Wake Up! - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Romans 13:11-14

  • 2020-08-09 AM
  • Romans
  • Sermons

PDF

I think it's important for us to acknowledge that we learn much by looking back into church history and looking at the lives of those who have led the Christian Church and seeing what God did in and through them. One of those is the man we call St. Augustine. Augustine was born on November 13, in the year 354 A.D. in North Africa. His mother, Monica, was a devoted Christian and wanted nothing more than to see her own son follow in her footsteps and become a disciple of Jesus Christ.

His father, on the other hand, was pagan and he simply wanted Augustine to be well educated and to become a great and a wealthy man, and that is the path that Augustine pursued. He was, in fact, like his father, thoroughly pagan; he was sexually promiscuous having slept with many women by the age of 16; and by the age of 17, he formed a lasting relationship with a woman whom he would never marry but who would be his mistress for many years.

He also pursued the education that his father so much wanted him to pursue; he was educated in the great learning centers of that time in human history, in Carthage, in Rome, and then finally in Milan, and in each case pursuing popular philosophy, one popular philosophical idea after another. Eventually, through the intellect God gave him, through the hard work that he invested through the professors that poured into him, he achieved his life goal of fame, influence, and wealth, as he became a chief professor of rhetoric in the famed University there in Milan.

But having achieved those life goals, he soon discovered that they were completely unsatisfying. In fact, he himself would say that this introduced one of the most miserable times in his life.

But when Augustine arrived in Milan, he met a man named Ambrose. Ambrose was the Bishop of Milan, a committed follower of Jesus Christ, and Augustine began to listen to his sermons. He began to read the Bible; He met several other believers, and it was in the context of hearing those sermons, of reading the Scriptures, of interacting with other Christians, that the well-known scene occurred in the garden of his friend's estate near Milan. He and Alypius had been there in that estate reading the Bible together. But Augustine was so distressed at what he had read and so distressed at his own lack of spiritual resolve, his inability to change himself, that he withdrew to another part of the garden in order to weep without being seen.

Here's how he described his conversion.

I was weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart when low I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighboring house chanting and often repeating, "Take up and read, take up and read." Restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it in no other way than as a command to me from heaven to open the book and to read the first chapter I should light upon. So, I quickly returned to the place where Alypius was sitting for there I had put down the volume of the apostles. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell.

And as it was in God's providence, his eyes fell on the passage that we study together today. And everything that he had learned, all of the information he had gained from the sermons he had heard, the Scripture he had read from his Christian friends, came crashing in on his soul; and in that moment, he believed and was truly converted. Augustine, of course, eventually would become the Bishop of Hippo, serving our Lord there for more than 46 years until his death at the age of seventy-six.

The verses that Augustine read fall in the section that we're studying together, a section that I've called in the overall context of Paul's letter, "A Gospel Response to the Flesh," as Paul instructs us how we ought to respond to various aspects of life in light of the gospel we have believed. Let's read it again together, Romans 13, verses 11 through 14. Paul writes:

Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

This paragraph makes the basic point that it is time for us as believers to wake up from our spiritual laziness and to go to war with our flesh. I mentioned last week that your flesh, Christian, is that part of you that remains unredeemed. When you trusted in Christ, you were made a new creation in Him, but there remains a part of you that is unredeemed, and that's what the Bible calls your flesh. It's beachhead, or its primary base of operations is your body which has not yet been redeemed.

Here we learn that although only God can change us at the heart level, we as individual believers are responsible to wage war against our flesh and to do so constantly. Now, in this this passage, Paul begins with, as we noted last week, "The Biblical Motivation for Fighting Your Flesh." It's found in verse 11, and the first part of verse 12, and it's because of the time in which we live, this is the motivation. Paul says, "Look at your present life in light of the future and make changes because of what's coming." And this is what he says in terms the biblical motivation.

First of all, it's late in redemptive history. Secondly, it's past time to live like the person you have become in Christ. This is where he says, "Wake up! Wake up out of spiritual laziness and get busy battling your flesh." Thirdly, he notes that it's almost time for your ultimate salvation, "It's nearer than it's ever been, nearer than when you believed," whether it's your death at which time you will be ushered into the presence of the Lord, or whether it's the return of Christ, it's closer than it's ever been in your life; it's time to get busy.

