But present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life. —Romans 6:13
What are the key words here? “Reign” (“Let not sin therefore reign”), “obey” (“to make you obey”), and “have dominion” (“sin will have no dominion”). So we know what Christ wants to talk to us about this morning: his lordship over our lives. And here’s the reason for choosing decisively today to place ourselves under Christ. With him as our Lord, we are not under law but under grace. We’re going to be under something or other. If you’re telling yourself, “I’m not like my parents (or whoever), I’m free from my past,” the truth is, that very thought is a reaction to your past, so it still has its hooks into you, you’re still dominated by it. Only Christ can say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, 30).
Here’s the deal. Jesus gives himself wholeheartedly to you, and you give yourself wholeheartedly back to him. That is Christianity. How could it be otherwise? The Bible says it’s like marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33). There are two kinds of husbands a woman wouldn’t want to be married to. One husband says to his wife every morning, “Here are the rules and regulations for today. Tick off every box and give me a full report when I get home tonight. I want to see if your performance measures up.” That isn’t grace. Another husband says to his wife every morning, “Have a nice day with all your boyfriends. I sure hope you’re here when I get home. Need a credit card? Is there anything else I can do, because I really need you to like me”? That isn’t grace either. Christ gives all, his very lifeblood, and he expects all, because wholehearted, mutual giving is grace making us alive to God. We receive the passionate grace of Christ, and we return back to him our passionate gratitude. This morning, the Lord Jesus Christ is calling you and me to present ourselves to him in full surrender, even as he has given himself in full grace to us. Before our service is over, I’ll give you an opportunity to make your declaration to Christ.
What are we seeing here in Romans? The reign of grace in Christ (5:21). It has nothing to do with what we’ve done for him. It has everything to do with what he has done for us. The reign of grace means that anyone can come to Christ. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, do not tell yourself you’re too sinful. Grace, by definition, is not something we deserve. Grace, be definition, is for sinful people. Grace is like this. It’s like the $165 million that went out as bonuses to the idiots at AIG. It’s a scandal. They don’t deserve it. They should give it back. They got themselves and their company into this mess in the first place. But I have to tell you – and this is not a comment on what our national policies should be – I have to tell you that those bonuses at AIG look a lot like God’s economy in Christ. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still idiots, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, modified). Christ gives bonuses to incompetent people. It’s a scandal. We don’t deserve it. We got ourselves and our families and our community into this mess in the first place. But God says, “True, you don’t deserve it. But don’t give it back. Take it. Take it all. Grace is the only power in the universe that can change you.”
It is so good for us to be in recession these days. It shows us God in a new way. It calls us back to God. The gospel says, we’re born into bankruptcy, ruined by Adam. We think we can cover the debt with our own good deeds. But our every attempt to pay that debt only digs us deeper, because our currency is counterfeit in God’s sight. It’s printed in our fraudulent hearts and mixed motives, and God sees that. We cannot pay God back. So there’s only one thing for you and me to do. Stop faking it. Embrace our bankruptcy. Admit it. It’s so humiliating. It wounds our pride. But the only people who get the bailout rescue are those who declare bankruptcy. In his perfect life and guilty death, Christ paid in full the debts of incompetent people who have wrecked their lives. And he offers us his endless wealth on terms of grace. Are you willing to receive the bailout called grace? Or are you too proud for that? If you are willing, if you’re heartsick over what you’ve done, you will be glad for his grace to both pay your debt and start to change you. “Not under law but under grace” is newness of life for people who want a new life. Will you receive from God this morning a free bonus through Christ? Or are you above it?
Our next step in Romans is 6:12-14. God is calling us to offer our wholehearted Yes to Jesus, so that we deploy ourselves for him. That is where God wants to take us this morning. He gives his all in grace. He demands our all in gratitude. When Christ has our all, that’s when we begin to experience his all. Let’s go there together now.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. —Romans 6:12
Some people think that God’s grace is permissive. It’s a common fallacy in Nashville Christianity. But then why does Paul tell us, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body”? Why does the apostle of grace call us to decisiveness about how we live? How is Romans 6:12 a message of grace? The easiest way to explain it is also distasteful but helpful. The title of chapter one of Mark Driscoll’s book Porn-Again Christian – the title of chapter one is “A tall glass of toilet water.” If God said to you, “Drink whatever the world offers you,” would that be grace? God says, “Poison will kill you. Don’t drink it. Drink from the fountain of living waters freely and fully in Christ.” That’s grace. So, we have decisions to make.
Think of all the times the Bible calls us to be decisive. Let’s think of Jesus alone, the most gracious man who ever walked the face of the earth. What did Jesus say? “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). When he said that to us, was he putting us under law or drawing us into his grace? What else did Jesus say? “You must be born again” (John 3:7). Was he imposing some burden on us, or was he calling us into life? Jesus said, “Listen to me” (Mark 7:14), “Take up your cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24), “Rejoice and leap for joy” (Luke 6:23), “Humble yourself” (Matthew 18:3-4), “Forgive seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22), “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:23), “Clean the inside of the cup” (Matthew 23:26), “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44), “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20), “Make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). And that’s for starters. And that’s just Jesus, to say nothing of Isaiah and all the others. When grace exerts its liberating authority, it doesn’t morph into law; it is saving us by calling us to change. There is no question about the nature of grace. The only question is this. Are you right now the person you really want to be? Are you right now the person God made you to be? If you’re happy with yourself and want to stay the way you are, you don’t need God’s grace. You desperately need God to come wreck your life, to get your attention and reduce you to his wonderful grace, where you can finally begin your life. But if you’re not proud of what you are and what you’ve done and you want to become a man or woman of God, he offers you everything freely in Christ.
