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Do You Know You are a Slave?
“Do You Not Know?” Series
Do You Know that You are a Slave?
Romans 6:16
 
As we continue looking at some of the “Do You Not Knows” of the New Testament, I want us to look at the second that is found in Romans 6. In our last study we looked at Romans 6:3 where Paul asks, "Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?"
 
Then there is a follow-up question or companion thought that he asks in verses 16-18.
 
Now if you are using the KJV you find the word “servant” in the text.  Most newer translations use, correctly, I might add, the word slaves.  Although similar, being a servant carries a different context from being a slave. 
 
Slavery in the Roman Empire was common.  In the Roman Empire it had less to do with race than other factors.  Slaves in Rome included prisoners of war as well as slaves bought outside Roman territory.
 
It was not uncommon for desperate Roman citizens to sell their children into slavery to pay off debts or raise money. Roman slaves and their families were considered property of their owners. They could sell or rent them out at any time. They could even kill them for any reason without facing punishment.
 
I don’t suppose there was anything more dehumanizing than to be stripped naked, put on the auction block and evaluated as a piece of property.  If you were man, they would inspect you for the ability and muscle and health to be able to work. 
 
If you were a woman, you were evaluated on your ability to produce children and maintain the slavery work force.  And slaves were nothing more than an investment in property. 
 
So Paul asks the Roman believers (and us as well) if they knew that they were slaves. Do you know that you are a slave? You are either a slave to someone or something.
 
Let's take a look at what that means.  First of all, a life of slavery is
 
1. A Controlled Life
 
It is estimated that the population of Rome was about one-third slaves. It is likely that more than half of the Roman Church were or had been slaves. Yet, in truth, every person is a slave. I am a slave. You are a slave. We are a slave to whomever or whatever is master of our life.
 
Paul describes two rulers or masters. One master is "sin unto death" and the other is "obedience unto righteousness." In one we find something that masters us and the other is Someone who is in control of our life.
 
The something that can control life is "sin." In verse 17 Paul speaks of the "slaves of sin".  He is referencing the believer’s past life. It is a great example of being controlled and enslaved by sin.
 
 
Paul gives us a vivid description of the mastery of sin in Ephesians 2:2-3
 
Before we were saved we followed the desires of our flesh and we fulfilled the desires of our flesh. We were under the control of Satan he used the "lusts of our flesh" and the "desires of the flesh and mind" to enslave us. Our life was dominated by our flesh, our desires were directed by our flesh, and our actions were dictated by the flesh.
 
The world looks at the pleasures of sin, not aware of the power of sin-a power that masters and enslaved.
 
On the other hand, there is Someone who masters and controls life. In verse 16 Paul calls this master "obedience." The obvious explanation of this obedience of which he is speaking is obedience to God.
 
The word means "compliance" or "submission." The idea is that of one being submissive to his master, that master in this case being the Lord Jesus.
 
Now generally when we think about slavery we think in terms of involuntary service and labor.  But in Jewish law there was a provision for a voluntary slave.  You find it in Exodus 21:1-6 and Deuteronomy 15:12-17.
 
See there was a possibility for voluntary slavery, but notice, that slave would be marked and he would serve his master forever. 
 
Paul understood this vocabulary of slavery.  He often identified himself as the slave of Jesus.  In writing to the Philippians, he begins with that very phrase:  Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ. 
 
Later in the letter he says it has become apparent that even though I’m a prisoner of Rome, my chains are in Jesus Christ. He would say, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”  You want proof that Paul understood this concept of slavery?  Just look at his body.  He had beaten and starved and shipwrecked and left for dead.  His ear was pierced.  He settled the issue.  He had voluntarily chosen to lay aside all his bragging rights as a Jew and be a slave to Jesus Christ. 
 
Why would someone choose to do that?  Why would a slave choose to stay on when he could be a free man?  There is a little insight in Exodus 21:5, "And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go free."
 
In such a case, it was love; love for his family, and even love for his master that motivated one to voluntary remains a slave.
 
So Paul says, “You’re going to serve something or Someone.  "Sin" brings an involuntary slavery. "Obedience" is a voluntary slavery.
 
There are two great masters in life. We are either mastered by sin or the Savior. One or the other is lord of our life. We have either voluntarily submitted to the Lordship of the Lord Jesus Christ or involuntarily become a slave to the world, the flesh, and the devil. No one is neutral in this matter. We are either a slave to something or Someone!
 
