Christian Heart Obedience

The Australian TV show I’ve been watching on Prime has become more of a reality drama than a cooking competition. The producers have seen value in using highly opinionated, vocal participants to stir up the conflict between “teams.” I regret this turn but appreciate the struggle that most of the calmer, more reasonable participants have to maintain the dignity of the competition by confronting the pot-stirrers. I wouldn’t like to see a group of sixteen people allow one or two to get away with flagrant insults and nasty remarks at a dinner party setting that’s about cooking. Have you ever confronted someone’s outrageously unkind or mean remarks? How do we deal with sarcasm or irreverence from unbelievers about God or Jesus Christ? Are you offended when someone uses God’s name irreverently? I am so disappointed in the world’s use of OMG as if saying that is better than saying, “Oh, my God!” disrespectfully. If we have been transformed by God’s Spirit for holy living in, with, and through Jesus Christ, we are not those people. Our desire to glorify God overcomes the world’s pressure to conform to cultural fads. Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians speaks of the triumph of God’s grace over the power of sin in Chapter 6. Christ frees believers from enslavement to sin to be obedient from the heart, yielding to his righteousness for sanctification. In verses 17-19, Paul mentions our former enslavement to sin three times, naming our former masters as lawlessness, sin, and impurity. But we should live as those who are no longer enslaved to sin but have transformed hearts, wanting to obediently offer confessions and repentance for sanctification. Now we are harassed by corruption as a hated power, struggling for victory, confronting it rather than yielding to its impurity and lawlessness.

Obedience From the Heart

Paul writes, “Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.” (Romans 6:17-19) Our confession at church on Sunday, based on Micah 4:1-5, was particularly relevant to our study. “Gracious God, we confess that we have not pursued godliness as we should. Forgive us where we have walked in the ways of this world or not trusted in your judgments. Enable us to trust more and more in the victory of Christ over sin and death. May the peace of Christ flourish in our relationships and our lives.” God has already transformed Paul’s readers’ hearts at regeneration, giving them the Holy Spirit to grow in holiness and their love of righteousness. Now they, and we, “have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (v. 17). “By ‘the form of doctrine,’ is meant the Gospel, which is the ‘doctrine’ of the Scriptures, of Christ and his apostles, and is sound and according to godliness…so such are who have a spirit of Gospel liberty, in opposition to a spirit of bondage; who live by faith on Christ…whose repentance and obedience are influenced by the grace of God, and who are zealous of good works, without any dependence on them…and this is the obedience of faith: the reason why faith is expressed by obedience is, because faith receives truth upon the veracity of God, and not upon the dictates of carnal reason; and is always more or less attended with external obedience to the will of God; and that is rightly performed only by faith. And this obedience…was ‘from the heart’; and was real and sincere.” (1) Sometimes, we arrive at heart obedience by first practicing external obedience; stepping out in faith brings us to the end of ourselves to submit our hearts to the Lord. However, it is far better first to seek that in our hearts which hinders our obedience, confess, repent, and enjoy the fruit for ourselves and others. 

Set Free from Sin

Paul knows that the source of our obedience can only be God’s work in us, “having been set free from sin, [we] have become slaves of righteousness” (v. 18). It is crucial to understand what we have been set free from to encourage our continued confession and repentance. “Being then made free from sin…Not from a sinful nature; nor from a corrupt heart; nor from vain thoughts; nor from sinful words; nor from sinful actions altogether; but from the damning power of sin: sin brought all men under a sentence of condemnation…but the blood of Christ sprinkled on their consciences frees them from it; though fresh sins committed bring fresh guilt, which requires the continual application of the blood of Jesus for pardon and cleansing: but what is chiefly designed here is freedom from the servitude of sin, as appears from the context. Now God’s elect are not released voluntarily by their former masters; nor is their freedom obtained by their own power and will; but it is of God, Father, Son, and Spirit; and the Gospel is generally the means of it, and happy are those persons who are blessed with it! They are rid of a bad master; are freed from the worst of bondage; will be no more servants, as before; are delivered from the power, and out of the kingdom of darkness; are heirs of heaven, and shall enjoy the glorious liberty of the children of God: and for the time present are become the servants of righteousness…they give up themselves to a course and life of righteousness, in which there are true honour, peace, and pleasure.” (2)  Freedom brings with it relief and joy. Is there any better way to enjoy God’s love, holiness, and pleasure fully than to bring him our remaining sin for our sanctification, for more effective service and sweet fellowship with our brothers and sisters?

Our Natural Limitations versus God’s Grace

“I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (v. 19). “Paul has been using the analogy of slavery to make his point…Either we must serve sin, or we must serve God. There is no neutral ground. This is Paul’s main point. But do we really believe this? If we understood it and really believed it, would we sin as frequently or as easily as we sometimes do? Would we take sin lightly and be as casual in the pursuit of righteousness as we often are?…The phrase ‘righteousness leading to holiness’ [sanctification] teaches that the practice of outward godliness leads to inward godliness; that is, doing right things actually brings a person along the pathway of spiritual growth. There is no secret formula for holiness [sanctification], no magic recipe. The only means is to realize what God has done for us and then discipline the parts of our bodies—our minds, eyes, ears, tongues, hands, and feet—to act accordingly…God has already done everything necessary for our salvation and given us everything we need to live a consistent Christian life. So, if we fail to do it, it is either because we have not been taught what God has done and therefore do not know how to conduct ourselves as Christians, or we are just too sinful or lazy. If this command had been laid upon us prior to our conversion, we would not have been able to do it…This demand is utterly reasonable. In fact, anything contrary to it is unreasonable. Before we were saved, we served sin; that was consistent and reasonable. But now that we are converted, it is equally reasonable that we should serve God…The failures we have in trying to live a holy life are due almost entirely to our failure to realize these truths or to our laziness or sin in failing to apply them to our conduct.” (3) Christ freed the Roman believers and us from enslavement to sin, to be obedient from the heart, presenting ourselves to his righteousness for our sanctification. But will we remember and live like those who are no longer enslaved to sin but have transformed hearts? Like those who want to obediently offer confessions and repentance for sanctification? Will we reject our world’s endearment with conflict and opinionated “rights?” “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4)

Related Scripture: 1 Kings 8:35-36; Micah 4:1-5; John 17:15-20; Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:20-24; Colossians 3:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7; 2 Timothy 1:13; 1 Peter 1:14-15; 1 John 2:15-17.


  1. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Romans 6:17,
  2. Gill, Romans 6:18, Ibid.
  3. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series,” Romans 6:15-18, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.

September 23, 2021

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