Crucifying the Flesh

Categories: Life Christian › Sanctification and Holiness

Most people do not have any idea of the torture involved on the cross, or how revolting it would have been to first century people to have Jesus say to them: "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." (Matt. 16:24) People knew what crucifixion was like. Romans crucified people quite frequently. It was a horrifying death. Yet Jesus almost seems to be chasing people away when He adds, And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me." (Matt. 10:38)

Many of you have seen The Passion of the Christ. I believe evidence shows that Jesus was crucified with nails through his wrists, not through the hands as the movie portrays. And I thought I would read a medical description of what this would do to a person. This description says:

The cross is placed on the ground and the exhausted man is quickly thrown backwards with his shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square wrought iron nail through the wrist deep into the wood.

Quickly he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tightly, but to allow some flex and movement. The cross is then lifted into place. The left foot is press backward against the right foot, and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through the arch of each, leaving the knees flexed. The victim is now crucified.

As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain - the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he places the full weight on the nail through his feet. Again he feels the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the bones of his feet. As the arms fatigue, cramps sweep through his muscles, knotting them [with] deep relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward to breathe. Air can be drawn into the lungs but not exhaled. He fights to raise himself in order to get even one small breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the blood stream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in life-giving oxygen. Hours of limitless pain, cycles of twisting, joint wrenching cramps, intermittent partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against rough timber. Then another agony begins: a deep, crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart... [And he goes on.]

Yet Jesus was saying that if we are not willing to take up our cross and go through that, we are not worthy of Him. Over and over again through the New Testament, we are called to crucify ourselves, to crucify our flesh, to put to death our carnal impulses and to mortify our sin nature. And what a perfect symbol of how painful sanctification can sometimes feel.

During one of my counseling sessions, somebody made a statement to the effect, "I'm going to die if you make me do that!" Have you ever felt like that when you've been trying to overcome a besetting sin? Many of the impulses and desires toward sin are so strong that people do feel like they are in a death-struggle in saying "No" to the flesh. Hebrews 12:4 speaks of your struggle against sin. Scripture uses the language of wrestling, fighting, resisting. Maturity is not an overnight process, and at times our sanctification is a battle ground. We are going to be looking today at what in the world Paul means when he says in verse 5: Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. We have an enemy that God calls us to kill.

And the first thing we must discover is who is the enemy. There have been many wars in which troops have accidentally fired upon their own side. During the Gulf War, some died through friendly fire. And so we need to make sure that we are not fighting against the wrong things.

Finding the true enemy

Never mistake the following for enemies

The material things of life (2:20-22)

The human body (2:23)

In chapter 2 he warns us against that common mistake. He says in verses 20-22 that the material things of life are not the enemy. Those material things can be used in the service of God. Alcohol is not the enemy of a drunkard — his flesh is. Food is not the enemy of a glutton — his flesh is. So verses 20-22 say, Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles [and that phrase "basic principles" is one Greek word — stoixea, which was used of the axioms of mathematics or presuppositions of any area of life. "Therefore, if you died with Chirst from the presuppositions] of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations — "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," which all concern things which perish with the using — according to commandments and doctrines of men? It is a lot easier to make up legalistic rules than it is to deal with the true enemy, which is our old nature. Rather than putting to death lack of self-control, many find it easier to destroy the television set. Rather than putting to death gluttony, they treat their stomach as the enemy and staple it, or they treat the food as the enemy and they chemically change it. Rather than putting to death impurity and lust, many Christians in the early years ran out into the desert where they couldn't see the opposite sex. But they found that their sinful nature followed them into the desert and drove them crazy. They couldn't run away by treating this physical world as the enemy. We make a huge mistake when we see the problem as being out there. And avoidance is not the solution — touch not, taste not, handle not.

The true enemy is called

"The flesh" (Col. 2:23) — Our sinful nature

"The old man" (3:9) — Our old identity with Adam

"Whatever belongs to your earthly nature" (NIV of 3:5)

And so they proceeded to treat their bodies as the enemy. Some thought that if the problem is not out there (in other words, I still have a problem when I am off in the desert), then maybe my body is the problem. And so they would treat their body as the enemy and would fight against their body. They would go way beyond Biblical fasting and starve themselves into weakened, sickly condition because they thought if their body was weak, maybe it wouldn't tempt them. But it didn't work. They would punish their bodies by whipping themselves or sleeping without a blanket out in the bitter cold. They would starve themselves to try to put their bodies into subjection. Some castrated themselves. Others denied themselves sleep or respite from bugs, cold or dirt. But the reasoning was the same. They saw their bodies as being the enemy that had to be overcome. And this chapter says, "No way. That's not the enemy. Even the body can be used as an instrument of righteousness according to Paul." Look at chapter 2:23: These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. Did you get that? They are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. They were hurting and putting to death the wrong things. Stapling your stomach is not the solution to gluttony. The real enemy is not material things or even your body. The real enemy is called here the flesh. In chapter 3:9 it is called the old man. In otherwords, it is our old identity with Adam. We talked about that last week, didn't we? And we saw that the mortification of the flesh was one of the missing ingredients to gaining victory. Anyway, in chapter 3:5 the flesh is called our members - and it lists those metaphorical members of this sinful nature as fornication, uncleannes, passion, etc. In otherwords, evil desires.

