obedience the weak and the timid. The palladium of civil liberty is law; law well defined, excluding the fluctuations of caprice on one side, and of aggression on the other; law rigorously executed also, for the best code is a dead letter if it be not accompanied by a living and firm executive. So the liberty of the believer is secured by the law of God, when brought under its guidance and government. While living under the misrule of his fallen nature, he is the sport of every capricious imagination, and successively the slave of his predominant passions (ver. 16.) But let Christ’s government be set up, and he becomes Christ’s freeman; “sin has no more dominion over him”; he is no longer its wretched captive, but is under gracious law, for “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (G. H. Salter.)
The application: conversion involves an exchange of slaveries (17–18)
Having laid down the principle that surrender leads to slavery, Paul applies it to his Roman readers, reminding them that their conversion involved an exchange of slaveries. Indeed, so complete is the change which has taken place in their lives that he breaks out into a spontaneous doxology: Thanks be to God! He then sums up their experience in four stages, which concern what they used to be (slaves to sin), what they did (wholeheartedly obeyed), what happened to them (set free from sin) and what they had become (slaves to righteousness).
First, you used to be slaves to sin (17a). Paul does not mince his words. All human beings are slaves, and there are only two slaveries, to sin and to God. Conversion is a transfer from the one to the other. Secondly, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted (17b). This is a most unusual description of conversion. That they had ‘obeyed’ is understandable, since the proper response to the gospel is ‘the obedience of faith’ (1:5, rsv). But here it is not God or Christ whom they are said to have obeyed, but a certain form (rsv ‘standard’) of teaching. This must have been a ‘pattern of sound teaching, or structure of apostolic instruction, which probably included both elementary gospel doctrine143 and elementary personal ethics. Paul evidently sees conversion not only as trusting in Christ but as believing and acknowledging the truth.145 Moreover, Paul writes not that this teaching was committed to them, but that they were committed (entrusted) to it. The verb he uses is paradidōmi, which is the regular word for passing on a tradition. ‘One expects the doctrine to be handed over to the hearers,’ writes C. K. Barrett, ‘not the hearers to the doctrine. But Christians are not (like the Rabbis) masters of a tradition; they are themselves created by the word of God, and remain in subjection to it.’
Thirdly, the Romans have been set free from sin (18a), emancipated from its slavery. Not that they have become perfect, for they are still capable of sinning (e.g. 12–13), but rather that they have been decisively rescued out of the lordship of sin into the lordship of God, out of the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of Christ. In consequence, fourthly, they have become slaves to righteousness (18b). So decisive is this transfer by the grace and power of God from the slavery of sin to the slavery of righteousness that Paul cannot restrain himself from thanksgiving.
17. You … have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed. The ‘standard’ or ‘pattern of teaching’ (neb) is probably the summary of Christian ethics, based on the teaching of Christ, which was regularly given to converts in the primitive church to show them the way of life which they were thenceforth to follow. It is the body of teaching which Paul elsewhere calls ‘the tradition’ or ‘the traditions’ (cf. 1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6)—the noun (paradosis) being from the same root as the verb ‘commit’ or ‘deliver’ (paradidōmi). It has been inferred from various summaries of this teaching in the Epistles that it was arranged in catechetical form at an early period. But the ‘pattern of teaching’ was embodied in Christ, to whom they now belonged (cf. 13:14).
18. Having been set free from sin. That is, having been liberated from the tyranny of sin, not ‘justified’ from sin as in verse 7.
17. But thanks be to God, &c. This is an application of the similitude of the present subject. Though they were only to be reminded that they were not now the servants of sin, he yet adds a thanksgiving; first, that he might teach them, that this was not through their own merit, but through the special mercy of God; and secondly, that by this thanksgiving, they might learn how great was the kindness of God, and that they might thereby be more stimulated to hate sin. And he gives thanks, not as to that time during which they were the servants of sin, but for the liberation which followed, when they ceased to be what they were before. But this implied comparison between their former and present state is very emphatical; for the Apostle touches the calumniators of the grace of Christ, when he shows, that without grace the whole race of man is held captive under the dominion of sin; but that the kingdom of sin comes to an end, as soon as grace puts forth its power.
