There is a great assumption in Scripture that those who have been saved by grace through faith will inevitably begin a new way of living, a journey of sanctification, a transformation to holiness. God saves His children to make them holy and transform them into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). And while this transformation will not be perfect in this life, God equips every true believer with everything they need in order for this transformation to take place. God makes every believer a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).
God Equips Every Believer
At the moment of conversion, the Holy Spirit permanently indwells every believer! And as a result of that inhabitation by God Himself, several radical blessings are given to every believer ensuring that they will be transformed into the likeness of Christ. While these blessings are not experiential, the declared truths are the foundation that equips every believer. Here are a just a few of these declared truths from Romans 8:
- Pardon: Jesus pardons every believer so that the condemnation of God is totally removed (Rom 8:1), and they no longer have to live in fear of God’s wrath!
- Freedom: The Holy Spirit sets every believer free from the principle of sin and death (Rom 8:2), so that the power of sin is broken and they are no longer obligated or indebted to live in the flesh (Rom 8:12, 7:6). Every believer is moved out of the realm of the flesh and placed into the new realm of the Spirit (8:9) giving life to their own spirits (v. 10, Eph 2:5).
- Righteousness: By sending His Son, God provided the righteous requirement of His Law which is fulfilled in and imputed to us through faith (Rom 8:3-4).
- New Mind & Affections: The presence of the Holy Spirit gives every believer a new mind (1 Cor 2:16), and new affections toward the “things of the Spirit” (Rom 8:5, 14).
With all of these declared blessings in place, every believer is put on a path toward holiness and transformation. In fact, it would be inconceivable that a genuine believer would not inevitably produce some fruit of godliness and holiness. Jesus himself taught that you would know the difference between false prophets and true prophets by the fruit that they bear. He gives a very profound principle in that context. Trees are known by their fruit. Every good tree bears good fruit while every bad tree bears bad fruit (Matt 7:15-20). The continual presence of bad fruit is a clear indication that the root of the tree is corrupt. This is why all of the Apostles in their writings give stern warnings to those who make professions, but are practicing lawlessness (Matt 7:23). Paul warns that the “works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, division, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19-21, see also 1 Cor 6:9-11). The Apostle John teaches the same truth when he says, “no one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him [the Holy Spirit]; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:4-10). Paul reiterates this in Romans 8 by saying, “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.” Those who live and practice living in the realm of the flesh, and act accordingly will experience eternal death, but those who live according to the Spirit and put to death the deeds of the flesh will experience eternal life (Rom 8:13).
Notice that neither of the Apostles tell us that Christians don’t fall, sin or live imperfect lives (1 Jn 1:8). But they do tell us that the practice of true believers is holy, and that there is no unchecked sinful lifestyle that has taken root in their life. And if sin does cause them to stumble (which is inevitable), they will not stay there, but do everything in their power to kill sin. They are giving evidence that they are born again and that the Spirit resides within them.
Our New Practice: Killing Sin
So, killing sin is the great new practice and way of living for the believer. Sin is not absent from our lives as our sin nature still resides in us, battling against us. The Apostle Paul was quite aware of the sin nature that still resided in his flesh waging war against his mind and desires (Romans 7:17-25). It was this sin nature that prevented him from doing the things he desired to do. But Paul tells us the key to this new way of living in Romans 8:13. He teaches that everyone who lives “by the Spirit” will “put to death the deeds of the body.” To “put to death” means to kill, snuff out, to take away the principle of all its strength, vigor and power so that it cannot act or exert or put forth any proper actings of its own.
John Owen in his classic treatise of Romans 8:13, says, “Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? You must always be at it while you live; do not take a day off from this work; always be killing sin or it will be killing you” (John Owen, The Mortification of Sin, Banner of Truth Trust, 2001, pg 5). This is the heart of every true believer.
Two Important Ways to Mortify Sin
How do believers go about this great task? The Apostle Paul gives us two insights. First, since we have the Spirit in us, we “set our minds on the things of the Spirit” (Romans 8:6). The things of the Spirit are clearly the Words of Scripture (see 1 Cor 2:13-14 where the same phrase is used). When we set our minds on Scripture we take up the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph 6:17) and we hack our old fleshly desires to death with the promises of Scripture. This is exactly what Jesus did in the wilderness when He was tempted by the devil for forty days (Matt 4:1-11). He quoted Scripture over and over, bringing His mind under the authority of Scripture. This is why it is so important to know what God says in His Word. In the time of temptation, the Holy Spirit will inevitably bring to our minds what He says in His word and will provide a “way of escape so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13). So here is the first key. Allow the Word of God to dwell in you richly (Col 3:16).
Then secondly, we must yield to the Spirit’s leading (Rom 8:14). The Spirit wants to lead us. He will not drive us! And if we are to have victory over sin we must yield, walk according to, obey, or be filled with the Spirit (Gal 5:16, Eph 5:18). We must work hard to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13). We must learn to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).
So, this is the new way of living for believers. It is a daily and continual struggle and fight against sin. Inevitably we will have both defeats and victories. But as obedient children, we must make it our life long pursuit to “be holy as He is holy” (1 Peter 1:14-16). And as we do, we will have assurance that we are truly “sons of God” (Rom 8:14). We will have peace and “His Spirit will give witness with our spirit that we are “children of God” (8:16).