Special guest Dr. John Piper preaches on Romans 8:13 (“If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live”), or as John Owen put it, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” How do you kill sin by the Spirit (and thus show that you are saved and heaven bound)? Killing sin by the Spirit means setting your mind on the things of the Spirit (that is, the Word of God), which means setting your mind with faith on the promises bought by the blood of Jesus. Dr. Piper closes by applying that process practically to some sample sins that must be killed: lying and stealing (specifically when filing taxes), lust and pornography, and anger.
13 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.
NOTE: This is an edited transcript of the sermon audio, not a manuscript written by Pastor John Piper.
13 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.
Howdy Mars Hill. Pastor Mark here really excited to introduce you to Dr. John Piper. He is preaching for me today, so I get the great honor of just going to church with my family and learn about Jesus from the Bible through my friend. If you are familiar with Dr. Piper, you realize what a great honor it is to have him stay over after lecturing at Re:Train for us and joining us to preach on a Sunday. If you’re not familiar with Dr. Piper, he is one of the leading pastoral theologians in the world. He’s had a life-long fruitful ministry, in large part, at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He also runs Desiring God and you should go there, if you’ve not visited already, to get some amazing resources to help you learn the Bible. He is the author of dozens and dozens and dozens of books. He is an inspiration to a whole generation of young complementarian Reformed Bible teachers, and he is a man who personally means the world to me. He’s spoken into my life when I’ve needed it, so that I could make some changes and learn some hard lessons, and by the grace of God, continue to be more and more like Jesus as he keeps working on me. So I want to sincerely and publicly thank Dr. Piper for joining us, and I want to now introduce you to my good friend. And I know you’re gonna enjoy him, and I can’t wait to hear what he has to say.
Thank you, Mark, and thank you all for being here. I’d like to pray for us as we get into God’s Word.
Father, I know that none of us can be sure that we will live for the rest of this service. Our heart may stop beating and we may be done on this earth and then we go either to heaven or to hell. And so weighty things are at stake and they are very urgent, because only you number our days and we don’t know the number. I pray that there would be a sense of urgency here, and I pray that your Word would be faithfully opened and illumined. You’d give me the gift of exultation and exaltation so that the truth is seen for what it really is in your Word, and by your Spirit, felt according to its true worth. Guard us from the evil one. I pray that he would be kept at bay and that his deceiving and destructive effects would be eliminated in this room and that the Holy Spirit in the light of Christ would be strong and manifest in this place. So help me now as I undertake to open this passage from Romans. I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did. Sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, God condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For those who walk according to the Spirit, set their minds on the things of the Spirit; and those who walk according to the flesh, set their minds on the things of the flesh. The mind that is set on the Spirit is life and peace; and the mind that is set on the flesh is death, because the mind of the flesh is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you, you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you. Anyone who doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ, does not belong to him. But if the Spirit of Christ is in you, though your bodies are dead because of sin, your Spirit is alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies. Therefore, you are debtors not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die. But if by the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live.”
And that’s the verse we’ll focus on, that one: “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you,” that’s from John Owen, but he took it from Romans 8:13. “If you live according to the flesh you will die but if by the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the flesh or the deeds of the body, you will live.” Now, before we unpack that verse, verse 13, that’s all we’re gonna look at, let me set it in a wider context for you. It’s the question about how Christianity works. That is, once you become a follower of Jesus, once you lay down the weapons of hostility and rebellion and insubordination and swear allegiance to King Jesus and get behind him and count him as your Savior and your Lord and your treasure and your friend, what does life look like? What does it feel like? How does it work?
Now, to set the stage, let me read you a quote from William Wilberforce from the 18th, 19th century, he moved over those two centuries. And you remember he was an evangelical politician in Britain who under God was most responsible for the overcoming of the slave trade. And he wrote one book in his life, just one, Practical Christianity. And I wish every politician who’s a Christian could write a book like this because it showed that for Wilberforce, he knew that every effort to change anything in the world had to be rooted in and driven by right doctrine, and he knew what doctrines were right at the heart of life and therefore change.
