Romans 6:16 (ESV) says:

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?

To suggest that righteousness can be the result of obedience seems to contradict a fundamental theological principle. Yet the parallel structure in this verse seems to call for putting the obedience-righteousness relationship in the same category as the sin-death relationship i.e. cause and effect.


10 Answers 10


Yes, Paul is saying here that submitting to obedience brings righteousness in exactly the same way that obeying sin brings death. In this chapter Paul does compare and contrast the old man with the new man, and that is exactly the relationship he is presenting here. He is reminding us that no matter what we say about our salvation, our actions do have some consequences and that we have good reason to submit ourselves to righteousness.

Romans 6 comes between Romans 5 and 7, which show a progression of thought. In chapter 5 Paul explains that we are indeed saved by grace alone, and that no amount of sin can can restrain that grace. That is a beautiful and powerful truth and is at the center of the Gospel. However, that is only one part of the equation, and Paul begins chapter 6 by asking the natural question that if we are saved in spite of our sins, then why shouldn't we just continue to sin. Paul's answer is that we have been freed, not only from the penalty of sin, but also the power that sin has over us. And he urges us who now have this freedom to use that freedom to not gain more death, but to instead grow in righteousness. Chapter 7 follows by showing how even the best of us are not going to always live perfect, and 8 shows God's continued love, anyway.

You did not specify what exactly you believe seems to be a contradiction, but I am assuming that you mean that this seems to contradict chapter 5 and the other places where Paul talks about salvation as a grace given by God and not by our works. This verse isn't contradicting salvation by grace. Instead, like the rest of the chapter, it is clarifying a point about this salvation. Before we are saved, we only have the power to sin. It's all that we can do, and we are under the law and condemned for it. Once we have been saved, our body of sin is buried with Christ, and we are raised up as new creatures who now have new natures, natures which are free to submit to obedience.

There are consequences to sin, and though the soul may be saved, those consequences may still remain, regardless of our eternal state. If we rob a bank, we'll still go to jail. If we lie, we'll still hurt somebody. As new creatures, we are free to not do these things and are free to instead submit to obedience, which does lead to righteousness, and to reward in this life and in the next. Yet, you can't have chapter 6 without chapter 5. The very ability to submit ourselves to that righteousness is a gift of God that is the consequence of salvation, given to us through the death and resurrection of Christ.

  • The contradiction I had in mind was indeed between the righteousness that is granted to us as a gift by grace through faith, and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9) and the righteousness mentioned in Romans 6:17, which appears to be presented as the outcome of obedience. If obedience brings righteousness in exactly the same way that sin brings death, then concluding that righteousness is by my doing seems reasonable. I take it you are using "righteousness" in the sense of growth in godliness, rather than in the sense of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel, mentioned in Romans 1:17? Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 3:18
  • Some refer to the 3 tenses of salvation: I was saved (justification), I am being saved (sanctification), and I will be saved (glorification). There is a sense in which a person might have been saved justified, declared righteous regardless of how he acts, but then such a person is also being sanctified, where his actions more and more reflect righteousness in practice. The righteousness that I do cannot save, but it's the only natural response of somebody who has been declared righteous and set free from a life of unrighteousness.
    – DKing
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 19:04

In the earlier chapters Paul is concerned with forensic justification. He teaches us that justification (forgiveness of sins) is a free gift not based on our obedience but rather on the obedience of one man, Jesus Christ:

KJV Rom_5:19  For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

In Romans 6 he is concerned with sanctification and godliness. So he uses the same word as in the previous section ("righteousness") but uses it in its other sense which is godliness. It is this that is produced by obedience to the holy breath in contrast to trying to fulfill the law which produces all manner of concupiscence.

  • Excellent. I've always found it a strange interpretation of the New Testament to think one can 'believe' in Christ but not believe in.. Christ, that is, His commandments and so forth. 1Jn2:4. E.g. he clearly taught that witholding forgiveness from the heart to your offender will cut you off from forgiveness from God also. And that cutting off your limbs is preferable to the fate of not avoiding occasions of sin, that is, body and soul being cast into Hell. 'Repent and return to your former works, or I will take away [your status as a church of mine]' from Rev2:5 comes to mind, too. Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 18:27

From an objection can be gathered the worldview or understanding from which that objection comes. For example, if the Qur'an asks the question, 'How can Allah have a son, if he has no consort?' we know that the person who wrote this believed the Son of God means that God has a divine goddess wife with whom He procreates to produce Jesus.

