Romans 8:12 “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 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. ”
So who are we indebted to? Clearly not the flesh, but Paul says we are debtors. We are indebted to the Spirit, who has given us life and because of that, we put to death the deeds of the body by the power of the Spirit, and live. This doesn’t earn us his Spirit or a place in Christ, this is evidence of his Spirit that’s already been given to us because we belong to him.
This is our sanctification. We must do things. We must put to death the deeds of the body. That’s us. We’re doing it. But we are doing it by the Spirit. We have a Helper–a powerful, powerful Helper–by whom we can put to death the sinful attitudes and actions that linger in us. And we must put to death the deeds of the body every day. It’s not a one and done sort of thing. Christ’s obedience and salvation are one and done. He finished his work. But this battle to kill the flesh is ongoing until he comes again. John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
Galatians 5:16-26, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (ESV)
I think what’s most remarkable about the works of the flesh that must be put to death is how unremarkable so many of them are. These are the ones that likely hit home for many of us: “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy…” We may balk at the orgies and sorcery, but if you’re like me, the envy and anger seem like maybe they’re not such a big deal. What’s a little strife? Are dissensions really that big of a thing? But they are. They all are. They’re satanic. And they’re not fitting for a child of God who has his Spirit dwelling in us. And if we make a practice of them, we will not inherit God’s kingdom.
The problem is, as a friend remarked to me recently, we usually want to reduce sin rather than kill it. We put ourselves on a diet from sin, where we still get some on the weekends, but we’re hoping for a few less sin calories. This doesn’t work. Sin has to be killed not reduced or put on a diet—not twenty minutes from now or in an hour or a week, but now. And it has to be killed now again tomorrow, and now the next day and the next—the same sins over and over, always killed now. We kill them by confessing, repenting, turning, and taking drastic practical measures—like getting rid of the internet or cutting up a credit card or exposing it to a friend until it shrivels.
We kill sin by the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. Joe Rigney says this about the fruit of the Spirit of self-control, he says, “God is restoring control of you to you.” That means that we get to look at our hand and say, “Don’t touch that.” And tell our eyes, “Don’t look there.” And tell our thoughts to stop thinking that.
And the sword of God’s Spirit, the word of God, will help us immensely in this. Because you might have an argumentative streak that when you tell yourself to stop doing something, you talk back to yourself and say, “Just once,” or “I think it will be ok this time,” or all kind of crazy things, if your mind is anything like mine. But you can shut that argument down with God’s final word—you can make it quiet when you pierce it with the Spirit sword of the Bible. Stop talking back to yourself with your own words only, and start telling yourself God’s words. He says that sin is death and the Spirit is life and peace. Look to Christ and believe him.