4th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 7) LSB #’s 570, 704, 556:1-3, 5-7
Text – Romans 6:19b
For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity & to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
SLAVES TO IMPURITY, SLAVES TO RIGHTEOUSNESS
Many years ago, a husband & wife went to Korea. On one of their tours, they saw a son & his father working in a rice paddy. The old man guided the heavy plow as the son pulled it. “I guess they must be very poor,” the man said to the missionary who was their guide & interpreter.
“Yes. They are,” replied the missionary. “When the church was built, they were eager to give something, but they had no money. So, they sold their ox & gave the money to the church. This spring they are pulling the plow themselves.” After a long silence, while watching them plow the field, the woman said, “That was a real sacrifice.”
That is not the end of the illustration, but I’m going to interrupt in order to ask, “How do you think that dialogue ends? Was it a real sacrifice for the son & the father to pull the plow themselves?” My 2nd question is, “Are the father & the son acting as slaves to impurity or as slaves to righteousness?”
The word ‘slave’ has a very loaded meaning in our culture, & the negative connotations are enormous. To help you contemplate my question, we’ll first consider what Paul means by the phrases ‘slaves to impurity’ & ‘slaves to righteousness.’ Those are not terms that we use in our daily language.
In the simplest definition, slaves to impurity refers to anyone who does not trust in Jesus as Savior from their sins. Conversely, slaves to righteousness are those who do believe in Jesus as Savior from their sins. From God’s perspective, believers & unbelievers live very different lives. As sinful creatures, that is not our experience. We are not able to see, with any certain clarity, the difference. We see the outward actions, but not the heart. Everyone sins & therefore, given God’s standards of perfection, all we see are poor, miserable sinners. A slave to impurity is someone who is unable to do righteousness because that requires the Holy Spirit, which they do not have. Slaves to impurity have no ability to obey God.
Slaves to righteousness have been given the Holy Spirit & therefore the ability to live for God. That power is not their own, yet they do have access to it through God’s Spirit. St. Paul wrote of that in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Occasionally, we do resist eating that 3rd donut. Occasionally, we do resist spreading the latest juicy gossip. However, the chief distinguishing trait that slaves to righteousness exhibit is one of repentance. Yet that too is something that sinful creatures cannot see clearly even in themselves. From God’s perspective it is clear, but not from our own.
A slave to impurity has only one nature, that of independence from God. Though deadly, that life is less complicated. The child of God has a dual nature, that of saint & sinner. It is a life of constant struggle within & without. After spending the first 11 verses of Romans 6, writing about our baptism into Christ, at verse 12 St. Paul urges us on to the Christian life:
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body.” Effectively, the Holy Spirit is telling us, “Let the struggle begin!” The life given us in Baptism is diametrically opposed to the impurity that Satan desires for us. In Baptism, our Creator declares us to be alive again, yet, our circumstances often appear to contradict Him.
For those who are slaves to righteousness, especially when we are suffering we are alive in Christ. In fact, our suffering is amplified in Christ, because unlike slaves to impurity, we abhor our sins. They wallow in them. As slaves to righteousness, when we are anxious or depressed we are yet alive in Christ. When our bodies are outwardly wasting away, we are still alive in Christ. Repentance is the chief manner in which we live out our death to sin, & the life given to us in Baptism. It’s how we do battle against the Devil & his schemes. We honor Christ when we consciously join in that battle, for ourselves & for our neighbor.
Another thought that we can pick up from verse 12 is that this is not simply a spiritual struggle. Paul writes, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body.” Satan is not fighting in some ethereal reality. No! He is attacking us in our own mortal bodies. The gender dysphoria of our culture is but one manifestation of Satan’s battle plan to physically harm us.
Way back in chapter one, verse one, St. Paul introduces himself as a slave of Christ Jesus. His letter equates this to being made alive in Baptism. I expect that a majority of the Christians Paul was writing to were converted as adults. For many of us, Baptism occurred while we were infants. Adult converts more easily remember their days of slavery to impurity.
Still, even as slaves to righteousness, our sinful nature constantly longs to submit again in slavery to impurity. Satan calls us, hour by hour, to return to his realm. The Holy Spirit calls us, whenever we sin, to return to our Creator by repentance. We are tempted to look at that struggle as a losing battle because it is tiresome & makes us weary.
Satan deceives us into focusing on the perspective of our five failing senses, rather than focusing on the perspective that our Lord offers us. The last verse of the Epistle reading gives us that perspective, “…the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (6:23 ESV)
The Holy Spirit offers that perspective to encourage you & your friends & your family. This text is not calling us to obey God in order to gain eternal life. Rather, Paul is calling you to “present your members as slaves to righteousness” because the obedience you render reveals to others whose slave you are. Again, we honor Christ by consciously joining in the battle, for ourselves & for our neighbor. Yes, we certainly grow weary of that seemingly endless battle. So, we turn back to Christ in repentance & we also seek the rest that He offers, “Come to me, all who labor & are heavy laden, & I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 ESV)
Another way to picture this text is to consider, as you face the daily challenges of life, whose hand are you holding? It’s common practice for parents to train their children to hold their hand, when crossing the street, or going down a flight of stairs. However, that training is only as good as the hand the child is holding onto.
Whose hand are you holding on to? Is it the hand of one who would enslave you to impurity, or the hand of One would enslave you to righteousness? Paul makes the point that at one time, the people at the church of Rome had been holding onto the hand of Satan & now they hold onto the hand of God. Understanding that helps us live the life God has called us to.
Satan is still reaching out his hand to you & to me every day. Who we render service to reveals who we follow. We can see some of that with our eyes. We can see the corruption in our government, or in the media, or in corporations.
At one point, all that the prophet Isaiah would see was the unfaithfulness of Israel, yet God told him that 7,000 people had still not bowed their knee to the false gods. Paul is encouraging the Romans, & now you & me, to trust that He will prepare good deeds in advance for us to do, & He will give us the strength to walk in them. The Word of God is powerful.
Back to the opening illustration. “When the church was built, they were eager to give something, but they had no money. So, they sold their ox & gave the money to the church. This spring they are pulling the plow themselves.” After a long silence, while watching them plow the field, the woman said, “That was a real sacrifice.” After allowing the couple to think of it for a moment, the missionary responded, “They do not consider it a sacrifice. Rather, they are thankful they had an ox to sell.” That is but one example of what a slave to righteousness looks like. The family was not compelled to give back to God. They were thankful for the opportunity to do so, even though others might consider it a great sacrifice.
To them it was not sacrifice but love for their heavenly Father. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Renew me, O eternal Light, & let my heart & soul be bright, illumined with the light of grace that issues from Your holy face. Remove the power of sin from me & cleanse all my impurity that I may have the strength & will temptations of the flesh to still. Create in me a new heart, Lord, that gladly I obey Your Word. Let what You will be my desire, & with new life my soul inspire. Amen. LSB 704:1-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet