John Piper
Date Given: 
February 17, 2002

If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of
sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if
the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He
who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your
mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. 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. 15 For you
have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but
you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out,
"Abba! Father!" 16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit
that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs
of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him
so that we may also be glorified with Him.

Two weeks ago I directed our attention to verses 12 and 13 and
tried to answer one of four questions. These verses say, "So then,
brethren," – and the "so then" follows from the glorious
truth in verse 11 that our mortal bodies are going to be raised
from the dead and made alive by the Spirit of God, so that we can
enjoy God forever as he created us to be, body and soul – "So
then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh [that
old, rebellious self], to live according to the flesh" – you
don't owe the flesh anything but enmity and war. It's been trying
to kill you since the day you were born. Don't join forces with
your enemy and pay for your own destruction by giving in to the
flesh. You are not a debtor to the flesh.

Now he continues in verse 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." You don't owe the
flesh anything. You owe the Spirit of God everything. He is going
to make you alive in the resurrection (verse 11), and even now, you
can only have victory over your sins "by the Spirit." "If by
the Spirit
you put to death the deeds of the body you will
live." You owe your final resurrection life to the Spirit, verse
11; and the perseverance you need to make it to the resurrection as
a believer in war with sin, you owe to the Spirit. If you try to
survive as a Christian in any other way than "by the Spirit," you
will not survive. You will die. What I tried to show last time is
that this threat is real and the demand to fight is

Until you believe that life is war – that the stakes are
your soul – you will probably just play at Christianity with
no bloodearnestness and no vigilance and no passion and no wartime
mindset. If that is where you are this morning, your position is
very precarious. The enemy has lulled you into sleep or into a
peacetime mentality, as if nothing serious is at stake. And God, in
his mercy, has you here this morning, and had this sermon appointed
to wake you up, and put you on a wartime footing.

Jesus said in Matthew 11:12, "From the days of John the Baptist
until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men
take it by force." Do you want to enter the kingdom of heaven? Take
it violently! But violence against whom – or against what?
Listen to Jesus' answer: "If your hand or your foot causes you to
stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to
enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and
be cast into the eternal fire" (Matthew 18:8). Do you want to enter
life? Take it violently. Cut off your hand or your foot if you must
to keep from stumbling. It's a picture of the most radical kind of
assault on our own sin. Not the sins of others – our

Lay that on top of Romans 8:13, "If by the Spirit you are
putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live." Do you want
to enter into life? Do you want to live? Get violent. Get a wartime
mindset. Stop making peace with ears and eyes and tongues and hands
and feet that betray you like Judas, and go over to the side of the
enemy and become instruments of sin and make war on your soul. Put
to death the deeds of your body.

The Violent Warfare of the Christian Life

Ed Welch, in preparation for his book called A Banquet in
the Grave
(Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing,
2001), said:

. . . there is a mean streak to authentic self-control. . .
Self-control is not for the timid. When we want to grow in it, not
only do we nurture an exuberance for Jesus Christ, we also demand
of ourselves a hatred for sin. . . . The only possible attitude
toward out-of-control desire is a declaration of all-out war. . . .
There is something about war that sharpens the senses . . . You
hear a twig snap or the rustling of leaves and you are in attack
mode. Someone coughs and you are ready to pull the trigger. Even
after days of little of no sleep, war keeps us vigilant.

There is a mean, violent streak in the true Christian life! But
violence against whom, or what? Not other people. It's a violence
against all the impulses in us that would be violent to other
people. It's a violence against all the impulses in our own selves
that would make peace with our own sin and settle in with a
peacetime mentality. It's a violence against all lust in ourselves,
and enslaving desires for food or caffeine or sugar or chocolate or
alcohol or pornography or money or the praise of men and the
approval of others or power or fame. It's violence against the
impulses in our own soul toward racism and sluggish indifference to
injustice and poverty and abortion.

Christianity is not a
settle-in-and-live-at-peace-with-this-world-the-way-it-is kind of
religion. If by the Spirit you kill the deeds of your own body, you
will live. Christianity is war. On our own sinful impulses.

So let's work on this a little bit more this morning. I said
there were three questions two weeks ago that we did not get

  1. What are "the deeds of the body" that we are to put to
  2. What does killing them mean? What is this putting to
  3. How do you do it "by the Spirit"? What does "by the Spirit"

1. What Are "The Deeds of the Body" that We Are to Kill?

Paul is picking up here on what he had said already in Romans 6.
So go back there with me and let's remind ourselves of a few
things. Take three verses to shed light on Romans 8:13. First,
Romans 6:13, "Do not present your members [=your bodies] to sin as
instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as
those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to
God as instruments for righteousness." What then are "the deeds of
the body" that we are to kill? They are those deeds that we are
about to do (you kill them before they happen) when our bodies are
"instruments or unrighteousness."

Second, Romans 6:12, "Do not let sin reign in your mortal body
so that you obey its lusts." When the mortal body is taken captive
by sin and made to obey lusts, then and there we see "deeds of the
body" that should be put to death.

Third, Romans 6:6, "Our old self was crucified with
Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away
with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin." I cite this
verse to remind you of the all-important distinctively Christian
truth about killing the sinful actions of the body, namely, in
union with Jesus Christ by faith alone, you are already dead to sin
and alive to God, and what you are doing when you put to death the
deeds of the body is becoming in practice what you are in Christ.
"Our old self was crucified, in order that our body of sin might be
done away with!" When Christ died, we died in him if we are united
to him by faith. And we died with him so that we might demonstrate
this death by putting to death the sinful deeds of the body.
Because we already have the victory we can succeed in our violence
against sin! He breaks the power of cancelled sin. We can
only kill the sin that has already been killed when we were killed
in Christ. This is Christianity, not moral self improvement.

