Free from Righteousness
I have been in Romans chapter 6 for a while and a certain verse caught my attention.
Romans 6:20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
“Free in regard to righteousness”. Really? Is this an exaggeration?
One of the impossible issues for most unbelievers to accept is the assertion of the complete corruption of their hearts. They will readily admit that they are not perfect and problems exist, but they will just as enthusiastically assert that this does not mean, cannot mean, they are a bad person. In their mind, bad people go to jail, reside in the underbelly of society, or are otherwise condemned by everyone. On the other hand, our society is a virtual echo chamber proclaiming the goodness of people and promoting the pursuit of self-esteem and self-expression.
With such a loud and constant reverberating defense of innate goodness, Christians also tend to hesitate on the depravity issue when thinking about their neighbor. They know their neighbor pretty well, and he is a nice guy. In fact, one of the biggest pushes coming from the LGBT community is to just get to know your gay neighbors. Once you talk to them, hear their heart, and watch their life you will come around to see that they are not the sinners you thought they were.
The reality, though, is that they all are free in regard to righteousness. There is not a trace of righteousness in their life. How can this be?
This is not the only place that Scripture says this.
Romans 3:10-18 “as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; 11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; 12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; 14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood, 16 Destruction and misery are in their paths, 17 And the path of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Ephesians 2:3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
Titus 3:3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.
Titus 1:15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.
Romans 8:7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,
What you must notice about these passages is the absolute nature of the language. Paul is describing people, among whom he once belonged as a devout Pharisee, who are defined by sin.
The main question that has to be answered is this: if unbelievers are defined by their sin, then what do we say about the works of their life that appear kind and good? They give money, serve people, and sacrifice for good causes. There are 2 key features to help how they can do these things and yet be “free in regard to righteousness.”
- Unbelievers are not acting out of love for God – The greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” The unbeliever is an unbeliever because they will not submit to the Lordship of Christ. As Colossians 1:21 says, “you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds…” Whatever else they are doing, and for whatever reason they are doing it, it is not because they love the Lord. Their deeds that appear good are only empty shells where love for God was supposed to be the animating power.
- Unbelievers are acting for the sake of idols – The above feature highlighted what the unbeliever is not doing. They are not obeying the greatest commandment because they are not loving God. This feature says what they are doing. Unbelievers are loving something else instead of God. With supremacy residing with themselves, they pursue various created things that bring them pleasure. But in the pursuit of these pleasures, something interesting has to happen. They often can only attain these idols though good deeds. If you are going to have money, you often have to control your desires and do hard work. Self-control and hard work are good features that serve as one pathway (a socially acceptable pathway) to an idol. If you are going to be respected by people, you often have to be generous and kind. Generosity and kindness are good features that serve as another socially acceptable pathway to an idol. On and on this goes. Enemies will often flee with the mantra of “live to fight another day” in their mouth. This is not a true surrender, it is a concession that allows them to regroup and employ different strategy. Even Satan will be an angel of light in order to work an evil purpose. Unbelievers will live in the light just enough to keep their dark loves.
So do not let your neighbor’s kindness and likability lull you into evangelistic apathy. They are desperately wicked and they need a Savior, just like you are still sinful and in daily need a Savior You are called to make this clear to them. Use the law to show them they are a law breaker, and press into them that they are always breaking the greatest commandment and thereby are deserving of the greatest punishment.