Broadcasting now. Watch Live.

The Spirit of Christ In Us - Part 4

Tom Pennington • Romans 8:5-13

  • 2018-04-15 AM
  • Romans
  • Sermons


Well as we prepare our hearts today for the Lord's Table, I invite you to turn again with me to Romans 8; Romans 8. I left you last week on a bit of a cliffhanger, and I want to finish that and deal with some very practical things today in terms of how we pursue obedience to what we've been learning here in Romans 8.

You know, sadly, I think when it comes to dealing with the sin in their lives, most Christians think the Bible is simply not that helpful. They read Paul to learn what they need to do, but then they go to their local Christian bookstore self-help section, or they go to some Christian psychologist to learn how it is they're to do this. But as we will see this morning, Scripture both tells us how we're to do what we're supposed to do, as well as what it is we are supposed to do.

Here in the eighth chapter of Romans, Paul is developing one basic theme and that is the absolute security of the Christian, and we're looking at the reasons for that security. We've seen a couple of them. Last time, we really finished up our study of the section that we are secure because God has changed and empowered us by His Spirit. We saw this in verses 5 - 13. And specifically, last time, we studied verses 12 and 13, and there we discovered that believers are practically empowered by the Spirit. We are obligated to the Spirit unto obedience, but we are also empowered by the Spirit for obedience. Specifically, we are empowered by the Spirit to live according to the Spirit, and in other words, to pursue holiness or to pursue sanctification. Look at verse 13, the second half of verse 13, "but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live."

We discovered in that short half-verse several key truths that we needed to understand. First of all, the duty that's ours. "If … you are putting to death the deeds of the body," that's our duty as believers. In fact, in verse 12, he says we are debtors to do this. We are morally obligated to do this. But how in the world can we accomplish this task? Well, we discovered that the power that enables us to do this is "by the Spirit". That makes sense doesn't it? I mean, think about this for a moment; the one, if you're a Christian, the one who dwells in you is called the Holy Spirit, and so that means He will relentlessly pursue your holiness if He lives within you. He is the One who produces this holiness.

And then we looked at the promise at the end of verse 13, "you will live ... if … you are putting to death the deeds of the body [by the Spirit], you will live." In other words, there is a relationship between eternal life and sanctification. You don't earn eternal life by pursuing holiness, by growing in your sanctification; that's not the idea. Rather, it's that you prove that you have eternal life. You prove that the Spirit is within you, that He dwells there and is making you like Himself, holy. And that means you have eternal life, and you will continue to live in that eternal life; that's the promise.

Now, last week in these two verses, verses 12 and 13, we discovered several key principles of sanctification. I didn't really enumerate them for you; we just kind of saw them as we worked our way through these two verses, but let me briefly enumerate them for you, the lessons we learned from these two verses about sanctification. First of all, we learned that it is only possible for true Christians because he says, "Brethren," and he addresses us as "you" and in the context of the flow of this chapter, he's talking about those for whom there is no condemnation, those who are in the Spirit, and so sanctification is only possible for believers.

Now, number two, that tells us something very important, that sanctification must be more than just behavior modification because unbelievers can do that. But sanctification only occurs in the life of true Christians because we're talking about something at the heart level.

Number three, we learned that sanctification grows out of an understanding of who we have become in Jesus Christ. That's why he begins verse 12, "So then" or "so therefore"; in light of what you have become in Jesus Christ, in light of the fact that you once were in the flesh, but you are now in the Spirit, and the Spirit now lives within you; in light of that, here's how you're to live. So, our sanctification is tied to our knowledge.

I mentioned last week those who want to skip doctrine, who just want to get past all this heavy stuff and just tell me what I'm supposed to do, those will always be the people who struggle with sanctification because true biblical sanctification is based on an understanding of who we have become in Jesus Christ.

Number four, we learned that sanctification is an obligation for those who are in Jesus Christ. Verse 12 says we are obligated, not to the flesh, but implied, "to the Spirit".

And number five, sanctification is necessary because we still retain the flesh. Paul is talking here to Christians, and he says to us, "Don't live according to the flesh." That means we still have the flesh; that's why sanctification is necessary.

