Romans (XXXVII)

ROMANS 6:17-18

(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 7/28/02 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)


Please turn in your Bibles to Romans chapter 6. I'll be reading verses 14 through the end of the chapter:

Romans 6: (14) For your sin shall not lord it over you, for you are not under Law, but under grace. (15) What then? Shall we sin because we are not under Law, but under grace? Let it not be! (16) Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves [as] slaves for obedience, you are slaves to whom you obey, whether of sin to death, or obedience to righteousness? (17) But thanks [be] to God that you were slaves of sin, but you obeyed from [the] heart the form of doctrine to which you were delivered. (18) And having been set free from sin, you were enslaved to righteousness. (19) I speak as a man on account of the weakness of your flesh. For as you presented your members [as] slaves to uncleanness and to lawless act unto lawless act, so now yield your members as slaves to righteousness unto sanctification. (20) For when you were slaves of sin, you were free as to righteousness. (21) Therefore what fruit did you have then [in the things] over which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things [is] death. (22) But now having been set free from sin, and having been enslaved to God, you have your fruit unto sanctification, and the end everlasting life. (23) For the wages of sin [is] death, but the gift of God [is] everlasting life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Last week, we went into the second of Paul's question-answer-question passages in Romans 6. The first one was in verses 1 through 3:

Romans 6: (1) What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? (2) Let it not be! We who died to sin, how shall we still live in it? (3) Or are you ignorant that all who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?

The second one was in verses 15 and 16:

Romans 6: (15) What then? Shall we sin because we are not under Law, but under grace? Let it not be! (16) Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves [as] slaves for obedience, you are slaves to whom you obey, whether of sin to death, or obedience to righteousness?

Both of these rhetorical devices were used to make something absolutely clear. And that thing that is made absolutely clear by this kind of writing is the fact that Christians WILL NOT use the grace of God as a license to live in sin. Whenever salvation by free, sovereign, unconditional grace is preached, the objection will always be brought up that this gives people a license to live in sin. If one's good works form no part of the ground of a regenerate person's acceptance before God, and if a regenerate person's sins will in no way affect his acceptance before God, then the works-righteousness advocates will always come out and say, "Well, then, in your scheme of things, a regenerate person can just go live in sin, since what he does or doesn't do has no affect on his acceptance before God." John Wesley said things to this effect many times. And how are we as believers to answer such an objection? We are to answer it just as Paul answered it. A regenerate person's sin will NEVER bring him back under condemnation, no matter what he does, AND - a regenerate person will never live in sin. And the REASON why a regenerate person will never live in sin is that every regenerate person has DIED to sin because of His oneness with Christ's death, and his old man was CRUCIFIED with Christ. Regenerate people still sin, and regenerate people may even fall into the same sin more than once, and regenerate people may even fall into some awful sins, but regenerate people will never LIVE in sin. Their lives will never be CHARACTERIZED by a cleaving to and a loving of sin. Now the legalists will call us antinomians, and the antinomians will call us legalists, but so what? We know the truth, and the truth is that salvation is conditioned on the work of Christ alone, that we continue to sin every day of our lives, that our sins will never forfeit our fellowship with God, and that we will never live in sin. Period.

Let's go on to verse 17:

Romans 6: (17) But thanks [be] to God that you were slaves of sin, but you obeyed from [the] heart the form of doctrine to which you were delivered.

Let's go over each phrase of this sentence. The first phrase is "But thanks be to God." All that is about to be said is in light of thankfulness to God for what He has caused us to do. We will see further on in this sentence that we obeyed doctrine upon regeneration. Some of our accusers would say that the fact that we believe that all Christians believe certain doctrines upon regeneration shows that we are boasting in our belief of doctrine. But this is not so. Our belief in and obedience of doctrine is because God has CAUSED us to believe and obey. There's no way we could have believed and obeyed in our natural state. There had to have been something SUPERNATURAL occur in order for us to believe and obey. And that supernatural occurrence was God's gracious regeneration and conversion, in which He changed our standing before Him based on the imputed righteousness of Christ and changed our hearts to believe His doctrine and repent of dead works. All the thanks, all the praise, all the glory goes to GOD ALONE. As we saw in Romans 3:27, boasting in one's self is totally excluded when one believes the gospel. Boasting in one's self and belief of the gospel are totally incompatible. They are mutually exclusive. If you see someone boasting in himself, he does not believe the gospel. If you see someone who believes the gospel, he is one who does not boast in himself. He says with the apostle Paul, "But thanks be to God." Isn't that how we Christians should live our lives? Isn't that what should color everything we think, say, and do? "But thanks be to God."

The word "but" ties this sentence in with the previous one, in which Paul said that you are slaves to whom you obey, whether of sin to death, or obedience to righteousness. "BUT ... thanks be to God ..." what comes next? Let's look at the next phrase: "that you WERE slaves of sin." Did I read that correctly? Is that what it says? Does it say "You WERE slaves of sin?" Yep, I looked it up in the Greek, and it's not "you ARE slaves of sin." It's the same word as in 1 Corinthians 6:11, when it says, "And some WERE these things." Just think if this passage said, "You ARE slaves of sin." So the sentence would start out like this: "But thanks be to God that you are slaves of sin." Wouldn't make sense, would it? We wouldn't be thanking God that we're slaves to sin. The passage says, "But thanks be to God that you WERE slaves of sin." This characterizes our past selves, our old man. We were slaves to sin. We were obedient to sin. We were performing evil deeds. We were bringing forth fruit unto death. We were doing dead works. We were slaves to whom we obeyed, which was sin to death. Our old selves were bound to sin. Sin ruled and reigned.

But something happened. You WERE slaves to sin, BUT something happened. There was a great change that happened. I'm talking about true believers here. We who are believers had a great change happen in our lives. What is it that happened? What was the first and foremost evidence that a great change had been wrought in our lives? Was it that we went from immorality to morality? Was it that we went from immoderation to moderation? Was it that our speech was cleaned up? Was it that we started quote "going to church" (although there's really no such thing as "going to church" or "having church")? Was it outward reformation in conduct? I'm talking about the first and foremost evidence that a great change had been wrought in our lives. I'm talking about the primary evidence that one's heart has been changed, that one has been born again. Well, when we're talking about the primary evidence, you can take everything that an unregenerate man can do and throw it out the window, because if an unregenerate man can do it, it CANNOT be the first and foremost evidence that a great change had been wrought in that person's heart. For example, can an unregenerate man go from immorality to morality without a change of heart, without being born again? Of course he can. He can clean up his act. Can an unregenerate man go from being a homosexual to being a faithful husband of one wife? He sure can. Can an unregenerate man go from being a drunkard or a drug addict to being clean? He sure can. Can an unregenerate man go from being totally unconcerned about religion to being a regular church-goer who is zealous for missions? He sure can. And I can go on and on. And since an unregenerate man can do these things, NONE of these things is the primary evidence of regeneration. So what is it that is the primary evidence of regeneration? What is it that is the first sign that regeneration has taken place in a person? Well, we have it right here in verse 17: "But thanks be to God that you WERE slaves of sin, BUT ..." what happened? "But you OBEYED FROM THE HEART that form of DOCTRINE to which you were delivered." What is the first fruit of regeneration? OBEDIENCE to DOCTRINE. What is the first evidence of a change of heart? A CHANGE of DOCTRINE. There you go, all you people who say, "God must have saved him - look at how different he walks and talks. He used to be mean, now he's kind. He used to have a foul mouth, now he has clean speech. He used to be a party-goer, now he's a family man. Oh, God MUST have saved him." But what about his DOCTRINE? "Oh, doctrine's not important," you say. "He'll learn the right things to believe. Right now, he just knows that he once was an awful guy and now God has changed him into a good guy." Well, if that's how you judge a person to be saved, you yourself are unsaved. If there has been no change of DOCTRINE, there has been no change of HEART. If there is no obedience to DOCTRINE, then all the other changes are nothing but the dung of a self-righteous religionist who used to be an immoral heathen. DOCTRINE is first and foremost. All of your reformations of character and conduct are but WICKED DEEDS if you do not have the DOCTRINE.

So what is this "form of doctrine" that believers obey and to which believers are delivered upon regeneration? The Greek word for "form" is TOO-pos. Does that word ring a bell? Back when we were in Romans 5:14, we saw this word. It was translated "type," as in "a type of the coming One." TOO-poss, means "a die" or "a stamp" or "an impression" or "a pattern" or "a mold." It is this stamp or mold of doctrine to which you were delivered. The word for "delivered" means "given over to" or "given up to." Remember in Romans 1:24 and 26 God gave the heathen up to impurity and dishonorable passions? This is the same word. God gives us up to, delivers us up to this DOCTRINE. It becomes a part of us. It defines who we are. Also, we see that this doctrine is something that is obeyed FROM THE HEART. It is not mere lip-service to this doctrine. It is not a profession of doctrine without believing it is essential. It is not the attitude of "this is a precious doctrine, but it's not so important as to say that people who don't believe it are lost." No, this doctrine is OBEYED from the HEART. There is a Holy-Spirit-wrought CONVICTION that this doctrine is TRUE and ESSENTIAL and a matter of LIFE AND DEATH.

So what is this true, essential, life-and-death doctrine that is obeyed upon regeneration? It is, of course, THE GOSPEL. The gospel is that form of doctrine to which we have been given over, that we have obeyed from the heart. Belief of the gospel is an IMMEDIATE and INEVITABLE fruit of regeneration. There is no such thing as a regenerate person who does not believe the gospel. Before regeneration, we were slaves of sin. Upon regeneration, we obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which we were delivered. And we will see in a short while, the Lord willing, that this is the same time that we were set free from sin. Do you see how belief of the gospel MUST be an immediate and inevitable fruit of regeneration? You WERE slaves of sin. That's being in an unregenerate state. THEN, when one goes from unregenerate to regenerate, what happens? The person believes the gospel. There's no such thing as going from being an unregenerate slave to sin to being a regenerate person who is ignorant of the gospel to being a regenerate person who believes the gospel. The truth is that the person was a slave to sin at one moment, and at the next moment, BOOM, God regenerates him and he believes doctrine that he never believed before. One second he believes a false gospel, and the next second he believes the true gospel. There's no time lag between regeneration and believing the gospel. And there's no prerequisite to believing the gospel. God saves people who hated Him a second earlier. God saves people who believed in salvation conditioned on the sinner a second earlier. It's a miracle of the grace of God.

So it's the GOSPEL that is that form of doctrine. The gospel IS doctrine. There's no such thing as the true gospel without doctrine. The true gospel is the doctrine of the PERSON of Christ and the WORK of Christ. And encompassed in the PERSON and the WORK of Christ are essential gospel doctrines, such as the doctrine of God the holy, righteous, sovereign promise-keeper, the doctrine of original sin and the total depravity of man, and the doctrine of the wages of sin which is eternal death. But the very heart of the gospel centers around the WORK of Jesus Christ, the God-Man Mediator. Jesus Christ came to this earth and lived a perfectly righteous life as a representative and substitute for His people. The sins of His people were imputed to Him, and He suffered the just penalty that their sins deserved. Jesus Christ fully paid the price for His people and fully appeased God's wrath for His people. The merit of His perfectly righteous life is imputed to His people in time. The work of Jesus Christ ensures the salvation of everyone whom He represented. Not one for whom Christ died will be lost, because Christ actually ACCOMPLISHED redemption for them. The work of Christ is what makes the ONLY difference between salvation and damnation. This is the doctrine that every regenerate person obeys from the heart at the moment God saves them. None of them will believe anything contrary to this doctrine. There's no such thing as a person who used to be a slave to sin but has now been regenerated and who believes that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception. How can I say that? Because when God regenerates someone, He causes that person to BELIEVE the DOCTRINE of the GOSPEL. And the GOSPEL is about the efficacious work of Jesus Christ. If you don't believe that Christ actually accomplished salvation for all for whom He died, then you do not believe the gospel. You are still a slave to sin. You have not obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine. And you know what? Even if you DO profess to believe that all for whom Christ died will be saved, if you do not believe that the efficacious work of Christ is so essential to the gospel that no one who believes contrary to this is saved, then you have not OBEYED FROM THE HEART that form of doctrine. You give LIP-SERVICE to the doctrine of the gospel; you even say you LOVE the doctrine of the gospel, but you do not BELIEVE WITH YOUR HEART the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone. You think that the effectual work of Christ is something that is a take-it-or-leave-it thing, a non-essential part of a gospel that welcomes the self-righteous into its fold. But we who have truly obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which we have been delivered have been given the KNOWLEDGE that the work of Christ is so much a part of the gospel that to separate it from the gospel is to rip the very heart out of the gospel and leave it lifeless.

