This week, we move to verses 12-14 of the eighth chapter of Romans. As we have said before, chapter eight is a gloriously positive assessment of the life Christ purchased for believers. Verses one through four tells us it is a life without condemnation because the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the believer enables the Christian to fulfill the law. Verses five through nine expands on this truth that the Spirit is the One who enables believers to live out from under the tyranny of sin’s power. Verses 10-11 state that while the Holy Spirit does not now keep sin from bringing physical death to these bodies of ours, the Holy Spirit will in the future give life to our resurrection bodies. So the main message of verses 5-11is that the ministry of the Spirit enables believers to fulfill the law. As Paul moves into verses 12-17, he draws an inference from this truth about the Spirit’s enabling and he says, “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation--but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
Paul’s overarching point in verses 12-14 of Romans eight is this: Because Christians have the Holy Spirit, we should not live under the control of our sinful flesh. Paul’s point in verses 12-13 is to say that Christians are not “of the flesh” people therefore, we are not obligated to it—we don’t have to be under its control and those who do live under its control will not go to heaven. So much of Romans eight and this text express a theology of Christian living that is so typical of Paul. At the center of Paul’s theology as it relates to living the Christian life (and this kind of thinking runs throughout all of Paul, its not just in Romans) is this idea of “BE, WHO YOU ARE AND IF YOU DON’T, YOU DON’T BELONG IN HEAVEN.” Now, to our ears the phrase “BE WHO YOU ARE” sounds redundant. We think, “If I AM something, how can I not help but BE that person? If I have a certain identity, then I can be no one else other than that person.” Paul’s point is this—in Christ, you have been made a new person—now LIVE like it. If we don’t “get” that crucial biblical truth, we will never understand so much of the New Testament as it relates to Christian living. And we will be greatly hindered in our attempts to live out the Christian life in such a way that fulfills the law. This is so crucial and we see this in many places, but let me name just two.
In Romans 6:1-10, Paul stresses who we ARE in Christ—we are “united with him…in his death” and are therefore “dead to sin.” That is, no longer under the control of sin’s power. That is who we ARE. In 6:11-14, Paul says in essence, “since you ARE that kind of person, LIVE like it.” “Do not let sin reign in your bodies so that you obey its evil desires.” There is something for us to DO based on who we are. It is NOT that we are to try to be some particular kind of person—that’s NOT Paul. If we are in Christ, we already ARE that kind of person--now—we have the power to live like it and are called to live like the people God has made us to be. There is a clear pattern. First, the truth of who we are, then the COMMAND to be that person.
We also see this in the book of Galatians. Paul spends a good part of chapters 1-5 telling the Galatians that they have been freed from the bondage of the law—they are recipients of the grace of God. Then in chapter five, having laid out who these believers ARE, he tells them to LIVE like who they are. He says in verse 16, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Then, to clarify what he means by the desires of the flesh, he lists a number of those sins. Then, to these assumedly Christian people he says in verse 21, “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this (performing the works of the flesh) will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Here again we see the pattern—“BE WHO YOU ARE AND IF YOU DON’T YOU WILL NOT INHERIT ETERNAL LIFE—THERE IS NO PLACE FOR YOU IN HEAVEN.”
Do you hear this tension? There is tension there for at least two reasons. First, as we have said, when Paul calls people to live like who they are, that is confusing to us. No one has to tell a dog to act like a dog. He is a dog and therefore he acts like a dog with all of a dog’s essential canine tendencies. We assume people will naturally live like who they are. A Christian will NATURALLY act like Jesus Christ because they are Christians, right? But if that’s right, then why is Paul habitually calling people to act in a manner consistent with their identities? There are several responses to that, but the one which perhaps over arches them all is this: God has set up our existence between the cross and the second coming so that we must live by faith. “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” “…this is the victory, even our faith.” In heaven, the system is different. No one will have to exhort us to live out who we are. We will live a certain way because this sinful flesh will be gone and we will be purely like Christ. There will, praise the Lord, be perfect agreement between who we are and how we live. Now in this life, we are a mixed bag of sinful flesh and sanctified spirit and in order for the Spirit to overcome the flesh, we must live by faith. Faith is necessary for us to live consistently with who we are. It is what connects us to the power of the Spirit. Without it, we will live contrary to who we are. That life of faith brings glory to God. Those who indicate that they believe that God is trustworthy and full of righteousness glorify him and they do that by placing faith in Him and His promises.
A second point of tension is the fact that Paul is telling so called Christians to live in a certain way or they will not go to heaven. When Paul says, “you will die” in verse 13, we know he is speaking of eternal death in hell because in verses 10-11 he has already said that all those who are “of the Spirit” will experience physical death. To say that here would be redundant. He’s already made that point. His point is this: all who live under the control of their flesh must die an eternal death. Paul says, “Brothers,…you will die.” He is warning Christians of hell. And it’s a more strident warning than the NIV connotes because the verb is more literally translated “you MUST die.” There is absolutely no doubt here. If you live under the control of the flesh, you MUST die eternally. If you live under the control of the flesh, do not pass go, do not collect $200—go directly to eternal torment upon death.
