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 truth about sin and its horrible consequences seems completely hopeless and overwhelming. But God (two of the sweetest words in all of Scripture), being rich in mercy demonstrated His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Eph. 2:4-5; Rom. 5:8, 8:1). Christ died the death that we deserved, and by enduring the wrath of God he put to death the deeds of our bodies. The righteous suffered for the unrighteous. Through living the life that we could never live and dying the death we should have died, Christ forever freed us from the tyranny of the flesh. As a result, He has sent the Holy Spirit to come and take up residence within us (Ez. 36:26-27). The Spirit of Christ has given us a new heart, along with the ability to live a life of obedience. Becoming the cause of our faith and the certainty of our salvation (Jn. 6:44; Col. 1:27), the Spirit has given us the power and provision to wage war with the flesh.
Jesus followed the Spirit’s leading into the wilderness. He was led there so that He might accomplish what Adam and Israel and all of mankind could not do–overcome sin and become a sympathetic Savior. He was tempted in all the ways that we have been tempted and yet He was without sin (Heb. 4:15). He used the sword of the Spirit (the word of God) to wage war against the temptations of the enemy. Through the Spirit’s power He remained obedient to the Father and resisted the opportunity to sin. The same Spirit that led Him to the wilderness also led Him to the Cross. It was on the Cross that He demonstrated His greatest act of obedience as He humbly sacrificed His own life to save ours in order that He might defeat the power of sin and death for all of eternity. Upon His being raised from the dead and ascending to the right hand of the throne of God, He gave His Spirit to dwell inside us so that we, too, might experience life!!
Spirit: “but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.”
The Spirit is the agent of life, and our sin-killing commander. He has two main purposes, to magnify Christ in our hearts and to mortify the flesh in our bodies.
I. Magnifying Christ in our hearts: First, the Holy Spirit brings new life to us. He revives our hearts and restores godly affections when He comes to dwell among us. Through His grace, we grow in godliness. And through His power, we follow His leading. The more we follow His leading, the more clearly we see the image of Christ in our hearts, in the word, in the church, and in the world. As we behold the image of Christ, we are transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).
So, how does He magnify Christ in our hearts?
He renews our minds by the washing of the word (Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 5:26).
He causes us to marvel at the mercy of God toward us (Eph. 2:1-22).
He causes us to meditate on the glory of Christ and the beauty of the Cross.
He causes us to treasure Christ above all other things (Phil. 3:7-11).
Are you looking for Christ in Scripture? Are you talking about Christ in conversation? Are you thinking about Christ throughout your day? Are you reading the word for transformation rather than information? Is it obvious that Christ is your greatest treasure? Are you obeying what you hear and read? Are you praising the Father and the Spirit for the work of Christ that saved you?
II. Mortifying the flesh of our bodies: Second, the Holy Spirit cultivates within us a hostility toward sin. By the Spirit’s power, we seek to put to death the deeds of our bodies. Galatians 5:24 says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Instead of feeding the flesh, we have crucified it. It no longer lives in dominion over us, but has been dealt a mortal wound. And as it dies, it desperately fights to regain control. John Owen used the illustration of thrusting a sword in a serpent. Once you’ve struck a mortal blow, you must keep after it with the sword until it is dead. Otherwise, the serpent, though dying, will attack you with ferocious anger and resolve. The Apostle Paul pictures this well in writing of his struggle with sin: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15). Our war with the flesh will take an entire lifetime, but we know that while we may lose some battles, the Spirit will win the war. Christ became the captain of our salvation who led us out of the captivity of sin, and He will lead us into eternity with God. The Spirit that led Christ to the Cross, has also led us there. That is where we find Christ by faith. Through the Cross he put to death the deeds of our bodies, and one day soon he will even destroy death itself. Therefore, let us live in light of the Cross, because we have been delivered by it. We are no longer under the wrath of God, and nothing can separate us from the love of God; not even our struggles with the flesh (Rom. 8:38-39).
Through radical repentance and faith in the finished work of Christ, we are able to overcome the influence of the sin that remains. The war is not over, but we don’t have to continue wallowing in our sin. By the Spirit’s power we can declare war against it. Rampant sin and resistance to the Holy Spirit indicate that we are of the flesh, but that is no longer who we are!! But those who walk according to the Spirit, demonstrate that they have the Spirit of Christ living within them since saving grace is always accompanied by sanctifying grace.
So, how does the Spirit mortify our flesh?
By our confession of sin and the cleansing that we receive (1 Jn. 1:8-9).
By forsaking our sin and fixing our eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:1-3).
By remembering our former enslavement and meditating on our freedom in Christ.
Are you confessing your sin to God and to other believers? Are you humbly asking for forgiveness and cleansing? Are you feeding the flesh or are you starving it?
Remember what a wretched sinner you were and never forget that you are now sons of God and fellow-heirs with Christ. The Spirit has won the war, but you must continue wielding the sword.
Often we feel like the war with sin is like playing a round of the arcade game “Whack-a-mole.” We strike one head and another pops us; then another, and another. It seems overwhelming. But we can rest confidently in the Holy Spirit who is fighting our battles and that through Him we can continue fighting the good fight of faith. Philippians 1:6 encourages us with these words: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” The Holy Spirit will continue to sanctify us as He implants grace and uproots sin. Therefore, let us put to death the deeds of the body by relying on the power and provision of the Holy Spirit. We have been called, we have been justified, we are being sanctified, and one day soon we will be glorified (Rom. 8:30). So, let us take hope in that great promise to us.
Blessings in Christ,