A New Allegiance, a New Obedience
Scripture: Romans 6:12–6:14
Does the doctrine of justification by grace through faith encourage us to continue in a sinful lifestyle? This is the pressing question that Paul is addressing in Romans 6. In the first five chapters of Romans, Paul lays out the great themes of the Gospel. It is a radical message that men can be “justified freely by God’s grace”, and that “where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”
This leads Paul to address a logical question. He phrases it this way in Romans 6:1: What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? Does the doctrine of justification by faith encourage us to continue sinning?
Let me phrase the question a little differently by introducing some theological language. The two words I want to contrast and compare are “justification” and “sanctification”. The word “justification” is one that we have already been considering in the first five chapters of Romans. It is a legal word, borrowed from the world of courts and courtrooms. It means “to declare someone righteous.” It is an act of a judge or someone in legal authority who considers all the evidence and the law and its implications and demands and then makes an authoritative declaration that a person is righteous before the court.
The word “sanctification” means “to make righteous or holy.” While justification has to do with one’s status and legal standing, sanctification has to do with one’s actual conduct and behavior. It is a process by which we become holy and righteous in our thoughts, words and actions. It is important to keep these two terms and concepts clear in our minds; justification = declared righteous; sanctification = made righteous. Now let me rephrase the question we are wrestling with in Romans 6. Does justification by faith make sanctification unnecessary or unimportant? Does the fact that we are declared righteous before God’s court as a free gift of grace mean that we can now continue living any way we please?
Last week we looked at the first answer to this question, and we found that the believer’s union with Christ makes a life of continued sin unthinkable. If you missed that message, I would urge you to go to the church website and either listen to it or read it. What we discover in Romans 6:1-11 is that as believers, we have been united with Christ in his death and his resurrection. Because of our union with Christ, what is true of Christ is now true of us. He died. We died with him. He rose from the dead. We rose from the dead with him.
Paul then issued this exhortation; the first command in the entire Book of Romans, in Romans 6:11. In the same way, count (reckon) yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Realize who you are. Understand your new identity. Take it into account. Let it soak into your mind and seep down into your actions.
I always enjoy the opportunities we have had over the years to go back to Kenya to visit. Each time we do and we arrive there, there comes a time when I borrow a car from one of my brothers. I settle myself behind the steering wheel. But before I start the car, I take a few minutes to do some reckoning. Here is how it goes. “I am in Kenya now. In Kenya, people drive on the left side of the road. If I want to stay alive, I must remember where I am and act accordingly.” I have to reckon my new reality. And then I must live out that new reality in my actions and reactions as I drive out onto the street. Then the next thing I do is turn on the windshield wiper when I mean to use the turn signal, because it’s on the wrong side of the steering column! Well, sometimes our reckoning can take a while to work down into our doing. But this is what Paul is calling us to do in verse 11. Consistently, constantly feed into our consciousness the new reality that we are “in Christ” and dead to sin and alive to God, until that begins to control our thoughts, words and actions.
Paul then follows this overarching command with four more commands. I think it is very interesting that after five and a half chapters with no commands, we suddenly run into this little pocket or nest full of commands in the middle of chapter 6. I would also point out that we will not see another command until we get to Romans 12. So we’d better pay attention to these.
The first one is in verse 12: Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.
The grammatical form of these commands in the original language is very important. For example, the command we found in verse 11 to “reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God” is in the present imperative verb form. This is used to express the need for continuous or repetitive action. “Constantly reckon yourselves…”
The form in verse 12 is also in the present imperative, but with the negative attached to it. The use of this construction means we must stop and desist from something we are presently doing. Stop letting sin reign… This has been the reality of our previous life. Sin reigned.
This is a significant metaphor in Paul’s letter. Remember that Paul was writing to the believers in Rome. To all in Rome…, he wrote in Romans 1:7. Rome was the capital of an empire that extended over Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. It was where the emperor ruled. Politics, power, pomp and circumstance were a daily part of the life of all who lived in Rome. Who is in power, who is out of power, who exercises authority? So Paul borrows this language to teach us spiritual truth. The word for “reign” is actually simply the verb form for the word for “king.” Who is acting as king? Who is the emperor?
