II. The One Family of God (Continued)

A. The One Family of God in Shaping Convicditons

2. Convictions Shaped by Commitment

The discourse on the work of Christ that beings at Rom. 6:1 turns to the question of commitment in Rom. 6:15-23. While this passage has the effect of answering the question of Rom. 6:15, "Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?", it has a further purpose--Paul need to shape a conviction of commitment in the minds of his hearers.

a. A Transfer between Two Dominions

Rom. 6:15-23 asks the Roman believers to view themselves as having been the objects of a transfer from a dominion of sin to a dominion of righteousness, just as a slave is transferred from one owner to another. Before, these men and women had lived in the dominion of sin under law--but now they live in the dominion of righteousness under grace.

Table 1 maps the state of the believers before and after the transfer. Verses Rom. 6:16, Rom. 6:22, and Rom. 6:23 are somewhat redundant in expressing the end result of the transfer: death vs. life. This amounts to all the benefits of emancipation, but it is not really a "legal" emancipation--it does not free them from a commitment. Even though their new owner has put them under grace rather than law, and even though their new owner has moved them from death to life, they are still slaves--and a good slave is, above all, committed to his or her slave holder. Like any slave, in other words, their commitment to their owner, who is now God (Rom. 6:22), has not changed in any way a result of the transfer.

As the Table 1 indicates, Paul shifts to sanctification in Rom. 6:19. Agreeing with Käsemann, Fitzmyer notes that this is simply a rephrase of the same theme; it is another way to look at the process that transferred them from the dominion of sin to the dominion of righteousness, from law to grace.

Table 1. Charting Rom. 6:15-23
  Dominion of Sin Dominion of Righteousness
Rom. 6:15Conditionunder Law.under Grace.
Rom. 6:16Must obey as a
which leads to ...
slave to sin ...
slave to obedience ...
Rom. 6:19Your members
are ...for ...
slaves to impurity ...
greater impurity
slaves to righteousness ...
Rom. 6:20freedom
which leads to
from righteousness
no advantage
shame and death
from sin
eternal life
rom. 6:23 wages of sin
is death
free gift of god ...
is eternal life

b. Commitment in the House Church

The need for commitment in the church is by no means limited to practitioners of the house churches; all church leaders would place "commitment" somewhere on their prayer list. For believers' church writers like Del Birkey, however, commitment is much more fundamental--it is at the very core of house church ecclesiology. The availability of committed co-members is the backbone of the house church because the house church absolutely depends on its corporate nature. To put it simply, a believers' church not populated by committed believers is like one hand clapping.

Birkey sees commitment as a three-level model of "biblical priorities," all of them essential for the proper working of a believers' church:

  1. Commitment to Jesus as Lord
  2. Commitment to Christ's Body in Community
  3. Commitment to the World--my work in it and my witness to it.

Romans 6 speaks of commitment to Jesus as Lord. Rom. 12:3-8 speaks of Commitment to Christ's body in community (see also "Commitments Shaped by Love"). But what about one's commitment and witness to the world? An ample answer is given in Romans 12, as explained below.

c. Commitment to the World

Paul's strongest exhortation for commitment in work and witness to the world is found in the "plea to be obedient to God," identified in the chiasm of Figure 1 as E' and comprised of Rom. 12:1-2. It is one of the great "therefores" in the book. Nourished by the marvel of the works of God that is proclaimed Chapters 9-11, and brought to a focus in the doxology of Rom. 11:33-36, these verses state that believers are to be willing to actually offer themselves as gifts to God--a "living sacrifice." This is done by actualizing their change from the dominion of law/death to the dominion of grace/life in their everyday activities. Everything one does in life, giving oneself to holy living and mission, becomes an expression of worshipping (see Excursus II) God.

Commitment is to be total. Yoder sees no room for compromise in one's witness to the world, even in the face of persecution and tribulation:

The need is for what they do in the world to be different because they are Christian; to be a reflection not merely of the restored self-confidence nor of their power to set the course of society but of the social novelty of the covenant of grace. Instead of doing, each in his own station or office, whatever any reasonable person would do in the same place according to the order of creation, the need is for what he [or she] does there to be judged and renewed by the difference which it makes that Christ, and not mammon or Mars, is his Lord.