MORTIFICATION OF SIN THE WAY TO LIFE
Sermon preached by Mr. D. G. Crowter on Tuesday evening, 16th April, 1991 at Gower Street Memorial Chapel.
For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live”. Rom. 8 v.l3.
This is clearly a matter of life and death, in the spiritual realm. These words are very plain and definite. The course of sin always leads to death. We read earlier, “For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace”. And this verse plainly declares that if we live after the flesh – as far as we do that – then it leads to death – “ye shall die”. On the other hand, “if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live”. That is spiritual life, and ultimately everlasting life. But all who live after the flesh will die. That of course does not in the least deny the truth that justification by faith is final – the truth that the apostle has been setting forth in the previous chapters, that we are justified fully and for ever by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and His death. But justification and sanctification are inseparably joined together. ‘Without holiness no man shall see the Lord”. An unholy life, to say the least, throws great doubt upon a justified state; and this is very plainly set forth – the way of death and the way to life. The promise here is very definite and clear, as all the promises of God are. Here is the way to life, the way to live. And surely that is just what we want if we are exercised in these things. We do want to live. I have often thought of the sad note in those lines of the hymn:
“Dear Lord, and shall we ever live
At this poor dying rate?”
So often, I fear, we come very short of the privileges of the position of the people of God. And this, no doubt, is one of the sad reasons for that. I fear that there is very little these days relatively, of mortifying sin, of mortifying the deeds of the body. And this the Scripture declares here is the way to live.
Mortification Leads to Life
Here we see then the mortification of sin leading to life. There are evidently four aspects of the word. There are the people here concerned and exhorted; there is the power that is so needed here, the power of the Holy Spirit; there is the practice of mortifying the deeds of the body; and then the promise of life in that way.
1. First then there are the people here, who are addressed. And that is very important. It would be impossible, so completely unsuitable, to address these words to any but these people. There have been very many who have taken prodigious pains to mortify the deeds of the body; but have been altogether a failure in that respect because they had not the characteristics of those here addressed. No works of the flesh will ever mortify the deeds of the flesh. It is only “through the Spirit” that this can possibly be accomplished. Those addressed are those that are justified through faith in the Lord Jesus. They are those described in the first verse, “There is now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”. They are justified. They can never be condemned, because they are in Christ Jesus. Nothing but the spiritual union to Jesus Christ can ever bring about this very necessary mortification of sin. It is only through His death that this can possibly be accomplished. The apostle has said in chapter six that this is a result of being united to Him in His death and in His resurrection. And without that union this whole practice is quite impossible. We must be united to Him. Is that clear to you? Have you that union with Jesus Christ, that spiritual union to Him?
These people are also temples of the Holy Spirit. The apostle has said several times before this verse that he is addressing those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. “If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you”. He says to the Corinthians, “What? know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God?” The Holy Spirit is given in regeneration to every believer.
So then, these are the people who are addressed. It is they, clearly, who are to do this work – if we can call it work. “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body …” No one else is going to do that; it is something evidently for us ourselves to do. It is plain here, if words have any meaning, that every Christian should, can, and must mortify sin in their bodies, in their beings. This is something that is essential if we are going to live. This very evidently the apostle is saying; “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live”. That is just as much one’s own personal responsibility as it is “if ye live after the flesh”. I hope that is clear.
2. Secondly there is the power that is needed for accomplishing this. It is “through the Spirit”. “If ye, through the Spirit” – because there is no other possible way. Although, as I have just said, it is something that we do need and we do have to do ourselves, it is something that we cannot in the least do by ourselves. It is altogether “through the Spirit”. We have not got the least power of our own to accomplish this. It can only possibly be done by complete dependance upon the Holy Spirit. The apostle here so expresses it; “if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body”. It is His work in us.
But then the apostle is addressing those who do have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. And why is He there? Why is He given? It is for this very purpose, that sin might be mortified, that the people of God might be sanctified. It is for this very purpose that He is given. We may be sure that the Holy Spirit loathes sin far more than we do, inexpressibly more. Sin does so profoundly grieve the Holy Spirit, but we may have the highest confidence that if we do what this word so directs us to do, then the Holy Spirit’s help is available and that He is altogether willing to help us in this. I am sure we may truly say that He is far more willing to mortify sin in us than we are willing to have it mortified, and to mortify it by His almighty aid. So then there is every encouragement to do this. Though we are so utterly weak in ourselves, yet His almighty power is at work in every believer. The power that is so needed, the power that alone is stronger than sin, is at work in everyone who does believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to convey to our hearts the virtue of the Saviour’s death, and that grace that we so much need to accomplish this highly important work. It is “through the Spirit” then.
