Master Sermon List
No Condemnation In Christ Jesus
by Octavius Winslow
"The Believer's Obligation to Mortify Sin"
"Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." Romans 8:12-13
"Therefore, brothers, we have an obligationbut it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live," Romans 8:12-13
"So, dear Christian friends, you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you keep on following it, you will perish. But if through the power of the Holy Spirit you turn from it and its evil deeds, you will live." Romans 8:12-13
After the lucid statement which the Apostle had in earlier verses made of the doctrine of justification, it was but natural and proper that he should proceed to illustrate the close affinity to its cognate truth sanctification. So far from the doctrine of completeness in Christ engendering a spirit of laxity in the believer, it is his aim to show that it was the parent of all true holiness; that instead of weakening the motive of sanctification, it rather strengthens it, binding those who are justified by the most solemn obligation to an entire mortification of all sin.
"Therefore," is the conclusion to which his reasoning brings him, "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh." There are three distinct, yet consecutive points of truth in this passage The solemn obligation of the children of God The duty to which that obligation binds them and The Divine agency by which that duty is discharged.
THE SOLEMN OBLIGATION OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD
"We are debtors." That around a subject so momentous as this no obscurity might gather, tending to misguide the judgment, the Apostle most distinctly and emphatically affirms that the flesh has no valid claim whatever upon the believer; and that, consequently, he is under no obligation to yield compliance with its feigned exactions. We are debtors; but the flesh is not our creditor. What are its demands, that it is incumbent upon us to comply? Do we owe anything to sin, the parent of all our woe? Nothing. To Satan who plotted our temptation and accomplished our downfall? Nothing. To the world ensnaring, deceitful, and ruinous? Nothing. No; to these, the auxiliaries and allies of the flesh, we owe nothing but the deepest hatred, and the most determined opposition.
And yet the saints of God are "debtors." To whom? What debtors are they to the Father, for his electing love, for the covenant of grace, for his unspeakable gift, for having blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus! We but imperfectly estimate the debt of love, gratitude, and service which we owe to him whose mind the Eternal Son came to reveal, whose will he came to do, and whose heart he came to unveil. It was the Father who sent the Son. With him originated the wondrous expedient of our redemption. He it was who laid all our sins on Jesus. It was his sword of justice that smote the Shepherd, while his hand of love and protection was laid upon the little ones.
We have too much supposed that the atonement of Jesus was intended to inspire the mercy, rather than to propitiate the justice of God; to awaken in his heart a love that did not previously exist. Thus we have overlooked the source from where originated our salvation, and have lost sight of the truth, that the mediation of Jesus was not the cause, but rather the effect of God's love to man. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and gave his Son to be a propitiation for our sins." Oh for the Spirit to understand, and for grace to feel, and for love to exemplify, our deep obligation to God for the everlasting love that gave his Son!
Equal debtors are we to the Son. He was the active agent in our redemption. He it was who undertook and accomplished all that our salvation required. He left no path untrodden, no portion of the curse unborne, no sin unatoned, no part of the law uncancelled nothing for us in the matter of our salvation to do, but simply to believe, and be saved. Oh, to raise the eye to him strong in faith, beaming with love, moist with contrition and exclaim, "You have borne my sin, endured my curse, extinguished my hell, secured my heaven. Your spirit was wounded for me; your heart bled for me; your body was bruised for me; for me your soul was stricken for me, a sinner, the chief of sinners. I am your debtor a debtor to your dying love, to your eternal, discriminating mercy.
Surely, an eternity of love, of service, and of praise, can never repay you what I owe you, blessed Jesus." Oh, how deep the obligation we are under to Christ!
And not less indebted are we to the Holy Spirit. What do we not owe him of love and obedience, who awoke the first thrill of life in our soul; who showed to us our guilt, and sealed to us our pardon? What do we not owe him for leading us to Christ; for dwelling in our hearts; for his healing, sanctifying, comforting, and restoring grace; for his influence which no ingratitude has quenched; for his patience which no backsliding has exhausted; for his love which no sin has annihilated? Yes, we are the Spirit's lasting debtors.
We owe him the intellect he has renewed, the heart he has sanctified, the body he inhabits every breath of life he has inspired, and every pulse of love he has awakened. Thus are all real believers debtors to the Triune God. Debtors to the Father's everlasting love, to the Son's redeeming grace, and to the Spirit's quickening mercy. To the flesh we owe nothing but uncompromising hatred; to Jehovah we owe undivided and supreme affection.
