Tag Archives: Sanctification

Sin, Dominion, and Grace

 

In 2011 I was leading a youth group at a local church.  Over the course of a year or two, we addressed topical passages of Scripture,  followed by an in-depth examination of discipleship, followed finally by an exposition through the book of 1 John.  One particular evening, at the conclusion of what I would have thought was a sound, doctrinal exposition of a particular passage, a wise, thought-provoking student asked if I could give an application for the passage.  To my surprise, I hadn’t really considered the application, only the doctrinal propositions.  My focus was on accuracy, not application, as though the two were mutually exclusive.  After that humbling experience, I’ve since learned to think more about application, but not necessarily to the extent of providing it on a spoon, as I still believe the Holy Spirit is the one who makes the individual, and needed, application of Scripture.  A faithful teacher should be the conduit through which the truth flows in such a way that allows the application to be easily made, not hindered.

In Romans chapter 6, we needn’t worry about how to apply the doctrinal propositions laid out by the Apostle in verses 1-11 because it is followed up by a strong application in verses 12-14.  As is common with Paul, there is a logical consistency with his writings.  Chapter 6 is not isolated from chapter 5 (as would be expected because chapter divisions were a much later insert), but is indeed a continuation of the thought.  In the fifth chapter, Paul concludes with the familiar statement that where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more. This naturally leads to the question, “Shouldn’t we sin more so that grace would abound more?”  In the strongest possible language the Apostle replies, “By No Means!”  From this exclamation, chapter 6 proceeds to be a defense of why believers cannot continue in sin on the basis of grace, a defense that is centered on no longer allowing sin to reign in our lives because we are dead to it, therefore no longer slaves to it.

Doctrinally, the focus of Romans 6:1-11 is union with Christ, defined in terms of both His death and resurrection and symbolized by our baptism.  Through the union with Christ in His death, our old self or old man, was crucified with Christ such that our body of sin, literally our flesh, would be brought to nothing for the purpose of severing our slavery to sin.  Further, union with Christ in His resurrection, though already past, has a future implication of resurrection from the dead.  Because of this union, and these transactions, we are exhorted to consider ourselves “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Out of this doctrinal proposition, we find an application with at least three parts: an exhortation, a command, and a promise.

The Exhortation

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.”

Our application is expressly linked to the doctrinal proposition by the use of therefore, though in this particular translation it does not lead the sentence, it is nonetheless linking the sentence with what has already been said.  The first order of business in this application is a strong appeal to refuse to allow the rule of sin in our mortal bodies.  Literally, this is exhortation says “Do not let sin be king!”  There is an implied possibility here, that sin could indeed gain the upper hand and exert mastery over us, not in actuality, but in practice.  This is what we are warned against, because as king, sin rules as a taskmaster making us obey its passions, desires, and lusts in our mortal bodies.

This phrase mortal bodies is a reference to our actual, physical bodies, though historically there has been some disagreement on this matter.  It includes our hands, feet, eyes, ears, tongues, mouths, sexual organs all of those members that constitute a body that will eventually die.  As we will be exhorted later, these members are not to be instruments for unrighteousness.  However, collectively they are here called our mortal body in which we are to refuse the kingship of sin.  Summarily, there is a king: sin; a subject: our mortal bodies; an obligation: obedience; the command: (sinful) lust or desire.  If we allow sin to reign, we are obliged to obey.

The Command

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 for righteousness.

Working out of the previous exhortation, we are carried into a command.  In order to combat the obligated obedience to sin, should it be allowed the reign, the Apostle provides a divine command in familiar Do Not language.  This mortal body, in which sin desires to set up kingship, consists of members – those which we briefly addressed above – and here we are told not to present them to the service of sin.  Our members, if in submission to sin, can become instruments for wickedness, literally weapons for war.  Which brings up a question, weapons for what and against whom?  As if it were not obvious, they become instruments of sin acting against God.  We should consider this more deeply in our war on sin.

