Death To The Flesh
In his letter to the Romans, Paul describes the walk of sanctification.
12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-
13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Romans 8:12-14)
Verse twelve says, “We are under obligation.” The ‘We’ to whom he is speaking are believers in Jesus Christ, repentant ones. That is, those who are in covenant with Jesus Christ. If you are one of the ‘We’, then you are obligated by the statutes of the covenant to be obedient to the Holy Spirit. Living according to the flesh leads to death. This is spiritual death … eternal death. This is not something that can be ignored or pushed off of your radar until the end of your life. The road that leads to this final, eternal situation is not a pretty one. It is fraught with a host of calamities that include all forms of sickness and disease as well as demonic possession.
Here’s the good news.
“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17)
Those who repent step into a new spiritual realm, and they have the opportunity and the means to overcome the forces of evil that once overpowered them. Paul said it this way in verse thirteen in the above passage.
If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, YOU WILL LIVE. (Romans 8:13)
Paul is writing to believers in Rome. They have already repented. Yet, he is telling them they must put to death the deeds of the flesh if they wish to live. Those who have repented have crucified the flesh. That is what repentance is. Remember that repentance is a covenant making act. But once you have repented it is necessary to resist the devil and overcome his many temptations to return to performing the same deeds as before repentance. As a repentant believer, you have the power to overcome these temptations. That power is the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has more than enough power to defeat any and all of the works of the devil. Putting to death the deeds of the flesh is the way you become an overcomer as spoken of in Revelation. Putting to death the deeds of the enemy is not an exercise … something we’re to do just to keep busy. Please note that there are some pretty serious and wonderful benefits awarded to those who overcome.
‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’ (Revelation 2:7)
‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’ (Revelation 2:11)
‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’ (Revelation 2:17)
26 ‘He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS;
27 AND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father;
28 and I will give him the morning star.’ (Revelation 2:26-28)
‘He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.’ (Revelation 3:5)
‘He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.’ (Revelation 3:12)
‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.’ (Revelation 3:21)
“He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.” (Revelation 21:7)
Putting to death the deeds of the body, or living according to the Spirit as Paul says in Romans 8:13 is life. Remember that we saw in the previous article that sanctification leads to eternal life. Therefore, putting to death the deeds of the body is the same thing as sanctification.
We also saw in the previous article that sanctification was the pathway leading into the kingdom of God. Romans 8:14, quoted at the start of this article, tells us that those who walk in sanctification are also known as the sons of God.
Another important point to take away from Romans 8:12-14 is that sanctification is accomplished by the leading of the Holy Spirit. You cannot do it by your own will and determination. The Holy Spirit is the sanctifier.
But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13)
This verse contains four important truths.
1. It was God’s plan and His will from the beginning that salvation and eternal life would come to you by the way of sanctification.
2. Salvation comes through sanctification.
3. Sanctification is accomplished by the Holy Spirit.
4. Sanctification is the result of faith in the truth.
Being Led By The Spirit And Faith
I want to focus on items three and four from the above list. Being led by the Holy Spirit and faith go hand in hand. If you have one, the other is also present. The opposite is also true. Without faith you will not follow Him, because you cannot. “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6) If you follow Him without faith, by your own determination, it is considered to be works and faith is unnecessary. If you could follow without faith, faith would no longer be required, and if faith is not required, there is no need for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is not necessary for our sanctification, there is no need for Jesus to have died in order for the Spirit to be made available to all who repent. In fact, if you could sanctify yourself by your own will, there is no need for repentance. In that case, there also is no need for the Son of God to come to earth as a man. And to take it one step further, there would have been no need for God to have revealed Himself to man in any way since we could simply take care of our salvation on our own.
The Holy Spirit teaches and leads us to put to death the deeds of the body, as Paul said in Romans 8:13. It should be noted that in verse 12 he says that crucifying the flesh is not a matter of choice, it is a believer’s obligation. Thus, you work out your sanctification by the leading of the Holy Spirit, and you follow the leading of the Holy Spirit by faith. The result of that faith is behavior that is consistent with the commandments of the covenant. James calls these activities works. Works are the natural byproduct of faith.
Before looking at the famous passage on the relationship between faith and works found in the second chapter of James, lets us first consider the nature of faith. What is faith and where does it come from?
Let me say first off that we are talking about faith in God. Faith does not reside in human beings. None of us has any faith. Faith comes from God. Evidence of this is found in the following verse.
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think [we have nothing to boast in]; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)
Further, we see that even faith for salvation comes from God.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Note that you have been saved by grace, and that grace accomplished it, if it can be said that way, by using faith. However, this saving faith is not something you had or created through any of your deeds. If that were true, you would be able to boast in your great works that produced enough faith so you could be saved. This is avoided because God not only provides the grace, but also the faith.