Holiness, or the mortification of sin, is the obligation to which this indebtedness binds us. In a previous chapter of this work we explained the import of the phrase, "living after the flesh." We now consider its opposite condition, "mortifying the deeds of the body." It is marvellous how strangely the subject of mortification of sin in the godly has been mystified and misunderstood. Some have resolved it into a mere maceration or mortification of the body. Others have restricted it to the mere excision of outward sins.
While yet others have represented it as consisting in the destruction of sin altogether in the believer. But none of these views convey any correct idea of the mortification spoken of in the passage under consideration. What, then, is it to "mortify the deeds of the body?" True mortification has its foundation in the life of God in the soul. A spiritual, yes, a most spiritual work, it can only spring from a most spiritual principle. It is not a plant indigenous to our fallen nature. It cannot be in the principle of sin to mortify itself . Nature possesses neither the inclination, nor the power, by which so holy an achievement can be accomplished.
A dead faith, a blind zeal, a superstitious devotion, may prompt severe austerities; but to lay the axe close to the root of indwelling evil, to marshal the forces against the principle of sin in the heart thus besieging and carrying the very citadel itself ; to keep the body under, and bring it into subjection, by a daily and a deadly conflict with its innate and desperately depraved propensities is a work transcending the utmost reach of the most severe external austerities. It consists, too, in an annulling of the covenant with sin: "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness" enter into no truce, make no agreement, form no union "but rather reprove them." "Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?"
The resources of sin must be cut off "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof." Whatever tends to, and terminates in, the sinful gratification of the flesh, is to be relinquished, as frustrating the great aim of the Christian in the mortification of the deeds of the body. Mortification is aptly set forth as a crucifixion: "Those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh."
Death by the cross is certain, yet lingering. Our blessed Lord was suspended upon the tree from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon. It was a slow, lingering torture, yet terminating in his giving up the spirit. Similar to this is the death of sin in the believer. It is progressive and protracted, yet certain in the issue. Nail after nail must pierce our corruptions, until the entire body of sin, each member thus transfixed, is crucified and slain.
Let us now contemplate the twofold agency by which the work of mortification is accomplished.
"If you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live." "If YOU." The believer is not a cipher in this work. It is a matter in which he must necessarily possess a deep and personal interest. How many and precious are the considerations that bind him to the duty! His usefulness, his happiness, his sunny hope of heaven, are included in it. The work of the Spirit is not, and never was designed to be, a substitute for the personal work of the believer. His influence, indispensable and sovereign though it is, does not release from human and individual responsibility. "Work out your own salvation," "Keep yourselves in the love of God," "Building up yourselves," are exhortations which emphatically and distinctly recognize the obligation of personal effort and human responsibility.
The reasoning which bids me defer the work of battling with my heart's corruptions, of mortifying the deeds of the body, until the Spirit performs his part, argues an unhealthy Christianity, and betrays a kind of truce with sin, which must on no account for a moment be entertained. As under the law, the father was compelled to hurl the first missile at the profane child, so under the gospel a milder and more beneficent economy though it be the believer is to cast the first stone at his corruptions; he is to take the initiative in the great work of mortifying and slaying the cherished sin. "If you do mortify."
Let us, then, be cautious of merging human responsibility in Divine influence; of exalting the one at the expense of the other; of cloaking the spirit of slothfulness and indolence beneath an apparently jealous regard for the honor of the Holy Spirit. How narrow is the way of truth! How many diverging paths there are, at each turning of which Satan stands, clothed as an angel of light, quoting Scripture with all the aptness and eloquence of an apostle! But God will never release us from the obligation of "striving against sin." "I keep under my body and bring it
into subjection," was Paul's noble declaration.
Is no self effort to be made to escape the gulf of habitual intoxication, by dashing the ensnaring beverage from the lips? Is no self effort to be made to break away from the thraldom of a companionship, the influence of which is fast hurrying us to ruin and despair? Is no self effort to be made to dethrone an unlawful habit, to resist a powerful temptation, to dissolve the spell that binds us to a dangerous enchantment, to unwind the chain that makes us the vassal and the slave of a wrong and imperious inclination? Oh, surely, God deals not with us as we deal with a piece of a machine but as reasonable, moral, and accountable beings. "I drew you with the bands of a man." Mortification, therefore, is a work to which the believer must address himself, and that with prayerful and resolute earnestness.
