by Jason A. Van Bemmel
Hear the Call to Kill Sin
"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." - Romans 8:13, ESV
"Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you." - John Owen
On Saturday night, I wrote a post on "The Deadly Serious Call to Kill Sin by the Power of the Spirit." I'd like to follow up on that post this week with a series of practical posts on how we can kill sin by the Spirit. Romans 8:13 gives us the clear call to "put to death the deeds of the body" "by the Spirit." Here we are told what we must do: Kill sin. We are also told how we must do it: By the Spirit. We are also told the benefits of killing sin by the Spirit: You will live. To make it even clearer, we're told the consequences of failing to kill sin by the Spirit: You will die.
Now some people may be confused by Romans 8:13, even though it is stark in its clarity. They may think this verse is telling us how to earn eternal life or how to earn God's favor. It's not. This verse is addressing Christians, who have already been forgiven and who have already received the gift of life by the Spirit. (See Romans 8:1-2 for this.) Notice that it is only "by the Spirit" that we can "put to death the deeds of the body." Only Christians have received the Holy Spirit, and we receive His indwelling presence by faith and not by works.
Yet how can Paul say that Christians might die if they don't put sin to death by the Spirit? Consider what he says in 1 Corinthians 11 to Christians who were giving into fleshly sin at the Lord's Supper. Some of these Christians were getting drunk and being gluttonous at the Lord's table and Paul said to them, "That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (1 Cor. 11:30, ESV)." These Christians were being judged as discipline from the Lord, so that they might not be condemned with the world (see vv. 31-32).
God takes our growth in holiness and Christ-likeness very seriously. This is what He has elected and called us to be: holy and Christ-like (see Romans 8:29). He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us as we strive toward this goal that He has placed in our hearts as a desire given by Him and pleasing to Him. He disciplines us in various ways when we neglect this calling and slide into fleshly, selfish ways of thinking and living.
Most Christians understand this at some level, so we'll talk about "struggling with sin" or "struggling against the flesh." We might talk about "struggling with temptation" or "wrestling with sin." But I think our very language betrays the fact that we are not taking this charge seriously enough. We cannot afford to "struggle" or "wrestle" with something as seriously deadly as sin. We must kill it.
Killing sin is not a one-time, simple procedure. There's no easy seven-step program of sin killing that you can complete in a week or a month or a year. As long as we remain in this flesh, we will be subject to temptations and we must constantly, vigilantly, diligently and ruthlessly kill sin. We cannot be content to try to control it, handle it, deal with it, manage it or even subdue it. It's either sin or us, so it must die.
When Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me (Matthew 16:24)," He meant it. When Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20)" or "I die every day (1 Cor. 15:31)," he meant it.
So, Step 1 in killing sin by the Spirit is to realize what the call is, who the call is for, how serious the call is and what means God has given us for carrying our His call: Christians, who have the Holy Spirit indwelling us, are called to kill sin daily by the power of the Holy Spirit or risk the reality of being killed by sin.
Know and Live Your Identity in Christ
"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." - Colossians 3:1-4
If you are a Christian, you not only belong to Christ but you are also united with Christ. If Step 1 in killing sin is to realize what the call is (to kill sin), to whom call is addressed (Christians) and the means for fulfilling the call (the power of the Holy Spirit), then Step 2 is to fully understand who you are in Christ and to begin living life out of a mindset that comes from your identity in Christ.
You belong to Christ and you are united with Christ. That means:
1. You have been raised with Christ.
2. Spiritually speaking, in your union with Christ, you are seated with Christ in the heavens at the right hand of God. (Eph. 2:6)
3. You have been crucified with Christ; thus, you have died to sin. This means that sin is no longer your master and you are no longer compelled to obey its desires. (see also Gal. 2:20 and Eph. 6:1-14)
4. Your real life is hidden with Christ in God. Christ is your life.
You need to spend time meditating on passages like Colossians 3, Ephesians 2, Romans 6 and 1 Peter 2. These passages will help you solidify your understanding of your new identity in Christ. But do more than read and think. Pray. Sing. Worship God for your new identity in Christ. Then, as you're living your life, preach these truths to yourself. Regularly remind yourself of who you are in Christ.