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.” The people for whom that verse was written are sinners. If this verse was written for sinless people, there would be no point. The only people who need verse 12 are sinners. So, this is a verse for people who feel the power of temptation and sin. You don’t say to a slave, “Don’t be a slave.” That command would only mock him. You only say to free people, “Don’t be a slave, don’t be a victim, don’t let sin reign over you.” This verse was written for sinners who have come under the reign of grace. You don’t need to be sinless, but you do need to be decisive.
The word translated “passions” can be paraphrased as “over-desires.” That’s the etymology of the word translated “passions.” A passion that can dominate us and use our very bodies – our minds, our ears, our tongues, our stomachs, our hands and feet and all parts of us – a passion that can reign through us is simply an over-desire, an excessive desire, an over-the-top desire, an inordinate desire. The point is, it might be a desire for a good thing, but the desire itself is out of whack. It’s taking over. We’re giving ourselves over to the control of a desire that’s lost sight of Christ.
How do we get back? God’s grace. The only power in the universe that can re-win our hearts, our desires, our passions, so that we give those deepest capacities to God – the only power that can do that is grace. When you feel yourself getting riled up in some way, here’s how you fight your way back to sanity and settled happiness in Christ. Think about his love. Think about his goodness. Think of Christ, humbling himself for you, becoming a human being just like you, to get close to you, to obey for you, to suffer for you, to die on the cross for you, to rise again for you, to ascend to the Father for you, to prepare a place for you, to return soon for you. Think about your baptism. You have been washed. You have been set apart to God. It was all of grace. Okay, now you know what to do. Run from your passions back into the arms of God, who loves you so much, and he will give you new passions.
Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness. —Romans 6:13
Do you see that the word “present” appears twice? It’s the key word in this verse. It means “to put at someone’s disposal, to yield.” We will give ourselves to something. And here the Bible personifies evil as a master we can serve and give ourselves to. It’s a horrible thought, but a daily reality. Think of peer pressure. It can master us. Think of the power of cultural trends. They can dominate us. Think of the power of intimidation, even silent intimidation. It can shape us. Every day well-meaning people serve sin. How? They cut corners, they make excuses, they look the other way, they rationalize. What God wants us to see is that, in those moments of our lives, we are presenting ourselves to sin as its slaves, as if we didn’t believe God will take care of us. If we do believe that sin is in control of our world, what else can we do but make compromises to get by? But the gospel says, if you have put your trust in Christ, God has brought you under the reign of his grace. The Bible says that all of God’s promises, to protect you, forgive you, provide for you, lead you, use you, satisfy you, prepare a place for you – all of God’s promises are one huge YES to you because of Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). That gospel must claim us and change us and embolden us. A man complained to Tertullian, the early church father, that his business interests and his Christianity were coming into conflict. The man said, “What can I do? I must live.” Tertullian answered, “Must you?” The reign of grace calls us to present ourselves, offer ourselves, not to sin but to God because we’re trusting in his promises now. So the first thing I want you to see in verse 13 is the word “present.”
Then the other thing I want you to see is the little surprise in the middle of the verse. Here’s what I expect Paul to say: “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” First the negative, then the positive counterpart, right? But what does Paul do? He inserts into the middle of the verse, “But present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life.” Why is that there? How does that help us? It’s here because chapter 6 has been reminding us of what God has done for us, how he has united us with Christ in his death and resurrection, symbolized by our baptism. Think back to your last high school reunion. What did you see there? At my last reunion I really enjoyed being with my friends again. They’re wonderful people. But it was obvious there were two kinds of people. Some were alive to visceral pleasure, ego, money, status and the things of this world. And I have to hand it to them. They were making a heroic attempt to keep this party called this life going full-steam. They were trying so hard to have fun. Others were alive to God. And they were radiant, they were relaxed, they were free at heart, they were enjoying life, because God’s grace was upon them. They weren’t having to make life work. God was giving it to them freely. They were walking in newness of life, and they looked younger than my other friends. If you are in Christ, that’s what God is doing for you too. He does not put you under a regimen of behavior modification. That’s law. His way with you is grace – new life from the Holy Spirit deep in your heart that changes what you care about, what you believe, what you’re living for, and how you deploy the very members of your body – your eyes and ears and tongue and your whole body from head to toe – how you live with intentionality so that people look at you and think, “Whoa. I can see in him/her something of what a human being is meant to be.” That is righteousness on display. Cornelius Plantinga puts it this way:
That’s what the grace of God is for – not simply to balance a ledger but to stimulate the spurts of growth in zeal, in enthusiasm for shalom, in good hard work, in sheer delicious gratitude for the gift of life in all its pain and all its wonder.
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. —Romans 6:14
That is a promise from God. Not a command, but a promise. If you are in Christ, the grace of God will free you from desperation, fear and the wackiness that makes us misbehave. That is his promise. Therefore, if you are in Christ, your primary concern in life is not to avoid sin but to stay under grace. Why? Because grace and grace alone has the power to free us from the grip of sin. Will you by faith today put yourself under his reign of grace? You’re going to be under one or the other – either under the reign of sin or under the reign of grace. If you put yourself under the law, you will reinforce the enslaving powers of everything dark within you. Sin-management binds us to our sins. It puts us into hyper-focus on what’s wrong with us. Well, self-awareness is a good and humble thing. But the primary call of the gospel is not hyper-focus on ourselves but hyper-focus on Christ. You are not under law, dragging you down into fear and paralyzing self-absorption. You are under grace, lifting you up to Christ, the friend of sinners.
I call you to Christ today.