Jesus said that nobody can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). He meant, of course, two masters who oppose each other. He was referring to people who try to combine love for God with a selfish love of money (1 Timothy 6:10).
In Romans 6:14-23, Paul uses a similar word-picture, but in a more general way. His subject is not just the love of money, but all sin (wrong and evil thoughts, words and actions). He finds the word-picture useful, but not perfect. He often has to show us how sin is not actually like a master. For example, sin is not something that we can obey. Rather we carry out sin when we do not obey God.
Sin is mainly like a master because it controls our lives. It has become part of our human nature, and only God can free us from its power. Even when we try to do good and right things, we often find ourselves unable. However, often we do not even desire to do the right things, because sin tempts us with wrong behaviour instead.
We imagine that sin, like a good master, offers us many rewards. We think that we will receive from it profits, or happiness, or power. It is all a lie. Sin gives us nothing that lasts. For example, we may gain happiness or money, but these benefits soon disappear. In the end, the only reward that we gain for our sin, is death (6:23).
We call God our Lord, or our master, because of the honour that he deserves. However, God is not like a cruel master who tries to control us. Rather, in his great love, he frees us from the wrong things that formerly controlled our lives. He makes it possible for us to live in a manner that is right and good.
God does reward his loyal people (Mark 10:29-30). However, his greatest act of kindness to them is not a reward for their efforts, but a gift. He gives them life that never ends. He does that because Jesus died for them (6:23).
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© 2017, Keith Simons.