The Lord's Day Morning
June 28, 2009
Chapter in the Bible (4):
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things, and blessed be His glorious name forever. May His glory fill the whole earth. May our lips pour forth His praise. Let us worship God.
Lord our God, as we come before You this morning we have just sung to “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.” We pray that we might truly mean what we say as we come before You, because You are the only God there is: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We come to worship You, we come to adore You, we come to lift up our voices in Your presence. We come to mingle with angels and archangels, and cherubim and seraphim, and the church triumphant on the other side. We come, O Lord, to give You honor and praise and glory and majesty, and dominion and might. We ask for the strength and ministry of Your Spirit, that we might worship You in Spirit and in truth. Come amongst us now, we pray of You, Lord God, and do us good in order that we might also return to give glory to You, and all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Now turn with me if you would to the eighth chapter of Romans. We began a few weeks ago a series of expositions (a dozen or so over these summer months) on the eighth chapter of Romans, which we are calling “The Best Chapter in The Bible.” Now, that title “The Best Chapter in the Bible” perhaps wasn't chosen for the verses that are before us this morning! Romans 8 contains some of the most glorious promises and reassurances for the believer, but verses 12-13 remind us that the Christian life is a war. You and I who are united to Christ, whose sins are forgiven, who are union with Christ — we are engaged in mortal combat.
I'm reminded of the Prime Minister of Great Britain during the outbreak of the Second World War. Neville Chamberlain was the prime minster from 1937 until 1940, until, as you recall, Winston Churchill was given that office during the Second World War. Neville Chamberlain was no doubt a very good man, but he is remembered largely in history by one sentence that he uttered. It was in the fall of 1938, after what was referred to as the Munich Agreement, and he had come back from negotiations with the Nazi Fuhrer and leaders in France and Italy. He waved a piece of paper that had been signed in Berlin just a few days before, and uttered his memorable words, “This means peace in our time.” Now that peace accord wasn't, of course, worth the price of the piece of paper on which it was signed, and war — all-out war — was to be declared in a few short weeks of his saying those words.
Well, you and I are involved in a war. It is a war against sin and a war against the world, and a war against the flesh, and a war against the devil. And we have this morning, particularly in verses 12-13, a couple of verses (that you also find repeated in essence in Colossians 3) that tell us about the Christian's duty in mortification: that
the mark or characteristic of every believer is that they are wrestling with indwelling sin and declaring war upon it.
Now mortification is not a word in common use. I'm not sure how many times in the course of the week you might employ the word mortification, but it simply means to put to death. You and I are called upon to put sin to death. And as we read the passage this morning, before we read the passage, let's look to God now in prayer. Let's pray together.
Lord, our God, we always need Your help. Everything we do in our own strength falls to the ground. But this morning we ask again for the help of Your Spirit. Help us as we read this portion of Scripture not just to read, but also to learn and discern and inwardly digest, and all of it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Now turn with me to verses 12-13 of Romans 8:
“So then, brothers, we 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 body, you will live.”
Amen. May God add His blessing to the reading of His word.
Now it just may be that one or two of you here this morning have come to worship with us, and you have come fresh from a battle with indwelling sin that you have lost, and perhaps you are very conscious of that even as you worship this morning. There was a wonderful, wonderful promise in the passage we read — that Jeremy read for us — from Isaiah 42. Do you remember early on in that chapter, “A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoking flax He will not quench.” That's a great promise. You may feel this morning like a bruised reed or a smoking flax. I think that's the King James Edition…I just can't remember now what is the ESV rendition is, but a smoldering piece of ember that's about to go out, God will not extinguish.
There is a book — over and above the Bible, that is — there is a book that Jim Packer and John Piper, and R. C. Sproul, and Sinclair Ferguson (and on and on and on) have said is one of the most important books in their life, and it's a book written by John Owen, the Puritan theologian and preacher, and vice-chancellor of Oxford University in the middle of the seventeenth century — a book called The Mortification of Sin. It's based on these verses 12-13 of Romans 8. They were a series of sermons that he preached to students at Oxford University. Now in the seventeenth century, students at Oxford University could be as young as twelve and as old as seventeen or eighteen. Different times, you understand, but fascinating that the one thing he thought teenage boys needed more than anything else was a series of sermons on putting sin to death. Times, my friends, have not changed. And one of the needs that all of us — not just teenage boys, but all of us — have this morning if we want to be holy is that if we want to be holy, we need to deal with sin.
Now, some of you I know are missing Ligon… [who?] …and so this morning I have eight points! [Laughter.] I have three introductory points, and then on the main part of the sermon this morning I have five things I want us to see.
I. The mindset about sin.
Now let me set a mindset. Let me set the frame of reference, or the universe of discourse, of this passage. Let me set this passage in its context just for a couple of minutes, and I want to say three things.
