"Sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under the law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14). Then the disturbing question: "Shall we [continue in] sin because we are not under the law but under grace?" (vs. 15). Why does he say that?
Paul is going to have further insights to share with us about our final liberation from the law, and our death to it. But before he does this, he wants to make the position finally and completely plain that if we are "dead to sin" under grace, then nothing can get us back to belonging to sin and Satan. As John puts it: "We cannot sin, because we are born of God" - slip into occasional sins maybe, but never again be possessed by the sin spirit and continually express his self-centered nature.
Hence the question: Does freedom from the law, does the magnitude of grace, give me a license to commit sin? No, that cannot be; and to present this fact as a kind of Magna Carta of our new freedom, Paul demonstrates it with an illustration familiar to the Romans (vss. 16-23).
"Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are,… whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" (6:16). Paul makes it plain that we humans do not have a freedom of our own - that we have no self-operating human nature. We are always servants ("slaves," in the Greek) to one deity or the other. And the deities are here named by their character and lifestyle: sin... or righteousness. Yes, here alone is our freedom: "Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are?" That is our charter of freedom within slavery: our freedom to belong to one master only. And as believers, we have already changed our slavery - from sin to righteousness, from Satan to Christ (vss. 17-18)! A slave does not change his owner every hour of the day, or even every month! That is the law of slavery, and of freedom within that slavery. Humans may not always seem so consistently under one or the other owner - we may slip and slither in our outer behavior - but at our spirit-center we're always in one of those two slaveries and freedoms (vss. 20-22), fixed and not interchangeable (except by God's grace!) This, then, is how total our transference is from the first Adam's family to the last Adam's, by the radicalness of Christ's once-for-all death to sin and aliveness to God.
This slave-illustration strongly confirms us in knowing in which family and whose service we are - and that our salvation is for keeps, despite any deviations. It equally confirms us into not being hastily judgmental of others in their apparent deviations. See through to the center, where spirit is joined to Spirit! Always contribute faith, not negative downgrading judgment, to any deviators. Our freedom, Paul says, is total freedom from any other claimant. We can never serve two masters, even if we delude ourselves into thinking we can. We were free from God's way of self-giving living while we "enjoyed" the freedom of self-loving living as slaves to sin. But now, through our obedience in believing the gospel truth brought to us (6:17), our service to sin has been severed and replaced by our service to righteousness - which is being servants of God (6:18,22). We have exchanged freedoms and cannot return, and are in the enjoyment of our new slavery!
Then Paul asks, Did you really enjoy that former freedom with its "Dead Sea fruits" of conscious guilt, and the hard labors involved in sinful living? (vs. 21). We had to work for a despot in our inwardly chaotic state of fallen selfhood, and our wages were eternal death! What a freedom! -and how rightly we are now ashamed of it! But our new freedom, a free gift, spontaneously produces not works, but the rich fruits of holy living; and the end, everlasting life. Owner "sin" pays wages in eternal death; owner "grace" gives the free gift of eternal life. So here is the royal and wonderful answer to the fear of license some may have because of their new freedom from the law. Is there not danger that, if we're free to do what we like, we'll then choose to indulge ourselves in all kinds of sinning? But the miraculous difference in this new freedom lies in the law of the Spirit replacing the old law. When this truth really dawns, we see it is not that it's easier to sin and harder to live rightly.. but the other way round! It is easy to walk God's way and hard to go back to the devil's ways! It is absurd even to think of being the devil's dupes again! What a boldness it gives us when we know that we are totally controlled by the One who owns us, and that we have nothing to do with keeping ourselves. Our Owner is also our Keeper.
How bold it was of Paul - and what a word of revelation - to affirm these two absolute freedoms: If we are slaves of Satan and sin, we are so freed from Christ and righteousness that we cannot change from one to the other. A slave can't free himself. Emancipation can only be accomplished by one who pays the price - by one who buys us back from our captor. So now, freed from that sin- slavery which totally controlled us, we are so totally free as slaves to Christ that sin and Satan cannot get us back again. What confidence that gives us in our own new freedom and the like freedom of our brethren. Paul is going to lead us in chapters 7 and 8 of Romans into the full focus of this truth, so that we shall know with a fixed inner certainty that we humans have no nature of our own by which we might direct our own lives. Rather, we are directed… and we are kept... however much, under temptation, we may temporarily wriggle or squirm against our new "bondage" which is our freedom.
So having got that clear once for all - that we are total slaves, eternally fixed to our new owner - Paul can now turn his attention to the one remaining problem which can block our entry into the full freedom that is ours in Christ (and indeed does so until fully and finally cleared away): the control of the law on our deluded independent selves, and the means of freedom from it.