And finally, we learned that sanctification is really the mark of a true Christian. The first half of verse 13 says, "… if you are living according to the flesh, you … [are about to] die." In other words, you're going to encounter eternal death. The opposite of that is pursuing sanctification in which case you enjoy eternal life. So, sanctification is the mark of a true Christian; don't call yourself a Christian; don't call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ if your holiness doesn't matter to you; you are not a follower of Jesus Christ; you are not a Christian. That's what Paul is saying. "If you are living according to the flesh," if that's what marks your life, then you are about to die; you are going to face God's judgment in eternal death.

So, the bottom line of verse 13 and where we ended last week is this, you and I, as Christians, are responsible to put sin to death in our lives. Theologically, that's called "mortification". "Mortify" means "to kill," so you can see where this word "mortification" comes from; put the sins in your life to death. But what does that mean, and more importantly, how do we actually go about this? How do we put the sins in our lives to death? That's where I left you last time, and that's where I want us to look.

Romans 8:13, in part, answers that question. This is such a key text. As I told you last time, John Owen wrote his great work, that English Puritan wrote his great work on The Mortification of Sin in Believers from this text. Martin Lloyd-Jones, writing on verse 13 says, "It is vital and crucial to a true understanding of the New Testament doctrine of sanctification because condensed into a few words here are several incredibly helpful insights into our sanctification." We've already seen some of them; I just gave you a little list; but this morning, we're going to come back to this passage often, but we're also going to consider some other key passages as well. So, let's look at this issue of mortification; how do you put sin to death?

Before we look at how, let's start with the meaning of "mortification", the meaning of mortification. Again, "mortify" means "to put to death, to kill". And we're talking about killing the sins in your life. John Owen defines the point of verse 13 this way, "The choicest believers who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin [That's all of us.] ought to make it their business all their days to mortify or kill the indwelling power of sin. This is the constant duty of believers." That's exactly what Paul says in verse 13.

Now, verse 13 teaches us about half of "sanctification". Theologically, I'm going to give you a couple of big terms here and don't be scared by them; I just want you to understand them; I just want you to have a clue about what they are. Sanctification, theologically, consists of two parts. The first part of sanctification is called "mortification"; the second part of sanctification is called "vivification". Let me just look at those terms for a moment and define them. Now, I'm not going to come back to this a lot, but I want you to have the big picture.

"Mortification¬"–what do we mean? It is the process by which we put the sins of our old life, the person we were before Christ, to death; that's "mortification". It just means to "put off all of those things, those habits of thinking and speaking and acting that were a part of who we were before Christ."

The second part of sanctification is called "vivification". This is the process, you can recognize the word "life" there in that word; it's "the process by which we put on Christ and those virtues that make us like Him."

Put those two parts together, "mortification, vivification"; you have "sanctification". That's all it is. It's the putting off of all of those things that characterized you before Christ, and it is the putting on of those things that are Christ, that resemble Christ, the virtues that are in Him and that we ought to be emulating and copying.

Now, in our text, Paul focuses on the first of those, on mortification; we are to put our sins to death. What do we mean by mortification? Let's give a definition of that; we need to make sure we know what mortification is. Owen defines mortification biblically three ways, and I like his definition. We've already defined it as we've gone through Romans 6 through 8, but I like these three parts because I think this summarizes it well. If you are practicing mortification, if you're putting off the sins that are attached to the person you used to be, here's how it looks. Number one, there is a constant fighting and contending with sin.

Let me ask you this morning, "Does that describe you? If you claim to be in Christ, do you battle your sin every day?" This is mortification. This is what we're responsible to do. This is part of sanctification. There's a battle, a relentless battle; are you one who has just given up? "Oh well, that's just the way I am." That's not a Christian mindset; that's not the obligation we have according to Romans 8:12 and 13.

Secondly, where there is "mortification", not only is there a constant fighting, but there is frequent success against that lust or sin that you're trying to kill.

In other words, you can see progress, and that frequent success leads, thirdly, to a habitual weakening of sin. As you gain some success in fighting that sin, you see it weakening its power in your life; this is mortification; this is "putting to death the deeds of the body". Can you look back on your life over the last year, or if you have been a Christian five years or longer, the last five years, can you look at your life and say, "I am not yet what I want to be, but by God's grace, I'm not what I used to be? I can see progress in the battle with those sins in my life. I can see their power weakening in my life. I can see frequent success in fighting that sin." There's the meaning of mortification.

