You Gotta Serve Somebody

Romans 6:15-23

January 6, 1993 | Ray Pritchard

We’ll call him Bill, but it doesn’t matter. He’s been a Christian for three or four or five years. Although he comes to church, he’s not very faithful and he doesn’t seem very interested in growing in his walk with Christ. In fact, as you think about Bill and as you observe his life, it seems to you that he’s involved in some activities that really drag him down as a Christian. When you mention that fact to him, he says, “Hey, I know I’m going to heaven. Why not live it up until I get there?” What do you say to him?

We’ll call her Susan. She’s been married, I believe, about fifteen years and has been a Christian just about that long. And she’s your best friend. You just discovered that she’s getting involved in a romantic relationship with another man. When you confront her, she replies, “I know it’s wrong. You don’t have to tell me that. I know it’s a sin. But I know God understands and I know He’ll forgive me.” What do you say to her?

His name is Jack. He’s been a Christian a long time and in the church a long time and by his own admission, he’s never grown as a Christian at all. He’s still wearing diapers spiritually. He says to you, “Look, I’m going to heaven and that’s the only thing that matters to me. I don’t mind taking a back seat up there and let the rest of you sit towards the front of the class, just so long as I make it. That’s all I care about. The rest of it doesn’t matter.” What do you say to him?

Does It Make Any Difference How I Live?

Those are common voices, common words, common thoughts. We hear them a lot. If we’re honest this morning, some of us have said the same things. “I’m going to heaven. I’m going to live it up until I get there.” “I know it’s wrong, but God will forgive me.” “I’ll take a back seat in heaven and the rest of it doesn’t matter.” What do you say to them? What does God have to say about them? Does the Bible shed any light on this subject at all? The question really is this: Now that I am saved, does it make any difference how I live? Yes or no? What does God have to say about this?

The answer, of course, is yes. God has a great deal to say about how we live. Romans 6 is the central passage in the Bible that deals with Jack and Susan and Bill and the great question, Now that I’m saved, does it matter how I live?

As you approach this chapter, you will discover that it is quite easy to outline. Romans 6 has 23 verses and divides easily into two parts. Paul made it easy because this chapter basically contains two questions and two answers. There’s a question and there’s an answer, then another question and another answer. There’s a question in verse 1 and a question in verse 15. The question in verse 1 is answered in verses 2 through 14. The question in verse 15 is answered in verses 16 through 23. That’s all we find in chapter 6: A question and an answer, a question and an answer and that’s it.

Two Questions, Two Answers

If you look at the text you discover that the two questions are similar but they’re not identical. The first question is, “What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? In verse 15 we find the second question, “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” There’s a slight difference here. In verse 1 he’s asking the question, Should we continually sin? Is it your right as a Christian to live in a lifestyle of sin? Is it all right for people like us who have named the name of Jesus to decide that we’re just going to live out in the world and follow a lifestyle of sin? Should we go ahead and do that because we know God will forgive us anyway? That’s question number one.

Question two is slightly different—”Does living under grace give me liberty to sin?” The first question involves a lifestyle choice, the second has to do with my moment-by-moment decisions. At any given moment is it OK to blow my top because I know I can instantly be forgiven? I’ve done that. So have you. Is it OK to treat somebody unkindly because you know you can get back in fellowship with God? Is it OK to pick up a magazine you know you ought not to be looking at and look at it anyway because you know you can be forgiven in your quiet time tomorrow morning? Is it OK to “borrow” something without permission because you know you can be forgiven by God later?

So one has to do with lifestyle and the other has to do with individual moment-by-moment choices, but they’re both asking the same question from slightly different perspectives. Is it all right to sin? Should I go ahead and treat sin lightly because I’m saved, I’m born again, my ticket’s been punched, and I’m going to heaven when I die? Can I excuse my behavior because God saves me by his grace? The same answer is given to both questions. “God forbid.” Or as the NIV says, By no means! Certainty Not! That’s absurd!

