4 Sept 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
The word *therefore* introduces the conclusion of Paul’s argument. Because Christ died to sin and lives to God, and because through union with Christ we are ourselves ‘dead to sin but alive to God’, and must ‘count’ or consider ourselves so, therefore our whole attitude to sin and to God must change. Do not offer ourselves *to sin* (13a), because you have died to it; but offer yourselves *to God* (13b), because you have risen to live for his glory. This is the emphasis of these verses.
Paul’s exhortation has negative and positive aspects, which complement one another. The negative comes first. *Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires* (12). Paul’s use of the adjective ‘mortal’ shows that it is our physical body to which he is referring. Not all its desires are evil, as we saw when considering the meaning of ‘the body of sin’ (6), but sin can use our body as a bridgehead through which to govern us. So Paul calls us to rise up in rebellion against sin. ‘Precisely because we are “free from sin”, we have to fight against it.’ The Roman Christians ‘must revolt in the name of their rightful ruler, God, against sin’s unsurping rule.’ A second negative exhortation follows: *Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness* (13a). Since the *body* seems again to be our material frame, its *parts* (*mele*) are likely to be our various limbs or organs (eyes and ears, hands and feet), although probably including our human faculties or capacities, which can be used by sin as *instruments of wickedness. Hopla* is a general word for tools, implements or instruments of any kind, though some think sin is here personified as a military commander to whom it would be possible to offer our organs and faculties as ‘weapons’ (cf. Rom. 13:12; 2 Cor.6:7; 10:4).
Instead of giving in to sin, letting it rule over our bodies and surrendering them to its service, Paul now exhorts us to the positive alternative: *rather offer yourselves to God* (13b). Whereas the command not to offer ourselves to sin was in the present tense, indicating that we must not go on doing it, the exhortation to offer ourselves to God is an aorist, which is clearly significant. Although it may not be a call for a once-for-all surrender, it at least suggests ‘deliberate and decisive commitment’. As with the negative prohibitions, so with the positive commands, Paul looks beyond a general self-offering to the presentation of *the parts* (again both members and faculties) of our bodies to God, this time *as instruments* (or weapons) of righteousness* (13c).
And the ground on which these exhortations are based is that we *have been brought from death to life* (13b). The logic is clear. Since we have died to sin, it is inconceivable that we should let sin reign in us or offer ourselves to it. Since we are alive to God, it is only appropriate that we should offer ourselves and our faculties to him. This theme of life and death, or rather death and life, runs right through this section. Christ died and rose. We have died and risen with him. We must therefore regard ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God. And, as those who are alive from death, we must offer ourselves to his service.
The apostle now supplies a further reason for offering ourselves not to sin but to God. It is that *sin shall not* (he is expressing an assurance, even a promise, not a command) *be your master*. Why not? *Because you are not under law, but under grace* (14). This is the ultimate secret of freedom from sin. Law and grace are the opposing principles of the old and new orders, of Adam and of Christ. To be *under law* is to accept the obligation to keep it and so to come under its curse and condemnation (Gal. 3:10). To be *under grace* is to acknowledge our dependence on the work of Christ for salvation, and so to be justified rather than condemned, and thus set free. For ‘those who know themselves freed from condemnation are free to resist sin’s unsurped power with new strength and boldness’.
Thus the first half of Romans 6 is wedged between two notable references to sin and grace. In the first verse the question is asked whether grace encourages sin; in the last verse (14) the answer is given that, on the contrary, grace discourages and even outlaws sin. It is law which provokes and increases sin (5:20); grace opposes it. Grace lays upon us the responsibility of holiness. This was William Tyndale’s thought as he concluded his *Prologue on…Romans* (1536):
Now go to, reader…Remember that Christ made not this atonement, that thou shouldest anger God again; neither died he for thy sins, that thou shouldest live still in them; neither cleansed he thee, that thou shouldest return (as a swine) unto thine old puddle again; but that thou shouldest be a new creature and live a new life after the will of God and not of the flesh.