Romans 13:14—Guarding our minds against sin.
How ludicrous it would be to wrap ourselves in the beautiful and holy robe of Christ and then gaze lustfully at something or someone that appeals to our flesh. We would be like the whitewashed tombs Jesus spoke about: beautiful on the outside but on the inside full of dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.
In the second part of verse 14 Paul addresses our struggle against evil desire. That desire is in us still, ever present, as James warned, to lure and entice us to sin and bring forth death (1:14–16). As Paul commands, that desire must be given no thought, no ground, no open door to gratify itself.
Augustine was once approached in a public gathering by one of the women with whom he hung out before his conversion. When she indicated willingness to do so again, Augustine turned from her and ran quickly away, shouting back that he was no longer that man. Thus we see the lasting effect this verse had on him. To linger is to entertain, to imagine possibilities, to see that this fruit is beautiful to the eye and good to the taste.
The Greek word for desires suggests sexual lust, and that is how it is sometimes translated. It is the same word used by James (1:14), and both there and here it signifies an intense longing for something that gets in the way of our allegiance to God. What Craig L. Blomberg and Mariam J. Kamell say about James applies also to Paul’s message:
Blomberg, C. L., & Kamell, M. J. (2008). James (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series on the New Testament; v. 16, pp. 71–72). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Making no provision
Paul uses a verb that in its root meaning has to do with our mind. Marvin Vincent says “make no provision” literally means “give no thought to.” Sin starts in the mind and imagination, and that is where we must confront the thought before it gives birth to deed.
Harrison points out that though the language differs from Paul’s teaching in chapter 6, the message is the same. “If union with Christ is to be experientially successful, it must be accompanied by a constant reckoning of oneself as dead to sin and alive to God and his holy will.” The all-important concept of reckoning (6:11) is indeed the key to giving no thought to sin. To reckon in the biblical sense is to think about ourselves as God does—in Christ, no longer enslaved to sin but alive to God.
It is good for me to write these things and for you to read these things, for both the writing and the reading are how we remind ourselves of these truths. We are a community of faith and we should be praying for one another with the attitude suggested by Blomberg and Kamell:
Charles Swindoll has learned to leave nothing to chance. He advises being proactive in avoiding temptation: blocking certain television channels, asking hotels to block “adult” content from your room when traveling, giving everyone in your household access to your computer, and continually filling the reservoir of your mind with scriptural truth. “A time of great disappointment or personal failure or deep grief is not the right time to seek wisdom; that is when you must draw upon the wisdom you have faithfully stored up.”
Spirit conquers flesh
“When we compare 13:13–14 with Galatians 5:16–24, it seems clear that to clothe oneself with the Lord Jesus Christ is equivalent to living by the Spirit.” This astute observation by Colin Kruse in his Romans commentary aligns with a major theme of my own book on reckoning. The biblical solution to practice of sin is to focus less on not doing something and more on doing right things, especially to cultivate adoration of Jesus Christ and to walk by the Holy Spirit. As Kruse says, “When people live by the Spirit, they are enabled to resist the desires of the sinful nature.”