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Romans 6:15-23: Jesus Gives Righteousness to Sinners
Individuals: Take time to think back about your past week. Where have you seen God work in your life or answer prayer? Write down any prayer requests you have.
Group: Open the study by sharing life updates, reviewing highs and lows of your past week, or sharing prayer requests and praises.
Icebreaker: Consider a major sin from your past, something you deeply regret. What would your life be like now if you continued to live in that sin? How has the grace of God changed you?
All: Begin the study with a word of prayer, asking God to open your heart for today’s study. You can also pray for any prayer requests now, or save that for the end.
Read today’s passage: Romans 6:15-23.
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord.
What is the context for this passage?
In our previous lessons, which covered Romans 5 and the earlier part of Romans 6, we’ve learned about the contrast between sin and righteousness and between death and life. The only thing that can take us from sin and death to righteousness and life is Jesus, specifically Jesus’ blood poured out for us on the cross.
We learned last week that for those who follow Christ, sin and grace now go hand-in-hand. When we sin, God gives us grace because we are covered by the blood of Christ—we are baptized into his death and raised with him into new life. In this new life, we are free from the bondage of sin. But just because we receive grace when we sin doesn’t mean that we should keep on sinning. Today’s passage expounds more on this contrast of being slaves to sin vs. being slaves to righteousness.
Read the passage again.
Explore a different version if you have one available. If you are online, here is Romans 6 in NIV through Bible Gateway. You can change the version by using the dropdown menu at the top right of the page.
Try to summarize the passage in your own words.
Answer these three questions about the passage:
1. What does the passage say about God?
God is gracious (vs. 15). This passage tells us that we are not under the law but under grace, and it’s clear from the surrounding passages that this grace comes from God.
God gives the gift of eternal life to those who are in Christ Jesus (vs. 23). God is a generous God who likes to give good gifts to his children. One of the greatest gifts he gives is the gift of eternal life. This gift is reserved for those who follow Jesus.
2. What does the passage say about people?
People shouldn’t use God’s grace as an excuse to sin (vs. 15). Even though God gives grace to us, sin is still sin, and we should not pursue sin if we claim to be followers of God.
People are slaves to the one that they obey (vs. 16). This passage tells us that regardless of what path in life we choose, we will be slaves to something. We can choose to follow our own way and be slaves to sin, or we can choose to follow Christ and be slaves to righteousness.
All people were once slaves to sin and free from righteousness (vs. 17, 19-20). No matter how “good” you think you are, you were once a slave to sin. That is the starting point for everyone. We learned in previous studies that without God, no one is righteous, and we are all sinners (Romans 3 study). This is our default mode. If you have not yet decided to give your life to Christ, you are still a slave to sin.
People should be thankful to God for being set free from sin (vs. 17-18). Once you realize the depravity of your soul without God and recognize your bondage to sin, it should make you all the more thankful to God when you realize that he has set you free from that bondage and has given your soul new life when you decide to follow Christ.
People feel shame when they look back on sin in their lives (vs. 21). Most people can look back at their lives and recognize sins that they are ashamed of. This is the natural reaction once we realize how enslaved we were to that sin and how wicked we are in the light of a holy and righteous God.
3. What does the passage say about God’s plan?
God’s plan is that people who stay slaves to sin will receive death (vs. 16, 21, 23). It’s very clear over and over in Scripture that the consequences of sin is death. This plan hasn’t changed. It was the same in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and now.
God’s plan is that people who are obedient to him will receive righteousness (vs. 16). God gives us an alternative to the path of sin and death. If we are obedient to God, this leads to righteousness in our lives. As we’ve learned in other passages, this righteousness is not our own but comes from God alone (Romans 5 study).
God’s plan is that those who follow him should obey from their heart (vs. 17). If we decide to follow God, it can’t be something that we do begrudgingly. We should obey with thankfulness and humility that comes from the heart. This is a reflection of Jesus’ willingness to die on the cross for our sins.
God’s plan is that those who follow him will be set free from sin and will becomes slaves of God (vs. 18, 22). When we choose to follow God, he sets us free from our bondage to sin. We are no longer slaves of sin. Instead, we become slaves of God, called to be righteous in him.
God’s plan is that when we follow him, we trade in our sin for his righteousness (vs. 18). Following God comes with a trade-off. We are released from the burden of sin, and instead we are given the freedom that comes with righteousness. The Scripture is clear that this righteousness is a gift from God.
God’s plan is that righteousness will lead to holiness and eternal life (vs. 19, 22, 23). When we follow God, we receive God’s righteousness in place of our sin. But this isn’t the end of the process. As we continue to follow God, being a slave to righteousness leads to becoming more like Christ. Specifically, we become more holy, just as he is holy. The end reward of this growth process is eternal life in heaven with Jesus.
How does the passage fit into the overarching story of the Bible?
Sometimes it’s easier to understand a passage if you have a little outside knowledge from other passages in the Bible. This section will help provide that outside perspective.
One theme throughout the Bible is that we are always slaves to something. We either follow God or idols. We love God or money. We prioritize God or self. In this passage, we are slaves to sin or slaves to righteousness. The Bible makes it clear that we have a choice to make. Are we going to offer ourselves to God and become slaves to righteousness? This requires us to follow God only and prioritize God over all other things. Or maybe that sounds too hard or too harsh, so we remain slaves to sin, doing whatever we want and going our own way. One of these paths leads to death, and the other to life. Only you can decide for yourself which path you will take. This is the call that we receive when we read the Bible—we must make a choice. If we don’t make a choice, the default is death.
If you do make the choice to follow God, then you have to be all in. Revelation 3:15-16 says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” God doesn’t want followers who say they are Christians but their actions don’t back that up. As it says in Romans 6:17, we have to obey God’s teachings from our hearts. This should be a total life transformation, and it should affect every area of your life and being. We must become slaves to God, slaves to righteousness.
Individual: Answer the following questions thoughtfully for yourself.
Group: Pose these questions for discussion.
All: If you are willing to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts to these questions. Feel free to use the comment section to start a discussion about this passage.
What else strikes you about this passage?
How does the passage affect how you view God? How you view yourself?
How does this passage affect how you will live your life?
For Bible Essential studies, you can use my thoughts as your devotional, or you can download and use the journaling sheet to work through the passage on your own. If desired, you can then compare your thoughts to mine. Journal sheets can be downloaded and used now or later. They can be printed and filled in by hand or saved and filled out electronically. Journal sheets are available for individual or group use.
If you plan to lead a group study, a PowerPoint presentation is also available.
You can access these resources by clicking here: Romans 6 Resources