Do Christians have a “free will” to choose to become servants of sin (Romans 6:16)?
Paul poses two main questions that form the structure of this chapter. First he asks if the Christian should continue in sin. In the first fourteen verses of the chapter, he argues that this cannot be (“God forbid” v 2). Our link with Adam was severed at the cross (v 6) and we are set free from sin’s dominion (vv 7, 14).
The second question asks if, because we are under grace, is it unimportant if we commit acts of sin. Again, he strongly objects: “God forbid” (v 15). Paul then argues that yielding to sin would make us servants of sin (v 16). Immediately he inserts “but” (v 17). What happened at conversion was that we switched masters. “Ye were the servants of sin” (v 17), but they became “servants of righteousness” (v 18) at the moment of conversion. Which master we serve was decided at conversion. Yielding to sin, as we did before conversion, produced a life of which these believers were now ashamed (v 21). Now, as servants of righteousness, the believers reproduced holiness and enjoyed the blessedness of eternal life. He is not showing that believers are free to chose becoming servants of sin. The opposite is the case. At conversion, we chose to turn from serving sin and we became servants of righteousness. Therefore – and this is his point – it is inconsistent with what took place at conversion for a believer to sin carelessly. We are no longer servants of sin and therefore grace does not give us license to sin. Taking a casual view of sin is inconsistent with our choice at conversion. The believer chose righteousness at conversion and Paul argues that, on the basis of that choice, the believer has a moral obligation not to lightly commit acts of sin. The believer took on a totally new, permanent form when he was poured like molten metal into a different “mold” at conversion (v 17, see W. E. Vine).
Since we are called the Bride of Christ, isn’t it possible to become cold toward Him and break that relationship?
This reasoning is backwards. We do not understand the relationship of Christ and His Bride on the basis of failing human relationships. We are to model the human relationship of marriage after the wondrous relationship of Christ and His Bride (Eph 5:28, 29). Little wonder that God hates divorce (Mal 2:16 NASB)! Divorce mars the display of God’s greatest purpose: giving Christ a Bride (John 17:25; Eph 3:11; 5:32). God allowed the marriage bond to be broken (Mat 5:32; 1Cor 7:27), but His intention for marriage is “as long as you both shall live” (Rom 7:2).
Too often we believers become cold in heart. This lamentable condition does not alter our relationship with Christ. It alters the enjoyment, but not the existence, of the relationship. At conversion, we became one with Christ (John 17:21). This position bestowed by divine grace is not a conditional blessing. God allows for failure in the human relationship of marriage, but such failure is foreign to His great purpose for Christ and for us, who are inseparable from Christ (Eph 5:30). He will never cease to love us and will not fail to present us to Himself as a “glorious Church” (Eph 5:25-27). He secures our position as His Bride.
Doesn’t Romans 11:17-24 clearly teach that believers can be “cut off” and therefore be lost?
Again, the context is primary for interpretation. Romans, chapters nine through eleven, deal with God’s righteousness in setting aside the nation of Israel. Paul asks, “Is there unrighteousness with God” when He chose to bless Jacob’s posterity and not Esau’s (9:13, 14)?
Because Jacob’s posterity was linked with Abraham, they had a place of blessing before God (Gen 12:2; 17:7). In Romans eleven, Paul shows that God will bring Israel back to the place of blessing they forfeited through unbelief (10:3, 21). Israel fell from her place of privilege (11:11, 12) and Gentiles came into divine riches (v 12), but God will again bring Israel into blessing (vv 12, 26-29).
When God grafted Gentiles (the wild olive branch, v 24) into a place of privilege, He granted them repentance (Acts 11:18). When Israel again comes into the place of favor (grafted into the good olive tree, Rom 11:23, 24), the Gentiles will no longer have the primary place of privilege.
The chapter is not dealing with individuals who are saved and can be cut off from that blessing. It deals with national groups. Gentiles are now favored with the message of the gospel to which the nation of Israel has been blinded (2Cor 3:14). They could gloat in their position and demean Jews who had lost that place, but the same God Who removed the Jews, could as easily remove Gentiles from such a place of blessing. This has nothing to do with individuals being saved and lost again.
Is continuing in well-doing a prerequisite to having eternal life (Romans 2:7)?
The context here is the coming day of judgment (Rom 2:5). At that time, only two possibilities exist: eternal life or wrath. If deeds determine which outcome an individual receives, then Paul’s major premise in chapter four is not valid. Paul insists that an individual’s righteous standing before God is by faith and not by works (4:1-5). This leads to an inconsistency in God’s Word, an impossibility! Romans two presents two classes of people who act differently and will have two different destinies in the future. Patient continuance in well-doing is characteristic of those who are believers. Disobedience to the truth and obedience to unrighteousness are characteristics of unbelievers. Their works display who they are. That is crucial to the development of the Roman epistle. Those who are believers will live differently from unbelievers. Those made righteous by faith (5:1) will live righteously by the power of the indwelling Spirit (8:4). Unbelievers live in rebellion against God and in disobedience to God (8:7, 8).
Those who now have and will eternally enjoy eternal life do not receive that blessing based on their patient continuance in well-doing. They have that blessing based on faith alone, through the grace of God. “Holding on” to salvation is not a prerequisite to eternal life. Consistency in Christian living displays the reality of an individual’s faith in Christ and this faith is the only requirement for eternal life (John 3:36).