Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God inChrist Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
One of the greatest privileges of my life is that I get to spend so much of my time pondering and praying and writing about the greatest realities in the universe. I live in the same world you do, and I have to brush my teeth and shut storm windows and rake leaves and repair doorknobs and clean furnace filters and pay bills and sleep. But lots of my time is spent thinking about the greatest things in the universe and communing with God over his Word, and trying to find ways to say what I see. This is a great privilege, and I thank God for it. I thank you for it, because you've trusted me with this calling.
You can share this privilege with me. You don't have to be a pastor to give your mind to great and wonderful things through the day. For example, Noel came home yesterday from three weeks of taking care of her sister's kids in Illinois. So I drove to the airport at about 10 AM. As I headed down Hiawatha, the radio was already on. That's the way most of us default. But I thought to myself, God has been so good to me. He met me this morning in Ezekiel and Job and 2 Peter. And he has kept the family safe and healthy in these three weeks and now I am about to be reunited with my wife and daughter. Why not set my mind on things that are above and enjoy God in his Word?
So I turned off the radio and said out loud from memory, slowly and moved with wonder,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away." And he who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." (Revelation 21:1-5)
I Will Make All Things New
And I let everything I saw – the grass by the road, the grain elevators, the construction equipment, the McDonalds and Burger King – I let it all be caught up into that great coming reality. "Behold I make all things new." It's all going to be new. And sin and pain will be gone. And God will be the center.
And I arrived at the airport and parked and walked in and headed down Concourse E to Gate 10. And everything I saw was in connection with this great coming reality. I wasn't in a stupor. I could still see: the casino ad, but there was no desire to get rich with this brief world; the short skirts and provocative dress (I still saw it), but there was no slavery to fantasizing or lust; the confectioner's smells and the frozen yogurt shop, but there was no bondage to appetite. Everything had its place in this world (some good, some bad), and this world was overshadowed by something far greater.
And I thought, Most of these people live in a dream, thinking that this world is the main reality. Of course, it is real. And we must live here. It's our calling. God put us here. But compared to what is coming, it is not great. And it only gets its true significance in relation to the great things of God. You don't have to be a pastor to set your mind on things that are above.
We got home and ate an early lunch together, and I retreated to work on this message. I read the text from Romans again, and thought: Look at this! Look at all these staggering realities I get to think about and pray over and talk about. I thought: Could more great things be concentrated in a few verses than are concentrated here? I'll mention them in order. Maybe you will see them if you let your eyes run through verses 11-14 as I mention them. Here is death and sin and life and God and Christ and your mortal body and desire and the law of God and the grace of God.
Wake Up, O Sleeper!
These are the great things of the universe. And we have the unspeakable privilege this morning of lingering here and looking at them and meditating on them and being transformed to see the world for what it really is and to live in the light of Truth. I know that some of you are not the least interested in these things. You have no emotional resonance with what I am saying at all. What you really get excited about is a new CD. Or a new outfit. Or losing five pounds. Or watching a ballgame. Or adding a room to your house. Or getting a new car or computer. To you – children, teenagers, adults – I plead, along with the apostle Paul, "Wake up, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light" (Ephesians 5:14).
Don't be like the person who goes to the Grand Canyon with a little garden shovel in his hand, and on the precipice of that majesty turns his back to the Canyon, kneels down, and digs a little trough with his shovel and shouts, "Hey, look at this! Look at my trough! Isn't that cool!" I know that the pressing and desirable things of your life seem big. But just a little clearheaded thought will show you they are not. Get up and turn around and look at the Canyon. Don't live your life walking down the E Concourse thinking that yogurt and sweet rolls and short skirts are really what it's all about.
It's all about death and sin and life and God and Christ and your mortal body and desire and the law of God and the grace of God. God calls us to something great. He did not give you life to spend it on troughs and trifles.
We are going to spend two weeks on this text and here is how we will do it, God willing. The text is not long – four short verses. There is a description of a great conflict or battlefield and how you fight and how you win. The more I thought about this text, the more I thought that we need to take these two things on different Sundays. Today look at the battlefield and the conflict and the contestants and what's at stake. And next Sunday look at how you fight and win.
First, then, I see verses 12-14 as the description of a great conflict or battleground in the life of a typical believer. This is you and me here. Not an unbeliever. So who and what make up this conflict? Let's describe the situation here. I see eight things in the warfare of these verses. I'll mention them, and then come back and make some brief comments about them in relation to our lives.
1. There is a kingly throne or reign. Verse 12: "Do not let sin reign." There is a reign that is being contested in this passage. A throne. The word "reign" is simply the verb form of the word for king.
2. There is a challenger to this throne, a revolutionary, a rebel who wants to take over the kingdom, namely, sin. "Do not let sin reign." He is in revolt and mutiny and means to lead a coup and gain the throne. And you are called to resist.
