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.
There is more in this little verse than I can digest in months of study. John Owen’s great work “Of the Mortification of Sin in the Believer’s Life” deals with this singular text at length. And as if this weren’t enough to suggest that holy living is not an option, but a requirement for life, Paul writes again in Colossians 3:5
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
The Spirit of God commands me to put certain things to death, namely the deeds of the body, sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness. I’m quick to admit my struggles with each and every one of these sins. Not one of them escapes my attention during the course of the average day. John Owen in the aforementioned work summarizes the Apostle by quipping “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.” Three things immediately seize my conscience. First, do I really and truly believe this scripture? Second, if I really and truly do believe this scripture, does it require change in my life? Thirdly, if I really and truly do believe this scripture and it requires change in my life, what sort of change are we talking about?
As for the first, I do believe it. The verses have caused me to lose sleep. Today I weigh more than I have ever weighed in my life. I’m getting to the point of obesity. The depression from my divorce combined with the lack of exercise that seems natural in the North (except for riding bikes) and the sedentary nature of my work all combine to put me 20 pounds over weight. While it may never have been fun to look in the mirror, it is especially offensive these days. And Scripture is like a mirror (James 1:25). I look into the Scripture and see myself for who I really am. And, frankly, I don’t like it one bit. This Scripture especially gives me pause.
To the second question I conclude that it not only requires change in my life, but change in practically every part. I cannot think of more than three or four aspects of my life that escape the judgement of Romans 8:13 and Colossians 3:5. My mind responds to sexual stimuli and my heart is quick to follow it to places I don’t want to go. As for impurity, (beyond the sensual aspect) there is impurity in my heart in all things. I mix God’s law with man’s perspective polluting a pure religion with selfish desires and prejudices. I mix love with jealousy. I mix sincerity with cynicism and sarcasm. I mix work with play. I do not refrain from hearing about bloodshed and seeing evil. As for passion, I am not without blame there either. While I am passionate about few things beyond theology and football, the passion I have for those two things can corrupt my ability to serve God and instead turn my attention to meeting my own desires. As for evil desire, while I pretend to be without blame, I can only imagine what evil desires lurk in my heart awaiting the light of the Holy Spirit to demonstrate to me that my flesh is still corrupt and vile. Of covetousness, I am as guilty as any of desiring a new car, a bigger house, nicer furniture, a vacation, an easier life-style, a retirement account, financial security (resting my assurance in my ability to provide instead of God’s ability). In short, to put to death the deeds of the body is to radically change practically every aspect of my life.
To the third question, what sort of change is required I can only guess. My embarrassment and shame are great here. Perhaps this is a question better put to my peers, and those friends that love me. You know who you are. There are some in my life quick to provide criticism, and I pray that I will hear them, even when it comes from an impure and wicked heart. (See my post on humility).
So I conclude today that the assurance that condemnation has been removed depends entirely upon faith that produces mortification of the flesh.