Slaves of Righteousness

Posted On October 17, 2017

In Charles Hodge’s classic commentary on the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans, there is a gripping discussion on the implications of being united to Christ by faith. Particularly, he speaks of the obedience that flows out of this relationship. Hodge notes that in Romans 6:1–11 Paul shows “that union with Christ secures not only the pardon, but the destruction of sin.” In verses 12–13, the Apostle “exhorts his brethren to live agreeably to the nature and design of the gospel.” Further, “he assures them that sin shall not have dominion over them, because they are not under the law, but under grace.” With this Hodge lays down an axiom regarding the doctrine of sanctification: “holiness is not attained, and cannot be attained by those who, being under the law, are still unreconciled to God.” The reason for this is that “it is necessary that we should enjoy his favor, in order to exercise towards him right affections.” What Paul teaches about believers by means of a master/slave analogy is that “formerly they were under an influence which secured their obedience to evil; now they are under an influence which secures their obedience to good.” Finally, in verses 16–23, Paul calls us to embrace this new position of servitude to righteousness.

Hodge understood what other commentators can and do miss; namely, that sin is not something we trifle with. Sin envelopes and controls us (vv. 15–22). When one has yielded himself to sin, this cruelest of masters disseminates death as its wages (v. 23). A low view of sin’s power reflects a high view of man’s natural ability and moral freedom; those who think they can indulge in just a little sin do not understand the depth of their own depravity. They will also tend to think that, just as they can control their own sin, they can behave righteously when they wish to do so. What they will find is that they can do neither. To state it differently: Sin and righteousness are not things to be dabbled in, for they both logically lead to a form of enslavement (6:16). A life is characterized by its most pervasive element; we all are enslaved either to sin and worldly ambition, or to God and the advancement of His kingdom. Thus Hodge, “Those who give themselves up to another as δούλους εἰς ὑπακοήν, slaves to obedience, are the δοῦλοι [slaves] of him whom they thus obey.”

The idea of slavery that Paul expresses is not one of “free service,” but one in which “the subjection is absolute and continued.” The Christian “is subject not for a time, but for life.” For this person is now “under an influence which secures obedience.” Hodge appeals to the words of Jesus in John 8:34: “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” The same holds true on the side of obedience and righteousness: “he who by virtue of union with Christ is made obedient to God, becomes, as Paul says, a δοῦλοι ὑπακοῆς, a slave of obedience. Obedience (personified) is the master to whom he is now subject.” That is to say, “he is not only bound to obey, but he is made to obey in despite [sic] of the resistance of his still imperfectly sanctified nature. He cannot but obey.” Hodge summarizes that the point of the analogy is to show the certainty of the consequences of being under grace, due to the “constraining influence by which that effect is secured.” Therefore, in regards to sin and holiness “obedience is certain.” This obedience is “rendered certain by a power superior to the will of man.”

The appellation “slave” is not the final word on the believer’s relation to God in Christ (see Rom 8:14–17), but it does show us that the freedom of sonship that we enjoy is found only in slavery to Christ. Though we sin, it is against the grain of our regenerate nature. If we are truly in Christ, our lives will reflect His righteousness.

Nathaniel Crofutt is a junior at Reformation Bible College.