Mortification of Sin

Mortification of Sin

Yesterday, in our ongoing series through Romans, I preached Romans 8:12-13. As I’ve previously stated, I believe that Paul is the greatest church planting, pastor, theologian in church history. I likewise believe that Romans is the most important book in the Bible. In addition, I believe that Romans 8 is the most important chapter in Romans—and the most important chapter in the entire Bible. Therefore, we find ourselves in a rich study through Romans and it’s amazing what God is teaching us about salvation.

In many ways, Romans 8 is a commentary about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In a very unique manner, the Holy Spirit who most often places the focus upon Christ, pulls back the veil just a bit for us to see the role and responsibility of the Spirit of God in our salvation from beginning to end. The Holy Spirit is involved in our regeneration and his indwelling role involves the work of progressive sanctification.

In Romans 8:12-13, we find that the Holy Spirit is leading believers to put to death the deeds of the body. The language of “put to death” is what has previously been translated, “mortify” and entire books and studies have been written on this very subject throughout church history. In his great work on mortification, John Owen states, “A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit.

The Christian life is not pictured as a “lazy lagoon” ride toward heaven. It’s a life of great trial, difficulty, and an ongoing war within to overcome sin, pursue holiness, submit to God, and progress in sanctification. This is not a passive calling. This is an active engagement by the believer and it’s here in Romans 8:12-13 that we see our calling as Christians to engage.

The difficult work of mortification of sin involves the engagement into the dark places of a person’s heart. This type of introspection and self-evaluation is not always exciting work. However, it’s necessary. Like black mold growing in dark places—if left unchecked it could become a serious and potentially deadly problem. Suppose you were seated on your couch on a Friday evening and something caught your eye and as you turned, you saw a Diamondback Rattlesnake crawling around the corner of your baseboard in your living room. What do you do at that point? Well, you certainly don’t reach for more popcorn and reengage into your latest Netflix episode. You immediately engage because of the threat the snake imposes.

The same thing is true with sin. We must never be at peace with sin, or it will demonstrate that we are not at peace with God. We must view all sin as venomous and deadly intruders into your hearts and lives. The calling is to war. We must engage. We can’t afford to wait. We are called to put it to death.

Psalm 139:23 – Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!

Two Types of People and Two Eternal Destinies

Two Types of People and Two Eternal Destinies

Yesterday I preached from Romans 8:5-8 in our series through Romans. While many people attempt to teach a third category of people (the carnal Christian) and a basic Universalism approach to eternity with heaven being real and hell being reserved for the monsters of society—it’s imperative to grapple with the reality that Paul sets forth in this paragraph and to understand that real people go to hell everyday and they will never leave. Where will you spend eternity?

Paul begins with a comparison of the two people and their eternal destinies. The unbeliever sets his mind on the things of the flesh (the world) while the believer sets his mind on the things of the Spirit (God and the things of God). The unbeliever receives the second death while the believer receives eternal life and eternal peace. That’s the entire point of Romans 8:5-6. In other words, what we believe controls how we live. Unbelievers love the world proving that the love of the Father is not in them (1 John 2:15). The believer loves God and demonstrate that by a life devoted to him. The unbeliever goes to hell and the believer goes to heaven. There is no other option.

Paul then completes this section with three clear statements about unbelievers. As you consider these statements, examine your life and see if you are in the faith.

Statement #1: Unbelievers are hostile to God

In Romans 8:7, Paul states, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God…” The word translated hostile is the Greek term, ““ἔχθρα” which means “to be at enmity with God; hatred towards God; to be hostile in attitude and action towards God.” This means that a person who is an unbeliever is the enemy of God and is at war with God. This warfare is manifest in both active and passive disobedience. In other words, there is both a physical and non-physical (mental) aspect.

The unbeliever who is at war with God can physically rebel against God by physical acts of sin that demonstrate hatred. This could include everything from murder to sexual sins such as homosexuality and adultery. Self-mutilation is another means of physical war against God—including the sin of suicide (self-murder).