And then finally, the biblical motivation is it's almost time for Christ's return and the dawning of a new age. He says the night is almost over and the day is almost upon us when the new age comes and Christ returns.

So, those are the biblical motivations; that's the 'why' we are to battle our flesh. It's interesting, isn't it Christian, Paul says, "If you want real motivation for battling your flesh, it's not because it's going to make life easier for you; it's because of what's coming, it's because of the realities that lie before you." Get busy! Wake up!

Now, having provided that biblical motivation, Paul continues, as we'll learn today, secondly, with practical instructions for fighting your flesh, practical instructions for fighting your flesh. This is the message beginning in the middle of verse 12 and running down through verse 14. How are we supposed to fight our flesh, how are we supposed to wage war, how are we supposed to go to battle against our flesh? Well, Paul gives us very practical instructions. In fact, let me just say to you, and I hate to admit this to you, but even as someone who studies Scripture constantly, there are passages I come to that I think, "Yeah that's helpful and I think that'll be good for me and good for God's people, but I have no idea the profundity and depth that's there until I get into it myself, and this is one of those passages. So, let's look at it together; here are some eminently practical instructions for fighting your flesh.

Number one, fight to put off your sins, fight to put off your sins. Notice verse 12, "…Therefore, (in light of the fact of the biblical motivations we've just discovered) let us lay aside the deeds of darkness." Now the Greek word translated "lay aside" literally means 'to put from.' It was often used of taking off a piece of clothing. Eventually it came to be used as a metaphor for putting off some attitude or some behavior. He says, "Lay aside (Take off. Notice what he says.) the deeds of darkness." Those are the works that fit the darkness over which Satan rules. They're the works that are typically done at night in the cover of darkness and that suit those who belong to the night. As Jesus said in John 3, verses 19 and 20, or perhaps it's hard to know where the line is where Jesus stops and John, John the Apostle, begins. But in John 3, verse 19, it says:

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light (Why?) because their deeds were evil. (They want darkness because that's the best cover for what they want to do.) For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light (That is, the light of Christ, the light of truth.) for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

Now, when Paul talks about the deeds of darkness here, he's in essence talking about the deeds of the flesh. He gives us a fuller list of those deeds over in Galatians. Turn to Galatians, chapter 5; Galatians, chapter 5, verse 19. Here's a more complete list. He says:

Now the deeds of the flesh (could say the deeds of darkness) are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, (There's sexual sins both of thought and of act.) idolatry, sorcery, (And then he gets into relational sins.) enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, (And just so you're clear, this isn't a complete exhaustive list, but a representative one, he adds.) and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things (That is, those who habitually are characterized by these things in an unbroken, unrepentant way.) will not inherit the kingdom of God.

So, back in Romans 13, Paul says, "…lay aside (or, take off like a piece of clothing, all of) the deeds of darkness, (all of the deeds of the flesh)." This isn't the first time in Romans he's told us this. Go back to Romans, chapter 8; Romans, chapter 8, and verse 12, Paul says, "So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, (to our fallenness to live according to that part of us that remains unredeemed; for if you are living) according to the flesh, (you must die)."

That's what he said in Galatians 5, If your life is characterized by these things, then you're not a Christian at all, you're going to experience spiritual death, you are in spiritual death, and you will experience eternal death. "But, if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live." That's just another way of saying, "laying aside," you're putting them to death, you're killing them.

You know what Paul is saying in Romans 13? And this is so important for us to get into our heads. He's saying, "Don't wait for God to spiritually zap you." So many Christians think that way about their sin, it's like, "You know, I asked God; He hasn't done anything yet, so here I am." It's easy to blame God for those sinful patterns in our lives that are still there. Paul says, "No! Don't wait for God to spiritually zap you, fight to lay them aside like an old set of clothes that no longer fits the new person that you are in Jesus Christ." Fight to put off your sin.

A second practical instruction for battling your flesh is fight to put on spiritual virtues; fight to put on spiritual virtues. Generally, put on the armor of light, that's what he says in verse 12. "Therefore, let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light." In other words, get dressed for war! Now, why does he switch expressions? Why does he say, "Put off the deeds of darkness," but he doesn't say, "Put on the deeds of light?" He says, "Put on the armor of light."

