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A Change of Masters
With the headship of Christ established for the believer - a headship which has to do with new life in contrast to the old life inherited from Adam, and grace reigning where sin had reigned, grace abundantly above the enormity of the sin - there is a question that some would be much inclined to raise. The apostle anticipates and answers this in lovely, incontestable style. "What shall we say then?" What conclusion can be deduced from the plain truth of grace abounding over the mighty tide of sin? "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" Who indeed who has known the blessed reality of the grace of God could tolerate the unholy assumption? "Far be the thought." It is of course a suggestion plainly of the devil, yet God would face it immediately.
The thought is contrary to Christian character and nature. "How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein?" This chapter deals pointedly and plainly with the truth of our death to sin by virtue of association with the death of Christ, who "died unto sin once." Romans 7:1-45.7.25 rather speaks of our death to the law as a means of producing fruit for God.
As to sin, God has judicially and fully ended its power by the death of His Son. Every believer, being identified with Him, has therefore necessarily died to sin. The judgment of God has been executed: death has taken place, separating us from the very realm in which we once walked. And when God has, by death, separated us from sin, how shall we dare to connect ourselves with it again? Indeed, how can I take pleasure in that which gave the Lord Jesus His unutterable agony on the cross of Calvary? O, let our souls fully renounce and abhor the unholy thought! Yet, the true basis of this abhorrence of sin is in the absolute, established, unchangeable fact of truth, that "we are dead to sin." Moreover, submission to the truth and righteousness of this judgment of death, is the only basis of a life henceforth pleasing to God.
Now the initial ordinance of baptism unto Jesus Christ is intended to teach the signal lesson of our identification with death: we "were baptized unto His death." Water baptism is of course spoken of, and the teaching is not, therefore, concerning eternal life. But by baptism we are associated with the death of Christ. "Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism unto death." The act of baptism is burial in identification with the Lord. Thus I signify having done with flesh - baptism being, not the expression or result of death, but the figure of death, which I acknowledge, publicly associating with Him who has been crucified, as taking the same sentence upon myself. The figure is of course based on the fact of the death of the Lord Jesus. But following this as an essential, logical consequence, our practical responsibility is based upon the fact of Christ being raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father. If Christ has been raised from the dead in a perfectly new condition of life, it is in this sphere of life that I am to live - certainly not in the old ungodly sphere of corrupted life which has already come under sentence of death.
It will be noticed that here we do not find dwelt upon our position as being raised with Christ, although this doctrine is necessarily connected with the ministry here - but rather our death as identified with His death, and our responsibility of walking in newness of life because He has been raised up from the dead. Our connection with Him in resurrection is looked at as a future, yet settled, prospect. Note verses 5 and 8. In Colossians our position of being at present "risen with Christ" is very distinctly entered into in accordance with the character of the book. But in Romans our future living together with Christ is presented as a powerful incentive of present subjection to Him.
For, since we have been identified with Him in the likeness of His death, it is but a matter of time until our public identification with Him in His resurrection - a settled thing, yet looked at as a prospect in Romans. "Knowing this, that our old man has been crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be annulled, that we should no longer serve sin" (JND). Here we have final, absolute death - "the old man" having been once and for all crucified with Christ. It is no matter of experience, but of fact as regards the state in which we were born as children of Adam. God's judgment has been passed: sentence has been executed; the body of sin has received its absolute annulment. Nothing of its claims or character can ever again by recognized or considered before God's judgment throne: God has fully considered, met, and judged it in the cross of Christ.
By the cross "the body of sin" is "annulled" (the proper word); and the devil himself is annulled - his power broken entirely as regards the dominance he once held before the cross over those even who were God's saints, but "through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:14-58.2.15). His mastery has received its death-blow, and so has sin's mastery, by means of the blessed cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It necessarily follows therefore, "that henceforth we should not serve sin." If he (for sin is here personified) had had his mastery annulled, why give him the satisfaction of acting as his servants?
Moreover, his mastery, as to us, is annulled because we have died with Christ, and death delivers us from that former bondage: our liberty has been gained - and gained righteously: it is no mere matter of getting free, but of securing an honorable discharge from a cruel master. "He that has died is justified from sin" (JND). "Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him: knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over Him."
Having "died with Christ" refers only to actual believers - not to those who have merely been baptized unto His death and thus simply outwardly identified with Him. It is the reality of identification with Christ in His death, as also in verse 5. The argument proceeds from the form to the reality of identification with His death, and from thence to identification with Him in His abiding life in resurrection. If there is reality in our identification with His death - that is, if we have indeed died with Him - we have assurance of faith that we shall live with Him. It is faith as to the future, assuredly, but a principle of faith to be applied in practice now.
For death, having dominion in the world when Christ came, because of Christ's identification with sinners, wielded dominion over Him by putting Him to death. But He is risen now, in a different sphere, where life and glory dwell, and death has no dominion, nor can ever enter - for sin has no place there.
"For in that He died, He died unto sin once." Death was the complete separation of Christ from the realm of sin into which He had entered at birth; and His death has set aside that realm once and for all.
"But in that He liveth, He liveth unto God." In the old realm, sin having abounded, it could not be ignored; it must be considered. In the new realm of life in which Christ is raised, sin is no longer even a consideration: "all things are become new, and all things are of God": God is the one absorbing consideration for the soul. Blessed emancipation indeed! Unspeakable sweet and holy liberty!
"Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." Here is the application of the truth to ourselves in practical manner. Verse 2 insists that we "have died to sin": it is an established fact, judicially. Verse 11 exhorts us to "reckon" ourselves as such - and "alive unto God." Is this the daily reckoning of our souls? Do we faithfully remind ourselves that we "have died, and our life is hid with Christ in God"? (Colossians 3:3) - and specially so when the world's unnumbered allurements rise up to press themselves upon our attention? Is there then the simplicity of faith that says calmly and firmly, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me"? This is laying hold upon "what is really life" (1 Timothy 6:19, JND).
"Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof." If I have died to sin, it is no longer my master: it has reigned over me before, but now grace reigns through righteousness. Hence I am now to refuse sin any authority whatever. I have another Master: why should I be obedient to sin? Its claim and title have been broken: shall I then allow it any prerogatives over me? God forbid. "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof" (Romans 13:14).
"Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God."
It is the wisdom of any creature to candidly recognize that he is under authority. Even the most rebellious, degraded wretch in the world is so: even the most proud, respectable, reputable peer of society - independent and self-sufficient as he may consider himself. Divergent as their natural characters may be, yet being without Christ, they have both yielded themselves to the authority of sin. Man may intensely dislike the very word, "yield," but it is in his very nature to yield: to do otherwise is an impossibility for any creature. If he does not yield to God, he is plainly yielding to sin.
Well may the souls of Christians be stirred at the solemn thought! Our preservation from the power of sin lies only in subjection to God. Constantly, though oftentimes unconsciously, we are yielding our members, whether to God or to sin. Every word, every little action manifests it. Stubbornness, pride, independency of God are merely the results of yielding to a sinful will. "Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control" are on the other hand the fruit of yielding to God - and of refusing my sinful will any title of authority. It is only our intelligent service, "as those that are alive from the dead."
The connection between Romans 12:1 and these verses is evident. The members of our bodies are instruments which as long as we live are in use, bringing forth details of conduct that give evidence of subjection to some master. But let us remark that in yielding to God, it is not merely the details of conduct mentioned; not merely our members, it is rather first, "yield yourselves unto God," and afterwards "your members." Blessed, profitable instruction here! Let it not escape our wholehearted obedience and meditation. For it is one thing to seek to make my conduct conformable to God's desires: it is another to yield myself to Him. Yet then indeed, after once having fully, unreservedly yielded myself, let my members become consistently "instruments of righteousness unto God."
"For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." Most admirable, simple conclusion! If we are delivered from the bondage of law (which though it condemned sin, could never deliver from sin), and brought under the blessed reign of grace, where indeed is there any place left for sin? Grace has saved us from our sins, and from the dominion which sin once wielded. Unspeakably blessed emancipation! Let us value grace at its proper price, and hold fast the sacredness and purity of its character. "Under law" means simply in a position where law holds authority, such as was Israel from Mount Sinai until the cross of Christ. "Under grace" has reference to a position in which grace holds sway - a contrast absolutely and distinctly drawn. The two things cannot be mixed. "Under grace" is our position resulting from the blessed cross of Christ: "under law" was a position that supposed no cross, no salvation from bondage.
"What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? God forbid." This question, and that in the first verse of our chapter, are the natural skeptical queries of unbelief. But they are both candidly and fully faced. It is made plain that there is no mere fact of our being blessed by the benefits of grace, nor is there any thought of grace being toleration of, or license for sin; but that we are delivered from a position of bondage into a position of grace and liberty where righteousness has its perfect abiding place. Shall we dare then to suggest that sin be allowed free reign? This would be thorough despising of grace rather than understanding and appreciation of it.
"Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves bondmen for obedience, ye are bondmen to him whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" It is a simple principle: if I yield myself to sin, I am the servant of sin - with death as my wages: If I yield to the obedience of Christ, such is my servitude, and righteousness the result. This draws distinct lines: we can serve only one master. But Paul would not unsettle the Romans by questioning the abiding character of deliverance from the bondage of sin. Rather he insists upon it, thanking God for it. They had obeyed from the heart the form of doctrine which they had been instructed, and in actual, unquestionable fact had been "made free from sin," becoming "the servants of righteousness." He will not by any means accuse them of returning in fact to the former condition of bondage of sin. Such a thing could not be, except the profession of Christianity had not been the result of genuine faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Of this latter question the epistle to the Hebrews treats; but in Romans it is not the consideration. But practical deliverance can come only from the proper knowledge of actual deliverance by means of the crucifixion of Christ.
The two principles, sin and righteousness, are personified as opposing masters. Paul speaks thus after the manner of men, considering the infirmity of our flesh. For it is not that we are mere slaves to righteousness: our actual Master is Christ. But dealing with the desire for a righteous walk on the part of a believer, he puts it in this way to give distinctness to his argument.
Verse 18 deals with actual fact: verse 19 with practical character. This is easily discerned, specially in the New Translation, where verse 18 is given more forcibly - "Now, having got your freedom from sin, ye have become bondmen to righteousness." Verse 19, on the other hand, exhorts us to "now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness."
"For when ye were the servants of sin ye were free from righteousness." We recognized no claims of righteousness over us while in sin's bondage. Now, as servants of righteousness, sin's claims are to be as thoroughly repudiated.
"What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death." In my former bondage my practice was coincidingly shameful. And then I had no thought of "fruit" for God, let alone bringing it forth. Now my former conduct can only make me ashamed. Let all who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ learn more fully to be ashamed of "the past time of their lives" in which they "walked according to this world," with little sense of God's claims upon them. "The end of those things is death": the only direction they lead is toward death.
But the Romans had obtained their freedom from sin and had become servants to God. The result is "fruit unto holiness." Blessed emancipation that works with such effect! "And the end eternal life." These things are conformable to eternal life rather than to death, the end of my former conversation. There is lasting fruit rather than perishing works. It is no question of my person, but of service.
Service under sin can but receive its just wages - death: such is the deserved result. But for the believer such bondage has been broken by the free gift of God - "eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord" - not deserved, but freely given. How could we not rejoice in such a change of masters?
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Romans 6". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent