Few issues can make a person cringe as much as slavery. It’s not the subject of casual, carefree conversation. Whether one refers to past injustices or modern evils, the subject of slavery is usually met with angst and contempt. With that in mind, slavery isn’t the metaphor we tend to reach for to communicate encouraging spiritual truth.
Not so with God’s Word. Scripture repeatedly uses the imagery of slavery to poignantly describe unrepentant man’s relationship with sin (John 8:34; 2 Peter 2:19). It’s an apt metaphor—sin marks us as its own, it rules without mercy, binds us in chains, and won’t let us go.
But in Romans 6:17-18, Paul writes about a different kind of slavery for believers. Contrasting our new position in Christ against our former slavery to sin, he writes,
But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness (emphasis added).
Dead to Sin
The key to understanding what it means to be slaves of righteousness is that we have first been set free from our slavery to sin. Earlier in the chapter, Paul asks his readers a pointed rhetorical question: “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2).
In his book The Gospel According to the Apostles, John MacArthur explains that the Greek word translated “died to sin”
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