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. (Romans 8:13) Death is a weighty word, in stark contrast to the life promised to those who set their minds on the things of the Spirit and who by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body. Note that Paul did not say, “If you don’t put to death the deeds of the body, you’ll lose some rewards in heaven.” No, he did not say that. He said exactly what he said. He said, “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” If not you will die. He wants us to have an urgency. He wants us to see the utter necesariousness of it. He wants us to see that life really is war. As I have heard said before, there is a mean streak to the Christian life. As John Owen the great Puritan has been known to have said. Either be killing sin or sin will be killing you. And friends, not just with an early death, but with eternal death! Paul says the same thing in (Col. 3:5-8)
In these warnings, Paul is following Jesus, who said things like, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matt. 5:29-30)
Maybe you’re thinking, “If Christians are saved by faith alone and are eternally secure, how can Jesus and Paul both say that if we don’t kill our sin, we’ll end up in hell?”
Friends, it is why we have to let tensions exist in the Bible. Let the Bible be the Bible. Be willing to be pulled. This is eternity we are dealing with. Are you willing to stand for all eternity with your doctrines. Then let it be so. Take note the Westminster Confession, Chapter 33:3 “As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity: so will He have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly, Amen.” To those who profess to know Christ, but show no evidence of it. Be careful. As R.C Sproul has said, “It is not profession of faith that saves but possession of faith that does” Perhaps the most frightening is Jesus’ warning (Matt. 7:21-23), “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Those who truly know Christ will be pursuing in some kind of measure, obedience to Him. Which means, killing sin. False believers may serve in ministry, look good on the outside, have all the right lingo, but they are at home with their sin.
John Piper (“How to Kill Sin,” Pt. 1, on DesiringGod.org) explains, “Putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit – the daily practice of killing sin in your life – is the result of being justified and the evidence that you are justified by faith alone apart from works of the law.” He adds, “If you are not at odds with sin, you are not at home with Jesus, not because being at odds with sin makes you at home with Jesus, but because being at home with Jesus makes you at odds with sin.”
James Boice (Romans: The Reign of Grace [Baker], 2:826) puts it bluntly, “Paul is saying that if you live like a non-Christian, dominated by your sinful nature rather than living according to the Holy Spirit, you will perish like a non-Christian—because you are a non-Christian.” For those who say they are a Christian, a life of unchecked sin leads to eternal death. Period. However you want to work that out, is fine. But just know, this matter is no mere trifle to be left to armchair discussion and debates. This is either eternal death and eternal life we are talking about. Will your faith save you on the great day of judgment. Make sure it is firmly set on the Lord Jesus Christ. I will close with these words from Martin Luther found in the preface to his commentary on Romans, “The Holy Spirit assures us that we are God's children no matter how furiously sin may rage within us, so long as we follow the Spirit and struggle against sin in order to kill it.” (Romans 8) You want some assurance, we all do. One more quote, free of charge. “If you are fighting sin, you are alive. Take heart. But if sin holds sway unopposed, you are dead no matter how lively this sin makes you feel. Take heart, embattled saint!” (John Owen) Be Killing Sin or Sin will be Killing you! No sin can ever be killed which was not already killed at the cross. Go to Christ! Flee to the Cross. Seek your refuge in him, by faith and alone. Then “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” (1 Timothy 6:12)