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Paul’s heart is to see the believers in the Roman church love Christ deeply so that they won’t lose their first love and fall away from faith. They are faced on every side with persecution and their only hope is the gospel in Jesus Christ. Paul wants them to know that they are slaves to Christ-and this is a good thing-rather than slaves to sin.

This is the shocking message for us. We are salves to something. We are naturally salves to sin and the ways of the world and the only way to change this is to become a slave to God. As Paul tells us, in becoming a slave to God we then know his righteousness and know his love and security. Do not fear being a slave to God because if we are slave to sin (and we are a slave to either God or sin) then we will know eternal death and have no hope.

The truth Paul rings through to us is that the gift of God is eternal life (Romans 6 v 23). This is the gift we need and is freely available.

Romans – The heart of the Gospel is a teaching series from Annalong Presbyterian Church. Find out more at

David McCullagh:

So it's been a number of weeks since we've been in Romans, and perhaps that song, There Is One Gospel, is a good summary of what we've looked at. But I do hope the break from it has done you good. Now, I don't know many ministers that would say that, but I think it's good to stop. Whenever we're halfway through or quarter way through of a series to catch our breath and to consider what Paul has been teaching, because there's no getting away from the fact that Paul is heavy and Paul is meaty and his content, and that's only going to get heavier as we make our way through the rest of this letter, but we have to remember why Paul is like this. Why Paul is, is giving us this weight of the gospel and it's understanding. Paul is writing to a church that is fighting for its life. The Roman church was a mixed church of Jews and Gentiles, and they suffered from similar issues to those other churches planted throughout the Roman world. And Paul's own testimony is remarkable on top of all of this, and he is so passionate that the believers in, about the believers in Rome, that even believers throughout the world would know the truth of the gospel so that they would not be drawn away from it. It wasn't enough just to know the gospel message. The believers were to love it so that it would be their first love. And I want that to be our perspective of the gospel. I've quoted a very famous and well known verse already in John chapter 3 and verse 16, what we might argue the most gospel of verses. And so we can say That yes, we know the gospel and there are certain traditions out there that all you have to do is read a portion of the gospel and to them, that is the gospel. But there's a difference in knowing the gospel because we can know the head facts and deeply loving the gospel where it's transplanted into our hearts. And so, we get something of the importance of this. Of what Paul is trying to communicate at the end of the Bible in the revelation that was given to John. A message is given to the church at Ephesus and it begins as a message of understanding what they have endured. But Revelation chapter 2 and verse 4 says, But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had. This is quite the charge against this church in Ephesus. But it's what Paul is trying to save the church in Rome and us from. He doesn't want us to have this same charge levied against us. The church in Ephesus there, as in what Revelation 2 is talking about, they've endured so much. And what they've done is they've turned away from Christ, not completely. They were still a church, but they had allowed something else to capture their hearts. And it's this that was held against them. Now, I'm not saying that Paul was aware of this, of what was going to happen in the Revelation. But I use this verse to highlight the passion Paul has for the church in Rome. That that church, as the church today, would remain true to Christ. And that the church would love him deeply. And Paul's been doing this ever since the beginning of chapter one. And we should know this, that's why perhaps a, a pause for these past couple of weeks has been good, where we can look back and say, well, what have we been thinking about in Romans? And so as we turn back to the opening chapter, it gave us this great affirmation that should be the heartbeat of every believer, as Paul writes in verses 16 and 17, for I am not ashamed of the gospel. For it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, the righteous shall live by faith. And you know, if Paul was to write nothing else, that is a fantastic summary of what it means to know the gospel. But thankfully, Paul writes more. Well, I say thankfully. You may not be too thankful in a couple of weeks time because Paul, Paul does want to challenge us. He wants to correct us because again his passion is that we will not fall away, but that we will love Christ deeply. And so, in many ways, verses 16 and 17 are the great introduction and purpose of why Paul is writing. And throughout this letter, he has been presenting us with an argument for faith. That is being weaved for us so that we can understand its logic. But we can also understand the dangers of falling away from this gospel because Paul, remember, is a lawyer. He's used to arguing and so he wants to present it as if he was presenting a case in a courtroom. And so he has challenged people's thinking about sin and also about their birthright. He's opened eyes to the truth of the gospel and to the security that it holds. And in chapter 6, he tackled original sin, its consequences, and how Jesus is enough to save. In the earlier verses of this chapter, Paul challenged the notion that if we keep on sinning, it somehow shows God in a better light because he gets to demonstrate his grace more towards us. In other words, the more sin God gets to forgive, well, it shows how greater a God he is. Paul says that this is rubbish, and anyone professing the name of Christ must, must do so, that is follow Christ fully. Being committed to him, and being committed to his way. Not