But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
Romans 6:17 (KJV)
Delivered – It seems Paul sent a special delivery to the church in Rome. And in this verse their obedience to this doctrine is contrasted by their former lives of sin. There’s an interesting twist here. I’ve found that many who are in sin are waiting to be delivered, but maybe they should submit themselves to the delivery that’s already been sent.
So what’s this doctrine that’s already been sent to the Romans? To understand what Paul is referring to as doctrine you can read more about that here. As we’ve discussed before, whenever Paul’s letters refer to doctrine in the sense of Scripture, he is referring to the Tanakh. The Tanakh contained the only written words that could have been delivered to the Romans at this time. There were no other canonized texts – nothing else was Scripture.
But the interesting word here is delivered. In Greek, it quite literally means to give into the hands of another. The word paradidōmi is a physical action of passing an item from one person to the next. And since no other words of God were written and being passed around at this time, the Tanakh must have been the only thing Paul is referring to here. So let’s take this further. Paul commends their obedience to the Tanakh and mentions that they “obeyed from the heart”. Doesn’t this sound similar to another letter? The letter to the Hebrews quotes Jeremiah about how the law is written on our hearts. Obedience to the law comes from our heart – our desire to submit ourselves to God’s will.
The next verse continues along this same line. Paul writes,
Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
So Paul suggests that this special delivery has freed them from sin and caused them to become servants of righteousness. But how can the Tanakh free us from sin if we’re redeemed through Yeshua? Yeshua’s love and His grace leads us to repentance. Repentance leads us back to obedience to the law, and through the law we learn what sin is and become freed from its hold on our lives. This all makes sense. Doesn’t Paul write the if it were not for the law he would not know covetousness? The law taught him right and wrong according to God’s standard. And by that same standard we make judgments in our lives to live righteously, or to live in corruption. Are we obeying from our hearts the law of God? Or are we unwilling to repent? Paul makes a clear contrast. Which are you: a servant of sin, or a servant of righteousness? Are you still in sin waiting to be delivered, or are you obedient to the delivery that’s already here?
The church in Rome chose to be obedient to the law, and that’s why Paul was able to write to “them that know the law” in chapter 7. Do you know the law? If not, then this letter wasn’t directed to you and chances are, you will probably misinterpret it.