Do Not Let Sin Reign

Paul sometimes uses the same expression in both the indicative (a statement of fact) and imperative (a statement of command) moods. For example, in Galatians 3:27 he said, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (an indicative statement). However, in Romans 13:14, he exhorted us to “clothe [ourselves] with the Lord Jesus Christ” (an imperative command). Similarly, on many occasions he spoke of us as being “in Christ Jesus” (for example, 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:17), all of these being indicative statements. Yet in Colossians 2:6, he exhorted us to “continue to live in him,” an imperative exhortation.
We find another illustration of this in Romans 6:11–13. Paul had just explained in rather elaborate fashion that believers have died to the reign of sin. But in verse 12 he exhorted us not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies. “Why,” we may ask, “if we died to the reign of sin, do we need to be exhorted not to let sin reign in our bodies?” Basically Paul was saying in this and the above instances, “Live out in your lives the reality of the gospel. Take advantage of and put to use all the provisions of grace God has given you in Christ.”
John Murray has given us an excellent illustration of the relationship of the imperative to the indicative. He wrote, “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.”
We will consider the imperatives of Romans 6:12–13 in later chapters. For now, however, we want to look at verse 11, which says, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Actually verse 11 is an imperative, but it is an exhortation to believe something, not to do something. We are to count on or believe the fact that we actually did die to the guilt and consequent dominion of sin. To borrow from Professor Murray’s slave illustration, we are to believe that we truly have been set free. Not only are we to believe we have died to sin; we are also to believe we are alive unto God, united to the risen Christ, and partakers of His divine nature. It is the belief of this truth that will give us the courage not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies. And it is through reliance upon this truth that we will experience the power of His Spirit, who dwells within us to enable us to resist the motions of sin so that it is not able to reign in us.
During the long years of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, a Russian air force pilot flew his fighter plane from a base in Russia to an American air force base in Japan and asked for asylum. He was flown to the United States where he was duly debriefed, given a new identity, and set up as a bona fide resident of the United States. In due time he became an American citizen.
The Russian pilot’s experience illustrates to some degree what happened to us when we died to sin and were made alive to God. He changed kingdoms; he was given a new identity and a new status. He was no longer a Russian; he was now an American. He was no longer under the rule of what was then an oppressive and totalitarian government. Now he was free to experience all of the advantages and resources of living in a free and prosperous country.
This former Russian pilot, however, was still the same person. He had the same personality, the same habits, and the same cultural patterns as he did before he flew out of Russia. But he did have a new identity and a new status. As a result of his new identity and status as a citizen in a free country, he now had the opportunity to grow as a free person, to discard the mind-set of someone living under bondage, and to put off the habit patterns of a person living under the heel of a despotic regime. Furthermore, as a benefactor of our government’s intelligence establishment, he was furnished all the resources needed to make a successful transition to an American citizen.
In effect, this Russian pilot “died” to his old identity as a Russian citizen and was “made alive” in a new identity as an American citizen. As an American, all the resources of our government were at his disposal to become in fact what he had become in status. But this could not have happened without first changing his status.
When we as believers died to sin, we died to a status wherein we were under bondage to the tyrannical reign of sin. At the same time we were granted citizenship in the Kingdom of God and, through our vital union with Jesus Christ, were furnished all the resources we need to become in fact what we have become in status. We have been given all we need to bring the imperative—“do not let sin reign in your mortal body”—into line with the indicative—“we died to sin.” But this could not have happened without a change in our status. And it is through our legal union with Christ in His death and resurrection that our status has been forever changed.
We must count on this and believe it. We must by faith in God’s Word lay hold on the fact that we have died to the reign of sin and are now alive to God, under His reign of grace. Unless we do this we will find ourselves seeking to pursue holiness by the strength of our own wills, not by the grace of God.
So the imperative to pursue holiness—to not let sin reign in our mortal bodies—is based on the fact of grace. That is, through our union with Christ in His death to sin and life to God, God has given us all the resources we need to pursue holiness.
Therefore, we can say the truth that “where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20), far from being an occasion to sin all the more, is actually the only provision from God whereby we can deal with sin and make any progress in the pursuit of holiness. That is why I said early in chapter 1 that the pursuit of holiness, while requiring all-out effort on our part, must be firmly anchored in the grace of God.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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