Rebuttal of the nomist critique, 6:1-11:36

2. Freedom from slavery, 6:15-23

Freedom from the slavery of sin


Paul's second rebuttal argument against the nomist's critique that grace, without law, promotes sin / libertarianism, 6:1,15, is that a person can only live in one of two domains, either the domain of sin resulting in death, or the domain of righteousness resulting in holiness, and inevitably eternal life.

When it comes to the practical implications for the righteous in Christ, Paul's view is that justification, by its very nature, promotes right-living, not careless-living. In v1-14 Paul has used the image of a believer being "united with" Christ in his death and resurrection, which union shapes a life lived to God. Now in v15-23, in response to the absurd claim that a person under grace / the righteous reign of God can live in sin, Paul explains that we either dwell in / submit to the realm of sin against God resulting in death, or the realm of righteousness under God resulting in new life. We were all once "slaves to sin" which promoted an "ever-increasing wickedness" leading "to death", but now we are free from the "slavery" (power and curse) of sin. Believers are now "slaves to God" resulting in "holiness" and "eternal life." In 7:1-6 Paul will go on to explain how slavery to sin is broken by our having been discharged from the authority of the law.


i] Context: See 6:1-14.


ii] Background: See 1:8-15.


iii] Structure: This passage, serving to argue that a slave of righteousness is set free from the slavery of sin, presents in the form of a proposal followed by a rebuttal:

The nomist critique, v15;

    Paul's gospel, the free grace of God apart from the law, promotes sin.

Paul's critique of the nomist's false logic, v16-23:

Everyone is a slave either to the dominion of sin, or the dominion of grace, v16;

A believer is inclined to right-living because they have been freed from the dominion of sin and enslaved to the dominion of righteousness, v17-19;

Inclusion in the sphere of sin results in a death to God, v20-21;

Inclusion in the sphere of righteousness results in holiness, v22. Conclusion: spiritual death / physical death, or spiritual life / life eternal, v23.


iv] Thesis: See 3:21-31.


v] Interpretation:

Righteousness: In this passage, and in 9:30-10:4, the word dikaiosunh, "righteousness", is finely nuanced and so requires careful study.

The word will often take an ethical sense, "uprightness" Fitzmyer, "covenant compliance", Dumbrell and so translated here as "enslave to justice", "slaves of right-doing", Williams. Sometimes there is a forensic implication, of a recognition of covenant inclusion, of being set right with God, so here "enslaved to right-standing / righteousness before God." Yet, as Dunn warns, imposing a narrow definition of "righteousness" leads to a slanted interpretation. He thinks that "righteousness", in the present context, is "the gracious power of God which claims and sustains the believer and reaches its final expression in eternal life." It's as if Paul is using the word of a person's state under "the righteous reign of God" / his saving righteousness / his grace, within which sphere a person is made right before God, holy, and expresses that rightness in right conduct - a state ("righteousness") which eiV aJgiasmon, "leads to sanctification", 6:19. So, against the notion that a person can live in the realm of grace / righteousness and at the same time live in sin, is counted by Paul's claim that a person lives in either the realm of sin against God resulting in ever greater sin and ultimately death, or the realm of righteousness / grace resulting in right conduct ("holiness" ???, see below) and ultimately eternal life.

To aid (or possibly hinder!!) understanding, the opinion of some commentators may be worth considering. Murray opts for a general sense to the word in this passage - "the righteousness which obedience promotes should ... be interpreted inclusively to refer to righteousness in all its aspects, culminating, indeed, in the consummated righteousness of the new heaven and the new earth." Stott thinks it expresses the present life of a believer in Christ by means of justification. Cranfield and Schreiner think that it is being used in this passage to describe a believer's present walk in Christ, while Moo and Fitzmyer think that it refers to right living, "uprightness / conduct pleasing to God", behavior that is evident of a person's new relationship with God in Christ. Mounce, on the other hand, argues that "the righteousness to which obedience leads is the righteousness of personal growth in spiritual maturity." Osborne's line is that the "righteousness" of which we are now "slaves" is "both God's declaration that we are right with him and the ethical right living that results from our new status." Dumbrell considers that "righteousness", in this context = "the sphere of right standing before God in which believers now serve."