Now we have seen all three of those in Romans 6 to 8, so I'm not going to take time to take you back through Romans 6 to 8 to show you those because I want to come to the real question that many have and that is how? How can we do this? How can we put "to death the deeds of the body?" I hope, if you're a Christian, you care. In fact, if you are a Christian, you do care. So how do we do this?

Well, that brings us secondly, we've seen the meaning of mortification; let's look secondly at the means of mortification. Now as I always like to do, following one of my mentors, Martin Lloyd-Jones, I want to begin with the wrong means, and really, I'm just to give you a list; I'm not going to develop these at length because I want to get to the proper means. But I just want to sort of disenfranchise your mind from all of these bad ways to pursue sanctification. So, if you find yourself in this list, understand you've been doing it all wrong, okay?

So here we go, number one, turn with me by the way, to Colossians because the Colossians were guilty of the first three of these. They were tempted with the first three of them. The first one is not a big one for us today although there are parts of professing Christendom where this is an issue. Wrong means number one, the Old Testament ceremonial law. There are those who think that they need to live in the light of the ceremonial law. I think the biggest temptation from evangelical Christians on this front today is all the food laws. There are those who want to slip back into that as if that's how we're supposed to live when both Christ and Peter in Acts 10 said, "No, that's not how were supposed to live." But it gets much larger than that when it comes to some believers. It becomes a huge life dominating issue. You can see this in verses 16 and 17 of chapter 2 of Colossians. After he's explained the gospel, after he's explained what Christ accomplished, that we've been made a new person in Jesus Christ, and here's what Christ did at the cross, verse 16:

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect of festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day--things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the [Notice the word] substance…. [and look at the marginal reading, "body".]

Do you see the contrast? The Old Testament ceremonial law was like the shadow of Christ; but now that the body, Christ Himself has come, why would you want to cling to that shadow? The real Person's here; that's the point. That is a wrong way to pursue sanctification.

Number two and this one is a much bigger issue for us today, man-made rules and legalism. You see this in Colossians 2:20:

If you've … died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, ... [These are man-made rules; this is how you can be holy.] "… [Don't] … handle, [don't] … taste, [don't] … touch!"

Sadly, there are many Christians today who think that if they just keep their extra-biblical rules and teach their children to do so, that they will all eventually be spiritual. There's one great problem with that. It's been tried before by the Pharisees; and if you take extra biblical rules and legalism as your means of pursuing sanctification, you will become as hypocritical as the Pharisees who took the same approach. There's one real reason for that; it's a reason that was one of the very first things I ever heard John MacArthur preach back when I was attending a legalistic institution, and he said this, "The flesh has no power to control the flesh." So, you can make all the rules you want, but you will find that it will produce self-righteousness, or it will produce utter hypocrisy or usually both because the flesh has no power to control the flesh. So, don't think your man-made rules, your standards, whatever you want call them, that that's going to produce holiness in your life. It won't.

Number three, "asceticism". Asceticism, for those of you who aren't as familiar with it, means extreme self-denial of the normal pleasures of life, like not allowing yourself to sleep, not allowing yourself to eat, actually flagellating your body. This was a practice in Roman Catholic mysticism of the Middle Ages and still is in some places today. It was a problem in Corinth Colossae. Notice verse 23 of chapter 2, "These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion, and [Here it is.] self-abasement and severe treatment of the body." This was the approach some of the false teachers in Colossae were recommending. But these are of no value against fleshly indulgence. It's not going to help; it's not going to produce what you think it is going to produce.

Number four, closely related to asceticism is "monasticism", or we could also call it "isolationism". In the evangelical church, this usually takes the form of trying to isolate yourself entirely from unbelievers; "If I can only get away from unbelievers, I'd be okay." That's monasticism, it's also contemporary evangelical isolationism. Compare that to Jesus's prayer in John 17 when he says, "Father, I don't ask you to take them out of the world but to keep them from the evil one."

Number five, now we are coming to some more modern manifestations of these wrong means, a "secret method or formula". There are many Christian books and teachers out there that say the real key to sanctification is some secret you don't yet know; it's a secret. When I was young in Christ, I read a book that was recommended to me called, Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret, if only you can get the secret. Folks, there is no secret nor is there a formula. This is another thing people will try to get you to embrace. They'll say, "The key is 'Let go and let God.' Your problem is you're trying too hard, or you need to get out of Romans 7, and you need to get into Romans 8, or there are any number of formulas." Formulas aren't going to help you in your battle with sin.

