The Bible claims to hold the answer to your greatest problem. Not only that, but it helps you to identify what that problem is which you may or may not even know about. In Romans 6:16-18, Paul talks about a “form of teaching” given to those at Rome.
Paul writes this powerful epistle to emphasize that salvation is by faith and not by works of law, but faith in what? One might say, “Faith in Jesus,” and Paul makes that point repeated in Romans (3:22; 3:26, for example). But how do we have faith in Jesus? He says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (10:17).
Elsewhere, Paul reminds us that there is “one faith” (Eph. 4:5), so a purely subjective faith (what we think we should believe) is not the faith commanded in Scripture. So, we’re looking a t a faith produced by reading, learning, and following God’s Word.
No wonder, then, that Paul emphasizes the importance of obedience in this text. Does God want you and me and everyone else to obey the same thing? Or can you pick what you want to obey while I pick what I want to obey and everyone else do the same? Paul talks about an objective standard of teaching that is for everyone, everywhere, for all time. Look closer at what he says in this brief passage of Scripture and what it means for us today.
THE FACT OF THE PATTERN (Rom. 6:17)
Paul talks about a form, a kind, class, or thing that suggests a model or pattern (BDAG 1020). It is the word used in the Greek Old Testament in Exodus 25:40 and quoted by Stephen (Acts 7:44). Translators chose the word form (“standard,” ESV, or “pattern,” NIV) in this verse.
For those who pour concrete, you use “form boards” to cause it to conform to their shape in width, length, and height. Without some way to hold the concrete, what a waste of time and money! The concrete would be totally useless. It’s the same concept for those who bake and use cake moulds, muffin pans and cookie cutters. If you put dough or mix into a round pan, you don’t expect a rectangular finished product.
Paul talks about a teaching that conforms to a certain form or pattern, having definite, identifiable structure. So, the Romans received teaching that was meant to produce the same result in every case. A growing number of people look at the Bible as basically shapeless and formless. They reject the idea of pattern theology, the very thing Paul appeals to in Romans 6:17. The alternative to there being a pattern for salvation, worship, church leadership and organization, sexuality, morality, gender roles, and all teaching is that we have no pattern.
Without a standard to appeal to, how do we determine right and wrong? Historically, when humanity rejects an absolute standard, we choose what we think is right and wrong (cf. Jud. 17:6). This is a fatal way to live (Prov. 16:25), and it destroys societies (Prov. 14:34). But everyone is going to appeal to something as the final say and authority, even if it’s only self. There is a “standard of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13). It must be retained and it carries with it the authority of Christ Jesus.
THE FRUIT OF THE PATTERN (Rom. 6:17-18)
Since there is a pattern of teaching, what are the consequences? Paul implies that we must obey it and commit to it, just as the Romans did. The end result of such obedience is that we become slaves to the right master. Everyone will inevitably be enslaved, whether to sin or righteousness. This pattern shows us the right choice to make. We’re not just talking about information, but rather information which leads one to do something and become something.
THE FREEDOM OF THE PATTERN (Rom. 6:18)
Ironically, those who reject the idea of pattern theology claim that such unfairly restricts and inhibits us. But, Paul draws a different conclusion. Obeying the form of teaching and committing themselves to it led them to be free from sin. Sin brings spiritual death (5:12), condemnation (5:16), enslavement (6:6), and deception (7:11). If we understand the true nature of sin (which biblical teaching defines), we will want to be free from the burden of it. The form of teaching shows us how to do that. Anyone who wants freedom from sin can have it, but anyone who wants freedom from sin must follow the pattern.
Obeying Christ’s teaching is not legalism. It is faith in His power, but also submission to His will. There is truth. We can know it (John 8:32). We must obey it (Rom. 6:17). It will free us (John 8:32)!