Putting Yourself to Death (Romans 8:12-13)
When Tammy and I were dating, I was the youth minister for a congregation in eastern Kentucky. Now, understand that I’m only about 22 or so at the time, and I’ve seen several dead bodies as they’ve lain in caskets, but I’ve never seen someone die.
One evening, Tammy was at my apartment—I’d probably gone out of my way to fix a nice meal—and we got a call that the mother of one of our elders and the grandmother of Tammy’s best friend was very near death in the nursing home where she’d been residing for some time. Tammy and I went to be with the family.
We spent several hours at the nursing home with the family and other folks from church. When we first got to the nursing home, I walked in the small room where this godly sister lay to visit with our elder and his family. What I saw when I walked in shook me to my core—Howard’s mother was in the throes of agonal breathing. I had never before seen someone struggle to breathe with every rise and fall of the chest.
I went to the hallway for a while to visit with the growing number of church folks, and I would rotate between the hall and Sister Justice’s room. Then as I stood in the hallway holding hands with Tam, IT happened—I saw this lady, whose first name I don’t even recall, die. There lay her motionless body, but her spirit had returned to God who gave it.
I’ve seen many folks die in the nearly 25 years since that night, but I shall never forget the trauma of seeing someone die the first time. In fact, I didn’t sleep that night. I took Tammy home, she called me when I got home and we spent most of that night on the phone, both of us too disturbed to sleep.
I have no doubt that you’ve witnessed someone die. Maybe you sat by the bed while the love of your life with whom you spent 60-70 years left this world. Perhaps you held the hand of one of your children as he or she left this world far too soon. You might have even served in the Armed Forces and seen a buddy die defending our freedoms.
Whatever personal experience you have with death, the Apostle Paul informs us in this morning’s text that it’s time for YOU to die. Throughout Romans, Paul uses the imagery of death to speak of the break we make with our sinful lifestyle when we come to Christ. For example:
- Romans 6:2: “We died to sin.”
- Romans 6:11: “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
In this morning’s passage, Paul continues his imagery of death to teach an important lesson: You rid yourself of sin. This evening, we wish to go to the text to understand that lesson and apply it to everyday life.
Scripture (Romans 8:12-13)
“Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation.” Paul literally says, “Therefore, brothers, we are debtors.” The Greek term for debtor refers to one who has a moral obligation. In Romans 1:14, Paul said that he was a debtor—under a moral obligation—to preach to both Greeks and non-Greeks.
Paul states this obligation in the negative: Our obligation is not to live according to the sinful nature [literally “the flesh”] to live according to the flesh. In Paul’s writings, the term “flesh” almost always refers to the power within man which seeks to live at odds with God’s will—it is that sinful part of man which shakes his fists at God and says that he will do things his own way.
Do notice that Paul writes this truth to Christians—he is telling the children of God that they have an obligation not to live according to the flesh. Just because we come to Jesus, just because we’re baptized into Jesus, our struggles against sin have not stopped. We still struggle with sin.
Paul graphically depicts the struggles that he had with sin up in Romans 7:14-25. Notice specifically what he writes in verses 14-20 (READ TEXT). If an apostle of Jesus Christ struggled so mightily with sin, who do you think you are that you can pretend to have no sin?
Why do we have this obligation not to live according to the flesh? Paul uses “Therefore” to begin verse 12—to what does the “therefore” refer? Notice verse 11: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” Why do you need to kill the sin that lives in you? It’s because of life—Because the Spirit lives in you, because that Spirit raised Jesus from death to life, and because, through the Spirit who lives in you, God will give you life. Thus, because we have life we are to put the flesh to death.
“If you live according to the [flesh], you will die.” Over in Galatians, Paul outlines what it means to live by the flesh—“The acts of the [flesh] are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19-21). Those who live in such a manner shall not have the life God offers through his Spirit.
“But if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
We put to death the misdeeds of the body by the Spirit. Some might be tempted to throw up their hands and pretend that they have nothing to do in riding their lives of sin. Not so fast! Notice very carefully precisely what Paul writes: “If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body.” You are not passive in the process—The Spirit does not rid your life of sin for you—You use the Spirit to rid your own life of sin.
