As I was thinking about this phrase in Romans 6, a strange image flashed across my mind. A different kind of conquering king. King Kong, in the classic 1933 movie. And as I mused on the image, it was as if I heard the little lady in his powerful hand singing the old song, "I have decided to follow Jesus". I almost laughed out loud!
How absurd that this little lady would sing about deciding about anything. She's been picked up by a vastly greater power than her. She had little choice about being carried across the sky-line.
As we look at Paul's careful language, it is clear that he sees our salvation as being acted upon by a higher power. "Having been set free..." The verb is passive - it describes what was done to us and for us rather than what we did. The conquering King's irresistible grace reached down and rescued us from our slave-master and carried us to a new environment with entirely different working conditions. He has decided, not us. It is more accurate to think of him singing, "I have decided to rescue Brian," than it is for Brian to sing "I have decided to follow Jesus".
But does this mean we have no choice? Absolutely not! He made the first big choice. And now, having been rescued, we have to make choices every day. In Romans 6, Paul tells us that these released slaves have to choose whether to go to work each day for their old slave-master or offer themselves as slaves of righteousness. It seems absurd that we would ever go back to our former tyrant, but our habit patterns are so ingrained that sadly we often to. However, we don't have to! Sin no longer has dominion over us; we have been transported from the slums of sin into the park-lands of grace on the other side of town.
Paul's exhortation is to get up every day and present our members (all our faculties) to God as those "who have been brought from death to life" (v.13). We're still slaves, but everything has changed. We have a new master. And we have a new working environment - for we who once were slaves of sin (where we had no choice) have now become "obedient from the heart" (v.17). We choose to obey God every time we offer our members as instruments of righteousness, day-by-day, moment-by-moment.
"I have decided to follow Jesus" is not the song to sing when you want to get out of the slavery of sin. Those doors are barred. When you work for sin, you don't have the option to quit and look for another job. You will get paid fairly; Paul tells us in v.23 that the wages of sin is death. But you can't resign and say "I don't want to work here anymore." You're a slave! .
However, the gospel proclaims that we can now get up every day singing, "I have decided to follow Jesus." Today. It's the song we sing having been set free - free now to make choices every day to live our life to the glory of the glorious rescuer who is mighty and strong to save. Our conquering king - whom to serve is perfect freedom.