“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.” (Rom. 8:13)
“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Col. 3:5)
The question arises, “How does a person mortify the deeds of the body?”
The answer is found in Scripture. What God has commanded to be done, He provides the means of grace to accomplish His will. In particular, the apostle Paul sets forth the resources that God gives in order to perform that which He has commanded.
British preacher Sinclair Ferguson says that often Christians go to the Bible to find out what to do, and then go to the Christian bookstore to find out, how to do, what they are supposed to do. But, there is no need. God does tell Christians how to perform His will.
If I were to say, “So Paul, teach me how, through the Spirit, I am able to put to death the deeds of the body that war against the soul,” Paul would say, “I want you to focus on three grand truths.”
The first grand truth, is to understand that the Spirit of God begins to create in the heart of the Christian spiritual awareness, to help put to death sin in our lives. This grand truth unfolds into four gospel motives.
We need to do it.
The first act of creation, by the Holy Spirit in the soul of a Christian is a dawning awareness that there is a need to mortify the flesh. It is inappropriate to live in the old way. We do need to get rid of sin, immediately.
We can do it.
The second act of creation, by the Holy Spirit in the soul of a Christian is a conviction that we can mortify the flesh. Not only should we put sin to death, we can do that. Though the flesh will violently resist being mortified, the victory belongs to the Lord. This is the teaching of Romans 6. The flesh is mortified by remembering our new position in Christ (v. 1-10), by counting our victory by faith as a fact (v. 11-12), and by not yielding to sin’s temptations (v. 13).
We are responsible to do it.
The third act of creation, by the Holy Spirit in the soul is a realization that we are responsible to do what God has commanded. While salvation and sanctification is ultimately of the Lord, there is a measure of human responsibility. There is self-sanctification. “Ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 8:13). Mortification of sin is not a passive work of grace, but an active wielding of the instruments of grace by faith. The ministry of the Holy Spirit does not reduce human responsibility to be obedient to the will of the Lord. Rather, the Holy Spirit energizes me to do what is right. “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12)
We want to do it.
The fourth act of creation, by the Holy Spirit in the soul, is a sincere desire to do that which is pleasing to the Lord. We want to mortify the flesh. We want to stop making provisions for the flesh. We want to stop yielding our bodies to be instruments of unrighteousness. Grace changes the direction of the heart, and the desires of the heart. That is what the Spirit creates, a desire to be like Christ.
The second grand truth is to understand that it is the Spirit of God who begins to work in the heart “both to will and to do his good pleasure” (Rom. 8:13). Apart from this divine initiative, and undertaking, the flesh will reap what it sows, death. We sow a thought, we reap an action, and that action produces a character. We sow a character and that character reaps a life. We sow a life, and that life reaps a destiny. People sin and mess their lives up because they fix their eyes on the immediate rather than gaze upon their final destiny. The Holy Spirit comes to tell us to fix our attention on the eternal, not the temporal. There is a final destiny of the soul.
Sinclair Ferguson tells of a seminary professor who would begin his class on Practical Theology with an unusual assignment for the students. He would tell the students, on the first day of class, to take out a clean sheet of paper, and, for the next thirty minutes, write on it their obituary notice. The professor was not being clever. He was teaching the potential pastors to focus attention on their final destiny, and to live life in light of eternity.
The third grand truth is to understand it that it is the Spirit of God who focuses attention upon the death of Christ. Because Christ died for our sins, how then, can we continue to live in sin? The Holy Spirit shines His attention on the Lord Jesus and on the fact that Christ came to die for our sins. To willfully continue to do evil negates the great work of redemption, and that is unthinkable for a Christian. The death of Christ becomes a grand reason to leave sin.
With three grands truths and four gospel motives embedded in the heart, Paul continues in Romans 8 to remind Christians that the Spirit of God is the Holy Spirit of God. Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. They are no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit.
“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” “And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (Rom. 8:9-11)
Not only are Christians indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they are members of the body of Christ. For this reason Christians are to be very careful of sexual sins less they drag Christ into the brothel of immorality when immorality is committed. When a Christian goes to an inappropriate website, or visits someone for immoral purposes, they cannot leave Christ on the outside while they commit sin for they are members of His body. So they drag, as it were Christ into the brothel, to their shame. Therefore, Christian, “flee fornication!”
“Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. 16 What? Know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? For two, saith he, shall be one flesh. 17 But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. 18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. 19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Cor. 6:15-20)
When this truth becomes a conscious reality, the Holy Spirit will use it to help conquer sin and flee temptation for the promise is given, that, “if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 8:13). May, by God’s grace we grow in the Spirit.