Calvin points out that the reason Paul switches here from works to armor is to make the point that this is war; the Christian life is war. It's not for sleeping, it's for fighting! It's not a siesta, it's a struggle! It's not a break, it's a battle! Is that how you think about your Christian life? That's how you're supposed to think about it.

Now, in this general sense, what is the armor of light? Well, in one sense, we are to arm ourselves with the truth that Scripture teaches. That is, we're to understand the gospel truth, we're to apply it to ourselves, and live in light of it. I think that's the whole point of Ephesians, chapter 6, and the armor that's there. If you want, you can go online and listen as I taught through the book of Ephesians, we studied that in great detail. But, all of those pieces of armor there in Ephesians 6, are about understanding some aspect of the gospel, applying it, and living in light of it as our armor, as our protection.

But, I don't think that's the primary point here because there's a parallel passage to this one where Paul identifies the armor of light as the general Christian virtues. Listen to 1 Thessalonians 5, verse 8, "But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation." He says, "Listen, here's your armor, here is the armor of light for those who walk in the light, put on faith and love and the hope of your salvation. So, there's a general sense in which those virtues are to be ours.

But, back in Romans 13, specifically here, I think Paul means put on the opposite virtues of the deeds of darkness. Remember, there's a parallelism. In verse 12, he says we're to lay aside the deeds of darkness and the implication is that this expression, "The armor of light," is shorthand for the deeds of light, for the deeds that are appropriate for the light And this is exactly what Paul says in Ephesians. Turn to Ephesians, chapter 4, where Paul gets very specific about this process of putting off and putting on. Ephesians 4, in verses 17 to 19, he talks about how pagans live, and he says, "Stop living like that," verse 20, "because you didn't learn Christ like that." (paraphrased) You didn't learn to live like a pagan when you came to Christ "if indeed you heard Him (verse 21) and have been taught in Him, just as the truth is in Jesus."

Now, notice that the controlling verb of what follows is that, "you have been taught in Jesus." What have you been taught? What have you learned? What follows are three Greek infinitives; they don't stand out quite as clearly in English, but you have been taught these three things. Verse 22, to "lay aside;" verse 23, to "be renewed;" and verse 24, to "put on." Here's what Paul is saying, when you came to Christ, your old self died; you became a new person; that's regeneration. And because you're a new person, take off those old grave cloths that belong to the person you were, those old habits of thinking and behaving, and put on the clothes that fit the new person that you have become.

Now, verses 22 to 24, summarize the process of change; and by the way, notice here it's a little more thorough; in Romans 13, it's concise. Here he says there are three steps to true biblical change. Lay aside the habits of the old life; be renewed, that is, be renewed in the spirit of your mind, allow the Word of God to reshape your thinking, both about the sin you're trying to put off, and the virtues you ought to put on in place. Be renewed in your mind, change your thinking about all of this because of the Scripture, the work of the Spirit, and then put on the virtues that are the opposite virtues to the sins you're putting off. So, these verses summarize the process of change: lay aside, be renewed, put on.

Then, in verse 25 and following, you have several practical examples of how to do this. You can look at these verses later and you'll see that Paul applies it very well. For example, if you struggle with lying, how do you do this if you struggle with lying? Verse 25, "(lay) aside falsehood, (put it off, and here's what you're to put on its place, be committed to speaking the) TRUTH EACH ONE OF YOU WITH HIS NEIGHBOR." And then, here's how you're to change your thinking, that's a command God gave in the Old Testament; and "…we are members of one another." It's as foolish for you to lie to somebody else as it is for your eye to lie to the rest of your body. So you allow the Scriptures to reshape your thinking, and there are other examples that he gives in the verses that follow.

Now, the point, go back to Romans 13, the point in Ephesians 4, and the point here in Romans 13, is that the only way, listen carefully, the only way you can put off the deeds of darkness is this, if you are at the same time are putting on the corresponding deeds of light. You have to take one set of clothes off and you need to put another set on. I mean, that's just logical isn't it?

This morning you got up and you had on your pajamas, and you wanted to come to church and so you took off your pajamas, but you didn't come to church as having taken off your pajamas, at least I hope not; we're all little concerned if that happened. No! You took off your pajamas and you put on the clothes that are appropriate for what we're doing here this morning. And you didn't put your clothes for today on over your pajamas. Logically, you take one set of clothes off that are inappropriate, and you put the clothes on that are appropriate. That's all Paul is saying. It's like, you're a new person, take off those clothes that don't belong, and put on the clothes that fit, the clothes that you ought to be wearing in light of who you now are.

