David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)
“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live”—Romans 8:12-13.
Sanctification is a process in which a man himself plays a part, in which he is called upon to do something “through the Spirit,” Who is in him. We now proceed to consider what it is exactly that he has to do. The exhortation, the injunction, is “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body…” The Christian is called upon to mortify the deeds of the body.
We must deal first with the word body, which means our physical body, our physical frame, as it did also in the tenth verse. It does not mean “flesh.” Even the great Dr. John Owen goes astray at this point and deals with it as the “flesh” and not as the “body.” But the Apostle who has talked so much about the “flesh” earlier quite deliberately talks about the “body.” He has done so in verses 10 and 11, and he did so in the twelfth verse of the sixth chapter. He is referring to this physical body in which sin still remains, but which is one day going to be raised “incorruptible” and glorified, to become like the glorified body of our blessed Lord and Savior Himself. I emphasize again that we must be clear about this matter because it is so liable to be misunderstood. The teaching is not that the human body is inherently sinful or that matter is inherently sinful. There have been heretics who have taught that error known as dualism. The New Testament, on the contrary, teaches that man was made [good] in body, soul, and spirit. It does not teach that matter has always been evil, and that therefore the body has always been evil. There was a time when the body was…entirely free from sin; but when man fell, when man sinned, the whole of him fell, and he became sinful in body, mind, and spirit. But we have seen that in the new birth, man’s spirit is already delivered. He receives new life: “the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Rom 8:10). But still “the body is dead because of sin” (8:10). Such is New Testament teaching! In other words, though the Christian is regenerated, sin still remains in his mortal dying body. Hence, the problem of living the Christian life, hence the fight and the struggle against sin as long as we are left in this world; for the body is still the seat and the instrument of sin and corruption. Our bodies are not yet delivered. They shall be delivered, but so far sin remains in them.
The Apostle, as we have seen, makes this quite clear. In 1 Corinthians 9:27, he says, “I keep under my body,” for the body prompts us to evil deeds. It is not that the instincts of the body are in and of themselves sinful. The instincts are natural and normal; and they are not inherently sinful. But the residual sin within us is always trying to turn the natural instincts in evil directions. It tries to turn them into “inordinate affections,” to exaggerate them, tries to make us eat too much, drink too much, tries to make us indulge all our instincts too much; so that they become “inordinate.” Or to look at the matter from the opposite angle, this sinful principle tries to hinder us from giving attention to the process of discipline and self-control to which we are so constantly called in the pages of Scripture. Sin remaining in the body tends to act in this way. Hence, the Apostle speaks of “the deeds of the body.” It tries to turn the natural and the normal into something sinful and evil.
The term mortify really explains itself. “To mortify” is to deaden, to put to death…so the exhortation is that we must “deaden,” put an end to the “deeds of the body.” This is the great New Testament exhortation in connection with sanctification from the practical standpoint, and it is addressed to all Christian people.
How is this work to be done?...The Apostle makes it plain. “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body”—“through the Spirit”! The Spirit is mentioned particularly, of course, because His presence and His work are the particular and peculiar mark of true Christianity. This is what differentiates Christianity from morality, from “legalism” and false Puritanism—“through the Spirit”! The Holy Spirit, as we have seen, is in us as Christians. You cannot be a Christian without Him. If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit of God is in you, and He is working in you. He enables us, He gives us strength, He gives us power. He “mediates” to us the great salvation the Lord Jesus Christ has worked out for us and enables us to work it out. The Christian must therefore never complain of want of ability and power. For a Christian to say, “I cannot do it” is to deny the Scripture. A man who has the Holy Spirit residing in him must never utter such an expression: it is a denial of the truth concerning him.
