Holy Living in a Hellish World - Romans 6:12-14

 

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6:12-14).

 

As Paul writes the letter of Romans, he is writing to the church of believers in Rome. The city of Rome was the capital city of the Roman Empire. It was where Cesar has his palace. It was where the Roman senate meets. It was the power hub of the known world, with all of the abuses that come with such unbridled control. Not surprisingly, it was also the most vile, wicked, immoral city in the world. It was a cesspool of iniquity. It was a city that was rank with every kind of licentious sin imaginable. The Imperial City would have made Sodom and Gomorrah blush. In this city was everything from fornication to adultery, lesbianism, homosexuality, bestiality, robbery, lying, arrogance, pride, brutalities, slavery, forced labor, rape, polygamy, idolatry, murder, atheism, and more. There were no moral restraints left.

 

In the midst of this, a church was birthed. These believers were an island of truth in the midst of an ocean of unbelievers. You can imagine the many pressures that were pressing upon them to conform to the ungodly world around them. They were met with temptations on every side to return to their old way of life, as they had been literally snatched out of the fire by the grace of God and were planted in Christ.

 

As we read these verses, we need to remember this context in which the believers in Rome lived. These saints were not in the buckle of the Bible belt. They did not grow up in church, as there was not even a church in Rome before their conversion. They had been dramatically regenerated and sovereignly birthed into the kingdom of heaven. Now on this new path, they were trying to live in a godly manner in a godless culture. As Paul writes these words, he is outlining for them how to put one foot in front of the other, almost like taking baby steps, as they began to pursue personal holiness and walk down the narrow path that leads to life.

 

Different from the World

In many ways, we can relate to this. We live in a big, powerful city that is rampant with immorality and fornication – all the things that happen in a big city. It is critically important that these verses direct our steps. These are not merely philosophical or ideological words. What Paul is saying to the church in Rome is as real as it gets for us. He is underscoring the absolute necessity that we not cave in to the pattern of the world around us.

 

When I say the world, I am not talking about the planet on which we live. Neither am I talking about the people per se who live around us. We are to love people in the world. Instead, the world refers to the evil world system that is anti-God, anti-Christ, anti-family, and anti-truth. This system is fleshed out in the world of entertainment, the world of education, the world of business, and the world of sports, among many other platforms. The god of this age, Satan, presides over this evil world system as “the ruler of the world” (John 12:31;14:31;16:11). It is critically important that we stand out in the world like bright stars on a dark night. We must not blend in with the environment. Our values and lifestyles must be distinctly different from the world. There must be clear evidence that there has been a radical change in our lives. As we read through these verses, they reveal how we must live in a hellish world.

 

The outline for Romans 6:12-14 splits into three main headings. First, in verses 12-13a, we see the negative prohibition. There are two negatives given by Paul: “do not let sin reign” (verse 12) and “do not go on presenting the members of your body” (verse 13). Paul begins with these two negatives, which are directly applicable to our life. Second, Paul moves to the positive presentation in 13b saying, “present yourselves to God…and [present] your members” (13b). There are two positives here. Third, we see the spiritual explanation in verse 14, which has two explanations. The word “for” is found at the beginning of verse 14 and also in the middle. This word introduces an explanation of why. In other words, it gives the reason for the first two headings. There is beautiful symmetry in these verses with two negatives, two positives, and two explanations.

 

I. The Negative Prohibition (6:12-13a)

 

First, Paul writes that there must be a negative aspect in our Christian life to accompany the positive aspect. These two opposites are the heads and tails of the same coin. There cannot be the addition of the positive without the subtraction of the negative. Every time the apostle instructs believers, “do not,” he is putting a firewall around their lives in order to shield them from what will harm and hurt them. He is not keeping us away from anything good, but rather keeping us away from what will destroy our lives.

 

Do Not Let Sin Reign (6:12)

In verse 12, Paul is pulling forward what he has asserted in verses 1-11 by drawing a bottom line conclusion. He writes, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts” (verse 12). This is the negative prohibition that believers must maintain. Though we are dead to the reign of sin, the reality of sin is not dead in us. Sin is still very much alive and active in us. Sin is still a strong force in the life of a Christian that wants to reestablish itself in domination over our lives as it once did before we were converted.

