The Past Reality
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.
In Romans 6:17-18, Paul shared with us the past reality of what happened to us when we trusted in Christ. “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.” When you trusted in Christ as your Savior, God transferred you from being a slave to Satan to being a slave of God and righteousness.
Augustine, the great theologian, used three phrases to explain humanity’s relationship to sin that are key to understand. The first phrase is “able to sin.” When God created Adam and Eve in the Garden, before the Fall, they were able to sin. Adam and Eve were not righteous, but they were innocent. There is a big difference. Innocent means they could either sin or not sin–it was their choice. Of course, we know the choice they made. They made the choice to sin. They were able to sin, and they exercised that right. Because of their choice, their sin impacted every one of us.
Since the fall of Adam and Eve, man has now changed to Augustine’s second phrase: “not able not to sin.” Romans 5:12 says, “Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Every person who is born into this world is born with a sin virus, and it means they are not able not to sin. We talk about free choice, but if you are not a Christian, there is no such thing. The law of sin and death is the rule of life for the non-Christian. It is a part of who you are. You are not able not to sin if you are a non-Christian. I am reminded of the story of the scorpion and the turtle crawling along the riverbank. The scorpion said to the turtle, “Mr. Turtle, can I hop a ride on your back to get across the river?” The turtle said, “If I let you on my back, then you will sting me, and I will drown.” The scorpion said, “Mr. Turtle, ask yourself: Is that logical? If I get on your back and you drown, then I will drown as well. Why would I do such a thing?” The turtle said, “That makes sense. Hop on.” So they swam in the middle of the river, and the scorpion stung the turtle. As they were drowning, the turtle gurgled, “Why did you sting me?” The drowning scorpion said, “It is my nature.” Just as a scorpion is not able not to sting, so a non-Christian is not able not to sin. It is who he is. It is his nature. It does not matter how hard he tries, he will never break out of that pattern of sin and death. But when you become a Christian, you change masters.
The third phrase Augustine used is this: “able not to sin.” As a Christian, you are able not to sin. When you are in Christ, you have a choice. Romans 6:18 says, “Having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” You have a choice every day: Are you going to serve sin and Satan, or are you going to serve righteousness and Jesus Christ?