Holiness: In cahoots with "righteousness" is the word aJgiasmon, "holiness / consecration / sanctification". In v19 we have "slaves of righteousness leading to holiness, doula th/ dikaiosunh/ eiV aJgiasmon: eiV, "leading to" (result or end-view, ie., consecutive, or final). This is expanded in v22 where the believer is a slave of God (// "slave of righteousness) ton karpon uJmwn, "your fruit" leading to holiness - "the fruit" taken to be "holiness" itself, or "the fruit of changed lives."

The foundational meaning of aJgiasmoV is "set apart for God", but its use in the passage before us has prompted numerous interpretations:

A moral sense; slaves of righteousness (possessive dative) leading to right conduct;

In the sense of "consecration", so "leading to an ever closer identification with God", Dumbrell;

A state of being pure in the eyes of God // "in the right with God / righteous"; "you reap the fruit of being made righteous, while at the end of the road there is life for evermore", Phillips.

A moral process, "sanctification", such that "the fruit begins the process of sanctification (of becoming holy)", Morris, the consummation of which is eternal life.

Whether we define "holiness" as a state of being or a moral orientation in life, Paul's argument seems clear enough: a person in the realm of grace / righteousness is right and tends to act right.


With regard the view that "holiness" in this passage means "sanctification". Sanctification is commonly defined as "the progressive realization of the person we are in Christ." Yet, the word "progressive" can lead to error, particularly where obedience to the law is used as a mechanism to "progress" Christ-likeness, to progress holiness. We are best to view sanctification as a product of justification, a state of holiness, which, in the renewing power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, we seek to realize in our daily life; albeit, always imperfectly. That is, we are holy, and on that basis we strive to be holy (indicative / imperative again!).


vi] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 6:15

Freedom from the slavery of sin to slaves of righteousness, v15-23: i] Rhetorical question, as per v1. The question reflect the view of nomist believers who hold that sin is promoted when law is devalued. For nomist believers, law promotes purity / holiness and thus the full appropriation of God's promised blessings. For Paul, grace, through faith, of itself, provides purity / holiness and thus the full appropriation of God's promised blessings, and this apart from the law.

ti oun "what then?" - Possibly, "what shall we say", BDF argues for an ellipsis. Introducing a similar false inference to that of v1, an inference used by Paul's nomist brothers to counter the notion that the Christian life is lived by grace through faith rather than by a faithful adherence to the law, "what inference are we to draw?", v1, Barclay. The inference is that if salvation is all of grace, then sin doesn't matter, but we all know that sin does matter to God, so obviously the "all of grace" theory is flawed.

aJmarthswmen (aJmartanw) aor. sub. "shall we sin" - may we sin. A deliberative subjunctive. Aorist indicating a single act of sin, "seeing we are saved by grace, what's one sin here or there?"

oJti "because" - Here causal.

uJpo + acc. "under[ law]" - [we are not] under [law]. Expressing subordination; "ruled by law", CEV; "slaves", Williams; "under the authority of", Weymouth... is a bit too strong, but "guided by law" is a touch weak. The argument of Paul's opponents is not focused on conversion, it's not over how a person becomes a Christian. The argument is over the Christian life and the part the law plays in the business of living for Christ. In simple terms, we might say, it's an argument over sanctification. Paul argues that a believer's standing wholly rests on the covenant faithfulness of God (it is a "gift", a "grace" of God, of "promise") out of faith (Christ's and ours). Although sin is irrelevant when it comes to our standing before God, it does not "abound" because it is irrelevant. Paul's argument is that a believer, standing right in the presence of God, will be motivated toward right living, rather than sinfulness, and this apart from the law.

alla "but" - Adversative.