And yet we must acknowledge that it infinitely transcends the mightiest puttings forth of creative power. "If you through the Spirit do mortify." This he does by making us more sensible of the existence of indwelling sin, by deepening our aspirations after holiness by shedding abroad the love of God in the heart. But above all, the Spirit mortifies sin in the believer by unfoldings of the Lord Jesus. Leading us to the cross, he would show us that as Christ died for sin, so we must die to sin and by the self same instrument too.
One real, believing sight of the cross of Jesus! oh, what a crucifying power has it! Paul, standing beneath its awful shadow, and gazing upon its Divine victim, exclaimed, "God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." Get near the Savior's cross, if you would accomplish anything in this great and necessary work of mortification.
The Spirit effects it, but through the instrumentality of the Atonement. There must be a personal contact with Jesus. This only is it that draws forth his grace. When the poor woman, in the Gospel, touched the Savior, we are told that multitudes thronged him. And yet, in all that crowd that pressed upon his steps, one only extracted the healing virtue. Thus do multitudes follow Christ externally; they attend his courts, and approach his ordinances, and speak well of his name, who know nothing by faith of personal transaction with the Lord. They crowd his path, and strew their branches in his way, and chant their Hosannahs; but of how few can Christ say, "Somebody has touched me!"
Oh, let us have more personal dealing with the Lord Jesus. He delights in this. It pleases, it glorifies him. He bids us come and disclose every personal feeling, and make known every need, and unveil every grief, and confide to his bosom each secret of our own. He loves us to bathe in his blood to enfold ourselves in his righteousness to draw from his grace and to cast ourselves upon his boundless sympathy. The crowd cannot veil us from his eye. He sees the poor and contrite; he observes the trembling and the lowly; he meets the uplifted glance; he feels the thrill of the trembling, hesitating, yet believing touch. "Somebody has touched me." Who? Is it you, my reader?
Thus does the Spirit mortify sin in the believer. "But how may I know," is the anxious inquiry of many, "that sin is being mortified in me?" We reply by a weakening of its power. When Christ subdues our iniquities, he does not eradicate them, but weakens the strength of their root. The principle of sin remains, but it is impaired. See it in the case of Peter. Before he fell, his besetting sin was self confidence: "Though all should deny you, yet will I not."
Behold him after his recovery taking the low place at the feet of Jesus, and at the feet of the disciples too, meekly saying, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." No more self vaunting, no more self confidence: his sin was mortified through the Spirit, and he became as another man. Thus often the very outbreak of our sins may become the occasion of their deeper discovery, and their more thorough subjection. Nor let us overlook the power of the truth by the instrumentality of which the Spirit mortifies sin in us: "Sanctify them through your truth."
The truth as it is in Jesus, revealed more clearly to the mind, and impressed more deeply on the heart, transforms the soul into its own Divine and holy nature. Our spiritual and experimental acquaintance, therefore, with the truth with Him who is Essential Truth will be the measure of the Spirit's mortification of sin in our hearts. Is the Lord Jesus becoming increasingly precious to your soul? Are you growing in poverty of spirit, in a deeper sense of your vileness, and weakness, and unworthiness? Is pride more abased, and self more crucified, and God's glory more simply sought?
Does the heart more quickly shrink from sin, and is the conscience more sensitive to the touch of guilt, and do confession and cleansing become a more frequent habit? Are you growing in more love to all the saints to those who, though they adopt not your entire creed, yet love and serve your Lord and Master? If so, then you may be assured the Spirit is mortifying sin in you. But oh, look from everything to Christ. Look not within for sanctification; look for it from Christ. He is as much our "sanctification," as he is our "righteousness."
Your evidences, your comfort, your hope, do not spring from your fruitfulness, your mortification, or anything within you; but solely and entirely from the Lord Jesus Christ. "Looking unto Jesus" by faith, is like removing the covering and opening the windows of a conservatory, to admit the sun, beneath whose light and warmth the flowers and fruits expand and mature. Withdraw the veil that conceals the Sun of Righteousness, and let him shine in upon your soul, and the mortification of all sin will follow, and the fruits of all holiness will abound.