But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (Romans 6:17–19, esv).
If you do whatever your boss says, without hesitation or question, then for all intents and purposes you are your boss’s slave. If your compliance to your spouse is immediate and total without reflection upon what is really best, you’re a slave to your spouse. And if you do whatever your sinful nature says, without resisting or discerning the wisdom in that choice, you are a slave to your sinful nature.
Through grace we are to be for Christ what Paul calls “slaves of righteousness,” but too often we’re enslaved to a particular sin. To illustrate, let’s visit the sin Rolodex, flip to the letter “S,” and survey just a few of the sins that enslave.
“You can’t have it both ways: either you’re a slave to sin or a slave to God.”
Stuff. If you’re a slave to material things, you find yourself thinking, more money, newer car, nicer clothes, bigger house, more, more, more. When we’re consumed with acquisition, we have become slaves to stuff.
Sexuality. Sexuality is a gift from God and a wonderful part of marital happiness. But if sex is always on your mind, you have twisted it into something God never intended—which will do you great harm. If immoral sexuality can ‘ring your phone’ and you always answer, you are a slave to that sin.
Substances. Some seem to be powerless against substances: alcohol, tobacco, legal and illegal drugs, caffeine, sugar. Addicted and unable to say no, they have become slaves to a substance.
Someone. Sometimes people wield undue influence or even outright control over others. The slave is controlled by and addicted to securing the approval of a particular person. Willing to do whatever is required by another, we have entered yet another form of slavery to sin.
Though Christianity is often wrongly viewed as a restriction on freedom where God’s rules are seen as bondage, the reality is that everyone is a slave to someone or something. And we only have a couple of choices: we can be “slaves of sin” (Romans 6:17), yielding to whatever our sin natures demand, or “slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18), with the single focus of doing the will of our Master.
Whose slave are you? Here’s how you can tell whether you’re a slave to righteousness:
You are acutely aware of personal unrighteousness. When you sin, you feel conviction. Your heart grieves and you regret breaking God’s standard. When you set your eyes on something inappropriate, say cruel or filthy words, make a wrong choice, etc., you feel specific and acute conviction.
You can’t ignore your sin and have to make it right. When the Holy Spirit convicts you of a specific sin, you quickly ask God to forgive you, and say to those you have offended or injured: “I’ve sinned against you, I have no excuse, and I’m truly sorry. Please forgive me.”
You want to please Jesus. Can you honestly say you think of the Lord frequently—not every moment, but many times every day? Real slaves of righteousness have the Holy Spirit inside them prompting, Would this choice be pleasing to Jesus? Is this what He wants me to do?
So whose slave are you? Do you resonate more with the description of bondage to sin—enslaved to stuff or sexuality or substance or someone or [fill in the blank]? Or are you increasingly, through faith in Jesus, a slave to righteousness?
Paul calls us to: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). If you aren’t bearing the fruit of righteousness—not perfectly, but increasingly—then you must question whether you have ever been “set free from sin [to] become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18).
You can’t have it both ways: either you’re a slave to sin or a slave to God.
God, I choose You as my Master. I give You my allegiance, my soul, my life, my all. Thank You for setting me free from slavery to sin and making me a slave of righteousness, leading to my sanctification. Please convict me very specifically of my sin. Open my eyes to see it, and show me how to make it right with others. I want to please You, Lord. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.