(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 7/14/02 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Let's turn to Romans chapter 6. Over the past few sermons, we have focused on the Christian's identification with and union with Jesus Christ in His death and in His resurrection, which is also called His life. As far as our oneness with Christ in His DEATH goes, verse 3 says we were baptized into His death; verse 4 says we were buried with Him through baptism into death; verse 5 says we have been joined together in the likeness of His death; verse 6 says that our old man was crucified with Him; and verse 8 says that we died with Christ. As far as our oneness with Christ in His LIFE goes, verse 5 says we are joined together in the likeness of His resurrection, and verse 8 says that we live with Christ. Paul summarizes all of this in verses 10 and 11:
Romans 6: (10) For in that He died, He died to sin once for all; but in that He lives, He lives to God. (11) So also you count yourselves to be truly dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
But why did Paul go into this discourse about the Christian's oneness with Christ in the first place? Was it merely a discourse with no application? Well, let's look back at verses 1 and 2:
Romans 6: (1) What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? (2) Let it not be! We who died to sin, how shall we still live in it?
These are the rhetorical questions that came before Paul's discourse about the Christian's oneness with Christ. Paul is saying this: Shall a Christian continue to live in sin after he has been regenerated? Well, HOW CAN HE, since he has DIED TO SIN? Then he goes into HOW the Christian has died to sin in Christ and lives to God in Christ. So the WHOLE POINT of Paul's discourse had to do with PROVING that all regenerate persons have DIED to sin because they were JOINED TO CHRIST in HIS death to sin, and also PROVING that all regenerate persons are ALIVE to God because they have been JOINED TO CHRIST in HIS resurrection life. Verse 6 is key to the argument:
Romans 6: (6) knowing this, that our old man was crucified with [Him], that the body of sin might be nullified, so that we no longer serve sin.
Those whom God has saved - our OLD MAN was CRUCIFIED with Christ, so that we, the NEW MAN who LIVES with Christ, no longer serve sin. Because of our objective identification with Christ, we subjectively do not live in or serve sin. Because of our UNION with Christ, it is IMPOSSIBLE to live in or serve sin. Did you hear that? If anyone says that it is POSSIBLE for a Christian to live in or serve sin, then he is saying that Christians ARE NOT united with Christ in His death and resurrection. If anyone who claims to be a Christian says that HE is living in or serving sin, he is saying that HE is not united with Christ in His death and resurrection. There's no other way around it.
Paul uses DOCTRINE to explain the Christian's WALK. And he does it very logically. The logic flows like this: Christ died to sin. Christians are one with Christ. Thus, Christians died to sin. Those who died to sin cannot live IN sin. Christians died to sin. Thus, Christians cannot live in sin.
Verse 11 says that we are to count ourselves to be truly dead to sin. How do we do that? Do we just tell ourselves over and over, "I am truly dead to sin," like a mantra? Well, the Holy Spirit through Paul is much less mystical and much more practical than that. Let's read verses 12 through 14:
Romans 6: (12) Then do not let sin reign in your mortal body, to obey it in its lusts. (13) Neither present your members [as] instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as [one] living from [the] dead, and your members instruments of righteousness to God. (14) For your sin shall not lord it over you, for you are not under Law, but under grace.
What's the first thing Paul says after he says that Christians are to count our selves to be dead to sin and alive to God? He says, "THEN, do not let sin reign in your mortal body, to obey it in its lusts." HAVING SAID ALL THIS about our union with Christ, DO NOT let sin reign in your mortal body. Here we get into the practical Christian walk, to the consternation of the antinomians. They'd like to stay with the theoretical and not talk about how it applies specifically to the minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day conduct of a Christian. They say, "if you preach about a Christian's conduct, you're getting away from the gospel." Well, they'd have to say that Paul was getting away from the gospel whenever he preached about the specifics of conduct. The TRUTH is that the specifics of conduct MUST be preached, and they must be preached in light of the gospel. Paul shows, by connecting our union with Christ with our practical walk, that the gospel and a Christian's walk are connected. Salvation is conditioned on the work of Jesus Christ alone. That is the gospel. Salvation is not conditioned on the Christian's walk in any way, to any degree. At the same time, our salvation is IN ORDER TO walk in newness of life, not letting sin reign in our mortal bodies, to obey its lusts. As Ephesians 2:10 says, we are created in Christ Jesus UNTO good works, which God before PREPARED that we should WALK in them. Now if God PREPARED beforehand that we SHOULD WALK in them, is there any possibility that we WOULD NOT walk in them? Of course not.
