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, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification (Romans 6:17–19, ESV).
If you do whatever your boss says, without hesitation or question, then for all intents and purposes you are your boss’s slave. If you do whatever your spouse wants without evaluating or considering if that is really best, you’re a slave to your spouse. And if you do whatever your sinful nature says, without resisting or discerning the wisdom in that choice, you are a slave to your sinful nature.
We can be enslaved to countless sins. To illustrate, let’s visit the sin Rolodex, flip to the letter “S,” and survey just a few of the sins we find there:
- Stuff. Some are slaves to stuff: more money, newer car, nicer clothes, bigger house, more, more, more. Consumed with acquisition, they are slaves to things.
- Sexuality. Some focus almost exclusively on sex. Sexuality is a gift from God but has been perverted in their thinking. They’re slaves to the sin of immoral sexual thoughts and actions.
- Substances. Some seem to be powerless against substances: alcohol, tobacco, legal and illegal drugs, caffeine, sugar. Addicted and unable to say no, they’re slaves to a substance.
- Someone. Sometimes people wield undue influence, even outright control, over others. The slave is controlled by and addicted to securing the approval of another. A slave is willing to do whatever is wanted, and this is another form of bondage.
Ironically, Christianity is often viewed as too restrictive. Because they do not know God, they view His rules as bondage. On the contrary, his boundaries are designed to protect us, and can’t compare to the bondage of being a slave to sin. Which brings us to the reality of our options: to be “slaves of sin” (6:17) or “slaves of righteousness” (6:18), with the consuming desire to do what God the Master wants.
Whose slave are you? Here’s how you can tell whether you’re a slave to righteousness:
- You are acutely aware of unrighteousness in you. When you sin, you feel conviction. Your heart grieves and you feel badly for breaking God’s standard. When you set your eyes on something inappropriate, say cruel or filthy words, or make a wrong choice, you feel specific conviction.
- You can’t ignore personal sin and have to make it right. When the Holy Spirit convicts you of a specific sin, you feel the need to ask God to forgive you and those you have offended or injured: “I’ve sinned against you, and I’m truly sorry. Please forgive me.”
- You want to please Jesus. Can you honestly say you think of Christ a lot—not every moment, but every day? Real slaves of righteousness have the Holy Spirit inside them prompting, Would this choice be pleasing to Jesus? Is this what He wants me to do?
So whose slave are you? Do you resonate more with the description of bondage to sin—enslaved to stuff or sexuality or substance or someone or [fill in the blank]? Or are you a slave to righteousness?
Paul calls us to: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). If you aren’t bearing the fruit of righteousness—not perfectly, but increasingly—then you must question whether you have ever been “set free from sin [to] become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). You can’t have it both ways: you can’t be a slave to sin and a slave to God.