Now, what do we mean by living under the control of the flesh? Well, Paul gives a list of those kinds of sins in Galatians 5:19-21. He says, “The acts of the [flesh] sinful nature are obvious…” That ought to tell us something, shouldn’t it? The fact that these things are obvious means that we shouldn’t have to spend any time explaining them. We all know them when they are in ourselves except in those areas where we are so far gone we are self-deceived. Because they are obvious, Paul gives a representative (not an exhaustive list). Gossip isn’t there and neither is stealing or taking the Lord’s name in vain, but we know they are acts of the flesh. They’re obvious.
Paul lists, “Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies and the like.” Notice this list puts together sins that are widely recognized as being heinous like witchcraft and orgies right alongside, the stealthier sins like “selfish ambition,” “envy,” and “jealousy.” It even includes sins that some Christians actually justify. “After what they did to us, we are going to completely dissociate with them and go be with this group which thinks the same way we do about them.” Have you ever heard that sentiment from Christians? That would be “discord” and “factions.” “…those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
The tension of Paul’s “Be who you are or you will not go to heaven” teaching is resolved at least partially in several texts. We see many of these kind of texts in First John. In 2:3 the apostle says, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.” Three verses later he says, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” A chapter later he says in 3:6, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” Do you hear that for John, as well as for Paul there is an inconsistency between being a Christian and living under the control of sin? So Paul is simply being logical when he writes to people that if they live under the control of the sinful flesh, they won’t go to heaven because they cannot be Christians because they are not living like Christians. Isn’t this what Jesus meant in Matthew 12:33 when he said, “a tree is recognized by its fruit?”
Now, is Paul or John or Christ saying that Christians will never allow themselves to fall into the bondage of sin? NO! But what he is clearly implying here in chapter eight is that the Christian’s attitude toward his sin should be consistent with this comment I came across this week by D.A. Carson. Carson says, “we do sin and we will sin, yet every single instance of sin is shocking, inexcusable, forbidden, appalling, out of line with what we are as Christians.” That is an accurate expression of the New Testament, New Covenant, informed attitude toward sin.
Think about those words describing sin. “Shocking”—sin is the cosmic scandal of our souls. “Inexcusable”—there is zero response to our sin apart from—“I did and it was rebellion—no excuses, no rationalizations, not justifications.” “Forbidden”—this sin is something God hates and has, in his love prohibited me from doing it and I just arrogantly trampled all over His prohibition. “Appalling”—this was a disgusting display. “out of line”—this is not the way God created me in Christ to live—this was entirely inconsistent with who I am in Christ—this was NOT a natural thing for me to do—it goes against the grain of who I am in Christ. Is that the way we view our sin? That perspective is biblical and if we don’t have that attitude, then we have really gone astray somewhere. If we can be cavalier or lackadaisical about sin, then we are light years away from God, here. Sin sends people to hell including those who think they are Christians, but who live under the control of sin.
In light of this, a fair question for Christians is: How do I as a Christian who sins, deal with the sins in my life? I believe Paul knows this is the logical question and so he says in the middle of verse 13-14, “…but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” A Christian deals with sins this way, he kills them. He “puts them to death.” The verb could also be translated “he executes them.” Christians are mass murderers—they mercilessly kill the sins in their life. I included verse 14 because you will notice that Paul places in parallel the phrases, “by the Spirit putting to death the misdeeds of the body” with “those who are led by the Holy Spirit.” Those are parallel to one another. What that means is that part of being led by the Spirit is to be a killer of sins. To be a child of God means that you kill the sins in your life. Being a child of God is not simply relational—God is my Father—it is a behavioral term as well. A child of God LIVES a certain way and part of that is, they kill their sins.
Now, to this issue of how to kill sins. Think of our mission to kill sins this way. When a chemist wants to devise a compound that will most potently kill an organism, the first thing he does is to determine what makes up that organism. After he discovers what comprises that organism, he fashions a compound that is lethal to the most critical part or the “center” of the organism. Well, what is the “center” of sin? If sin were a cell, what would comprise the nucleus? The central core of all sin is a lie. When Satan introduced sin into this world, he appeared, first and foremost as a deceiver. What gives energy to a sin is a lie. For example, one reason a person gossips is because they believe gossiping will bring them more pleasure than keeping their mouth shut. That’s one lie people believe about gossiping amidst several possible lies. You can find the lie behind any sin and we’ve talked about that before. The central core of sin is a lie. Therefore, to kill a sin, you must kill the lie at the center of the sin.