Number six, "sudden spiritual crisis"; this is very popular. Who doesn't like microwave sanctification? You know, pop it in; pop yourself in one moment, and boom; you pop out thirty seconds later a sanctified person. There are several different versions of this. There's the Methodist version of this. Some of you were raised in Methodism where it's called a "second blessing", a second crisis-like salvation in which you were catapulted to some new and higher level of spirituality. The Baptist version of it: (yes, there is a Baptist version; I grew up hearing this) you just need to "re-dedicate your life to Jesus Christ". That's your problem. And if you'll do that, boom. Boy, in a moment, you'll be at a higher level of spirituality. Some Bible churches, and thankfully we're not one of them, will teach you that, you know, there was a time when you accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, and now you just need to accept Him as Lord, that's your problem. Well, that's a flawed understanding of the nature of saving faith to begin with, and it is also a terribly flawed idea of sanctification. There is no sudden spiritual crisis that's going to catapult you to a hyper level of spirituality, so get over it. The Bible calls spiritual growth, or it likens, I should say, spiritual growth to physical growth. Tt is a slow interminable process.

Number seven, here's a wrong means, "solely prayer". Prayer plays an important part in sanctification as we'll see in a moment, but there are those who, that's all they do. It's like they see this issue in their life and they just say, "God, take this away from me, take this away from me, and take this away from me," and when He doesn't, it's God's fault. But Paul says you must put "to death the deeds of the body."

Number eight, a "charismatic experience" is another wrong means, the idea that spiritual growth is catapulted forward through some kind of ecstatic experience, a vision of Christ, or an out of body experience, or speaking in tongues. "If only I can experience that, then that will jumpstart me to a new and higher level of spirituality."

Number nine, "self-reformation or behavior modification". Many well-intentioned Christians frankly attempt to change themselves, and they find that it is very hard to change even their behavior, but it is utterly impossible to change their heart.

But by far the most common evangelical approach to sanctification that's wrong is "spiritual osmosis", spiritual osmosis. What do I mean by that? How do you know if this is you? Well, it goes like this. If I will, on occasion, read my Bible, when I am not at church, and by the way, you ought to be reading your Bible, I'm not in any way denigrating that; and if I will come to church on Sunday, if I'll do those two things, even if I pop my Bible back in the drawer and I never think about what I've read again, I just checked the box and moved on, but I never think about it, never try to apply it, never seek to live it out, if I just do those two things; if I will read my Bible occasionally when I'm not in church, and if I'll show up in church, then I will become increasingly like Jesus Christ.

Let me just ask you this morning, do you believe that? Do you live like you believe that? Well, you are sadly mistaken. Frankly, that isn't much different than saying, "If I will spend more time reading books about exercise, and if I'll hang out more at the gym, then I will become increasingly like a bodybuilder; I'll become Vin Diesel." You are sadly deceived on both the physical front and the spiritual front. Spiritual osmosis never got anyone closer to Jesus Christ. All of those are the wrong ways to put sin to death in your life.

So, what are the right ways? Well, let's consider together the biblical means. Here are the real means to put the sins in your life to death. Now before I start, let me just say this, when I'm done with this list, a list of five specific things Scripture lays out, some of you are going to go, "Oh, that's really helpful." There are going to be a few of you who are going to say, "Well, can't you just give me something more practical?" Folks, this is practical; this is what the Scriptures teach. If you don't like this, you can go spend your money on a Christian self-help book, but I promise you it won't help you. Alright, so let's look at them together; here are the real means to put sins to death in your life and for me in mine.

Number one: Live by faith in Jesus Christ. Turn to Galatians 2; there's a hugely important text here in Galatians 2:20. Paul, I think in some ways, summarizes what we're learning in Romans 6 - 8. Galatians 2:20, he says, "I have been crucified with Christ; [There's the reality of the new person; I am in Christ; the old me died. The old me doesn't exist anymore; I'm a new creation in Christ.] … it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." So, he talks about that radical change that has occurred. But now, watch what he says next, verse 20, "and the life which I now live in the flesh [In other words, right now, I am a new creation in Christ, but here's how I live now; here's how I live today. Notice what he says.] I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me."