uJpo carin "under grace" - Again, the preposition expresses subordination. For Paul, a believer is released from the dominion of sin and death, and thus the dominion of the law, because they have been incorporated through faith (Christ's faithfulness and our faith response) into the dominion of grace / of God's righteous reign, his setting everything right.


ii] Four responses to the rhetorical question exposing the incomparability of law and grace v16-22: a) Everyone is a slave either to the dominion of sin, or the dominion of grace, v16. In this verse Paul states a known fact; we all know that a person is either a servant of sin leading to death (death to God and death to the body), or a servant of obedience (doing with God requires) leading to a state of righteousness / covenant compliance (and thus eternal life, v22, 23).

ouk oidate perf. "don't you know" - do you not know. The negation indicates an answer to the question in the affirmative. A statement may be clearer; "you know well enough", NEB.

oJti "that" - Here introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what they should know.

w|/ dat. pro. "when .... to someone" - to whom. The dative is adverbial, either temporal, as NIV, or conditional, "if you present yourselves", ESV.

paristanete (paristhmi) pres. "you offer" - you present, offer in the sense of place beside such as in a sacrifice. Customary present tense. The idea is not of being enslaved, but of our offering ourselves as a slave to one of two masters. "Surrender yourselves", TEV.

doulouV (oV) "slaves" - [yourselves] slaves. Complement of the object "yourselves" in a double accusative construction.

eiV + acc. "to [obey] / as [obedient slaves]" - to/for [obedience, you are slaves]. Expressing end-view / purpose; "for obedience / with a view to obedience." "Obedience" in the sense of be in subjection to. The two masters we may belong to are either the realm of sin or the realm of obedience, under which masters we either end up dead to God or righteous and thus alive to God. "You belong to the power you choose to obey", Phillips.

w|/ dat. pro. "of the one [you obey]" - to whom [you obey]. The pronoun forms a substantive construction, dative of indirect object, possessive; "slaves you are of him whom you are obeying."

htoi .... h "whether ...... or" - The only example of this correlative construction of two paired disjunctives in the New Testament, here implying that there are only two alternatives to choose from.

aJmartiaV (a) gen. "you are slaves to sin" - of sin. The genitive is usually treated as verbal, objective, as NIV, although adjectival, possessive, seems better, where the slave / servant belongs to either the realm of sin, or the realm of obedience. There is no article present so the whole power of sin over the human race, ie. capital "S", so Moffatt.

eiV + acc. "which leads to" - to / into. Here expressing result; "resulting in death."

qanaton (oV) "death" - Paul probably has in mind spiritual death, a death to God.

uJakohV (h) gen. "[or] to obedience" - [or] of obedience. The genitive as for "sin". What does it mean to be "a slave of obedience", to belong to the realm of obedience, to have chosen to be subject to obedience? Both realms, that of sin and that of obedience, are incompatible. One realm is in rebellion against God, and the other in submission to God. One realm leads to death, and the other to life. Paul's thesis is, of course, that for humanity subject to the realm of sin, it is possible to find obedience before God in the one obedient man, Christ. Incorporation in Christ, through faith, entails incorporation in the realm of obedience, and thus righteousness before God, and ultimately life.

dikaiosunhn (h) "[which leads to] righteousness" - [to] righteousness. Paul's use of the word here is unclear. There is much to support "results in being put right with God", TEV, ie. justification, or more particularly, within the present context, "the sphere of right standing before God in which believers now serve", Dumbrell. See dikaiosunh above. Moo suggests that "righteousness" here is "moral righteousness, conduct pleasing to God"; possible, but unlikely.


b) A believer is inclined to right-living because they have been freed from sin and enslaved to righteousness, v17-19. Prior to our union with Christ, we served the domain of sin, a slave to ever-increasing wickedness, but now we serve the domain of righteousness, the domain of God's saving grace leading to holiness, the domain of "the gracious power of God which claims and sustains the believer and reaches its final expression in eternal life", Dunn - a state of purity before God expressing itself in purity of life. To this end, be what you are! v19.