How do you kill a lie? With the truth. The truth is the mortal enemy of the lie. Jesus said, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Paul calls the word of God “the sword of the Spirit.” His word is truth and it pierces the lie of sin and kills it when it is applied directly. So you kill sins with the truth. Some sins can be killed with low level truth encounters. We see something in ourselves we know is sin and we simply say, “That’s sin—(bringing the truth to bear) and I’m not going to do that any more.” Some rather newly established sins will die just from that. But for many of the sins that are deeply entrenched in our lives—that have huge strongholds protecting them, to do that would be about as effective as trying to kill a tank with a water pistol—it won’t even phase that sin and we have all experienced that frustration, haven’t we?
These sins WILL be killed by the truth, but instead of a low level encounter with the truth, we have to wage a full scale assault against the lie. We have to employ truth artillery, truth, air and naval power, truth intelligence—a full scale assault. This kind of war is not about finesse—it is raw truth-power that brings decisive victory. If we employ an all out assault of truth against sin, there is NO SIN that we cannot keep from dominating us. Because the truth, which represents God’s character is much stronger than the lie, the center of sin, which represents a defeated devil’s character.
When we fight a sin, we must deliberately and prayerfully spend time strategizing about the truth we can marshal against that sin to kill it. Let’s lay out three fronts on which we can, with the truth, attack sin. First, the assault we wage against sin through the truth we get directly from the bible on a personal level. This battle front includes what we can do alone with the truth of the Bible. Engaging sin on this front includes first, things like memorizing broad scriptural truths about crucial issues like who am I in relationship to sin. The reason this is so crucial is because one of the most potent lies of sin is “I am too strong for you--this is just the way you are and you will never be able to over come me.” That’s a lie. For that lie, which accompanies every deeply entrenched sin, we need to fire the truth of Romans 6:2 followed by Romans 6:7 and Philippians 4:13 “We died to sin; how can we live any longer in it.” “because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” In spite of the lie about sin’s great power, I have, in Christ been set free from sin’s power. “I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.” Regularly review and make part of your soul texts which speak of second, the unspeakable horror of sin. Remember, to paraphrase John Piper, that “sin put your best friend on the cross.” Those broad, biblical truths about who God is, who we are and what sin is need to be part of every serious battle with sin.
In addition, we must often on this personal front also employ specific biblical truths we can memorize and apply to address the sin specifically. This is like pin point, surgical bombing of sin. If you are struggling with sexual lust, pierce the armor of lust’s lie with Matthew 5:28, “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustful has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” In addition, hurl a truth grenade at it with 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality.” Apply the truth and stay away from people or places which bring temptation to you. The same kind of pin point truth assault can be waged against any sin we struggle with. The word of God equips us how to respond to each sin.
The second front of truth waged against sin is truth that comes through prayer. We pour our hearts out to God in confessing the truth about our sin. As we do that, 1 John 1:9 says he will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Telling God the truth about our sin is so powerful and part of that truth in prayer is confession of our inadequacy apart from him. It’s a truth that we cannot do this without Him. He is the power behind our war machines against sin. Paul says, “but if, by the Spirit, you put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Without him, its utterly futile. As we tell him that truth he will give us grace because James tells us “He gives grace to the humble…” And when you humble yourself and tell God the truth about your sin. He will pump sin-defeating grace into your life.
A final truth front on which we must wage war against sin to kill many sins (and this is frankly the missing element in many Christian’s armory) is attacking the sin with truth through the body of Christ. Part of the lie of sin is the lie which says that we should never tell anyone else about it—that we can “beat” it alone. That is a lie. James five tells us to “…confess our sins to each other…” Telling the truth to others about our sin brings the grace of God because it again brings grace-inducing humility. Second, it enables us to be accountable to other people and that keeps us from hiding our struggle. Hiding our struggle is a form of deception—it lets on that we are just fine, when in truth we are dying inside. We need each other. Regular accountability with others who are willing to ask you, “how are you doing in this area you told me about” gives regular opportunities for the power of truth to be brought to bear against the lies of sin. Members of the body of Christ are the truth, battle field supply lines which God uses to supply the vital ammunition needed to kill the sin in our lives. I am convinced there are certain sin that, unless this third truth front is brought to bear against sin, we will NEVER get free of.
The truth is clear. We can kill the sins in our life. Now, if we kill one sin, more will appear which we are to focus our attention on, so it’s a life long process and we never get all the weeds out of our soul in this life. But we can be successful sin killers if we learn and apply the truth. The issue isn’t whether or not its possible. Its perfectly possible with the Spirit’s help. The issue is: do we want to expend that kind of time and energy killing sins? For some in the church, the answer is no. The very thought of “killing” sins makes some people uncomfortable. That kind of militant approach is not consistent with their more warm, fuzzy brand of Christianity. To think about intentionally strategizing to wage an all out truth war against a certain sin that has been in their life for years is foreign to them. Perhaps they assume that someday, that sin will simply fade away. For so many in the church, this kind of intentionality, this kind of intense focus is inconsistent with what they see to be the Christian life.
So called Christians who think that way are horribly deceived and headed for hell because this is precisely the kind of life Paul is referencing when he says, “Therefore, brothers, we are under obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you MUST die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” May God give us grace to hear and apply the truth.
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