15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the Law but under grace? No way! 16 Do you not understand that the one to whom you present yourselves as slaves to obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that although you were slaves of sin, from the heart you became obedient to the pattern of teaching unto which you were handed over, 18 and having been set free from sin, you were enslaved to righteousness.
Once again, Paul raises a question akin to the one he posed in Romans 3:8 (And why not say (as we are slandered and as some claim we say) ‘Let us do evil that good may come about?’ Their condemnation is just!) and similarly in Romans 6:1 (What shall we say, then? Shall we persist in sin, in order that grace might increase?). Each of these three questions bears similarities in that all touch upon God's plan or purpose concerning Israel, the Law of Moses, and human sinfulness. Nevertheless, despite the similarities among these three questions, each bears its own nuance. Paul's rhetorical question in vs. 15 implicitly cautions against wrong and flawed conclusions concerning what he has said in vs. 14--For sin shall not rule over you, for you are not under the Law but under grace. Lest anyone reason from this that freedom from the jurisdiction of the Law Covenant means that we are free to sin, Paul poses his rhetorical interrogative to beckon his readers to engage their minds fully in the argument that he is posing.
The notion that we can sin with impunity since we are not under the Law's jurisdiction (hypo nomon) but under the jurisdiction of grace (hypo charin) receives Paul's characteristically intense denunciation, May it never be! (mē genoito). Observe Paul's reply. He exploits the imagery of slavery to make his point. There is not one person who is free from slavery. Not one of us is a free agent, one who has no master. One is either a slave to sin or a slave to obedience, which is to be a slave of righteousness. Indeed, we who are in Christ Jesus have been set free from sin. Yet, we are still slaves. We have a new master. We are now enslaved to righteousness. Truly, Timotheos, it is as you have stated. This is true freedom.
Also observe the thorough integration of the two aspects that we observed in the previous segment, Romans 6:11-14. He integrates the indicative (What God has accomplished in Christ Jesus) with the imperative (What we are obliged to do).
Paul represents reality in Christ with indicative verbs in 6:4-10. Verse 11 transitions to exhortation, in verses 12 & 13 where imperative verbs dominate ("Let not sin reign. . . . Do not present . . . but present yourselves."). In verse 14, Paul returns to the indicative to say, "For sin shall not rule over you, for you are not under the Law but under grace." Paul is saying that sin's mastery or lordship (also sin's kingship) has been broken with Christ's death. Already, we dwell under a new master, the Lord Jesus Christ, as we await the consummation of Christ's mastery when sin will have no more dominion over us at all.
Paul integrates the indicative with the imperative by posing a question: Do you not understand that the one to whom you present yourselves as slaves to obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? The kind of slavery Paul has in view does not leave us as hostages led about unwillingly or passively. Rather, the apostle makes it clear that our desires, our wills, our willing submission is quite active so that we are willing participants in our enslavement. Paul's question, then, recalls his admonitions in vv. 11-13.
Likewise, you also consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, do not let sin have dominion in your mortal bodies unto the obedience of its cravings. Nor present your members to sin as tools for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as ones who are alive from the dead, and present your members to God as tools for righteousness.
What is Paul saying in vv. 15ff? There is no neutrality in the Christian life. The Christian life is one of enslavement to righteousness. Christians are enslaved to righteousness. Christians cannot be enslaved to sin. What about all those "Christians" that we know who seem, as well as we can observe, to be enslaved to sin? Let God be proved true and every man be proved a liar (Romans 3:4).
One further element is worthy of comment. Verses 17 & 18 state, But thanks be to God that although you were slaves of sin, from the heart you became obedient to the pattern of teaching unto which you were handed over, and having been set free from sin, you were enslaved to righteousness. We should take note of the verb Paul chose to use in the clause, you became obedient to the pattern of teaching unto which you were handed over.
Therefore God handed them over to the cravings of their hearts unto impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. They exchanged the truth of God with a lie, they worshiped and served the creation instead of the Creator, who is blessed forever, amen!
Because of this, God handed them over to dishonorable passions, for even their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for that which is against nature. Likewise the men abandoned the natural sexual relationship with women and burned with lust for one another---men committed with men that which is disgraceful---receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And just as they did not consider God as worthy to be known, God handed them over to a debased mind, that they might do things that are not fitting, being filled with all kinds of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice.
The verb is paradidōmi, the same as in Romans 1:24, 26, & 28. Elsewhere, wherever Paul uses paradidōmi in Romans, he uses it with the sense handed over for punishment. This includes handing Jesus over to sacrificial death (see 4:25 & 8:32 also). Of particular contrast, however, is the use of the verb in our present context and the three uses of it in Romans 1. It is evident, then, that Paul's use of the verb in 6:17 is purposefully ironic. As God handed those over to their lusts and cravings to become enslaved to sin, so God has handed us over to become obedient to the pattern of teaching that is found in Christ. What a glorious enslavement! This is true freedom!
Finally, Timotheos, you asked, Does Paul view Torah and Grace as powers (cf., Flesh and Spirit in Gal 5) or salvation-historical periods (cf., Torah and Faith/fulness in Gal 2-3), or both? As I understand what Paul has been arguing throughout Romans, it seems quite reasonable to take Torah and Grace both as powers and as salvation-historical epochs. As we will see, I believe, Flesh and Spirit are also expressions that depict both.