Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.
1. Some would substitute here in place of "mortal," as liable to death, the idea of actual death in Christ. Sin having been plucked of its sting, our Saviour having received it in His own body, therefore there is no more power in our adversary to inflict its mortal poison upon us; he is not only disarmed of his right to condemn us, but of all ability to tyrannise over us. In virtue of his defeat he will not obtain the dominion over our hearts unless we let him. Our resistance, backed as it is by the plea of a Saviour crucified, and by the power of a Saviour exalted, will be greatly too much for him. We who have been baptized into Christ are somewhat in the same circumstances that the children of Israel, after being baptized into Moses in the Red Sea, were in reference to the tyranny of Egypt. Their enemy was engulfed in that abyss over which they found a shielded way; and, placed beyond his dominion, it was now their part to exchange the mastery of Pharaoh for the mastery of God; but those who rebelled were cut off in the wilderness.
2. And this analogy does not fail us if we take "mortal" in the customary signification. While in these mortal bodies, we are only on a road through the wilderness of earth to the blessedness of heaven. All who are really partakers with Christ in His death have got over a mighty barrier. They have been carried through the strait gate of acceptance, and have now to travel along the narrow way of duty and discipline, "not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." Let not sin reign over us on the passage that we have yet to traverse. Let us stifle every rising inclination for the carnalities of Egypt, and come not under the power of those lusts which war against the soul, till we reach the spiritual Canaan where every inclination to evil shall cease to exist and so cease to annoy us.
3. We cannot fail to perceive how widely diverse the injunction would have been, if instead of, "Let not sin reign," Paul had said, "Let sin be rooted out"; or if, instead of saying," Obey not its lusts," he had bid us eradicate them. The more enviable state, of course, would be to have no inclination to evil, and could we attain that higher state, we would become on earth what angels are in heaven; but if doomed to the lower state during all our abode here, then we may understand that the life of a Christian is a struggle of two adverse elements, and the habitual prevalence of one of them, and that sin is not to be exterminated, but to be kept at bay. Let us try to banish it, and defeated in this effort, we may give up in heartless despair the cause of our sanctification; but trying to dethrone it, and succeeding in this effort, while we mourn its hateful company, we may both keep it under control and calmly look onward to the hour of release. We cannot obtain such a victory as that we shall never feel the motions of the flesh, but we may obtain such a victory as that we shall not walk after the flesh. The enemy is not so killed as that we are delivered from his presence; but, by an unremitting strenuousness on our part, we may keep him so chained as that we shall be delivered from his power.
4. The time is coming when, freed from every opposing tendency, we shall expatiate over the realms of ethereal purity and love — just as the time is coming when the chrysalis shall burst with unfettered wing from the prison in which it is now held; and where, we doubt not, that it is aspiring and growing into a meetness for traversing at large the field of light and air above it. This representation of indwelling sin —
I. CONDUCES TO THE PEACE OF A BELIEVER. The very occurrence of a sinful desire, or feeling, harasses a delicate conscience, and he may be led to suspect therefrom his interest in the promises. But it will quiet him to be told that there is a distinction between the saint who is struggling below and the saint who is triumphing above.
II. CONDUCES TO THE BELIEVER'S PROGRESS, for it leads to a most wholesome self-distrust which, for one thing, will save him from needlessly thrusting himself into a scene of temptation. God will grant succour against the onsets which temptation maketh upon us, but He does not engage Himself to stand by us in the presumptuous onsets which we make upon temptation.
III. LEADS US TO SUCH MEASURES AS MAY STRENGTHEN THE GRACIOUS PART OF OUR CONSTITUTION for every such encounter as cannot be shunned. Temptation will come, though we should never move a step towards it. What, then, is the best method of upholding the predominance of the good principle over the evil one? A fresh commitment of ourselves in faith and in prayer to Him who first put the good principle into our hearts — another act of recurrence to the fulness that is in Christ Jesus — a new application for strength from the Lord our Sanctifier to meet this new occasion for strength which He Himself has permitted to cross our path.
(T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.