The unbeliever who is at war with God can likewise wage war against God with ideas and ideologies. For instance, “the fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Ps. 14:1). The false ideas about God and false teachings about his character, the doctrine of salvation, and various other ideas that assault the nature and sovereignty of God prove that even mentally—the unbeliever uses his or her mind against God.

Statement #2: Unbelievers Cannot Obey God

Paul points out that the mind of the unbeliever “does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). This is what we know as the doctrine of Total Depravity. The Bible teaches that man, if left to his own ability and his own will, would never choose God. According to God’s Word—the unbeliever is dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-10). Furthermore, the unbeliever cannot understand God’s Word, because such understanding comes from God (1 Cor. 2:14).

By nature, the Word of God teaches us that we are lawless (rebels) against God:

  • Matthew 7:23 – And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
  • Matthew 23:28 – So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
  • 2 Corinthians 6:14 – Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
  • Titus 2:14 – who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
  • Romans 4:7 – “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;

The unbeliever cannot obey God – because his will and desires are in bondage to sin. This is why John 6:44 says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Statement #3: Unbelievers Cannot Please God

What separates Christianity from most world religions is that other religions teach that it’s possible and necessary to please God by works. Christianity teaches that it’s impossible. God pleases God. That’s the point of the cross. Guilty sinners come to God through Jesus’ work. Paul is laboring in Romans to teach the clear doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone for the remission of sins.

The clear teaching of Scripture as a whole is centered on this reality:

  • Romans 3:20 – For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
  • Galatians 2:16 – yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
  • Titus 3:5 says, “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,”

That’s why we need a righteousness that we can’t perform or purchase. That righteousness does not come from within us. It’s what has been called “an alien righteousness” – one outside of us. It’s the righteousness of God. When Jesus died on the cross, he alone pleased the Father!

Isaiah 53:10 – Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

In the substitutionary death of Jesus, Christ was:

  • The wrath receiving
  • Justice satisfying
  • Guilt removing
  • Penalty paying
  • Sin atoning
  • Devil defeating
  • Grave conquering
  • Lamb of God

As you consider these two types of people and their eternal destines, what group of people do you see yourself with? What path are you walking? Where will you spend eternity—heaven or hell? If you are not a Christian, but you see your sin and understand your need for forgiveness, remember, Jesus by his resurrection proved that he has authority to forgive sinners. Call out to God today and plead for the work of Christ to be credited to your account. Plead for mercy from the God of mercy and you will be saved (Rom. 10:13).

Augustus Toplady wrote these words in his hymn:

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

The Freedom of Salvation

The Freedom of Salvation

Yesterday I preached from Romans 8:1-4 on the subject—”Freedom of Salvation” as Paul pointed to how we are free from the bondage of sin. In this glorious chapter, we see some very important truths emerging to the surface. In this single chapter, we have a summary of our salvation from past, to present, and looking to the future. Paul begins with a clear statement regarding no condemnation and he will finish this chapter with a focus on no separation.

In these verses, Paul pointed to our freedom from condemnation and our freedom through salvation. In other words, we have been freed from our condemnation and liberated to a life of worship and service to our Triune God. All three Persons of the Trinity are involved in our salvation. In the first verse, Paul delivers the reality that we have been saved from condemnation—literally the damnation of God. This is primarily focused on the work of Christ Jesus (as he names Jesus’ saving name and his office as the Christ of God). Nothing can please God outside of one sacrifice – one glorious sacrifice – one that was typified in the OT but fulfilled in the NT. One that was foreshadowed under the Law but fulfilled in the Person and work of Jesus Christ – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

This chapter has a heavy focus on the work of the Spirit of God in our salvation. We see the Spirit of God referenced in verses Romans 8:2, 4, 5, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 23, 26-27. If all you know about your salvation is that Jesus died for your sins – you have a very shallow view of salvation and a one dimensional view of your salvation. As gloriously pictured in Romans 8, we have a majestic God who has brought us into the family of God and all three Persons are engaged from start to finish—from eternity past to eternity future.