We may hence learn, that we are not freed from the bondage of the law that we may sin; for the law does not lose its dominion, until the grace of God restores us to him, in order to renew us in righteousness: and it is hence impossible that we should be subject to sin, when the grace of God reigns in us: for we have before stated, that under this term grace, is included the spirit of regeneration.
You have obeyed from the heart, &c. Paul compares here the hidden power of the Spirit with the external letter of the law, as though he had said, “Christ inwardly forms our souls in a better way, than when the law constrains them by threatening and terrifying us.” Thus is dissipated the following calumny, “If Christ frees us from subjection to the law, he brings liberty to sin.” He does not indeed allow his people unbridled freedom, that they might frisk about without any restraint, like horses let loose in the fields; but he brings them to a regular course of life.—Though Erasmus, following the old version, has chosen to translate it the “form” (formam) of doctrine, I have felt constrained to retain type, the word which Paul uses: some may perhaps prefer the word pattern. It seems indeed to me to denote the formed image or impress of that righteousness which Christ engraves on our hearts: and this corresponds with the prescribed rule of the law, according to which all our actions ought to be framed, so that they deviate not either to the right or to the left hand.
18. And having been made free from sin, &c. The meaning is, “It is unreasonable that any one, after having been made free, should continue in a state of bondage; for he ought to maintain the freedom which he has received: it is not then befitting, that you should be brought again under the dominion of sin, from which you have been set at liberty by Christ.” It is an argument derived from the efficient cause; another also follows, taken from the final cause, “Ye have been liberated from the bondage of sin, that ye might pass into the kingdom of righteousness; it is hence right that you should wholly turn away from sin, and turn your minds wholly to righteousness, into the service of which you have been transferred.”
It must be observed, that no one can be a servant to righteousness except he is first liberated by the power and kindness of God from the tyranny of sin. So Christ himself testifies, “If the Son shall free you, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36.) What are then our preparations by the power of free will, since the commencement of what is good proceeds from this manumission, which the grace of God alone effects?
6:17–18 / We have then two masters, grace and sin, vying for control of both individuals and the world. A scene of two slave buyers, each bidding against the other at a slave auction, is not inappropriate to Paul’s thought. Thanks be to God, the benevolent master has won, for the service of sin would be actual bondage, whereas the service of grace is actual freedom. Paul does not praise believers for having made a better choice of grace over sin. Salvation is not a game show where the panelist who knows the right answers wins the prize. An overweening confidence in human freedom leads us to think we have done God a favor by believing in him. Paul, however, demonstrates that the sovereign human will is a chimera. Our miserly faith scarcely does God any favors. Salvation is far more a matter of desperation and need, a rescue operation from the grim and hopeless servitude of sin to the freedom of sons and daughters. Grace is not honored by mere lipservice, by admitting the existence of God, or even by assenting to Christian morality. Grace is not something we grant; it is the ineffable love of God which lays claim to us as the one treasure which is worthy of our heart and will—or worthy of nothing. Paul speaks of obeying this grace wholeheartedly (Gk. ek kardias, “from the heart,” which means from the center and source of the inner life). Obedience cannot be one with faith unless it comes from the heart. Bengel was surely right when he said that Christians gain a oneness of heart and will in the act of goodness which is denied to persons in their badness (Gnomon, vol. 3, p. 82). A wicked person is plagued by at least some stirrings of conscience and hence cannot be wicked with the same freedom that good persons can be good from the heart.