3. And thirdly there is this practice, which needs to be constant practice. As John Owen puts it, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you”. We are reminded here of the deeds of the body, the doings of the body, the workings of our sinful nature. And the word is very expressive; it means there is a seething mass of evil that needs to be subdued continually by the grace of God. There is so much danger there, such a threat of death to the soul, because sin can be so active, so virulent, so poisonous, if it is not subdued by the Spirit of God. These are the deeds of the body; because it is the body through which these deeds are perpetrated. The members of our body are very largely the faculties that are used, more or less, in the service of sin, as well as the initial faculties of the soul. Sin works its way out in our bodies. Or we may understand this to be the equivalent of the word ‘flesh’ in the first part of the verse, and used very much in the previous verses. “Therefore brethren we are debtors” – debtors with regard to this matter – “not to the flesh to live after the flesh… but through the Spirit, to mortify the deeds of the body”. The apostle has said in the previous chapter, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing”. We were reading in other passages of the works of the flesh, of our sinful nature, of this body of death which we have, which we have inherited from Adam. It is that fallen nature that we have which expresses itself so often in these doings, these deeds, which so need to be mortified. This means quite simply, to put to death, without any mercy or tolerance. These deeds must, so to speak, be crucified. As we read in Galatians, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts”. This is not of course to suggest that that death is final as long as we are alive; but that there is a continual kind of putting to death of these deeds of the body as long as we are upon this earth, because the flesh is not killed; it does not die entirely until then. But it does need to be constantly put upon the cross and kept there. It needs to be constantly put to death, or mortified.
How is Sin to be Mortified?
I suppose the great question now in our minds is ‘How? “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live”. But how can this be done? You will understand that this is a vast subject, one that we so need to consider, and to work out for ourselves in our own lives. We each have to face this question every day and we are in some respects different. We have different evil tendencies – at least we certainly have different besetting sins. We each have particular, personal dangers into which we are liable to fall. But I must seek to give some fairly general directions as to regard to this. How is sin to be mortified in us?
1. First by avoiding every occasion for it. How foolish we can be! Sin beckons; and we can so easily follow. We no doubt tend to lull ourselves into thinking that we are not actually going into sin. We might be going near it, but we shall be all right. How dreadfully presumptuous it is ever to do that, and how contrary to the whole teaching of the Word of God! We read later in the end of chapter thirteen, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.” Make no provision for it. It is bad enough in itself, without being fed, or being given extra opportunities freely by us. The flesh needs no feeding. You know what happens if, say, a pet dog is tied up and neglected and left (sadly it does happen from time to time). And of course that animal gets weaker and thinner, and would eventually die. And the word here translated ‘mortify’ does have that significance, a gradual weakening and dying, a loss of strength and vigour and life, because the flesh is being starved of those things which it desires and covets.
We read very plainly in the Word from time to time of ‘avoiding every occasion for sin’. The apostle in the previous chapter twice uses such an expression. “Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me”. Sin, so to speak, takes every opportunity of putting itself forward, of tempting us. It takes occasion. It needs no opportunities that we give it. There are too many, we might think, already; too many occasions that we really cannot avoid, when we need to be preserved from sin. In the Proverbs we read of ‘the way of evil men’. The wise man speaking to his son says, “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men; avoid it; pass not by it; turn from it; and pass away”. As soon as sin appears there should be a retreat from it, a dread of actually falling into the way of temptation. So this is constantly something which comes before us in our thoughts and desires and feelings; sin appears. And it does not always appear as a black monster, but rather as an attractive and desirable thing. Only a little sin, it may be. Lot, fleeing from Sodom and Gomorrah, wanted to enter into that little place called Zoar. He said, “It is a little one”. But you see really there are no little sins. Every one is an enormity against a holy God.
2. Secondly we must ‘Watch and pray’. We so need to be continually on our guard against sin. Just think of that night in Gethsemane, and how the Saviour, certainly with agony marking His face, came to those three favoured disciples and said, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation”. He was entering into temptation in such a terrible way. And He desired that His disciples would know the great danger of them entering in. He could not sin, because He was perfectly holy and divine in His eternal Deity. Yet temptation was causing Him such profound agony. How important is that word to every believer! Principalities and powers, a host of evil spirits far more powerful than we are and far more subtle –
“Principalities and powers
Mustering their unseen array,
Wait for our unguarded hours,
Watch and pray”.
You see, we can so easily become taken up with various things in life that we forget to watch and to pray. And yet how important it is! We are constantly in danger in this world. We cannot avoid carrying about with us a body, the flesh, which is very prone to sin, which is so vulnerable to it, and which brings inevitably a measure of death. In the last chapter of the Ephesians we find two great exhortations; “Finally brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might” – that is, rely entirely upon the Holy Spirit; “And put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand”. We need to be protected, to be guarded continually. And at the end of that passage the apostle says, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto …” Praying and watching are our constant exercises with regard to this matter. Surely, surely, our past lives show very plainly the effects, the terrible effects, of not being sufficiently watchful and prayerful. Sin threatens us all the time. It is not merely that we are tempted by a foe who is vastly superior in understanding and power to ourselves; but we have always a traitor within, ready to betray our very souls to him. So surely there is great need here to watch and pray.