Paul also puts on display the work of the Father in sending his own Son as an offering for our sin (Rom. 8:3). The work of sending the Son predates human history as the blueprint of redemption’s story was put into motion among the counsel of the Trinity. As depicted in the Scriptures, the Father sent the Son who took upon himself human flesh and suffered, bled, and died for sinners (1 Pet. 2:24). This likewise draws a definitive line in the sand—making Jesus the single door and only means of salvation for sinners in the entire world (John 14:6).

Jesus suffered the crushing blow of God’s wrath as he was predestined for this work and completed it on the cross (Is. 53:10). Jesus became a servant who completed the Father’s will (Phil. 2:7). It was Christ who became poor in order that his people might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). This is the glorious work of Jesus.

Finally. all of this was accomplished in order that we might live in accordance with the righteous demands of God’s law. Without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we would never be capable of living the Christian life. Not only can the natural man not save himself (John 1:11-13), but he likewise cannot live in accordance with God’s righteous demands. It’s through the Spirit that a person lives humbly and acts justly in this fallen world (Micah 6:8). It’s by the power of the Spirit that we learn to love God supremely and to love our neighbor as ourself (Mark 12:29-31; Gal. 5:22-23).

 

The Hope of Romans 8:1

The Hope of Romans 8:1

Yesterday I had the privilege to preach Romans 8:1 in our series through the book of Romans. If Romans is the greatest book in all of the Bible, and I believe it is, we should pay close attention to what it says.If Romans is the greatest book in the Bible, what is the greatest chapter in the book? I believe it’s Romans 8. Since Paul is the greatest church planting pastor-theologian and Romans is the greatest book in the Bible and since in this great book, chapter 8 is the greatest chapter, it means that this is the greatest chapter in all of the Bible! If you were dropped out onto a deserted island and could only take one page from your Bible with you, I would argue that this is the page you should choose.

This grand chapter begins with the glorious truth regarding “no condemnation” and ends with the encouragement of “no separation.” In this one chapter we find the doctrine of justification, sanctification, and glorification. It begins with a blast of encouragement and ends with a climactic explosion of assurance. What a glorious chapter, but as it begins, it likewise starts off with a glorious verse. In this one verse, we find the time of hope, the people of hope, and the source of hope.

The Time of Hope

In the past, we were justified by faith. We see this truth detailed by Paul in the opening chapters of Romans. The great and high theme of justification by faith alone in Christ alone was rightly emphasized from the beginning. The one time legal verdict of justification leads to the present hope of all believers who walk in Christ and live in present hope of present benefits that will ultimately be fulfilled in Christ in the days to come.

We were saved in the past from the penalty of sin (justification), we are being saved daily from the power of sin (sanctification), and we will one day be finally and forever saved from the presence of sin (glorification). What God began in the past has present day significance and realities that point to the future hope. Until then, we have a present hope in our God through Christ. That’s why Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation…” The emphasis is on “now” as we live now in the hope of Christ. John Murray, in his excellent commentary writes, “Condemnation is the opposite of justification and justification implies the absence of condemnation.”

The People of Hope

Paul writes, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Who is being referenced in this verse? Certainly it wasn’t the entire city of Rome. It wasn’t the whole world without exception. Paul was writing to the church in the city of Rome. Although the city as a whole was wicked and full of all sorts of sin—Paul points to the children of God and describes their standing with God. They are the ones who have true hope in God—something the whole city of Rome didn’t enjoy.

