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 33a 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 the Christian will struggle against sin. But we also saw that we do not have to struggle hopelessly. Neither need we fear that sin will destroy us or that God will abandon us because of our sin. This assurance is based on three important verities. Firstly, there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus; secondly, the Spirit of Christ has not only regenerated us, but dwells in us; and thirdly, the Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee that we will one day be raised incorruptible.

What should our response be to this assurance? Our text, Romans 8:12-14, is essentially the apostle Paul’s response under divine inspiration.

The Lord helping us, we want to consider these words by asking Who, why and how? I.e.,: (1) Who is Paul speaking to? (2) Why must we mortify the deeds of the body? And (3) How to mortify the deeds of the body?

Let us first consider…

1.  Who?

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors…” (v. 12) says Paul. Paul is addressing the brethren or the ‘brothers’. No, I do not think he is addressing the men alone. He is addressing all the members of the church. He is speaking to his brothers and sisters in Christ.

The duties that he is enjoining in our text are for believers. Notice how he speaks of ‘ye’ and ‘we’ in these verses: “We are debtors… 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” (v. 12, 13).

He speaks of those who are “in the flesh” or the unregenerate as ‘they’ in verse 8. But in verse 9, he switches to ‘ye’ or ‘you’: “but ye are not in the flesh” he says.

So the instructions in our text are for the ‘ye’ and ‘we’ not the ‘they’. Paul is speaking to those who are not in the flesh but in the spirit.

Does this mean that his instructions are only for those who are regenerate? Does this mean that every member in the church is regenerate? I do not think so, for otherwise Paul would not speak so tentatively throughout this passage:

·  if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you…” (v. 9).

·  if Christ be in you…” (v. 10).

·  if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you…” (v. 11).

It is clear that not every member in the church is regenerate! But if that is so why does Paul call them brethren? Why does he speak to them as if they are all born again into the family of God: “Brethren, we are debtors…” he says.

The answer is that we are to regard every member in the church as brothers and sisters in Christ! We cannot see each other’s heart, but baptism is God’s seal of membership in Christ for the believer.

It is God’s warrant for us to regard another person as a believer. Yes, the person my use the seal fraudulently or even ignorantly, but that does not invalidate the authority of the seal. We must regard a person who is a baptised member of the church as a brother or sister in Christ until and unless the church should discover that the person is still in the bonds of iniquity. Our Lord tells us that in such a case, we must count him or her a sinner and a publican (Mt 18:17). But otherwise, every member must be regarded as a brother of sister in Christ even if we may doubt his or her salvation for some reasons.

It is only on this basis that a pastor can say to the congregation: “Brothers and sisters in Christ, God demonstrated his love for you in sending Christ to die for you.”

What I am saying is this: Paul is speaking to the whole church. The church may comprise wheat and tare; good and bad fishes; sheep and goat. Yet he has the divine warrant address everyone as wheat, good fishes and sheep. This is why he calls them brethren or brothers and sisters in Christ.

But take note that this is not just a warrant merely for convenience. It is a warrant that reminds of what we are or what we ought to be. For the genuine child of God, it is a great comfort to be reminded that he or she is a brother or sister in Christ. But the hypocrite or self-deluded ought to receive the address as a loving warning that he is living a lie. His conscience ought to prick him that he is not what he claims to be.

So dear reader, while it is my hope that you are truly saved, I would urge you to make your calling and election sure. One of the ways of doing do is to consider the words of the apostle Paul—both to obey and to see if you can agree with them.

Consider for example, if you can say “Amen!” when Paul says, “Brethren, we are debtors…”

But why does he say we are debtors?

All men are debtors by nature. We are debtors to God because God made us and gave us life. In Him we live and move and have our being. We owe all that we are and all that we have to Him. We have an obligation to live for Him. It is our natural duty. The fact that we are fallen sinners unable to please Him (as we ought to) does not diminish our duty to Him. God’s commandments for men are equally applicable to all regardless of their ability.

But now, as the children of God who has received such great privileges from God, we are double debtors.

We are double debtors firstly because we have received much more than all other men. We have been justified, we are being sanctified and we shall be glorified. We have been given eternal life in Christ!

And what God has given us, did not come free. We were bought with a price. “Ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” says the apostle Paul (1Cor 6:20). We are debtors to God’s glory.

We are double debtors, secondly, because we,—of all men,—have been enabled to do good works for the glory of God. We have been born again and we have the Spirit of Christ indwelling us. We have been made to hate sin and enabled to do good works. We have been “created, [or re-created] in Christ Jesus unto good works,” says the apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:10.

We are double debtors to live for Christ. “We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh” (v. 12), but to “mortify the deeds of the body” (v. 13). In other words, we owe it to Christ to mortify the deeds of the body!

To live after the flesh is the opposite of mortifying the deeds of the body. But before we consider what it is to mortify the deeds of the body, let us consider another reason why we must do so—apart from the fact that we owe it to our Lord.

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim