How is faith alive? Faith is alive because in salvation, we were given the freedom to choose. Salvation allows us to choose obedience over sin. Before salvation, we had no choice but to be slaves to sin.
And so, salvation is the grace that moves us to a living faith. Especially when pain, suffering, and the burdens of life become personal and real. This is where faith and practice connect. In truly understanding this freedom we’ve received through salvation, we understand that this grace is not simply an okay from God to do what we want to do but it is the key through which we can begin to share the full extent of God’s power and glory in our lives. The person who lives in God’s presence, peace, power and glory each day, they are the ones who are experiencing this living grace.
And sometimes you can see this through physical blessings, through favorable circumstances, social influence, and even monetary success. It can also be seen through miracles of physical healing and manifestation of the Spirit. These can get tricky though because sometimes Jesus can be overshadowed by His gifts and works.
But more than anything else, you can see it most clearly through hardships and through trials of many kinds. Because that’s when everything is stripped away and only the truth remains.
Romans 6:15-18 makes it clear to us that it doesn’t only matter about what we say we believe. It also matters what we obey with that belief.
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 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, which leads to righteousness? 17 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, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.Romans 6:15-18
These are quite weighty topics. But we need it because our lives are weighty in its troubles. I urge you to focus your mind and think critically about the implications of these things we’re going over today. I’m praying for God to illuminate our hearts and minds by His Spirit.
Our lives will inevitably bear some kind of fruit. Our actions bear a result. This is a fact of life. Our lives are not inconsequential. You know it by your experiences. I’m sure you can attest to this fact. Our actions and choices in life do have an effect and have results. But we need to look at this through the eyes of the Gospel or else we can easily look our lives and be confused with the ideas of fate, karma and destiny. This can get confusing when talking about the doctrine of salvation and God’s sovereignty over everything.
Through this passage, we will see how the sovereignty of God is connected to our responsibility to choose obedience. It mainly comes through Romans 6:18.
18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.Romans 6:18
And I want to divide the two ideas in this verse into two words:
- Justification (being set free from sin) and
- Sanctification (become slaves of righteousness).
Living grace means our practice and our behavior will prove our faith, prove our beliefs. That if we have been set free from sin, we have also become slaves of righteousness. That if our faith is based upon the righteousness of Christ, we will bear fruit that leads to sanctification (and its end, eternal life). And on the other hand, if our faith is based on works and ourselves, we will bear fruit that leads to death (and its end, eternal death).
Simply put, justification means being made or declared right before God. Justification is first of all, completely an act of God. It’s not about God inwardly renewing and changing a person. That’s what happens afterwards. It is simply a legal declaration in which God pardons us of all our sins and accepts and accounts us as righteous in His sight. God declares us righteous at the very moment we put our trust in Jesus Christ. That’s the foundation for our assurance of salvation.
But why are we justified? Why does God make this ridiculous decision to call us righteous when we are so very not? Why does God the perfect and righteous judge come to this kind of conclusion?
God justifies the sinner solely on the basis of the obedience and death of His Son, Jesus Christ. Christ’s perfect obedience and sacrifice fully satisfied God’s wrath through His death on the cross. We are not justified by our own merit or works; We are justified solely on the basis of Christ’s work on our behalf. Jesus’ righteousness is transferred over to those that puts their faith in Jesus. In other words, in justification, God puts the righteousness of His Son, Jesus, on us.
Just as my sins were transferred to, or laid upon, Christ at the cross, so also His righteousness is reckoned to me.
So how are we justified? How is our sins taken away and transferred to Jesus on the cross and how is Christ’s righteousness transferred to us?
We are justified by faith alone when we confess our trust in Christ. Faith alone means we are not justified by faith coupled with a kind of ritual or special prayer or with any kind of transaction to obtain justification. Faith is the only instrument in the act of justification. Faith adds nothing to what Christ has done for us in justification. Faith is merely receiving the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Or, as our passage puts it, we have become slaves of righteousness. Sanctification is how saving faith demonstrates itself to be genuine through bearing the fruit of good works.
It is possible to profess saving faith but not possess saving faith. As James 2:14-25 tells us, what distinguishes true faith from a mere claim to faith is the presence of good works.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.Galatians 5:6
I want to make it very clear, we are in no way justified by our good works. But you cannot consider yourself to be a justified person unless you see in your life the fruit, the evidence of justifying faith; that is, good works.
Both justification and sanctification are fundamental truths of the gospel. And they always accompany one another and they deal with the sinner’s sin. But they differ in some very important ways.
First, whereas justification addresses the guilt of our sin, sanctification addresses the power and corruption of sin in our lives. Justification is God’s declaring the sinner righteous and sanctification is God’s renewing and transforming our whole persons—our minds, wills, affections, and behaviors.
Second, our justification is a complete and finished act. Justification means that every believer is completely and finally freed from condemnation and the wrath of God. Sanctification, however, is an ongoing and progressive work in our lives.
Although every believer is saved once and for all from bondage to sin, we are not immediately made perfect. We will not be completely freed from sin until we receive our resurrection bodies at the last day.
In justification, our faith results in our being forgiven, accepted, and accounted righteous in God’s sight. In sanctification, that same faith actively and eagerly takes up all the commands that Christ has given the believer.
The Finished Work of Christ
Finally, we must understand that Jesus Christ has won both justification and sanctification for His people by his life, death and resurrection. That the completion of sanctification is not rooted in our efforts but are rooted in the door that has already been unlocked for us through Christ sacrifice.
We dare not separate them but we also dare not conflate justification and sanctification. We do distinguish them. And through both and not just one or the other do we enter into the richness and joy of communion with Christ. And this is the foundation of Christian faith and what it means to be Christian.
And if come to understand these things, you will also agree that faith is not just about whether you believe or not. It’s about where that faith is rooted. Where it’s based on.
A tree has no power in and of itself to believe itself into bearing good fruit if the water it drinks is poison. And a door will not open by itself even if you have been given the key to open it.
This is exactly what Paul is getting to in regards to our justification. Since we are no longer under the law and under grace, he asks us in verse 15, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace?”
Paul is asking a rhetorical question. He’s saying: Aren’t we saved once for all? Doesn’t that mean that no matter what I do with my life, if I am under grace, I can fail as many times as I want and do what I want and still go to heaven?
He tells us the answer in verses 16 to 18, “By no means! 16 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, which leads to righteousness? 17 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, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”
So salvation is not only about being under the law or under grace. It’s about who you obey. Do you obey sin or God?
Before you were under the law, you had no way of obeying God because the law would bind you up and spit you back out. But now there is a way to be under grace, or in other words, there is a way to obey God. You now have the power to choose to obey sin or to obey God.
And so, although we are justified by grace, through faith in Christ, if we truly are under grace, we would have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which we were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
And this has nothing to do with fate, karma or destiny. The Christian faith is based solely on the sovereignty of God. God is not bound by a certain destiny of each person. God is not God if he cannot change a person’s destiny. We are alive and have salvation because God pulled us out of eternal hell and changed our destiny. If we held onto destiny, God would have no power to change our end result.
And so I want to say it again, in being justified, we now have the power to choose who we will obey and our choice matters because before being justified by Christ’s righteousness, all our decisions were about good and evil based on our own righteousness, on our own opinions and values of good and evil.
But now that we are justified, all our decisions are made in light of what we think is good or evil, but whether or not the decisions will be pleasing to God. And we move based on the righteousness of God.
So what kinds of choices are we to make today? What choices will we make in our lives? Make the decisions that will be pleasing to God. We are no longer slaves to sin. We are slaves of righteousness.