 
 
And the consequences of our slavery are determined by whom or what is our master. If "sin" is the master of our life the result is the destruction of life. Paul calls this mastery "sin unto death." This death refers to both a physical and spiritual death.
 
There is not only the power of sin, but its product as well. Sin always offers happiness but results in heaviness. It always portrays itself as bringing pleasure, but in the end it leaves one in a prison. Instead of entertainment, it brings enslavement. Instead of blessing, it brings bondage. Instead of freedom, it brings slavery.
 
John Newton, the author of the beloved hymn Amazing Grace knew of the slavery, both physically and spiritually, that sin brings. When he wrote that God "saved a wretch like me" he was describing his own life. His tombstone in Olney, England reads that he was an "infidel and libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa." Sin carried John Newton to the bottom. The slaver was himself a slave.
 
On the other hand, "obedience" brings the dedication of life. Paul calls this mastery "obedience unto righteousness." Instead of a control that results in godlessness, this control results in godliness. When we are controlled by sin we follow after unrighteousness. But when we are controlled by God we follow after righteousness.
 
One of the key words in Romans 6 is found in verse 16 and that is the word "present (yield in KJV)." The word is found five times in this section (vs. 13, 16, and 19). The word means "to place at one's disposal or to offer as a sacrifice."
 
The word was used to describe a servant who stood quietly by his master as he awaited orders. Whatever or Whoever is master of our life depends on which we present ourselves to.
 
If we make ourselves available to sin, we will obey sin. If we make ourselves available to God we will obey God. Compliance always leads to obedience. When we yield we are saying yes to one or the other. Compliance leads to obedience and obedience results in dominance.
 
So the question that Romans 6:16 presents to each of us is which is controlling our life. Is it sin or the Savior? It is one or the other. One is master of our life. We are a slave to one or the other.
 
Secondly, we see:
 
2. A Changed Life
 
Which is master of one's life is rooted in whether one has been saved or not. In verse 17 Paul speaks of one who has been saved and experienced a transformation of life.
 
Verse 17
 
Paul says "that ye were the slaves of sin." Draw a circle around the word "were." They had once been slaves to sin. Implied is that they had been emancipated from sin's slavery and were now servants of God. There had been a glorious change in what mastered their life.
 
 
 
Donald Grey Barnhouse tells the story of how years ago in Scotland, there was a fisherman called Old John who was bound by strong drink. He took the money earned from his catch and spent it on liquor while his wife and children suffered. They lived in a hovel at the end of the fishing village and eked out an existence in extreme poverty.
 
But Old John came to know the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. After that he brought all his money home and gave it to his wife. He worked steadily, and soon there were new clothes, plenty of food and coal for the fire. After a few weeks of this transformed existence the wife said, "John, if you are going to keep on like this we should move into a better house!"
 
"Right," said John. "I shall go and see the landlord at once." He made his way through the town to the landlord and asked to rent a certain house. The landlord said, "I would never rent a good house to you, Old John." "Why do you say that?" asked John. "You don't know me at all!" "Of course I know you," said the landlord. "You are drunken Old John the fisherman."
 
"You are mistaken," said John. "You have never seen me before. Old John is dead; I am New John, a new creature in Christ Jesus." And he poured out a handful of coins before the astonished landlord. Soon New John was living in a new house.
 
As we saw in our last study, a believer has died to sin in the Lord Jesus. Paul says in Romans 6:7, "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord."
We died to sin but were raised with a new life in Christ Jesus.
 
We "were the servants of sin" but there has been a change in control. We have been set free from sin's slavery. In verse 18 we see that we have been "made free from sin." At Calvary Jesus gave His Emancipation Proclamation. He brought us from sin's slavery setting us free its control.
 
And a new Lord has resulted in a new life. Since we are no longer the slaves of sin we no longer live as a slave. It results in a different way of living.
 
And by the way, did you notice that salvation is a heart matter?
 
Verse 17
 
Salvation is more than head knowledge. You can know all the facts and still be lost. There are many church members who know about salvation but have never been saved. The Bible says in Romans 10:10, "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness." The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. Salvation is more than an outward change. It is an inward change.
 