At times we see the Bible refer to the people of God as the “God’s elect” or the implied bride of Christ. On other occasions we see language such as 1 Peter 2:9 that is filled with language that distinguishes God’s people from the whole world. The primary language we see in the New Testament is centered on the church. Although Paul didn’t use the language of “church” here—we know that’s who he has in mind since he was writing this letter to the church in the city of Rome. In many ways, church membership points to who is in and who is not in. This is extremely important. R.C. Sproul has rightly stated, “The church in the New Testament is made up of those who are called out from the world, from darkness, from damnation, from paganism, to become members of the body of Christ.” [1]

The Source of Hope

Paul makes it clear that the source of hope for the church in Rome was not empty religion or the will of man. Paul didn’t need to fight through the seasons of failure as described in Romans 7 by elevating self esteem or positive thoughts about himself. He understood that the means of hope and encouragement was found in Christ—the Savior of sinners. Paul understood that he had not worked himself to God in the beginning and he was not able to keep himself saved. That was the work of God’s sovereign grace. It was precisely that truth that brought encouragement to Paul and should likewise bring encouragement to us.

Paul points to Christ (the anointed One) Jesus (Savior) as the hope for ruined sinners. Those who have been saved by Christ should daily find their hope in Christ. For every sinner saved by Christ has assurance that they will never be lost (John 10:28-29). In fact, our salvation is so secure that in order for any Christian to go to hell—someone would need to ascend the sovereign throne of God and bodily drag Jesus from the throne and cast him through the gates of hell.

We are all failures who fall short on a daily basis, but we have a sovereign Savior who has promised to bring us all the way home to glory. As we journey each day in Christ, we must find our hope and confidence in him.


  1. R. C. Sproul, The Purpose of God: Ephesians (Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 95.

 

 

Paul — A Prisoner of War

Paul — A Prisoner of War

In our study through Romans, we are presently in chapter seven. This is one of the most difficult chapters to interpret in Romans, and for that matter, in all of God’s Word. Scholarship has been divided over what Paul is communicating in this chapter. For some, they see it as Paul referencing his days before salvation. Still others view it as an immature Paul who is struggling with sin. Many people see Paul’s change to the present tense in Romans 7:14 as an indicator that he’s writing from the perspective of a mature apostle who is being transparent about his own struggle on the journey of faith.

I believe for textual reasons, and for the sake of aligning with other places in Paul’s writings (Rom. 6:14) as well as other key texts in the Bible—Paul is writing an autobiography of his own struggle to maintain a faithful walk with Christ.

In verses 21-25 of Romans 7, we find Paul using wartime language. It’s quite clear that Paul is approaching this situation with a seriousness and he intends that we do the same. Rather than being fooled into believing that the Christian life is the “easy life” or that it’s the “Life is Good” approach to the faith—he speaks with a raw transparency about how we must avoid the attack of sinful temptation.

In this section, Paul points to two different laws that are operating in opposition to one another:

  1. The Law of Sin
  2. The Law of God

In verse 22, Paul declares that he “delights in the law of God.” This sounds like a direct quote from Psalm 1 and it validates the position of a mature believer, for non-Christians don’t talk like this nor do immature believers. Paul then identifies another law in verse 23 that is in his members (speaking of his body) that is waging war against the law of his mind (the law of God).

Inwardly, Paul is wrestling with sin and struggling to obey God. There is a constant battle and the mention of war in verse 23 is critically important. Furthermore, Paul points out that he finds himself held captive by the law of sin—and as you can imagine, having been freed from the bondage of sin by Christ, to be captured and placed back into the prison as a prisoner of war to sin is a very discouraging place to find oneself.

I recently read a sobering and heartbreaking story about a man who was captured as an American solider during World War II and held as a prisoner of war. He recalled the long death march in the hot sun, the lack of water and food, the inhumane conditions of the prison, and his near death experiences. In the end, although he was able to successfully escape, he would spend the remainder of his life with the scars of that whole ordeal. They served as a reminder of the power and threat of a real enemy.