Now, that is huge! I grew up in a Christian community, and some of you did as well, where faith in Christ was for salvation. Once you believed in Christ, once you kind of checked that box, and you began your Christian life, then there was no more need for faith in Christ. There was no more need for Christ in some ways. You were kind of on your own and good luck with that. At worst, this approach to sanctification produced self-righteous moralists, or it produced spiritual train wrecks because they were aware that wasn't going to work; and for most people who bought into this approach, this sort of Christ-less sanctification, it was patently unhelpful, and it was spiritually frustrating. It was for me.

But Paul says, notice verse 20 again, "the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me." Here's how Jerry Bridges develops that idea in his excellent book The Gospel for Real Life. He says:

We are not to wage this warfare, [That is putting sin to death in our lives.] We are not to wage this warfare in the strength of our own willpower. Instead just as we, by faith, look to Christ for our righteous standing before God, so by faith, we are to look to Him for the enabling power to live the Christian life. This power comes to us as a result of our vital or living union with Jesus Christ.

To use our Lord's own words in John 15, "Just as the branches receive the power to produce fruit from the vine, you and I receive the power to produce spiritual fruit in our lives from the vine, our Lord Jesus Christ. We live by faith in the Son of God." You say, "Tom, that sounds great, but what does that mean to 'live by faith in the Son of God?'"

Well, let me develop that a little bit for you because I think it's crucial. When I say we are to live by faith in Christ, I mean first of all, that we are to believe that the benefits of Christ's death are for us; they're for you, Christian. You go back to Romans 8, and that's really the point of the first four verses of Romans 8, he says, there is "Therefore … now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." He goes on to say, "Do you realize, Christian, that God the Father put your sins on Christ, and He condemned your sins in Jesus's flesh on the cross?" Think about the benefits of Christ's death; think about their ramifications for you. Or let me put it differently, when I say, "believe in them," I mean keep on preaching that truth to yourself until it changes how you think. Live in light of the cross and your justification.

Now, there is a flawed view of sanctification out there that says this is all you're to do, is preach the gospel to yourself. That isn't true as we'll see in a moment. But it is true that you are to preach this gospel to yourself, and preach it to yourself until you understand what Christ has done, and that those benefits are yours.

We're still looking at living by faith in Christ; and one of those ways is believing the benefits of Christ's death and for you. A second way is to believe that the Spirit has made you a new person in Christ. This is the point of 8:5 - 8, you once were in the flesh; but in a moment's time, the Spirit came and radically changed you, and you are now in the Spirit, and the Spirit dwells within you. There's been a radical change in who you are. Preach that to yourself until you understand that about yourself. Have faith in the work that Christ has begun in you through His Spirit.

Number three, in terms of living this life by faith in Christ, believe that Christ will finish His plan for you. This is really helpful in the battle with sin. In verses 9 - 11 here in Romans 8, we learn this. He says, "Listen, Christ is in you, but your body is dead because of sin. You still battle sin because not all of you is redeemed, but your spirit is alive because of righteousness. But here's the great news, God isn't finished; someday He's going to perfect you entirely. He will redeem your body." That's coming, so preach that to yourself as you battle your sin; remind yourself that Christ is not finished with you. He will do what He promised He would do. In the words of a couple of other texts, Ephesians 5:25 - 27, Paul writes:

… Christ … loved the church and gave Himself up for her, [Listen to this.] so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.

Listen, when Christ set out to die for the church, He didn't just set out to save the church from hell. By the way, who's the church? It's not this building; it's us, the people who belong to Christ, you. Christ set out to die for you, not just to buy your way out of hell, but to make you His holy bride, and He won't stop until He's completed what He began. Remind yourself of that. Preach that to yourself; He's going to do it. He said He would do it, and He set out for this very purpose. Titus 2:14, says the same thing. He "… gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds." Christ gave Himself for you in order to purify you from your sins and to make you zealous for good deeds. When you're struggling with sin, preach that to yourself and believe the truth that Christ will finish what He started.