 

The verb “reign” (basileuo) means ‘to rule as a king, to exercise influence.’ Sin wants to exert control and rule our lives like a monarch. We have been released from the dominant authority of sin, but it is, nevertheless, seeking to reassert itself over us. It desires to exercise kingly power and sway over us. Paul writes, “do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” This is in the present tense and addresses the present pursuit of holiness in the lives of believers. In other words, the apostle is stating, “Stop letting sin establish any kind of beachhead in your life.” This is also in the imperative mood, which means it is a command that must be obeyed.

 

In the previous verse, Paul stated, “even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin” (verse 11). This means believers must reckon themselves to be dead to the reign of sin in their lives. “Consider” (logizomai) is an intellectual word that means ‘to reckon, count, compute, calculate.’ We must do the math and calculate this to be true. In verse 12, Paul advances this thought a step further. It is not enough for us to merely know this to be true. We must act upon this truth. It is not enough that we just check the box and acknowledge that we believe this to be true. We must take the decisive step to not let sin reign in our lives. This command is placed squarely before us. We must continue to fight against sin on a constant, ongoing basis. We will never outgrow this battle against sin. The most mature believer is always in the fight against sin. It could be argued that this fight for purity will intensify the closer you draw to the Lord. This command is directed to every believer. Though sin is dethroned, it is still, nevertheless, a powerful force in us.

 

The Battle Within Our Mortal Bodies

I would like us to note where this sin wants to reign. Paul says, “in your mortal body.” “Mortal” (thnetos) means ‘liable to die.’ It describes our physical body as decaying and subject to death. The battle for personal holiness is being fought for in our bodies. It starts with our mind and what our thoughts are. It includes our eyes and what we are looking at throughout the day. It includes our ears and what we allow to be pumped into our ears, which, in turn, affects our minds and our entire walk. It affects our tongue, as sin wants to reign in our mouth by slandering, gossiping, using edgy language, tearing down others, and boasting in ourselves. Sin wants to reign over our hands, what we literally pick up and handle. It wants to reign over our feet, where they take us to carry out our deeds. Sin wants to govern every part of our mortal body, from the top of our head to the bottom of our feet, every inch and every ounce of us. This battle is not being carried out in some mystical realm that is detached from us. To the contrary, the war is waged within the body in which we live.

 

When we are regenerated, we become a new creature – a new man in Christ Jesus. This new person came to live in our old body. This new man in Christ is residing in our old, unredeemed body. This is one reason that when we go to heaven, we will receive a new body. Our sinful flesh, which is in our body, remains the center of our problem in striving to please God. We have three enemies – the world, the flesh, and the devil. Sin is ever trying to reestablish its reign inside of us. We tend to think our problem is outside of us, in world around us. There is no question that the world around us is evil, enticing us to sin. And the devil is assaulting us from every angle. But the enemy of sin is still inside of us. Paul is warning us not to let sin reestablish a beachhead in your mortal body.

 

Lusts Within

Paul strongly tells us why, “that you may obey its lusts” (verse 12). There are still “lusts” within us. The apostle John addressed “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life” (1 John 2:16) that continue to compete for our soul. These lusts are strong, powerful longings for sin and evil desires that raise their ugly head against us. Before we were a Christian, we readily obeyed these sinful lusts within us. They sat as lord and master over our daily existence, attacking us in different ways. Sometimes we could mask it with hypocrisy or religiosity. Sometimes we did not even try to hide it, but let it be blatantly wide open. But now that we are a Christian, Jesus Christ is the reigning Lord over our lives. However, these lusts are still present in us, and we cannot let them reign in our body.

 

Do Not Present Your Bodies to Sin (6:13a)

Paul continues, “and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness” (verse 13). This is virtually a repeat of verse 12 in order to reinforce this negative prohibition we must maintain. Paul is restating what he just said, using even more specific language. When he says “the members of your body,” he is talking about our eyes, ears, hands, feet, and so forth. We must not go on presenting all the different members of our body to sin as instruments. The word “instruments” (hoplon) is a Greek word that means ‘military weapons’ such as are used in war. There is an intense battle being fought in our souls, a spiritual warfare within us. If you are not sensing this spiritual warfare, then you have never repented of your sins and crossed over to the Lord’s side. You are still on the other side of the conflict. Once you enlist into the Lord’s army, you are now in conflict against the sin in which you once participated. Sin must be deliberately resisted by believers. It must be intentionally confronted and conquered in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. We have to resist temptation and sinful lusts. This is a fight for godliness to the end of our lives.

 

So, Paul begins with these two negative prohibitions. You can imagine what it is like for the believers to live in Rome, where they are surrounded by every vile sin in this incestuous city. Paul says that they cannot allow the temptations and lures of sin to draw them into its power. They must resist the seductions of sin. They must not let sin reign in their lives. They cannot present the members of their body as instruments to sin. Neither can we as we find ourselves in this sinful and adulterous generation.