de "but" - but, and. Here adversative / contrastive; "but".

tw/ qew/ (oV) dat. "[thanks] be to God" - [grace, favor = thanks, gratitude] to God. A hortatory subjunctive is assumed, "let us give thanks to God", with "to God" a dative of indirect object. Paul can express thanks at this point for he knows that his readers have indeed been released from the dominion of sin and are presently experiencing life in the dominion of righteousness through the power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, and this because of their allegiance to the gospel.

oJti "that" - Introducing a dependents statement of indirect speech expressing the content of the thanksgiving.

hte (eimi) imperf. "though you used to be" - you used to be. Customary imperfect underlining what was the case; "were then but no longer", Blass. The concessive sense of the clause is assumed, but supported by many translations and commentators.

thV aJmartiaV (a) gen. "to sin" - of sin. The genitive may be classified as verbal, subjective.

de "but" - but, and. Here adversative; "you were once slaves of sin but now you have obeyed from the heart ..."

uJphkousate (uJpakouw) aor. "you .. obeyed / you have come to obey" - Aorist pointing to a decisive act of believing the gospel, turning to Christ; possibly ingressive, as TNIV. Usually followed by a dative of direct object, ie., tw/ tupw/, although here accusative tupon; "you sincerely obeyed the teaching pattern / the gospel ...."

ek kardiaV (a) "wholeheartedly / from your heart" - from heart. The preposition ek expressing source/origin, the source of the obedience, "from, out of the heart." The prepositional phrase is best treated adverbially; "voluntary and sincere", Hodge, "without reservation", JB.

tupon (oV) "form / pattern" - to the form / type. Accusative by attraction; a dative of direct object after the verb "to obey." The gospel, the Christian teaching concerning Christ, "the pattern of teaching", NEB = the gospel

didachV (h) gen. "of teaching" - The genitive is adjectival, attributive; "teaching pattern" = the gospel.

eiV + acc. "to [which]" - Spacial; "into which you were initiated", Pilcher.

paredoqhte (paradidwmi) aor. pas. "you were entrusted / [that] has now claimed your allegiance" - you were committed, delivered over to. Ingressive aorist; the divine passive indicating the stress upon God's action in delivering the readers over to the teaching, although an active sense reads better, "that you received", Goodspeed.


de "-" - but, and. Serving as a transitional connective and so left untranslated, or possibly copulative serving to introduce a conclusion / summary.

eleuqerwqenteV (eleuqerow) aor. pas. part. "you have been set free" - having been set free, released. Probably an attendant circumstance participle identifying action accompanying the main verb "you were enslaved", although possibly temporal, "when you were set free ...." In what sense is a believer "set free" from the dominion of sin? Some commentators stress the moral sense, so "set free from the power of sin." It is certainly true that since a believer is no longer under the law, sin has lost it's power to control us. The law empowers sin, makes it more sinful, so without the law, and in partnership with the indwelling compelling of the Spirit of Christ, sin's power is reduced. Other commentators argue that Paul has in mind a legal sense, "set free from the condemnation of sin", a condemnation that ends in spiritual death. It is more than likely that both ideas are present. The transfer from one dominion to another has both legal and moral consequences. See 6:1-14 where this issue is covered in more detail.

apo + gen. "from [sin]" - Expressing separation; "away from"

th/ dikaiosunh/ (h) dat. "[have become slaves] to righteousness" - [you were enslaved] to the righteousness, justice. The dative is possessive, as above; "slaves of righteousness", ESV. See "Issues" above.


