Here we come to the last post on killing sin. We’ve been looking at Romans 8:13, “[it is] by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body.” In this post, we want to see what it means to kill sin–to pursue sanctification–by the power of God’s Spirit. That means, it is not me versus the flesh; it’s the Spirit of God versus the flesh. If we are to be successful in killing sin, then we must draw on the power of the Spirit.
In Galatians 5, Paul makes the promise, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (5:16). Try to kill sin on your own and you will fail. But do it with the Spirit’s help and you will have victory. The question that needs to be answered though is ‘What does it means to walk by the Spirit? What does it means to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit?’
Well, consider what Paul says, just previous to this in verses 5-6 – “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
Here putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit involves “setting the mind on the things of the Spirit.” Why does Paul say this? He says think of the things of the Spirit because he knows the important role the mind plays in our lives. You see, each of the faculties of your soul has duties before God. The mind is the sentinel, commanded to watch carefully over the soul by questioning, assessing, and making judgments: “Will this please God?” “Is this according to God’s Word?”
If the mind determines that an action is right, the affections should then fall in line and desire, long for, and cling to what the mind said was good. Last, the will puts the soul into action, carrying out what the mind said was good and the affections hungered for. When each does is job, you obey God from the heart. But you can see why sin is said to be deceitful and what a mess deception makes of obedience. If your mind is persuaded to believe a sin is good for your soul, and your affections work up an appetite for it, your will gives its consent – the dominoes fall and the flesh bears its putrid fruit in your life.
It’s like trying to take down an entire fortress. The hardest way to do it is to make a direct frontal assault. Those inside see you coming and man the defenses. But if you sneak up to the fortress at night and pick off the watchman, then he can’t warn others, and you will easily breach the wall and carry the day. Likewise, sin uses deceit to knock out the watchman of your soul–the mind. Paul says we can fight against this by actively setting our minds on the things of the Spirit. If we allow him to transform our mind, to renew it according to what God says is right and good, beautiful and ugly, then we can put down the desires of the flesh in our hearts.
So how do we set our minds on the things of the Spirit? That’s simple: set our minds on the Word of God. Ephesians 6 says that Spirit wields the word like a sword against sin. We want to take up that sword and allow him to use it. We do this by reading the Word and believing its promises. We read the realities of who we are and what God has promised to do for us and we believe that it’s true. And we put our faith in God and his promises for something better than what sin offers. And when we do that, the root of sin’s deception is destroyed.
Consider this example from a group of missionaries several years ago. John Piper tells how they were forced out of Tanzania by the government. They have lived there for seven years and were told to leave within 30 days. In the midst of that situation there was great temptation to sin. There would have been temptation to be angry, despairing, to be filled with self-pity, or fear, or to allow their situation to make impatient and irritable. So how do you put to death those sins and the deeds of the body that might come from them? Here is the answer from that same email from the missionary wife:
“We are clinging to these truths: God is good, He is in control, He loves us more than we can comprehend, and He has plans to give us hope and future, plans to prosper us (Jeremiah 29:11). Our spirits are understandably low, we are emotionally and physically exhausted. BUT . . . ‘because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning’ (Lamentations 3:22-23).”
What were they doing? They were killing sin by the Spirit. They were hearing the promises of God and believing them. They were trusting the promises of God, trusting that he was more for them, better to them than sin. And in doing that, the Holy Spirit was sustaining and sanctifying with God’s grace.
I have been told that a bone marrow transplant can make you wish you were dead. When cancer spreads into bone marrow, a doctor has to all but kill the patient in order to save him. He destroys the marrow with radiation, then replaces with it healthy marrow to get it growing again. And if the patient survives, though he has a long, hard road of recovery ahead of him, he is healed.
When you read the Bible, seeing God can sometimes make you wish you were dead. When Isaiah saw him high and lifted up, he said ‘Woe is me! For I am undone!’ ( Isa 6:1-6), When Job was blasted by God’s glory from the storm, he called out, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes!” (Job 42:5-6). When Habakkuk says a vision of God’s power, he said, “I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me” (3:16).
In his book, The Enemy Within, Kris Lundgaard explains,
“God’s terrible majesty is radiation. It x-rays a soul and shows that it’s gorged with sin. The soul sees what God is like in his glory, sees what it is like in its sickness, and buries it face in the dirt. Then the healing starts. God’s radiating majesty kills the rotten marrow of sin and replaces it with humility. A heart humbled by God’s terrible majesty can begin its recovery and grow strong. . . . If we want to put sin to death in our hearts, we have to swallow the strongest does of God’s terrible majesty we can.”
If we want to feel the depths of our sins so that we can see it and fight it, and if we want to be sustained in that fight with a vision of something more glorious, more satisfying than what we are tempted with, then we will expose ourselves to the healing radiation of God’s glory. We’ll do this by looking to him in his word. By looking to God’s word to see his greatness, his holiness, and his majesty. We will meditate long and hard on God’s glory from his Word, knowing that we will be driven to repentance as well as be encouraged to love and trust God all the more. We’ll do this knowing that the medicine may be bitter going down, but will it ultimately be sweet to our soul.