When Paul said "you obeyed from the heart" he was speaking of how the difference in their life was due to a change in their heart. A change in the heart always results in a change in behavior. A change in behavior is evidence that there has been a change in the heart. No heart change, no behavior change and if there has been no behavior change, it's because there has been no heart change.
 
I have seen many make a profession but it made no difference in their life. They may have made a profession but there was no possession.  And what is it that had obeyed?  Paul says, “That form of doctrine”.  What does that mean? 
 
The word "form" speaks of a mold into which something is poured in order to shape it. The idea is that a believer is shaped by "doctrine." Doctrine is divine truth or the Word of God.
 
In the past, our life was shaped by the world, the flesh, and the devil. But having been set free from sin's slavery, our life is now shaped by God's Word. Our conduct is no longer dictated by the lusts of the flesh, but by divine truth.
 
Before a person was saved they "walked according to the course of this world" (Eph. 2:2), but after they are saved they "walk in the light" (1 John 1:7), "walk after His commandments" (2 John 1:6), "walk in truth" (3 John 1:4), and "walk worthy of God" (1 Thess. 2:12).   There is a totally different walk, a walk that reflects that they are no longer "servants of sin." It is a walk that has been shaped and formed by our relationship to God's Word.
 
The result of this change leads to:
 
3. A Committed Life
 
Romans 6:18
 
Unrighteousness once characterized our life, but now our life is marked by "righteousness." In the past, our life was marked by contamination, but is now marked by commitment. 
Paul says that we have been "set free from sin." The phrase "set free" literally means to "liberate." The believer has been liberated from sin's slavery.
 
When the Bible speaks of our redemption, the idea is that we being bought out of slavery. The word "redemption" was commonly used of paying a ransom to free a prisoner from his captors or paying the price to free a slave from his master.
 
Galatians 3:13 says that "Christ hath redeemed us." The One who liberated us from sin's slavery was the Lord Jesus. By doing so He became our new master. We are no longer "servants of sin" but "servants of righteousness."
 
Having been liberated one now wants to pursue "righteousness." A simple definition of "righteousness" is doing what is right. No longer does one follow sinful things but they seek to do that which is right in the eyes of God.
 
To please God in all things becomes the new motive for life when a person is saved. We have a new master that we love. The desire of a believer is to live according to "righteousness."
 
On July 3l, 1838 on the Island of Jamaica, a man named William Knibbs, gathered 10,000 slaves for a great praise gathering. They were celebrating the New Emancipation Proclamation Act that would abolish slavery on the island. They had built an immense coffin and into it were placed whips, branding irons, chains, fetters of all kinds, slave garments and all the things that represented the terrible slavery system that was now coming to a welcome end.
At the first stroke of the midnight bell, Knibbs shouted out, "The monster is dying." At each stroke of the bell that followed this cry was repeated and the great crowd began to join in the cry. At the twelfth stoke 10,000 voices cried out, "The monster is dead, the monster is dead, let us bury him." They then screwed the coffin lid down and lowered it into a huge grave and covered it up. That night, every heart rejoiced and 10,000 voices grew hoarse, shouting and crying with joy. Once they were in bondage to slavery, but now they were free.
 
There is a tragic side to this story. While many rejoiced in their new liberty and freedom, there were some slaves, that lived in remote areas of the island, that did not know they had legally been set free. Because they didn’t know, for many years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been made a law, they still continued to serve their slave masters. Their former masters successfully kept the news from them as long as they could. By law they had been declared free men and did not have to live as slaves any longer. However, ignorance of the truth kept them in bondage.
 
Now let me tell you an even sadder story. The truth is, the same type of thing is happening in our day. Jesus Christ, because of his victory against sin on the cross, has issued an Emancipation Proclamation of liberty and freedom from sin to everyone on this earth. But like some of the Jamaicans were, there are those today that just don’t understand that they no longer have to live as slaves to sin any longer, and the devil is trying to keep them in that mind set.
 
The message of the cross is this: Satan has been defeated and sin’s penalty has been paid.
We no longer have to surrender to sin or be controlled by Satan. We can belong to Jesus and live to please God.
 
I mentioned early the epitaph of John Newton. In its whole it reads, "John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy."
 
That is the story of all who have been saved. Everyone is a slave to something or Someone. I bless the day when I was delivered from sin's slavery to become a servant of Jesus Christ. 
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