I wonder when Paul wrote this if he thought back to the story of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. He certainly makes the parallel in I Corinthians 10, when he compares the Israelites going through the Red Sea to baptism in Christ.
But in so many ways, the things that he talks about here reflects what happened to the Israelites at that time. They were dying in Egypt. They were living miserable lives as slaves, and it says in Exodus 2:23,
The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.
So as we know, God delivered them. But as they were going through the desert and went through many trials, they started complaining and saying,
If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted. (Exodus 16:3)
Then later, just as they were about to enter the land God promised to give them, their faith faltered, and they said, “Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt? We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Number 14:3-4)
Here, Paul faces a similar situation. He had just written that where sin abounded, grace abounded even more. So he posed the question, which undoubtedly had been brought up to him before,
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? (1)
To that he gave a resounding, “No!”
Later after talking about how we are under grace, not law, he again asks,
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? (15)
Again, his answer is crystal clear: No!
Why not? He tells us,
We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
In other words, we died to that old way of life of living in sin. We died to that kind of life so that we might live a new life, a better life. A life in relationship with God. (Romans 6:10)
So how can we go back to our old way of life?
But so many Christians are like the Israelites. The Israelites had passed through the Red Sea and “died” to their life of slavery. They came out of the Red Sea new people. Free to live a new life. Free to live a life of victory.
But instead, they started thinking about “the good old days.” They thought about the delicious food they ate there. And they started to think, “Let’s offer ourselves back to the Egyptians to live as their slaves again,” all the while forgetting just how miserable their lives had been there.
That’s what’s so deceptive about sin. It reminds you of its pleasures while causing you to forget the misery it brings.
And so Paul says,
When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! (20-21)
In other words, “Those of you who are saying, ‘Let’s go back to sin and give ourselves as slaves to it once again,’ don’t you remember just how miserable that life was? That not only did it cause you shame, it was killing you? Do you really want to go back to that?”
So he says,
Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. (13)
The benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (22)
When we offer ourselves to God, our lives become holy. Put another way, we become all that God meant us to be. We become whole as people. And the result is life. True life.
And the best part is that it’s all free. If only we could see the true worth of this gift of life God has given us instead of selling ourselves back to that which leads only to death.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (23)