There's a third practical instruction here and that's, fight both sinful behavior and its causes. Fight both sinful behavior and its causes. Paul tells us, first of all, to fight our sinful behavior and patterns. Notice verse 13, "Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy." Now, there is so much in that verse, but before we take it apart, let me just make some general observations for you to note. First of all, notice their six sins listed here. Of the six sins, five are primarily actions and one is primarily a sin of the heart, jealousy. Paul's point is we must be alert to both sinful actions as well as the sins of the heart.

A second observation, these six sins fall within three groups of two; he groups them together, why? Well, as we're going to see, it illustrates that there is often a relationship between sins, they come together as a package. One sin is partner with and encourages another.

A third observation is that there are three categories of sins here. There are social sins, sexual sins, and relational sins. And that reminds us that we have to be alert to sins in every aspect of our lives.

A fourth observation I would make is, in Greek, four of these words are plural. That reminds us that individual sins, left unaddressed, un-dealt with, become plural in our lives, they become sinful patterns and habits.

And then a fifth observation I would make is that all of these sins, all six of them, are driven by what? A lack of love, the love commanded back in verses 8 to 10. That lies behind them all. They're all selfishly oriented.

Now, let's look at what Paul says verse 13, "Let us behave properly as in the day." Literally, the Greek text says, "Let us walk." I love that word, I love that picture because it reminds us that familiar metaphor of walking, reminds us that spiritual progress is not spectacular. You're not on a jet plane, you're not on the railroad moving at speed, you're not on the freeways moving at a high speed. No, you're walking! Spiritual progress is not spectacular, but it's steady, one foot after the other; that's how we all grow. He says, "Let us (walk or) behave properly." The word means appropriately, let us behave appropriately for those who already live in the day, it's still dark in this world, but we are sons of the light, we're sons of and daughters of the day, so act like that, live like that, that's appropriate for us.

Now, let's look at the six sins that Paul lists here as sins of the night that are completely inappropriate for us. There are three pairs. The first pair is carousing and drunkenness. These are social sins; sins that reveal a lack of self-control with drink. Verse 13 says, "…not in carousing and drunkenness." The English word for carousing means 'to engage in drinking parties to drink deeply and frequently.' Originally, the Greek word was used of a nighttime party, parading through the streets with drinking and singing honoring the god, Bacchus. Eventually though, it simply came to refer to drinking parties that go into the night, those often accompanied by other sins including sexual ones.

In our culture, carousing or drinking parties typically happen at bars, clubs, raves on college campuses, and sometimes even in private homes. By the way, this sin is listed in Galatians 5, as one of the deeds of the flesh. It's paired with the word drunkenness. That simply means to be under the influence of a substance, either alcohol or drugs; it also is listed as one of the deeds of the flesh in Galatians, chapter 5. It's strictly forbidden for us as believers. In Ephesians 5:18, Paul says, "…do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit." He said, "Listen, don't be under the influence of anything but the Holy Spirit."

By the way, let me just say that it's my observation that people, Christian people, who drink too much often don't think of themselves as being guilty of drunkenness. So, how can you know if your drinking has become drunkenness? This is why I often say to people, "Listen, if you are legally under the influence in the state of Texas, then it's safe to say you are under the influence in the sight of God." It couldn't be plainer than that. So, understand that it's perfectly fine, it's perfectly legitimate for Christians to have alcohol, to have a glass of wine with a meal, we're going to get to Romans 14, in September. We're going to study the fact that that's an issue of conscience, along with a number of other things. But what you're not permitted is to come under the influence of that substance so that in the state of Texas, you wouldn't be able to drive your motor vehicle. To do so is really to break God's Law. 1 Peter, chapter 4, verse 3 says, "…the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lust, drunkenness, carousing (drinking parties), and abominable idolatries." Paul says, "Put them off, lay them aside."