The wording of the statement, the form of teaching to which you were entrusted (v. 17), appears rather backward. Would it not be more correct to speak of handing over doctrines to hearers than hearers to doctrines? In defense of the wording Barrett notes that “Christians are not (like the rabbis) masters of a tradition; but are themselves created by the word of God, and remain in subjection to it” (Romans, p. 132; see also 2 Cor. 2:9; Gal. 1:6). Käsemann is more specific, seeing the form of teaching not as the gospel in general, but as an early baptismal creed to which believers were entrusted at their baptism (Romans, p. 181). Precedent for the latter can be found in the early church’s course of instruction for believers at their baptism; the Didache (ca. a.d. 75), which means “Teaching” or “Instruction,” indeed may have been an early baptismal manual. In response to Barrett and Käsemann, however, it should be noted that form, typos, is almost always in Paul used of persons, not things. Moreover, the form of teaching is nowhere else used of a baptismal creed. It seems more likely, therefore, that Paul intends the phrase with reference to Jesus Christ, which is entirely possible in Greek, i.e., “but you obeyed from your heart the model (typos) of teaching to whom (= Jesus Christ) you were entrusted.” At any rate, whether the phrase refers to Christ or the gospel, the main point is that the form of teaching does not belong to us, but we belong to it. We do not change Christ (or the gospel) to fit our culture and mores, but we must be changed and converted by it. Only thus are we set free from sin. This freedom, which Paul introduces for the first time in Romans (and again in vv. 20, 22), originates from the cross of Christ and from the believer’s engrafting into Christ at baptism.
17 Paul now dispels any idea that Christians stand in a situation of neutrality with respect to the master they are to serve. This verse and the following one reveal Paul’s conviction that they have already made the decision to follow a new master. For Paul gives “thanks to God” for the transfer of spiritual allegiance that they have manifested. Once, Paul says, “you were slaves of sin”;566 but now “you have obeyed that pattern of teaching to which you were handed over.” “You have obeyed” points to the time of conversion, when the Roman Christians first bowed the knee to Jesus the Lord. The word therefore includes reference to faith568 but must not be confined to it. As we argued in commenting on “the obedience of faith” in 1:5, Paul views faith in Christ and commitment to him as Lord as inseparable and mutually interpreting. Here, then, the focus is on the initial commitment of the Roman Christians to Christ as Lord, including both their “faith” in him and their submission to him. Paul uses “obey” because he wants to underscore the aspect of submission to Christ as Lord of life that is part of becoming a Christian.
It is probably for this same reason that Paul chooses so unusual a way of describing the object of their obedience: “that pattern of teaching to which you were handed over.” The verb “hand over” might connote the transfer of a slave from one master to another—an image appropriate to this paragraph.570 But perhaps more relevant in conjunction with a word like “teaching” are those places where, in probable dependence on Jewish concepts, Paul uses “hand over” to refer to the transmission of the early Christian teaching or tradition (1 Cor. 11:2, 23; 15:3). In this verse, however, it is not the teaching that is handed down to believers but the believers who are handed over to the teaching. This unusual way of putting the matter is intentional; Paul wants to make clear that becoming a Christian means being placed under the authority of Christian “teaching,” that expression of God’s will for NT believers. The new convert’s “obedience” to this teaching is the outgrowth of God’s action in “handing us over” to that teaching when we were converted.
But why does Paul say “pattern [typos] of teaching” rather than just “teaching”? Many interpreters think that Paul alludes to a “rule” or “pattern” of early Christian teaching.574 There is good reason to think that this is the case, but he may also want to suggest a contrast with another “pattern” of teaching. Godet thinks Paul contrasts his own “gospel” with the pattern of teaching that the Romans had already heard. Longenecker, pursuing a key thesis in his commentary, thinks it contrasts Paul’s contextualized gospel for Gentiles with other forms of the gospel. But a more likely contrast is that between the “form” of Christian teaching and the “form” of Jewish teaching. Paul would then imply that Christians, while no longer “under the [Mosaic] law,” are nevertheless bound by an authoritative code of teaching. And Paul may have an additional reason for using typos. Most of the Pauline occurrences of this word refer to believers as “examples” to other believers. In these verses, typos includes the active connotation of a pattern that molds others. Similarly, in this verse, it is likely that typos includes the idea that Christian teaching molds and forms those who have been handed over to it.
