What is at stake in putting sin to death? Everything! Actually our eternal destiny is at stake. Either we put sin to death and show that we are living according to the Spirit and inherit eternal life, or we live according to the flesh, and show that we are unregenerate, and perish forever in hell.
What Is At Stake In Putting Sin To Death?
This morning we return to our study of Putting Sin To Death. Last Sunday, we sought to get to the bottom of sin. We analyzed the source of sin. We were asking the question, “What is at the bottom of sin? Where do all the evil actions, words, thoughts, and attitudes in the world come from?” We discovered from Romans 1:18-32, that all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men stems from preferring something else to God. That is sin’s source. If somehow, we can stop preferring other things to God, and start treasuring Him above all things, we will begin to put sin to death in our lives.
This morning we are going to continue our study, but this morning we are going to focus on another passage in Romans – actually just a single verse. It is Romans 8:13. “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 order to see the immediate context of Romans 8:13, let’s back up and read verse 12, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh to live according to the flesh.” At the end of verse 12 in my Bible is a dash. What does that dash mean? It means that Paul does not finish his thought, but starts going down a different trail. Now, what do we expect Paul to say? How would we finish his sentence in verse 12? “We are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh, but we are under obligation to the Spirit, to live according to the Spirit.” However, Paul doesn’t finish the verse that way, because as soon as he tells us that we are not under obligation to the flesh, he must jump in and tell us why. We are not under obligation to the flesh to live according to it, because the flesh has never done anything for you, and will never do anything for you. The flesh has been trying to kill you since the day you were born. We must not join forces with our enemy and bring about our own destruction. The only thing we owe the flesh is war. If Christ had not saved us, our flesh would have dragged us down to the deepest, darkest, hottest places in Hell. Why would we ever yield to our murderer?! We aren’t debtors to the flesh!
However, we are debtors to the Spirit. Why? Because the Spirit has done everything for us. The Spirit has made us alive together with Christ, granting us new birth. The Spirit has united us to Christ and His body, the church. The Spirit has come to dwell in us. The Spirit has sealed us unto the day of redemption. The Spirit convicts us of sin, and directs us to Christ. The Spirit teaches us about Christ and glorifies Him. In our context in verse 11, the Spirit will give live to our mortal bodies. In other words, the Spirit will raise our bodies from the dead and glorify them. We owe everything to the Spirit!
Now, having established Paul’s train of thought in verse 12, let’s begin to expound verse 13. There are 5 principal parts to this text:
- The Duty: put to death the deeds of the body
- The Persons: you
- The Promise: will live
- The Warning: if you are living according to the flesh you must die
- The Power: by the Spirit
This morning we are going to deal with the Promise, the Warning, and the Persons. Then next Sunday we will focus on the Duty and the Power.
1. The Promise and the Warning: “live and die”
What is Meant by Live and Die?
Paul says if you do this you will live, but if you do that you must die. So, what does Paul mean by “live” and “die.” Well, it is immediately apparent that to die can’t mean to die physically, because everyone dies physically whether or not he lives according to the flesh. People who live according to the Spirit also die physically. Some contemporary bible teachers believe Paul is merely talking about enjoying our spiritual life. The Bible Knowledge Commentary had this to say on Romans 8:13: “This does not suggest that a believer who sins will face eternal death in hell; instead, it means he will not enjoy his spiritual life. He will seem like an unsaved person (1 Cor. 3:1–4) and will be unable to enjoy the indwelling presence of the Spirit.” I strongly disagree. I know of no where else in Scripture where Paul uses the words “die” and “live” to describe enjoying or not enjoying our spiritual life. So, if this does not mean physical death, or enjoying our spiritual life, what does it mean? It must mean what Paul said in Romans 6:23, “for the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In this text, “death” is opposed to “eternal life.” That tells me that Paul has in mind eternal death. He is speaking about Hell! When Paul says if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body you will live, he is talking about everlasting life in heaven. In other words, your eternal destiny is at stake in this verse! I thoroughly disagree. If you read the older commentators from the 17th and 18th centuries, you will find that they all believed Paul was talking about Heaven and Hell, not enjoying the Spirit, or losing rewards.
Now, can Paul really have meant that if a professing Christian lives according to the flesh he will perish eternally under the wrath of God? Well, one way to find out is to ask if the Bible teaches that truth anywhere else. If this is the only place in Scripture that says such a shocking thing we might conclude that we are misunderstanding his meaning. But is this the only place? Well, let’s take a look.
Hebrews 12:14 “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Here we read that if a person is not pursuing sanctification (holiness) he will not see the Lord. We could turn this around and say that anyone who is not putting to death the deeds of the body will see the Lord.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” In other words, those that live according to the flesh will never inherit God’s kingdom.
Ephesians 5:3-6 “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” Here Paul tells us that if you live according to the flesh the wrath of God is going to come upon you!
Matthew 5:29-30 “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” Now, of course Jesus does not intend for us to take Him literally. What good would it do to tear out your right eye literally, if you still have a left eye? And even if you gouged out both eyes, you still have a mind that can conjure up lewd images. What Jesus is saying is that we must put to death the deeds of the body. And if we don’t, we will end up in Hell.
