Sin Shall Not Be Master
January 22, 2023 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Romans
Topic: Expository Passage: Romans 6:12–14
(Read vv. 1–14) As I’ve said before, this passage provides crucial perspective on the Christian life. It transformed my view of spiritual growth when I was in college, and I pray that it will also dramatically shape your view as well. To fully appreciate this passage, you must appreciate 3 tensions that are essential to its message.
The first tension is between the indicative and the imperative (truth statements and commands). For example, v. 11 declares the basic truth that all who are in Christ are “dead to sin but alive to God.” But v. 12 then commands us, “Do not let sin reign…” Why does God command me not to let sin reign if it is already dead?
Another tension is between what we often call the “already” and the “not yet.” For example, notice the assurance of v. 7. I am already “freed from sin.” But v. 5 also promises, “For if…” How can I already be “freed from sin” but not yet “in the likeness of his resurrection”?
A third tension is that spiritual growth is inevitable but not automatic. Verse 14 promises, “Sin shall not be master over you.” Spiritual growth is inevitable. But it’s not automatic because I must also obey the command in v. 12, “Do not let sin reign.” How do I rest in the promise that God will change me without becoming lazy?
None of these tensions are irreconcilable. In fact, the answers are relatively simple. But if you don’t carefully answer work out the answers, you can easily develop a warped view of the Christian life, stunt your growth, and even lose the gospel altogether. But if you carefully consider how these tensions correlate, you can build an effective, hopeful strategy for spiritual growth. That said, let’s jump into vv. 12–14. I’d like to summarize each verse with a command. First, v. 12 challenges us…
I. Resist sin’s reign (v. 12).
We are immediately confronted with these tensions because of the contrast between v. 12 and 5:21. God says that the reign of grace has overwhelmed the reign of “sin…in death.” The noun form of reign is the term for king. The literal idea truly is that sin was once king but grace is now on the throne.
Similarly, 6:11 declares that every Christian is “dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” But if the reign sin is over, why does Paul follow in v. 12 by commanding us, “Do not let sin reign”? Clearly…
Christians can allow sin to reign. Paul wouldn’t command us not to let sin reign if it did not pose a serious threat. It can “reign” (at least temporarily) over a Christian like a king reigning on the throne of your heart.
Notice that the context of this reign is “your mortal body.” Someday, we will receive glorified, immortal bodies, but for now, we live in imperfect bodies that are cursed by the fall. They are weak, and our bodily desires often get out of order. We also interact with a fallen world through our fallen bodies. Satan uses our fallen senses to tempt our fallen hearts.
However, Paul does not mean that my body is the only problem. I still have a sin nature, which the NT calls the flesh. “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal 5:17). A war taking place in the heart of every Christian. And v. 12 simply warns that this war works itself out in the context of our mortal, fallen bodies.
And if we are not vigilant, the flesh can win major victories. So that v. 12 warns we can “obey sins lusts.” Again, sin has been defeated. We don’t have to obey it. But we don’t always remember that it is defeated. We also forget how tyrannical sin is, and we willfully submit to its lusts even though Christ has freed us from its tyranny.
For example, when I was growing up on the farm, we often used electric fence around our bigger pastures. Electric fence is cheap, it’s easy to put up, and it’s effective. But sometimes, it gets shorted out. Without an electric punch, a single wire can’t restrain a 1200 lb. cow.
But thankfully, the cows don’t always immediately realize that the fence is shorted out. Therefore, they will allow a dead wire with no true power to control them.
Oftentimes, we do the same. Instead of using our eyes to read Scripture, we gaze at ungodly entertainment. Instead of using our mouths to pray and give thanks for God’s blessings, we complain, slander, and gossip. And instead of using our ears to hear biblical preaching and godly music, we listen to junk. We feed the flesh, it grows strong, and we submit to a defeated foe. If we do not discipline ourselves to godliness, sin will bully the believer.
Therefore, we must understand that spiritual growth is inevitable, but it is not automatic. God will sanctify his people, and every Christian will be glorified. But some Christians twist this promise into a Hyper-Calvinist view of spiritual growth. They don’t confront sin or strive for godliness; they just wait for God to do something.
But v. 12 teaches that sanctification is not automatic. I must apply myself and work hard. In fact, the Bible repeatedly uses the inevitability of my sanctification, not to encourage passivity, but to inspire me to work hard. My assurance that I will make it, should inspire me to press forward.
Paul sets a great pattern of this when he says, “Not that I have already obtained it (glorification) or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:12–14). God has “laid hold” of us to glorify us. This confidence inspired Paul to aggressively “press on” to “lay hold” of that prize. And we must do the same.