But let's look at the first part of verse 12: "Then do not let sin reign in your mortal body." This is a command, is it not? Now there would be some who would say that when God commands something to Christians, it necessarily means that this is something that Christians sometimes do not do. Their reasoning is: Why would there be a command for a Christian to do something that is and always will be a reality in that Christian's life? Thus, they would say that this command implies that there are times that sin DOES reign in a Christian, and the Christian then needs to be reminded NOT to let sin reign, then the Christian goes back to NOT letting sin reign until he slips into letting sin reign again, and we go through the whole process again. What's wrong with this view? Well, all I need to do is quote ONE Scripture verse that blasts this view to pieces, and it's just a couple verses down in verse 14: "For your sin shall NOT lord it over you, for you are not under Law, but under grace." Sin will NOT reign in a Christian. Sin will NOT have dominion in a Christian. Sin will NOT rule in a Christian. We have already seen this in verse 6, which says that we no longer serve sin. And further on down, in verses 18 and 22, we see that we have been SET FREE from sin.
So what's the reason for such a command? It is an exhortation to Christians to continue to FIGHT THE FIGHT. Sin remains a powerful principle in the Christian's life, and the Christian still struggles against sin. This is a command to STRIVE AGAINST indwelling sin and OPPOSE it and WAGE WAR against it. God uses MEANS to accomplish His purposes, and even though Christians are NOT under the reign of sin and NEVER WILL BE, God uses the means of our WAR against sin to accomplish the purpose that sin will never REIGN. It's like God's command to Christians in Hebrews 12:1 to run the race with endurance. This does not in any way imply that any Christian will NOT run the race with endurance - EVERY Christian will run the race with endurance and FINISH the race. Yet we are exhorted to run with endurance, for that is what the Christian's life is all about. And how are we to run it? Looking unto Jesus, who caused us to BEGIN the race and who causes us to COMPLETE the race! When we run the race, we're running it knowing already that we are the victors in Christ. And when we battle to not let sin reign in our mortal bodies, we're fighting the battle knowing already that we are the victors in Christ! Yet NO Christian will just lay back and say, "Christ has done it all for me, so I'll just not do anything." Every Christian WILL strive against sin and WILL strive to obey God's commandments.
The second part of the phrase is, "To obey it in its lusts." We are commanded not to obey the sinful lusts of our bodies. Paul connects the REIGN of sin with OBEDIENCE to lusts. Thus, a person who does not let sin reign in his body is someone who lives a life that is characterized by RESISTING and WARRING AGAINST the lusts of the body. The lusts of the body include many things, including the desire to kill or harm, the desire to commit adultery or fornication, and the desire to steal or have what is someone else's. This is particularly talking about what goes on in the HEART of the person, while verse 13 is particularly talking about what goes on in the ACTIONS OF THE BODY of the person:
Romans 6: (13) Neither present your members [as] instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as [one] living from [the] dead, and your members instruments of righteousness to God.
One's "members" literally means body parts or limbs. Presenting one's members as instruments of unrighteousness means outward unlawful actions that are the outworkings of the sinful lusts, such as actual killing or doing harm, committing adultery or fornication, stealing, lying, and so on. Any part of the body can be involved in sinful actions, such as the eyes, the mouth, the arms, the hands, the sexual organs, the legs, the feet, and so on.
