Romans 6:12-13, “12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”
“You have been set free from sin and made holy; now live like it” provides a helpful summary of what sanctification means in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. God did not leave us to ourselves to create a legal status of righteousness before Him, and He does not call us to effectually make ourselves holy. At the same time that He constituted a positional righteousness for us in Christ alone that saves us from His wrath to come, He also set us apart from the world as His holy people (Rom. 3:21–6:11). Although we cooperate with the Lord in our sanctification—our growth in holiness—but do not cooperate with Him in our justification, it is nonetheless true that His work undergirds and guarantees our becoming practically holy in our experience. We “work out [our] own salvation in fear and trembling,” but “it is God who works in [us] to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13).
In our sanctification, God sets us apart as holy, then He commands us to be holy and grants us the power and inclination to strive for holiness. Today’s passage includes a general command that is to guide our sanctification. Sin’s power has been broken, and its final destruction is assured, but sin does not give up its hold on us easily. Until our glorification, sin will ever attempt to reestablish its rule over us and make us obey its passions once more (Rom. 6:12). Of course, given the perfection of the work of Christ, it is impossible that sin will ever fully and finally succeed. But if we are not wary, sin can regain temporarily a good measure of its hold over us. Thus, we must do all that we can not to let it recapture its reign and make us obey its passions.
We accomplish this by not presenting our members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness but to God as instruments of righteousness (v. 13). Essentially, our call is not to allow any part of us—our minds, emotions, or bodies—to become objects that sin wields to do evil. Instead, we must continually give all things over to God, putting them in His service for His glory. No matter who we are or what we are doing, if we seek to subject ourselves to God’s rule, we can find victory over sin. We will not be perfect, but we will grow in conformity to Christ. Dr. R.C. Sproul comments on today’s passage in his commentary Romans: “As Christians we still sin, but we do not have to. Every time we are presented with a temptation, God gives us a way out. He promises us the present power of the Holy Spirit if we will simply cooperate.”
We work with God to make sanctification an experiential reality in our lives, but we must not lose sight of the fundamental truth that the Lord makes us holy. Because He has made us holy, we are to become holy by presenting ourselves wholly unto the Lord for righteousness’ sake, relying on the means of grace such as Bible study and preaching, the sacraments, and prayer to draw on the strength we need to obey Him even when things get tough.