trying to think you can get away with sinning because God's omni nice. No, living the way God desires us to live because that is his best for us. And so as we move now into the second half of this passage, Paul shifts to what is an uncomfortable topic for us today, and he speaks of slavery. An issue that still raises much debate in who is at fault in slavery and what restitution should be made by countries such as our own for our historic slave trade. But the issue of slavery in Paul's time was different from that of the 16th and 17th century slave trade. Now I'm not saying that what was going on on Paul's day was right, but slaves of his time had more freedom than the transatlantic slave trade that we might be more familiar with. So the context is different. And Paul begins by picking up what he has just taught in verses 1 to 14 and asks the question about sinning. Paul sees the idea, as we've already said, but he recounts it for us again, this idea of sinning because God's grace is a grace of forgiveness. He says this is ludicrous. So, to help us, he changes the imagery and draws us to the concept of what it means to live as a slave. And in verse 16, he states, Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience? Paul is blunt. Paul's not giving you a wee gentle tap on the shoulder. Paul's gone out to the shed and got a sledgehammer and he's whacking us with it. He's making it clear that we don't miss what is being said here. It doesn't matter who we think we are. We. are slaves, and we are all slaves to something. We are either slaves to sin or we are slaves to obedience. Let's think about what this means because verse 16 stresses obedience as an aspect of slavery. You are slaves to the one whom you obey. We can obey sin, but if we obey sin, then that leads us to death, eternal death, or we can obey God, and obedience to God leads us to righteousness, and the right choice should be obvious for us. Everyone knew that if a man offered himself as a slave, he had to obey his new master, and when we believe in God, we gain a new master and offer ourselves to him without reservation. Now, Paul does bend the Roman customs for his purpose here. Seeking the heart of this verse, we read that you are slaves either of sin or of obedience. Everyone has a master. Everyone devotes themselves to a person, to a cause, or to a goal. We obey it. We take direction from it, roughly as a slave obeys a master. And if a person is not devoted to God, then he is devoted to another master. And what was it Jesus said? No man can serve two masters. So the question is not, do you serve? The question is rather, whom do you serve? Ultimately, most people serve themselves, although the form of that varies in one way or another. Will it be pleasure, power, security, family, knowledge, or something else that will force us away from God? All of those things, they're not bad in and of themselves, but when they replace God, then they're dangerous. And so when Paul calls this devotion slavery, he means that people do what their God demands. When Paul labels believers slaves of obedience, he doesn't mean that we are devoted to the law per se. Rather, we are slaves of God. And we manifest what we serve, that we serve him by heeding all of the teaching of scripture. Verse 22 goes on to say, But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end. eternal life. See, that's what slavery to God leads us to. It leads us to being sanctified, that daily renewal where we are made right before God. So that the day will come when we will enter eternal life. And yes, this language of slavery is uncomfortable for us. We say that Christ gives us freedom, and that is true. Christ's death and resurrection means that when we trust in Him, we escape the penalty that our sins deserve, and we call this substitutionary atonement. A way to understand this is possibly to think about a goldfish. My parents went out for a night. When I was small and I was left in charge of my grandparents and when my parents came home late that night and went to feed the fish There was a fish missing. To this day I have no idea what happened that fish But the fish could nowhere to be found and no cat was in the house at the time So the mystery of the goldfish continues, but it's very clear that that goldfish no longer existed See, when a goldfish is in a goldfish bowl, answer me, is it free or is it a captive? The fish bowl has boundaries that hinder the fish's opportunity for more than just the ten cubic litres of water. But what happens to the goldfish when it goes outside its bowl? It turns out the boundaries of the goldfish bowl are what keeps the goldfish safe, and more importantly, alive. Outside of those boundaries, the goldfish is as free as it wants, and if you've ever seen a fish out of water, you would think it's having a party the way it's going up and down. But of course, what's it doing in going up and down? Struggling for life. You see, a goldfish may be free out of its fishbowl, but only for a short period of time, because the boundaries provide security for what it needs. When we come to Christ, we are free to be slaves of God. God sets the boundaries so that we are safe and we are secure. Go beyond those boundaries or go beyond God's law and his best for us. A slave to God is no bad thing because it means we live for Him as He always intended in the love and security of our Creator and our Heavenly Father. Which do you prefer? To be free and have no boundaries, but certainly die? Or to know that boundaries are there to sustain life? And provide security. This is what Paul wants us to grasp. That matters of faith are serious matters and should be considered well so that they may be lived well. And so moving on, Paul confirms that our default is to be slaves to sin. None of us, not one, has been born righteous. Now let that sit for a moment. Because sometimes we can have a high opinion of ourselves that we are simply too good to be bad. Nowhere in Scripture do we read of humanity being born right before God. The only one born without sin was Jesus Christ. Every other person was born with the problem, the problem of sin. But Paul gives us