A New Rule of Service

“But thanks be to God, that, whereas ye were servants of sin, ye became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto ye were delivered”, Rom. 6. 17 R.V. In this verse, Paul underlines one of several radical differences which the chapter shows as distinguishing pre-conversion and post-conversion experience. There is a sharp contrast between the two. The “old man”, derived from Adam, has been superseded by the “new man”, derived from Christ. The former experience, which bore the stigma of death because of sin, has been displaced by a new life in Christ, of which baptism is a significant figure. Even as Christ “died unto sin” and now “liveth unto God”, so has the believer died and is alive in Him, vv. 10. 11. The product of the new life is also necessarily vastly different from that of the old condition of being. It is described as “fruit”, whether it be the product of the root of sin or that of the root of holiness, the former having death as its “end” or result, and the latter unto “the end eternal life”.

Between these two contrasts. Paul introduced and developed the master/ servant analogy; on the one hand, the old mastery or dominion of sin, and on the other hand, the new mastery or lordship of Christ. Paul depicts sin as a tyrant despot, and unregenerate men as its abject slaves, who receive deadly “wages” for their service, vv. 6, 16, 17, 20, 23. Consistently, Paul views the “members” of the body devoted to the service of sin as “instruments of unrighteousness”. It was a slavery from which only identification with the death and resurrection of Christ could secure a discharge, “For he that hath died is justified from sin”, v. 7 R.V. No master, however despotic, has any power over a dead slave, who is no longer susceptible, nor indeed can respond, to his master’s commands. Death has effectively liquidated any further services. But the very same “members”, which were formerly employed in the service of sin, have now become engaged as “instruments of righteousness” in the service of God, possessing “the gift of God … eternal life”, v. 23. Men are either the bondservants of sin or the bondservants of God. They cannot serve both masters, as the Lord taught in another connection. Matt. 6. 24. Both masters demand complete obedience from their servants, “whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness” Their service is mutually exclusive.

As Paul reflected on the change that had been wrought in the Christians at Rome, he could but exclaim, “But thanks be to God, that, whereas (they) were servants of sin (they) became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching whereunto (they) were delivered” If the essence of sin is disobedience to God and contempt for His Word, obedience is submission to God and respect for His Word. Conybeare renders the phrase as “you … obeyed from your hearts the teaching whereby you were moulded anew”, concerning which he says in a footnote, “Literally, the mould of teaching into which you were transmitted. The metaphor is from the casting of metals”. The Word of God, obeyed, moulds character, and shapes conduct. Disobedience to it leads to the deterioration of both character and conduct, and to moral chaos and anarchy, in that it dispenses with the only rule or measure of behaviour. The word “canon” is defined as “a law or rule, especially in ecclesiastical matters; the books of the Bible accepted as the standard or rule of faith by the Christian Church”. Paul viewed the teaching of Scripture in this way. To the Galatian churches he wrote “as many as shall walk by this rule (Greek, canon) peace be upon them”. Gal 6. 16 R.V. and to the Philippian church “whereunto we have already attained, by that same rule let us walk”, Phil. 3. 16. The Word of God is more than a body of truth which has been “delivered” to us, Jude 3; it is that to which we have been “delivered” as a rule of life and behaviour by which we are measured.


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