Here are some prayers based on these passages:
Colossians 3:1-5 Heavenly Father, thank you for raising me with Christ. I don't deserve such rich favor as to be united with Christ at your right hand. Thank you for such amazing grace. Thank you that, through the cross, I have died with Christ to sin and sin is no longer my master. Thank you for redeeming me and giving me true life in Christ. You are my Father forever. Give me the grace to set my mind on things above today and to look forward by faith to that day when Christ, who is my life, will appear and I will appear with him in glory. Amen.
Ephesians 2:1-10 Heavenly Father, when I was dead in my sins and transgressions, living in rebellion against you, you made me alive with Christ. You have saved me by grace and seated me with Christ in the heavenly places. You have made me your workmanship and have given me good works to do. You have been so gracious to me and have transformed my life in every way. Give me the grace to walk in the good works you have prepared beforehand for me and not in the course of this world, in the paths of sin. May I live in the new life I have in Christ today. Amen.
Romans 6:1-14 Heavenly Father, you have united me to Christ in his death. I have died with Christ by your grace, and I trust that by your grace I will be raised with him in glory. One who has died has been set free from sin. You have given me the power to walk in newness of life. Let me live to you, O God, and let not sin reign in my mortal members, in my body. Let me live in the power of the cross for the glory of your name. Amen.
1 Peter 2:1-12 Heavenly Father, I have tasted and seen that you are good. You have given me new life in Christ and have made me a living stone in your holy temple. You have made me a part of your chosen race, your royal priesthood, your own people. Let me live to proclaim your excellencies. Let me walk in the marvelous light of your presence, your word and your love. Give me the grace to abstain from the passions of my flesh, which wage war against my soul. Let me live as a member of God's household, as one who has received mercy. May other around me see the good works you enable me to do and give you glory! Amen.
Here are some great worship songs to help you praise God and live out your new identity:
- Abide with Me
- Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
- And Can It Be
- Arise, My Soul, Arise
- My Worth is Not in What I Own
- My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness
Then, as you live your life, keep reminding yourself of who you are. Preach these truths to yourself.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. - Titus 2:11-14, ESV
Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? - Galatians 3:3, ESV
Here's the truth: We cannot kill sin. We are powerless on our own. God's grace has appeared to train us and God's Spirit has been given to us to empower us to live for God and not for our flesh. We need the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, not our flesh.
So how do we get the grace we need?
Lots of people will give you lot of ideas about how to be more filled with the Holy Spirit and how to get more grace. They might point you to to the latest best-selling Christian book. Years ago, it would have been The Prayer of Jabez or A Purpose-Driven Life. Today, it might be some book on prayer circles or a Jesus Calling book. But God has not made accessing His grace and the power of His Spirit a secret, nor does He want us seeking Him outside of His word and apart from His people. I suspect what some people want from these trendy fads - perhaps what most people want - is a short-cut formula to a life filled with happiness and free from struggle. God nowhere promises us that!
God does promise to never leave us nor forsake us and He promises to give us what we need to live a life that pleases Him - not a life completely free from sin, struggle, heartache and pain, but a life of genuine love for God and for others.
"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence" - 2 Peter 1:3, ESV
So, how do we get the grace we need for a life of godliness?
God has given us means of grace, ordinary means of growing in extraordinary grace. The Westminster Shorter Catechism is helpful when it says -
Q. 88. What are the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.
Three means, each of which has two aspects:
1. The Word: God speak to us.
a. Reading the Word: As we read the word, we grow in our understanding of God, His character, His purpose, His work of redemption and His precious promises. We see how God has dealt with His people in the past, how He has been faithful to His promises, how He has been merciful to His people and also how His people have suffered from their foolishness and disobedience. The world never stops speaking to us, telling us its story of selfishness and materialism. That's a story our flesh likes to hear! We need to counter that story with God's truth in His Word.
b. The Word Preached: God gave the church pastor-teachers to preach the Word and by doing so to equip the saints. (See Eph 4:11-13 and 2 Tim 4:1-4). We all need to be sitting under sound Biblical preaching. God uses preaching to apply His word to our hearts in a way that simply reading it, studying it or even discussing it with others cannot match.