There's a second pair here and it's sexual promiscuity and sensuality. These are sexual sins and reveal a lack of self-control with sex. Verse 13, "…not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality." The Greek word 'sexual promiscuity' originally just meant a bed like the bed you sleep in. Then it came to speak of legitimate sexual intercourse in marriage, and then sinful sexual relationships as it does here. The word 'sensuality' refers to 'shameless sexual lust, to sheer self-indulgence.' It's when a person has become so overcome by sexual sin that he becomes a slave to it. It's such a lack of sexual restraint that it can even at times be beyond the bounds of what's socially acceptable, this word implies. Again, this is listed in Galatians, chapter 5, verse 19. In Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 19, Paul says, "(Pagan unbelievers) have given themselves over to sensuality (There's our word.) for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness," meaning they can't get enough. They can't satisfy their sexual appetite and they just keep indulging in more and more.

A third group of sins that Paul addresses here is strife and jealousy. These are relational sins; they describe a lack of self-control in relationships. Notice he says, "…not in strife and jealousy." Now, we don't use the word strife; you've probably never thought of yourself as being guilty of strife, you've never used that word of somebody else's sin. What does strife mean? It simply means 'to engage in arguments and quarrels.' In fact, it's translated that way in 1 Corinthians, chapter 1, verse 11, as "quarrels."

Now this is a shock, this is a powerful reminder to us because many of us in this room, we look at the first two sets of sins and congratulate ourselves on how holy we are because we don't commit those. But Paul groups arguing and quarreling with other sins of the flesh. He adds jealousy. Here, the negative concept of this word refers to 'intense negative feelings because of the achievement or success of others,' intense negative feeling because of the achievement or success of others.

Do you see what Paul does with this third set? Listen to Lloyd-Jones, "Into exactly the same category as carousing and sexual sins, Paul puts envying, strife, backbiting, causing division, quarreling, standing up for your rights. We must not introduce an artificial distinction between sins of the body and sins of the mind." Paul says we must fight these six sins, but these are only representative, we must fight all the deeds of the flesh in the same way.

In verse 12, Paul told us we are to lay aside like a piece of clothing that no longer fits us, the deeds of darkness. But, we're not only to fight the sinful behaviors and patterns, we must also fight our sins' causes; our sins' causes. Have you ever thought about this? What causes me to sin? You see, the way the Holy Spirit has structured, verse 13, reminds us that we must not only deal with the fruit of sin but with the root of sin. We must not only deal with specific sinful behaviors, but also with the less obvious sins that feed those sins, that encourage them, and even with the sins of the heart.

So, what are the primary causes of our specific sins? Let me just encourage you to think about this; there are three of them. First of all, other sinful actions sometimes cause our sins. I told you there are three pairs of sins here, grouped together. That illustrates that one sin, tolerated, can lead to other sins. I mean, look at the first pair, drunkenness. Here Paul reminds us that drunkenness can often lead to carousing, to drinking parties, and all that goes with that. We could also add, from other places in Scripture, that being drunk or being high, lowers your self-control and often leads to sexual sins, to depression, outbursts of anger, various sins of speech, physical abuse at times, and even in some cases to vehicular manslaughter. So, one sin gives birth to other sins, they come together.

So, when we seek to fight our sins, we have to ask ourselves this question, "Is there any other sin in my life that's feeding that sin?" And to make spiritual progress, we have to fight those facilitating sins. I've experienced this in trying to help someone, for example, who is struggling with intemperate anger in their marriage. It comes to light that they get angry when they're drinking, and I say, "Look, if you want to deal with the sin of verbal anger and sins of speech, you've got to deal with the facilitating sin of the drink. And many will, but sometimes I'll have people say to me, "Well, you know, I can still, I can still do that. I'll just deal with my anger." It's like, no, you have to deal with facilitating sin, you've got to deal with what sin is feeding the other one.

A second cause of our sins is sinful patterns of thinking. In verse 13, Paul links jealousy, which happens in the heart, with quarrels. That's because jealousy leads to strife. In fact, stepping back and looking at it larger, sins of thought are behind sins of behavior.

There's a third source of our sins and it's our own lusts. Notice in verse 14, it speaks of "…the flesh in regard to its lusts." That should bring to mind another passage, James, chapter 1, verse 14, which says, "…each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust." The word 'lust' there is not a sexual word; it could be translated as 'cravings;' we're enticed by our cravings. You see, the primary characteristic of our flesh is these corrupt longings, passions, or cravings. 1 Peter 2:11, calls them, "fleshly cravings." These cravings or desires are at the root of every sinful act. For example, in James, chapter 4, verse 2, James writes, "You lust (You crave.) and (you don't) have; so you commit murder." Where does murder come from? Sometimes it comes because I want what you have and I can't have it, so I'm going to kill you to get it. In 1 Timothy 6, Paul says the love of money leads to all kinds of different sins.

