We are no Longer Slaves of Sin – What does God mean?
by Keith Green [published 13/06/09] [reviewed 25/12/09].
There is a false view held by many professing Christians that Romans 6:5-7,20 describes Christians as no longer slaves of sin because they have the power and ability to resist sin when tempted. However, this belief is contradicted by other verses in the Bible. Also, the context of this verse shows that the topic is not about one’s ability to resist sin – but about JUSTIFICATION
In the book of Romans, Paul described Christians as no longer slaves of sin:
“...knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him... that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:5-7, all verses in article, from NKJV unless otherwise stated).
“ For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.” (Romans 6:20).
However, in another verse Paul said, in regard to himself, that he was SOLD under sin (as a slave): "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin." (Romans 7:14).
Since Paul was a Christian, how do we reconcile the two statements, which appear contradictory, especially when considering that Christ said: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin ” (John 8:34-35)?
To answer this question and understand what God meant, when he inspired Paul to describe that Christians were longer slaves of sin, we need to examine the context of the verses involved.
Paul, ‘sold under sin’(as a slave)
What Paul meant by the phrase “...sold under sin...” can be understood by examining the context of Romans chapter seven, which is summed up by Paul towards the end of the chapter:
“So I find it to be a law (rule of action of my being) that when I want to do what is right and good, evil is ever present with me and I am subject to its insistent demands. For I endorse and delight in the Law of God in my inmost self [with my new nature]. [Psm 1:2.]
But I discern in my bodily members [in the sensitive appetites and wills of the flesh] a different law (rule of action) at war against the law of my mind (my reason) and making me a prisoner to the law of sin that dwells in my bodily organs [in the sensitive appetites and wills of the flesh].” (Romans 7:21-23; AMP).
By reading Romans chapter seven , it is clear that Paul was writing about the inner conflict between his carnal nature (old person), and the new developing Christlike nature (new person) within him. Therefore, when he said “…but I am carnal, sold under sin...” (Romans 7:14), he was referring to his carnal (fleshly or human) nature, which still sinned, and contrasting it to the Christlike nature that was also present.
In other verses in the book of Romans, Paul added more detail about the same subject by stating that it was impossible for the carnal mind to comply with God’s spiritual law, and that at various times he did NOT do what he willed to do:
“...the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be...”
“ For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” (Romans 7:18-19).
Note: Greek word translated ‘practice’ in Romans 7:18-19 is passo (Strong’s NT:4238) and means: to "practice", i.e. perform repeatedly or habitually (thus differing from NT:4160, which properly refers to a single act);
By making the above statements, Paul acknowledges that when a person is baptized with the Holy Spirit, the carnal nature does not just magically disappear, and to varying degrees Christians still serve sin like a slave its master, hence his statement: “…but I am carnal, sold under sin...”
Why then did Paul write that Christians were no longer slaves of sin?
It has been conjectured that the phrase stating that Christians are “... no longer slaves of sin...” is a description about how after a person becomes a Christian, even though it is claimed by some that they only slip up occasionally, God gives them the power and ability to resist temptation and to choose whether to sin or not.
One such person, in an article concerning the phrase in question explained things this way: “We act as if we have no choice, when the truth is we have been set free to make the right choices before God and been empowered to make the right choice by the Holy Spirit present and active in our lives.”
However, since according Ephesians 4:13,23-24, putting on the righteousness of Christ is an ongoing growth process, it therefore follows that Christians do NOT always have the power or ability to resist sin, unlike Christ who had the Holy Spirit without measure (John 3:34). Accordingly, Christians do not always have choice, even though at baptism they did choose to embark on a journey towards Godly conduct.
Also, considering how Christ expanded the meaning of sin to include thoughts in a person’s heart such as envy, pride, arrogance, self righteousness, lust, vanity, greed, impatience, hate, jealousy, stubbornness, plus any other attitude short of the mind of Christ, it seems unlikely that Christians only sin occasionally.
In order to understand what GOD meant when he referred to Christians as “...no longer slaves to sin...”, we need to examine the context in which the statement was made.
The context is about Justification
The context can be discerned by reading the preceding verses that lead up to Paul’s statement about Christians, and is about JUSTIFICATION – not about power and ability to resist sin, which is a different subject.
1)“Therefore, as through one man's offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.”
2)“For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not...” (Romans 6:14-15).
Notice also the specific verse in which Paul mentioned the phrase “...no longer slaves of sin...”
“ For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed [NT:1344 dikaioo: to render (i.e. show or regard as) just or innocent:] from sin.” ().
