Paul in his letter to the Romans writes in 6:12-13:

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Clearly the two "do not" phrases are commands - "Do not let sin reign" and "Do not offer". Less clear to me, though, is the phrase, "For sin shall no longer be your master". Is that phrase simply a re-statement of the previous two commands? Or is it possibly a grounding for the two commands? The NET translates it "For sin will have no mastery over you", which suggests it is not an imperative; but is that a fair translation?

Is the phrase an imperative or is it an indicative?

  • 2
    Excellent question. I sometimes find it helpful to consider that something can be both indicative and imperative, in different senses, or, in other words, can be both law and Gospel. For now, perhaps, we are being told to not let sin have mastery over us, but in a fuller Gospel sense, we will one day live where sin will not have mastery over us.
    – Ray
    Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 1:01
  • Grammatically, it's an indicative (and the subject is "sin"). I don't think that's what you're asking, though... Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 16:45
  • @lonesomeday - I guess my problem in understanding this is that "shall" can be understood either as "should" or "will". So I can see this as saying either "Sin should not be your master, because..." or "Sin will not be your master, because..." Sorry if I confused things by introducing grammatical terms.
    – Soldarnal
    Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 17:25
  • Yeah, I realise that. There's nothing in the Greek to mean "should", and if this were classical Greek that would be the end of the matter. Biblical Greek is a bit laxer on grammar, though, so it could carry a sense of "should". Commented Nov 18, 2011 at 21:30
  • "You no longer answer to the law but to grace so Mr. Sin is no longer your slave master". Those still under the law still endure the conflict described in chapter 7.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 19:16

4 Answers 4


The confusion here seems to be arising from the Greek third-person imperative. In English we do not have this construct; we are used to thinking of imperative in only second person. (Actually, my father tells me that there are more linguistically precise ways to describe what is happening here in Greek than imperative—but that becomes a matter of finesse.) As others have corrected noted in response to this question, the subject of verse 12 is sin and the verb is (third singular) imperative.

  1. This is indeed a construct used by New Testament writers to command.
  2. In this case this is shown by the fact that in Greek verse 13 is part of the same sentence and begins with the word μηδέ, nor. Looking at the Greek, here's a first shot for how I would translate it: 12Sin must not reign in your mortal body for submission to its passions; 13and do not yield your parts to sin as weapons of unrighteousness, but yield yourselves, as those who were dead but are now living, and your parts to God as weapons of righteousness.
  3. Notice the theme: reigning/submission/yielding. The twofold command of verse 13 is an exposition of the command in verse 12: you do not allow sin to reign in you by yielding yourself to God instead of sin.
  4. Verse 14 then resumes in the indicative: For sin will not be your master, since you are not under the law but under grace. Since it begins with for (though technically that is the second word of 14 in Greek since γάρ is postpositive) it is giving the grounds of verses 12 and 13: which fits the entire structure of what Paul has been arguing in chapter 6: it is impossible to remain in sin because of an ontological disconnection with it and connection to Christ. Sin must not be yielded to because it is simply not master anymore. Thus, even if you did not read 12 as a command, the overall meaning of the passage contains both indicative and imperative negation of sin as master.

The 'to reign' in this case is βασιλεύω (literally 'to be king over'), and according to the ESV Reverse Interlinear, is in the imperative case. This doesn't necessarily mean it is a command (the whole indicative / imperative thing) but it would not be a misreading to do so.

Complicating matters is that ἁμαρτία (sin) is in the nominative case, so it could also be the subject.

  • Yes, sin is the subject. Paul personifies sin as a slave master. I like to translate "Mr. Sin". Since we are discussing slaves and their masters the word βασιλεύω should probably be understood as "rule over". "Mr. Sin will no longer be your slave master since you are not answerable to the law anymore but instead you are answerable to grace."
    – Ruminator
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 19:11

After the imperatives of vv.11-13, the next verse concludes with a return to the indicative (contra Brooks & Winbery:1979:97): “For sin shall not be master over you…” (v.14a), which gives the basis or reason (γάρ, for) for the specific commands of vv.12-13. It also summarizes the keynote of the chapter, “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase” (v.1)? “Sin” is again personified as a power. The future tense of the verb does not imply a command nor a future or conditional promise but rather an encouragement and assured fact, a promise that is valid for every believer at the present time that Sin will not be their master because Christ is now their Lord (Cranfield:1987:319; Osborn:2004:159; Mounce:1995:154; Dunn:1988:339).

In verse 14b Paul gives a reason and assurance why (γάρ) Sin will not exercise its tyranny over a believer, “for you are not under law but under grace.” The strength of Sin resides in the law (I Corinthians 15:56); in other words, the power of Sin is in the law because Sin seizes the opportunity to express itself through the law, and brings death (Romans 7:5-13). Sin has lost its power, therefore, because the Christian disciple does not live under law.

The Greek word nomos (law) either refers to law as law in general, law as commandment (Murray:1987: 228); or to the Mosaic law, 5:14,20 (most commentators, e.g., Moo:1996:387; Osborn:2004:158; Witherington III & Hyatt:2004:164).

  • Excellent answer, Ed. Thanks for posting. +1
    – Ruminator
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 18:27

In Romans 6:14, the verb is not an imperative but a future indicative. I don't recall whether future indicatives sometimes function as imperatives, but because there are many ways to issue an imperative (certainly in vv. 12-13 Paul used them), it is less likely that 6:14 is a command.

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