So, folks, we have to deal with our sins at all three levels. Let me ask you, "What are your primary sinful struggles, primary sinful actions?" Well, you need to then ask yourself, "What are other sinful actions that encourage or create an environment that leads to them? What are the patterns of thinking that lie behind the outward acts?" And then ultimately you have to ask, "What are the sinful desires or cravings that lie back of all of these?" Is this how you're addressing your sin?

There's a fourth practical instruction for battling your flesh. It's, expend maximum effort, but depend entirely on the Lord to change you by His Spirit; expend maximum effort, but depend entirely on the Lord to change you by His Spirit. Both halves of that are so important. You have to be all in to fighting your flesh, to seeking to obey what God has said to putting off, to being renewed in your mind, letting the Scripture change your thinking, and to putting on. Expend maximum effort, but as you expend that effort, depend entirely on the Lord to change you by His Spirit.

Look at verse 14, "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ." There have been various explanations for this expression. For example, some have said that it means 'to put on the character or virtues of Jesus Christ.' Others have said, "No, it means to follow Jesus as Lord." Others have said, "No, it means to live in a spirit of dependence on Christ." And by the way, all of those are true, aren't they? The question is, what does Paul intend here? I think the third option best fits the context. I think he's saying, "Put on Christ in the sense of live in complete and utter dependence on Him."

I'm in good company. John Calvin writes, "To put on Christ means here to be on every side fortified by the power of His Spirit and be thereby prepared to discharge all the duties of holiness." How do you live like this? It's Galatians 2:20, isn't it? Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." I'm a new person, so how do I live this new life that I have? "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." I expend maximum effort; but in my effort, I depend solely on Christ. My faith is in Him to do for me what I cannot do for myself.

Jerry Bridges, in "The Gospel For Real Life," writes this:

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 Him.

Folks, listen carefully, real change, real sanctification is accomplished solely by the Spirit of Christ that dwells within us. In John 15:5, Jesus said. "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit (And then listen to what he adds.) for apart from Me, you can do nothing." You see the connection? Spiritual fruit doesn't happen apart from Christ. There's going to be no spiritual progress in your life apart from a spirit of dependence on Christ Himself. We must never depend on our own efforts or even on the means of grace that have been given to us; use them yes, expend maximum effort, yes, but our reliance must be on the Spirit of Christ in us.

What is the primary way that we express that dependence on Christ and the Spirit in our struggle with sin? It's through prayer; it's through prayer. You see, Jesus taught us to pray faithfully for our own sanctification as well as for that of others. Matthew 6:13, the last petition in The Lord's Prayer, "…do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil."

I said last week that some people take the approach to sanctification that all they need to do is pray, it's like, "Lord deliver me. Why haven't you done anything yet," and they do nothing? That's not the path! The path is to expend maximum effort in obeying what you have been told to do, pursuing obedience by putting off, being renewed and putting on. And then, in the process of that, to depend entirely on Christ and His Spirit to produce that change in you.

How does Christ accomplish this change within us? By His Word! John 17:17, Christ prays, "Sanctify them (Father) in the truth; Your word is truth." You're never going to make any progress in your Christian life apart from the Word.

And secondly, He does it by His Spirit. Romans 8:13, "… by the Spirit … (put) to death the deeds of the body. 2 Corinthians 3:18, "…we…are being transformed into the …image (of Christ) …from the Lord, the Spirit." Galatians 5:16, "…walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." So expend maximum effort but do so constantly and solely, relying on Christ through His Word and His Spirit to produce the change in you.

There's a fifth and final instruction for this battle with our flesh. It's don't feed your flesh, don't feed your flesh. Verse 14, "…and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts." The word 'provision' means just that, to provide for, to exercise foresight in order to provide for, to be concerned about. Paul says not only are we not to commit the deeds of the flesh, we're not even to think about how to do so. Don't make plans to provide for your flesh. I love the way Foreman puts it in his commentary, he says, "Do not plan for sin; give it no welcome, offer it no opportunity, kick the sin off your doorstep, and you won't have it in the house."

