“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 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.” (Romans 8:12-13)
In Romans 8:13, we come to one of those seemingly paradoxical statements in Scripture. Right at the tail end of a passage informing us of what the Spirit of God can do through us, we are instructed to mortify the deeds of the body. How can this be? The Apostle Paul has already lamented in the last chapter over the ongoing struggle between the believer’s New Nature, with its desire to obey God and do that which is good, and the Old Nature that remains within us, with its animosity toward the things of God and inclination to gratify its own lusts. We have already been shown that self-effort is utterly worthless in bringing our flesh into subjection so that we might fully obey the Lord. Yet now we are being admonished to mortify the deeds of the flesh?
Herein lies the element of co-operation in the ongoing process of Sanctification. Sanctification, like Salvation, is wholly the work of God in us; but unlike Salvation, Sanctification requires a certain amount of effort on our part. No, it is not our effort which accomplishes Sanctification (we can in no way make ourselves holy), but we are called to mortify, literally to put to death, the sin that we practice.
“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:” (Colossians 3:5)
In a similar passage, Paul again describes the mortifying of sin which we lived and walked in before we knew God (Col. 3:7). He implores the believers in Colosse to “put off” anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, and filthy communication (v. 8), in short, to put off the Old Man with his deeds (v.9). Instead, we are told to “put on” the New Man (v. 10). The way the language is used here, the “putting on” alludes to the putting on of clothes. We are told that we have changed outfits, so to speak, and are now wearing a brand new set of clothing.
It is the Holy Spirit Who provides the new clothes that we are to put on and walk in, yet it is up to us whether or not we choose to wear them. God has graciously provided that which we never possibly could in that He has not only saved us from the penalty of sin, but from the power of it. He has given us the ability to choose to obey Him and, by the indwelling Holy Spirit, overcome the temptations that ensnare us. He has given us the ability to choose, but choose we must. We are empowered to say no to sin’s temptation, but never forced to do so. It is up to us which suit of clothes we are going to wear.
Therefore, we are called to put to death, to lay aside, to put away the sinful deeds that we practiced before we came to Christ and commit them no more. The Greek verb in Romans 8:13 translated mortify is written in the present tense. It is something that must be done continually, not something that is done once and for all. So often we get the idea that we can pray for deliverance from temptation occasionally and that should carry us through. We feel that the hour or two we spend in worship each Sunday morning will keep us sanctified all week long. But the decision as to which nature we are going to actually walk in is one that we must make daily, if not more often. Will we follow the Holy Spirit and obey Him, mortifying the deeds of the flesh and walking according to the New Nature? Or will we continue to live as debtors to the Old Nature, having come to faith in Jesus Christ yet living as if we hadn’t? God has given every believer the power to obey, but we must continually choose to do so.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,