Mortifying the deeds of the body

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 33c of 83

12  Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 13  For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. 14  For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Romans 8:12-14).

[We have seen how all believers must mortify the deeds of the body and why we must do so. In this final instalment of this tranche of articles, we ask the practical question of how: How may we mortify the deeds of the body —JJL]

3.  How?

The word mortify means “to put to death.” It is related to the word ‘mortuary’. A mortuary is a place where dead bodies are kept before they are buried. It is the place for the dead. To mortify is to put to death.

One of my children’s favourite activities when they were young was cockroach-stomping. It was almost always late when we got back from evening service or prayer meeting. And there were almost always cockroaches to stomp. My children would do their public service by chasing them and stomping them with glee.

They are good at mortifying cockroaches. I hope they will grow up having the same enthusiasm to mortify the deeds of their body.

But what are the deeds of the body?

The deeds of the body are not simply everything that is done by us in the body!

You must remember that the apostle Paul has been speaking about the body as the embodiment of the remnant of corruption. Our corruptions, after all, is largely to be found in the body and are principally manifested in our external members. It is in our bodies that indwelling sin is chiefly found and felt.

James says “the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy” (Jas 4:5). By this he indicates that the old man is not a tangible or material entity. It is not only the physical body, though most of what remains unrenewed is in the body. This is why it is commonly called “the flesh” (Jn 3:6; Rom 7:25; Gal 5:17).

The deeds of the body or the deeds of the flesh, is therefore, simply stated, things arising out of our old nature rather than out of our new nature. What are these? They are sinful thoughts, words and deeds.

To mortify the deeds of the body is to kill sin as soon as it appears.

What then is to mortify the deeds of the flesh? It is kill all the cockroaches of sin that crawl out of our old man! Or let me put it in more nauseating terms that we may fully appreciate what this exercise is about.

Remember the illustration we used in our exposition of Romans 7:24, of how the people near Tarsus punished their murderers? They would strap the corpse of the murdered person to the murderer. Now it is possible that Paul had such a torment in mind when he cried out “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

This is the case with all of us. We are carrying about our old man, though crucified, dead and rotting. Now, do not imagine that the “body of this death” that you that you carry around will not trouble you. Yes, God will not condemn you for your sin. There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. Neither will your sin destroy you if it does not reign in your heart.

But be sure that there will be things crawling out of your old man which you are carrying.

There will maggots, worms and cockroaches and all things hateful crawling out of the old man unto you. To mortify the deeds of the body is to kill these hateful creature whenever they appear on you. It is not to kill the body for the old man it is already dead. Paul does not speak of Mortifying the flesh, but mortifying the deeds of the body!

Dear reader, be sure that you are on the alert against the maggots, cockroaches and worms that will crawl out of your old man unto you.

Here is the cockroach of ‘pride.’ Are you going to let it crawl over you and feed on you? No, flick it to the ground and stomp it vigorously!

Here is the worm of ‘selfishness.’ Are you going to let it destroy you? No, pluck it up and squash it without mercy.

Here is the maggot of ‘lust’. Are you going to let eat you alive. No! Will you not terminate it ugly life?

Here is the scorpion of ‘unbelief’. Are you going to allow it to sting you? No, flick it off and crush it.

Are these the only things that will crawl out of your old man? No, no, the Scripture gives many more examples. In Colossians 3, the apostle Paul urges us:

5 Mortify therefore your members [or whatever belongs to your members] which are upon the earth;—fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection [immoral feelings], evil concupiscence [lust], and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5)

Who is Paul writing to? He is writing to believers! Believers involved in fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, idolatry! Unthinkable? No, no; the best Christians on earth have so much corruption in them that unless we make it a practice to mortify the deeds of the body, we are sure to fall into them.

And not only these, but as Paul makes it clear in the same passage— anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication, lies, etc (Col 3:8, 9).

I do not know what is your particular weakness or temptation. The Lord knows your heart.

You may not have a problem with immorality, but you have a problem with pride. You may not have a problem with covetousness, but you may have a problem with grudge-bearing. You may not have a problem with selfishness, but you may have a problem with anger.

Be sure that the devil will devise his temptations as to draw your corruptions into open acts. Be sure that you will face temptation, and unless you watch yourself carefully and practice mortification daily, you may fall on the very point you least expect to fall.

There is no crime, however vile and abominable, but what you and I are capable of committing. You must never think that we will never commit murder or adultery or idolatry or apostasy. Many have been too self-confident like Peter, and have fallen into such gross sin even to their own surprise.