I like the way John Owen says we're to preach this to ourselves; listen to what he writes in his famous book on The Mortification of Sin. Here's what you say yourself:

I am a poor, weak creature, unstable as water, I cannot excel. This corruption is too hard for me and is at the very door of ruining my soul. I have made promises and broken them. Many persuasions have I had that I had attained the victory and should be delivered, but I have been deceived so that I plainly see that without some eminent assistance, I am lost. [But he doesn't stop there. Listen to where he goes on.] Behold, the Lord Christ that has all fullness of grace in His heart, all fullness of power in His hand; He is able to slay all these His enemies. [What's He talking about? Your sins!] He is able to slay all these His enemies. There is sufficient provision in Him for my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, dying soul and make me more than a conqueror.

There's a fourth way to exercise your faith in Christ and that is to contemplate Christ's person with the eye of faith. Think about Jesus Christ; come to the Scriptures and look at Christ, and in that look as you think about who He is, and you seek to pursue likeness to Him, change occurs.

Look at 2 Corinthians, one of my favorite New Testament texts; 2 Corinthians 3:18, here is the heart of sanctification. Second Corinthians 3:18, "But we all, [That is all believers.] with unveiled face, [That's a reference to what he's just said, verse 15, when the Old Testament's read, a veil lies over the hearts of those who don't believe,] but [verse 16] whenever a person turns to the Lord, that veil is taken away." [So, we all now as believers, we don't have that veil, we can see the Scriptures clearly and we behold] "as in a mirror the glory of the Lord." And Lord, here in this context, is Jesus Christ. It's talking about Christ Himself. So, we look in the Scripture, and now the veil is removed, and we see Christ, and it's like seeing His glory; and as we see His glory, notice what happens verse 18, we "are being transformed." The Greek word is the word from which we get our word "metamorphosis"; we are being "metamorphosized" into the same image as He has in His moral character, from one level of glory to another; there's this gradual progression of growth and likeness to Jesus Christ. How does this happen? The end of verse 18, it's "from the Lord, the Spirit." So, as you contemplate Christ, as you study the Gospels, as you study the entire Scripture, as you see Christ, and you understand who He is, you get a better grasp of His glory; the Spirit transforms us into the same image. So, live by faith in Christ, and those are the practical ways to do so.

Number two, here's a second way we put off sin; we mortify sin. Learn, meditate on, and apply the Word. All three of those verbs are important; learn, meditate on, and apply the Word. Do you understand the central place the Word plays in your sanctification? Back in Romans, 8:5, Paul says, "… those who are according to the Spirit, [That is those who are in the Spirit, those who have been saved, who have the Spirit dwelling within them; listen to this.] [They] … set their minds on the things of the Spirit." You say, "What are the things of the Spirit?" It's what's right here between the covers of this Book; these are the things of the Spirit; this is the Word the Spirit revealed to us and everything in here, these are the things of the Spirit. Believers set their minds on the Scripture. We looked at that in great detail, on the Word the Spirit inspired, and it's that that the Spirit uses to change us.

You remember Jesus's prayer in John 17? Here's a verse that if you don't know it, you need to memorize it because there is not a more foundational verse about sanctification in all the Bible. John 17:17, you see, it's got an easy reference, and here's the verse; it's a short verse, but really key. Jesus is praying, and He prays to the Father. "Sanctify them [talking about believers] sanctify them … [by means of] the truth; Your word is truth." In other words, make them progressively and increasingly holy by means of the truth of Your Word.

Let me just say it as bluntly as I can; you will never overcome the sin in your life, you will never grow spiritually, you will never grow in likeness to Jesus Christ, until you are committed to learning, meditating on, and applying the Scripture. It is the primary tool that the Lord uses in our sanctification. This is what Paul meant in Ephesians 4:23, when he says you have been taught to lay aside the old self and to be "renewed in the spirit of your mind," to be renewed in how you think about everything. How does that happen? It happens through the Word, happens through the Word.

Number three, here's another way "to put to death the deeds of the body". You need to have faith in Christ, you need to learn, meditate on and apply the Word of God; and number three, you need to expend maximum effort to pursue obedience. What you learn in the Word, you seek to obey. You just begin to do what you've been told; you seek, by the power of the Spirit, to obey the Word of God. How does sanctification happen? Go back to Romans 8, and look at verse 13 again. I want you to see the juxtaposition of two very important expressions. Here's how it happens, verse 13, "but if, by the Spirit you, [Get those in your minds.] by the Spirit you." Biblical sanctification is synergistic; that is, it involves God at work and you at work.