Paul has used this language before. Back in Romans 5:12-21, Paul used this same word several times. We were told that through Adam, sin invaded and with sin came death. Death spread and we are told that death “reigned” and that “sin reigned in death” over all men who are in Adam. That is the natural man’s condition. Sin reigns. Sin is his king, his ruler, his sovereign. But when we trust in Christ, all that changes. We have changed kings and kingdoms and families. We are no longer “in Adam.” We are “in Christ.” And the first thing that needs to happen when we “reckon” that new reality to be true is that we must stop letting sin reign in our mortal body. We must stop obeying the old king.
The rest of this verse gives us further insight into what it means to obey the old king. It means to obey the evil desires that are part of our inheritance in Adam. Stop letting sin reign in your mortal bodies that you obey its evil desires. This is our dilemma. We have a new nature, but we still live in mortal bodies with the remnant of our old nature attached. We still have strong desires of the flesh which pull us toward evil. But we must stop obeying those desires. We must stop letting sin reign over us.
Paul goes on to give us another command in verse 13: Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness. Once again, this is a present imperative with a negative. So it can also be translated, “Stop what you are doing. Stop offering the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness.” Paul is using interesting language and metaphor here. The word is “members”, referring to the various parts of the human body; hands, feet, ears, eyes. The word “instruments” is very broad in its usage. It is used to describe a farmer’s implements or a black smith’s tools. One of the most common uses, especially in the plural as it is here, is to describe the weapons of a soldier.
Paul is inviting us to think of the various parts of our bodies as tools or weapons. Let’s do something together. Hold up your hand in front of you so you can see it. Open it and close it. It is a marvelous piece of engineering, isn’t it? Incredible in its dexterity and the diversity of tasks it can perform. Now clench it into a fist. Imagine it smashing into someone’s face and the damage it could do. Now open it, and picture it backhanding someone across the face. Picture it forming an obscene gesture to insult someone. Imagine it reaching out to pick up that pornographic magazine off the news stand in the airport, or clicking on that enticing website on the internet. A tool, an implement; how have you used it this week? Where has it been?
Let’s think about another member of the body. Put out your tongue. Not far; just enough so you can see it. Just a small member, but I am told it is actually the strongest muscle in the body. But that is not where its real power lies. Picture your tongue spitting out profanity and foul language when you’re angry. Or imagine it smoothly spilling out lies. Or listen to it calmly and sarcastically shredding another person’s reputation through gossip. What a tool for evil! James describes it as a spark that can set a whole forest on fire.
Paul says that is what has been happening. That was the old reality when sin reigned. But now he says to us, “Stop! Stop offering your members as tools for doing evil.”
That is the negative side of Paul’s teaching. That is what we are to stop doing. Now he goes on to state it positively; what we are to do instead. It is here in the second part of verse 13: But rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life… Here we are back to last week’s teaching and the first part of the paragraph, aren’t we? We died with Christ. We also rose from the dead with Christ. Reckon yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God. That is our new reality. Reckon it to be true, and as those who have been brought from death to life offer yourselves to God. We have a new identity. We belong to a new family and a new kingdom. Present yourself to your new king, to God himself.
Once again, the use of tenses is intriguing here. There are two common ways for expressing a command in Greek. There is the present tense, which describes continuous, repeated, ongoing action. There is another tense, called the aorist, which describes one time, urgent action; do it now! Which tense do you thing Paul uses here? I think most of us would guess the present tense for continuous action. But Paul throws us a bit of curve ball here; a bit of a surprise. He uses the aorist to describe urgent, point in time action. Offer yourselves to God. Do it now.
I have spent quite a bit of time pondering Paul’s use of this tense. Maybe a couple of illustrations will help us understand what Paul is calling for here. One is the picture of a soldier who is enlisting in the army and reporting for the first time to his commanding officer. He is presenting himself, offering himself to his commander, and with that act, he is placing himself under authority and accepting his responsibility to obey the officer’s command. That act of presenting himself is a very significant act which influences everything that follows.
Or picture a person who has just become a citizen of a new country. After a long and complicated immigration process, he now stands before an official and is required to pledge allegiance to his new nation. It is a tremendously significant moment, as he takes upon himself the responsibilities of a citizen of his new nation.
I believe this is what Paul is calling on us to do. Yes, there will be a daily outworking of the new reality, a daily reckoning of the new identity and the new authority. But Paul is here calling for an initial acknowledging and accepting of one’s new responsibilities and of one’s new allegiance and submission to a new king and a new kingdom. I wonder if you have ever made such a commitment or taken such a stand?
