69 days into his first term President Ronald Regan barely survived an assassination attempt. In those cold war days, “Who’s in charge?” was on many minds. Then Secretary of State Alexander Haig is famous for his statement on national TV, “As of now, I’m in control here. . . .” In Romans 6:11-14 Paul is talking about who is in control, not of a country, but of your life as a believer in Jesus Christ.
“Sin will have no dominion over you” (v. 14, ESV). The tense is future, by way of emphasis, but this is a statement of fact, not a command, indicative rather than imperative. Paul looks back to the reality of your death and resurrection with Christ, a reality that is sealed in your baptism. Because sin is no longer your master, you must not let it reign. John Murray illustrates the point: “It is only because sin does not reign that it can be said, ‘Therefore let not sin reign’. . . . To say to the slave who has not been emancipated, ‘Do not behave as a slave’ is to mock his enslavement. But to say the same to the slave who has been set free is the necessary appeal to put into effect the privileges and rights of his liberation. So in this case the sequence is: sin does not have the dominion; therefore do not allow it to reign.” (John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT Vol. 1, p. 227).
Because sin no longer has dominion in your life, if you have come to Christ in faith, you must not let it rule in your mortal body, v. 12. A second imperative follows in v. 13. You must not allow your members (the parts of your body) to serve as instruments (the word could be translated, ‘weapons”) of unrighteousness. Think of the ways that the different parts of your body (including your mind, Romans 12:2) tend to lead you into sin – and recognize how incompatible that is with your new life in Christ. Since you are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus (v. 11), sin has neither dominion nor right to be present in your life. Its presence is illegal. When sin enters your life, demand its passport!
Paul is not teaching sinless perfection in this life. You are in a struggle to act in a way that is consistent with the reality that sin’s dominion has been broken. Positively, the statement that you are under grace undergirds Paul’s command to present yourself and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. It is not enough to guard against saying something dishonorable to God; you need to be consciously glorifying him in the way you use your tongue. As your family watches TV or a movie, ask yourself, are our eyes, ears, minds, and imaginations instruments of righteousness in what we are doing right now.
Above all, keep in mind Paul’s emphasis that you are under grace. You are not trying to be good enough to earn God’s favor. Rather, as one who understands something of the incomprehensible richness of God’s love in giving his Son to be your righteousness, you now consider yourself to be what you really are – alive to God in Christ Jesus. Your sanctification, no less than your justification, focuses on God’s grace in Christ Jesus.
(Reflections in preparation for the message on September 12, 2010)