At this point Paul qualifies his use of the slavery image. A Christian's relationship to God is not at all unjust, humiliating and degrading, as is slavery; it is a service of perfect freedom - liberation. So, as free men and women, Paul reminds his readers that as they once served the domain of sin to ever-increasing wickedness, they should now serve the domain of God's saving grace leading to holiness - a state of purity before God expressing itself in purity of life. Willy-nilly sinning is not the fruit of grace.

anqrwpinon adj. "[I put this] in human terms" - humanly [I speak because]. The adjective is being used as a modal adverb. It is usually understood that Paul makes the point that he is using images / language that is human and therefore limited; I speak "as people do in daily life", BAGD. Dumbrell may well be right when he suggests that the limitation concerns the starkness of the alternatives posed by Paul. It is necessary, dia, "because of" (causal) the human struggle to understand eternal verities, to present those verities in a black and white contrast - truth is inevitably more subtle.

thV sarkoV (x koV) gen. "[weak] in [your] natural selves / [your] human [limitations]" - [weak] of the flesh [of you]. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, "fleshly limitations" = "your natural limitations", ESV. Meaning, their difficulty in grasping the significance of what Paul is saying. Other less likely possibilities include, moral weakness and the weakness of their pre Christian state.

gar "-" - Here more reason / explanatory than causal; "I know that the stark nature of what I have just said is difficult to grasp so let me put it as simply as I can, ......"

w{sper ...... ou{twV ..... "just as ........ so ....." - Comparative construction; "just as you offered yourselves as slaves to the dominion of sin ......... so now offer yourselves as slaves to the dominion of righteousness."

paresthste (paristhmi) aor. "offered" - you presented. Aorist indicates the completeness of the action, so "wholeheartedly offered."

ta melh (oV) "parts" - the body, members [of you slaves]. Direct object of the verb "to present", along with the object complement "slaves", standing in a double accusative construction. Not quite parts, but rather an individual member or part which represents the whole. Therefore "body" is better, or even just "yourself" - "just as you offered yourselves in slavery to impurity."

th/ akaqarsia/ (a) dat. "to impurity" - to uncleanness. Dative of indirect object. This is a state of sinfulness, sometimes referring to degenerate sexual sinfulness, although not here. This state of sinfulness / uncleanness produces "ever-increasing wickedness."

eiV + acc. "[and] to [ever-increasing wickedness]" - [and to lawlessness] to/for [lawlessness]. Expressing purpose / end-view, "with a view to/ for", or result, "resulting in"; "wickedness for wicked purposes", TEV. The preposition may serve to express a doubling of lawlessness = lawlessness on top of lawlessness.

aJgiasmon (oV) "[leading to] holiness" - [so now present the members of you slaves to/for] holiness, consecration / sanctification. Lit. "offer/present your members as slaves to righteous toward/unto / the end/consequence of which is holiness." The phrase parallels the idea of offering our members to the domain of impurity/sinfulness, the consequence of which is "ever increasing wickedness." Holiness is the consequence of offering ourselves to the domain of righteousness. As noted above, "righteousness" is that sphere of grace, of right-standing before God, in which believers participate in Christ. One slavery leads to "impurity and ever increasing wickedness", the other to "holiness" - of the process of becoming holy rather than with a view to a final eschatological holiness, so Moo. The NIV "holiness", consecration, is unclear, but none-the-less, is better than "sanctification"; see aJgiasmon in v22.


c) Inclusion in the sphere of sin results in a death to God, v20-21. When a person serves the domain of sin they can't live a righteous life and thus their end is death - a death to God, death eternal.

o{te "when" - [for] when. Temporal conjunction.

thV aJmartiaV (a) gen. "[slaves] of sin" - [you were slaves] of sin. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, "slaves belonging to the realm of sin", or verbal, subjective.

eleuqeroi adj. "free" - [you were] free ones. The adjective serves as a substantive; lit. "free-ones to righteousness."

hn/ dikaiosunh/ (h) dat. "from the control of righteousness" - to righteousness. The dative may express reference / respect; "free with regard to", Moule = "free from." Yet, it seems again that the dative is possessive; "free from possessing the sphere of righteousness. "You were not covered by God's grace", better than the moral sense, "you were free so far as doing right was concerned", Williams, or "you were under no obligation to do what God required", TH.