The final command in these verses is a follow-up to this one. It completes the symmetry of Paul’s thought and also puts more specifics to the command to “present yourselves”. Offer the parts of your body to God as instruments of righteousness.
Hold up your hand again. Now imagine it gently comforting a crying child, holding your spouse’s hand, wiping away a friend’s tears, giving someone a reassuring pat on the shoulder, preparing a meal for a sick friend, writing an encouraging note, picking up your Bible. What a tool! What a valuable implement for service to God!
Put your tongue out again. Picture it now in prayer, giving someone a sincere compliment, telling the truth, expressing an apology, teaching a children’s Bible class, sharing Christ with a friend. What a tool! What a valuable and powerful implement for service to Christ!
That is the key. Offer yourself and every part of your body to God for service to him. And Paul’s clinching argument for all of this is expressed in verse 14: For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
We need to understand. The purpose of salvation, of justification, of redemption is not just to set us free from the penalty of sin, but also to set us free from the tyranny of sin in our lives. And Paul says this in all confidence; if you have been justified by faith, sin is no longer your master. You’ve been set free! You have changed kings and kingdoms. You are not under law anymore. You are under grace. We will examine that statement more fully next week. But for now, just think of it as a statement or description of the old kingdom of sin, death and the dread of the law as contrasted to the new kingdom of God; a kingdom of grace and new life and of freedom from the tyranny of sin.
Does justification by grace encourage us to continue in a life of sin? Does the doctrine of justification by faith make sanctification unnecessary or unimportant? No way! Our union with Christ makes continuing in a life of sin unthinkable. Our union with Christ in his death and resurrection means we have a new identity. We belong to a new family, a new kingdom. We serve a new king. It is time to stop serving the old master, and present ourselves in allegiance and service to our new king.
Once again, I close with three sets of questions. First, do you belong to this new family? Have you placed your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior? Have you been united with him by faith?
Second set of questions: As a member of this new kingdom and this new family, do you realize what it means? Have you understood and reckoned with this new reality and have you presented yourself in allegiance to your new King and your members to him as instruments of righteousness?
When I was in high school, I attended a school for missionary children in Kijabe, Kenya. One Sunday evening for our young people’s meeting, they held a campfire service. I don’t remember the name or identity of the speaker. I do remember that he quoted the words of Jim Elliot, one of the missionaries who died at the hands of the Auca Indians in Ecuador: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” I also remember that he challenged us to pray and to offer our lives to God as a kind of blank check for him to fill in. I remember bowing my head and saying to God: Whatever you want me to do, Lord, I will do it. Wherever you want me to go, I am willing to go. Whatever you want me to be, I will be. I submit my will to you as Lord and King of my life.” Have you ever prayed such a prayer and made such a commitment?
Final question: Maybe you have made such a commitment to the Lord. You have reported for duty. This is my question for you: Is your life, in its present form, consistent with that commitment you made? How about this past week? Sometimes, old habits die hard, just like turning the windshield wipers on when you mean to put on the turn signal! If that’s the case, you need to confess that to the Lord, receive his forgiveness and be restored to fellowship. Then you need to come back and present yourself once again in submission and allegiance to your new King.
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- How did Pastor Cam distinguish between the definitions of “justification” and “sanctification” in the message? Based on these definitions and if Romans 4:5 is true (“God justifies the wicked”) how would you answer the question: Does the doctrine of justification by faith make sanctification unnecessary?
- Think of a situation in history (or current events!) in which an old ruler has been deposed and a nation must now reckon with the new reality of a new ruler. What analogies can we draw from these situations that might help us understand what Paul is calling for in Romans 6:12-14?
- Why is “reckoning” an important part of this process?
- Pastor Cam used the hand and tongue as examples of body “members” that can be either instruments of wickedness or instruments of righteousness. Pick some other parts of the human body and use your imaginations to picture them in either a negative or positive role.
- In the message we discover that the verb form in the second part of verse 13 (“Offer yourselves to God..”) suggests one time, urgent action. Why do you think Paul uses this tense rather than one that requires every day, on-going, continuous action? What implications can you draw from your discussion?
- Spend a time of prayer together reflecting on what you have learned in Romans 6:12-14.