Let me read you a sentence that is very, very powerful and it poses the question that I’m trying to answer. It goes like this, “Christianity is a scheme,” by that he means a divine plan, “For justifying the ungodly by Christ’s dying for them when yet sinners.” Secondly, “A scheme for reconciling us to God when enemies.” Thirdly, “For making the fruits of holiness the effects, not the cause, of our being justified and reconciled.” Now that’s complicated. Let me say it again. He said three things. Number one: Christianity is God’s acting—planning and acting in history through Jesus so that because of Christ’s work, when he died and rose, God could justify the ungodly; meaning declare them to be just, declare them to be righteous, declare them to be perfect, because of their union with Christ by faith alone so that Christ’s righteousness becomes their righteousness by imputation. That’s the first thing he said. Justification of the ungodly.
Second: He said God reconciled us to himself while we were enemies. This is all Romans. Romans 4, Romans 5. Reconciled us while we were enemies. So justified while ungodly, reconciled while enemies, because of the work of Christ, not our work. And the third thing he said flows from those two things, and this is what drove him. As a politician who wanted to change the world, he wondered, “How do I do that so that my fruits of holiness are not the causes of my justification and the causes of my reconciliation with God, but the effects of them?” And he said, “Because God justifies the ungodly and because God reconciles enemies, it’s impossible to think that my holiness could be the cause of my justification, since I was ungodly when it happened, and the cause of my reconciliation because I was an enemy when it happened.” This is the heart of Christianity.
We become Christians by embracing Christ, receiving Christ, trusting in Christ, treasuring Christ. And in that faith, we are united to Christ and his death becomes our death so that our punishment is over. And his righteousness, perfection becomes our perfection because we’re united now with him. And his sonship with Father becomes our sonship with the Father. In him we’re adopted into the Father’s family, and that happens in an instant by faith alone, that union with Christ. And then what’s left? A life. But not a life that makes God on my side, but flows from the fact he put himself on my side. Not that it makes me justified, but it’s the effect of justification. Not that it makes me reconciled, but it’s the fruit of reconciliation.
That’s a magnificent statement of the gospel from Romans through Wilberforce. And it’s that last third observation that I want so much to live and understand. How can my life, my doing, be fruit and not root? The fruit of the tree of justification and not the root of justification? The fruit of God being on my side rather than the root of making God be on my side? How can it be the fruit of the Holy Spirit so that I’m acting in the power of another and not in my own power? This is a great mystery. Let me give you two or three verses before we get to Romans 8:13 to make clear the problem, the challenge.
One is 1 Peter 4:11. Now, if you were to visit our church and come down to the prayer room ten minutes before the service is to start, one of the most common prayers you would hear any of us pray, especially me, as I’m going up to worship, preach, would be this verse. And it goes like this, “Let him who serves, serve in the strength that God supplies so that in everything God may get the glory through Jesus Christ to whom belongs the dominion forever.” Let him who serves… “I’m gonna preach. I’m gonna serve my people.” Do it in the strength that God supplies so that when I’m done, God will get the glory. How does that happen? What does that feel like? I mean, right now I’m doing, I’m supposed to be doing that, right? I’m supposed to be serving you in the strength that God is supplying in such a way that when I’m done, God will be magnified, not me. That’s the miracle of the Christian life, that’s not just for pastors, that’s for everybody. Live your life in the power that God supplies so that at the end of the day, you’re not the centerpiece, God is the centerpiece of the people that have been watching you. This is just a huge challenge.
Here’s another verse to put it another way. 1 Corinthians 15:10, “By the grace of God I am what I am, but his grace toward me was not in vain. But I worked harder than any of them,” harder than any of the other apostles, Paul worked. “I worked harder than any of them, nevertheless it was not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” Do you know how to do that? Can you do that? Is that the way you live your life? “I worked. I’m preaching, but I’m not. Grace is preaching.” Really? This is the mystery, this is the supernatural mystery of the Christian life. Many of you grew up in churches where there wasn’t the slightest notion that the Christian life was a miracle. It was a supernatural mystery of another power, grace and the Spirit, so governing, so ruling, so working supernaturally that what we were doing, we were not doing, God was doing.
There’s one more verse, Philippians 2:12, “Work out your salvation,” you, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for God is the one who is at work in you to will and to work his good pleasure.” So there it is. This verse is really important in this regard: “If you live according to the flesh,” Romans 8:13, “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.” So there it is again. Go ahead, you kill sin, kill it! Make war on your sin! When it attempts to take your hand and make your hand sin, your tongue, kill it by the Spirit.
