Wayne Dyer said, “You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.”
According to the Bible’s teaching on our sinful nature, our problem is on the inside.
The Christian’s Opinion of Sin (vv. 11-13)
According to Paul, believers should consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God. He doesn’t say we are actually dead to sin but that we should consider ourselves so. This is similar to the command to count it all joy when unwanted circumstances enter our life. We aren’t required to be happy about undesirable situations, but we can be joyful as we face them in Christ’s strength knowing he will work all things together for our good and his glory (Romans 8:28).
Paul’s doctrine is not one of sinless perfection. Nor is he suggesting we will ever enter such a state this side of heaven. Yet perception of something determines our action. If we consider ourselves dead to sin, the mindset will affect our performance. If we consider ourselves dead to sin, we will seek at all costs to avoid falling into temptation as well as avoiding situations which make it easier for us to be deceived.
The above mindset also changes our attitude about ourselves. It enables us to align ourselves with the Bible’s pronouncement of our position in Christ. We are no longer classified as “sinners,” nor are we under condemnation for our sins. Christ has forgiven us and we are viewed by God through the lenses of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary as applied to our life. The Bible refers to us as “saints.” We may not always perform as saints but this is who we are in Christ. This is a radical change in position from who we were before coming to Christ.
Plans, goals, and desires we previously had must often be rethought since we belong to God. Our goals—which are often self-centered—must now be Christ-centered. Sinful desires that once ruled our actions must now be brought under the control of God’s Spirit who resides in us. Our bodies are temples that he permanently and continually indwells.
As a dead body can no longer respond to the stimulants of the environment, so the believer should no longer answer our enemy’s requests. No longer are we controlled by sin’s power for we are alive to godly things. We are raised to new life in Christ just as surely as Christ was resurrected from the grave. This power to consider ourselves dead to sin comes from Christ and is given by his abiding Spirit, not our personal power. Just as we had no power to save ourselves initially, so we have no innate power to live the Christian life.
In Christ, God has given us new life, a new nature, and new freedom. The new life means sin’s power is broken. Our love for sin is destroyed and we no longer live under its domination. Our new nature replaces the old one which made us slaves of sin. Our newfound freedom results when we realize we are alive because Christ lives in us. We chose him as our master instead of sin.
Considering ourselves dead to sin releases us from sin’s control. The command to consider ourselves dead to sin is in the present tense in the original language which means it should be a continual attitude and action. We don’t have to sin. We didn’t have a choice before Christ forgave us, but now we do. When we sin, we cannot say, “The devil made me do it” but rather “I made me do it.” Obeying this command involves a daily struggle and a daily choice. Just as there have been times when slaves revolted against cruel masters and sought freedom, so we must regularly and repeatedly revolt against the idea of giving into sinful practices.
What are some practical ways believers can revolt against sin? One is by asking God to reveal areas of personal weakness that would make it easy for us to be tempted. Awareness of areas in which we are easily deceived is necessary so we can, in turn, commit ourselves to stay away from sources, people, and situations wherein we are gullible. Second, we can invest our time in godly practices that establish good habits, such as serving others. Finally, we should remember it is God’s grace and strength that enables us to avoid sin reigning in our bodies. When we revolt against sin, we experience the peace of God rather than the turmoil that comes when we sin.
Sin brings with it lustful desires. This characterization refers to strong desires, cravings, and passions. We tend to apply this to sexual areas, but they are not relegated to this one area. If you have ever tried to give up a bad and controlling habit, you can relate to what Paul is teaching. The habit may not have been sinful, just one that needed to go. Yet it was controlling nevertheless. The pull of sin is intense. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have to worry about giving in. These desires can be associated with any number of areas: sexual impurity, material possessions, power, the lust of the eyes, pride of life, pleasure, security in places or people other than God, or fleshly stimulations.
No part of the believer’s body should be used as a tool of wickedness or for sinning. The Greek word for tool is hoplon and means a tool used to prepare something. In woodworking, certain tools are used to prepare a piece of wood for what the woodworker has in mind. If he desires to round, he uses a lathe. Since we have died to sin, we should not use our bodies as tools to promote or be involved in sinful practices. Rather we are to use them for personal righteous living and promoting righteousness in our society. Our bodies can be used for good or evil purposes, and we should choose the former. Allowing our bodies to be tools of sin always distorts our relationship with God. Our choice to avoid sin is not a onetime decision but one we make moment by moment and day by day.
The Christian’s Control over Sin (vv. 14-23)
Sin is no longer the believer’s master. Under the system of slavery, the master controlled the life of the slave. The slave was bound to do his master’s will with little or no options. The law bound him to his master so he could not escape hoping to make it on his own. If he tried and was discovered, he would be returned and punished. He could be sold and his family separated. Additionally, the next master might be harsher than the previous. Slavery was a miserable existence.
Studying the system of slavery gives a clearer picture of our life before Christ. We can only imagine how a slave must have felt when a master freed them but then they had to live in an area where laws forbade the practice of freeing slaves. Comparing and experiencing the latter with the former reveals quite a contrast. So should it when we compare our life before Christ and our life after. One purpose of God’s law was to contrast God’s high and lofty standards with our inability to keep them. The law compounded sin. As God forbade certain activities, people found themselves wanting to do those very things.
God’s grace, on the other hand, frees us to obey him, and the wonderful advantage is that he provides the strength for us to be successful. Life under the law was characterized by pressure, tension, disappointment, and discouragement. Imagine how the requirement to bring sacrifices for sins continually reminded the people of their shortcomings. Under the law, there was no confidence one was ever accepted by God. There were too many failures. The law showed what was wrong but gave no power to change anything.
Grace does not free us to do anything we desire. Paul examined the foolishness of this by asking if God’s forgiveness means we can continue sinning so we can experience more of God’s grace. He doesn’t want his readers to imagine that since sin is no longer their master it gives them license to sin. Nor should we imagine we can sin because God is going to forgive us anyway or has already done so. God doesn’t hover over us waiting for us to sin so he can squash us with his thumb. But neither does he snub his nose at sin, pretending it doesn’t matter. He is a gracious and loving Father who wants his children to grow spiritually and realize his plan for their life. And like a good parent, he disciplines when we go astray.
God’s grace allows freedom, and a part of that freedom is the ability to choose our master. God gave this ability to the first pair of humans as part of their humanity and as a method to establish their ability to be free and not be robots. While free to choose the master, we are not free to choose or alter the consequences of the decision. Consequences automatically follow the choice.
Believers have chosen Christ as their master and as such should obey him rather than the dictates of sin. Jesus taught people could not serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). The degree to which we understand our justification will determine the degree of our determination to live righteously.
Believers must choose to be slaves of righteousness. Paul’s audience understood well his illustration of slaves and masters. Half of the Roman Empire was composed of slaves. We are free to obey Christ and live by the new nature given us at the moment of our belief. We are also free to be his bondservant. While we should feel remorse for past sins we should not dwell on them for they have been forgiven in Christ.
There is a stark contrast between the wages of sin and the free gift of God. The wages of sin is death: spiritual, eternal, and sometimes physical. We are born spiritually dead and separated from God. If we don’t repent of our sins and receive God’s forgiveness, we die eternally in the second death. Just as it unjust not to pay someone who has worked for you, so it would be unjust for God to overlook our sin since it is an affront to his holiness. Eternal life, on the other hand, is not worked for but given freely to all who receive God’s gift of forgiveness.
God’s grace gives the wonderful privilege of escaping the eternal consequences of unrepentant sins through faith in Christ. In him, we receive forgiveness and the power to live victoriously over sin.