15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 17 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, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you have fruit to sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom6:15-23)
As I observed in the previous post, Paul is undoubtedly difficult to understand but he becomes downright impossible if one is starting from a flawed theological position such as believing that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer as I once understood. This will become even more obvious as we delve deeper into Paul’s letters, but even here one should observe from verse 16 (highlighted) that if someone continues to serve sin (which as we shall see pertains to gratifying the sensual desires of the body) then that results in death. That applies regardless of whether or not one professes to be a Christian. [By “death” Paul is not referring to “damnation” but the absence or cessation of a living communion with God in the present [see earlier post.] In Paul’s language the Christian must become a slave to righteousness.
This is not an optional extra or merely an act of gratitude “to thank Jesus for saving us” or suchlike, it is a requirement even though (confusingly to some in this context) the apostle confirms we are no longer under the Law but under grace. But as Paul will shortly and more unequivocally assert “If you live according to the flesh you shall die, but if by the spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you shall live (Rom8:13). I have highlighted the key word which is “you”, not the spirit, which as will be explained when we get to it is not referring to the Holy Spirit but the human spirit, the existence of which Paul acknowledges even if Augustine and the Reformers did not (cf. Rom1:9; 1Thes5:23). Even if Paul were referring to the Holy Spirit, He could never be a human faculty, He is the divine Helper – it is still the individual who has to “put to death the deeds of the body” – i.e. suppress the unrighteous sensual instincts of the procreated intellectual vessel as considered in the previous post. Clearly, if Christ’s righteousness were imputed that exaltation would be superfluous and there would be no question of the Christian dying, but Paul makes no such qualification here or anywhere else (and the writer to the Hebrews is even more adamant as we shall see).
Likewise in verse 22 of our passage, when Paul says we have been “freed from sin”, it is obvious from the context that he is not merely referring to the guilt of sin, but its power and the need to refrain from its habitual practice. For, as he says, that is in order to produce fruit leading to sanctification. Again, such is a prerequisite for those who are being fashioned after the One they are destined to partner in the age to come. At that point no one shall be “clothed in righteousness divine” in the sense of having souls accredited or infused with a righteousness that is not their own. Our souls shall be what they have become through life, aided by the resources of the Gospel, having “become obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed” (v17).
But what we shall be clothed in is a new and perfect body. As Paul is consistently affirming, contrary to the central emphasis of Western theology, it is not the soul but the procreated body and brain – our current “tabernacle” that is the source of humanity’s moral ineptitude, causing even the Christian to groan (2Cor5:4). As for the rest, “we know that the whole creation groans and labours in birth-pangs. Not only they but even we who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, being the redemption of our body (Rom8:22-23). But the soul it shall re-clothe shall be entirely our own. For God and His Christ will wish to have a relationship with the real us – the people we have become in life through being learners of the Christ, having been united to Him through partaking of His body and blood (Jn6:56) and divinely aided by the Holy Spirit.