18 This brief verse recapitulates the indicative of the believer’s transfer from the old realm to the new that was the central teaching of 6:1–14 and that was hinted at in v. 17a. For the first time, however, Paul uses the language of freedom to describe the believer’s new status with respect to sin. In a world in which freedom has taken on all kinds of historical and social baggage, we must remember that Paul’s concept of freedom is not that of autonomous self-direction but of deliverance from those enslaving powers that would prevent human beings from becoming what God intended. It is only by doing God’s will and thus knowing his truth that we can be “free indeed” (John 8:31–36). This is why, without paradox, Christian freedom is at the same time a kind of “slavery.” Being bound to God and his will enables the person to become “free”—to be what God wants that person to be. As a Puritan Confession of Faith puts it, “The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel consists in their yielding obedience unto him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love, and willing mind.”580
As in vv. 2, 6, and 11–14, “sin” is the power from which believers are set free in Christ. Now for the first time, however, Paul follows through on his transfer language and makes clear that freedom from the power of sin means servitude to a new power. Addressing the Roman Christians, and referring, as with “you obeyed” in v. 17, to their conversion, Paul reminds them that “you have been enslaved to righteousness.” The passive verb draws attention again here (as in vv. 17 and 22) to the initiative of God. “Righteousness,” as the antithesis to sin, has a clearly ethical dimension. The contrast with “sin” and the use of the verb “enslave” suggest also that this right conduct is conceived as a power that exercises authority over the believer (see the notes on 6:13). The Christian is not just called to do right in a vacuum but to do right out of a new and powerful relationship that has already been established.
17 In the thanksgiving that the believers at Rome “were servants of sin”, the emphasis rests upon the past tense and in order to express the thought in English we have to use some such conjunction as “whereas” or “although”—“whereas ye were servants of sin”. The emphasis rests upon the change that took place when they came to obey the form of teaching unto which they were delivered. There are three questions to be considered in connection with the latter part of this text. (1) What is the “form of teaching”? There can be no reasonable question but it means the pattern or standard of teaching and there is no warrant for supposing that it was a specifically Pauline pattern as distinguished from other forms of apostolic teaching. It is “the form of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13; cf. 1 Tim. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1), and in this instance there is stress upon the ethical implications of gospel teaching. (2) This pattern of gospel teaching is represented as that to which obedience was rendered, and the change from the service of sin is registered in and characterized by obedience to a well-defined and articulated doctrinal pattern. The supposition that Christianity has no fixed pattern of teaching regulative of thought and practice is entirely alien to the apostle’s conception of the Christian ethic. The pattern prescribed in the gospel in no way interferes with the true liberty and spontaneity of the believer—he obeys “from the heart”. Objective prescription, presupposed in obedience, is not incompatible with the voluntariness indispensable to obedience. (3) We might have expected the apostle to say that this form of teaching had been delivered to the believers, but, instead, he says that they were delivered to it—they were handed over to the gospel pattern. This indicates that their devotion to the gospel was one of total commitment and that this commitment is not one of their option but is that to which they are subjected. This again underlines the objectivity of the pattern as well as our passivity in being committed to it, an objectivity and passivity which in no way militate against the wholehearted voluntariness of the result, namely, the commitment of obedience from the heart.
18 These observations regarding verse 17 are confirmed by verse 18, which must be taken in close connection with verse 17. The first clause of verse 18, “and being made free from sin”, corresponds to “ye were servants of sin” in verse 17, and the last clause corresponds to “ye obeyed from the heart the form of teaching unto which ye were delivered”. However, the passivity of this change in both its negative and positive aspects is now expressed. They were the subjects of deliverance from sin and they were made the bondservants of righteousness. The force of the passive in both cases must not be overlooked. This brings to the forefront the implications of the passive in verse 17, namely, that they were delivered up to the gospel pattern of teaching. And the commitment involved is to the same effect. Commitment to the gospel pattern is equivalent to bondservice to righteousness.
17 Paul is happy to acknowledge that his readers have renounced the service of sin and are now wholeheartedly obeying Christian teaching. Attention should be called to the KJV’s mistranslation at this point: “that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” In some other context, Paul might have expressed himself that way, because he frequently spoke of Christian tradition—that which had been handed down to the church as apostolic teaching. But here the normal order is reversed: “you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.” By virtue of becoming Christians, the believers had obligated themselves to obey what we might call “the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2; cf. 1 Co 9:21). Even though he had not founded the Roman church, Paul was confident that those who had preached the gospel there and taught the converts had reproduced the characteristic teaching that had been standard from the beginning (Ac 2:42, “the apostles’ teaching”). The word “form” translates typos, “type,” or better, “pattern” (GK 5596), and refers to a relatively fixed form of ethical teaching (cf. 1 Th 4:1–2). Just as the gospel had certain ingredients (the kerygmatic substratum of 6:1–5, namely, Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, as in 1 Co 15:3–4), so the teaching relating to the life the believer was expected to live was standard throughout the church (cf. C. H. Dodd, Gospel and Law [Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1951]).
