Romans 6: 16 – 17
People obviously are the slaves of the one to whom they offer themselves to obey (v. 17). Paul set forth two masters: one is sin, and the other is obedience [to God]. There is no possibility of living without an allegiance to one or the other. “There is no absolute independence for man,” writes J. Denney; “our nature requires us to serve some master.” Unbelievers may think they are free and would have to give up that freedom should they accept Christ. Such is not the case. They are servants of sin right now. In coming to Christ they simply exchange one master for another. Servitude to sin is replaced with servitude to God. The master we obey is clear evidence of whose slaves we really are. There is no room for compromise. As Jesus taught, “No one can serve two masters” (Matt 6:24). We also are reminded of Joshua’s challenge to the Israelites at Shechem, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Josh 24:15).
There is a dramatic difference in the outcomes of choosing one or the other of these masters. To choose sin as a master leads to death. To choose obedience to God as master leads to righteousness (v. 16). The contrast in v.16 is between sin and obedience. From this we may rightly infer that the essence of sin is disobedience. Sin is not simply something that we can’t help doing but something we choose to do in direct violation of the will of God. It may be forgiven but it is not something that is excusable due to extenuating circumstances. The righteousness to which obedience leads is the righteousness of personal growth in spiritual maturity.
Paul gave thanks that although the believers in Rome had at one time been slaves to sin (all outside of Christ), they had broken free from that master. They now pledged undivided allegiance to the body of teaching to which they were entrusted (v. 17). Paul may have been referring to a summary of the ethical teaching of Jesus drawn up for instructing new converts. Later in his ministry he wrote that his message should serve as “the pattern of sound teaching” (2 Tim 1:13). To obey “whole-heartedly” requires a willing abandonment to the truth of the message. Christian obedience is never coercive; it is always voluntary. The teaching was not entrusted to the converts but the converts to the teaching. Barrett points out that unlike the rabbis, Christians are not masters of a tradition; “they are themselves created by the word of God, and remain in subjection to it.” The gospel message with all its ethical implications represents an existing body of truth into which new believers are brought by faith. The message is not brought to the converts but vice versa.
Mounce, R. H. (1995). Romans (Vol. 27, pp. 155–157). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.