Similarly, by asking, 'how can obedience lead to righteousness, when righteousness is said to be a gift of God' we can deduce that the one asks it has a concept of grace where it cannot or does not enable and produce good works/obedience. (Otherwise you wouldn't say, 'how can grace do x when [grace doesn't do x]?)

It might help to note that virtually everone already believes in multiple 'causes' of salvation. Faith is the instrumental cause (that which is used in the bringing about) of salvation. God would be the efficient cause (that which brings about). I don't know of anyone who rejects this obvious, valid distinction (who thinks God's saving is at odds with salvation 'by' faith?) Just as indispensible as the faith without it is impossible to please God is simply that it's true faith—that there are the good works and fruit of such faith, which necessarily follow true faith: it is refusal to follow up in this way, with the grace given you, that is counted as evil, and thus a real and not ficticious obstacle to heaven (Jesus came to take away evil, not change God's attitude to sinners who remain sinners); it's also why obedience (saying yes to the graces and promptings of God to do good, when He gives the means to follow through with such) is seen as leading to righteousness, heaven, life and sin as leading to death, hell, shame: you are really committed to real good and real evil respectively. You are not less responsible for your sin in Christ than before; if anything it's much worse than if you had not known Christ and tasted the heavenly gift, and your responsibility isn't only theoretical (I would be responsible 'if Christ hadn't...').

The New Testament speaks of saving faith not as a mere assent to truths, but as one that works through charity. Jesus goes so far as to say those who profess faith but don't forgive others, don't make use of their grace to 'make good' and be fruitful, those who don't feed the poor, clothe the naked etc. were 'never known' by Him, and He wants nothing to do with them: Jesus, as the new Adam, came to restore Eden and perfect righteousness, not make a fallen Eden a tolerable place! St. Paul describes it thus:

Galatians 5:6 (DRB) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision: but faith that worketh by charity.

Notice the interesting parallel in Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 7:19 (DRB) Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing: but the observance of the commandments of God.

One must note the true parallel: real sin leads to real death. Real righteousness leads to righteousness, life. This idea of 'imputed righteousness' without that imputation being of righteousness itself is not supported by the Old or New Testament. Did God count Abraham righteous because he was good for believing, or did he 'add' righteousness to some moral account with or without Abraham showing any righteousness first (by his faith)? The answer is a no-brainer. 'Fictiticiously righteous' ('I have the righteousness of Christ, but am not righteous myself') people do not solve the problem of Eden, which is what Christ came to do.

So if real faith produces real works of necessity, obedience is freely the work of God (and it has been by God you have been made righteous and saved, because you opened the valve to let God in, you don't bring about what was accomplished by what came through the valve), however, if you disobey, you are deliberately saying no directly to God, whence sin arises (and thus it has been by you that you are fallen away, not God, who is faithful to heal you and make you righteous when you open the valve to let Him in, so to speak).

In other words, in real New Testament grace-driven righteousness, there is no room for boasting. The 'bad kind' of works spoken of St. Paul were not the good works themselves, but the attitude toward them and the worldview in which they were done: to make God owe something. To 'muster up if possible' some 'goodness' from 'within.' You sin, then you muster up in the decency of your repentance heart some 'payback' for your sin. St. Paul says no: who has given to God first so that He should thereafter pay him back? That's not why New Testament good works are done, or what doing them ending up with heaven means. They are done to conform us to the image of the Son, in righteousness, not by a mere legal jot on a piece of paper (no 'legally' righteous people in heaven!), but in fact and indeed. Otherwise, Christ didn't come to restore perfect Edenic righteousness, but to make the fallen and exiled of Eden simply 'tolerable.' No new creation. No new man. No real regeneration. Etc. The whole thing would become a story about how God needs to be convinced to overlook sin. Not that He took away sin, and that only we can take hold of it again if we so choose: leaving going to heaven the work of God, and going to hell the work of man.