The teaching of Jesus and the apostles, especially in terms of the demands of discipleship, the ethical requirements of the faith, and the principles that must guide believers in their relationships with each other and the world became in time so definite and fixed that one could go from one area of the church to another and find the same general pattern. The Mosaic law was a fixed, definite entity with precepts and prohibitions. Grace has its norms also. (For an illuminating study of this subject, see E. G. Selwyn, The First Epistle of Peter [London: Macmillan, 1946], 363ff.)
18 The term that most adequately describes the standard Christian instruction is “righteousness.” Here Paul arrives at the full answer to the question raised in v. 15. To be set free from obligation to serve sin means entrance into the service of righteousness (“have become slaves [douloō, GK 1530] to righteousness”). There is no middle ground, no place in Christian experience where one is free to set one’s own standards and go one’s own way. So it is idle to object that on becoming a believer one is simply exchanging one form of slavery for another. There is no alternative. The psalmist perceived this long ago when he wrote, “O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds” (Ps 116:16 KJV). Let no one say, however, that the two slaveries are on the same plane. The one is rigorous and relentless, leading to death; the other is joyous and satisfying, leading to life and peace. To be free from bondage to sin is a great boon in itself. But life cannot be lived in a vacuum. Service to righteousness means an enrichment of self and others that adds meaning to life, even as it fulfills the will of God.
But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (6:17–18)
First the apostle gives thanks … to God that his believing readers were no longer subject to the slavery that leads to death. He does not thank or praise them for their own wisdom or intelligence or moral and spiritual determination, because none of those things had a part in their salvation. “No one can come to Me,” Jesus said, “unless the Father who sent Me draws him, … [and] unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:44, 65). Our thanks for salvation should always be to God alone, because it is God alone “who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).
Believers are saved solely by the grace and power of God. And by His grace, habitual disobedience to Him is in the past tense. Formerly, Paul says, you were slaves of sin, but no more. Were translates an imperfect Greek tense, signifying an ongoing reality. In other words, the unregenerate person is under the continual, unbroken slavery of sin. That is the universal position of the natural man, with no exceptions. No matter how outwardly moral, upright, or benevolent an unsaved person’s life may be, all that he thinks, says, and does emanates from a proud, sinful, ungodly heart. Quoting from Psalm 14, Paul had already made that truth clear. “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one’ ” (Rom. 3:10–12).
That Paul is not speaking about merely outward righteousness is made clear from his declaration that you became obedient from the heart. God works His salvation in a person’s innermost being. Through the grace provided by His Son, God changes men’s very natures when they trust in Him. A person whose heart has not been changed has not been saved. Righteous living that issues from an obedient … heart is habitual. And just as God’s grace operates only through a trusting heart, His righteousness operates only through an obedient heart.
Faith and obedience are inescapably related. There is no saving faith in God apart from obedience to God, and there can be no godly obedience without godly faith. As the beautiful and popular hymn admonishes, “Trust and obey, there’s no other way.” Our Lord “gave Himself for us,” Paul says, not only to save us from hell and take us to heaven but to “redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14).
Salvation comes “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit,” Peter wrote to persecuted believers throughout the Roman world, in order that those who believe may “obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood” (a symbol referring to a covenant of obedience, see Ex. 24:1–8). Later in the epistle he admonished: “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:2, 22–23; emphasis added). Obedience to Jesus Christ and obedience to His truth are totally synonymous, and His truth is “the living and abiding word of God.”
