How do we put sin to death? Do we just use the power of willpower? Do we work hard at obeying the Law? No, we put sin to death by believing the promises that God in Christ is better than the promises of sin! It is the expulsive power of a new affection!
How To Put Sin To Death
Last week we began our exposition of Romans 8:13. In that one verse we saw that there were 5 principal parts: There is a Duty, a People, a Promise, a Warning, and a Power. Last Sunday, we examined the promise, the warning, and the people. The Promise: “if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body you will live.” The Warning: “for if you are living according to the flesh you must die.” The People: “you”. This verse is given to believers. Those who are dead in sin cannot obey this text, because they are slaves to sin. The Promise is that if the habit of your life is to put your sin to death you will enter into everlasting life. The Warning is that if the habit of your life is to live according to the flesh, you will enter into eternal death, or the lake of fire. That is what is at stake in this business of mortification. It’s not just that we might lose some rewards in heaven if we don’t kill our sin. It’s not just that we might not enjoy our spiritual lives as much if we don’t kill our sin. The truth is that we may not be in heaven at all if we don’t kill our sin. As the Puritan John Owen said, “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.”
This morning we are going to go further and discuss the Duty, and the Power by which we are to perform the duty. May the Lord graciously visit us with the power of His Word!
1. The Duty (put to death the deeds of the body)
The Difference Between the Flesh and the Deeds of the Body. I find it interesting that Paul does not say, “for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die, but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the flesh, you will live.” There seems to be a difference between “flesh” and “deeds of the body.” If that is the case, what is the difference? I understand the “flesh” to be our corrupt human nature. It is that principle within us that is opposed to the Spirit. Romans 8:7 tells us that the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God, doesn’t subject itself to the law of God, and isn’t even able to do so. Paul puts it this way in Galatians 5:16-17, “But I way, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” The flesh is diametrically opposed to the Spirit. If the Spirit wants you to do one thing, the flesh wants you to do the opposite. If the flesh wants you to do this thing, the Spirit will want you to do the opposite. Notice Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” That is how your flesh manifests itself – in 100,000 different evil ways. So, the flesh is that evil principle within you that prefers other things to God. It that old evil corrupt nature that resides within every person.
Now, let’s consider the deeds of the body. The body, in and of itself, is not evil. In fact, the body is not moral at all. The body is just bones, and blood, and skin, and ligaments, and muscles and tissue. It is neither good nor bad. Yet, it can express itself in godly actions, and it can express itself in evil actions. When the flesh is expressing itself through your body, the deeds will be evil. When the Holy Spirit is expressing Himself through your body, the deeds will be righteous. So, what do we mean when we say we must put to death the deeds of the body? We mean that we must kill those actions, and thoughts, and attitudes, and words that come forth from your corrupt nature.
The apostle speaks of this earlier in Romans, in chapter 6:12-13, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” The members of your body can either be instruments of unrighteousness or instruments of righteousness. Your mind, and eyes, and ears, and tongue, and hands, and feet, can all be used as instruments of unrighteousness. Your mind can dwell on evil. Your eyes can look on evil. Your ears can listen to evil. Your tongue can say evil things. Your hands can do evil things. Your feet can take you to evil places. But, on the other hand, all of those members can be used for righteousness. Your mind can dwell on the Word of God. Your eyes can be used to read the Bible. Your ears can be used to listen compassionately to the needs of others. Your tongue can be used to speak of the gospel of Christ. Your hands can serve others. Your feet can take you to help people in need.
Notice also the tense of the verbs. “For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” In both cases, in the Greek, these are present, active, indicative verbs. That means that the action is taking place in an ongoing manner. Paul isn’t talking about a person who slips and falls occasionally. He’s talking about a person who is living their life after the flesh. It has become their way of life. He’s also talking about a person who is continuously battling the sinful deeds of their body. He’s not describing a person who puts to death their sin once in a blue moon. He’s talking about a person who makes it their way of life to kill their sin.
Notice also the violent description of what the believer must do. He must put it to death. He must kill it. You remember the story of how King Saul conquered the Amalekites, but he spared King Agag and some of the sheep. When Samuel found out what Saul had done, he told him that the Lord had torn the kingdom from Saul and given it to his neighbor who is better than him. Then Saul had Agag brought before him, and he hewed Agag to pieces before the Lord. Saul illustrates the believer who makes provision for his flesh. Samuel illustrates the believer who is ruthless with his sin, but deals with it harshly and violently by killing it.
Putting something to death is not a pretty picture. God intends to use all human suffering to demonstrate the ugliness and offensiveness of sin. Now, maybe to you and I, sin looks nice, and pretty, and appealing, and fun. But to our all holy God, it is infinitely ugly and offensive. It is so ugly and offensive that the only remedy for it was the suffering and death of an infinitely worthy and beautiful divine sacrifice. It is so ugly, that it has caused the death of billions and billions of people. It is so ugly and offensive that eternal conscious torment is the only just and holy response to it.