As king, sin sounds a call to duty.  When it has set up its kingdom, it’s trumpet heralds a call for our members to report to duty, whether they be our eyes, ears, hands or otherwise, to be used as weapons of war for unrighteousness.  The heart of the Apostle’s command here is to not allow our members to answer that call, i.e., refuse an “at your service” response to sin.  This can only be accomplished if sin is not allowed to rule.

Conversely, we are to answer, “at your service” to God, commending our whole selves to Him.  Sin has the power to only bring death, whereas here we see that God not only has the power to bring from death unto life, but He has actually done it, first with Christ and then to those of us who have been united to Christ, in both a death like His and a resurrection like His, all of which is symbolized by our baptism.  This simple phrase, those who have been brought from life to death, joins our command here in the application to the doctrinal proposition from the earlier verses (6:1-11), rightly placing the command in subordination to the Gospel.  We are commanded not to answer the reveille of sin because of the Gospel, namely the death and resurrection of Christ, but more than that, because of our union with Christ.  Instead, we are to present our members as weapons of war for righteousness.  Notice here that there is not an implied change of the weapons – still our members, nor of the use – still war, but there is a change of purpose – for righteousness.

The Promise

For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

We now arrive at the promise, linked to the previous statements by the little word, for, followed by a declaration that “sin will have no dominion over you,” which itself is followed by the justification, “you are not under law but under grace.”  This particular promise brings up a couple of questions, or at least should.  What makes this a promise?  How can it be guaranteed?  Is it dependent upon some personal action?  Why is the law brought into view?

The first observation that needs to be made is the declaration that sin will have no dominion over you.  Clearly this statement is issuing a promise.  Given the context of the exhortation, do not let sin be king, and the command, do not answer sin’s call to duty with your weapons of war, it would appear that a promise like this is unfounded or at least disjointed.  In the previous verses we are presented with the reality that sin actually could reign, therefore the call to action not to let that happen.  Why would that action, command or exhortation, even be necessary if sin won’t have dominion over you?  In other words, why tell us not to let sin reign if there is a promise that it will not reign anyway?  It is seemingly a paradoxical statement.

Practically speaking, verses 12-13 are the working out of our salvation, with fear and trembling.  There is an exhortation and a command.  These are part and parcel of our sanctification, an ongoing and progressive, divinely-wrought, purification from sin to conform us more to the image of Christ.  In this sanctification process, we are prone to sin and could be prone to extended periods of falling into sin.  But this is not a reality based on our justification in Christ.  In other words, the preceding discourse on the gospel, by the Apostle, going back into chapter 5 (and earlier for that matter) is the grounds for the promise that sin will not have dominion.  Sin cannot have dominion because it’s rule has been broken by the death of Christ on the cross and His subsequent resurrection.  Our union with Him, by faith alone, ensures that sin’s dominion is broken.

Furthermore, in this promise we see a return to the discussion on law and grace joining us to the previous statement from Romans 5:20-21 that led to this entire discourse in the first place.  In essence, the Apostle is saying that if we were still under law, it would magnify sin in our lives thereby establishing the rule and reign of sin, not because the law was bad, but because our flesh would be stirred up by the law to sin, a point that he will elaborate on in the remainder of chapter 6 and all of chapter 7.

In essence the application of Romans 6:12-14 goes like this: Don’t let sin be king and capture your members as weapons for war.  Why?  Because it’s not an actual king anyway, nor can it be – it’s a pretender to the throne – so stop living like you’re under its rule!  The believer’s practical day-to-day sanctification is grounded in the reality of our justification – made right with God by means of our union with Christ in His death and resurrection, no longer under law, but under grace.  That is the application of the doctrinal proposition.  One without the other is insufficient.  It is in this application that we must live daily in our pursuit of holiness, realizing that it is grounded on the reality of having been crucified with Christ, united with Him by faith.

The List: A Wartime Ambush

 

Originally published February 17, 2010.  This version has some minor formatting and content edits.