 

II. The Positive Presentation (6:13b)

 

Second, Paul proceeds to give the positive presentation. Having commanded the negative, he now charges the positive. Every believer needs both in order to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. In the middle of verse 13, Paul continues his argument, “but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (verse 13). The verb “present” (paristeni) is the same one that Paul will use as he begins the practical section in Romans 12:1, when he says, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1). The word means ‘to place something beside, to place a person or thing at one’s disposal.’ The believer must be presenting himself to God in living the Christian life.

 

“Present” harkens back to in the Old Testament sacrificial system, when the priest would slay an animal and present it to God upon the altar. Paul is saying that this is what believers must do with the entirety of their lives. They must present their bodies as a living and holy sacrifice to God. They must consciously, continuously, purposely be presenting themselves to God. This is not a one-time act that remains constant for the rest of the Christian life. The verb tense is different than the one used at the beginning of verse 13 when Paul said, “do not go on presenting.” That is a present tense verb. Paul shifts now to the aorist tense, which means the believer must decisively present the members of their body to God. It speaks to how intentional and purposeful this self-sacrifice must be. As we live our Christian lives, we need to be consciously presenting the members of our body to God.

 

Paul further clarifies, “as those alive from the dead” (verse 13). That is what every believer is – dead to sin and alive to righteousness. We were once spiritually dead, but are now alive to God. We now have the spiritual capacity to do what we could not do previously, which is to present ourselves to God and live for righteousness. Then the apostle says that we are to present “your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (verse 13). The “members” refers to each of the parts of our body, representing different aspects of our lives – our minds, eyes, ears, mouths, hands, and feet. It is through these body parts that we think, gaze, hear, speak, work, and walk. At any given moment, we are either presenting our body to sin or to God. There is not a third category. We are either pursuing sin or pursuing God, either walking in the flesh or by the Spirit. We must consciously make the decision to present ourselves to God in this battle for holiness against sin.

 

III. The Spiritual Explanation (6:14)

 

As we come to verse 14, Paul explains why we can now live in a manner that is pleasing to God. Here is why we can live differently than we once did as unbelievers. Paul starts with the word “For,” which means that this is the explanation of what he has previously stated in verses 12 and 13. “For sin shall not be master over you” (verse 14). That is an indicative statement of fact that references the sinful desires that remain in our body. Sin can no longer rule over you as it once did, as your tyrant, because the dominant rule of sin has been dethroned in your life. Sin is still in us, but sin is not over us. We have a new Master, Jesus Christ, who is now Lord over our lives.

 

Paul follows this with a second “for” in the middle of verse 14, which introduces a second explanation. He states, “for you are not under law but under grace” (verse 14). By saying we are “not under law,” he does not mean that we do not have to obey in the Christian life. To be “under law” means that we are under the once dictatorial reign of sin, which we once obeyed as a daily lifestyles. Further, we no longer strive to keep the law in order to make ourselves acceptable to God. Paul says we are not “under law” in this sense, that we are not under its reign anymore.

 

The Reign of Grace

Paul teaches that we are “under grace.” This statement does not mean that we are free to live our Christian lives however we desire. To be “under grace” means to be under the controlling reign of grace in our new nature. The apostle made this abundantly clear when he stated earlier, “as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness” (Romans 5:21). There is a new Master over the lives of believers, Jesus Christ and His rule of grace. There is this new dominating force that is driving our Christian lives, and it is the overruling authority of grace.

 

You are not like a ship that has become untied from the dock and is now drifting through life and pulled downstream by the swift current of sin. You are under the powerful government of grace. The power of the Holy Spirit is now operative in your soul and empowering you to live the Christian life. If you stray away from the direction of God in your life, the reign of grace will not let you just drift. It will bring conviction of sin and may lead to divine discipline and chastisement. It may even take you home to heaven prematurely if you continue to drift. The reign of grace is so powerful that it will not let us live however we want to live.

 

As a believer, you are no longer under the law or reign of sin, but you are under a different reign. Jesus Christ is now the dominant Ruler of your life. None of us are without a master over our lives. We are all slaves, either of sin or of Christ. None of us is free to live however we want, with no governing force directing and driving the course of our lives.

