Romans 6:22 says that Christians “have become slaves to God.” Which could be a hard pill to swallow with our horrible history of slavery over the last few centuries. It conjures up pictures of black Africans being cruelly chain ganged onto slave ships against their will and being dragged off into who knows what hell on some plantation somewhere, or much worse.
There’s a difference, however, in the type of slavery Romans 6 is getting at. It’s not something done against our will. Several times in this chapter it talks about us “offering” ourselves, as something we do by choice and willingly. Like verse 13, for instance, which says “offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life, and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” It’s something we do willingly, and for good reason too.
But it’s still in the context of a master and slave, to get the point across that our lives are always under the control of a master of some sort. That’s made clear in verse 14, which says, “For sin shall not be your master,” meaning that sin was our master, and we were slaves to it. But, Paul adds, the only reason we’re not slaves to ‘master sin’ any longer is because we’ve willingly given ourselves to another master instead (verse 13).
We never stop being slaves, then. To begin with we are “slaves to sin” and under the mastery and control of sin, verse 16, but later on we switch to being “slaves to God” and under his mastery and control. And it’s either one or the other too; there’s no in-between.
We are, as verse 16 also states, “slaves to the one we obey,” and there are only two masters in this world we obey: either sin or God. And that means, verse 19, that every human life is either in “slavery to impurity and ever-increasing wickedness,” or we’re in “slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” Again, it’s either one or the other, and no in-between.
Romans 7 says the same thing, that we were “prisoners of the law of sin,” verse 23, or as verse 5 phrases it, “we were controlled by the sinful nature.” “But now,” verse 6, “by dying to what once bound us….we serve in the new way of the Spirit.” So, again, it’s either one or the other.
Romans 8 says the same thing too, that we’re either ruled by the “law of the Spirit of life,” or the “law of sin and death,” verse 2. And in verses 6 and 8 our minds are either “controlled by the Spirit,” or “controlled by the sinful nature.”
So we’re controlled by, bound by, ruled by, prisoners of, or in slavery to, either one of two masters. “You (Christians), however,” Paul adds in verse 9, “are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you.”
So we’re never outside the control of something. Or as Paul phrases it rather tongue in cheek in Romans 6:20, “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.” But the moment we’re “set free from sin,” we immediately switch over to becoming “slaves to God,” verse 22, and “slaves to righteousness,” verse 18.
And we switch over willingly too. Why? Because for all our best efforts and good intentions – including trying our hardest to keep God’s law (like Paul in Romans 7) – we cannot get control over “the evil right there” with us, “waging war” in our minds to make us “prisoners of the law of sin,” Romans 7:22-23, nor can we stop our minds being “hostile to God,” Romans 8:7, and nor can we “put to death the misdeeds of our bodies,” verse 13.
So we cannot stop violence, racism, revenge, jealousy, pride, greed, or our addictions to our self-destructive ways. And how frustrating that is for people who’d love to see our world at peace, and families and nations getting along together. And it gets scary too, as to what our stupidity and weakness will do to our planet and our mental health, and to our sense of security and safety when the gods we depend on fail us, and nothing we do works.
But all that goes out the window when we’re “slaves to God,” because from him we “don’t receive a spirit that makes us a slave again to fear,” verse 15. And why is that? Because “those who are led by the Spirit of God are God’s children,” verses 14 and 16. And as his children he frees us from the frustration, futility and hopelessness caused by the sinful nature we have no control over naturally (verses 20-21).
That’s why being “slaves to God” is such good news, because in “offering ourselves to God,” Romans 6:13, we are putting ourselves in the care of the only power in the universe who can cure all our ills, and the only power who can give us a life that never ends too (verse 23).