I. Paul’s Second Question

In this message we’re looking at the second question: “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” Verse 15 gives us the question, the basic answer (“By no means!”), and the beginning of the longer answer. That longer answer divides into two parts:

Identifying the Issue 15-18

Clarifying the Choice 19-23

A. Identifying the Issue 15-18

Verse 16 begins with a simple question: “Don’t you know?” What he means is, “You should know. I can’t believe you don’t know this!” What is it that they don’t know? “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” Let me give a simple explanation of these words. There are two kingdoms in this world— the kingdom of sin and kingdom of God. Before you came to Christ, you lived in the kingdom of sin whether you knew it or not. You were, in Paul’s words, a slave to sin. You did what sin demanded. You lived according to the dictates of the lust of your eyes and the lust of your flesh and the lust of your heart. You followed sin. Sin was your master and you were a slave to sin.

But now—through the power of Jesus Christ—you have been transferred out of the kingdom of sin into to the kingdom of God. You don’t live in the realm of sin any longer. You live in God’s kingdom. Now you have a choice as you how you will live.

No Free Time

Exactly what is the choice? Paul explains it this way. Once You were a slave to sin. Now you’ve been transferred to the Kingdom of God where you can become a slave to righteousness. One commentator made an interesting point on this passage. He said our problem is that when we read the word “slave” we think it means “servant”. But a servant and a slave are really two different things. When we use the word servant in English, we mean somebody we hire who works for us and does our bidding 30 or 40 hours a week but then we let them off on the evenings or let them off on the weekends and let them have time of their own. That’s a servant. You work for somebody, you do their bidding, but then you have free time. A slave has no free time. A slave is indebted to his master 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Paul says, “Now that you have come to Jesus Christ, you are to be in the service of God, enslaved if you will, to God, freely serving him 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.”

Whose Slave Are You?

Ray Steadman tells about visiting Los Angeles during the days of the Jesus People. He saw a strange-looking character walking the streets wearing a sandwich board. On the front of it said “I’m a slave for Christ.” He walked around back. The question: “Whose slave are you?” That’s exactly what Paul is asking us here. “I’m a slave for Christ. Whose slave are you?”

Every day you have two ways you can go. You can go toward sin or you can go toward God. If you go toward sin, you know what you are? You’re a slave to sin. If you go toward God, you know what you are? You’re a slave of God and of righteousness. But some people say, “Well, I want to go in the middle.” There is no middle. You go toward sin or you go toward God. You say, “Well, I want a foot in sin and a foot in righteousness.” It doesn’t work that way. You can’t live in both kingdoms at the same time. You’ve got to make up your mind which way you are going to go.

It’s a good question, isn’t it? Whose slave are you? When I preached this message, I said, Suppose we started in the balcony and asked each person to stand up and answer the question, Whose slave are you? That could be a bit embarrassing for some of us. That’s the question Paul wants us to take very personally. “I’m a slave for Christ. Whose slave are you?”

That’s the issue. You’ve got to deal with it every single day. You see, it’s not good enough to go to church and go through the religious rigamarole, unless during the week you back it up with a truly Christian life. Whose slave are you? You don’t answer that question by coming to church on Sunday morning. You answer that question by the choices you make during the week.

B. Clarifying the Choice 19-23

Having identified the issue, Paul now clarifies the choice. What difference does it make which way we decide to live? Paul answers that it makes all the difference in the world:

I put this in natural terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have becomes slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

These verses are not difficult to understand. Paul has told us that we have a choice—to live for sin or to live for God. Now he discusses the results of each way of life. In simple terms he’s comparing the way sin “pays off” versus the way righteousness “pays off.” You can go ahead and sin if you want to, but you’ll be sorry in the end. Or you can go the way of God and in the end you’ll be glad you did. Sin pays off and God pays off. You make a choice and you get what you choose.

You Can’t Tell Just One

I was struck by an unusual phrase in verse 19 that you may have passed over but it startled me when I read it. Paul is talking about our pre-conversion days. “Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity.” Some of you did that. Some of you, before you came to Christ, used your body for impurity. You used to take the very parts of your body and you dedicated them to an impure life. Now that you’ve come to Christ, you understand what being a slave to impurity means. But then he says you gave yourself “to ever-increasing wickedness.” What an unusual phrase. You know what that means? It means you can tell a lie but you can’t tell just one. You tell a lie and then you tell another. Then you tell another one to cover up the second one. You tell another one to cover up the third one. One sin leads to another. Envy leads to envy leads to envy. Lust leads to lust leads to lust. Bitterness leads to bitterness leads to bitterness. Sin is like that. It’s an ever-increasing thing.

This week I read about a man who told a lie at work. “I got in trouble and I told a lie to cover up what I had done. But then I found that I needed to tell another lie to cover up for the first lie. But then I had to tell a third lie to cover up the first two lies I told. Then I had to tell another one to cover up the third lie, a fifth lie to cover up the fourth lie, and I kept on until I finally sat down and counted up and realized that I had to tell 42 lies in a row to cover up for the first one.” That’s ever-increasing wickedness. Once upon a time there was a man named David who lusted after a woman named Bathsheba. First he lusted. Then he committed adultery. Then he lied to cover that up, then he committed murder to cover up everything else. Lust. Adultery. Lies. Murder. Ever-increasing wickedness.

When are we ever going to wise up about this? When are we ever going to get smart about sin? Sometimes we are so stupid we go back to it even when we know it’s going to hurt us. We go back even though we know it’s going to pull us down. We go back to it even though we know it’s not good. We know it’s going to hurt us. We do it anyway. When are we going to get smart about sin? Ever-increasing wickedness.

What Sin Pays, What God Pays

We can make a little chart that explains these verses very simply. He’s comparing what sin pays with what God pays. That’s all. I’ll lay it out for you, and you can make your own decision because that’s really where the text is leading us.

What Sin Pays What God Pays

1. Slavery 19-20 1. Righteousness 19

2. Shame 21 2. Holiness 19

3. Death 21 & 23 3. Eternal Life


That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Sin pays off in slavery. He says this a number of times. In verse 19 he says you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery. In verse 20, you were slaves to sin. The first thing sin does: It enslaves. It puts you in bondage. Pornography does that, doesn’t it? Some of you men know this. Pornography puts you in bondage. You hate it but you can’t break it. You’re in bondage to it. That’s what sin does. Same way with alcohol. Same way with drugs. The same way with a critical spirit, bitterness, a hateful word. The same way with lust. It never satisfies. It just enslaves you.

Number two is shame. Paul says in verse 21, “What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?” Do you have anything in your past you’re ashamed of? I’ve got a few things I’m ashamed of, but we’ll let the people in the balcony go first. Sin does that. Sin first enslaves and, second, sin makes you ashamed. The Bible says that men love darkness rather than light because they’re ashamed of their deeds. Ashamed of their faults, ashamed of their actions. Sin makes you ashamed. Number one is slavery, number two is shame, number three is death.

Verse 21 tells us that “those things result in death.” Look at verse 23, a famous verse, “for the wages of sin is death.” I’ve got to tell you something. I discovered something this week that I never knew. All my life, and I guess I’ve heard that verse for nearly forty years. All my life, I’ve read that the wages of sin is death and I always thought that it was talking exclusively about death in hell. But I found out this week, it’s not necessarily so. Paul used an interesting word here for wages. He used a word which came from the Roman military. The word he used refers to the daily food ration a soldier would receive. Do your job, get your food, do your job, get your food. It’s the word referring to a daily payment. There’s another word that means money at the end of the pay period, money at the end of the month. That’s not the word that’s used here. It’s the word for daily payment.

Daily Payment For Daily Sin

This is saying the daily payment of sin is daily death. You die a little bit each time you choose to sin. Sure you go to hell in the end, but the terrible thing is that not only does sin take you to hell, it gives you a terrible ride on the way down. It’s Hell then and it’s Hell on earth now. And it is possible for a true Christian, who is going to heaven ,to live a life of spiritual death because sin kills, sin destroys. If you want to live that way, this is what you’re going to get: slavery, shame, death. And you’re going to get it every single day.

What does God pay off? Well, it’s just the opposite. Verse 19 says he pays off in righteousness, a new way of living. Verse 19 says he pays off in holiness, a new way of pleasing God. Verse 23 says he pays off in eternal life. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in or through Jesus Christ our Lord. Slavery and righteousness, shame and holiness, death and eternal life. I heard Louis Palau say just two weeks ago, “If you like sin, you’ll love holiness.” That’s what Paul is saying. If you thought sin was fun, try some holiness for a while. It’s really fun! There’s no bad aftertaste, and there’s no guilty conscience, and there’s nothing left to be remorseful about. Sin satisfies for a little while. Holiness satisfies forever.

