The genius of Saint Paul’s words written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is that he gets what it means to live in a two-fold slavery. The natural man, the Old Adam, wants to lead his life according to the words of Pharaoh in Exodus chapter five: Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice? The natural man is not a free man. He is a slave to sin and the prince of darkness, in whose secret service he stands.
No one can serve two masters. Either you serve God, your rightful Lord, or the devil, sin, or self-righteousness. To whom are you devoted? Saint Paul’s words in Romans chapter six warn you against slavery to sin, but also encourage you in your slavery to righteousness…the alien righteousness imputed to you by Jesus Christ.
Those outside of Christ serve sin. They are slaves to uncleanliness and unrighteousness. They cannot help it. Sin rules over them. They do sin’s will in all things. Those in Christ are free from sin. You serve God and present your body as a living sacrifice in slavery to righteousness. You seek to fulfill the good, perfect, pleasing will of God.
Here’s the thing: this two-fold slavery to sin and slavery to righteousness happens within you every day. You belong to Christ by virtue of your Baptism. You are called out of darkness into His marvelous light. Even though the good and wise Law of God is abolished in Christ’s perfect righteousness in which you are clothed, the Law nevertheless remains to show you just how dead you are to sin. You make a beginning to keep the Law, but that beginning is weak and far from being perfect. All the more you cling to Christ as your perfect Lawkeeper for you.
The Old Adam wants to be free from the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. He wants to live as a free man who has no concern for what God says, wills, or commands. This so-called freedom smells like death. It is death. This sort of freedom is an illusion. It is actually oppressive bondage. When you serve sin, you are a slave to sin. You can’t get away from sin. When you avoid one sin, you fall into another sin. You go from one injustice to another injustice. It’s a vicious cycle of sin and death.
The New Man in Christ doesn’t mind being a slave to righteousness. He is safely clothed in the baptismal garment of righteousness. He is all wet in Jesus and everything that Jesus has given him as a gift. Slavery, for the new man, is freedom. You are free from the bondage of sin. This is living as it was meant to be, living as it was for our first parents in the Garden. They were free, happy, and blessed to serve and live for God. So are you because you are free in Jesus.
The Old Adam sees this freedom and hates it. Old Adam is ashamed of Jesus and His gifts. He wants to hold up before God all those good works and nice things the New Man does and say that this is what saves him. Even worse, the Old Adam considers the works of the flesh to be good works, things like sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions.
Fits of anger and strife feel really good sometimes. You feel cleansed after a good knock-down drag-out fight. All the anger leaves you and is thrown on someone else. Think of how your neighbor feels after he is on the receiving end of your tirade. Think of how you feel when someone blows their stack in your direction. You don’t consider therapeutic yelling to be a good work. Neither does God.
Instead you seek to do good to your neighbor. These look like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law as Saint Paul says in Galatians chapter five. Seeking to do good to your neighbor is actually Christ in you, the hope of glory, Who seeks to do good to your neighbor. These are the fruits of the Holy Spirit, proof that you live in the sufficient imputation of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ.
God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does. Rather than worrying about whether or not you are doing enough of them, they are done, sometimes without you even knowing that you have done them or are now doing them. Consider the sheep divided from the goats in our Lord’s parable in Matthew chapter 25. “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Slavery to sin leads to death: death in the fullest sense of the word. You not only assume room temperature, but you also have a place waiting for you in the burning lake of fire, where there is no relief from the heat. This is your reward for slavery to sin. This is what you earn serving death.
Slavery to righteousness, living as a baptized child of God, rejoicing in your freedom in Christ, means there is more to life than physical death. Eternal life is yours as a free gift of grace that Jesus earned for you. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
You are His workmanship. You are created in Christ Jesus to do good to your neighbor, not for gain or bean counting, but for the joy that is set before you because of Jesus. The Old Adam hates it. The New Man revels in it. This two-fold slavery, this existential battle, continues until death. Only then, in the Resurrection, will the Old Adam be destroyed and the New Man, the me you were meant to be and the me you are in Jesus, will be recreated into a perfect New Creation. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.