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“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:12–14).
In our study of Romans 6-8, it ought to be clear to us by now that God calls us to something dynamic, something real, something powerful. He is interested in producing a legitimate work in our lives. There is substance to the power of the gospel. It is the power of God. He uses it to save us, not only in the future but right now.
In Romans 6:1-11, we saw that we died with Jesus and rose with Jesus, which means, practically speaking, that we are currently in a new kind of relationship with sin and with God. We died to sin with Jesus. We live to God with Jesus. We are to consider this, always, to be so.
But there is a battle in the believer. Paul will address this battle next. If we don’t pay attention to this battle, progress will not be ours. We must pay attention to it. To experience all God has for us here and now, we must know about this battle.
Let me remind you, though, of our role up to this point. We are to know we died with Jesus. We are to consider it to be so. Now, we must present ourselves correctly. Know. Consider. Present. Something for the mind— know. Something for the heart— consider. Something for the will— present.
It is indisputable to us that there remains a battle with this body of sin. We saw, in our previous study, how we are to bring the body of sin to a state of nothingness. That is the battle. The body of sin is real — the appetites exist — but we are to bring it to nothing. That is the war in which we are engaged. Let us observe how the battle against sin currently works, then look at how the battle is won.
How The Battle Works.
Paul uses kingdom terminology to describe the battle. There is a throne that two warring parties want to sit on. They both want to reign. The challenger to the throne is sin. Paul personifies sin as if it is calculating and planning how to overthrow me, how to take my throne. God said to Cain: “Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7). Sin is there. It wants the throne. Remember, our relationship to sin is different than it once was. The throne of your heart was only and exclusively sin's throne. Now, sin must challenge for that throne. The gospel has done set you free from sin's reign.
The place where sin is trying to enter into, the place where the throne exists, is my mortal body. Ah, there is where the weakness is in me. My mortal body has still not tasted of the fullness of redemption in Jesus Christ. It still has not been set free, for it awaits its resurrected state. It’s cancers and injuries and illnesses remind me of this. Someday, in a twinkle of an eye, I shall be changed, but not yet, not now. I still have my mortal body. It is not yet immortal.
So, if this is the battle, how can sin win? I mean, I am dead to sin and alive to God. Positionally, that is my heritage and truest existence. I belong to God. I am His. He is mine. How can sin exert this power over me? Our relationship has changed, I have been set free from it through death, so how might I be defeated? How does sin get in?
Paul tells us: through our passions. My body has desires that can be good and natural but also twisted for evil. My body will hunger, but sin wants to take my hunger and turn it into gluttony. My physical need or impulse for food can be set against me. Soon I am using food to mask sadness, to become impaired, or for self-image. My natural impulse has been turned, like a double agent, and sin captures the throne.
We see this in the appetites normal within us. I need rest, but sin wants to twist it into laziness and sloth. I need exercise, but sin intends to turn it into the worship of physique. I want to enjoy sex, and humankind needs it to bear offspring, but sin wants to turn it into pornography, masturbation, fornication, unnatural sex. Sex is a wonderful servant, but a horrible master. Sin wants mastery. It uses our bodily desires to get there.
That process is how the battle works. We lose this battle when we, as Paul says, obey. When we follow these passions that sin is twisting within us, we surrender the throne. That is the slow process of incremental surrender, to give the throne slowly but surely— this is a lifelong struggle. The battle never ends, as long as we are in the unredeemed bodies.
Yes, you have watched this in your own life, and in the lives of others. You’ve undoubtedly seen someone who began well, who walked with Christ but entered the downward slide of obedience to the passions within them. That obedience led to surrender, slowly but surely. Now, they are under complete enemy occupation. They are a shell of who they used to be. They are enslaved to sin, even though Christ has set them free. They are dead to sin but have let sin live inside them afresh.
How The Battle Is Won.
1 Remember the gospel sequence.
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.” (Romans 6:12)
So that is how the battle works. How, then, is the battle won? I suggest four stages in response to this war. Each stage is found in Paul’s words. The first stage is connected to the word “therefore," which is a backward-looking word. Paul wants us to consider what he’s just written. He wants us to remember what Christ has done for us, that through belief we were identified with Jesus' death and resurrection.
First, we must remember the gospel sequence. It is tempting for believers to think they can win this battle over sin with a simple “just say no” campaign. But this claim puts the power in us, rather than in what God has done in us. He has changed us. Positionally, it is true Christ's gospel has radically transformed me. The experience of our victory pours from our position of victory. The cross is the platform from which we fight.
You must remember the sequence of the gospel. This command not to let sin reign in you is built on something. It is built on the gospel. Jesus died to sin and lives to God. You are united with Him. You died to sin and live to God, which is hard for us to believe. It is rarely taught. Satan does everything he can to snatch this truth away from us. It is counterinuitive to us.
Perhaps it would be helpful for you to remember the leadup to this command. It was not until the beautiful truths of Romans 1-5 were laid out that Paul dared tell us not to let sin reign. It is those first chapters Paul describes God’s hatred of sin and Jesus’ victory over it. Paul doesn’t want us battling sin until we know of God’s remedy for sin. We cannot lose sight of this. Do not lose this sequence in your mind and heart.