II. Making Sense Out of Romans 6

I don’t want to leave Romans 6 without summarizing what this chapter teaches because these 23 verses tell what God has done to make overcoming sin a possibility for every believer. Seven statements sum up the major teachings of this chapter. Taken together, they tell us how we can live the victorious Christian life.

1. What God has done is both positional and practical. Positional means that God has done it for you and practical means there is something you have to do. So the truth of this chapter is both positional and practical.

2. There are two key positional truths you need to know.

A. You are dead to sin

B. You are united with Christ in his death, his burial, and his resurrection.

These truths are facts that God has established in your life. If you are a Christian, you already are dead to sin and you already are united to Christ. Not a feeling or experience, just a fact.

3. God’s intention for us is:

(a) that sin should no longer master us

(b) that we should live a brand new life and bring forth fruit for God.

Notice I said brand-new, not just new. There’s a difference. The Greek says brand-new, new of a different kind. God’s intention is that you should have a brand-new life, completely different from the life you once lived and out of that brand-new life you should bring forth fruit for God.

4. Our first response must be to reckon it true in our own lives. God has done everything necessary for us to walk in victory. Our part is to believe what he says and to act upon it. To reckon is to count on something as true and to act upon it.

5. Our second response is to stop yielding our bodies to sin and to start yielding them to God. We therefore have a moment-by-moment choice to make. You have a choice to make regarding the parts of your body . Your ears—are you going to use them this week for God or for sin? Your eyes—are you going to use them this week for God or for sin? Your lips—are they going to speak for God or are they going to speak for the devil this week? Your hands—are you going to use them as instruments for God or are you going to use them for sin? Your feet—will they lead you in paths of righteousness or will they lead you into sin? What about the private and personal parts of your body? Are you going to use them for God or are you going to use them for sin? If there is a secret of the Christian life, it is this: You have a moment-by-moment choice to make. What will you do with your hands, what will you do with your lips, your tongue, your eyes, your ears?

6. We can either serve sin or serve God. That’s the ultimate decision each one of us has to make every single day. Whose slave will I be today?

7. Our greatest motive is that serving God pays off in righteousness, holiness and eternal life. Likewise, serving sin also has its rewards. A few years ago, Bob Dylan wrote a song that was quite popular in Christian circles. It was called You Gotta Serve Somebody. That’s what Romans 6 is telling us. Mom, you gotta serve somebody this week. Dad, you gotta serve somebody this week. Student, you gotta serve somebody this week. Doctor, lawyer, baker, pharmacist, farmer, salesman, singer, writer, author, nurse, you gotta serve somebody this week. Businessman, business woman, secretary, CEO, you gotta serve somebody this week. No matter who you are, where you are, what you do, you gotta serve somebody this week. Only one question. Who are you going to serve?

Traveling on the Romans’ Road

Back to the text, last phrase, verse 23. This is one of those mountain peaks of Scripture. I’ll bet most of you memorized Romans 6:23 years ago. Have you ever heard of “The Romans’ road to salvation”? That’s a famous compilation of verses put together as a convenient means of sharing the gospel. It includes Romans 3:23, Romans 5:8, Romans 6:23, and Romans 10:9-13.

A lot of people are going to be in heaven because they traveled the Romans road to get there. Romans 6:23 has become a Christian proverb. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” If you have a job, your wages are not a gift. You earn your wages through hard work. If, when the boss gives you a paycheck, he says, “Here’s a gift,” you’ll say, “Gift nothing! I earned that!”

The Bible says that the paycheck of sin is death. The word for gift is different. It means a free gift, an undeserved gift, an unmerited gift. What you earn is death because of sin, but what God gives you freely and undeservingly is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Our problem is that we get those things switched around. We think the wages of a good life is eternal life. We think the wages of going to church is life in heaven. And we think that somehow, what we do on earth contributes to eternal life. We get that mixed up. We forget eternal life is free and undeserved because it’s a gift. More than that, we forget who Jesus is and what he did.