 

Presenting Our Bodies to God

AS we conclude our study of these verses, I want us to consider how this should affect us on a daily basis. I want to come back to verse 13 for a moment. Paul said, “present…your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (verse 13). I want us to give careful thought to how the different members of our bodies must be presented to God, from the crown of our head to the soles of our feet.

 

Present Your Mind

Starting at the head, we must present our minds to God. For better or for worse, everything in the Christian life begins with the mind. That is why churches and movements that begin with emotions – or primarily focus upon this part of our humanity – are shallow and superficial. It is only when we begin with the mind that our Christian lives are headed in the proper direction. Our emotions are simply a response to what our mind knows and believes. If we minimize or bypass our mind and prioritize our emotions, it produces a pseudo-spirituality. There is no substance or depth to such a life. Instead, every spiritually healthy life begins with the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2). In order to grow in grace, we must apply our intellect to the truths of Scripture. This means we must be in the word, reading and studying it (2 Timothy 2:15), rightly handling it, memorizing it (Psalm 119:9,11), meditating upon it (Psalm 1:2), and taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). The word of Christ must richly dwell within us (Colossians 3:16).

 

Paul says in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” The word “dwell” means ‘to think on these things.’ This is the test we must apply for what we watch on television, for what movies entertain us, for what we let into our minds. Everything that we permit into our minds must all pass this test. Ephesians 4:23 says, “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The mind is the first governing force in our body.

 

The battle for the Christian life is, first and foremost, the battle for the Christian mind. The frontline of the battlefield for our life is in our mind. The wise sage, Solomon says, “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). You tell me what is going on in your mind, and I will tell you what is going on in your life and where you are headed. That is why we study the Bible, so that our minds can be transformed by the truth.

 

Present Your Eyes

Second, we must present our eyes to God. What we allow to be set before our eyes is a major factor in our spiritual growth. We cannot set our eyes on filth and be growing in holiness. It is one or the other, never both. We must guard that upon which we look. In the garden, the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes. Then she took from its fruit and ate (Genesis 3:6). 1 John 2:16 talks about the lust of the eyes. Your eyes are the windows into your soul. It is a significant factor in what comes into your mind and heart.

 

Jesus understood the importance of what a person looks at. He said, “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). The eye is a key access point for what enters your heart. What you are gazing upon will eventually – if not immediately – grab ahold of your heart. In the next verse Jesus says, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). As we present our bodies to God, we must present our eyes, because we are being conformed into the very same image. Like produces like. We become like that upon which we gaze.

 

In every Christian life, our eyes must be fixed upon what is wholesome, pure, and edifying. This necessitates that our eyes must be fixed upon the word of God. This, in turn, enables us to see with the divine perspective. As we gaze upon Scripture, our eyes then see people made in the image of God, who are in need all around us. Looking into biblical truth causes our eyes to see people who are without Christ and in need of the gospel. Our eyes must see people who are discouraged and need our encouragement. Our eyes must see opportunities to minister to people around us. We cannot go through life with blinders on, only concerned about what effects me. Our eyes must be opened to see how we can minister to people and serve them. This necessitates that we present our eyes to God in order to view life as He would have us see it.

 

Present Your Ears

Third, we have to present our ears to God. What we allow to come into our ears also has a direct effect upon our spiritual growth. When we allow the truth of Scripture to enter our ears, our progress in Christlikeness is accelerated. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). On the other hand, if we listen to worldly ideologies, it will stunt our spiritual growth. If we listen to the mishandling of Scripture, what is that going to do to our spiritual life? If we listen to slander and gossip, what is that going to do to our spiritual life? If we are around someone who is always whining, complaining, and negative about everything, what is that going to do to your spiritual life? It is going to have a direct effect upon your walk with the Lord.

 

However, if you listen to those who are speaking Scripture, that will have a positive effect on your spiritual life. If you are hearing people who see God in every opportunity, and who even in the midst of their trials, believe that God is at work for good, you will be encouraged to do the same. You must present your ears to God and guard what you allow to come into your mind. We cannot be so naïve as to think that what we hear does not have an effect on us.

 

Present Your Tongues

Fourth, we must present our tongues to God. If we are going to live holy lives, we must present our tongues as a living sacrifice to God. The tongue is a member of our body that can be an instrument for either righteousness or unrighteousness. The Bible says, “If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body as well…. The tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things” (James 3:2,5). If we can control our tongue, we can control our whole body. Our tongue is like the rudder of the ship that governs its direction.