Last week we looked at the importance of declaring war against our own sinful flesh and we uncovered and examined some truths about the nature of this war.  In brief summary, we outlined 3 key strategies in declaring this war:

  1. Don’t conform to the world (Rom. 12:1)
  2. Renew your Mind (Rom. 12:1)
  3. Put on Christ and realize your identity in Him (Rom. 13:14)

If you remember, this third strategy is where our true power lies, by realizing that this fight of the flesh in our battle toward holiness cannot come from any internal power of our own, but instead from the power of Christ living in us.  It’s on this point that we must advance and avoid the wartime ambush.

Picture it like this, you’ve declared war against sin, against your own sinful nature, against your fleshly desires of anger, greed, lust, fear, anxiety, money, power, selfishness, racism, hatred, every ungodly impulse that runs through your body and you’ve developed your battle plan, a list of do’s and don’ts that are sure to make you victorious.  Just like the troops ready to storm the beaches at Normandy, you too are ready to begin your war.

There’s only one problem, that list of do’s and don’ts, the warfare strategy that you thought would be so helpful, has actually disarmed you and is sending you into battle with no weapon in hand.  This is quite the precarious situation, because surely you cannot do battle without a plan, yet to proceed into war without a weapon would be spiritual suicide.  This is why the third strategy from above is so critical; your warfare strategy must come from a total reliance on Christ.  It is He that arms you with His Spirit.

Let me attempt to put this in terms we can relate to.  Suppose in your declaration of war, you resolve that you will not lose your temper toward your children, spouse, co-worker, friend, etc. for 6 months.  That’s a goal you’ve created in order to wage your war.  What happens when you lose your temper and get angry after the first week?  Have you already lost the battle?  Will you start the 6-month period again?  What would be the point in that?

A second scenario might be that you’ve decided to avoid all lusts of the flesh and after a few months have passed you are able to look back and say, “I haven’t committed a lustful sin in 7 months 4 days and 3 hours.”  This is equivalent to building the Titanic and declaring that God Himself cannot sink it.  That “sinless” streak will end nearly as soon as your Pharisaic declaration has been made.  How then did our “list” strategy fail us?  Especially when we had intentions of doing good.

These lists that we like to create are really no different than what the Apostle Paul addresses in Romans chapter 8, because just like the “Law” that he speaks of, our lists cannot sanctify us, only Jesus Christ working in us through His Spirit can bring us progressively closer to Christ-likeness.

In Romans 8:3 ESV Paul states,

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”

The law that Paul speaks of here, namely the Mosaic Law (10 Commandments), is perfectly Holy, perfectly good, but our sinful flesh is unable to uphold them, just like we are unable to keep those lists we created.  If you remember, in our last post we said that legalism was “doing” works, i.e. law keeping, in attempt to gain right standing with God.  Legalism (“law-keeping/list-making”) can’t improve our standing or justify us, just like it can’t move us toward holiness, or sanctification.  The same principle is at work here; we must be totally dependent on Christ trusting in Him that, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 ESV

Our instruction from Jesus is to obey the law, to follow the commandments that God has outlined for us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15 ESV The law however, reveals areas of personal weakness (Romans 5:20) in our hearts that needs to be changed.  But the law, and to a lesser extent our list based on the law, isn’t a personal improvement plan; it’s a standard of holiness, one that without Christ at work in our lives any attempt to uphold it would be futile.  How then can we move toward holiness and progress in our sanctification without checking off a list of do’s and don’ts?  By loving Jesus.  If you love Him, you WILL keep His commandments.  It’s conditional on love, not on list keeping.  Do you want to move toward victory in your war?  “This land cannot be entered by moral effort or by moral attainment.” (A. Redpath). It can only be entered by the redeeming blood of the Savior Jesus Christ and the sanctifying work of His Holy Spirit within us.  Run to Jesus and love Him, treasure Him, obey Him, and you will have victory.

“Absolute triumph is achieved only in response to utter obedience.”