2. Sacraments: God pictures and promises His grace to us.
a. Baptism: Baptism identifies us as belonging to God's people, as He names us and claims us publicly in baptism. The washing of water depicts the regenerating and cleansing work of the Holy Spirit in applying the work of Christ to us. Baptism remembered helps remind us who we are and whose we are, helping us deal with those questions of identity we dealt with yesterday.
b. The Lord's Supper: The Lord's Supper is an ongoing sacrament, a means of grace wherein Christ feeds our souls with Himself. As we share in the Lord's Supper by faith, we feast on Christ and His life, blood and righteousness are applied to our hearts.
3. Prayer: We pour out our hearts to God in praise, repentance, thanksgiving and request.
a. Private Prayer: Jesus repeatedly told His disciples to get alone in prayer with their Heavenly Father and He set the example by spending all night in private prayer on multiple occasions. Jesus also gave us a model for prayer in The Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13), showing us that we are to praise God, seek His kingdom and will first and foremost, present our needs to Him, ask for forgiveness and seek His help against temptation.
b. Public, Corporate Prayer: Prayer is not just a private exercise, not just an individual experience. God also calls us to gather with His people for prayer. The early church in Acts gathered for prayer repeatedly and God used their prayers in mighty ways.
These means of grace are outward and ordinary. They are also powerful and transformative, when we truly seek the Lord by faith in them. We can easily do all of these things in an empty manner out of a sense of routine or mere obligation or we can seek the Lord in His word, in His sacraments and in prayer. We don't need emotional experiences or some new "secret insight." We need the Lord and He is not hiding from us. He will meet us and give us the grace we need to keep growing in Him.
Put Off and Put On
In our series on Killing Sin by the Spirit, we have seen so far three things we must do:
1. Understand and respond to the call to kill sin by the Spirit.
2. Know and live our identity as children of God who have been born again and who have the Holy Spirit.
3. Get the grace we need to be empowered to kill sin and grow spiritually through God's ordinary means of grace.
Once we have the grace we need, what do we do? Well, the Bible calls us to the daily exercise of putting off the practices of the "old self" and putting on the practices of our "new self."
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. - Colossians 3:9-10
Colossians 3:5-17 is a great passage to read for specific guidance on putting off and putting on, as is Ephesians 4:17-32. Consider this from Ephesians 4:
But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:20-24, ESV)
The principles behind these passages that teach us foundational, practical Christian living are simple:
1. Your outward behavior is a reflection of your inward desires.
2. As you love Jesus more and more, you must also work to live out what you believe and who you love.
3. You aren't going to simply do nothing. You will be doing something, so as you stop old patterns of life that come out of selfishness and unbelief, they must be replaced by new patterns of life that come out of our love for Jesus.
Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4 give a number of specific examples of this kind of behavior change, but these chapters are not giving us exhaustive lists. Notice also that when Paul tells us to put off sinful patterns in these chapters, he also uses the language of putting these things to death. In other words, we're not supposed to be putting things off and folding them and putting them in a drawer to be brought out later when we want to wear then again. We're to put them off and put them to death!
Here are the things we're told to put off and put to death in these chapters:
1. sexual immorality
3. passion (Greek "pathos" - unhealthy and inordinate desire)
4. evil desire
10. obscene talk
13. corrupt talk
15. clamor (crying out, outcry, loud complaining)
Here are the things we're told to put on instead:
1. compassionate hearts
We can read passages like these and look at lists like these in two different ways:
1. As a do and don't list, a checklist for behavior.
2. As descriptions of the overflow of two different heart orientations.
The context of Colossians and Ephesians makes it clear that we're to read these in the second way and not in the first way.
If our hearts are oriented on ourselves, we will seek to gratify our own desires. We will not take the truth seriously, but will manipulate our words to serve our purposes. We will not see other people as precious images of God but as tools and objects to advance our desires or else as obstacles that stand in the way of our desires.
If our hearts are ruled by grace and filled with love from God, we will seek the glory of God and the good of others. We will love and forgive, seek purity in speech to bless others and build them up. We will embrace work as a gift from God and will worship God in our hearts and with our lips in song. We will forgive as readily as we have been forgiven and will be patient with the faults of others, knowing how patient God is with us.
Remember that this heart change comes only by the Holy Spirit, who works His will in us. We respond to the grace given us. So, we should seek His face more and more as we're convicted of our shortcomings.
"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." - Colossians 3:17