Romans 8:13. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
The Puritans used to talk a lot about the mortification of sin. Putting sin to death in our lives. Or, as Paul puts it here in Romans 8:13, put to death the deeds of the body.
“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” – John Owen.
The Christian life is this great paradox. God does it all, but we must do it too. God’s will is being carried out in your life, but you must choose to obey God’s will. God’s work in you is finished, and it is ongoing. We have died with Christ (Rom. 6:6), but we must put sin to death. We are alive to God (Rom. 6:11), but we if we live according to the flesh we will die.
Romans 8 is a glorious chapter of scripture, all about what God has done FOR and IN us by the Spirit of Christ. There are no greater promises than these:
- No condemnation (8:1).
- Set free from the law of sin and death (8:2).
- Sin condemned in the flesh (8:3).
- The righteous requirement of the law fulfilled in us (8:4).
- A new mind set upon the Spirit (8:6)
- The Spirit of God dwells in us, we are in the Spirit (8:9).
- The Spirit is life because of righteousness (8:10).
- Life is given to our mortal bodies (8:11).
- We live according to the Spirit as debtors to the Spirit and grace (8:12).
But then suddenly, here in verse 13, we get a warning. Knowing what God has done in us, here’s what we need to do – put to death the deeds of the body.
Why must we be on guard to put to death the (mis)deeds of the body? Because without the controlling influence of the indwelling life of Christ, by the Spirit, the desires, passions, and even needs of the body will dominate and ultimately destroy us. How? Because our flesh will grab hold of these legitimate and even good desires, and twist them into selfish gain that will destroy our love for God and others – you will die.
C.S. Lewis called this the prison of the self. Speaking of the imagination, he saw it driving us in one of two ways. Either it keeps us from others, or it drives us toward others in healthy, loving, kind relationships. Take lust for example. The desire for sex is legitimate and God given. But it can grab hold of the imagination, and as Lewis said, lock us up in a false reality away from the real world. So how do we escape this prison of the self? By putting to death selfish deeds. Like illicit sex. Materialism. Gossip. Cruelty. Boasting. Showing off. Performing for others.
Wait a minute, it sounds like we’re just talking about behavior modification. “Just stop doing bad things.” Nope. We’re not talking about changing behavior. We’re talking about crucifying the flesh. Murdering sin. And this level of spiritual warfare is only possible by grace through faith.
To obey Romans 8:13 you desperately need GRACE. You cannot mortify sin and the flesh on your own. Apart from Christ, and his love, you can do nothing. And to obey Romans 8:13 you desperately need FAITH. If the life of love and holiness, the life of the Spirit, is to be lived, you must do it by faith. Self-control (and act of faith) comes from the Spirit (grace). By his grace, by our union with Christ, God has set us free from sin. We are dead to sin. Sin no longer controls us. We no longer have to obey the flesh and its demands. Because we have been crucified with Christ, we can crucify the flesh with its passions and desires. But this ongoing work can only be done by faith in the grace of God through Jesus’ finished work.
Why mortification? Why put sin to death? Why must we fight this battle every day? Because God wants us to experience grace and faith. Because only experiencing God’s grace by faith will change our hearts. Only trusting what God has done for us and in us will transform our imagination. Only belief in the great love of God for us will motivate a greater love in us for others. A love that slowly murders our selfish flesh.
Without faith in the goodness of God and without reception of the grace of God, we will lose this battle. We will die even as we live.
“To live is Christ” is not the end of morality. It’s the beginning. The indwelling life of Christ has given us the knowledge of good and evil through the shared life of Christ. We have, through grace, what we tried to earn in the Garden through effort. The Garden left humanity with knowledge but no life. In Christ, we have his life and his knowledge. We have his love and we know how to use it. The daily question is “will we?”
in what way are you putting to death the deeds of the flesh?
You in Christ
Why is it that only when we see ourselves as dead to sin can we put sin to death?
Christ in you
Is there a specific sin that you need to let Jesus’ knowledge of good and evil destroy today?
Playlist: Mortification of sin.