You are to rid yourself of the “misdeeds of the body.” The Greek term for “misdeeds” is simply “acts.” The idea is action, and the qualifier “of the body” makes clear that Paul has sinful action in mind here. Sin, in its most basic physical form, is action: “Everyone who sins breaks the law” (1 Jn 3:4)—Breaking the law is an action.
The verbs at verse 13 are in the present tense in Greek. You see, the present tense denotes continual action in the present. I can’t wake up in the morning and think, “By the Spirit I put to death the misdeeds of the body yesterday; I don’t have to worry about that today” or “I’ve put sin away from my life in the past; I can take things easy now.” No, every single day we begin the process anew. Every day, from the time we wake up until the time we go to bed, we are to be riding ourselves of “the misdeeds of the body.”
What Paul wishes us to understand and what I want you to grasp from this text is this: You rid yourself of sin. How do you do so practically?
One: We must see our sin.
If you are to rid yourself of sin, you must have a solid picture of the sin which is in your life. You might be tempted to say, “Justin, I’m a Christian. I don’t really have sin in my life.” Well, if that is the case, you are a liar—that’s what the Apostle John says: “If we claim to be [present tense] without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn 1:8). If the truth is not in you, you’re a liar.
This week spend some serious time with Scripture and think about the sin you need to put from you. We’ve already mentioned the list in Galatians 5; you can find other lists in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 2 Timothy 3:2-5, and Revelation 21:8. Go through those lists and write down those areas where you struggle. Be honest—God already knows. If you’re going to be who God needs you to be, you need to see your sin.
Two: Allow the Spirit to help you put that sin to death.
There is much about the Spirit’s work I do not understand, and I don’t want to pretend I have all the answers. But I do know that the Spirit will help us put to death the sin in our lives. How can we work in conjunction with the Spirit to rid our lives of sin?
First, you need to be a baptized believer.
The Holy Spirit dwells in those who are in Christ: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). “Gift of the Holy Spirit” I believe means “the gift which is the Holy Spirit”—i.e., the Spirit is the gift. I don’t have the gift of the Holy Spirit unless I’ve been baptized into Christ.
In the context of Romans 8, Paul makes clear that only those in Christ have the Spirit: “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Rom 8:9).
If you want to have the Spirit of God to help you fight the sin in your life in order that you might live, you need to be baptized into Christ. These elders stand more than ready to help you put on Jesus in baptism. I’ll be happy to help you in any way that I can. But be baptized into Christ.
Second, you need to study the Word of God.
You and I understand that the Word of God came through the Holy Spirit: “Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21).
The Word of God will help you in your effort to overcome sin. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Ps 119:11). Each time Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, the Lord replied with “It is written.” If the Son of God used Spirit-inspired Scripture to help him overcome Satan’s temptations, surely that Spirit-inspired Word will help us.
Spend time every day this week in the Word of God. Personally, I bookend my days with the Word of God. I read some Scripture when I first get up in the morning, and I read some Scripture before I turn out my light to go to sleep. I like that because I’m symbolically framing my whole day around the truth of God’s Word and allowing the Spirit to use that Word to shape me into who I need to be. Get in the Word and allow the Spirit to shape you into who you need to be!
Third, Rely on the Spirit’s power when you’re tempted.
The Spirit has great power for the people of God: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Eph 3:16). I don’t know all the ways the Spirit will strengthen us in our inner being, but I believe he’ll strengthen us to find the way of escape God has promised to provide when we’re tempted: 1 Corinthians 10:13.
When you face the tempter, you do not do so alone, but you have the Spirit to strengthen you and to help you find and take God’s way of escape.
Fourth, Pray for the Spirit’s strength.
The context of Romans 8 is really the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The reason we find tonight’s text in this context is that a part of the Spirit’s ministry is to help us put to death our flesh.
Another part of the Spirit’s ministry is praying for us in our weaknesses: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weaknesses: We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Rom 8:26). Do you even know how to pray all you need to pray for God’s help in putting to death your flesh? Ask God to allow the Spirit to intercede for you.
You rid yourself of sin. This week—and every week which follows—spend time getting rid of the sin in your life! If you need the help of this church, I know they stand ready to help.