I’m a practical theologian, but I’m still a theologian, so a lot of teaching and preaching makes me wince. Most preachers are well-intentioned, but they need to be a little more careful in what they’re saying. For example, I’ve actually heard some of them tell their congregation that we need to “die to sin.” I understand what they’re trying to do, but their hermeneutics needs a little work.
What I’d like to introduce today is a bit of grammar, namely the difference between indicative mood and imperative mood. Please don’t zone out on me—This is really important, and apparently some Bible teachers can’t seem to get it either. Hey, you can get a leg up on some of them!
Here’s a refresher course for those of us who took High School English a long time ago (and didn’t really care while we were taking it). Indicative mood is used to say something is or is not a fact: “It’s going to rain today.” “My name is not Bill Gates.” In contrast, imperative mood is used to give a command to do something or not to do something: “Go brush your teeth.” “File these reports for me.” "Don't eat without first washing your hands."
So here’s a pop quiz. Which one is this: “Jesus died on the cross in order to pay the penalty for your sins”? And which one is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself”? Got it?
So let’s take a closer look for a moment at the passage for today. Do you remember what the term antinomian means? If you don’t, then don't feel bad: Most people outside of theological circles don’t either. But it’s a good word to keep in mind. Literally it means “no law”; it’s the nutty notion that a Christian doesn’t need to be concerned at all about his lifestyle. He can live a life of disobedience and still make it to heaven. Paul in today's reading is addressing the charge that his message leads to antinomianism. We’re saved by grace through faith in Christ plus nothing, right? So why shouldn’t I just trust in Christ and live however I please?
Here’s Paul’s answer in a nutshell: You can’t do that. No, he’s not saying (in this passage) that you shouldn’t do that. He’s saying that it’s impossible for you to do that, like it's impossible for you to lift a car over your head and fly into the air like Superman. Let’s take it piece by piece.
He starts out by presenting the charge: “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” The “By no means” phrase is the strongest possible negative in the Greek language. There’s no exact counterpart in an English translation: The closest would be “HECK No!” without the editing.
But what’s his reasoning here? What's keeping us from sinning however we like? Notice the mood. He gives some indicative statements, like we did a couple of days ago—You died to sin, you were raised with Christ, your sinful nature was done away with once and for all, etc. All of these are factual statements. Nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to die to sin.
So what are his commands here? Count or consider yourselves as dead to sin and alive to God. You’re dead to sin, so act like it! Don’t let sin act like your master, because it isn’t! Be who you are!
Second, he commands us "[Do] not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires." Don't let sin control you. Don't listen to it.
And finally we're commanded to make an offering. Not a dead animal--God has no further interest in dead animals any more--but now (as we'll see in Chapter 12) he wants a living sacrifice. Because we're dead to sin and alive to God (fact) therefore we must offer ourselves no longer to sin but to the One who did all this for you. Your body (including your mind) is no longer to be an instrument of sin but rather an instrument in his hands. You belong to him now.
Let me submit the best illustration I’ve ever heard on this subject. Right after the Civil War, we officially passed a series of constitutional amendments that freed all the slaves and made them citizens. Slavery was now illegal anywhere in the United States. Blacks could now leave the plantation and go where they pleased. According to the Constitution, the highest law of the land, a black man was equal to a white man. But leaving aside the shameful way whites treated freed blacks, did all the ex-slaves suddenly start acting like free and equal people? Of course not. A lot of them stayed on the plantation for years or never left at all; they'd been born on the plantation and this was all they knew. Even if they were encouraged to leave, freedom was scary. So even though they were legally freed, it took a while for that reality to manifest in their daily life.
It’s the same with us. We were once slaves to sin, but now we’re freed. There’s a charter signed in Jesus’ own blood. We’re dead to sin and alive to God. Sin isn't our master anymore. Quite frankly, some days it’s hard to tell. But Paul’s admonition still stands: These things are true, so you need to act like it.
We’ll probe a little more into how to do this tomorrow, but for today I want you to fully grasp these truths: You are dead to sin and alive to God. Your sinful nature was crucified with Christ once and for all. Sin shall no longer be your master, because you’re not under the law but under grace. We’ve had a change of management. Once you’ve digested this truth into your inmost being, you’ve started on the road to being who you really are.
As Paul put it so well in another epistle, "[Let] us live up to what we have already attained."
Father God, I know that all these things are true, but it’s really hard sometimes to live up to it. Thank you that I don’t have to do this alone. You are with me, aren’t you?