MESSAGE FOR JANUARY 17, 1999 FROM ROMANS 6:12-13

 

          This week we turn to Romans 6:12-14.  This text and those that follow it give the believer a practical strategy to do battle with sin.  To give some context, we have seen in the first 11 verses that all those who are in Christ have been given freedom from the controlling power of sin.  Christ died to sin.  That is, on the cross, having taken all that sin could dish out, he died without rebelling against God.  In dying, He transferred out of the realm of sin’s control and it can touch him no longer.  Those who are joined to Christ have likewise been freed from sin’s controlling power.  This is a past reality.  It happened 2000 years ago on the cross and is part of every true believer’s spiritual resume by virtue of their union with Christ.  It is part of the blessed gift found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Not only are we freed from the penalty of sin, we have also been liberated from the controlling power of sin.

          Last week, we discussed that even though we have this precious gift, there is still a fight to be fought against sin for the glory of God.  In verse 12 and following, Paul lays out the strategy for this fight.  Paul encapsulates this strategy against sin power in 6:11 where he says, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  Broadly speaking, that is what we are to do to fight and win against the power of sin.  Now, in the next several verses, Paul explains in more detail what it means to “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  To sum up Paul’s main message here in other words, We have been freed from sin’s power, but we can and must choose to walk in that freedom over sin’s controlling power.  And it is as we begin to walk in that freedom that there is a fight to be fought.

          In laying out this strategy, Paul gives two prohibitions.  The first prohibition is found in verse 12.  He says, “Therefore [in light of the fact that you have been freed from sin’s controlling power] do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”  The first prohibition in our strategy to walk in freedom from sin’s control and the only one we will look at today is:  We must restrain sin’s attempts to control us.  Here we see the paradox we spoke of last week.  One the one hand we have been freed from sin’s power to control us, but on the other we are called to restrain its attempts to control us.  For the believer, the power of sin IS defeated—it does NOT have the ability to control us at will.  It DOES have that power over the unredeemed, but it does not have that power over the believer.  However, just because it does not have the power to control us does not mean that it will not continue to attempt to control us and if we don’t follow Paul’s strategy, sin WILL control us.  So many believers are in horrible bondage to sin and they are miserable.  Many have given up nearly all hope of ever living in anything except a cesspool of sin and guilt and shame.

          Paul’s treatment implies that sin is not merely an “unrighteous act.”  It is a spiritual power.  Sin is something that seeks to reign in us—to control us.  From verse 12, we could distill this definition of sin:  a spiritual power which seeks to reign/rule over our bodies through its evil desires.  For Paul sin is a very ACTIVE force, not merely an act committed against God.  In verse 16 and 17 we see that sin can be obeyed and it enslaves.  In verse 23 Paul says that sin pays wages and that those wages are death.  In chapter seven, verses eight and 11, sin is seen as that which seizes an opportunity provided by the law.  In verses 11 and 13 of chapter seven, Paul says that sin kills.  Do you hear those active characteristics sin has for Paul?  Sin is a spiritual power that seeks to reign over, to control us through evil desires.

          Unless we have this understanding of sin, we will not appreciate much of what Paul is saying about this battle against sin.  An old and wise rule of warfare is “know your enemy.”  Many believers have not intently looked at sin as a spiritual power and therefore do not know their enemy.  If we know our enemy, it will help us to understand this text and also help us to help us do battle against sin.  Let’s take a few minutes to survey some of the New Testament on this subject of sin as a spiritual power and how sin works to destroy us.  In order to do this, we have to first look at the broader context of sin, which is what the New Testament calls, “this world.”

          First John 2:16-17 {NASB} says, “For all that is in the WORLD [kosmos] – the lust [or evil desires] of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not hidden from the Father, but is from the WORLD.  And the WORLD is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of the Father abides forever.    The word for “lust” in the original language is the same word Paul uses in Romans 6:12 for the “evil desires” found in our bodies which desire to reign in us.  This sinful world is the home of evil desires.  By “world” I do not mean simply this planet.  The “world” as the New Testament uses that term is the spiritual system or infrastructure which is opposed to God and is ruled by Satan.  “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.”  Satan is never called the “ruler of this planet.”  He is called the “ruler of this world.”  The world within this New Testament context is a SPIRITUAL reality in its essence.  This world system is permeated with a spiritual climate characterized by evil, godless, rebellious desires.  These lusts belong to this world which is passing away.

