Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.
We saw in last section how the leading facts of our Lord's life get copied into the experience of the regenerate; so that we have a death and burial, and crucifixion, and resurrection, and new life along with Christ. Sanctification in this way naturally issues out of justification. The apostle consequently proceeds to show that the dominion of sin is broken by the same means as the removal of our condemnation, viz. by outlook to Jesus. We find ourselves to be no longer under law as a condemning power, but under a reign of grace. But if we are under a reign of grace, and not under a condemning law, might we not be tempted to think lightly of sin; nay, more, to sin that grace may abound? To meet this objection, the apostle discusses the reign of sin, and contrasts it with the reign of grace. Sin may be our master, but as the slave of sin we shall get rewarded in shame and death; or righteousness, that is, the God of grace himself may be our Master, and, as the slave of righteousness or slave of God, we shall have our reward - a reward of grace, in the development of holiness, and in the gift of eternal life. We cannot do better, then, than contrast the reign of sin with the reign of grace.
I. THE REIGN OF SIN. (Vers. 12, 13, 21.) And in this connection let us notice:
1. Sin is a very exacting tyrant. In fact, when we become slaves of sin, we cease being our own masters. We lose the dignity of our nature; we lose self-command; we lose will-power and decision of character. Our bodies become the instruments of unrighteousness, and the lusts of the flesh are obeyed. The prodigal in the parable presents vividly the condition of one under the tyranny of sin (Luke 15:11-25). Then we notice:
2. Sin is a very poor paymaster. For even allowing that it has pleasures to bestow, these are found to be only for a season (Hebrews 11:25). After these come shame, remorse, and the horrible tempest which infuriated sin entails. Then comes death, the real wages, or rations (ὀφώνια from ὄφον, "cooked meat," see Shedd, in loc.). This means, of course, alienation from God, and, when it sets finally into the experience, proves a hopeless and helpless condition.
3. The sooner all slaves of sin change their master the better. The reign of sin only tends to torment. The soul that sells itself to such a tyrant is a fool. He is beside himself, like the prodigal, when he does so. He comes to himself when he renounces the tyranny and transfers his allegiance.
II. THE REIGN OF GRACE. (Vers. 16-23.) Now, in this passage the apostle uses no less than three terms to express the new and better reign. These are "grace," "obedience," "righteousness." And then, dropping personification altogether, he shows how we become subjects and slaves of God. From the slavery of sin it is possible to pass into the service and slavery of God. We may get free from sin, and then shall we be at liberty to serve God and be his slaves. We shall not make much mistake if we take up Paul's teaching under the idea of a reign of grace, And here we have to notice:
1. We enter of our own free-will into the slavery of the God of grace. We are not forced into it; we are "made willing in the day of God's power" (Psalm 110:3). The slavery to God is voluntary. It is a yielding of ourselves. In both slaveries we must remember that the will is not forced, but free. We are free in our slavery to sin; we are free when we turn from it to the slavery of a God of grace. No one forces our hand.
2. We enter our state of grace through obeying from the heart "that form of teaching whereunto we were delivered (Revised Version). This refers clearly to the all-important doctrine of justification by faith, through the reception of which we get delivered from condemnation, and started on our course of sanctification. It is most important, therefore, that that doctrine should be faithfully and clearly stated to the soul which is enslaved through sin. It is the very charter of its spiritual freedom.
3. We find that in serving a God of grace we secure holiness of character. For this voluntary and gracious slavery implies the dedication of all our powers to God. We lay ourselves as living sacrifices" on God's altar. We find ourselves in consequence visited by an increasing sense of consecration. We learn to live not unto ourselves, but unto him who died for us and rose again (2 Corinthians 5:14). This sense of consecration becomes habitual. We feel that we are not our own, but bought with a price, and therefore bound to glorify God with our bodies as well as spirits, which are God's. (1 Corinthians 6:20).
4. We find this service of grace happy as well as holy. In other words, we find in God an excellent Paymaster. His service is delightful. Feeling that we are less than the least of all his mercies, feeling that we are at best but unprofitable servants, we accept joyfully whatever he sends; we feel that he daily loadeth us with his benefits, and then, regarding the great future, he gives us therein "eternal life." Doubtless we do not, strictly speaking, deserve such rewards; they are rewards of grace, not of debt; they are free" gifts" from a gracious Master. Yet they are none the less welcome. Let us, then, renounce the reign of sin, and accept the reign of grace. Its fruit, increasing with the consistent years, is unto holiness, and its end is everlasting life. We are real freemen only when we have become the slaves of a gracious God. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.