Now, my prayer for this sermon is that that mystery will be doable for you by the time we’re done. You’ll be able to walk out of here and at least know the way the Bible instructs you to go about that, that mystery, that miracle. How do I do that? What does it mean to kill sin by the Spirit? I mean you tell me to kill it, it’s me killing it. The Spirit’s not a weapon, he’s God. I don’t wield the Spirit. He’s not in my hand. I’m in his hand. So this text is just full of wonders.
So I’m gonna ask five questions of this text. Number one. I’ll give you the questions, then we’ll take them one at a time. Number one: What do die and live refer to? If you live by the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. What’s this dying and living? Number two: Does this mean you can lose your salvation? Well, that question may not seem to follow for you yet but it will in a minute. Number three: What are the deeds of the body? What’s it referring to? Number four: What does killing them refer to? The most important question of all, the one I want to linger on most is, how do you do it by the Spirit? Those are my five questions.
Number one: What do die and live refer to? 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. So going with the flesh, you die. Going with the Spirit and killing sin, you live. And my answer is, it refers to eternal dying and eternal living, heaven and hell. And the reason I think that is, number one: If it meant ordinary death, it wouldn’t work because everybody dies whether they do this or not. Believers die. Unbelievers die. Hindus die. Buddhists die. Christians die. Jews die. Muslims die. Everybody dies, and so to say, “If you do this you’ll die,” that won’t work. It must be die eternally, live eternally.
And the second reason I think that is is because the parallel use of the phrases is in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” So death is contrasted there with eternal life and so it clearly means eternal death and that’s the same meaning that they have here.
So my answer to the first question is: What does death and life referred to? I’ll paraphrase it: If you live according to the flesh, you will go to hell. And if by the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will go to heaven and have eternal life. That’s the meaning of the verse.
And now maybe you understand why question number two matters. Does that mean, since he’s addressing the church in Rome, that I could lose my salvation? I presume most of you here are believers and therefore saved, justified, heaven bound. And Paul would look you right in the eye and say, “If you live according to the flesh, you will go to hell. And if you, by the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the body, you will go to heaven.” Which might, to some, seem to imply, “Well, are you telling us then that we could lose our salvation?” And my answer to that question is no, that’s not what he’s telling you.
And my first reason for saying that is chapter 8:30. So if you’re looking at your Bible with me, you can drop your eyes down further in Romans 8 to verses 29 and 30, which are unbelievably important in understanding your salvation. “Those whom he foreknew,” we’re back at 29, “Those whom he foreknew he predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. And those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and those whom he justified, he also glorified.” Now notice that last pair, what is glorification? Those who are justified are glorified. Glorification is final salvation. It’s at the end of the age, all my sin is taken away. My old body is replaced with the new resurrection body. I shine like the Son in the kingdom of my Father and I live forevermore with exquisite joy at God’s right hand. That’s glorification.
And Paul says, those whom he justified, he glorified. Period. No dropouts, none. This chain, this golden chain in verses 29 and 30 of Romans 8 is solid and unbreakable. Those he foreknew, he predestined. Those whom we predestined, he called. Those whom he called, he justified. Those whom he justified, he glorified. Nobody drops out. There’s not a justified person in this room who will not be in heaven with God. There’s not a justified person in this room who by faith he’s united to Christ and has Christ’s righteousness imputed to you who will fail to persevere to the end and have eternal life. None, nobody drops out. Salvation is not something that comes and goes. Eternal life is not partly eternal. If you have it, you have it forever.
Well, then, what does he mean by saying to the Roman church, if you live according to the flesh, you will go to hell? He means you’ll go to hell if you do. So don’t. And the solution lies in Wilberforce’s statement. Remember he said Christianity is getting right with God, or being justified, while we’re ungodly by faith alone in Christ who is my righteousness. It’s counted as mine the very instant I believe. I’m reconciled to God while I’m an enemy to faith in Christ so that now he adopts me into his family and I’m home, like the song said that we sang. And then he drew this conclusion: Therefore all the requirements of the New Testament, of Christians, can’t be the cause of our justification. They can’t be the cause of God being on your side. You are able to do them because God is on your side. You’re able to do them because you are justified. You’re able to do them because you are reconciled. They are the effects of justification and reconciliation so the way to understand Romans 8:13 when it says, “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” is that putting to death the deeds of the body doesn’t make you saved, it shows you are saved. It’s the confirmation or the evidence that you are his. And that confirmation and that evidence will be there because you’re new. You were brought to Christ. You’re united with him. When you’re united with him, you’re disunited from sin and its power. When you make peace with God, you make war on sin. The evidence of being justified is that you make war on sin.