First, Paul is saying this: that we need to deal with sin. Now remember this is Romans 8, and Romans 8 comes after Romans 7. What is Romans 7 about? What is the second half of Romans 7 about? It's about striving with sin. It's about
“The good that I would, I do not; and the evil that I would not, that I find that I do. Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
This is Paul's autobiographical account of his own personal struggle with indwelling sin. He doesn't do the things that he would want to do, and he does the things that he would not want to do. That's your experience and it's mine. Even as Christians, even as those in union with Christ, even as those who are justified by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, whose sins have been washed by the blood of Jesus, we still struggle with sin. Sin is a reality. My friends, if you don't know that, then it's probably because you’re not a Christian. If what I am saying to you is strange, it probably means you are not a believer, because every believer knows that sin is an ongoing problem. We need to deal with sin.
The second thing I want us to see it this: that we have a desire to deal with sin. We want to deal with sin. Is that your testimony? Whatever the week has been like, whatever personal issues you may have been dealing with this week, it is my prevailing desire, and it is my prevailing mindset that I really want to deal with sin. I want to be holy. I want to be more Jesus-like. I want to get rid of certain things that I know offend my Savior. It is my desire, it is my motivating desire. I want to be more like Jesus.
And, thirdly, not only that we need to deal with sin, not only that we want to deal with sin, but we are able to deal with sin. Yes, in Jesus we are able to deal with sin. Turn back to Romans 6:11. “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and live to God in Christ Jesus.” That's the universe of discourse: that we are dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ. We are not what we once were. We are not in union with Adam. We are alive in Jesus Christ. We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. We are in a position to deal with sin. So those are the three presuppositions, if you like, that Paul employs as he expounds to us how we are to deal with sin.
2. The method of dealing with sin.
Now let's move to the second thing I want us to talk about this morning: not only the mindset, but the method. How are we to deal with indwelling sin? And Paul, it seems to me, is saying five things here.
He's saying, first of all, ‘Say no to sin.’ It's the power of negative thinking. Now I know we're meant to be positive. I know that sermons are meant to be positive. I know that worship is meant to be positive. I know the Christian life is meant to be positive. We are in Jesus, and when you come to Jesus everything is wonderful. But you know that's not true. That's not the way you raise your children. Those are not the principles you want to instruct your teenage children in. There are certain things to which you must say no. And when it comes to sin, when it comes to indwelling sin, when it comes to the preoccupations of the flesh, when it comes to the deeds of the body (as Paul refers to it in this passage), the one thing we must learn to say is no. It's Paul's word to Titus, isn't it, that the grace of God has appeared, teaching us to say no to ungodliness? The grace of God has appeared, teaching us to say no to ungodliness.
Yes, it's all about grace. Everything that I'm going to say this morning and everything that Paul is saying this morning is from the premise that you have experienced grace, that you are forgiven, that you are in union with Christ, that you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But the consequence of being in union and fellowship with Jesus Christ is we must say no to sin. When sin first enters into our minds, when it's just a thought, when it's just a temptation, at that point we must learn to say no. That's the first thing. Learn the power of negative thinking.
It's just like when you drive on the highway…and if you don't heed the warning that says “Stop”…if you don't heed the warning of a light that has turned red that means you must come to a stop, there are consequences. And the consequences here, my friend, are consequences of life and death. There is a certain course of action. There are certain signs indicative of life, and there are certain signs that are indicative of death that leads to death. Here's the mark, here's the characteristic of a believer, of one who is indwelt by the Spirit and in union with Jesus Christ: they put to death the deeds of the flesh. They say no to sin.
Now don't get all tangled up in the question, “Can the true believer therefore fall from grace? Can you be forgiven and then refuse to mortify sin and fall from grace? And you’re in Christ and then outside of Christ?” That's not what Paul is saying. Paul is saying if you are in Christ, this is what you do. And if you don't do this, it's probably indicative that you are not in Christ. Life and death hang in the balance here. Could anything be more somber? Could anything be more serious?
The second thing that Paul says is don't be content with partial holiness. Don't be content with partial holiness. Have a commitment to comprehensive holiness. Now look at the text with me. Notice the language:
“So then, brothers, we 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 body, you will live.”
Paul is concerned about the flesh. He's concerned about something that he calls “the deeds of the body.” He's not just concerned about our minds; he's not just concerned about our thoughts; he's not just concerned about something that is internal and private; he's concerned about something that he classifies as “the deeds of the body.”
Sin has hands and feet, and eyes. Isn't that what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount? That if your eye offends you, pluck it out? If your hand offends you, cut it off. If your foot offends you, cut it off, Jesus says. Jesus says that!