A Christian, as the Apostle John says in the 16th verse of the first chapter of his Gospel, is one who can say, “Of his fulness have we received.” Later on in chapter 15, believers are described as branches in the true Vine; so we must never say that we have no power. Certainly the devil is active in the world, and he is mighty in power; but “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1Jo 4:4). Or take again that important statement in the First Epistle of John, chapter 5 vv. 18 and 19: “We know that whosoever is born of God doth not keep on committing sin.” Such is the meaning of the “sinneth not” of the Authorized Version. It is the present-continuous tense: “We know that whosoever is born of God does not keep on sinning.” Why not? “But he that is begotten of God”—that is the Lord Jesus Christ—“keepeth him, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” This, says John, is the truth about every Christian. The Christian does not go on living in sin because Christ is living in him, and that evil one cannot touch him. Not only does he not control him, he cannot even touch him. The believer does not come under the power of the evil one. And then to press it right home, John says in verse 19, “We know that we are of God,” but as for the world, “the whole world lieth in wickedness.” The world is in the arms and in the bosom of the evil one, who controls it…He has the world and the men who belong to the world entirely in his grip and under his control, and such men are his utterly helpless victims. There is no purpose in telling such people to “mortify the deeds of the body”; they cannot do so because they are in the grip of the devil. But the Christian’s case is far different; the Christian is “of God,” and the evil one cannot even touch him. He can shout at him, he may frighten him occasionally; but he cannot touch him, still less control him.
These are typical New Testament statements about the Christian; and as we realize that the Spirit is in us, we shall experience their power. We are called upon then to use and to exercise the power that is in us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit”—who is resident in you—“do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” The exhortation is to exercise the power that is in us “through the Spirit.” The Spirit is power, and He is dwelling in us; and so we are urged to exercise the power that is in us.
But how does this work out in practice?...To begin, we have to understand our position spiritually, for many of our troubles are due to the fact that we do not realize, and do not remember, who we are and what we are as Christians. People complain that they have no power, and that they cannot do this or that. What they really need to be told is not that they are absolutely hopeless, and that they must “hand it over,” but, rather, what all Christians are told in the 1st chapter of the Second Epistle of Peter in verses 2 to 4: “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness.” Everything that “pertains unto life and godliness” has been given us “through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.” And again: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these [by means of these exceeding great and precious promises] ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
Yet Christian people moan and complain that they have no strength. The answer to such people is “All things that pertain unto life and godliness have been given you. Stop moaning and grumbling and complaining. Get up and use what is in you. If you are a Christian the power is in you by the Holy Spirit; you are not hopeless.” But the Apostle Peter does not leave it at that. In the ninth verse of that same chapter of his Second Epistle, he says, “He that lacketh these things”—in other words, the man who does not do the things he has been exhorting him to do—“is blind and cannot see afar off.” He is shortsighted, “and has forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.” He has not got a true view of the Christian life. He is talking and living as if he were still unregenerate. He says, “I cannot continue as a Christian; it is too much for me.” Peter urges such a man to realize the truth about himself. He needs to be awakened; he needs to have his eyes opened and his memory refreshed. He needs to be up and doing, instead of moaning over his deficiencies.
Furthermore, we have to realize that if we are guilty of sin we are “grieving the Holy Spirit of God” Who is in us. Every time we sin, it is not so much that we sin and become miserable that chiefly matters, but that we are grieving the Holy Spirit of God Who is dwelling in our body. How often do we think of that? I find that when people come to me about this matter they always talk about themselves— “my failure.” “I am constantly falling into this sin.” “This sin is getting me down.” They talk entirely about themselves. They do not talk about their relationship to the Holy Spirit, and for this reason: the man who realizes that the main trouble about his sinful life is that he is grieving the Holy Spirit, stops doing so at once. The moment a man sees that that is his real problem, he deals with it. He is no longer chiefly concerned about his own feelings; when he realizes that he is grieving the Holy Spirit of God, he takes immediate action.