3. There are a town and castle that are under attack by the challenger to the throne, namely, your body. "Do not let sin reign in your mortal body."
4. There are servants in the castle who may become deceptive secret agents of the rebel leader and use their inside servant role to seduce and capture parts of the castle. These servants are called "desires." "Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires." The word is neutral. They may become "evil desires" or "lusts," but not if the rebel sin does not capture them.
5. Incremental surrender is possible. That's what the word "obey" signals in verse 12. "Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires." If sin, the leader of the revolt, takes some desire captive and sends it in behind the castle walls with a deceptive promise of immunity and reward for capitulation, the obedience to that desire would be the surrender of part of the castle.
6. There are weapons in the castle that may be captured and turned around and used by the enemy for his unrighteous purposes. These weapons are the parts of your body – your eyes and ears and tongue and hands and feet and sexual organs. Verse 13: "Do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as weapons of unrighteousness." The word, o[pla (hopla), in all its four other uses in the New Testament (three in Paul and one in John 18:3) means "weapons," not just instruments. In other words, I am not just making up this battle imagery. Paul is pointing to it. Don't let the rebel, sin, capture the members of your body and turn them into weapons against the true King.
7. There is a true king over the realm, namely, God. Verse 13b: "Do not surrender the members of your body to sin – the rebel contender for the throne – so he can make them weapons of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as weapons of righteousness to God." So the true King is God. Sin is the rebel and the insurrectionist. Stay loyal to the true King with all your weapons and all your servants – all your desires and all your members.
8. Finally, there is the constitutional authority of the kingdom, namely, grace, not law. Verse 14: "For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace."
King, Power, and Desire
That's the situation Paul describes, the conflict. Now let me make three comments of application to us.
First, God is our King. To him belong the castle of the body and the service of our desires and the weapons of our members and the throne of the kingdom. The call here is for us to be loyal to the King. He made us alive and made us his dwelling place through Jesus Christ. Keep trusting him and depending on him and submitting to him. Resist all contenders for the throne of your life. It belongs to God.
Second, sin is a power, not just an act. Verse 12: "Let not sin reign in your mortal body." Sin threatens to reign. It is not just the acts we do but the power that takes us captive through desires and brings actions about.
Third, the desires of the body are not sin in and of themselves, but are servants of the body and can be captured by the rebel leader, sin, and made into internal enemy agents that seduce us into handing over members of our body that become weapons of unrighteousness. In verse 12 ("Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires."), "its" refers to the body, not sin." (auvtou [autou] is neuter, not feminine and so agrees with sw,mati [somati], not a`marti,a [amartia]). In other words, the desires of the body can be captured by the power of sin and made to serve anti-God aims. Parts of your body can be captured by Judas-like servant-desires and handed over to the enemy for unrighteous acts.
Our Desires – Servants or Secret Agents?
Pleasing Delilah was a legitimate thing for Samson to do while she was a faithful wife. But when she was a secret agent of the enemy, Samson's surrender to her meant destruction. So it is with our desires and sin. If they are faithful desires, loyal desires, reflecting the truth and value of God, then we may please them. But if sin captures them and makes them his deceptive agents, then our pleasing them would be joining the conspiracy and may become treason.
Specifically, there is, for example . . .
- The desire for food (hunger) which serves us well, but when sin captures it, the desire becomes gluttony or bulimia or anorexia and it rules us for the sake of the enemy, and our tongue and mouth and stomach become weapons of unrighteousness.
- The desire for drink (thirst) which serves us well, but when sin captures it, the desire may become alcoholism or caffeine addiction, and the tongue becomes a weapon of unrighteousness.
- The desire for sexual satisfaction which is a good servant of procreation and marriage joy, but if sin captures it, the desire becomes lust for pornography or masturbation or fornication or adultery or homosexual relations, and our sexual organs become the weapons of unrighteousness.
- The desire for rest and sleep which serves us well, but if sin captures it, the desire becomes sloth and laziness.
Just Say No?
So how do you fight and win this battle? That is what we will talk about next week from this same text. But you can see already, I hope, that the battle is not a surface battle as if you could just say no to a list of unrighteous acts. The battle is far deeper than that. It goes beneath acts to desires. And it goes beneath desires to the power of sin. And it goes beneath the power of sin to union with Christ. And it goes beneath union with Christ to what Christ did in history on the cross for us, and what happened to us in him.
And the big issue is not just what acts you do or don't do or what desires you give in to and which you don't. The big issue is Who is king? Who reigns? That is the issue as you leave now: Who is your King? Who reigns in your life? Who are you submitting to? Sin or God?
Let it be God through Jesus Christ! Christ has made it possible for sinners to surrender to God with complete amnesty and all rebellion forgiven. Trust Christ and hand yourselves over to God.