Connections 06.28.2020: Have To and Want To

Romans 6:12-23

Paul uses the word “slaves” a lot in this week’s lesson text. This should make us uncomfortable. I hope it does. If it hasn’t before, I hope it will from now on.

The word necessarily and appropriately carries negative connotations because it reflects damaging realities of the past and of the present. We all know that chattel slavery (the system where slaves are property for life, and children born to slaves are born and remain slaves) once existed in our nation. I hope we all know that the damaging legacy of slavery has been passed down through generations and exists until this day. (For a primer on one aspect of that legacy, I recommend the NPR podcast Throughline episode “Mass Incarceration”.)

We’d do well to work at finding other ways to say what Paul is saying in these verses.

What follows is my attempt to do so.

Sometimes we do what we do because we have to. Sometimes we do what we do because we want to. Sometimes—maybe even most times—both realities are true simultaneously.

Having to do something might mean we feel obligated to do it. Maybe we’ve made a commitment. Or maybe we feel that it’s expected of us.

Sometimes Paul talks in terms of sin operating in us to compel us to do something (Rom 7:17), but in this week’s text he talks about our “presenting” ourselves to sin (v. 13), which seems to mean voluntarily giving ourselves over to sin. So maybe we want to do what we think we have to do. Maybe we think it’s our nature to sin, or that sin exerts an irresistible force in our lives, so we choose to cooperate with it. Perhaps we’re taking the path of least resistance. Or maybe we’re just looking for an excuse to do what we want to do.

But it doesn’t have to be that way for Christians. In fact, it shouldn’t be that way.

That’s because we have experienced God’s grace (v. 14). As the verses that lead into our lesson text say, we have died with Christ and been raised to new life in him (6:1-11). As the verse right before our lesson text says, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (v. 11).

You’d think, given the remarkable experience we’ve had in Christ, that we’d have to do what’s right, that we’d have no choice, that we’d have no real say in the matter. But again Paul talks about the need to “present” ourselves, this time to God (v. 13). We do this in light of the facts that we’ve died to sin and risen to new life in Christ. We do this in light of God’s grace. But we still have to do it; we still have to choose to present ourselves to God, to choose to be obedient.

We want always to be growing toward being obedient to God “from the heart” (v. 17). We want our hearts always to be becoming more and more filled with God’s grace and God’s love. We want to always be getting closer and closer to doing what we do because, by God’s grace, it is what our hearts compel us to do.

In the meantime, we learn more about what God expects of us. We intentionally present ourselves to God in obedience. We engage in spiritual practices that form our hearts in ways that lead us to be who we should be in Christ and to want to do what God wants us to do. We engage in ethical practices that form our lives in ways that develop the habits of doing what God wants us to do.

For example, let’s take the matter of the legacy of slavery that persists in systemic racism in our economic, legal, and religious systems. Hopefully, our hearts are so filled with God’s love and grace that we can’t help but want to address and change those systems. But if our hearts aren’t quite there yet, we can keep growing in grace and love until we get there. And in the meantime, we can practice doing what those whose hearts have progressed beyond ours show us we should be doing.

Habits of the heart should produce habits of the mind, feet, hands, and mouths. Habits of the mind, feet, hands, and mouths can help produce habits of the heart.

The closer we get to what we want to do because we’re Christians and what we have to do because we’re Christians being the same thing, the closer we get to living the Christian life.

Discussion

  • The first word in verse 12 is “Therefore.” This indicates that Paul builds what he says in our lesson text on the verses that come before. Read Romans 6:1-11. How do those verses provide the foundation for what Paul says in the lesson text?
  • What practices or disciplines can we develop that will help us learn to present ourselves to God rather than to sin? How can we prepare ourselves to make right choices?
  • Paul twice mentions “sanctification” (vv. 19, 22). It means to be made holy, which means to be set apart for God’s service. How can we pursue sanctification? Why should we?
  • In the closing verse of the lesson text, Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 23). What is the significance of his contrasting the wages of sin with the free gift of God? How should this free gift inspire our obedience to God?

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan and Isabella. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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