Obedient to That Form of Teaching

Romans 6:17

Romans 6 is a critical chapter in the New Testament. It discusses the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. It concisely explains why this difference exists and what happened in the life of a Christian to bring about this difference. This chapter can be summarized in the following two verses:

But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).

Paul was writing to Christians in Rome. Previously, they were “slaves of sin.” But at this time, they were “slaves of righteousness.” How did this change occur? They “became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which [they] were committed.

To better understand what Paul was discussing, let us do a brief overview of this chapter.

The Pattern in Jesus

Early in this chapter, Paul talked about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3-6). When he wrote to the church in Corinth, he said these facts were “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). The reason why the apostle mentioned these fundamental facts here in the letter to the Romans was because they served as a pattern for them (and for us).

  • As Jesus died on the cross, we are to have “our old self…crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with” (Romans 6:6).
  • As Jesus was buried, we are “buried with Him through baptism into death” (Romans 6:4).
  • As Christ was “raised from the dead,” we are to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

When Paul mentioned “that form of teaching” which was obeyed (Romans 6:17), this was what he was referencing. Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection provided the pattern for us. We must put to death the old man of sin (repent), be baptized into Christ, then walk in newness of life. When we are “obedient…to that form of teaching,” we become “freed from sin” (forgiven) and “slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).

Newness of Life

As mentioned above, after we obey “that form of teaching” by being “baptized into Christ” (Romans 6:17, 3), we are to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). There are two fundamental characteristics to this new life.

First, newness of life includes forgiveness. Paul discussed this idea earlier. He explained that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” with the result that we could be “justified by His blood” and “reconciled to God” (Romans 5:8-10). We have all sinned (Romans 3:23); but through the sacrifice of Christ, we can have forgiveness and a new life.

Second, newness of life includes freedom. This is what Paul meant when he said, “He who has died is freed from sin” (Romans 6:7). “Our old self was crucified with Him” (Romans 6:6). The apostle described this elsewhere as laying aside “the old self with its evil practices” (Colossians 3:9). This freedom in Christ is not a license to do whatever we please. Instead, this is a freedom from the bondage of sin. As we already noted, obeying “that form of teaching” results in being “freed from sin” (Romans 6:17-18). Paul explained this further:

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 6:12-13).

As Christians, we are no longer slaves of sin. Our lives need to reflect the fact that sin is no longer our master – we have been set free from it! The way we respond to this is by presenting our bodies as “instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13).

Under Grace

Some might wonder why freedom from sin requires us to be “slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). The Christians in Rome were confused about this as well. We can assume this based upon what Paul wrote at the beginning of this chapter: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).

Salvation is only available to us by the grace of God (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 2:11). Yet some in the first century were “[perverting] the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4, NIV). Some in Rome thought that since God’s grace was extended to them while in sin, they could just sin more and God’s grace toward them would simply increase. Yet Paul corrected them by reminding them that they had “died to sin”; therefore, they could not continue to “live in it” (Romans 6:2).

After explaining how they were to use their bodies as “instruments of righteousness” (Romans 6:13), Paul wrote, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). The fact that they were “under grace” was the reason why they could not continue in sin. Those who think that God’s grace allows them to continue their sinful lifestyle have misunderstood the meaning of grace.

As we have already noticed, as Christians we have been “freed from sin” (Romans 6:18) and are no longer under bondage to that master. That is part of what it means to be “under grace” (Romans 6:14). The other part of it is that we are also free from the punishment of sin. Paul closed the chapter by saying, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Because we have sinned, we deserve punishment for our sin; yet by the grace of God, we can avoid that punishment.

Obedience from the Heart

When Paul described their obedience to “that form of teaching” – being baptized into Christ and being raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4) – he said they obeyed “from the heart” (Romans 6:17). This is significant. It means that they were not forced to do this against their will. They were able to make the choice to be obedient to the Lord. The fact that each one can choose to serve the Lord or not is the reason why Paul sought to “persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11) in his preaching. Each one of us has the same opportunity and responsibility to make this choice for ourselves as well.

In addition to having free will to make a choice in this regard, obeying “from the heart” (Romans 6:17) also means that we must do this with sincerity. God knows our hearts (cf. Hebrews 4:12-13). It will not do us any good to appear to outwardly conform to “that form of teaching” (Romans 6:17) by being immersed in water if this is not accompanied by belief in Christ (John 1:12, 8:24; Acts 8:36-38) and genuine repentance (Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38).

The Free Gift in Christ

The chapter ends with this statement: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). As we have already discussed, by the grace of God we can be forgiven of our sins and avoid the fate we deserve – spiritual death resulting in eternal separation from God (cf. Matthew 7:22-23). However, we are not only able to avoid the punishment we deserve, we are also able to enjoy something we do not deserve – eternal life through Christ.

It is important to note that this gift of eternal life by God’s grace is not something that is given unconditionally. Many in the religious world believe this about God’s grace. Yet this whole chapter refutes that idea. We are saved by God’s grace when we meet His conditions for receiving His grace. These include becoming “dead to sin” (repentance), being “baptized into Christ,” and then walking “in newness of life” which includes being “slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:11, 3-4, 18). These are things that the Lord requires us to do, yet salvation in the end is still by His grace.


But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed” (Romans 6:17).

We can and should give thanks to God for making this plan of salvation available to all. We should also give thanks when others are responding as they should by obeying the gospel.

The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is simply this – a Christian was “obedient from the heart to that form of teaching” and conformed to the pattern of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ through repentance, baptism, and living a life of faithfulness.

Have you been “obedient from the heart to that form of teaching”? If not, why not?

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  1. Wayne D. Teel says

    Very good article on Romans 6 touching on a number of good points established there. This is a very valuable passage in showing the importance of obedience to God’s word in everything He says.