Obedience neither produces nor maintains salvation, but it is an inevitable characteristic of those who are saved. Belief itself is an act of obedience, made possible and prompted by God’s sovereign grace, yet always involving the uncoerced will of the believer. A person is not transported passively from slavery in Satan’s kingdom of darkness to slavery in God’s kingdom of light. Salvation does not occur apart from an act of commitment on the believer’s part. The life-changing work of salvation is by God’s power alone, but it does not work apart from man’s will. God has no unwilling children in His family, no unwilling citizens in His kingdom.
Genuine faith not only is in God’s Son but in God’s truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). Paul had confidence in the salvation of his readers in the church at Rome because they obeyed to that form of teaching to which [they] were committed. No believer, of course, comprehends all of God’s truth. Even the most mature and faithful Christian only begins to fathom the riches of God’s Word in this present life. But the desire to know and obey God’s truth is one of the surest marks of genuine salvation. From its inception, the early church was characterized by its devotion “to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42). And Jesus made it clear that those who obeyed His word were the true believers (see John 8:31; 14:21, 23, 24; 15:10; etc.).
Form translates tupos, which was used of the molds into which molten metal for castings was poured. Committed translates the aorist passive of paradidōmi, which carries the basic meaning of deliver over to. And because eis (to) can also be translated into, it seems that a more precise rendering of this phrase is “that form of teaching into which you were delivered.” It is true, of course, that, through its reading and preaching, God’s Word is delivered to believers. But Paul’s point here seems to be that the true believer is also delivered into God’s Word, His divine teaching. The idea is that when God makes a new spiritual creation of a believer, He casts him into the mold of divine truth. The J. B. Phillips rendering of Romans 12:1 uses the same figure: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within.” In other words, “Do not let Satan’s forces try to fit you back into the old sinful mold from which God delivered you. Let God continue to fashion you into the perfect image of His Son.”
Throughout his epistles, Paul emphasizes the crucial relationship of God’s truth to faithful Christian living. In his second letter to Timothy, he advised his young protégé in ministry to “retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 1:13). He later warned him that “the time will come when [men] will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (4:3). The apostle maintained that an overseer, or elder, in the church should hold “fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). Later in the same letter he admonished Titus to “speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine” (2:1). The Christian who faithfully obeys God’s Word becomes conformed to the truth of that Word, a living model of the gospel. The divine teaching to which a believer submits himself in Jesus Christ stamps him with the authentic image of his Savior and Lord.
A person does not become a Christian by claiming the name of Christ and then believing and doing whatever he himself wants. You cannot become a Christian by merely saying or doing certain things, even the godly things extolled in Scripture. But after genuine salvation a person will have the innate, Spirit-led desire to know and to obey God’s truth.
After a businessmen’s luncheon at which I spoke, a man said to me, “I’ve been in this group for a long time, and I’ll tell you how I think you can get to God. You see, there is this long stairway, and at the top there is a door and behind it is this guy Jesus. What you really want to do is try to make it up the stairs and get through the door and then hope Jesus lets you in. As you’re on your way up the stairs, you’ve got all these preachers and movements cheering you on, but you just continue going up the stairs your own way. I call it the stairway of hope. That’s what I think the gospel is.” With a heavy heart I replied, “Sir, you cannot be a Christian. What you just said has nothing to do with the gospel, and your stairway to heaven is hopeless. You need to depend on Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. You have no idea of what it means to be saved, and you cannot be on your way to heaven.”
A person cannot invent his own way to God, no matter how sincere his efforts might be. God has established the only way to come to Him, and that is the way of faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. And saving faith in Jesus Christ is built on God’s revelation about Him, not on men’s ideas about Him. There is divinely-revealed content to the gospel, and the person who rejects or circumvents that content gives unmistakable evidence that he is not truly seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness.
Witness Lee, founder of the Local Church movement, wrote a book entitled Christ Versus Doctrine, the main thesis of which is that it is a personal relationship to Christ that matters and that doctrine actually interferes with that relationship. The book not only is unbiblical but, as one might guess from the title, is also self-contradictory. Doctrine is simply another word for teaching, and the purpose of Lee’s book, of course, was to teach his own doctrine.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1703). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (pp. 183–184). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (pp. 235–238). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Moo, D. J. (2018). The Letter to the Romans. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (Second Edition, pp. 426–429). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
 Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 110–111). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.