“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.” (Romans 6:17–18, ESV)
As we look back, one of the blights on our nation’s historical record is that of slavery. In slavery, the slave became the property of the owner and therefore must obey the owner. In 1865, the United States passed the 13th Amendment, ending slavery. However, history tells us that the transition in our country was not an easy one for the slaves themselves, as prejudices and employment was difficult. Many of the freed slaves suffered in the transition. However, a few of the slaves chose to stay with their owners because they had good owners who treated them well.
Paul uses this picture of slavery to bring about a point. Slavery was common in Paul’s day. He indicates that the slave must obey the master. So, he presents two types of slave owners in this metaphor. One owner is sin and every person, other than Christ, was born as a slave to it. As a slave, those born to sin obeyed it as master, resulting in the increase of lawlessness in our lives.
But Paul goes on to say that something has happened to our hearts that freed us from slavery to sin and bound us as slaves of righteousness. Thus, we have become slaves to a new master and thus obey it. Yet, we obey it not from an external pressure, but from the heart. We obey this new master of righteousness willingly and not unwillingly. The change can only be explained by the transformation of the heart that came when by the work of God’s grace, we experienced the Spirit’s work of regeneration. We were born again, made anew.
In this transformation, we have discovered that our new owner, righteousness, is a good owner and we consequently obey and enjoy the blessings of this new relationship. We now stay in this new relationship because we have tasted that it is very good.