We sometimes add "free" or "freely" to "gift" and "given", respectively, but the underlying Greek words have no such qualifiers. What the ESV translates as "free gift" in Romans 5:17 is simply the single Greek word, δώρημα (dōrēma).

Furthermore, δώρημα does not mean gift in the modern sense of our English word gift - i.e. a thing given willingly to someone without payment (Concise Oxford English Dictionary). It simply means something that is given, without regard to whether something was required in return or not. This seems incongruent according to modern usage of the word "gift", but it was not during the time up to the translation of the King James Bible: a principal meaning of the word gift since Middle English was simply the action or act of giving (see the more comprehensive definitions in the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary or the complete Oxford English Dictionary).

With this in mind, there is no contradiction between Romans 5:17 and Romans 6:16.


This is another example of how anachronistic English usage creeps into and corrupts modern English translations of the Greek text. Another key example of this is atonement, which today is taken to mean reparation for a wrong or injury (Concise Oxford English Dictionary), but meant no such thing at the beginning of the 17th century (when the KJV was published). At that time, the word meant reconciliation (lit. "at-one-ment"). This can be seen in how the KJV translates καταλλαγή in Romans 5:11:

And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.


Tyndale Bible (1526)

Not only so/but we also joye in God by the meanes of oure Lorde Jesus Christ/by whom we have receaved the attonment.

Geneva Bible (1557)

And not onely so, but we also rejoyce in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whome we have now received yͤ atonemẽt.

All modern versions shy away from using "atonement" in this context - possibly because it would upset a number of theological premises - and substitute "reconciliation" instead:


More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.


Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.


And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

As a result a sort of equivocation evolves, wherein everyone agrees that a certain Greek word should be translated with a certain English word, but not everyone has a common understanding of what the English word actually means.


Prophet Yeshayahu says:

Es 51:7 “Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, a people in whose heart is My Torah: do not fear the reproach of men, nor be afraid of their revilings.

Torah and righteousness are bound together. Paul was a perfect scholar, learned at the feet of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).

Torah means "instruction," wrongly translated as "Law." The word Torah comes from the Hebrew word "Yarah" to shoot, like an archer shoot the arrow with a bow to reach its goal.

Dt 6:24 ‘And יהוה commanded us to do all these laws, to fear יהוה our Elohim, for our good always, to keep us alive, as it is today.

Dt 6:25 ‘And it is righteousness for us when we guard to do all this command before יהוה our Elohim, as He has commanded us.’

Hebrew mindset has a concrete view of things (action). Thus our actions demonstrate who we are.

  • When reaading the scriptures, it is important to know that the word "Ekklesia" do not mean "church" but assembly and corresponf to the word "kehilah" in Hebrew. The chirch appears in the late 2nd century, even if before there was "prot-christians", as it is portrayed in some epistles:1Jn 4:3 and every spirit that does not confess that יהושע Messiah has come in the flesh is not of Elohim. And this is the spirit of the anti-messiah which you heard is coming, and now is already in the world. Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 7:23
  • According to the Christian understanding, Christ is more than a prophet
    – user33515
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 2:22

It only seems a contradiction because ignorant and unstable men have twisted Paul's writings to teach lawlessness and disobedience salvation:

[2Pe 3:16 KJV] 16 As also in all [his] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as [they do] also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

Obedience to God is necessary because God is perfectly just and cannot deny His own providence/precepts. Acquitting a guilty man would be unjust. We must strive for holiness without which we will not see God.

Jesus is only the source of eternal salvation for those who obey him.

[2Pe 3:16 KJV] 16 As also in all [his] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as [they do] also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

[Rom 2:5-7 KJV] 5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; 6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds: 7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:

[Rom 2:13 KJV] 13 (For not the hearers of the law [are] just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.


The works of righteousness is all God. No amount of church membership, works, baptism, sacraments, etc, nothing, can do what Paul is teaching in justification by faith, and in putting old Adam to death. Works can't do that, because it has to be the works of God Himself.