How does this work practically? I know that there are a lot of men and some women in our church who struggle with the sin of pornography if the percentages hold true. Let me just say to you, "Don't tell me you're serious about dealing with the sin of pornography if you're not taking active steps to make it difficult for you to sin. If you're not doing that, you're making provision for your flesh in regard to its lust. Don't tell me that you're serious about dealing with the sin of anger if you do everything to remind yourself of the respect you deserve; and when other people don't treat you without respect, you then lash out in anger." If you spend your time thinking about, "I deserve to be treated better than this," what do you expect? If you read only incendiary blogs and news articles and that's where you spend your time and it feeds your anger, then don't tell me you're serious about dealing with the anger in your life. Or, don't tell me you're serious about dealing with the sins of worry, anxiety, or fear if you're constantly allowing your mind to think about and dwell on the things that stoke those emotions. "Make no provision for your flesh in regard to its cravings." Make it hard to sin, structure your life so that it's not easy for you to sin in the ways you're tempted. Those are five very practical instructions for battling your flesh.

Now, this text has a number of crucial implications for how we live as Christians. I'm not going to dwell on them; I'm going to give you the list, they will be available on the website and you can think and meditate about them later, but let me just give you the list to think about.

Here are the implications that just jump out of this text to me. Number one, those who continually practice the sins of the flesh without repentance are unbelievers. Listen to Galatians 5:21, again, "…I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things (That is those who are characterized by, who live in an ongoing, unrepentant, unbroken pattern of these sins.) will not inherit the kingdom of God."

Listen, don't kid yourself, don't point back to some prayer you prayed when you were a kid, or some mile you walked, or some commitment you made at camp. If you are characterized by and dominated by deeds of the darkness, deeds of the flesh, then you are not in Jesus Christ, and you need to come to the light and ask Him to change you, to transfer you from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son.

Secondly, righteous behavior, words, and thoughts are never the cause of salvation, but always the result of salvation, never the cause, always the result; the two go together.

Number three, the New Testament never divorces behavior from doctrine, or practice from our position. A lot of people say, "Well you know, Tom, can we just skip to the practical stuff and do we really have to talk about all this doctrine."

Nothing could be more practical and this is number four, Christian living is always grounded on understanding our new position in Christ. It's only as you get that that you can begin to make progress.

Number five, you still have the flesh and you will have to actively fight it the rest of your life. You know, I don't think there's any idea more destructive to Christian living than the idea that you're going to somehow reach a plateau of victory where you don't battle your flesh. The truth is, and this is actually important for you to understand, you will spend every moment of your life on this planet battling your flesh, foot by bloody foot; the good news is you can make progress here, and the really good news is someday Christ will transform you into His own character. But get used to it, this is a war and it will be a war your whole life!

Number six, you must fight the flesh at three levels: sinful deeds, the causes of those deeds, and the cravings, the lusts that lie behind it all.

Number seven, you must put off that which is sinful and put on the virtues that reflect the character of Christ.

Number eight, you must be careful not to feed your flesh.

And number nine, I think this is really the most important of all, if you forget everything else I've said, don't forget this, you must expend maximum effort, but rely entirely upon Christ by His Spirit to change you by the working of His Word and His Spirit. This is how you battle your flesh. May God make us all warriors to that end.

Let's pray together. Father, forgive us, forgive us for having all of these resources at our disposal and not using them, not taking advantage of them. Forgive us for being trapped by our flesh and blaming you as though you somehow had failed us. Father, help us simply to step out in obedience, to do what you told us to do to fight our flesh. But help us to do so never trusting ourselves in our own strength, but solely trusting your Son to work in us by His Word and His Spirit to produce this change in us.

Lord, thank you that in this life we can see progress, we can gain ground in the battle with the flesh, and thank you that, someday, either when we pass into His presence or He comes for us, our Lord will transform us so that our characters will be just as pure and holy and spotless as His own. Until that day, help us to fight.

I pray for those here today who are characterized by the deeds of darkness, who live in an unrepentant, ongoing pattern of such sin. Lord, strip away their blinders, strip away their excuses, strip away their false profession of faith, and help them to see the reality that they are eternally lost unless they throw themselves on your mercy in Jesus Christ, and may they do so even today, we pray in His name, Amen.

Romans