Another most important consideration under this general heading is that we must always keep the ultimate goal in sight. Peter emphasizes this in that same first chapter: “If ye do these things,” he says, “ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2Pe 1:10b-11). If you do these things that I am exhorting you to do, he says, your death, when it comes, will be wonderful: you will not just somehow enter into the kingdom of God, you will have an “abundant entrance.” It will be a triumphant procession, the gates will be opened, and there will be great rejoicing! He is not referring to our present salvation, but to our final glorification, our entry “into everlasting habitations” (Luk 16:9). So we must keep our eye on that goal. Our main trouble is that we are always looking at ourselves and at the world. If we thought of ourselves more and more as pilgrims of eternity (which is what we are), our whole outlook would be transformed. Paul has stated that here [in Romans 8:11]: Keep your eye on that, he says in effect; keep your eye on the goal. John says the same thing in his first Epistle: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1Jo 3:2-3). The cause of most of our troubles as Christians is that we live too much to this world and in time. We persist in forgetting that we are only “pilgrims and strangers” here. We belong to heaven: our citizenship is in heaven (Phi 3:20), and we are going there. If we but kept that in the forefront of our minds, this problem of our fight against sin would take on a different aspect…
But we move on now from the general to the particular, reminding ourselves as we do so that all is done “through the Spirit,” and with a Spirit-enlightened mind. What have we to do in particular? The Apostle’s teaching can best be considered under two main headings— direct or negative, and indirect or positive.
Under the direct or negative heading, the first thing is that the Christian must “abstain from sin.” It is as simple and direct as that! “Dearly beloved,” says Peter in his First Epistle chapter 2, verse 11, “I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” That is as plain as a thing can be. There is no suggestion there of our being “absolutely hopeless” and that we must give up the struggle and “hand it all over” to the risen Lord. “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from…”—stop doing it, stop it at once, never do it again! You have to be a total abstainer from these sins, these “fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” You have no right to say, “I am weak, I cannot, and temptation is powerful.” The answer of the New Testament is “Stop doing it.” You do not need a hospital and treatment; you need to pull yourself together and to realize who you are as “strangers and pilgrims.” “Abstain from…” You have no business to touch such things. Recall again the teaching of the Epistle to the Ephesians, chapter 4: “Let him that stole steal no more.” “Let no filthy communication proceed out of your mouth.” None of this foolish talking or jesting! Don’t do it! Abstain! It is as simple as that and as practical as that. Stop it!
Secondly, and particularly, to quote the Apostle again in Ephesians 5:11-12: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” Notice what he says: “Have no fellowship with them.” You must not only abstain from such things, you must have no fellowship with people who do such things or with that mode of life. “Have no fellowship with them, but rather reprove them.” Your ruling principle should be not to associate with people of that type. To do so is bad for you and will do you harm…We are to have no fellowship with evil, but to shy away from it, and to keep as far away from it as we can.
Another term is “Keep under” (1Co 9:27). “I keep under my body,” says the Apostle. “Every man who strives for the mastery” — that is, who runs in races—disciplines himself. People who go into training for great athletic contests are very careful about their diet; they stop smoking and do not drink alcoholic beverages. How careful they are! And all because they want to win the prize! If they do that, says Paul, for those perishable crowns, how much more should we discipline ourselves…The body must be “kept under.” There is a hint as to how this is to be done in our Lord’s words in Luke 21:34. He says: “And take heed to yourselves”—He is talking to His followers—“lest at any time your hearts be over-charged with surfeiting,and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.” Do not eat or drink too much; do not be over-preoccupied with this world’s affairs. Take sufficient food, take the right food; but do not be guilty of “surfeiting.” If a man overindulges his body in food or drink or anything else, he will find it more and more difficult to live the sanctified Christian life and to mortify the deeds of the body. Avoid all such hindrances therefore, and lead a regular, disciplined, ordered life in every respect; otherwise, your body will become lethargic and heavy and dull and listless; and there is such an intimate connection between the body and the mind and the spirit that you will find great trouble in your spiritual warfare. “Keep the body under.”