John Owen said, "The Spirit works in us and with us, not against us or without us." In other words, the Spirit isn't doing the work of sanctification without your work. So how does all this relate? Turn over to Philippians 2. Paul tells us very clearly the relationship of your work in sanctification and the Spirit's work in sanctification. Philippians 2:12, "So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling…." There's your part, "work out your salvation."

You say, "How do I work out my salvation?" Well, look at the word just before it, "by obeying." You work out your salvation by obeying the truth. Paul says, "You did it when I was gone; do it now. And that's what I mean when I say, 'Work out your own salvation.'" It doesn't mean save yourself. It means now that you're a Christian, pursue holiness; pursue sanctification. Now, watch verse 13. [You're to work in expending maximum effort in obedience,] "for" [verse 13, because] "it is God who is at work in you."

Now, don't misunderstand the relationship between your work and God's work. Sanctification is not solely your work, and it's not solely the Spirit's work, but nor is it this sort of equal cooperation in which you do your part and the Spirit does His part. No, Paul says; notice what he says, he says specifically, "we work because God is at work in us."

Now what's God doing in us? What is God the Holy Spirit working in us? Look at verse 13 again; He is at work in you to do two things, "to will and to work." This is what the Holy Spirit is doing in you. He is changing your will. As you study the Scripture, as you seek Christ, as you learn what you ought to be and the sins you ought to hate, your will, your affections, your will is changed so that you now desire holiness. But that isn't all the Spirit does; notice he also works. In other words, He produces the change. Let me say it as bluntly as I can. You are to expend maximum effort, but you can't change yourself; only the Spirit can do that. As you expend maximum effort, the Spirit changes you. You work because the Spirit is at work in you "to will and to work for His good pleasure."

Your progress in sanctification, however, and this is what Paul is saying here, it's what he saying in Romans 8, your sanctification is conditioned on and commensurate with your effort. The Spirit is at work, but there is a tie between your effort and your sanctification. You don't produce the change, the Spirit does. But if you are lazy in your sanctification and in your pursuit of sanctification, it will be reflected in your life. Specifically, sanctification requires putting specific deeds or practices to death.

Very quickly, let me give you just some helpful insights. Look at Colossians 3; Colossians 3. Here is how you are to expend your effort, this maximum effort you are to expend. First of all, deal with all of your sins and not just one sin. You know, some people just, there's one sin in their life that just really bothers them, that makes them feel especially guilty, that troubles them. Maybe they're especially ashamed because of it, and that's the sin they focus on. Listen, God is not just focused on that sin in your life, and He doesn't want you to be either. He wants you to be focused on all the sins in your life. If you look at Colossians 3:5 - 11, he deals with all kinds of sins; sexual sin in verse 5, but he's not just talking about sexual sin and lust that goes with it. You get down to verse 8: "anger, wrath, malice, slander … abusive speech;" verse 9, lying. You're laying aside the old self with all of its evil practices, that's sanctification. Don't think about just one sin in your life, God isn't.

John Owen writes:

A man finds a lust that is powerful, strong, leads him captive, takes away his peace; he's not able to bear it; therefore, he sets himself against it, prays against it, groans under it, sighs to be delivered; but in the meantime, in Scripture reading, prayer, meditation, he is loose and negligent. Let not that man think that ever he will arrive to the mortification of the lust that perplexes him. [And then he says this.] Do you think that God will ease you of that which perplexes you that you may be at liberty to do that which no less grieves Him? No! God says, "Here is one; if he could be rid of this lust, I would never hear of him more. Let him wrestle with this or he is lost." Let not any man think to do his own work that will not do God's. [And here's how Owen finishes.] God's work consists in universal obedience. [That's what you're pursuing in sanctification.]

Number two in terms of expending maximum effort is you must identify sin for what it is. Use biblical labels. You read through this text. Paul doesn't talk about frustration. He talks about anger. He doesn't talk about, "Well, you know, I have this little problem with shading the truth." No, he says, don't lie. Be ruthless in identifying your sins biblically.

