Be Killing Your Sin, part 2
If what John Owen said is true—“Be killing sin, or it will be killing you”—and more importantly, if what the Bible says is true—that those who do the works of the flesh “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (see Galatians 5:19-21)—then we’ve got to take seriously this business of killing sin. That’s what we saw last week. The question now is, How?
How do we kill sin? Over the next few posts, that is what we’ll consider, but we need to start here: There is one thing without which it is impossible to kill sin. What is that one thing? Well, to be precise, it’s not a thing but a Person—the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
It is impossible to kill sin without the Holy Spirit dwelling in you.
Paul makes this clear in Romans 8. The whole chapter is incredibly important for understanding the Christian life, but for this present purpose the key is found in verses 13 and 14.
“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. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”Romans 8:13–14
First, see the parallels. Paul warns us that we will die if we “live according to the flesh” ( = “deeds of the body”), but promises us that we will live if (and only if) we “put to death the deeds of the body.”
Now, that sounds like a religion of works. And it is, in the way that I have explained it so far. But so far, I have left out the key part: The Spirit. The presence of the Spirit transforms this from being a religion of works to being an act of God’s grace in our lives that enables us, by His Spirit within us, to put to death the deeds of the body.
Paul writes, “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live,” so, it is only by the Spirit of God in us that we do this, and then he adds, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God,” which means, this putting to death of the deeds of the body by the Spirit is what it looks like to be a child of God, it is confirmation that we are children of God, and if we are not putting to death the deeds of the body, then there is evidence that we may not, in fact, be children of God.
So what comes first? Putting to death the deeds of the body, or the presence of the Spirit?
The presence of the Spirit comes first. The indwelling of the Spirit comes, and then He leads us, He empowers us, He enables us to put to death the deeds of the body.
How do we receive this indwelling of the Spirit? When does that occur?
The Spirit is God’s gift to us, regenerating us and coming to live inside of us, as we hear Gospel message and trust in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Paul writes in verse 9, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him,” but if we do belong to Him, we do have the Spirit of Christ.
So we hear the gospel message – Christ Jesus has died for your sins, and has been raised to life by the power of God, and now reigns over all things as Lord – and we respond in faith. God has given us His Spirit to dwell in us. How does all of this enable us to “put to death the deeds of the body”?
John Owen gives three ways, and I am going to work through them in reverse order from how he lays them out.
The Spirit brings the cross of Christ into our hearts by faith and gives us communion with Christ.
It is the Spirit within us who testifies to our heats, bringing to us the understanding of the gospel message for our lives. The truth is, in Christ, I can say, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). I can say, “I have died to sin,” that “I have been united to him in a death like his,” that “My old self was crucified with him in order that my body of sin might be brought to nothing,” and therefore that “I am no longer enslaved to sin” and instead that “Because I have died, I have been set free from sin” (see Romans 6:1–7).
The cross of Christ tells me that Christ’s death counts as my death, and therefore I have died to sin. And because the Spirit is known as both the “Spirit of God” and the “Spirit of Christ” (this is why the doctrine of the Trinity is important!), when the Spirit dwells in me, I can say also that Christ, who already defeated sin, dwells in me (see Ephesians 3:17; Romans 8:9).
The truth about me because of the Gospel is this: I have died to sin, and I have Christ living in me. Therefore, I must seek to no longer live in sin in this life, and I have all that I need to put sin to death in my daily life. And all of this is confirmed by the Spirit in me.
The Spirit destroys the root of sin.
Owen writes that the Spirit “is the fire which burns up the very root of lust.” And greed. And envy. And gossip. And immorality. And slander. And strife. And idolatry. The Spirit in us does battle not just at the fruit of sin, at its outward evidences, but at its root, at the level of the desires and passions within us.
Listen to the words of Christ:
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”Matthew 12:33–35
The work of the Spirit in us is to “make the tree good and its fruit good.” He gives us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), and out of its abundance we speak and we act, bringing forth good and not evil. Which leads to the final way that we put sin to death by the Spirit:
The Spirit produces in us His fruit, which is contrary to the passions of the flesh.
To quote Owen, the Spirit causes us to “grow, thrive, flourish, and abound in those graces which are contrary, opposite, and destructive to all the fruits of the flesh.”
This is why Paul includes the fruit of the Spirit immediately after his list of the passions of the flesh in Galatians 5:
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. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.Galatians 5:19–24
We have crucified the flesh with its passions, we have the indwelling of the Spirit (see Galatians 4:6), therefore in the place of the passions and desires of the flesh, He will be at work to produce His fruit within us.
What he produces in us is opposed to what the flesh wants to produce in us (Galatians 5:17), therefore, when we see envy rear its ugly head in our lives, we should ask God by the Spirit to produce kindness and patience within us, while meditating on the kindness and patience of God that he has shown to us. When we see fits of anger, we ask God to produce gentleness. When we see division, we pray for love; or immorality or drunkenness, and we pray for self-control; or idolatry, and we pray for love for God, that comes by the Spirit in us (Ephesians 3:16–19).
You cannot kill sin without the Spirit. So the first question to ask is this: Do you have the Spirit of Christ in you? Are you being led by His Spirit? If not, or if you’re not sure, maybe check out this page on our website, and then contact us. We’d love to talk with you and help you understand what it means to receive Christ. And if you do, then begin asking Him to help you put to death the deeds of the body, that you may find life in Him.
All quotes from John Owen are from the edition of The Mortification of Sin in Overcoming Sin and Temptation, ed. Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor.
Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.