He begins with the reference to the hand…the hand that slips into the till and takes some money; a hand that forges a signature; a hand that forms the hard fist; the hand that caresses the flesh; a hand that lifts a hammer and nails it to a cross; a hand that's raised in voting for the punishment of an innocent man; a hand that dials the number of a married woman; a hand lifted in temper to slap a child; a hand that lifts another glass of whiskey and drinks it; a hand that types in the website address of a porn site. If your hand offends you, cut it off.
If your foot offends you…a foot that pushes down hard on the accelerator, making you a danger to yourself and to others; a foot that trips a boy at school because you don't like him; a foot that deliberately fouls someone on a soccer pitch. Or, an eye that looks with lust; an eye that rove to the top rack of a newsagent's…that seeks to catch the eye of another married man or woman; that falls asleep when it should be awake; an eye that seeks a place of prominence. “Be careful, little eye, what you see.” And if your eye offends you, pluck it out.
Paul is saying don't be content with a minimalist approach to holiness. Do whatever it takes…do whatever it takes…to put to death the deeds of the body.
Then in the third place, he says kill sin…Put to death, or in the King James Version, mortify. Put sin to death. Don't coddle it. Don't feed it. Don't treat it like a pet. Do you know what John Owen says you should do with indwelling sin? Put your hands around its neck and don't let go until it has stopped breathing. Strangle it! And strangle it at birth, strangle it at its source while it's still just a thought, when it's still just a temptation. Kill it. You are I are engaged in mortal combat. It's a fight to the death. It's you or him, it's you or it, it's you or her, it's you or sin.
The fourth thing that he says is be accountable to others. He says that because the verb put to death is actually in the plural. He could have put it grammatically in the singular, but he puts it in the plural. It's something that is to be done within the context, the environment of the people of God as we relate to one another. Why? Yes, there are private sins. Yes, it's not necessarily any of your business to know absolutely everything about me or vice versa. There is a sense of privacy. Some things ought never to be made public. But sins have consequences. I think that's what Paul is saying. Sins have consequences, and they have consequences for the people of God. What we do, what we say, our behavior, affects other people. Be accountable.
It's one of the great blessings in life when God gives you someone who is a friend, a true friend, someone you can trust; someone to whom you can say the deepest, darkest things and know that they will be honest and true, and tell it, as we say, like it is; who will rebuke you and do so as a brother or a sister. Some of you I know have those extraordinary relationships with others, that you can do that. Be accountable.
Why? Turn with me just a second to Colossians chapter three, where Paul says virtually the same thing. In Colossians chapter three he says this in verse 5: “Put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you.” Isn't it interesting, by the way, that the first in a list, a long list of sins, the first one is sexual immorality. You know, we think the “Appalachian Trail Phenomenon” of the past week is something of our own time. And Paul is saying that it's as old as the first century.
Remember that sin is not just a private thing. It affects the body of Christ. It's no better or worse seen than the story of Achan, who saw, you remember, the garment…the Babylonish garment and the silver, and the wedge of gold. He saw, he coveted, he took, and he hid. Those four verbs in that story in Joshua: He saw, he coveted, he took, and he hid. And do you remember the consequence? How all of Israel came to a standstill, all because of one man's sin? His sin had consequences. Be accountable to others.
Say no to sin. Don't be content with partial holiness. Kill sin, and kill it at its source. Be accountable to others.
And, fifthly, don't fall into legalism. Do you notice what Paul says? Oh, it's a beautiful thing. If [at the end of verse 13]… “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
I know there are some of you here this morning — there has to be, in a congregation of this size. There just have to be a few of you here this morning who've come fresh from battle with sin, and you've lost that battle and you’re discouraged. And I'm telling you to do something that you tried to do, and you have perhaps failed. And I'm saying to you this morning that the resources for this battle are not our own, that the resources for this battle lie in the strength and power and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Call upon the Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Spirit who now indwells you, who has come to make a home in your heart and in your soul. By the strength and power of the Holy Spirit, call upon God for the resources to deal with sin, and to deal with it because life and death hang in the balance.
There can be no reconciliation between the Christian and sin. There can be no platform for negotiation. It's either Jesus or sin, and the great question this morning, dear friend, is what's it going to be? What is it going to be? Is it going to be me, or is it going to be Jesus? Is it going to be sin, or is it going to be Jesus? And, oh, that by the strength and power of God's Holy Spirit we might see the course that leads to victory — victory in Christ, victory in the blood of Jesus Christ, victory in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; victory because the Spirit who indwelt Christ, the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead now dwells in me. Don't ever forget it. Don't ever forget it!
Father, we thank You for Your word, and pray now for the blessing of Your Spirit. Fill us, equip us, enable us to deal with the enemy that lies within, and all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Let's sing to God's glory, Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, No. 529.
Receive the Lord's benediction: Grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, be with you all. Amen.
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