When you become a Christian, you don’t become perfect. When you become a Christian, it doesn’t mean you win every battle in the war, but if there’s no war… you’re not saved. If you are totally at peace with sin, at home with sin, relaxing in the arms of the pleasures of sin and there’s no war in your soul against it, there’s no reason you should think you’re saved. You don’t lose your salvation, but you do daily experience confirmations that you’re saved. The Holy Spirit is in you, Christ is in you, the Word is in you. They are not powerless. So the answer to that question is no, you cannot lose your salvation. And Paul is not saying that when he says those who live according to the flesh will die and those who put to death the deeds of the body will live. He’s saying you will confirm that you are Christ’s. You will confirm that you’re justified. You will confirm that you are reconciled. You’ll confirm that you’re united to Christ. You’ll confirm that the Holy Spirit is within you by, by the Spirit putting to death the deeds of the body.
Question number three: What are the deeds of the body? The reason Paul doesn’t need to explain this here is because he explained it back in chapter 6. So I’m gonna go back to chapter 6 and point to three examples that show you what he means by put to death the deeds of the body or what are the deeds of the body. Here’s the first example, verse 13 of chapter 6. “Do not present your members,” that is your bodies, your arms and legs and tongue. “Do not present your members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” So the deeds of the body are the deeds that we are about to do with our members when sin is threatening to take control of them and use them for its ugly purposes. Kill them before they happen, these deeds.
Here’s another verse, verse 12. “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its lusts.” So there sin is pictured like a king reigning. Don’t let it reign over your members. Don’t let it reign. So a deed of the body that you are to kill is any deed that would be the reigning of sin taking your members and making them do sins.
Third illustration, verse 6, “Our old self was crucified with him in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” Now the reason I read that verse is to make sure you hear the way Paul conceives of the task of killing the deeds of the body. “Our old self was crucified with him in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer—” So you’ve already died. It says so: “Our old self was crucified.” So what happens when you put your faith in Jesus is that in that instant, you are united to Christ, which means that what’s true for him is true for you and that means his death became your death. That’s why the Bible talks about you as dead. I am crucified with Christ because when I united with Christ, his crucifixion became my crucifixion, which means I’ve already been punished for my sins at the cross in Christ.
So there’s a profound sense in which you’re a walking dead man and a walking dead woman so that when the Bible tells you to kill the deeds of the body, it’s done and you are bringing into experiential reality what is true of you in Christ. There’s a great old hymn by Charles Wesley that has this line in it. I’ll stop and you finish it if you know it. He breaks the power of, what? Canceled sin. That’s very good. He breaks the power of sin that’s already canceled. In fact, I would say the only sin you can make any progress in defeating is forgiven sin. If you try to turn your behavior of making war on sin the basis of the forgiveness of that sin, total defeat. And you’ve got Christianity all backwards again.
Our sins in union with Christ are canceled because they were punished on the cross. It’s those sins and precisely those sins that we are called upon to kill, they’re already dead. They’re already canceled. Now live it, live it out, become what you are. Confirm your deadness in Christ. Confirm your life in the Spirit. These sins are canceled. They cannot condemn you, they do not have dominion over you, kill them now. So the deeds of the body are the deeds that we’re about to do because sin is about to take our members and use them against our nature, against who we really are.
Fourth question: What does putting them to death refer to? Put the deeds of the body to death. Put deeds of the body to death. What does that refer to? Now, what your hands do, where your feet take you, what words and ugly things your tongue might say is not the beginning of sin. Jesus said, “The things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart; and those defile a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, and murders, and adulteries, and fornications, and thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things that defile a man. But to eat with unwashed hands doesn’t defile a man.” You see what he’s saying?
All the stuff that’s visible in regard to sin, came from somewhere, it came out of the heart. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. You can know a tree by its fruit and therefore if you’re gonna kill this, if you’re gonna kill the fruit before it comes out on the limb, cut it off, kill it. Kill the thing in here. Go at the root.