“For the greater the obedience, the greater the discipline, the greater the faith, the fuller and more complete the allegiance to our precious Lord, the more does the heart expand and receive more and more of Jesus.” A. Redpath- Victorious Christian Living

Little By Little

 

“Little by little…” Exodus 23:30

In the 23rd chapter of Exodus we find ourselves in the midst of Sinai and God’s communication of the law to Moses.  Among the prohibitions and remembrances of Sabbaths and festivals in this chapter is also the promise of the conquest of Canaan.  The full passage is below

27 I will send my terror before you and will throw into confusion all the people against whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. 28 And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you. 29 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. 31 And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.”

Historically, this promise was fulfilled to the children of the Wilderness Generation, who we may be reminded were afforded the blessing of entrance into Canaan because their parents fell under the wrath of God, due to their rebellion, and were thereby forbidden from entering the land themselves.  Their children, however, were allowed entrance into the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua.

Using the Old Testament

As is the case with much of the Old Testament, whether we view it typologically as it points from itself (type) to events, persons, or places in the New Testament (antitype) or whether we see it as an example for our lives (see Hebrews 3 & 4), this passage is relevant and practical for us today.  Along these lines, there are seemingly many parallels between the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and the Christian life, that extends beyond the concept of redemption, that from Egyptian slavery in the former and Sin slavery in the latter.  Here, in Exodus 23, we have painted for us, through the very real, historical working of God on behalf of the Israelites, a picture of sanctification in the Christian life.

To reiterate, historically God promised to drive out the pagan nations as He went ahead of the Israelites into Canaan.  However we must note a significant observation in this passage on God’s promise, namely that He promised to do so “little by little”.  Here we are given 2 negative reasons for the progressive nature of this pagan eradication, “lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you” and two positive reasons, “until you have increased and possess the land”.  God had promised to eliminate Israel’s enemies slowly, one by one, in order to avoid desolation of the land and the multiplication of beasts against them.  In our historical context, had God simply eradicated all of the pagan countries at once, allowing the Israelites full, unencumbered, and peaceful access to the land, there were two great dangers. 

Two Great Dangers

The first was desolation of the land.  In other  words, there was the danger of complacency on the part of the Israelites and failure to properly “tend” the land.  This points, at least conceptually, back to Adam in the garden.  There, remember, Adam was afforded the luxury of a land that produced effortlessly, yet he was unsatisfied and became complacent, ultimately failing to guard his wife and the garden.  Which brings us to the second great danger Israel would’ve faced should God have granted immediate eradication of their enemies, a failure to protect the land from being overrun by wild beasts.  With enemies eradicated for them, there was a great danger of complacency leading to a dry and desolate land and an influx of wild beasts.

As the Scriptures tell us, this promise was fulfilled and that by leaving the enemies to be eradicated one by one, the land was bountiful as it was promised in Deuteronomy 6:11 and then fulfilled in Joshua 24:11-13.

11 And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. 12 And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’

However, despite being given land, cities, vineyards, orchards, etc., opportunities afforded by the little by little eradication, Israel still rebelled and failed in their own garden experience, as did their father Adam.

Believer’s Sanctification

As little by little relates to our sanctification, consider the parallels of the pagan nations with our own enemy of indwelling sin.  This progress against the enemies that wage war within us is called sanctification and it too is little by little, or progressive.  Contrary to ideas of Wesleyan perfection, sanctification is not completed in this life.  If it were, consider the dangers of complacency that we would face should our enemies be eradicated all at once.  We would forget the necessity and power of grace working in our lives.  We would become more independent and less dependent upon the provision of God.  What need would we have for prayer, for the Scriptures, for fellowship with the brethren?  This complacency would expose us to the influx of greater enemies, predators for our very soul.

Similarly God has chosen not to expose us to all of our internal enemies at once, lest we collapse under the weight of them.  Instead, we may battle the Amorites of lust or the Hittites of pride.  Occasionally, by His grace, He may allow several enemies to coalesce against us for the purpose of greater dependency on His provisions of grace and greater efforts in the duty of warfare.

God in His wisdom and providence allows sanctification to be a process, little by little.  As such, we are in need of our daily bread and in need of daily deliverance from temptations.  He who began this good work in us will bring it to completion.  Total and utter dependence upon God is the substance of the Christian life, from beginning to the end.