Romans 6:16, a believer has died to sin (although we still sin we are no longer under the penalty of it) We are no longer slaves to it. We should obey righteousness instead of our sinful desires. This has nothing to do with keeping/obeying the commandments. We are not under law.

  • 1
    Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your contribution. Please explain how this answers the question asked. That is, how does obedience (in the light of your comments) lead to righteousness?
    – user25930
    Commented Jan 15, 2019 at 6:59

Romans 8:2 provides clarity, which says "For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death."

These are the things he is comparing. On the one hand you can be a slave to sin which leads to death (or the law of sin and death) or you can be a slave to obedience which leads to righteousness (or the law of the Spirit of life).

The concept itself is not confusing, but the natural (though incorrect) assumptions we initially make based on the phrasing cause confusion.

For example, are we saved by works? You might say no because you assume I mean "works of the Old Testament Law". But in John 6:29 it says "Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'" So believing in Christ is a work. But it's a work of faith... you could even say it's a work of the law of the Spirit of life. It's just not a work of the Old Testament law (aka the law of sin and death).

The issue here with the word obedience is the same. Obedience... to what?


This is a confusing statement until viewed through a different lens. In the 'transition' period the first Church was experiencing, awaiting the destruction and judgment of national Israel, the Church was constantly being encouraged by the Apostles/Disciples to remain faithful and obedient to God so that they would inherit the "crown of life" "raiments of righteousness", etc., as John referred to in the Book of the Revelation. It was a different scene for them than us or any culture since. Their obedience would be the necessary component to keep them plugged in, watchful and ready to react to the "signs" that would trigger the tribulation. If they weren't being obedient, then they would be drawn into the culture and probably back into Judaism and miss those 'signs' of coming wrath and thus lose their righteousness. So for them, they needed the daily practice of obedience. That old baptist statement of "already but not yet' truly did apply to only that generation.


Having already given teaching on the subject, Paul in Rom.6:14 tells the church that Sin (as a master and power) will not have dominion and rule over you, because you are not under the rule and control of law but under grace.

Being "under law" is being under a religious or Law mentality whereby a person uses a code of obedience as a rule of duty as a means of righteousness or sanctification; or to fulfill ritual, legal, or moral requirements in order to become holy, maintain holiness, or gain God’s approval.

Being "under grace" is being under the enabling of the Holy Spirit in living in obedience that springs from faith, and serving others in love.

Then in Rom.6:15 Paul asks the question from what he just stated in v.14. What is the implication then? Should we sin at all because we are not living under law but under grace? Certainly not!

So in Rom.6:16 Paul asks the church, do you not intuitively know as a fact that to whom you present yourself as a slave to obey, his slave you are whom you obey: Whether you are a slave of Sin (as a master or king, Rom.6-7) that leads to death or a slave of obedience to God that leads to righteousness? But Paul explains in verse 19 that he is using an everyday illustration about slavery because of their natural limitations. So he continues and says that just as you had presented your bodily members as slaves in bondage to impurity and to lawlessness, which results in further and increasing lawlessness, even so now present your members as servants to Righteousness [personified], which leads to holiness [or, to (deeds of) sanctification].

In Rom.1:5 Paul speaks of the obedience of faith, that is, obedience that comes from or springs from faith. James in his epistle says in chapter 2 that such genuine faith results in genuine works.

In Rom.8:3-4 Paul states that what the law could not do (to free from Sin, Death and final condemnation)in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son to be the one sacrificial offering for sin. He did this in order that the real aim of the Law--or the the righteous requirement of the Law and what it demands of all people, i.e., love--might be fulfilled in us who do not walk in the ways of the flesh [Rom.8:5,12-13], (doing all, in and of ourselves and serving Sin by being under the control of the Law), but live according to the Spirit (who directs, rules and empowers us to love God and our neighbor, thus producing His fruit in our lives as we continue to surrender and rely on Him).

There is therefore, no contradiction of a fundamental theological principle and no distortion of the gospel of Christ.

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