As we continue to work through this great letter of the apostle, we can see in various ways how his mind works. We see it in how he answers objections—”one of you will say to me then . . .” We also see in this passage a typical Pauline move, where he says, “These things are so, and you must act as if they are so.” This is something we must learn because it is how our sanctification progresses.
“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin . . .” (Rom. 6:6-14)
Summary of the Text
As we improve our baptism, as we build on what Paul has just said (vv. 1-5), we do so “knowing this” (v. 6). Progress in godliness is not groping in the dark; it is the result of sound teaching. What do we know? That our “old man” was crucified in Jesus in order to destroy the “body of sin.” This was so that we would cease to be slaves of sin (v. 6). The way out of sin-slavery is to die (v. 7). But there is no way to be united with Christ in His death without also being joined to His resurrection life (v. 8). When Jesus rose, He did so in a way that freed Him from death forever; death has absolutely no claim on Him (v. 9). Moreover, He died unto sin one time, at a specific point in time, but the life He lives is continuous, and is before God (v. 10). All these things are so. How should we therefore act? We should therefore act as if they are so. “Lifewise reckon ye also yourselves . . .” Jesus died at a point in history, and He lives forever before God. You should therefore reckon yourself to be dead to sin in a decisive way, and alive to God through Jesus (v. 11). What is including in such a reckoning? Refuse to let sin reign (key word) in your mortal body, which means obedience to the lusts of that mortal body (v. 12). Present or yield the members of your body as though you were raised from the dead (because you were), and make this presentation to God (v. 13). To present such resurrected members as instruments of unrighteousness is not just morally wrong, it is schizophrenic. It is a contradiction (v. 13). Sin is not to rule over you any more because you are under grace, and not under law (v. 14).
Three Kinds of Mortification
In order to understand what Paul is teaching here, we have to sort something out first. He is describing a crucifixion, a death, a mortification. But this is not a concept that has only one application for the Christian life. First is the death of the “old man,” the old way of being human. This is equated with the overthrow of the rule and reign of sin, the dominion of sin (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24; 6:14). The old man is dead—you don’t have to keep killing him. This is something that is equally true of all who are genuine Christians. The second kind of mortification occurs in the lives of Christians who have stumbled or fallen, and significant sin has grown up in their life. This is what Paul addresses in his letter to the Colossians. “Mortify your members which are on the earth” (Col. 3:5). These are not trifles, because he goes on to define them as “fornication, uncleanness, etc.” But he is talking to Christians, who should have their affections set above, and the action he calls them to is a decisive action at a point in time. The third kind of mortification is daily, for each of us. As John Owen once put it, a man should not think he makes any progress in godliness “who walks not daily over the bellies of his lusts.” We will see this just a few chapters from now—”if he though the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 8:13). The verb here refers to an action that is continuous and ongoing. This mortification you will never get to walk away from on this side of glory. If you do, then you will be confronted with the duty mentioned to the Colossians.
We are not called to do good in order to impress God, or to ingratiate ourselves with Him. We are not trying to earn anything. God has already reckoned the righteousness of Jesus Christ to you, and that is your justification. What is your sanctification? It is you reckoning the righteousness of Jesus Christ to yourself. Reckon (logidzomai) yourself to be dead to sin. So what is sanctification? It is acting as though you really believe what happened in your justification. It is acting as though the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ are really yours.
Your Mortal Body
The old man is dead. Don’t worry about him. But the flesh, your mortal body, is not dead, and you should keep a wary eye on it. In v. 12, Paul cautions these Christians against letting sin “reign” in your mortal body (like back in the old days). He then equates this with obeying “it” in its lusts. What is the antecedent to “it”? As it happens, the antecedent is “mortal body,” and not “sin.” Your mortal body will make all kinds of suggestions to you all day long. Stop feeling like the lonely pervert at church—there isn’t a person here who doesn’t deal with this. At the same time, there is a difference between godliness and backsliding. Pull up the thumbnail size weeds. Stay on top of it. Don’t wait till the weed requires three shovels, two hands, and a backhoe.
Grace and Law
We have drifted so far from the biblical understanding of the words grace and law that to a certain extent we have inverted them. We think that grace means “you get to sin,” and that law “means you can’t sin.” But as Paul is describing it is here, being under law means that you can’t stop sinning, and that you therefore cannot stop accumulating the condemnation for that sin. Grace liberates you from that sin trap, from that sin slavery. Notice what Paul says here. Sin shall not have dominion. And why? Because you are under grace. Grace is the liberty of the Spirit, not the slackness of lowered standards.