No, the sober and shocking, and troubling truth is that Romans 8:13 means exactly what it sounds like.
So, NO, Romans 8:13 is not just an isolated verse which is never taught elsewhere in Scripture. It is a truth that is repeated over and over and over, so that we can’t misunderstand it.
One of the reasons the worship services all across America are so entertaining and jokey and amusing and flippant and casual and silly is because nobody believes anything deadly serious is at stake. By and large, churches believe that their worship service is for Christians who are secure to have fun, and for unbelievers to see them having fun. When Paul tells the Romans that if they live according to the flesh they must die (perish), he didn’t stop and say, “Oh, let me clarify. I’m not talking about the same people I have been talking about all along, the saints who are called, and beloved of God. I’m talking about the non-elect that might perish.” No, Paul was talking to those who called themselves Christians and telling them that there was a very real danger that they could end up in Hell. And friends, let me tell you the same thing. There is a very real danger that you may end up in Hell, if you live according to the flesh. Every service here at The Bridge is deadly important, because it is one of the means that God uses to spur you on to keep walking down the narrow road that leads to life. We are not here every Sunday to be amused or entertained. We are here so that we find what we need to keep loving Christ above all, and continue to persevere to the end. And brothers and sisters, if we do not persevere to the end we will perish!
Does This Mean That A True Christian Can Lose His Salvation?
Is Paul saying that a person can somehow merit his salvation by killing his sin? No, because that would contradict plain statements of Scripture everywhere. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Well, then, what does he mean? If he’s not saying that a person can earn his salvation by sin-killing, is he saying that a true believer can lose his salvation by not killing their sin?
Notice that Paul is addressing “brethren” and telling them that if they don’t kill the deeds of the body they will go to Hell! “Now, wait a minute, Brian. Verse 1 says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Verse 30 says that every person who is justified is also glorified. Verse 38 and 39 say that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. If that’s true, why in the world would Paul tell a believer that he can end up in Hell?”
Well, here are two different truths taught in the Bible that seem to be absolutely opposed to one another. Truth #1 – If we don’t kill our sin we will go to Hell, whether we profess to believe in Jesus or not. Truth #2 – A believer is absolutely secure in Christ and can never be lost.
Some people deal with these two truths by throwing one away. They say that they can’t both be true, so they get rid of one of them, usually the one they dislike the most. Don’t do that! Here are two other truths that are both taught in Scripture – the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Should we get rid of the sovereignty of God because the Bible teaches that men are responsible to repent and believe? Or should we get rid of the responsibility of man, because the Bible teaches that God is sovereign and chooses who will be saved? No, we believe both at the same time, whether or not we can explain how they work together.
So, what do we do with these two truths? I think the answer is not that a true believer can lose his salvation. I think the answer is that many people who profess to be believers are not true believers. They are not the real deal. They may have been baptized, joined the church, and live a moral, respectable outward life. But if they are living according to the flesh, they are proving that they are yet unregenerate. Why do I say that? Well, examine these texts in Romans 8 that speak of the flesh.
Romans 8:5 “For those who are according to the flesh”
Romans 8:6 “For the mind set on the flesh”
Romans 8:9 “However, you are not in the flesh”
Romans 8:13 “for if you are living according to the flesh”
All of these verses describe an unregenerate person. He is according to the flesh, and that’s why he sets his mind on the flesh, and that’s why he lives according to the flesh. But notice Romans 8:9, “However, you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.” “In the flesh” describes an unsaved person. “In the Spirit” describes a saved person.
Well then, why would Paul direct his thoughts to the “brethren”, and tell them that if they live according to the flesh they will perish in Hell? Paul is referring to them as “brethren” because they were professing Christians. However, their lives will bear out if they are true or false believers.
Let me put it to you like this. Killing the sin in our lives is not the way we get saved. It is the way God shows us that we are saved. It is not the root of our salvation. It is the fruit of our salvation. It is not the cause of our salvation. It is the effect of our salvation. It is not the ground of our salvation. It is the evidence and proof of our salvation. But make no mistake. Killing our sin is the absolutely necessary evidence of salvation. No unsanctified people are going to heaven.
You see, God saves His elect, not only through the promises of Scripture, but also the warnings of Scripture. A worldly professing Christian hears “for if you are living according to the flesh you must die” and concludes that it can’t be talking about him. After all, he is secure in Christ. He doesn’t need threatening words like “if you live according to the flesh you must die.” That’s for other people. He doesn’t believe that his eternal life hangs on whether he kills sin or not. And he takes no heed to the warning, and lives according to the flesh and perishes. But one of God’s elect hears that warning and trembles with fear that he might perish if he lives according to the flesh, and so he turns from sin and flies to Christ for grace and power to kill his sinful deeds.
2. The Persons: “you”
Who Must Put Sin To Death?