great news for this problem because in verses 17 and 18 he says, 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. This is, this is great news, even though it now calls us slaves again. It's, it's the best news we can hear, because God has made a way for us to be right with him. Yes, our problem is sin, but it need not define us. Jesus died so that we could be free from it. And yes, Be a slave to God because only God can be trusted with our very souls There's an interesting phrase here in the middle of this verse, if you look at it there, it says standard of teaching. Paul dedicates the believers to the apostles accounts of Jesus words and deeds, which they carefully delivered to the church. This teaching may have become more formally established after Paul wrote Romans around A. D. 57. But regardless, Paul says not that the teaching was entrusted to us, but that we were entrusted to the teaching. The voice here is passive, and that keeps an appropriate balance between human and divine action. Believers present themselves to God, but God commits us to his truth. That's an interesting way of looking at scripture, isn't it? This is not something we have been entrusted with. It's something that we have been invited to, that we are entrusted to it, as our only rule for life and faith. So we are neither masters of the truth nor guardians of traditions that we control. God is the master. And so as he delivers us from bondage to sin, he also delivers us to the authority of his word. We are subject to God's word, never the other way around. That's why, for me, it is important that we read Scripture and learn from it both personally and as a body of God's people. It is God's Word, the standard of teaching that Paul speaks of here, that keeps us in His ways. Don't think you can live without it. You can't. You need to read it, and you need to understand what it teaches. But Paul knows us, and he wants us to know ourselves, and in verse 19 he tells us that our humanity hinders our full understanding. And again he impresses on us that in Christ we are free, free to be slaves to God. So flee the sin that so easily ensnares us and keeps us from eternal life with God. That's the challenge that Paul gives us, so that we may be deeply rooted and know the love of God deeply, that we will never depart from it. And Paul finishes this passage with a sobering thought. Chapter 6 has been about enjoying God and his salvation. We're not to abuse it, but to love it deeply. So we are drawn back to our former state. We're reminded of who we were and Paul says in verses 19 to 20 for when you were slaves of sin You were free in regard to righteousness But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. If this doesn't make you think then you're not paying attention Here is the sobering truth without Christ is death. And this is our natural position. The only way to change this is to come onto Jesus and rest in his love. And please hear this, whether you're here in the building, whether you're watching online or listening on the podcast, eternal death is the default from birth. No amount of good living, good works, or kindness can change this. Now you might say, David, hold on a minute. This is all getting too heavy and not sounding very loving. Well, the reality is, this is the greatest message of love you will ever hear. Jesus died for you. So that you would not die eternally. He died so that you might hear the truth That is found in the love of Jesus Christ This is why Paul finishes with the well known words of verse 23 for the wages of sin is death But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is both good news and It's a warning and we have heard both of these before Know that we will receive the correct wage for our sin. And you might ask, well, what is our sin? Well, it might be lying. Might be cheating. Maybe it's the things we don't like talking about. But we need to. Adultery. Abuse. It might also be refusing to greet our brother or sister in Christ, preferring our own self righteousness than the unity in the Spirit. It might be refusing to forgive someone for how they have wronged us, yet we are so willing to receive the free gift of forgiveness from Jesus Christ, and we become unwilling to forgive others. Remember what sin is. Sin is any want of conformity onto or transgression off. the law of God. Sin is anything that is against. You are a slave, a doulos, as the Greek word says. Will you be a slave to sin or will you be a slave to Christ? Whichever captures our hearts. That is our true answer, and the best way for each and every one of us is to be a slave to Christ. The Protestant reformer Martin Luther captured this whole paradox of slavery in saying a Christian is a perfectly free Lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all. We can only know true freedom in Christ, but that freedom secures us as a slave. Where we live willingly for God, I urge you this evening to know true freedom and to know true security in Christ as you submit to him and serve him for your good and his glory for there is no other way to live but to be a slave. Let's pray. Our Father God, we have talked about things we don't like to talk about. Mention the word slavery that is so political, such a topic of our time. We've called sins, not for what we make them, but for what you call them to be. Things that go against your way for us. And we need to come back day and daily to seek forgiveness for those, so that we will be right. For the sake of the gospel, for the sake of our unity as the church, and for the sake of our eternal heritage. Father, help us to know what to do with this. Paul holds back no punches. He makes it clear that we are to love Christ deeply, so that we will not be drawn away and fall into sin. So may we love well. May we enjoy being a slave to you, for in you we find security. There are boundaries that protect us. May we not be the goldfish out of its bowl, that may enjoy the freedom for a little while, but that freedom will lead to eternal death. Father, help us to know you and to love you well, and it's in Jesus name we pray. Amen.

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