Let's go on to verse 18:

Romans 6: (18) And having been set free from sin, you were enslaved to righteousness.

Now check out how the Holy Spirit through Paul has logically ordered things in verses 17 and 18. First, you were slaves to sin. Second, you believed the gospel. Third, you were set free from sin and enslaved to righteousness. Let's focus on the second and third things in this logical order. The first thing that needs to be said is that it is a LOGICAL order, not a TEMPORAL order. Believing the gospel and being set free from sin and being enslaved to righteousness happen AT THE SAME TIME. But it is still important the way these things are ordered here. OBEDIENCE TO DOCTRINE is the PRIMARY evidence of regeneration, with OBEDIENCE TO RIGHTEOUSNESS following. Now Paul had previously been talking about the fact that believers do not live in sin and are not slaves to sin. He goes on to say that believers had FORMERLY been slaves to sin, but when they BELIEVED THE GOSPEL, they became NO LONGER slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness. Their BEING SET FREE from sin was CONNECTED with their BELIEF OF THE GOSPEL. There is no one who has been SET FREE FROM SIN who does not BELIEVE THE GOSPEL. Or, put another way, no one who DOES NOT BELIEVE THE GOSPEL has been SET FREE FROM SIN. So when you see people shouting, "I've been set free! I've been set free!", the first thing you ask is, what DOCTRINE do they believe? If they've truly been set free, then they believe GOSPEL DOCTRINE. But most of the time, when people say they've been set free, they're talking about their change of lifestyle from immorality to morality or something like that, totally devoid of right gospel doctrine.

Having said that, we ALSO need to realize that being SET FREE FROM SIN is a REALITY for every believer! I've been talking about those who say they go from a life of immorality to a life of morality and using that as proof that they are saved. Now while this CANNOT be proof of salvation because even unregenerate immoral people can become unregenerate moral people, it is ALSO true that TRUE BELIEVERS are SET FREE FROM SIN upon regeneration. They are no longer under the dominion of sin. Sin no longer reigns. They no longer live in sin. At regeneration, they become enslaved to RIGHTEOUSNESS. And again, in keeping with the context, this righteousness is talking about walking in good works, as it was talking about in verse 16. So, although belief in gospel doctrine is the primary evidence of salvation, EVERYONE who truly believes in gospel doctrine will also NOT live in sin and WILL live unto God. So let's go back to a person who is immoral. Let's call him Mr. Smith. Suppose Mr. Smith is living in immorality. Now suppose God saves him. As we have seen, he will immediately believe the gospel. But will he continue going on living in immorality? NO HE WILL NOT. For Mr. Smith, part of the great change that was wrought in him included his DISCONTINUING his immoral lifestyle and his BECOMING a moral person. He REPENTS of his immorality and begins WALKING in morality. Of course, this isn't the only thing he repents of, if he's a true believer. He also REPENTS of believing a false gospel and begins believing the true gospel. But do you see how a change from immorality to morality COULD be a part of the person's experience of salvation? Yet a change from immorality to morality CANNOT stand alone as an evidence of regeneration. Suppose Mr. Jones is a person living in immorality and then has some sort of religious experience and begins walking in morality. Does that mean that his religious experience was real? Not necessarily. The question is, "WHAT DOCTRINE does he believe?" So, as I have said before, all Christians are moral, and none will walk in immorality, but not all who are moral are Christians. Salvation will certainly make an immoral person moral, but a false religious experience can also make an immoral person moral. Satan can counterfeit many things. You take two people who used to be immoral and now they're moral, and one could be saved and the other could be lost. And the way to judge them is by WHAT DOCTRINE they believe. Does Mr. A believe that Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception? Then Mr. A's change from immorality to morality was just carnal reformation. Does Mr. B believe and thus judge by the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ alone? Then Mr. B's change from immorality to morality was wrought by the Holy Spirit.

For us who are saved, let us give thanks to God that we WERE slaves of sin, obeying sin, under the dominion of sin, but, thank God, we obeyed from the heart the doctrine of the gospel, and we were set free from sin and enslaved to righteousness, to serve and obey God out of love for Him who saved us based on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. Amen.


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