Christians must act like victors. I grew up watching Michael Jordan play basketball. When Michael Jordan stepped on the court, he always acted like he was the best player out there. He believed he could dominate, he played with the intent to dominate, and he generally did.
I’m not saying we should be cocky because my confidence is in Christ, not me. I don’t act like a victor because I’m so spiritual or because I’m better than people around me. Some Christians do that. They boast about their discipline and usually their false standards of godliness that supposedly make them superior to everyone else. It’s Pharisaical legalism.
And it’s not true. We are all weak sinners, and we must never forget that. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Cor 10:12). Rather, my confidence is in Christ. It’s only because of him that I am dead to sin and alive to God.
But knowing this, I play the game intending, by God’s grace, to dominate the fight against sin. Sin will not reign, and I will not obey it. Instead, “I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”
Is that your approach to spiritual growth? Are you leery of yourself but confident in Christ; therefore, you are aggressively killing sin and growing godliness? You refuse to limp around the court, biding your time, content to squeak by. Instead, you are playing to win and to dominate because you believe in the power of Christ and you can taste glory. Do not let sin reign. The 2nd challenge coming from v. 13 is…
II. Serve God with your life (v. 13).
Once again, this verse emphasizes the fact that we live out our faith in our bodies. The “members of your body” are especially your hands and feet.
Like the previous verse, Paul is not only concerned with the body. The members of your body are deeply connected to your heart. So, the whole man—body and soul—is ultimately in view.
But Paul focuses on our members because he wants us to think concretely and specifically about how we must apply our union with Christ. All the way down to our hands and our feet.
Sometimes we think that if my heart is in the right place, it doesn’t matter where my body is or what I’m doing with it. That’s nonsense. It matters where your feet go, what your hands touch, and what your eyes see.
In fact, Paul says the members of your body can either be “instruments of unrighteousness” or “instruments of righteousness to God.” The Greek term translated instruments, refers more specifically to weapons, like a sword, a spear, or a bow.
Therefore, Paul pictures our physical abilities, but by extension, our minds and hearts as weapons of war. And he says that you have a daily choice. You can either employ your weapons for the cause of righteousness or the cause of unrighteousness. You can serve sin, or you can serve God.
Prohibition: With this in mind, God first commands us, “Do not go on…” I don’t love that translation because I don’t believe Paul is commanding the Romans to stop serving sin. There’s no evidence that the Roman church was stuck in disobedient and ungodly patterns. Rather, the idea is that every Christian must constantly guard against becoming servants of sin and unrighteousness.
And since Paul especially focuses on our bodies, the idea is probably similar to Romans 13:12–14, “Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”
God commands us not to use our bodies to engage in sinful deeds, and not to use our bodies to “make provision for the flesh” by feeding ungodly passions through what you see, hear, and practice. Instead, we must lay all of that aside and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Christian, you are dead to sin. It is an evil dictator. So, do not let Satan wield you or your body as a weapon of sin. Do not feed ungodly desires by what you watch, listen to, or practice. Refuse to engage in sinful behaviors. Don’t make excuses and don’t be lazy. Instead, drive sin out of your life. “Let no vice or sin remain that resists your holy war.” Instead, notice the…
Positive Command (v. 13b): Notice the interplay between the indicative and the imperative. God doesn’t merely command us to do better. Rather, he once again, anchors the command to the fact that I am “alive from the dead.”
It’s not God’s will that I simply grit my teeth and do better. Rather, I must swim in the sea of the gospel every day. I must consciously remember who I am in Christ and the obligations that come with it, where I’m headed, and the power that is mine. And I must actively rely on the strength of Christ to pursue of holiness. The gospel must drive my pursuit of holiness.
With this background, I must work to accomplish two closely related goals. First, “present yourselves to God. This command is almost identical to 12:1, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” By God’s grace, I want to present all that I am and all that I have as gift of love for the Lord. I want my life to please him and worship him through faithfully doing his will.
Second, “present…your members as instruments (i.e., weapons) of righteousness to God.” Use your body, your mind, and all that you are to pursue righteousness and godliness for God’s glory.
Similarly, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19–20).
I hope that is your passion. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt 5:6). Do you “hunger and thirst for righteousness”? You aren’t looking for excuses to be worldly; instead, you want to be righteous like God is. You are pressing toward that mark.
This pursuit pleases Jesus, and he promises that to satisfy your longing. He will progressively grow righteousness in your heart, and someday he will make you perfectly righteous.
Christian, you are “alive from the dead.” Consider where you are not acting like it. What unrighteousness are you ignoring in your life? Do you consistently walk in integrity? Do love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control bleed out of your pours? Are you loving your neighbor well? Are you working hard to form righteousness in your spouse and your children? How you are working to advance the Great Commission?