Thirdly, come to grips with the true evil of sin. Look at Colossians 3:6, "it is because of these things [the sexual sins mentioned in verse 5] that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience." Listen, understand how bad sin is, and then you must act to kill the sin. That's what verse 5 of Colossians 3 says. Literally, you see the marginal note there in verse 5, "Put to death the members which are upon the earth." Kill the sins connected to your body, connected to your unredeemed self. Kill it. It requires violent effort; it requires maximum effort; take whatever steps are necessary; don't make any provision for your flesh, and be committed to an ongoing bloody moment by moment, step-by-step fight against your sin. Sanctification is gained through a continual sustained effort. The verb here in Colossians 3:5, and the verb in Romans 8: 13, are both present tenses, "be putting to death." You are never going to arrive at this, you're never going to stop this process; it's a battle till the day you die, step by bloody step.

And then, if you're going to expend maximum effort, not only do you kill the sin, but you must act to put on Christ's virtues. Notice that's what Paul says here in Colossians 3; he says, "kill these things" in verses 5 - 11. Look at verse 12, "So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, [and] kindness, humility, gentleness … patience," and so forth. What's he saying? He's saying, it's not enough for you to kill the sin in your life. You've got to identify the opposite virtue in Christ that ought to be in your life, and pursue obedience to that virtue. You have to do both.

What exactly does this process look like? Well, when I was a kid, we would often play the game of tug-of-war. In elementary school, I know you'll find this hard to believe today, but I was often one of the smallest, scrawniest kids—that's obviously changed. But I've always been competitive, always competitive, and so I always wanted to be on the team with the biggest, strongest people, and I especially wanted the teams with the strong and heavy anchor; you know, the last guy back there that ties the rope around his waist, and it isn't going anywhere; it isn't going to budge. And we would get into the tug of war, and I would pull on that rope with all my heart because I was competitive because this was my team; I wanted us to win. But when we won, I knew it wasn't my strength. In fact, at times, I was just hanging on for dear life. There were literally times when my feet weren't even touching the ground; I'm just holding on to the rope.

That's exactly how it is with our sanctification. We have to expend maximum effort, but it is not in the end, our effort that wins the battle with sin; it is our strong anchor, the Holy Spirit. Also, in tug of war, that ribbon that marked the center of the rope often went back and forth; but as the fight went on, it continued to slowly move in the direction of the team with the strongest members. That too is how it is with sanctification. From day to day, that ribbon that marks our progress may slightly go back and forth between the flesh and the Spirit; but if you're in Christ, your overall progress is going to be toward the Spirit, and the ultimate outcome is assured. The Spirit wins. We will be like Jesus Christ because He's the heaviest anchor.

Number four, depend completely on Christ and His Spirit to enable you to pursue obedience and to produce real change. Notice again verse 13 of Romans 8, "but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live." Real sanctification is accomplished solely by the Holy Spirit; you can't change yourself; you must work your mind; you must change your way of thinking about sanctification to understand that you are utterly and completely dependent on the Spirit of Christ in you. That's why in John 15:5, what does Jesus say? "Apart from Me you can do nothing." It's in the context of talking about spiritual fruit. You can't bear any spiritual fruit, Jesus says, apart from Me. We must never depend on our own efforts or even on the means of grace, but we must depend on the Spirit of grace and the Spirit of holiness. What is the primary way to show your dependence on the Holy Spirit? It's to pray.

That brings us number five. Pray for sanctification; pray for sanctification. Don't just pray, but do pray. Christ prayed for our sanctification, and prays by the way, John 17:17 is a prayer. He says, Father, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." And He taught us to pray for our own sanctification and for the sanctification of those around us. In the Lord's Prayer, the last petition, Matthew 6:13, "do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil." Paul models this as well in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, "may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely."

There they are, folks; there are no secrets; there are no formulas; those are the five biblical means for putting sin to death in your life. May God give you the grace to pursue them.

Let's pray together.

Our Father, as we come to the Lord's Table, we acknowledge that You are holy, and we are not. And yet at the same time, we thank you that, by the work of the Spirit, we who were never in any way holy may now be progressively more and more like Christ. Help us to long for that, to pursue it in the ways You've given us that we've even talked about this morning.

Lord, I pray as we take of the Lord's Table that You would forgive our sins. Lord, each of us individually lifts up our specific sins to You. We ask for Your forgiveness and beyond forgiveness, we ask for a renewed resolve to pursue holiness, to put those sins to death in our lives by the means You've given us; and in so doing, may we take of the Lord's Table in a way that honors His death for sin. Forgive us and receive our worship now in this most holy of means that we've received.

We pray in Jesus's name, Amen.