Killing Sin by the Spirit

"Be killing sin or it will be killing you." - John Owen

Killing sin is not a one-time, simple procedure. There’s no easy seven-step program of sin killing that you can complete in a week or a month or a year. As long as we remain in this flesh, we will be subject to temptations and we must constantly, vigilantly, diligently and ruthlessly kill sin. We cannot be content to try to control it, handle it, deal with it, manage it or even subdue it. It’s either sin or us, so it must die.

 

“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.” – Romans 8:13, ESV

“Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.” – John Owen

On Saturday night, I wrote a post on “The Deadly Serious Call to Kill Sin by the Power of the Spirit.” I’d like to follow up on that post this week with a series of practical posts on how we can kill sin by the Spirit. Romans 8:13 gives us the clear call to “put to death the deeds of the body” “by the Spirit.” Here we are told what we must do: Kill sin. We are also told how we must do it: By the Spirit. We are also told the benefits of killing sin by the Spirit: You will live. To make it even clearer, we’re told the consequences of failing to kill sin by the Spirit: You will die.

Now some people may be confused by Romans 8:13, even though it is stark in its clarity. They may think this verse is telling us how to earn eternal life or how to earn God’s favor. It’s not. This verse is addressing Christians, who have already been forgiven and who have already received the gift of life by the Spirit. (See Romans 8:1-2 for this.) Notice that it is only “by the Spirit” that we can “put to death the deeds of the body.” Only Christians have received the Holy Spirit, and we receive His indwelling presence by faith and not by works.

Yet how can Paul say that Christians might die if they don’t put sin to death by the Spirit? Consider what he says in 1 Corinthians 11 to Christians who were giving into fleshly sin at the Lord’s Supper. Some of these Christians were getting drunk and being gluttonous at the Lord’s table and Paul said to them, “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died (1 Cor. 11:30, ESV).” These Christians were being judged as discipline from the Lord, so that they might not be condemned with the world (see vv. 31-32).

God takes our growth in holiness and Christ-likeness very seriously. This is what He has elected and called us to be: holy and Christ-like (see Romans 8:29). He gives us the Holy Spirit to empower us as we strive toward this goal that He has placed in our hearts as a desire given by Him and pleasing to Him. He disciplines us in various ways when we neglect this calling and slide into fleshly, selfish ways of thinking and living.

Most Christians understand this at some level, so we’ll talk about “struggling with sin” or “struggling against the flesh.” We might talk about “struggling with temptation” or “wrestling with sin.” But I think our very language betrays the fact that we are not taking this charge seriously enough. We cannot afford to “struggle” or “wrestle” with something as seriously deadly as sin. We must kill it.

Killing sin is not a one-time, simple procedure. There’s no easy seven-step program of sin killing that you can complete in a week or a month or a year. As long as we remain in this flesh, we will be subject to temptations and we must constantly, vigilantly, diligently and ruthlessly kill sin. We cannot be content to try to control it, handle it, deal with it, manage it or even subdue it. It’s either sin or us, so it must die.

When Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me (Matthew 16:24),” He meant it. When Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20)” or “I die every day (1 Cor. 15:31),” he meant it.

So, Step 1 in killing sin by the Spirit is to realize what the call is, who the call is for, how serious the call is and what means God has given us for carrying our His call: Christians, who have the Holy Spirit indwelling us, are called to kill sin daily by the power of the Holy Spirit or risk the reality of being killed by sin.

Jason A. Van Bemmel is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America. This article appeared on his blog Ponderings of a Pilgrim Pastor and is used with permission.