Spurgeon Audio: The Upper Hand

“‘Sin shall not have dominion over you.’ Oh, how I love these ‘shalls!’ There seems something grand in them. “Sin shall not.” Ah, Satan may come with temptation, but when God says, ‘Sin shall not have dominion,’ it is as when the sea comes up in the fullness of its strength and the Almighty says, ‘To here shall you come, but no farther. Here shall your proud waves be stopped.’ If there were not other promise in the Bible but this one and I knew no more theology than that promise teaches me, I would be most happy.”

Charles H. Spurgeon, sermon no. 901, “The Upper Hand”

There is such tremendous hope in Romans 6:14 that I couldn’t help but want to read a sermon on this passage. There are actually two Spurgeon sermons on this verse, and if God is willing I will eventually read the other as well here. But just like Charles Spurgeon, I see in this passage multiple considerations we ought to make when meditating on it.

If sin has dominion, you are under law

Charles Spurgeon chose to begin with reading the passage as a warning to all who would consider themselves Christians, and I think that is a good place to start as well. We all sin. We can’t sit under the words of Paul in Romans and come away thinking that sinless perfection in this life is possible, and it’s certainly not what he teaches. However, he goes to great lengths to distinguish the life of war Christians enter into against their own sin, and the death begetting more death that is the nature of humanity when it lives in its innate, natural rebellion against God, against what the Bible calls “the works of the flesh.”

If we are able to walk in sin with absolutely no pangs of conscience, no battle within, then the warning to draw is that though you may claim Christ, in your heart, you do not know Him. To be in Christ is to struggle against the sinful desires that are a part of our natures, and if that struggle is absent, then we need to hear this as a warning to our inmost hearts: you can’t love sin and love Jesus. You can’t have Christ as a master if you also want to serve yourself.

Hope for the struggle

But the presence of sin as a struggle is not a sign that you are a false believer. That is a way some have read this passage and it is untrue and dangerous to faith. Rather, we should look to this as a tremendous hope and a source of peace. We are going to sin, because we’re still living in the flesh. Not that we are making peace with it, not that we’re throwing our hands up and saying “whatever” to the notion of breaking God’s law, but we’re admitting the truth: we are weak. We are not wholly renewed, even though we have been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit in leading us to faith in Jesus.

But God also promises that His power is made perfect in weakness. When we trust to the truth that we are not under law but under grace, we can put our sin to death day by day by knowing that the answer to falling to sin is to seek the cleansing of God’s grace and love. In Christ we don’t have an angry judge waiting to destroy us. We have a loving Father who takes His children in His arms, cleans them up and kisses them in love, and sets them back on the right path. We have a patient, gracious God who will absolutely complete the work He began in us, and therefore, we can struggle in hope and rest in grace. This is a hard thing to fully grasp, and I’m not sure we can really understand the full implications in this life, but it’s a good thing to consider, to meditate on day by day.

A directive to our steps

We rest in the hope of Jesus, in the truth that His spilled blood and broken body has paid fully the price of our rebellion before God, and that we will follow Him in resurrection to eternal life. But we still ought to consider the implications of the gospel for our daily lives, our thoughts, and words now. So many people I know believe passionately that the power of Christ to overcome sin is their hope, and yet they seem to operate on the idea that God needs their help day to day to prevent evil from taking over the world.

Our weapons to do battle in the war on sin, in our lives and in our world, are spiritual, and human power is not one of them. Too often it seems like we believe that if this leader doesn’t triumph, if this law doesn’t pass, if this act doesn’t occur, then the hope for the church in the world weakens. And so often we see Christians behaving in very un-Christlike ways towards one another and towards those who do not follow Christ.

You cannot compel the obedience of those who are outside of Christ. You cannot ordain holiness where the Holy Spirit has not moved. And you certainly cannot shine the light of Christ with one hand, while swinging the club of human authority with the other. If we are going to walk in a way that says “I am not under law, but under grace,” then we need to take the path that Jesus led His disciples on. That’s the path that involves taking up our crosses and following Him to a death that has had its true power broken.

I want to leave you all with that thought, and encourage you to think on it especially as you engage with those you disagree with. How do I reflect the grace of God shown to me through my words? I know that I often have much to repent of, and often choose to restrain myself rather than speak. But I pray that the words of Paul, and the words of Charles Spurgeon, will minister to you in the way they do to me, in illuminating the tremendous grace of God for my life.

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