Whatever your weaknesses may be, one thing you must know: If you allow yourself to sin in any of these things, you are walking after the flesh. You are walking in the way of death.

And if you continue in that way without repentance, you will die. You will discover at the end of your journey that you have been fooling yourself and others. Oh dear reader, are you backsliding? Will you not stop your downward slide and mortify your sin and ask for the ancient way to walk therein.

But how? you may ask. How may I mortify the deeds of the body? You may ask.

It must be done “through the Spirit” says the apostle (v 13).

Suffice to say that it means we must mortify sin through the Holy Spirit enabling, strength and guidance. Without the Holy Spirit’s enabling through regeneration, we are without strength to deal with sin.

Likewise without the Spirit’s leading (v. 14), we will never succeed in mortifying sin. What is it to be led by the Holy Spirit? We shall have to leave that for the next study. But for now, let it suffice for us to know that the practice of mortification cannot be carried out apart from the Word of God and prayer. The Word of God is the Holy Spirit’s map to guide us. Prayer is the means by which we ask for guidance.

But what is it to mortify the deeds of the body through the Spirit? Notice how Paul does not speak about the Spirit mortifying or even the Spirit mortifying through us. Instead he says: “if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body

It is the believer’s duty. Mortification is through the Spirit. We must be enabled, strengthened and guided by the Holy Spirit if we are to mortify the deeds of our body.

But we cannot be passive in it. We must not think that that the Spirit will help us if we are not actively seeking to mortify our flesh. We must not think that it makes no difference whether we read and hear God Word. We must not think it makes no difference whether we are fervent in prayer or sluggish. We must set ourselves very seriously to the task of mortification.

The grace and strength that the Holy Spirit provides does not in any way mean that we need to put in less effort! Thus the apostle Paul commands us:

“Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1).

Mortification is a task, which every one of us must engage in with prayerful diligence and earnestness.

While we cannot mortify the deeds of our body without the enabling and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we cannot expect His assistance unless we are seriously resolved in the work. Lazy Christians must not imagine that they will overcome their lusts!

What then are we to do to mortify the deeds of our bodies?

·  First, it must surely involve a sincere and humble searching of our hearts. Cry out with the psalmist:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps 139:23-24).

The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. But if you will ask the Lord to search your heart, He will reveal your heart. Remember that it pleases God to lead you by the Spirit so you can be sure that He will reveal if you go to Him. He may reveal through the reading of His Word. He may reveal through your conscience. He may reveal through godly brethren. But the first step is to search your heart.

·  Secondly, mortification of your flesh involves repentance. Has the Spirit of Christ revealed your sin? Oh do not linger on in sin. Go to the Father in repentance. Seek His forgiveness. Seek the forgiveness of those you have wrong. Make restitution if necessary. Resolve not to sin the same sin again by God’s grace. Do not allow the worms, maggots and cockroaches to crawl on you freely.

·  Thirdly, mortification involves discerning the voice of the old man. Now, your old man is dead. But his voice comes back to haunt you. You must recognise his voice from the voice of our new heart. You must not comply to his suggestions and demands. The old man is dead. You need not listen to his demands. You must shut him off. You must rather take heed to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the voice of your conscience.

·  Fourthly, to mortify the deeds of the body involves fleeing temptations and avoiding all appearance of evil. “Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” says Paul (Rom 13:14). To make provision for the flesh, is to feed the flesh. To mortify the deeds of the body, you must starve the flesh so that the creepy crawlies in it will not multiply and grow. One of the ways to feed the flesh is to watch immoral movies or to play violent computer games.

·  Fifthly, to mortify the deeds of the body successfully, you must fill your minds with the Word of God. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Ps 119:11). Remember that the Holy Spirit guides you with His Word as your road map. If you do not use His Word, you are bound to go astray.

Here then are the 5 things you must do: (1) you much search, (2) you must repent, (3) you must discern, (4) you must flee, and (5) you must fill.

But remember: you cannot succeed in mortifying the deeds of your flesh by yourself. For who is sufficient for these things? Paul knew that he was not sufficient for these things. This is why he cried out: O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death.

So you may resolve never to give in to sin; you may do all that is necessary to mortify the deeds of your flesh and yet you will still fail if you do it by your own strength and wisdom.

But thanks be to God, the Spirit dwells in you and by his guidance and strength you can mortify the flesh. Without the Holy Spirit’s guidance and strengthening, you are without hope. But with His help, you will succeed. Amen.

—JJ Lim