In the above verse, the English word freed is translated from the Greek word dikaioo, and is to do with justification. This is confirmed by the Darby bible translation: “For he that has died is justified from sin.”, and this is the reason, according to the bible, why Christians are described as no longer slaves of sin – not because they always have the power to always resist sin, as some apparently believe
Summarizing Romans 6:5-8 in which the phrase “...should no longer be slaves of sin...” is mentioned, we can conclude the following:
1) The old person (sinful nature) is mentioned as having already DIED – or as Romans 6:11 explains, we should reckon or consider it as though it were dead (crucified). The reason God refers to Christians this way is to describe how after a person is baptized with the Holy Spirit their sins are covered; they JUSTIFIED in His eyes. In other words, if they continue in the faith, they are free from any eternal death penalty. God considers them in this way, even though the fact is that there sinful nature still exists to varying degrees.
2) The body of sin (sinful nature) in Romans 6:14-15 is mentioned as no longer existing. However, once again, the removal of the sinful nature, as already mentioned, is only a description of how a Christian in God’s eyes is JUSTIFIED.
3) Since the description of Christians as “...no longer be slaves of sin...” is connected with the death of the old person and the non existence of the body of sin, which are statements, as explained above, to do with justification – it therefore follows that the statement that Christians are “...no longer be slaves of sin...” is also referring to justification.
In other words, as long as a Christians continues to be led by the holy spirit, in God’s eyes, they are justified, innocent, blameless, pure – considered to be already free from any sin. Hence, referred to as “... no longer slaves of sin...”
God is referring to Christians as though the future had already happened
In addition to knowing the context in which Paul referred to Christians as “... no longer slaves of sin...”, we also need to consider how on occasions God inspired Paul to write about Christians as though the future had already happened. In other words, referring to things that do not exist YET as though they ALREADY existed. This principle had been mentioned only a few chapters earlier:
“...God,who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did;...” (Romans 4:17-18).
Look now at some examples of God communicating in such a way:
1) “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).
2) “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9).
4) “… delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,…” (Colossians 1:13; KJV).
5) “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands , by putting off the body of the sins “ (Colossians 2:11).
6) “And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:...” (Ephesians 2:6)
In the above verses God is referring to Christians as though they were ALREADY sinless, righteous, spirit beings, possessing eternal life.
By referring to Christians this way God is showing that, as long as a Christian continues to be led by the Holy Spirit, in His eyes, their salvation is GUARANTEED.
So what has this got to do with the phrase “... no longer slaves of sin...”
Having established the context in which the phrase “... no longer slaves of sin...” was made is about justification, and that God on occasions refers to Christians as though the future had already happened, it makes sense that in regard to the phrase in question, He is employing such a principle. By doing this, God demonstrates that, as long as a Christian continues to be led by His Spirit, their salvation is GUARANTEED, despite the fact that they still have a carnal mind and still to an extent LITERALLY serve sin like a slave its master. (Romans 7:14).
In other words, as long as Christians continue to be led by His spirit, God does not condemn them when they sin, but regards them as though they were already a righteous creation – free from sin (but literally they are NOT YET). Paul explains this positive approach in the following verse:
“...Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying. Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin...”.
There is no other logical conclusion – the phrase is about justification
The reason why the phrase “...no longer a slave to sin...” can only be about the fact that Christians are justified in God’s eyes, and is NOT saying that a Christian LITERALLY no longer sins (like a slave to sin) is because, after reading the following verses, there can be no other logical conclusion:
1) 1 John 1:8 “ If we say that we have no sin , we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us...”
2) Hebrews 12:1 “...let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,...” (KJV).
3) John 8:34-35 “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin ”
4) Romans 7:18-19 “ For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.”
5) Romans 7:14 “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin”
Taking the above verses into account, it is clear that to varying degrees, Christians still serve sin, like a slave serves his master.
However, when God inspired Paul to write that Christians were “...no longer a slave to sin...” he was not, according to the context of the verse in which the phrase is written, using an analogy to describe a Christian’s power to resist sin while human still human. Rather, he was referring to the fact that, as long as Christians continue to be led by God’s holy spirit, they are JUSTIFIED – in that sense considered to be ALREADY literally free from committing sin, and therefore also ALREADY no longer slaves to sin.
The extent to which Christians still sin is NOT the issue, as long as they continue to be led by the Holy Spirit and persevere in the faith. The issue with God is not the old person (sinful nature), but whether the coexisting new person (Christ within, Galatians 2:20) is gradually growing.
This understanding should be very encouraging to Christians who have sins they find difficult or impossible, to budge, while in the flesh. As Paul said himself:
“… O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?...” (Romans 7:24-25)
He then gives the answer: “…I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (KJV).