Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness… But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. — Rom 6:18, 22
In chapter six of Romans, Paul deals with the sin question and makes two statements about Christians being made free from sin: “then made free from sin” (Rom 6:18) and “being made free from sin” (Rom 6:22). In both cases the Greek verb ἐλευθερωθέντες (eleutherōthentes) that is translated “then make free” and “being made free” is in the Aorist tense. The simply explanation of the Aorist tense is that it is a past tense.
The Resurgence Greek Project shows the parsing of ἐλευθερωθέντες (eleutherōthentes) in Rom 6:18 and ἐλευθερωθέντες (eleutherōthentes) in Rom 6:22 in detail, and you can see that both Greek words are in the Aorist tense.
When you present these scriptures to those who maintain that sin in the life of a Christians is unavoidable, they will reply that we are only made free from sin positionally, but not experientially. So in other words, they hold that God counts Christians positionally free from sin while they continue to sin intermittently.
This idea leads us to a question: What did Paul mean when he said that Christians were, past tense, free from sin? Is he here stating that the normal experience of the new birth is that we are given power over temptation so that we are free from sin experientially, or is he meaning we are free from sin positionally?
In dealing with this question, I am using the standard Wesleyan definition of sin, which is “an actual, voluntary transgression of the law; of the revealed, written law of God” (John Wesley: The Great Privilege of Those That Are Born of God).
The Bible is also very clear that Christians can live below the standard of what God requires, and that there is a way back if they fail the grace of God (1Jn 2:1) and go back to the vomit and excrement of sin (2Pet 2:22).
While the Greek tense of the verbs in both these scriptures is past tense, we do not want to go just by Greek grammar.
In between these two declarations that at salvation we were made (Greek Aorist past tense) “free from sin” (verse 18 and 22), Paul brings out a very clear concept. When we were “servants of sin”, we were “free from righteousness” (Rom 6:20); and now that we are “servants of righteousness”, we are “free from sin” (Rom 6:18).
Jesus tells us that “whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (Joh 8:34), and Paul said ” for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage” (2Pet 2:19).
If you commit sin, you are its servant and if you are overcome by sin, you are in bondage to sin. The concept that you can commit sin and not be a servant to it, or that ,you can be overcome by sin and not be in bondage to it, is a concept the New Testament flatly rejects.
When you commit sin and become its servant, you are in bondage to sin and hence Paul states you are free from righteousness. You do not have to practice sin to be in bondage and to be its servant; all you have to do is yield yourself to sin. Paul states clearly “that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness” (Rom 6:16).
The Christian is free from sin experientially and holds to God who “is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1Cor 10:13).
Professing Christians plead that “free from sin” is positionally because they have not experienced “free from sin” experimentally. True Christians plead that “free from sin” is experientially, as they have found God faithful to save and keep them from sinning.