If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
Three weeks ago I blew the trumpet for “Planting a Passion” — to waken a dream in you of being a part of spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples by starting a new, strong, God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, missions-mobilizing, soul-winning, justice-pursuing church somewhere else in the Twin Cities. I pray that this vision of Planting a Passion is simmering in all of you.
The Call for Justice-Pursuing, Coronary Christians
Then in the last two weeks we fleshed out some of what it means to be a justice-pursuing church. We focused two weeks ago on racial justice, and we focused last week on justice for the unborn. And in general my plea was that God would create justice-pursuing, coronary Christians at Bethlehem — not adrenal Christians. Christians who keep on pumping the blood of life hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade into a Cause bigger than yourself or your family or your church. Marathon Christians, not sprinters. William Wilberforce-likeChristians who gave all his life to defeat the slave trade in Britain two hundred years ago.
One of his adversaries said, “It is necessary to watch him as he is blessed with a very sufficient quantity of that Enthusiastic spirit, which so far from yielding that it grows more vigorous from blows.” In other words: knock him down and he gets up stronger. There are not many people like that in America today. Most people who get knocked down for righteousness’ sake feel sorry for themselves, then they ask where God was, and then they take someone to court. A coronary Christian learns from the defeat, gets up, sets a new goal, and presses on in the cause.
Coronary Christians Fight Warfare Against Their Sin
Now this morning we have returned to Romans 8 to pick up where we left off on December 16. But I am still trumpeting Planting a Passion, and I am still working to build “justice-pursuing” churches, and I am still pleading for God to create coronary Christians, because that is what verses 12–13 help me do. If you are going to be the kind of person who gets up when you get knocked down and instead of planning revenge, plans fresh strategies of love; and instead of questioning God, submits to his wise and good sovereignty; and instead of whining, rejoices in tribulation and is refined like steel, then you will have to learn to kill the sins of self-pity and pride and grudge-holding and loving the praise of man. In other words, coronary Christians who joyfully press on in some great Cause of love and justice don’t come out of nowhere. They come out of the fiery furnace of warfare with sin — fought mainly in their own souls.
Let’s look at verses 12-13, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh [literally: we are debtors not to the flesh], to live according to the flesh — (13) for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” If you are going to be a coronary, justice-pursuing, Passion-planting Christian — or, for that matter, any kind of Christian who inherits life and not death — Paul says you must not be the debt-paying slave of the flesh — that old rebellious, insubordinate, self-sufficient nature we all have (Romans 8:7). “Brethren, we are debtors not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh” — we owe the flesh nothing but enmity and war. Don’t dally with your destroyer. Don’t be a debtor to your destroyer. Get out debt to the flesh, don’t pay for your own destruction.
How, we ask? That’s what verse 13 describes. If you are going to be a coronary, justice-pursuing, Passion-planting, free-from-debt-to-fatal-flesh Christian, you must be skilled at killing your own sins. This is dangerous language here, so be careful. Don’t think about other people’s sins. Don’t think about how people wrong you. Think about your own sins. That’s what Paul is talking about. Verse 13b: “But if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of [your!] body, you will live.”
John Owen on Mortification of Sin
The great teacher of the church on this doctrine is John Owen. Nobody has probed it more deeply, probably. He wrote a little 86-page book called Mortification of Sin in Believers. “Mortify” means “kill” in 17th century English. Today it just means “embarrass” or “shame.” But Owen was talking about this verse. In fact, his whole book is an exposition of this verse — Romans 8:13. He put it like this: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
My mother wrote in my Bible when I was fifteen years old — I still have the Bible — “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” Now Owen says, based on Romans 8:13, “Be killing sin or [sin] will be killing you.” We will see that these two mottos are very closely connected, because Romans 8:13 says that we are to put be putting sin to death by the Spirit — “If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” — and what is the instrument of death wielded by the Spirit? The answer is given in Ephesians 6:17 — “the sword of the Spirit, the word of God.” This book will keep you from sin — this book will kill sin. We’ll come back to this in two weeks.
But for now I just want you to see how everything in these recent weeks is connected. We thought we were taking a detour from Romans since December 16, but it turns out that we were really simply giving application of what happens when Christians put to death the deeds of the body. They become coronary, marathon, God-centered, Christ-exalting, justice-pursuing, passion-planting Christians.
So now, what would be helpful to know in order to experience what Romans 8:13 is calling for? Well, I see four questions that would be helpful to answer so that we can be about this crucial duty of killing sin.
- What are “the deeds of the body” when Paul says, “If by the Spirit you kill the deeds of the body, you will live”? Surely not all the deeds of the body are to be killed. The body is supposed to be an instrument of righteousness. So what are the deeds of the body that are to be killed?
- What does killing them mean? Do they have life that we should take away? What will killing them involve?
- What does “by the Spirit” mean? The Spirit is himself God. He is not a lifeless instrument in our hands to wield as we wish. The very thought of having the Spirit in my hand gives me the shivers of disrespect. I am in his hand, aren’t I? Not he in mine. He is the power, not me. How am I to understand this killing of sin “by the Spirit”?
- Does this threat of death mean that I can lose my salvation? Verse 13a: “If you are living according to the flesh, you must die.” This is spoken to the whole church at Rome. And death here is eternal death and judgment. We know that, because everyone — whether you live according to the flesh or not — dies a physical death. So the death this verse warns about is something more, something that happens only to some and not to others. So the question remains: can we die eternally if we have justified by faith? If so what becomes of our assurance, and if not why does Paul threaten us all with death if we live according to the flesh and tell us to be about the business of killing sin?
So let’s start here with this last question and then take up the others in two weeks. What we should take away this morning is a general sense of how justification relates to sin-killing; and how crucial it is that we do it.
Does the Threat of Death Imply We Can Lose Our Salvation?
You know my answer: No, someone who is justified by faith alone apart from works of the law cannot die in this sense of eternal death. One of my main reasons for believing this is…
You can read the rest of the sermon at desiringGod.org
By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Source: desiringGod.org