3. Thirdly, consider the Cross of Christ. Remember what He suffered there, and what it was that so caused Him to suffer. As one said,
“My sins were the nails and the spear
That pierced His hands and His feet”.
Surely if we were more in spirit at the Cross, and realised more its tremendous meaning, we should hate sin more. Surely every look by faith at the crucified Saviour would make us hate sin more deeply and dread it much more than often we do. It was sin which brought Him there. Sin which caused such terrible agonies of body and soul. And it was sin which He resisted unto blood. And because of His immeasurable love for sinners He was so willing to suffer there on account of sin. And one says,
“And shall I harbour in my breast
(Tremble, my soul, at such a deed)
This dreadful foe, this fatal guest,
The sin that made the Saviour bleed”.
At the Cross, the Saviour’s wondrous Cross, there are clearly powerful motives to resist sin. As the apostle says in the Hebrews, “Consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin”. But He resisted unto blood. He “died for our sins according to the Scriptures”. Surely a believing view of His Cross will always make us hate sin more. 4.Fourthly there is this direction – never despair in this great struggle against sin. Despair is such a terrible, gripping, disarming principle. To lose heart and to lose hope is such an appalling state to come into, and we are prone to give up in this battle because it is so sore; this is so very difficult for us. It is no wonder that the apostle there says, “Be not wearied in this”. Consider Him lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” – because this battle is very wearying, and you may sometimes fear regarding this old besetting sin that you have fallen into, perhaps hundreds and thousands of times, that you will never gain the conquest over it. But that is not so at all. The Saviour has won the essential, the supreme, victory over sin on behalf of every believer. The apostle says very plainly in the 6th chapter, “Sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” And the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is most certainly sufficient for the subduing of every sin.
“He shall hold thee up when falling,
Or shall lift thee up when down”.
There is no cause to despair, how many times so ever you have fallen into sin. There is still provision for it. There is provision in the fountain of the Saviour’s blood for the cleansing away of all guilt, and the sooner we make our way to that fountain the better. Nothing is ever gained by waiting if you feel guilty. We need to fly to that fountain “as oft as sin defiles”. And there is provision made for the conquest of sin. Far better than despairing is the note of the prophet: “Rejoice not against me, O mine enemy; though I fall, yet shall I arise. Though I sit in darkness the Lord shall be a light unto me”. Never despair in this great battle against sin, against indwelling sin, against all the iniquity that is in our hearts by nature. How ever many times you may have fallen, there is still mercy and grace abundantly in the fulness which is in Jesus Christ. Many more things here might be mentioned; the subject deserves a much more detailed consideration.
But I must come now to the promise at the end here, which is so joined to the word. “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” That is definite enough, is it not? And what an encouragement it should be to continue, day by day and hour by hour, in this battle against our sinful tendencies, the iniquities within us. For here is life promised, the life that we so much need; that is, a vigorous, peaceful, spiritual life here in this present world and a purer, perfect life in glory for ever. Do you want to live? The apostle very plainly puts this matter here, puts mortifying sin before this living, and in conjunction with it. “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live”.
And that life is a glorious life indeed. If we do live upon the Saviour’s fulness, if we do constantly come to Him for cleansing and for His grace, there is that life which He gives, a life in all its fulness, a fulness of life. Jesus said concerning His sheep, “I am come that they might have life and that they might have it more abundantly”. There is a more abundant life in the Saviour to be known and to be enjoyed. And to this end, we must continually mortify sin.
It is a life in all its richness, a life where the riches of His grace, of His peace, of His love, the riches of His precious blood, are enjoyed, are known. It is a life of liberty, the liberty which is set forth before us in the gospel; a freeness that cannot be really enjoyed when any sin is being indulged, when any sin is left unmortified. But how great is that liberty! It is later in this chapter called “the glorious liberty of the children of God”. It belongs to them; it is for them through the Saviour’s death.
And this life is a life of all loveliness-of love, of beauty, of peace. “To be spiritually minded is life and peace”. What a life this really is for the believer to enjoy now and in eternity! And it is so promised as a result of this constant spiritual exercise and concern.
O my dear friends, do consider this very important word. Surely we can find the reason here for much of our deadness. We often are not prepared to treat sin as it really should be dealt with, to be absolutely ruthless with it. Because it will always lead to death. “Lust, when it has conceived, bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren”. There is this inevitable connection between lust, and sin, and death;
just as there is this very beautiful parallel connection between righteousness, and holiness, and life. “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live”. And ever remember it is always by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God. May God bless His Word to us. Amen.