Look at Romans 8:7 or listen. “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit itself to the law of God; for it is not able to do so.” So now we know what the problem with the flesh is. Flesh is not equal in Paul to skin. He says here, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God.” The flesh is that old nature that doesn’t like God. It doesn’t like his authority. It doesn’t like his holiness. It doesn’t like his power and it wants him out of our lives because we want to do our own thing and therefore we are insubordinate to God and we cannot submit to God’s law. That’s what it means to be in the grip of the flesh and therefore, if you’re gonna kill the works of the flesh, you’ve gotta kill that, all right? It’s the ever-tempting rise of the old nature to “I don’t want God. I don’t like God. I want this pleasure over here, sin over here. I don’t want God telling me what to do and I don’t want to have him as my treasure. I want money as my treasure or sex as my treasure or power as my treasure or my family as my treasure or my health as my treasure.” That’s gotta be killed.
So it isn’t so much that it’s the little outcomes out here, the stuff that these hands do or these feet do or this tongue does, it’s the war, the killing of the deed happens before the deed happens, because the deed comes from somewhere.
That’s what has to be dealt with, which leads us now to the last question. How do you put to death the deeds of the body and thus confirm that you’re heaven bound by the Spirit? What is that? Let me give you three steps that I see in Scripture and then close with a few illustrations, very practically of how it works in regard to lying and stealing and anger and lust.
Step number one comes from Romans 8:5–6. Those who are according to the flesh, “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds,” now this is helpful because it’s telling me that to do something by the Spirit or by the flesh is gonna involve where I set my mind. So “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds “on the things of the flesh, those who are according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” Okay now, I need to know what that is. So step number one is: Put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit would involve setting my mind on the things of the Spirit. So at that moment of temptation, I’ve got some war to do. I got some battle to do. What is it? Step number one: I’m gonna set my mind somewhere. I’m gonna put my mind somewhere. I can put it right on the pleasures of sin and keep it right there and fixate until it conquers me or I can put my mind somewhere else. And here it says put it on the things of the Spirit.
So I need to know what’s that. That phrase, “things of the Spirit” is used only one other place in all the New Testament. And I’ll read it to you from 1 Corinthians 2:13–14. It goes like this, Paul is talking about his role as an apostle and how God has called him to be an authoritative spokesman in the church as a foundation for the church to speak the truth as an apostle, and the words that God inspires him with by the Spirit, he calls the things of the Spirit. Let me read it to you. “Which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit.” That’s the exact phrase from Romans 8, and it refers to Paul’s words inspired by God. So now here’s the second step: I want to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit. What does that involve? It involves taking your mind and setting it on the things of the Spirit. What are the things of the Spirit? They are the Word, the authoritative revelation of God’s apostles, the gospel, and all the whole council of God surrounding and protecting the gospel as it’s being preached to the church. Fix your mind there at a moment of temptation. That’s step number two.
Now before I give you step three, maybe for some of you that has triggered what it triggered for me. When I saw that putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit is now being explained in terms of setting my mind on the words of God through the apostles, there was a trigger. Ephesians 6, the armor of God that enables me to make war has one offensive weapon in it with which to kill people or sin. What is it? It’s the sword. – The sword of what? – The Spirit. – Which is the? – Word of God. And when I saw that I said, I think I’m on the right track here. The sword of the Spirit. So it’s the Spirit. It’s the Spirit. I’m supposed to put to death, I’m supposed to kill sin by the Spirit. And now Ephesians 6 is explaining that the Word, which are the things of the Spirit on which I put my mind, is a sword, and you kill sin with it. And it’s the Word of God which confirms the connection between things of the Spirit and words of God. I think I’m on the right track here.
Now here’s step number three in the process of discovering how to put to death sin by the Spirit. Galatians 3:5, so important in my pilgrimage, understanding how the Spirit works in relation to the Word of God and to faith. So let me read Galatians 3:5. “So then, does he who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you—” And I would include among those miracles, the power to kill the deeds of the body. “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles,” of sin-killing power, “among you, does he do it by works of the law?” The answer’s no. “Or by hearing with faith?” And the answer’s yes. Why didn’t he just say, “Does it work by works of the law? “No. But by faith.” He didn’t say that. That’d be true. He said “By hearing with faith” because hearing implies, what? A word. Something’s been spoken and for the Spirit to move in your life, you listen to it, you hear it, you set your mind on it. And here now it adds: you set your mind on it with faith, which means you embrace the Word, you embrace what the apostles are speaking to you, you embrace the gospel, you embrace the promises that were bought by the gospel. And in embracing them and treasuring them, the Spirit moves and kills sin.