 

Stressing the importance of the tongue, Paul writes, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Further, he commands, “There must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks” (Ephesians 5:4). We must speak that which honors God and gives Him glory. The psalmist declares, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so” (Psalms 107:2). In other words, we must use our tongues before others so that they can hear us give Him the praise. We need to use our tongues to minister encouragement to other people. We need to use our tongues to ask questions of other people to inquire how they are doing. As the tongue goes, so goes the whole body.

 

Present Your Feet

Fifth, we must present our feet to God. Our feet take us places that affect our spiritual walk. They take us where we can hear the word of God. They take us where we can proclaim the gospel to others. Paul writes elsewhere, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!” (Romans 10:15). According to this text, the part of the body that is beautiful is our feet. When our feet are presented to God, they are instruments of righteousness.

 

Do your feet take the message of the gospel to other people? Do your feet carry you to places where you can serve God and pour yourself into the lives of other people? The presentation of your feet to God is very important, because they can take places to be blessed by God and to be used by Him.

 

Present Your Hands

Finally, we must present our hands to God. After our feet take us somewhere, our hands must be actively involved in doing the work of God. Jesus said, “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you” (Matthew 5:30). He is using figurative language, but what Jesus means is that we must control the use of our hands. They must never be involved in what God forbids. In this context, the hand is involved with another woman, who is not your wife. The Lord asserts that such a person’s hands have already committed adultery with her. In such a case, we must go to whatever length is necessary for the radical repentance to deal with this sin.

 

Jesus continues, “For it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matthew 5:30). Jesus is not like modern day so-called “Christian” counseling that encourages superficial methods to repent of this sin. It says, in essence, if you share your struggles with me and I share my struggles with you, we will feel better about ourselves. But that was not the remedy that Jesus prescribed. He said to repent of it, or you are going to hell. That is a strong dose of medicine. That is how deliberate must be the presentation of our hands to the lordship of Jesus Christ.

 

The apostle Paul confirms this, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Ephesians 4:28). Our hands are to be employed in working hard, whether it is on a computer, a car, or with a pen. Hard work with the hands glorifies God. God is a working God, and we are to be like God by working hard. That is why there was the resurgence of the work ethic during the Reformation. Prior to that time, there was much laziness during the Dark Ages. John Calvin and the other reformers taught that there is a vocational calling to which God has called you. There is a work He has sovereignly chosen for you to do that glorifies Him when you do it heartily as unto Him. A significant part of presenting your body to the Lord for righteousness is putting your hands to the tasks before you. If you will put your hands to hard work, you will not need to steal. If you put your hands to hard work, you will have a reward for your labor. Further, you will be able to give to those who are in need.

 

With strong words, Paul commanded, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business. And work with your hands just as we commanded you so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).  This means, do not be a busybody, sticking your nose in everyone else’s business. If you do, it is a sure sign that you are not working. Moreover, you are keeping others doing their work. To lead a “quiet life” means to attend to your own business. You need to do the work that you are supposed to do. Do not become distracted with others. Further, when your hands are busy, you are a good witness to those around you. It becomes a positive platform from which the gospel may be shared. You should be so hard working and honest that the person who hired you would want more employees like you. We must glorify God even with our hands.

 

By the Grace of God

All this is realized in our lives through the reign of grace. This is not accomplished independent of God. It is the reign of grace that is motivating and moving our hearts. We are not under the law, nor under the reign of sin. To the contrary, we are under the reign of grace. God is at work within us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). It is this working of grace that enables us to take action and pursue holiness. It is grace that enables us to present every part of our body to the Lord.

 

As we present the members of our bodies to righteousness, it involves every different part of our body in a very real way. What is going on in your brain must be presented to God. What you allow your eyes to look at is a part of you presenting your bodies to God. What you allow to enter your ears is a significant part of your sanctification. The same is true with your tongue, hands, and feet. In a very real sense, from head to feet, the entirety of your body must be being presented on the altar to God. As we do, we are enabled to live a holy life in a hellish world.

Dr. Steven J. Lawson

Dr. Steven J. Lawson is President and founder of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to equip biblical expositors to bring about a new reformation in the church. Dr. Lawson hosts The Institute for Expository Preaching in cities around the world. Dr. Lawson is also a Teaching Fellow for Ligonier Ministries, where he serves on its board. Moreover, he is Professor of Preaching and oversees the Doctor of Ministry program at The Master’s Seminary, where he also serves on its board. Dr. Lawson is also Professor in Residence for Truth Remains, a work designed to promote and proclaim God’s written Word. Further, Dr. Lawson serves as the Executive Editor for Expositor Magazine published by OnePassion Ministries.