“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts….” (Romans 6:12)
Paul’s words sound impossible. I’m much more comfortable with what he says a chapter later: “No longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me” (Romans 7:17). That’s better. Much better. Blame Satan. Blame sin. But please don’t blame me.
Many of us grapple with besetting sins; sins that seem persistent; bad habits that we cannot break; weaknesses that cause us to stumble repeatedly. We don’t like it. We’re unhappy about it. But we’ve come to live with it; concluding that it’s simply part of “being human.”
We feel relieved that Paul seemed to struggle, too (in Romans 7). But what he describes in chapter 7 must be explained in light of chapter 6 where he urges us to “not let sin reign” (v.12). He declares that “sin shall not be master over you” (v.14). Indeed, we are “dead to sin” (v.11) and therefore are now “freed from sin” (v.7).
Sometimes the power of sin feels very strong within us. Is Paul speaking hypothetically in Romans 6? Or idealistically? Or futuristically? Could this possibly be a genuine reality this side of the grave?
We should pay attention to both sides of the equation that Paul proposes. “Consider yourselves dead to sin … and alive to God through Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). On the one hand we died to sin when we were buried with Christ. It’s a fact. It has happened. It’s behind us. It’s done. On the other hand, and even more importantly, we are now alive to God because of Christ Jesus.
How many of us wallow in self-recrimination, remorse, and self-pity because sin continues to have the upper hand? It may help to shift our focus from our failure to our faith. While sin demands our attention like a young child, something higher is more worthy of our attention — our life with God. Let’s not pander to the child.
When sin dominates our thoughts, it claims a double-victory; the moment of action and the subsequent preoccupation. Let’s not diminish the seriousness of sin for a moment. Paul doesn’t. But when we set our minds on things above, sin slips from center-stage.
Lent provides an opportunity for us to re-align our focus. As we fix our eyes on Jesus, “the things of earth will grow strangely dim” and the reign of sin in our mortal bodies inevitably shrinks. Sanctification — transformation — happens (Romans 6:22).