Let me say a word by way of summary and then close with the illustrations. I’m assuming, and I would make a case if I had the time, that at the center of the Word of God, at the center of the things of the Spirit, at the center of the sword that we wield to kill the devil and to kill sin, at the center is the gospel of the death of Christ for my sin, the resurrection to confirm the sufficiency of the death, and the good news of every blessing that that death secured for me. Every blessing in the heavenly places was bought by Jesus. Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not with him freely give us all things?” Everything you need was bought by Jesus. God who gave his Son, having done the hardest thing, will most certainly do this, namely, fulfill every promise on your behalf.
Or as it says in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “All the promises of God are yes in Christ,” yes in Christ, meaning that when Christ died and you were united to him by faith, every single promise made to God’s people is yours secured by the blood of Jesus. Every one of them. You are a child of Abraham, therefore every promise made to Israel is yours. You’re a child of God. You will inherit the world. You’ll inherit the universe. It is all yours. Everything will work together for your good without exception.
Now that is the word that you set your mind on in the moment of temptation. How does that work? I’ll give you the illustrations and see whether or not that makes it clear for you.
Illustration number one: lying and stealing. I’m taking just some sample deeds of the body that you can kill, you must kill and you kill it by the Spirit, meaning by setting your mind on the things of the Spirit, meaning by setting your mind on the Word, meaning by setting your minds with faith upon the promises bought by the blood of Jesus.
In six weeks, all of you must turn in your income tax forms, and this is a golden opportunity to lie. If you’re out to lie, good place to lie. I’m a pastor, pastors do some weddings, they do some funerals, they give little talks here and there, and generally we’re given honorariums, couple hundred dollars for a wedding, $200 or $300 as a token at a funeral, and Uncle Sam has made it very clear that’s income. Nobody knows, except me and the person who handed me that check, that I got this income. Uncle Sam will never audit me because I don’t report a hundred dollars. Home free. And Paul says kill that. Put that deed to death as this hand gets ready to sign on, probably for me midnight on the 14th, sign this thing. That act right there is a lie, it’s a sin, kill it.
Now, how? By taking my mind, as the desire for just a few more dollars, what three? A few more dollars, and set that mind that is so enamored by what those little dollars could buy and set it on the promises of God. Secured for me at the cost of his Son’s blood, promises like this. Now the way to fight this is take specific promises that relate to the issue at hand, all right? There are hundreds of promises in the Bible. They relate to particular sins and they’re meant to kill those sins.
So, for example, Philippians 4:19, “My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” So God says to me at that moment, “Do you believe that? Do you believe that I’m for you? I’ll take care of you, you’re my child. I’m gonna make you inherit the earth someday. I’m gonna meet every need that you have. You don’t need to lie about this hundred dollars, or don’t you believe me?” This is a faith issue. This is a gospel faith issue. Did Jesus purchase for you the promise, God is able to make all grace abound to you so that you will have all sufficiency in all things at all times so that you may abound in every good work. “Do you believe me, my child, or don’t you believe me and then lie?”
Or Jesus rises up in front of us and he says, “Don’t you remember what I said? Don’t be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or drink. Don’t be anxious about your body, what you should wear. Look at the birds, look at the lilies. I’m for you. Seek the kingdom first. All these things are gonna be added to you. Everything you need, I’m gonna supply, or don’t you believe that I died to secure this for you as a sinner?” That’s how you put to death the deed of lying, the deed of stealing. You think, you set your mind on the things of the Spirit, on the Word of God, on the blood-bought promises of infinite pleasures at God’s right hand.
Illustration number two: pornography, lust. So here’s your hand on the mouse about to go there. Why? ‘Cause it feels good. The lie of Satan and the lie of sin is “Things are gonna go better here. Gonna feel so good, gonna feel good.” And it’s true that it will feel good for a moment, deadly true.
What do you do? It’s kind of the opposite of Nike, just don’t do it! Well, that’s a good start. It’s not the gospel, it’s not the Christian life. By the Spirit, don’t do this. By the Spirit, don’t do this.