Over and over again in the Scripture we are called to fight against our evil desires - the sinful impulses of our old nature. Galatians 5:24 says, And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. I think it is particularly interesting the mode of death that is used to describe this fight against our sinful impulses. It is called crucifixion, and I think with good reason. The parallels between crucifixion and sanctification are all there. Let's quickly go through some of these parallels, and as we do so, see if any of these describe you. If they don't, you are in trouble because the Bible says, Those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh (Gal. 5:24). It is saying, "If you belong to Christ, you have crucified your flesh." But let's look at the parallels.

Why putting to death our sinful desires is called "Crucifixion" elsewhere

It is painful

First, fighting against sin is painful just as crucifixion was painful. If you have never been through pain in your sanctification, then you have never crucified your flesh. On the other hand, some people think there is something wrong with them because they are having such struggles and such pain in overcoming their besetting sins. There is nothing wrong with you, believe me. The reason there is pain is that you are insisting that the old nature get on the cross. You need to be worried if there are no struggles. Why? Because the struggle against sin is the evidence of life within. The old man (our old fleshly nature) wants to get off the cross and he fights and yells. And unfortunately what some of you do is you let him get off the cross, because of all the fuss he is making, and you let him get all healed up again. And the next time you say "No," he yells even louder because he knows how much that cross hurt the last time, and it also knows that all of his yelling seemed to make you give up. And it is ever so imperative that you not let a sin off the cross until it dies. Pain or no pain, we are called to crucify our sinful desires.

But many of us don't like to be executioners because we are afraid of the wrestling match of getting that sin onto the cross in the first place. In Hebrews 12:4 we find that others had the same fears. They quit fighting as soon as the sin-nature drew out its sword and resisted by making us feel bad. Why don't you turn there with me. Hebrews 12. If you look at verse 1 you can see the context is the Olympics where there are races, gladiatorial fights and wrestling. And in verse 1 he tells us that there is a huge cloud of witnesses watching you, and you need to endure. There are angels all around who are called "Watchers." God occasionally allows saints from heaven to get a glimpse of what we are doing to encourage them in their prayers. And Paul says that we need to be like Jesus who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. But in verse 4 he says, You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. Those Hebrews were complaining about how hard it was to fight against sinful desires, and the General in effect says, "Did you say fighting? Where's your wounds? I don't see any blood. I don't see any battle scars. Who said that the Christian life was going to be pain free?" This is why I hate that Christian equivalent to the pepsi cola advertizing that says, "Try it, you'll like it." Those don't sound like the words of Christ.

Christ said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24). "And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me." (Matt. 10:38). So crucifixion causes pain, and initially, sanctification is painful. The longer we persevere at it, the weaker the flesh becomes, and the less painful it is to us. But there is pain. And by the way, I have taken a lot of the ideas for this sermon from Matthew Henry, John Owen, and John Flavel — tremendous Puritan writers.

It affects the whole person

Secondly, crucifixion affects the whole person. I think the description I read earlier shows how every nerve in your body seems to be affected. John Flavel commented, "the death of the cross was universally painful; every member, every sense, every sinew, every nerve, was the seat and subject of tormenting pain. So it is in mortification [by the way, to mortify means to put to death, so the mortification of sin is the putting to death of sin. So he says, "So it is in the mortification] of sin; it is not this or that particular member or act, but the whole body of sin that is to be destroyed... there are conflicts and anguish in every part." Why is that the case? Because the same fleshly impulses that lead to one sin feed other sins. If you go after the true enemy in drunkenness for example, you will find resistance of the flesh in many other areas that lacked self-control, such as TV, smoking, sex, etc. But if you attack the wrong enemy — things, then you can go through life without feeling the least bit of pain in the socially respectable areas of lack of self-control. And that's why a lot of former drunks trade lack of self-control there for addictions in other areas of life. It affects the whole person, and when I counsel people in an addiction, they find themselves growing like crazy in every area of their lives. But if they just do it the alcoholics anonymous way, there is no impact.