          You may ask, but Jesus said “we are not of this world.”  If that’s true how can Paul say that we, as believers have bodies which are filled with evil desires which seek to control us?  Well, it is true that true disciples of Christ are not of this world, we are new creatures and we are citizens of heaven called to walk as aliens and strangers here.  But there IS still a part of us which is still anchored to this world and which we will not be rid of until the day we die.  This part of us, which is a repository or store house for the lusts of this world is called our…“flesh” or the NIV translates it “sinful nature.”  “Flesh” is probably a better translation of that word, so that is what we will use.  By flesh, we are speaking of a spiritual reality, not flesh as it “flesh and bones.”  We see connection between the flesh and lust or evil desires in so many places.  In Romans 13:14 Paul says, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”  The lusts or evil desires BELONG to the flesh in us.  Galatians 5:16 says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the lust of the flesh.”  First Peter 2:11 says, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.”  There we see that these lusts or evil desires belong to the flesh and they are at war against the soul. This world system is a spiritual factory madly cranking out enticements for the flesh and our flesh is tied to this world and cherishes it through its evil desires.

          James 1:14-15 gives the anatomy of sin.  That is, he tells us how the evil desires or lusts in our flesh become full-blown sins.  James says, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”  Temptation to sin comes when these evil desires, which are native to this dark world and which we carry around in our flesh, are left unrestrained and free to express themselves.  When the evil desires bring temptation and we surrender to the temptation, sin is birthed.  And when sin is allowed to go on unrestrained and digs a rut or builds a stronghold in a person, it kills. 

It kills our peace, it kills our joy, it kills our testimony, it can kill our marriage, it can kill our families, our friendships, our jobs, our hope, it can kill us.  Sin is lethal!  And this lethal outcome begins with the evil desires which inhabit our flesh.  Now, let me clarify, this flesh is not synonymous with our physical bodies.  Our physical bodies, though temporal, are not evil.  They are holy temples of God.  But because we are physical beings and everything we have is somewhere in these human shells, our flesh is also somewhere contained in these mortal bodies.

          Now let’s look at Romans 6:12 through that biblical lens of sin.  “Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”   We must restrain sin’s desire to control us.  Sin, this spiritual power, has an agenda.  It desires to control us—to exercise lordship over us.  To dictate to us what we should do and when and how we should do it.  And this spiritual power does not shrink back just because Christ has set us free from its controlling power.  If anything, it is more vicious in its attack, because a committed Christian can bring the light of grace to much sin—soaked darkness and sin will work to cut the believer off at the knees.  Sin is of the evil one, the father of lies and deception.  It will do everything it can to make you believe the lie that you are absolutely powerless against it.  It wants you to believe that you are its helpless victim all the while it knows that you are, through Christ, its master and you have been given control over it.  Sin is like a little dog that barks a lot.  The dog could never do serious damage to anyone, but for those who don’t know anything about dogs, its ferociousness can intimidate them into being afraid.

          Sin desires to reign over us and what does it use to try to control us?  It uses the flesh and its repository of these evil desires.  These desires are wicked, but the flesh, because it is tied to this evil world, find the wickedness appealing and attractive. When we cave into to the desires of the flesh or, to use Paul’s language, “obey the lusts” in these mortal bodies, we are allowing them tell us how to respond to a situation. 

For instance, a believer has within their flesh a strong desire or lust for money and position. They come to a major career decision.  One opportunity is to work in a lower paying job, but one which will enable them put their kids in a good school and there is an excellent church in the area.  They feel the gentle pull of God in that direction.   The other opportunity is to work in a much higher paying job, but there are no good schools and there are only liberal churches in the area.  They don’t have any deep settled peace about taking the job, but the desires housed in their flesh are screaming at them.  They cave in to these desires and tell others that this decision was really a “no brainer.” They even find ways to spiritually rationalize their decision.  It will help us stay out of debt and we know God wants that.”

          This person, to use Paul’s language, has allowed “sin to reign” in that area of their life because they “obeyed their evil desire” for wealth and position.  They may think they are in control of themselves, but they are controlled by their sinful lust for money.  Sin is reigning in that person’s life!  They haven’t committed murder or adultery—they probably even prayed about the move and asked other believers to pray about it too.  But sin reigns in that area of their life because they obeyed their evil desires instead of God.  And, as James says, sin brings death.  That kind of decision will certainly kill their joy and peace.  But it may also kill their marriage because of the added stress of high-powered corporate America, a lousy education for their kids and the lack of spiritual input from a good church.  And it certainly kills all the good things God had desired to give them if they had obeyed him instead of their evil desires. 