So how does the Spirit move here? The Spirit moves by taking our mind and directing it to the things of the Spirit, to the Word of God, to the blood-bought promises. “Blessed are the pure in heart. They’re gonna see God, or don’t you want to see God?” Are you just, “Oh, it’s okay. I don’t need to see God today. I don’t need to see God more clearly, more beautifully, more satisfyingly. I want her, I want her body more than God.” In God’s presence, his fullness of joy at his right hand are pleasures forevermore. You preach that to yourself, praying all the while that the Holy Spirit would open the eyes of your heart to see the superior beauty and satisfaction that comes from a life of holiness and a fellowship with Jesus in all purity when this little short-term titillation is denied me. That’s the way you kill it. It’s a gospel killing, it’s a Spirit killing.
Last illustration: anger. When we do men’s retreats and other kinds of investigations, we find that basically two things men deal with, lust and anger. There are others, of course, but I think anger is more destructive because there’s something about anger—and by anger I mean over time, enough frustrations come into your life; wife frustrations, kid frustrations, ministry frustrations, work frustrations, health frustrations, dream-shattering frustrations; that there just continually builds this, nothing is going right and then people become blameable. “She and he and they didn’t do what they were supposed to do and my life’s not going the way it was supposed to go.” And there’s this deep seething frustration and anger and what happens is it kills everything else. It kills everything, all the other emotions are ruined by it. You become a sullen, dull, dead, withdrawn, easy-to-make-angry man or woman. How do you kill that? Daily. How do you take every one of those frustrations that come up again and again and kill its killing effect?
Now I’ll just give you one passage. You take your mind, you take it off this. We love to seethe with self-justified anger. It just feels so good to feel self-pity. It feels so good to keep reminding yourself of how wrong she was. You gotta take your mind on doing other things. So, “Holy Spirit help me,” and your direct your mind to the things of the Spirit. You direct your mind to the blood-bought promises and work of God on your behalf, now, past, future. And Jesus gave us some great help with regard to anger and unforgiveness and bitterness and he did it in Matthew 18. Remember the parable of the unforgiving servant? I have to go to it over and over. A servant comes to the king and says, owing the king, let’s just choose a number. It’s off the charts in the Bible. Let’s just say a million dollars, it’s more than a million. The servant owes the king a million dollars and the king says, “You’re going to jail until you pay the last penny,” and he knows that means forever. And he says, “Please, I have a wife and children “and I’m real sorry and I just beg for mercy. I have nothing else to beg more, just mercy.” And the king is moved. It’s beautiful, I love God. Don’t you love God? The king is moved and he forgives him. Like, “We won’t count it.” And he walks out of the king’s room and goes home. “We don’t owe anything. We don’t owe anything.”
Or did he feel that way? He should have. What did he feel? Because on his way home, a friend, a fellow slave came up and said, “I know I owe you $10, please, give me just a little time and I’ll pay it back.” He didn’t even ask to have it forgiven. “I’ll pay it back, just give me some time,” and he strangled him. Now at that moment, he’s mad. “You owe me $10 and I’m mad at you! And my madness is gonna be taken out on your throat!”
What in the world? I mean, Jesus told this parable for a reason, like for me, because I’m doing that. I’m doing it with my wife. I’m doing it with my kids. I’m doing it with bus drivers, honkers on the road. I’m just always doing this. What’s wrong with me? My mind is not taken and set on the things of the Spirit, that is on the blood-bought promises of God that my sins have been purchased, they are presently forgiven and all the benefits of that forgiven are mine, though I owed my God a debt a million times greater than my wife ever owed me, or my child ever owed me or you ever owed me or any honkin’ person on the road ever owed me. I’ve just forgotten. I’ve forgotten the glory of forgiveness. I’ve forgotten the horror of my sin. I’ve forgotten the beauty of grace, and in that moment, anger is conquering me because I’m not setting my mind on the things of the Spirit.
So that’s my best shot to help me and you do Romans 8:13. If you live according to the flesh, you’ll die, but if by the Spirit, not by works of the law, but by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Let’s pray.
Father in heaven, words, there they are, words, human words. And oh God, I plead with you more, more than human words, please. I have sought to rely upon you. I have looked away from my own muscles and mind to you and you told me, “Fear not, I will help you. “Be not dismayed for I’m your God. “I’ll help you. I’ll hold you up in my victorious right hand.” And I pray that you now will use these words, our words to perform the miracle of sin killing in these friend’s lives for the glory of the gospel. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
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Note: This sermon transcript has been edited for readability.