We often fail to see the danger of sin and how being captured and held as a prisoner by sin will leave us with lasting scars. That’s why it is extremely important to engage in the war of sin and to overcome it through the power of God. In Pilgrim’s Progress, when Christian and Hopeful found themselves in the dungeon of Doubting Castle, after being abused, threatened, mistreated, and nearly dead—Christian discovered a key in his chest pocket. It was to symbolize the importance of God’s Word hidden in our hearts—and that one key unlocked the door of the dungeon allowing them to escape and find their way back to the path of righteousness.

If the Apostle Paul could find himself locked away in the dungeon of sin—we must all take heed lest we fall.

Satan Intended it for Evil—God Intended it for Good

Satan Intended it for Evil—God Intended it for Good

Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching Romans 7:7-12 in our series through Romans. The key to understanding this passage is to understand Paul’s previous life before Jesus and the intended place of the law of God in our life.

Becoming a great pitcher is a difficult task. You must take the baseball that everyone is so familiar with and make people miss it. The key is to use deception. Many hitters are trained to look for the ball from the time the pitcher raises his hands in his windup toward the plate and look for the rotation and you will be able to tell what kind of pitch it is and be prepared to hit. All of this happens so quickly and that’s what makes hitting so difficult too. The success of some pitchers through the years has been to develop a pitch that they can throw with great success. For Nolan Ryan, it was the fastball. For Phil Niekro – it was the knuckleball.

The knuckleball is thrown in a completely different way than all other pitches. The approach to the plate is far different. The velocity is slower. The way in which you hold the ball is different – using your nails on the first three fingers and your knuckle on your fourth to hold the ball in place and release it without any rotation. This causes the ball to dance its way toward the plate. “To have the ball flutter and to render the power of the opposition totally useless, that to me is the pleasure in watching a knuckleballer,” said Dan Duquette, the executive vice-president of baseball operations for the Baltimore Orioles. Some have described the knuckleball as floating like a butterfly with hiccups. The key to success with the knuckleball is deception.

So it is with sin. God intended the law for our good. While the law cannot save us, it does serve as a guardian and teacher to point us to our need for a Savior who is the Son of the living God—rather than our own self-righteousness. However, sin has used the law as a bridge to our hearts in order to excite the affections for our depravity. According to Paul, sin used our heart as the base of operations for attacking us and bringing greater condemnation upon us. So, is it sinful? Is the law bad? Paul said, “God forbid!”

The fact remains, the law of God is for our good and is used to bring us the knowledge of sin. Before we can be saved, we must first understand our need for salvation. It’s through the law that we come to this knowledge and see our need for Christ. Paul stated plainly that without the law, he would have never known of his covetous heart. Interestingly enough, the tenth commandment is the foundational ingredient for all other sins.

Paul concludes with the fact that the law is good and the commandment is holy, righteousness, and good. Why is this true? It’s on the basis that they reflect the character of God. The law is good because God is good. The commands are holy and righteous and good because God is and it’s through the revealed will of God that we see both the boundaries of the law and the need to repent.

Teacher that Instructs

James 1:14–15 – But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. [15] Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Mirror that Reveals

The law of God is a mirror of God’s holiness and our depravity (sinfulness). It serves to reveal to us our need of a savior.

Romans 3:20 – For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Hammer that Crushes

Jeremiah 23:29 – Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?

Fire that Consumes

In Jeremiah 5:14, the prophet claims that the Word is like a fire that consumes!

The sovereign God who has been transgressed by our sin owes us nothing, however, he has pointed out our failures and likewise pointed us to the cross – specifically to the hope in Jesus Christ. God has called us to repent!

Acts 17:30–31 – The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, [31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

The law is good, however, sin has used it for evil. We must never forget that God will never have his plans thwarted by the created being that we know as the devil. God will continue to use the good law to reveal our sin and to point us to our need to repent. This is true at the point of salvation and it remains true throughout our progressive sanctification in the Christian life.