Another maxim used by the Apostle in this Epistle to the Romans is found in chapter 13 at the 14th verse: “Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts there-of.” If you want to mortify the deeds of the body, “do not make any provision for the flesh.” What does that mean? We find very clear light as to the Apostle’s meaning in the first of the Psalms. Here is the prescription: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners.” If you want to live this godly life and mortify the deeds of the body, do not spend your time standing at street corners because if you do so, you are likely to fall into sin. If you stand where sin is likely to be passing by, do not be surprised if you go home miserable and unhappy because you have fallen again. Do not “stand in the way of sinners.” Still less must you “sit in the seat of the scornful.” If you go to such places, it will not be surprising if you fall. If you know that certain people have a bad influence over you, avoid them, keep clear of them. You may say, “But I mix with them in order that I may help them; and yet I find, every time, that they lead me to sin.” If that is so, you are not in a position to help them…
The wise man says in the Book of Job, “I made a covenant with my eyes” (Job 31:1). “Look straight ahead,” he says, “do not look to the right or to the left; watch your wandering eyes, those eyes that seem to move almost automatically, and that look for things that entice and incite to sin.” “Make a covenant with your eyes,” says this man; agree not to look at anything that tends to lead you into sin. If it was important in ancient days, how much more so today, when we have newspapers, cinemas, hoardings, television sets, and so on! If ever men needed to make covenants with their eyes, it is now. Be careful what you read. Certain newspapers, books, and journals, if you read them, will harm you. Anything that you find does harm to you and lowers your resistance you must avoid. Do not look in their direction; have nothing to do with them…In God’s Word, you are told to “mortify the deeds of the body,” to “make no provision for the flesh.” Thank God for a virile Gospel; thank God for a Gospel that tells us that we are now responsible beings in Christ, and which calls upon us to act in a way that glorifies the Savior. So “make no provision for the flesh.”
My next point is of high importance: Deal with the first motions and movements of sin and temptation within you; deal with them the moment they appear. If you do not, you are undone. You will go down, as we are taught in the Epistle of James: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man. But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed. Then, when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin; and sin when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (1:13-15). The first movement is enticement, a slight stirring of lust and enticement. That is the point at which to deal with it. If you fail to deal with it at that stage, it will overcome you. Nip it in the bud; deal with it at once; never let it get even a moment’s foothold. Do not accept it at all. Perhaps you feel inclined to say, “Ah well, I am not going to do the thing.” Ah, but if you accept it in your mind, and begin to fondle it there, and entertain it in your imagination, you are already defeated. According to our Lord, you have sinned already. You need not actually commit the deed: to entertain it in your mind is enough. To allow it in your heart is sin in the sight of God, Who knows all about us and reads even what happens in the heart and the imagination. Nip it in the bud therefore, have no dealings with it, stop it at once, at the first movement, before this wretched process that is described by James begins to take place.
But remember this—and this can be our next point—that that does not mean repression. If you merely repress a temptation or this first motion of sin within you, it will probably come up again still more strongly. To that extent, I agree with the modern psychology. Repression is always bad. “Well, what do you do?” asks someone. I answer: When you feel that first motion of sin, just pull yourself up, and say, “I am not having any dealings with this at all.” Expose the thing, and say, “This is evil, this is vileness, this is the thing that drove the first man out of Paradise.” Pull it out, look at it, denounce it, hate it for what it is; then you have really dealt with it. You must not merely push it back in a spirit of fear and in a timorous manner. Bring it out, expose it, and analyze it; and then denounce it for what it is until you hate it.
My last point under this heading is that if, nevertheless, you should fall into sin (and who does not?), do not heal yourself too easily, too quickly. Turn to 2 Corinthians 7 and read what Paul says about “godly sorrow that worketh repentance.” Once more bring out the thing you have done, look at it, analyze it, expose it, denounce it, hate it, and denounce yourself. But not in such a way as to plunge yourself into the depth of depression and despair! We always tend to go to extremes; we are either too superficial or too deep. We must not “heal the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly” (Jer 6: 14); but neither must we cast ourselves down into despair and gloom and say that it is all hopeless, that we cannot be Christians at all, and go back again under condemnation. That is equally wrong. We must avoid both extremes. Undertake an honest examination of yourself and what you have done, and utterly condemn yourself and your deed; but then realize that as you confess it to God, without any excuse whatsoever, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1Jo 1: 9). If you do such a work “slightly,” you will fall into sin again; and if you set yourself down in a pit of depression, you will feel so hopeless that you will fall into more and more sin. An atmosphere of gloom and of failure leads to yet more failure. Do not fall into either of these errors, but attend to the work in the way in which the Spirit always instructs us to do it.
From Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 8:5-17, The Sons of God, pp. 132-144, published by The Banner of Truth Trust.