That person will for years have to bear the consequences of the fruit which comes from that decision.  Sin reigned in that decision.  What kind of fruit will come from a decision where sin is allowed to be lord?  What kind of fruit does sin produce—death.  So many people in church have the stench of death on them because sin reigns in their lives.  They may be very nice people, but when it gets right down to it, their evil desires (and evil desire is defined as any desire which does not make as its top priority God and his kingdom)—these evil desires control how they spend their time, money and energy.  Sin reigns in their lives, not Jesus Christ.

          Paul’s application point is in that first word, “Therefore.”  Because you have been freed from sin’s controlling power, sin doesn’t have to be the controlling power in our lives.  Christ has freed us from that tyranny.  The tragic arrogance here is this: when we allow sin to reign in our lives through our unrestrained evil desires, we are looking at Christ, in his sin-defeating death on the cross and we are saying to him, “Why did you do that?  I don’t want that.  I want to be under the Lordship of sin.  What you did there to free me from sin’s control was a waste.  Don’t misunderstand—I like what you did in paying the penalty of my sin.  That’s all well and good.  But frankly, I like obeying my evil desires.”  We are trampling on the sin-defeating blood of Christ when we allow sin to reign through our evil desires.  God calls us to test our desires—to measure them to see if they are from God or from the flesh.

          If a desire is self centered and not God centered, then we are to refuse to respond to it.  This is becoming harder to do because the world (remember the world?) is more ingenuitive than ever giving reasons why the evil desires are not evil.  The world is more accepting than ever of sexual perversion.  The climate has never been more permissive in our land than it is today.  If you view sexual desires outside of marriage as evil, you must be a prude of extraordinary measure.  That comes through on the news every day!  The world tells us that the evil desires in our flesh are not there because of sin in us, but because we have been hurt and therefore need healing, not repentance.  The flesh, which is tied to the world, is constantly pulling on us to believe these lies of the world. Greed and materialism are not only permitted by the world, but applauded.  The flesh is in the business of making the lies of the world look so enticing.

If we buy into those lies, the flesh has free reign.  If we believe the lies of the world, the flesh will be able to generate more and more evil desires because what fuels our evil desires are the lies of this world.  Remember, the ruler of this evil world is the father of lies.  If we believe the lie that a particular sin is not evil, that is like pouring gasoline on the fire of our flesh.  The evil desires of the flesh will be strengthened by that lie and will tie us up in such bondage, we wont know which end is up.  This is why we must stay in the word of God and soak our head in it.  We must know the truth, for the truth will work against the lies which stoke the fire of our flesh and will set us free.  Jesus says, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”

There is another spiritual power at work within us, the Person of the Holy Spirit.  The flesh screams, the Holy Spirit generally whispers.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth who, if we will listen to him, will tell us the truth about sin.  The Holy Spirit strives against our evil desires. The Holy Spirit is the One whom God ordained to reign in us.  The Spirit convicts us of sin and the Holy Spirit works in us to cause us to delight in God, not the things of this world, the flesh and the devil.  The Bible says that when we “delight ourselves in the Lord, he will give us the desires of our heart.”  Not our fleshly desires, but the desires of our heart.  What we really want in the deepest part of who we are is not the tawdry, temporal pleasures of this world.  What we really want, what will really bring us joy, if we are truly born again, is God and that which He supplies. 

          Where are we today?  Who reigns in our lives?  The flesh will crank out those evil desires at some level until we die.  The question is, what are we doing with them?  When an evil desire rears its ugly head—a desire to look at the person lustfully, a desire to gossip, to pursue money over God, to think critically about someone else…all those desires and many more appear on the screen of our mind every day.  Do we understand that those desires will bring sin into our life and sin will kill?  What are we doing with those lethal desires?  Are we allowing them to entice us into sin?  To the degree we are doing that, we are allowing sin to be lord over our life.  Do we want this evil spiritual power intent on killing us to be lord over our lives?  If we are doing this, there is only one response, repent. 

          Come to God and tell Him you want HIM to be Lord of your life.  Ask him to set you free from the bondage of sin.  Ask Him to give you the freedom to follow your redeemed heart, not your sinful flesh.  And when the flesh generates these lusts, seek after God and find the deliverance from the flesh which He, by His Spirit brings to us.  We are in a war with sin whether we like it or not.  Are we living as those who have been set free from the power of sin by the cross?  Or, are we trampling on the precious blood of Jesus by allowing that which He has set us free from to wrap us up in its destructive coils?  Every time we say yes to sin, we are shouting a resounding “NO!” to God.  May God give us grace to see the seriousness of this battle and allow only the Lord Jesus Christ to reign in us.

 

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