Christian, you are alive from the dead. Remember that truth, lean daily on that truth, and that act like it is so. Use your life to serve God. Verse 14 then offers a 3rd challenge…
III. Think like a victor (v. 14).
This verse rounds off the section by making a powerful and crucial statement for how we think about the Christian life. It includes a great promise and a wonderful basis for the promise. I’d like to begin at the end and challenge us…
Appreciate the change (v. 14b). This statement is among the most abused statements in the entire NT because people are sloppy with their exegesis, and they want an excuse to be spiritually lazy. They’ll say, “See, we aren’t under any law; we’re under grace. So, just relax, have a good time, and don’t do anything too bad. But they miss the fact that this cannot be what Paul means considering the previous 13 verses.
Others who are a little more thoughtful will use this verse to say, “See, sanctification is not through human effort to obey God’s law. Grace alone sanctifies.” They equate the law with striving for holiness, and they make a false distinction between effort and relying on God’s grace. You just believe the indicative and wait for God to give you a desire for the imperative.
But again, they’ve failed to read the verse in context and especially 5:20. The Law in this verse is clearly not legalism or concern for holiness. It’s also not law in general. No, it is clearly the Law of Moses. We know this because Paul is contrasting two ages in God’s redemptive plan—the age of law and the age of grace.
In itself, the Law of Moses was good, and for those who were born again, it was a means to know God and please God. “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul” (Ps 19:7a).
But among those who were not born again, 5:20 says it only functioned to increase sin. That’s because the law could only define sin and therefore make it more severe. It turned sins of ignorance into rebellion. That’s all it could do because the law didn’t give sinners any power to obey it.
For example, let’s suppose that you have a flat tire tomorrow, but you don’t have a spare, a jack, or a wrench. You call me for help, and I show up a few minutes later. I start lecturing you on the safest, most efficient way to change a tire, but I don’t bring any of the tools you need to get back on the road. My instructions are meaningless if I don’t provide the tools you need to do the job. That’s where the law left the unbeliever. It told a spiritually dead sinner what to do, but it didn’t give him the capacity to do it.
But thankfully 5:20 and 6:14 declare that we no longer live in the age of law. We live in the age of grace. And please note that the difference between these ages is not that one included lots of rules and anything goes in the other because it’s all covered in grace.
No, the last 13 verses tell us what the age of grace is all about. The age of grace stands out for the fact that all who are in Christ are “dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Christ empowers us to overcome sin in a way that the Law never could. Grace is not freedom to do what I want; it is power to overcome sin and to enjoy the beauty of holiness. There’s never been a better time to be alive than the age of grace! God has brought about an incredible change. Therefore, I must…
Apply the change. Verse 14a has to be one of the most encouraging promises in all of Scripture. God assures us, “Sin shall not be master over you.” To be clear, this isn’t the “power of positive thinking.” No, v. 9 said that because Jesus rose from the dead, “death no longer is master over Him.” It’s because of Christ that Paul uses the same verb in v. 14 to say that sin will not master us either. We are dead to sin.
Of course, we don’t always feel like it, and sometimes we have a hard time locating any evidence. Many Christians come to Christ with heavy baggage based on poor choices, abuse, or natural weaknesses. At times, we “make provision for the flesh” by feeding ungodliness instead of godliness. Spiritual progress is slow and almost unnoticeable.
But every Christian will make progress. “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). God will convict, and he will change you. And he will continue that process until the day that we see Christ and we are entirely freed from sin’s mastery. I am “already” a victor, but I am “not yet” perfect.
But the point of v. 14 is to say that I must think like a victor. Don’t walk out on the court waiting to be humiliated; walk out tasting victory. Play like you are the best athlete on the court. Similarly, don’t wake up in the morning expecting spiritual defeat; wake up anticipating victory.
Then play to dominate. Read your Bible, run to the gospel, and pray. Fight sin, get up when you fall, and fight back. Not because you are arrogant but because are confident in Christ. Christian, live out your death to sin.
“Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” Verse 14 ends the section by saying absolutely not. To continue in sin is to miss the intent of the age of grace which is to end sin’s mastery. Rejoice in what Jesus has done and then live it out day by day.
But I always want to emphasize that all of this must begin with a genuine relationship to Christ. This chapter is only true for those who are united to him. How can that happen for you? John 1:12 states, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” You receive Jesus by believing that he is the Lord and that he died for your sin and rose again. Then you receive him. You enter a relationship that changes your eternity and changes your life today. Please receive Christ and come to know his life transforming, all-satisfying goodness.
More in Romans
March 19, 2023Bewildered by Legalism
March 12, 2023The “I” of Romans 7
March 5, 2023The Holy and Helpless Law