15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves,  you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
(Romans 6:15-16 (ESV)
In Greek righteousness and justification have the same root, which makes this passage a little tricky. It is all the more dicey because of what the word obey has come to mean in the English language. It’s medieval French root had a closer meaning and connotation to the Greek Upakuo than does the modern English word. Today, the word obey is perhaps too closely associated with military type orders. We typically speak of people obeying rules, obeying orders, and a person who obeys is a person that is subservient to another person. But now we are seeing what Paul will complain about in just a couple verses, the human limitations of language in communicating the gospel.
He is drawing a comparison to our slavery to the law, and our “slavery” to God. And though Paul talks of himself as a slave of God, and refers to Christians as slaves to God, there is always somewhat a bit of tongue in cheek to this, because the Son has set us free, and we are free indeed. Our slavery to God is no real slavery at all, it is freedom. He has purchased us from our slavery, as one slave master might purchase a slave from another master. By the law of the world, then, we would be slaves of God. But what happens when that slave master sets you free? And of course, this has happened in the history of slavery. That someone would by a slave for the mere purpose of setting them free. Why then would you return to serve your old master, return to your former slavery? This is the question Paul is asking.
Your old slave master beat you, flogged you, ordered you about, made you perform demeaning acts and otherwise subjugated you. This is Sin. Sin does this to those who are under sin. And Sin rules and reigns by the law, it leaves you empty and void and feeling worthless. Then along comes Jesus and he buys your freedom. He won’t rule the same way. Instead he values you as a person, as an individual, cares for your needs. He comes not be served but to serve. It’s crazy! The problem is, we hardly know what to do with it. We are like Peter trying to figure out why this man is washing our feet. Sure, we like John the Baptist may not be worthy enough to be washing his feet, but still there seems to be something amiss in the midst of this reversal of roles. Perhaps we are uneasy about it, like a good friend being more generous than we expect.
But why Paul asks, would you return to your former master and subject yourself to his rule again? It’s a perverse Stockholm Syndrome playing out in our souls, that’s why. I mean this is the reality that needs to be overcome in the Christian’s life, because the Christian is always saint and sinner until the consummation of his baptism in death. Beaten, tortured, flogged, psychologically damaged by sin, who treats us like a pimp does a prostitute, and that was the reality behind the slavery Paul is talking about. We see it today in these relationships. We see it when dealing with battered spouses who think they have to stay. We see it in abused children who confuse the abuse with love. It’s a sad picture that reflects the relationship we all have with Sin. Jesus sets us free. All we have to do is obey, that is listen, which is what the old French term really meant, obey, take heed, hear what it is Jesus is saying, and let the man wash your feet. He loves you like that. He knows the problem better than we will ever understand it ourselves. He’s patient to love with constant and continuing forgiveness, and that is what the washing of our feet is about, the continuing forgiveness of sins that we receive in the Lord’s Supper that we might continue to hear, take heed and listen to the gospel, that perhaps we would finally understand that in our freedom we don’t have to take the abuse. We can know true love.