So the answer to the first question, "What are the deeds of the
body in Romans 8:13?" is the deeds that we are about to do prompted
by sin or lust or unrighteousness. Sin is deeper than deeds. The
deeds are the instrument of the sin. And when that is what our
bodies are about to do – go over to the side of the enemy
– we put that action to death. In this war with ourselves,
traitors are put to death.

2. What Is This Putting to Death?

The answer is that you suffocate the sinful deeds of the body.
You cut off the life-line, the blood flow. Deeds of the body come
from somewhere. Jesus said, "The things that proceed out of the
mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. (19) For out
of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications,
thefts, false witness, slanders. (20) These are the things which
defile the man; but to eat with unwashed
hands does not defile the
man" (Matthew 15:18-20). Sinful deeds have a life line that must be

In other words, there is a condition of the heart that gives
rise to the "deeds of the body." It's a heart issue. We must cut
off the hands and gouge out the eyes, not literally – that
would do no good – but with that kind of violent heart-work.
You kill the bad fruit by severing the bad root.

What's the bad root of "the deeds of the body"? You can see it
in Romans 8:7. "The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God;
for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not
even able to do so." The root of "the deeds of the body" that have
to be killed is the flesh that is hostile to God and unwilling and
unable to submit to him. Verse 12: "If you live according to the
flesh you will die." Flesh is the great enemy here. And
it's an enemy because it is insubordinate and hostile to God. It
doesn't like God and does not want to be told by him what to

So to kill "the deeds of the body" that this enmity produces,
you have to cut the life-line. Pinch the air pipe. Stop the blood
flow. Deeds must be killed before they happen by severing the root
of hostility and insubordination that rejects God.

3. How Do You Do This "By the Spirit"?

Let's get at answer by following three steps, each with a
different text.

Step One: Set Your Mind on the Things of the Spirit

Step #1. Notice Romans 8:5-6 and how Paul speaks there of the
flesh and the Spirit (the same pair he contrasts here in verse13):
"For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the
things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit,
[set their minds on] the things of the Spirit. (6) For the
mind set on the flesh is death (as verse 13a says!), but the mind
set on the Spirit is life and peace (as verse 13b says)." So the
first step in the answer is this: putting to death the deeds of the
body by the Spirit involves "setting the mind on the things of the
Spirit." You don't just look at the temptation and say NO. You do
that! But if you are going to put it to death by the
, you have to do more: you direct your mind, your heart,
your spiritual focus another way, namely to the "things of the

Step Two: Set Your Mind on the Words of God and the Realities
They Stand For

Step #2. What are "the things of the Spirit"? If we are going to
rivet our minds and hearts on them in the hour of temptation so as
to kill sin, what are we looking at? Here the key text is 1
Corinthians 2:13-14 where Paul talks about his own teaching as
God-inspired words. This is the only other place in the New
Testament where the very phrase "things of the Spirit" is used. He
speaks of his revelations like this: ". . .which things we also
speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those
taught by the Spirit. . . . (14) But a natural man does not accept
the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness
to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually

So here "the things of the Spirit" are the words of God spoken
by the apostles. From this I infer that when Romans 8:6 says that
"those who are according to the Spirit set their minds on the
things of the Spirit" he means that they set their minds on the
words of God and the realities they stand for. These are the
"things of the Spirit" that the natural person rejects and the
spiritual person embraces. So to put to death the deeds of the body
"by the Spirit" is to "set your mind on the things of the Spirit,"
which we now see means embracing the words of God (and the reality
they point to) spoken by his inspired spokesmen.

This is especially significant because the "word of God" is
called "the sword of the Spirit" in Ephesians 6:17. And swords are
used for killing. And that is what we are to do "by the Spirit" in
Romans 8:13. Kill the deeds of the body by the Spirit, that is by
fixing your mind on "the things of the Spirit," that is, by
welcoming and embracing the "word of God" in your mind and heart,
that is, by taking the Sword of the Spirit which is the deadly
sword for sin-killing.

Step Three: By Hearing with Faith, not Works of the Law

Step #3. Very practically what do you do to bring the power of
the Spirit by the word of God into vigorous, sin-killing action?
The answer is clear in Galatians 3:5, "So then, does He who
provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by
the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?" The answer is that
the Spirit is supplied to us for the miraculously mighty killing of
sin not by works of the law but by "hearing with faith."

Why does he say "by hearing with faith" instead of just
"by faith"? To emphasize that what faith hears and receives and
embraces is something heard, namely, "the word of God," which is
the sword of the Spirit, which kills sin.

How does it do that? Well, let's save that for a whole sermon
when I come back. But we are not left helpless this morning. What
we are saying is that when temptation comes, alongside a very
powerful and resolute NO!, you look to a word from God, especially
a word that promises he will be more for us and
do more for us than what this sin promises. And if you
believe him – there is the main battle – you will sever
the root of sin.

So immerse your mind and heart in the fountain of truth and life
and power – the promises of God, and when the temptation
comes, take this all-satisfying word, this sword of the Spirit, and
believe it, and by it sever the root of sin. Kill it.

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