Paul says it is “you”! But who is this you? It is the same “you” of verse 9 that Paul says is not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. It is the same “you” of verse 10 in which Christ indwells. It is the same “you” of verse 11 in which the Spirit of God dwells and whose body the Spirit will raise from the dead. It is the same “you” of verse 12 that is called a brother. In other words, Paul is giving this warning to Christians. Now, that makes perfect sense, because a non-Christian can’t obey this exhortation. A non-Christian is spiritually dead. A dead man can’t kill his sin. He is under the dominion of sin himself! He’s a slave to sin. A person who is a slave to sin, can’t kill his Master.
Notice that the apostle puts the responsibility for killing sin squarely on us. He says, “but if by the Spirit YOU are putting to death the deeds of the body, YOU will live.” He doesn’t say “but if the Spirit puts to death the deeds of the body you will live.” If you ever quit sinning, it will be because you quit sinning! You are going to have to make the decision, the choice to not do this thing, and instead do the other. You can’t do this without the Spirit, and the Spirit won’t do this without you.
Well, just who is Paul calling upon to put to death the deeds of his body?
First, he is a person for whom Christ died. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ died to bear the penalty of our sins. Christ died for sinners. Christ died for sin.
Second, he is a person that died with Christ. Romans 6:1-2 says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Then in verse 6 Paul says, “knowing this that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.” These passages tell us that we have died with Christ to sin. How did this happen? Through our union with Christ. At the point of our new birth we were united to Christ, so that what happened to Him also happened to us. That’s why Paul says in verse 4-5, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.”
Romans 6 is teaching us that if we are Christians, we have died to sin. We died with Christ. So, does that mean that sin is dead in our lives? Does it mean that holiness will be automatic? Does it mean we don’t have the potential for falling into sin? Absolutely not, because Paul says in Romans 6:12, “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.” Overcoming sin does not happen automatically by virtue of the fact that we have died with Christ. We must refuse to let sin reign, and we must present the members of our body to God.
The “you” that Paul calls to put sin to death is a person who is a new creation in Christ. He is a person who has been united to Christ. He is a person who has been cut off of the tree of Adam, and grafted onto the tree of Christ. He is a person who has died with Christ and been made alive together with Christ. He is a person who possesses a new nature. The first principle we must understand is that a person must be born again if he is ever to put sin to death. You see those 500 ton jumbo jets, and you wonder “How in the world is that hunk of metal ever going to get into the air and stay there?!” Well, picture one of those jumbo jets with no wings. All it has is a narrow body, tires, and a big engine. Now, I don’t care how fast that thing goes down the runway, it’s never going to get into the air. Why? Because it needs wings. That fast moving tube, needs to be reconfigured. However, if you put wings on that racing tube, all of a sudden it is able to lift off the ground and move through the air. It’s exactly the same with us. As long as we were dead in sin, we were like a jet without wings. We were never going to be able to get into the air. We needed to be remade, reconfigured. In the New Birth, God recreated us, and gave us the apparatus to fly. It’s called a new nature.
So here is the formula: “He was killed for your sin. You were killed in him. Kill sin in yourself.” Notice carefully – Paul doesn’t say, “Christ died for your sin, and you died to sin with Him, therefore you don’t have to do anything.” No, we do have to do something. We have to wage war on our sin! Paul says, “Don’t let sin reign in your mortal body.” Don’t let it! That means, you can stop it. But you are going to have to fight it to the death. We must kill in ourselves what killed Christ.
Let Us Fear! This morning you need to let the weight of this passage of Scripture hit you like a ton of bricks. You need to sit under the promise and the warning. You need to really believe that if you put sinful deeds to death you will inherit eternal life, but if you live according to the flesh you will perish in hell. Does that put it in perspective for you? What we are talking about this morning is not a little trifle. It’s not optional. It’s not unimportant. It is earth shatteringly important! And I call upon you to be in blood earnest about killing your sin. Because if you don’t, you will go to hell!
I know many pastors of many churches would never talk to their people like this. They would be worried that their people would become afraid of falling short. But, that’s the whole point. God leads His elect to heaven through promises and threatening. It’s a good thing for us to be afraid, because then we will be motivated to take this business seriously. If we feel there is nothing all important at stake in killing our sin, we will not take this work very seriously, and we might discover on the final day that we were not one of God’s true children after all.
Hebrews 4:1 says, “Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it.” Did you hear that? Let us fear! The author of Hebrews is exhorting all of his readers to fear coming short of entering God’s salvation rest. Brothers and sisters, let us fear not inheriting the promise of eternal life, because we did not put the sinful deeds of our body to death, but instead lived according to the flesh.
Let Us Take Action. If you ever stop sinning, it will be because you stop sinning! You and I must take responsibility for our sanctification, our growth in holiness. God is not going to sanctify you apart from your active exertion, faith, and choosing. We don’t sit around and wait for God to kill our sin. No, the Bible says that WE must put to death the deeds of the body. It doesn’t say that we are to wait for God to kill our sin. We must do it. Next Sunday we are going to talk about the nuts and bolts of how we put our sin to death, so come back next Sunday. Let’s pray.
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