karpon (oV) "[what] benefit]" - [what sort of] fruit. The shorter question is to be preferred, "and what gain did that bring you? Things that now make you ashamed, for their end is death", REB, cf. NAB, JB.

oun "-" - therefore [had you then (at that time)]. Drawing a logical conclusion; "Therefore, what fruit had you then?"

ef (epi) + dat. "from [the things you are now ashamed of]" - Probably expressing base / cause; "on the basis of the things of which you are now ashamed."

gar "-" - More reason / explanatory, than causal; explaining the worthless benefit of being a slave of the realm of sin.

ekeinwn gen. pro. "those things [result in]" - [the end, goal] of those things. The pronoun serves as a substantive. The genitive is adjectival, of definition / epexegetic; "the end which consists of these things, or idiomatic / production, "the end brought about by those things", Harvey. "For these things cannot end in anything but death", Barclay.

qanatoV (oV) "death" - is death. "Moral and spiritual death", Pilcher, better than "death itself", Cassirer.


d) Inclusion in the sphere of righteousness results in holiness and life eternal, v22. But now, set free from the domain of sin and death and incorporated into the domain of God's righteousness and grace, the fruit that flourishes is holiness. The end of sin is greater and greater iniquity leading to death, the end of grace is holiness leading to life eternal.

nuni de "but now" - Temporal contrast; the present is now contrasted with the past.

eleuqerwqenteV (eleuqerow) aor. pas. part. "you have been set free" - having been freed. Along with "having been enslaved", attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb ecete, "you have." The aorist indicates a decisive act. Having been set free from the realm of sin (the unregenerate state) and doulwqenteV, "having been enslaved" to the realm of righteousness under God, a believer "has for their fruit holiness, and in the end eternal life."

tw/ qew/ (oV) dat. "[have become slaves] to God / of God" - [having been enslaved] to God. The dative is possibly possessive, as TNIV, or reference / respect. Pauline short-talk here requires expansion; "enslaved to God's righteous reign." "Bound to the service of God", REB; "employed by God", Phillips.

uJmwn gen. pro. "[the benefit] you [reap]" - [you are having the fruit] of you. The genitive is adjectival, possessive; "you are having your fruit" = "the good you derive (from enslavement to righteousness under God) leads to holiness", Berkeley

eiV "leads to" - to. Expressing purpose / end-view, "with a view to / for", or result, "results in."

aJgiasmon (oV) "holiness" - holiness, consecration / sanctification. See Issues above. Inevitably "holiness" is a state of purity / consecration which a believer possess in Christ and is at the same time an orientation lived out in life, a state realized and inaugurated.

de "and" - but, and. Here coordinative.

to ... teloV (oV ouV) "the result is [eternal life]" - the end [eternal life].


iii] Conclusion. So far Paul has made the point that submission to the realm of righteousness results in spiritual life / holiness, whereas submission to the realm of sin results in spiritual death. He now adds the big-picture result, namely, eternal life, and explains how this works. Submission to the realm of sin results in physical death, as well as spiritual death, whereas submission to the realm of righteousness results in eternal life, as well as spiritual life / holiness.

gar "for" - Not causal here, rather explanatory and so best left untranslated.

oywnia (on) "wages" - a soldier's pay, the payment for sin.

thV aJmartiaV (a) gen. "of sin" - The genitive is usually treated as verbal, subjective, "wages which sin pays", Cranfield. Presumably the presence of the article indicates "the realm of sin", rather than a specific personal sin.

qanatoV (oV) "is death" - Predicate nominative. Physical death, as noted above.

de "but" - but, and. Here adversative, as NIV.

carisma (a) "the gift" - "A gift (freely and graciously given)", BAGD. Eternal life is given not earned.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "of God" - The genitive is ablative, source / origin; "from God."

en + dat. "in [Christ Jesus our Lord]" - Local, expressing space / sphere; "in union with". Sometimes Paul uses the preposition "through", either way, Jesus is the source of life eternal.


Romans Introduction



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