What is faith? Some say it’s unmerited favor. Defining faith that way seems to say we received saving faith even though we did not merit it. I don’t see it that way. It seems to me that the gift of faith that results in salvation is completely merited. Why would God give anyone who did not merit it a gift as great as salvation? This faith is given to those who merit it, and they merit it by virtue of the fact that each of us is created in the image of God. Salvation is all about redemption. The idea of redemption implies that the redeemed person has been reverted to a previous position. It is the former position of all human beings that merits redemption. We are all sinners, and we, as the sinners we are, certainly do not merit salvation. We became sinners through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. However, God’s gift of saving faith is not given on the basis of what we are … fallen, rebellious children in a fallen rebellious world. No! We receive His grace and faith on the basis of the person He created. That is why Paul would say that, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Every human being born after the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden has been born with a sinful nature. That is why it can be said that we sin because we are sinners, and not that we are sinners because we have sinned.
Faith is the ability for fallen human beings to see God, and to believe that He is God, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him … that is, everyone who is convicted by the Holy Spirit and repents. Faith creates an awareness of sin that leads to a desire in our hearts to seek Him … to receive His reward and be set free. Grace works through that faith and creates an entirely new spiritual life in every person who repents.
The Road To Emmaus
There is an interesting story in the gospel of Luke where Jesus, after being crucified and buried, appears to two men who are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, but they do not recognize Him because they believed He was dead. After all, they explained to Him, the fact was that Jesus had been crucified. Their unbelief remained even though two women, followers of Jesus, had said they had gone to the tomb and found it to be empty, and that angels told them that Jesus was alive. At this point, Jesus comments on their lack of faith.
25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!
26 “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?”
27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)
However, the men remain locked in unbelief. Even Jesus’ explanation of the Scriptures did not convince them of the actuality of His resurrection. The men invite Jesus to stay with them, and He accepts their hospitality. Something spectacular happens as they are about to share a meal.
28 And they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as though He were going farther.
29 But they urged Him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is getting toward evening, and the day is now nearly over.” So He went in to stay with them.
30 When He had reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them.
31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. (Luke 24:28-31)
Something had been stirring in these unbelieving travelers.
32 They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
Jesus had planted truth within them. All that was needed was a spark of faith, and the power of grace would turn their unbelief into an active belief.
33 And they got up that very hour and returned to Jerusalem, and found gathered together the eleven and those who were with them,
34 saying, “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon.”
35 They began to relate their experiences on the road and how He was recognized by them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:33-35)
Following this, Jesus appears to the two travelers as well as the eleven apostles and others. Their hearts are so filled with unbelief they cannot believe it is really Jesus standing among them.
36 While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.”
37 But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit.
38 And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?
39 “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
40 And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet.
41 While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”
42 They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish;
43 and He took it and ate it before them.
44 Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,
46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day,
47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
48 “You are witnesses of these things.
49 “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:36-49)
This story provides us with a vivid picture of grace working through faith which leads to repentance and the conversion of an unbelieving heart. This same scenario has played out millions upon millions of times in even the hardest of unbelieving hearts.
Faith And Works
Please understand that no one ever repented without first having received the gift of faith from God. If you could repent before receiving faith, or if repentance were a prerequisite for receiving faith, then your salvation would be by works. The word, repent, is a verb, and verbs are action words. When you repent, you do something. If you do something to achieve your own salvation, then that salvation is by your doing, your work, and God’s involvement would not be necessary. Faith is allotted to you by God so you will have no reason to think more highly of yourself than you should.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;
9 not as a result of works [your own doing], so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Yes, you repented, but you have nothing in which to boast. You could not have repented had it not been for God’s grace and His gift of faith working in you. While works had no role in your becoming born again, there is a role for works [those directed by the Holy Spirit] following your repentance.
You should be clear about this: there are works, and then there are works. I mean that not all works are related to faith. The same deeds, performed by different people can be worlds apart in their spiritual significance. For example, two people work tirelessly to feed homeless people in their city. One works as the result of their God-given faith and obedience to the Holy Spirit, the other out of another more worldly motive. Both are works, and both provide a needed service to the community. Both are not, however, looked at in the same light by God. All of our work that is not at the leading of the Holy Spirit is done to satisfy one or more of our own fleshly desires. Hence, even a good work, if done for selfish satisfaction, can be fleshly.
Faith And Works
The good works that are pleasing to God are performed at the leading of and in obedience to the Holy Spirit, and are the outcome of a natural outflowing of faith. This is explained in the epistle of James.
14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?
[This is a hard reality for many to accept. Faith that doesn’t produce good works is not saving faith. Saving faith must be of a type that leads to obedience to the teaching, guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. Works cannot be separated from faith.]
15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,
16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?
17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
[James says that faith that does not have corresponding works is as useless as merely telling a person who is hungry and cold to be full and warm without also giving them food or clothing.]
18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” [True faith is identified by its corresponding works.]
19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?
22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;
23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. [A friend is a blood covenant partner.]
24 You see that a man is justified by works [combined with faith] and not by faith alone. (James 2:14-24)
The above discourse on the relationship between faith and works is another way of explaining the relationship between repentance and sanctification. A walk of sanctification, i.e., putting to death the deeds (works) of the flesh is thoroughly and completely joined. As James might say, “Repentance, if it has no sanctification is dead, being by itself.”
The apostle Peter wrote the following:
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen [whose repentance is accepted as being genuine seeing how it is coupled with sanctification]
2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure. (1 Peter 1:1-2)
We will explore the all important role obedience plays in sanctification in the next article.