12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.
13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
It’s an old question I have: How does one live as if one has been saved? I mean, if you’ve been saved from a fire that you yourself accidentally set, then you’re typically more careful not to have such an accident in the future. And if you’ve been in a car accident that you yourself precipitated, then you are quite likely to drive more carefully in the future. And if you’ve been saved from drowning, you might even avoid water for a while, and then always wear a life jacket when you later return to the water. But when you’ve been saved from your sin and given the gift of eternal life, then how might you live? What ought to change? As the apostle Peter wrote:
2 Peter 3:11-12
11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,
12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?
Knowing that we have been saved from eternal destruction, what manner of people ought we to be in holy conduct and goodness? I think perhaps that the reason so many people worldwide are not impressed by the Christian claim to living a better moral life is that so many self-identified “Christians” do not actually live that life. They don’t live as if they have been saved at all! They accept Christ Jesus as Savior, but they do not allow Him to reign in their lives as Lord.
All this reflection arises from a dilemma faced by someone I know: he is beginning to court a woman he might someday marry. In our modern age, we are so used to serial dating and serial monogamy that we find it hard to conceive of someone harking back to the age-old rituals of courting. Dating in the modern age is more about kicking tires on a car lot than about finding a lifelong mate. And yet in the Bible we NEVER see anyone dating that way. Quite the opposite:
18 Now Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.”
19 And Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to another man. Stay with me.”
20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her.
Could anyone today even conceive of waiting SEVEN YEARS to marry a sweetheart? No, today people give themselves up to whomever they choose, all under the guise of “It’s my body, and I’ll do what I like with it.” THAT is what modern dating is about: satisfying our own emotional and bodily desires. It’s about giving our physical love to whomever we choose–and then giving it again to someone else later on. But for Christians today, dating someone like that is not an option. This man I know is middle-aged and widowed, and so he does not seek just “someone to hang out with,” and certainly not someone with whom to have sex and then move on. He seeks a lifelong mate, and so he has set his heart upon making sure he keeps appropriate boundaries and keeping their relationship above reproach. In short, he is courting rather than dating.
In some antique shops and quaint bed and breakfast hotels, you can see some of the old tools of courting. There’s the courting candle, a simple device that has a candle in an adjustable stand. When a gentleman came to call on a lady, her parents could set the candle to burn for a shorter or a longer time, and when that time limit was reached then the young courting man had to leave. And then there’s the courting seat, a little settee that has seats facing opposite directions, with a rail in between to prevent close physical contact. But neither of those things was a substitute for the supervision of friends and family. The candle and the settee were just tools to help the young couple set limitations in their relationship.
Of course, a Christian setting out to court someone today faces the dilemma of what being a Christian means for their relationship. When one embarks on a course leading toward marriage, then one simply cannot follow modern society’s norms. Today’s common morality is so far off the mark from Christian living that it just doesn’t apply. And so when I read the above verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans, I immediately thought of how we as Christians can set limits for ourselves by living our lives differently.
The early churches faced some serious challenges in the first years of this budding faith. They faced persecution and opposition, both from secular and from religious authorities. They faced skepticism and outright hostility. But perhaps the biggest challenge they faced was getting across the message that living as a Christian meant changing one’s whole lifestyle–including one’s sexual lifestyle. In Greek and Roman society, some people practiced ritualized, promiscuous sexuality in their worship, and they even encouraged it in others. In places where the worship of Aphrodite was prevalent, the new Christian churches REALLY faced an uphill battle. Paul saw this sexual immorality time and again in churches throughout Europe and Asia, and he addressed it either directly or indirectly in nearly every letter he wrote.
At this particular point in his letter to the Roman church, Paul has just finished talking about how we are saved by grace through faith. (Romans 5) And now he goes on to ask:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?
The short answer is No. But the longer answer is that once we have been saved by the grace of God, then we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness. Our bodies need no longer serve the lusts of the flesh but serve instead the will of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Paul is telling us to jettison our traditions that allow us to sin, to oppose the will of our bodies, and to live lives pleasing to the God who calls us to be holy. And so he says to the Romans, “do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin.”
The word translated here as “instruments” is οπλα (“hopla”), which means tool or utensil or instrument, something that is used by someone. But that same word is translated a little differently in other contexts:
The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the ARMOR of light.
2 Corinthians 10:4-6
4 For the WEAPONS of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,
5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,
6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
You see, we have different tools to use in different places. Sometimes, a tool is simply an instrument of our will, and other times we use the tools of warfare–armor and weapons–to go about our business. But in all cases, we see one thing: tools are just tools, and they are subject to the will of whoever wields them.
To whom then ought our bodies be subject? To whom do we yield our bodily members? Shall we present them to Satan, the ruler of this world, for him to use however he wills? Or shall we present ourselves to God to be used for His will? Our bodies ARE our own, and it truly is up to us to determine who uses them. Despite all the temptation to yield to our “love” for someone and so fall into sin, we need not EVER give ourselves over to wantonness simply because we care for someone. We need not even put ourselves in the position of being tempted.
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.
14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.
15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
We are drawn away by Satan calling out his siren song and using our own desires against us. And when we yield to desire, then it grows within us and brings forth sin and unrighteousness leading to death. (Romans 6:23)
At this point a few may be wondering why they ought to care about this. You may not be courting but happily living in a God-sanctified marriage. Or you may be living a celibate life without much thought for finding God’s chosen mate for you. But the question still remains: To whom do we present our bodies to be used? You see, there are many other ways we present our bodies and our lives to Satan to be used for unrighteousness. We murder and steal, we covet and commit adultery, we profane the name of our Lord and we dishonor our parents. And it goes far beyond the Ten Commandments. We live lives of “getting by,” lives of always seeking to do just enough to satisfy our notion of what God expects from us. And through it all we forget that God doesn’t call us to live by sets of rules and certain behaviors. He calls us to love and fear Him, to be obedient to His will not because we want to get by but because we cannot see any other way to live out the love we have for Him. We need not be courting to realize that we place ourselves in so many contexts that tempt and beguile us, and that we alone are responsible for living lives of love for God and holiness in His name.
The problem facing this man I know is this: How can he present his body properly to God in the context of courting and seeking covenant marriage? How does he avoid even the temptation to sin? He does this by not putting himself and his lady friend in a position to be tempted. He does this by controlling his behavior and by setting limits. He does this by presenting his life to God as an instrument of HIS righteousness. Paul goes on to say it this way:
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!
16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.
18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.
And that, my friends, is how we must ALL behave. We must no longer put ourselves in the position where we might be tempted and so become enslaved by sin. Just as the person rescued from fire is more careful about fire in the future, and just as the recovering alcoholic avoids taverns and tailgate parties, so too must the Christian avoid putting himself in a position where he might fall into sin. Through the grace of God we have been set free from sin by Jesus Christ, and so we now must present ourselves to God as slaves of His righteousness. Whether we are courting or married, whether we are living in ministry or simply working a secular job, whether we are raising children or caring for our parents, whether we are socializing with friends or spending an evening alone–in ALL contexts and at ALL times, we must avoid the sin that so easily entangles and instead present ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness.
Holy Father, I ask today that You guide our hearts aright, that You, Lord, give us wisdom and discernment to live lives that are holy and pleasing to You. Deliver us from the evil and temptation that we face, and give us the strength to present ourselves to You always as instruments of Your will. Amen.