So, instead of presenting the parts of our bodies as things with which to perform wickedness, what does God command? He commands us to use our body parts as instruments of righteousness. For example, our mouths should be used for encouragement and exhortation to brothers in Christ, for proclaiming the gospel, and for praising God in word and song. Our eyes should be used to read God's Word. Our hands should be used to help those in need, and so on. Everything we think and everything we do and everything we say should be to the glory of God. In the middle of verse 13, we are commanded to present ourselves to God as one living from the dead. Here's another reference to our oneness with Christ in His resurrection. Our old man died with Christ, and our new man arose with Christ. As Christ, who was once dead, now lives, so we, who were once dead, now live. We are to walk as those who are alive to God and dead to sin. Now let's think about how such a person is to walk. We used to be dead in trespasses and sins, under the just condemnation of God, enemies of God, children of wrath, bringing forth evil deeds and fruit unto death. We have now been redeemed, justified, sanctified, in fellowship with God, at peace with God, having our sins completely taken away at the cross. How does such a person walk, who has been blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies with Christ? Does he walk the same way he walked when he was an enemy of God, dead in trespasses and sins, fulfilling the lusts of the flesh? No - he walks as one who has been made ALIVE from the DEAD: a life of thankfulness, love, joy, and peace, in which he expresses his thankfulness by his obedience to God. He has been given a NEW heart and a NEW spirit and is caused to walk in God's statutes, not out of legalistic obedience, but out of love for the God who saved him based solely on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ. THIS is what characterizes the conduct of a Christian.
On to verse 14:
Romans 6: (14) For your sin shall not lord it over you, for you are not under Law, but under grace.
We already went over the first part of this verse. Whereas verse verses 12 and 13 are commands, verse 14 is a promise. And this promise shows that Christians DO what is commanded in verses 12 and 13. The second part of verse 14 gives the reason WHY the sin of the Christian shall not lord it over him: Christians are not under Law, but under grace. Now we hear this phrase a lot, mostly by unbelievers who are trying to promote their false gospel. There are two main heretical interpretations of this phrase. The first heresy is that this means that Christians are in the so-called "age of grace" or "gospel economy" in which God's people are saved by grace, as opposed to the supposed "age of law" or "Mosaic economy" in which God's people were saved by works. As we saw when we went over Romans 4, there has always been ONE way to God in ALL ages, and that is by the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament saints believed the SAME GOSPEL as the New Testament saints. If salvation were by works in the Old Testament, then, as Romans 4 says, the promise has been annulled. Also, this heretical explanation has nothing to do with the context of the passage. Of course, the dispensationalists don't really care about context.
The second heresy is that the phrase "not under law but under grace" means that Christians are not required to obey any of God's commands, because only the Old Testament saints were "under law" as a rule of life. These are the antinomians that we have been talking about. As in the dispensationalist interpretation, the antinomians say that those who were "under law" were the Old Testament saints and those who are "under grace" are the New Testament saints, including current saints. And, as in the dispensationalist interpretation, the antinomians have no regard for context. In fact, the dispensationalists and the antinomians have a lot in common, and there is a lot of overlap between the two camps.
But God's truth has nothing in common with either of these camps. When He speaks of "under law," he obviously means an unregenerate person. Those who are "under law" are the ones who are under the curse of the law, the ones who are going about to establish a righteousness of their own, who do not have a righteousness that meets the demands of God's law and justice. There were no Old Testament saints who were "under law," because they were not under the curse of the law because Christ's righteousness was imputed to them, and they realized that their law-keeping formed NO PART of the ground of their salvation or acceptance before God.
The term "under grace" speaks of those who have been saved based on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ, without deeds of Law. It DOES NOT mean that those who are "under grace" no longer have God's law as their rule of life; in fact, what we've already gone over in Romans 6 shows that Christians are COMMANDED to keep God's law and are CHARACTERIZED by obedience. In both the Old Testament age and the present New Testament age, there were and are people who are "under grace." ALL of the Old Testament saints were "under grace." They lived in the "age of grace" just as much as WE live in the "age of grace." They were no more "under law" than WE are "under law."
So let's summarize verse 14 to close. Sin shall not lord it over, reign over, have dominion over, the believer, BECAUSE the believer is not under the curse of the law but is under the reign of grace. Those who have been redeemed, justified, and sanctified, have been freed from the dominion of sin, never to be ruled by it again. We have our struggles with sin, and we will never be totally free from sin until we die or until Christ returns, but our sin does not have the dominance it had when we were under its reign. Let's read Romans 5:20 and 21 to close:
Romans 5: (20) But Law came in besides, that the deviation might abound. But where sin abounded, grace much more abounded, (21) that as sin ruled in death, so also grace might rule through righteousness to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.