Once you remember all of this gospel power and sequence, you will say with Paul, “Therefore!” He has done all this, and it is time for me to live this out. I am involved. I will not let sin reign in this mortal body. Some are told to let go and let God, that I do nothing and God does is it all, but here I see I am commanded. Don’t let sin reign in you. I could never begin to receive that command until the gospel came. But it certainly has come.
2 Resist surrenduring your body to sin.
“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness…” (Romans 6:13)
Next, we are to resist surrendering our bodies to sin. I’ve remembered the gospel sequence, but now I move into resistance during this war. Sin is at the door. It wants me, and my throne. I am to resist. How?
I am not to present my body, or, to borrow Paul’s terms, my members, to sin. I am not to feed, entertain, or expose my body unnecessarily to temptation. If I do, my body will be taken.
The problem here is that this is what we were. Like the ancient Israelites who pined for Egypt, we often want to return to the old life. It’s what we know. Like a prisoner who's been incarcerated for so long, we struggle to adjust to a life of freedom. To resist, however, I must not present my members as instruments for sin.
What are my members? Simply put, those are my body parts, my ears, eyes, hands, sexual organs, everything— my body parts are my members. Take the tongue, for instance. James tells us the tongue is a world of iniquity, able to start a massive forest fire with its little spark. We know this, but the battle is intense. We often take that member, the tongue, and use it for unrighteousness. When we do, we are giving away the throne. Sin begins to take possession.
If we pause for a moment, we might discover that much of our sadness or lethargy or slavery has been brought on by this surrender. As we have given in, allowing a body part to be used for a sinful desire, sin has become enthroned. Our joy evaporates. Pain is our experience.
So we must not present our bodies as instruments of unrighteous living. Think about your life. Have you given yourself liberties that have enslaved you? Have you said the sin all that bad? Perhaps you have presented your body parts unwisely, and now slavery is your experience.
3 Relinquish your body to God.
“But present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” (Romans 6:13)
We don’t stop here, however. In fact, if we only concentrate on abstaining from presenting our body parts for sin, we are in a dangerous place. Our bodies must be presented to something. We must present them to God.
So then, the next step in the process is to relinquish our bodies to God. We have realized the battle, how it works, have remembered the gospel sequence, and have refused to present our bodies as weapons of unrighteousness. We are committed. Sin will not use our bodily desires as weapons to take our throne. No. But we must go further. We must press in. This is a crucial moment many believers forget. Go further. Give your body to God.
“Present yourselves to God.” Give “your members to God.” Someone will sit on that throne. Sin wants it, but let it be God.
Why does God want my body? Why is he so interested? For one, my body is meant to exist for His glory. My mouth is to praise Him. My ears are to hear Him. Additionally, my body is meant to be a weapon for God’s kingdom. My mouth is to speak His truth. My ears are to listen to the hurt of others. But that is not all. God is interested in my body because he is interested in me. He loves me. My joy is His delight. He wants the deeper happiness, joy, to run in me. This is why he wants my body. If sin is on the throne, none of these purposes are fulfilled.
So we give our bodies to God. Even now, as you read, while your eyes are following the words on the screen while your thumb scrolls, you are attempting to understand Romans 6. You want to know God’s word. You are giving him your eyes and mind at this very moment. This is the step that is required so often. The alarm clock sounds; give your body to God! The conversation gives an opportunity to encourage someone; give your body to God! A person comes up in conversation; give your body to God! At a million moments throughout our week we can give our bodies to him. Present your body parts for God and His kingdom.
Many believers never understand the joy of giving their bodies to God. Perhaps they avoid sin, and that seems joyful enough to them, but there is more. They don’t regularly listen to someone's tears. They don’t know how to open their mouth to encourage another. They’ve never experienced a strain on their schedule to serve someone else. Their bodies, money, time, and treasure are all for the self, not for God.
For this person, life is never near God’s best. Their joy is incomplete. Their eyes are only fixed on what will bring them momentary pleasure. Their hands never work for God and His glory. Their feet stay safely away from the dangerous work. But that is where the joy is. Give your body to God.
4 Realize the power of grace.
“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)
Now we come to our final stage. We’ve remembered the gospel. We’ve refused to surrender our bodies to sin. We’ve given our bodies to God. What is left? Here it is. Remember, you are not under law but grace.
Why does Paul say this here? Why does he point this out? I think it is because many believe it is through law-keeping that sin is eradicated. Remember, Paul would say, law-keeping was the thing that exacerbated sin. The law never really controlled anyone. We always rebel. It is love for God that is powerful. It is a grace relationship that leads to real transformation and power. Like in a good marriage, grace is better than law. Grace produces.
Paul longs for us to hear this. The law was futile, but grace produces. The law couldn’t save, but Jesus’ grace powerfully saves to the uttermost. Remember this. Grace can deliver. Do you realize the power of His grace?
So that is the battle, and how it is won. But how long will this battle exist? As long as your members do. As long as your body is here on earth the battle will exist. Someday, in glory with Christ, the battle will end. The victory will be complete. Here, now, we soldier on.
The battle is real. Sin is lying at the door. It wants to make use of the desires of our members, turning us against ourselves. It wants the throne. “But thanks be to God, who is Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14). He is with us. He is fighting for us. He is leading us. Don’t give up that castle.