Paul’s Theology On The Bondage Of Sin Found In The Context Of Romans 6-8 PART I

The Origin Of Sin

Paul said in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Paul states the sad truth: Our sin originates in Adam (Gen. 3:17-19), the first man, as well as in ourselves.

When Adam sinned against the infinite and holy God of the universe, his sin and the consequences for his sin, “spread to all men.” Cursed we became. “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners…” (Rom. 5:19a). Paul is very clear here, our sin has roots that can be traced back to Adam as the federal head of humanity; and that by his disobedience against a verbatim law of God clearly given, we were made sinners. Yet, “death spread to all men because all sinned.” In 6.2 of the LBCF, it says:

Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.

The verse in Romans 5 is one of many places in Scripture where we find the doctrine of original sin—but how does this “original sin” involve and affect us practically speaking? What does Paul practically teach about sin in Romans? What is it about sin that makes it so powerful and deadly?

The apostle has already drawn a clear picture of the depths of our sin and what we are truly capable of in Romans 1:18-3:20; but in this four part series, we will look into Romans 6-8 and find that not only are we sinners, but we are eternally bound to this sin nature from the very beginning of our existence, unless a great Savior rescue us from this devastating fall.

Our Devastating Bondage To Sin According To Paul In Romans 6

As we saw in Rom. 5:12, Adam sinned causing the fall, and now we are all enslaved to sin. Paul says, “so that we would no longer be enslaved (δουλεύειν) to sin,” (Rom. 6:6). The Greek word for “slave” here is “doulos,” meaning “a slave,” “to be controlled by,” or “to serve.” This is not voluntary servitude. If we are truly enslaved to sin, that means sin completely owns us, controls us, and has every strong influence over us. This influence drives us away from God and all that is holy and good in life originating from God (Rom. 6:12).

John Calvin, in his commentary said, “It hence follows, that as long as we are children of Adam, and nothing more than men, we are so in bondage to sin, that we can do nothing else but sin,” (Vol. XIX, 225). That is the power of sin and its enslavement. We can do nothing but obey it and act consistently with it.

The root word δουλευο (doulos) is the same word used to describe Esau “serving” Jacob in Rom. 9:12 and in describing how Onesimus is no longer a “slave” but a brother, in Philemon 1:16. Paul did not throw this word around flippantly in his writings, but instead used this word with great meaning and purpose. On slavery, Douglas Moo describes why Paul used this word:

Slavery was one of the best-known institutions in the ancient world. Almost 35-40% of the inhabitants of Rome and the peninsula of Italy in the first century were slaves; and the situation in the provinces may have been comparable. (The NIV Application Commentary: Romans, 38).

The churches in Rome immediately understood the depth and the weight of his words when he said, “we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” This is slavery in the truest sense. Jesus Himself even said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin,” (Jn. 8:34).

Again in Romans 6, Paul refers to sin and our enslavement to it saying, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin,…” (Rom. 6:17) and “For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness,” (Rom. 6:20). He is talking about us before conversion, that an unregenerate sinner is a slave of sin—and being a slave of sin, we have no liberty, free choice apart from it, or any real  independence like that which Adam had in the beginning—the ability to do holy and righteous good.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that Paul “does not mean that we should no longer commit acts of sin; he says that we should no longer be the slaves of sin…Man in Adam is a slave of sin; he has no freedom. The natural man, the sinful man, has no freedom; he is the slave of sin,” (Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 6, 78). In the state of being a slave of sin, there is no liberty except from righteousness, we are free from this righteousness of God.

Calvin again in his commentary said, “He calls those free from righteousness who are held by no bridle to obey righteousness. This is the liberty of the flesh, which so frees us from obedience to God, that it makes us slaves to the devil. Wretched then and accursed is this liberty, which with unbridled or rather mad frenzy, leads us exultingly to our destruction,” (241).

Hence, there is no middle ground in Paul’s theology, we are all slaves either to sin or to righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18), no exceptions. Thomas Schreiner said in his commentary, “To be slave of sin means that one is under its lordship and dominion, and unable to extricate oneself from its tyranny,” (Romans, 334). Since we are slaves to sin and of sin, sin affects our entire life. It infects our very nature and soul so that we can do no righteous good in and of ourselves (Rom. 7:18). We are enslaved to sin by the Fall and we are slaves of sin in our nature and state of being. The work of sin in every person from birth is to lead us into the depths of complete and utter depravity and corruption (Gen. 6:11-12), eventually bringing us to eternal damnation by the wrath of God.

We see this practically in children (Gen. 8:21). B.B. Warfield said, “Accordingly, to become sinful, men do not wait until the age of accountable action arrives. Rather, they are apostate from the womb, and as soon as they are born go astray, speaking lies (Ps. 58:3): they are even shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5),” (Biblical Doctrines, 440). The notion that we are born into sin is nothing new to orthodox church history. Southern Baptist theologian J. L. Dagg once said, “Depravity is natural to man; it is born with him, and not acquired in the progress of life. It is not to be ascribed to evil habit, or evil example,” (Manual of Theology, 153).

Conclusion

Therefore, we are in bondage to sin, bringing us to a position before a holy God as beings clothed in sin and unrighteousness. Our very nature, which drives our abilities and even desires, is kept by sin and its enslaving power, as we will see in Chapter 7. This enslavement to sin—original sin—as Calvin defines it is, “a hereditary corruption and depravity of our nature, extending to all the parts of the soul, which first makes us obnoxious to the wrath of God, and then produces in us works which in Scripture are termed works of the flesh,” (Institutes, II.1.8).

Louis Berkhof elaborates more on our nature being found in original sin by saying, “Man has by nature an irresistible bias for evil. He is not able to apprehend and love spiritual excellence, to seek and do spiritual things…” (Systematic Theology, 248). The sinner does not even seek God. In fact, all good things of God are repugnant and appalling to the sinner, (Psalm 14:1-4). If our nature is found in sin then how does that affect our will? What does our will have to do with our nature? Do I really have a choice in the matter? In my next article we will see what Paul says in Romans 7 on the bondage of sin as it relates to our will.