“Oak Park Pastor A Serial Killer”

Now let’s just suppose that while I’m preaching on Sunday morning, suddenly the doors burst open, and in come some police officers who put me in handcuffs and take me away. You would be surprised if you heard that. But you’d be even more amazed to find out that I had been arrested for burglary, theft, and armed robbery in five states. To top that off, imagine your surprise when you open the paper and you see the headline “Oak Park Pastor A Serial Killer”. You’d really be amazed and you’d be glad I’m out of here.

But because you are basically a nice person, because you basically have love in your heart, because you know that God has said for you to love your neighbor as yourself, you say to yourself, “I wonder if there is anything I can do for that poor man.” So while I’m in jail, you go down to see the judge and offer to pay some money to get me out. But the judge says that there’s no chance of me ever getting out of jail.

You say to the judge, “Your Honor, is there anything I can do? I’ll offer my life for that man!” The judge says, “No, I’m sorry. What he did was so terrible that even your life wouldn’t be enough.” Then the judge pauses and says, “If you were to offer your child for that man, that would be sufficient payment for his crimes.” His words pierce your heart because you have only one child, a daughter. She is the love, the joy, the pride of your life. You go home in agony, thinking about your daughter, thinking about me in jail, knowing that I’m going to die unless you do something. That night you make the most heart-wrenching decision of your life. You decide to offer your child to die in my place.

You Must Pull the Switch

The day comes for you to give your daughter on my behalf. When they open the door, the electric chair stands in front of you. You bring your daughter to the warden who says, “Oh, no, you don’t understand. You must do it yourself. You must shave her head. You must strap her in the chair, and when the time comes, you must pull the switch. You must put your own daughter to death.” As you are strapping your daughter in, she cries out to you, “Mommy, Mommy, why have you forsaken me?” Turning your face away, at the appointed moment you pull the switch, hear the screams and moments later, you look back at the lifeless body of your daughter. At the moment of her death, the judge turns to me and says, “You’re free to go. The price has been paid.”

Two weeks later, you’re eating in a restaurant by yourself. I come walking in with a friend. You see me, but I don’t see you. By coincidence, my friend and I sit down at a booth next to you. You listen to the conversation. My friend says to me, “Ray, how in the world did you beat that rap? I thought you were a goner.” You’re shocked to hear me say, “Well, I was really a better man than you thought I was. The judge looked at my whole record and said to me, ’There are a lot of banks you didn’t rob. There are a lot of people you didn’t kill.’ He looked at my record and saw that I had helped a lot of old ladies across the street. When the judge took a look at my life, he saw that I had done a lot more good than I had done bad, and on the basis of all the good that I had done, he let me go free!” Meanwhile, you’re sitting in the booth next to me. You hear what I’m saying and you know in your heart the only reason I was set free is because there’s a grave on the other side of the city where your little daughter is buried.

At that point, how do you feel about me? I think you feel about me the same way that God feels about you when you stand before him bragging about how good you’ve been, how religious you are, how nice you are and all the while you never say a word about his son who died on the cross for you.

God’s Only Forgotten Son

There was a little first grade boy who was quoting John 3:16 in Sunday school. And as little boys often do, he misquoted a crucial word. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only forgotten son.” The problem with so many of us is that we have forgotten God’s only son. We’re so proud of what we’ve done. We’re so proud of our good works, we’re so proud of our religiosity, that we’ve forgotten what Jesus did for us.

Do you want to go to heaven? You can. The free gift of God is wrapped up in the person of God’s son, Jesus Christ. In your heart, if you want to say yes to Jesus for the first time, pray this prayer.

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I’m a sinner. I know I deserve your punishment. I know I’ve broken your law. I know I cannot save myself. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for dying on the cross for me. Thank you for paying the price for my sin. Thank you for taking my sins away. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my savior. Amen.

That prayer is very simple, but if you will pray and mean it from your heart, the Lord Jesus will save you right now. God help you to reach out and take the free gift of eternal life, which is in his Son, Jesus Christ.

Heavenly Father, forgive us. Forgive us, Father, because even those of us who know you have forgotten your son, Jesus Christ. We brag so much about what we have done. We speak too much of ourselves and too little of Jesus. We have forgotten that without him we couldn’t live even one more day. Forgive us and refocus our hearts and minds on who Jesus is and what He did. Help us this week to live for him 100%. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?