If we are obedient to the Lord, every time we meet sin, we meet it with a sword. We make no truce with it, make no compromise with it, and take no prisoners. It is a fight to the death. Either sin must die, and we will live, or we must die, and sin will live. It’s like those two gladiators that are put in the ring in the old Roman coliseums. Only one man was going to walk away from that fight. The other would be laid in the cold, hard ground by nightfall. And, this fight with sin, will go on for the rest of your life! At some points in your life, the battle will rage wildly, and at other times, there is not near as much of a battle, because of your ongoing struggle with it. But you can never let down your guard. You must be willing at all times, in all places to face this enemy and battle him to the death. At the end of Paul’s life he could say in 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight of faith.”
2. The Power (by the Spirit)
Now we are going to get at how we put sin to death. The first thing we need to be clear on is that when we kill the sinful deeds of the body, we must go about that by going to the root. There is no point in snipping off bad fruit, but leaving the tree bad. And there is no point in us simply trying to make outward moral improvements, while leaving the whole sin-producing root system intact. No, we must slay the sinful deeds, by starving the root. Now, two Sundays ago we argued from Romans 1 that the root of sin is our preference for other things rather than for God. As John Piper has written in Future Grace, “Sin is what we do when our heart is not satisfied in God.” What we call individual acts of sin are any thoughts, attitudes, words or deeds that have their root in devaluing God. So, if we are going to kill the sinful deeds of the body, we have to attack that root.
So, how do we put sin to death? Paul says we do it “by the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit gives believers the power to put sin to death. Remember our illustration of the jumbo jet? It weighs 1 million pounds! How in the world is that jet ever going to soar through the air when it weighs a million pounds? The answer is that its wings are configured in just the right way so that when the air rushes over them, it lifts the plane into the air. It doesn’t matter how fast you get a jumbo jet going down a runway. If it doesn’t have wings, it will never get off the ground. When you were born again, God gave you wings. He reconfigured you. He recreated you. He made it possible for you to fly. He made it possible for you to put sin to death. However, wings alone are not enough. Let’s say that big jumbo jet is standing still on the runway. It’s got wings, but no engine. Without an engine that can propel it down the runway to the right velocity, it will never get off the ground. Folks, the Spirit is the jet engine of the Christian life. In the Christian life, we have both wings and an engine. Our big question, is how do we get that engine running at full power? How do we “walk by the Spirit”? Paul says that if we walk by the Spirit we will not carry out the desire of the flesh. That’s exactly what we want! We want to kill the sinful deeds of the body. The only way to do that is to walk by the Spirit.
In Philippians 2:12-13 Paul says, “my beloved, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” There are several things to notice in this text. First, Paul is writing to Christians. He addresses them as “my beloved.” Next, he tells them to work out their salvation. Paul is not telling them to work for their salvation. They already possess salvation. He’s telling them to work it out. In other words, they are to carry their salvation to its ultimate conclusion, like working out a math problem. He’s talking about sanctification. Further, he tells them to work it out with fear and trembling. Paul knows that sanctification is no light, trifling matter. That is exactly what we saw last Sunday. Sin-killing is the path that leads to Heaven, and sin-indulging is the path that leads to Hell. So, be afraid and tremble that you could go on living in sin and miss everlasting life. Then Paul tells us what resources we have in our fight for holiness. He says, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” We have not been left alone to kill sin. God is working in us. And He gives us the desire and the power to do what pleases Him. The first thing we need to understand is that if we possess the indwelling Holy Spirit, we have an almighty resource to fight sin. The Holy Spirit is at work in us to give us God-glorifying desires, and prompt us to God-glorifying choices. Romans 8:13 tells us we are to put sin to death by the Spirit. This must mean that we are to walk according to the Spirit. We are to depend on His power, and obey His promptings, and cultivate His desires in our hearts.
In verses 12 and 13, Paul is focusing on the flesh and the Spirit. Now, back up to verses 5 and 6, and you will notice that he does the same thing there. “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” To verify that Paul has the same thing in mind in both places, notice that the mind set on the flesh is death. That is the very thing he tells us in verse 13a, “for if you are living according to the flesh you must die.” He also says that the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. This is the very thing he tells us in verse 13b, “but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” That tells me that there is a direct link between setting our minds on the Spirit, and putting sinful deeds of the body to death by the Spirit. So, the real question is, how do we set our minds on the things of the Spirit? It is patently clear that the way we kill sin is not by focusing on the sin, and telling ourselves “No! No! No!” Romans 8:5 tells us we do it by setting our minds on the things of the Spirit. Our mind and heart must be focused, not so much on the sin, but on the things of the Spirit.
