When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
KEY THOT: This passage needs careful reflection. Paul is stating when were baptized into Christ (see verses 1-11), a spiritual transaction took place. We were transformed from being slaves of sin to becoming slaves of righteousness. This spiritual transaction is not something we do, but something done for us by God. After He has transferred us former slaves of sin in Satan's kingdom into the kingdom of His Son, he also transformed us into slaves of righteousness. Under Law, we were slaves of sin. Sin was our master and it controlled how we thought, felt and acted. But now that we are under Grace, sin has no more power over us, but righteousness does: "For sin will have no dominion (power & control) over you, since you are not under law but under grace" (v.14). So Paul is asserting that as slaves of righteousness, righteousness is now our default mode of thinking, feeling and acting. Therefore we are able to "present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness" (v.13).
This is a powerful truth: we need to pause and consider the implications. Firstly, we can no longer make excuses for sin anymore because the seed of God implanted within us cannot sin: "
Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God
" (1 John 3:9, NKJV). We deny God's word when we say we sin because we are still sinners. While the propensity to sin is still embedded in our "flesh" (genes inherited from our forefathers), it has lost its power to determine our choices. We have a new gene ("God's seed") implanted within us that makes us new creation with the power of righteousness.
So instead of affirming the old lie that we are helpless victims of sin, we have to now recognize, affirm and practice God's truth that we are now slaves of righteousness, not sin: "work out your own salvation [our responsibility] with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you [God's responsibility], both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13).
Paul describes this process of translating eternal truth into experiential fact as reckoning in NKJV: "reckon (ESV: consider; NIV: count) yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (v.11). This process of "reckoning" means (1) recognizing the eternal truth, (2) affirming this truth while rejecting the old lie that we are helpless sinners and (3) acting on the truth by obeying Christ's commands: "But 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" (vv.17-18).
Once we have reckon this truth that we are now slaves of righteousness with the capacity for righteousness, we will then transform the implanted seed of God into a growing plant that produces fruits of righteousness: "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life" (v,22).
Abba-Father, what a gracious God You are! You have not left us to struggle with sin but have instead implanted within us the seed of righteousness that tranformed us into slaves of righteousness. We affirm this truth and commit ourselves to obeying Your commands. We reject the old lie that we are helpless sinners. Amen.