What does it practically mean to “put to death” the deeds of the body?

For years this was a great mystery to me because the wording sounded so definitive and permanent.  And yet that has not been my experience as a Christian or as a pastor.

Sin Is Still Alive In Me

In 2008 I preached my first sermon series at College Park. I was greatly helped by what I discovered while studying Colossians 3:5 and Paul’s command “to put to death what is earthly in you.” In Colossians 3 the Greek word is nekroo. It is used to describe things that are as good as dead.  The same word is used in Romans 4:18 in reference to Abraham considering himself as good as dead in regards to his ability to conceive a child.  He was alive, but he considered his ability to conceive as dead.

In my research on this word I discovered that the Greek word nekroo was also used by physicians for the atrophy of the body through sickness. This was very helpful. Atrophy means that some part of your body grows weaker and weak through disuse. When atrophy sets in, a part of your body while still present is not longer functional. So putting something to death might not remove its presence in terms of temptations or struggle, but it does mean that there is a different power.

I referred to this an “intentional atrophy,” choosing to not act upon my fleshly desires while choosing to facilitate the desires of the Spirit. The combination of “atrophy” and “intentional” is important. In Romans 8:13 the word for “put to death” is more definitive. It means to condemn to death (1 Peter 3:18) or to be delivered over to death (Romans 8:36).  Romans 8:13 is more about the difference in power between the flesh and the Spirit.  Because of being “in Christ” and “in the Spirit” there is a new power that exists in the life of believer to consider themselves dead to sin.

So to “put to death the deeds of the body” is a decisive cooperation with the Spirit where we live out our position with new power which leads to new practices.  In Colossians 3 we weaken the flesh though atrophy, and in Romans 8 we say to the flesh:  “You are dead to me!”

Because of the new power of the Spirit we can intentionally eclipse the power of flesh with the power of the Spirit.  Now what specifically does that look like?  How do we use this new power of the Spirit?  Let me use an acronym with the word ECLIPSE to share my strategy with you:

 

 

  • Expose the lie of sin and temptation.  See it for what it really is and call it to account.
  • Claim a promise in the Word to counteract the lie
  • Live by faith.  You must believe and act upon the promise, even before you feel it to be true.
  • Ingest the Word.  You need multiple promises and you need to run to the Word to be your weapon against sin.
  • Pray for help.  We have the Spirit, and we need to cry out for God’s to deliver us.
  • Shun future temptations.  Run from tempting situations and circumstances.  Be wise!
  • Engage others.  Ask for prayer, seek counsel, and invite accountability in your life.

All of this is rooted in the fact that there is a new power in the believer because of the presence of the Spirit.  A new heart creates powerful new affections.

Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) was a remarkable and influential Scottish Pastor in the 1800’s.  His most famous sermon was entitled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.”[1]  The point of the sermon was simply that you cannot destroy love of the world by merely demonstrating its vanity or emptiness.  Godliness comes from a new love and a new affection.  Here is what he said:

“But what cannot be thus destroyed, may be dispossest – and one taste may be made to give way to another, and to lose its power entirely as the reigning affection of the mind.”

 

“…If the heart be without God, the world will then have all the ascendency.  It is God, apprehended by the believer as God in Christ, who alone can dispost it from this ascendency.  It is when He stands dismantled of the terrors which belong to Him as an offended lawgiver and when we are enabled by faith, which is his own gift, to see His glory in the face of Jesus Christ, and to hear His beseeching voice… It is then that a love paramount to the love of the world, and at length expulsive of it, first arises in the regenerating bosom.  It is when released from the spirit of bondage…, and when admitted into the number of God’s children, through the faith that is in Christ Jesus, the spirit of adoption is poured upon us – it is then that the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires and in the only way in which deliverance is possible.  And that faith which is revealed to us from heaven, as indispensable to a sinner’s justification in the sight of God, is also the instrument of the greatest of all moral and spiritual achievements on a nature dead to the influence, and beyond the reach of every other application.”

In other words, there is an expulsive power of a new affection.

There is a new power through the work of the Holy Spirit to eclipse the power of sin.


[1] Read the entire sermon:  https://redeemerchurch.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/expulsive-power-of-a-great-affection.pdf

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