“Therefore, brethren, 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. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Romans 8:12-14 (NKJV)
The “therefore” is important. Since the things in Romans 8:1-11 are true, we no longer have any obligation whatsoever to do what our flesh wants us to. While I don’t have space in my blog post today to cover this, I encourage you to take the time to study it for yourself. Because of who we are in Christ, we no longer have any obligation to fulfill the desires of our sinful nature. A hard fact for us to accept is that we don’t have to cave to the desires of our flesh. As believers every sinful temptation we give into, we give into because of a willing choice we’ve made. That’s tough but true.
Ignoring this truth has powerful and negative consequences. We live under an unalterable spiritual law that says we always reap what we sow. In Galatians the Bible tells us not to be deceived into thinking that we will be the exception to this rule because we won’t (Galatians 6:7-8). This is meant to emphasize to us the seriousness and the spiritual danger of living a life controlled by our sinful nature. Paul continues this grave tone by telling us to put to death the deeds of the body. Think about the strong wording Paul uses here. The picture being painted here isn’t really a pretty one. This isn’t the idea of you saying a prayer, laying down to go to sleep and then suddenly, easily and painlessly your flesh dies and you wake up refreshed and revived never to deal with it again.
Instead the idea is that this is a life or death struggle. Picture a steel cage in which two fighters are brought in to fight. In this fight there is no referee or no time limit. There is also no victory by decision, tko, ko or submission. Instead the winner is the last one alive because you can only win by beating your opponent to death.
Can you imagine how brutal that fight would be? Can you imagine how bloody and battered the winner would be, much less what the loser would look like? Now imagine that instead of the winner getting to leave after winning that a new opponent was then brought in to fight. Same rules, same situation, another fight to the death. On and on it continues as long as life lasts.
This is the picture being painted here. We are to fight against our flesh with the same kind of intensity as two men fighting for their very lives. We do this because according to this passage we are fighting for our lives. We are in a kill or be killed struggle with our flesh.
We are to put to death the deeds of the flesh. This refers to all of the sinful passions and desires that our sinful nature produces. This would include, but not be limited to, things like, being judgmental, covetousness and greed, a critical attitude, pride, gossip, gluttony, drunkenness, pornography, fornication, any sort of sinful sexual lust, homosexuality and selfishness. We are to fight against giving in to these desires to the bloody bitter end.
At this point we must notice that we are supposed to do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. What we have to recognize from being told to do this through the power of the Holy Spirit, is that we can do this because of the Holy Spirit. We CAN put to death the deeds of the flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit absolutely WILL empower us to put to death the deeds of the flesh and live victoriously.
It is important for us to see the dual aspects of this. We must put to death the deeds of the flesh in the power of the Holy Spirit because we cannot do this on our own. The Holy Spirit will not do it unless we exercise our will and fight against the flesh. We do not have the ability to muscle our flesh down on our own and the Holy Spirit will not do it if we just passively set by and expect Him to do it all. We must be involved in this fight just as the Holy Spirit is involved. Both will have to be actively involved before we will be able to put the deeds of our flesh to death.
What we have to realize is that even with the Spirit’s active involvement this won’t be an easy fight to win. The difficulty of this is why so few win in this struggle. We want to pray and suddenly have all our sinful desires taken away. It just doesn’t work this way. I wish it did but it doesn’t.
This isn’t an immediate, once for all time thing. It is a continuous struggle that will go on as long as we are living in this life. We are given the picture of a continual and habitual action we must take. We must continue to follow the Holy Spirit. We must continue to deny ourselves. As we continually do these things the Spirit of God will begin to deaden, subdue and even destroy the strength of the deeds of the flesh. As we actively fight the flesh the Holy Spirit will empower us to do more, far more, than we could ever do on our own. The Holy Spirit will empower us to live victoriously.