The only other place in the Bible that uses the phrase “things of the Spirit” is in 1 Corinthians 2:13-14. Let’s take a look at that verse. “Which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” Now, here Paul equates his teaching with words inspired by God. Paul’s words taught by the Spirit, are the same thing as the things of the Spirit of God. So, here we have another direct link. If we are to set our minds on the Spirit, we are going to have to set our minds on the words that have come from God spoken by the apostles. To set our mind on the things of the Spirit, is to set our mind on specific words from God in the New Testament Scriptures. If we are going to have victory in putting sin to death, we are going to have to focus on specific statements from the Bible.
Now, that should be readily apparent, because Ephesians 6:17 tells us when we engage in spiritual warfare, we must “take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” The only piece of armor that is used to kill our enemy is the sword of the Spirit. This is not just called “the sword”, but the “sword of the Spirit.” So, to put sin to death by the Spirit, we must use the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit.
Now, one final principle. Turn to Galatians 3:5, “So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” Of course, the correct answer is “by hearing with faith.” Now, why does Paul speak about hearing? It’s because that which they are to exercise faith in is the word of God spoken to them. We must believe the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit, if we are ever going to be able to kill sin.
What does all this mean? It means when a powerful temptation comes, you are not left desolate. Along with a determined “No!”, you must also say “Yes!” to God’s Word. Just saying “No!” to sin, will never be enough to kill it in your life. You must have a word from God that you cling to with all your might. What kind of a word from God? If the root of all sin is preferring something to God, then the word from God you must believe is a promise that God will be more for us than what sin promises. If we believe God’s Word, that sin will die! The power of sin’s promise is broken by the power of God’s promise.
Notice Acts 26:18. God sent Paul “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” Now, that’s very interesting! How are we sanctified? By faith in Christ. We are not sanctified by the flesh’s efforts to keep the works of the Law. We are sanctified by faith in God’s word. Colossians 2:6 says, “Therefore, as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” In other words, in the same way you became a Christian, now live a holy life. How did we receive Christ Jesus the Lord? By faith. How do you walk in Christ? By faith.
What I am saying is that we don’t get saved one way, and then grow in holiness in some remote and advanced way that is only attained after many years of following Christ. No, you become a Christian, and you grow as a Christian in exactly the same way – by faith. We were converted when we repented and believed the word of God. Well, how do we put sin to death? We repent and believe the word of God. So, how can the power of the Spirit flow in our life to kill sin? It’s like a socket and plug. When the plug of our faith goes into the socket of the word of God, the Spirit flows in our lives to kill sin. Do you want to know how to be filled with the Spirit? Exercise faith in God’s Word. All acts of sin, grow out of the taproot of unbelief in God’s promises.
Let’s take an example to flesh out the sin-killing process for you. Look at Hebrews 13:5-6, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you, so that we confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid, what will man do to me?” Here the sin is identified that we must kill – the love of money. In fact the literal rendering of 1 Timothy 6:10 is, “For the love of money is a root of all evils.” But, how is the love of money the root of all evils? Do we mean by the love of money, that we admire looking at green paper? Do we mean that we love touching gold and silver metal? What is the love of money? What is money? Behind the paper and the metal, what is money? It’s the symbol of what you can trade for what man can make or do for you. Money is the currency of human resources. You can trade it for what man can offer you, but you can’t use it to get what God offers you. So, to love money is to pin your hopes on, put your trust in, and pursue your pleasures in human resources. So, why is this the root of all evils? Because it ignores God and His resources! Another way of describing the love of money is to say it is to believe in money – that money can meet your needs or buy you happiness. It is to bank on money, and trust in money. Jesus said we can’t serve money and God. All kinds of sins flow out of the love of money, like discontentment, and stealing, and ignoring God. So, we must put to death the love of money by the power of the Holy Spirit. How do we do that?
The author of Hebrews does not tell us to just say “No!” to the temptation to love money. He points to a promise of God. The promise of God is, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” When we are tempted to trust money to meet our needs or provide our happiness, we need to take up the sword of the Spirit to kill that sin. How? By trusting God’s promise. He will never desert us or forsake us. That means that He will meet our needs, and He will provide us with the greatest kind of happiness. Not worldly happiness, but deep, eternal, spiritual happiness.
So, what do you do when you realize that the love of money is in your heart? You go to specific promises from God’s Word, and you believe them. You tell yourself, “The Lord is all I need. He will never desert or forsake me. He will provide every need. The resources of man are nice, but they don’t hold a candle to the resources of God!” And then, you turn from (repent) the love of money to the love of God (faith).
Repent and believe. Repent and believe. You kill sin the same way you were made right with God. Repent and believe. Turn from lies of Satan, to the truth of God. So, you see, that sanctification is not just a matter of will power. It’s not just making a choice to do things different, and then striving in the flesh to keep that determination. No, it’s a matter of trusting the Word of God in specific areas.
*Note: I am deeply indebted to John Piper’s writings and sermons on killing sin. I have borrowed many of his ideas and thoughts in this sermon.
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