It is slow

Thirdly, crucifixion is a slow death. You may wish that you could lick a particular sin overnight. But it rarely happens that way. God's method of sanctification is gradual growth. But actually, that can be an encouragement. Though it is slow, there is a weakening of sin over time. You can gain the victory. In John Owen's book on the the mortification of sin, he said, "As a man nailed to the cross; he first struggles, and strives, and cries out with great strength and might, but, as his blood and spirits waste, his strivings are faint and seldom, his cries low and hoarse, scarce to be heard; - when a man first sets on a lust or distemper, to deal with it, it struggles with great violence to break loose; it cries with earnestness and impatience to be satisfied and relieved; but when by mortification the blood and spirits of it are let out, it moves seldom and faintly, cries sparingly, and is scarce heard in the heart; it may have sometimes a dying pang, that makes an appearance of great vigour and strength, but it is quickly over, especially if it be kept from considerable success." And so it is slow. But eventually things get better and the struggle against a sin is not as difficult. I think by the end of this sermon you are going to find that you are encouraged.

It is shameful

The fourth parallel is that crucifixion is a shameful process. Those who were crucified were crucified in full public view with all or most of their clothes stripped off. It was one of the most shameful deaths that you could receive. And it is guaranteed that if you are dealing with your sin Biblically, it will hurt pride. Some people don't want others to know about their sin, so they try to deal with it secretly. They don't ask for prayer, counsel or support. They want to avoid shame. But by definition that means that you are avoiding crucifixioin, because crucifixion is always shameful. And Jesus said that if you are not willing to take up your cross and follow Him, you are not worthy of Him.

And part of the process of putting sin to death is humbling ourselves by confessing our sins to one another. It involves ripping off the façade and embracing real Christianity, rather than a fake holiness. James 5:16 says, Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. "But that is too humbling!!" you might say. James says, God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble... Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. We've got to strip off the façade of having our lives put together, and begin the process of accountability, encouragement and stirring one another up to good works. Sure it is shameful, but so is crucifixion. And Galatians 5:24 says, Those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Believers are willing to bear that shame of admitting to our sins and being exposed as helpless apart from Christ.

It is violent

But finally, crucifixion is not a natural death, but a violent death. The flesh does not die of old age. It has to be put to death. Your sinful impulses will not go away if they are just left alone. In fact, if the Spirit of God did not kill our sinful members, they would live on forever. Even an eternity of hell fire and wrath could not do away with your sinful desires. Either it must die a violent death by the power of the Holy Spirit in this age, or it will never die at all. Romans 8:13 says, For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Those are the only two options: either let your flesh keep living and you will die spiritually in hell, or put your flesh to death right now and you will live as you have never lived before — life more abundant and free.

Have you been crucifying the flesh, or have you been avoiding the pain and the shame with your own man-made efforts? If you avoid the cross you will never see resurrection life, joy or power. All that your efforts will produce will be a dry Pharisaism. There can be no substitute for crucifixion.

Now I have painted a pretty sorry picture of what it means to be a Christian to this point. You might think, who in his right mind would want to take up the challenge of being crucified with Christ? Our natural inclination is to save our pride; to save our lusts; to save the desires of the flesh. But you know what? This presupposes that you have already been changed by God's grace. Colossians 2:20 says, if you died with Christ. Chapter 3:1: If you were raised with Christ. Galatians 5:24 indicates the moment you are regenerated you begin to crucify the flesh. You can't help it. God's Spirit lusts against your flesh, and yoiur flesh against the Spirit. And your reaction to this sermon will be different than an unregenerate man. When Christ chased away the crowds with His statement of dying to self, He asked His disciples, "Will you also go?" And there response was not, "We love the pain." They were uncomfortable too, but they said, "Where shall we go, for you have the words of eternal life." They were just as uncomfortable, but because the Spirit had drawn their hearts, they were willing to take up their cross and follow Christ. And the moment the Holy Spirit regenerates a person, He is transferred into a new kingdom, and he has a new love and a new hatred. He still sins, but Romans 7 says that when he sins, it is the things that he hates that he does. He's been given a new hatred. And as he moves gradually from Romans 7 to Romans 8 he realizes the power of sanctification. And so there is a whole new orientation to life, a whole new desire to do battle. And I have listed in your outlines five additional reasons why we as Christians can be motivated to put to death our sinful desires.

Why should you go through this uncomfortable process?

Because you cannot please God if you are controlled by the flesh (Rom. 3:6; Rom. 8:7-8; James 4:4)

The first reason we should be motivated to crucify your flesh is that we know that we cannot please God if we are controlled by the flesh. James 4:4 says, Adulterers and adultresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. If you let that sinful impulse down from the cross and make a peace treaty with it, then you cannot be the friend of God. Romans 8:7-8 say, Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. If you look at our text in Colossians 3:6 it says, Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience. So we must crucify those sinful desires because God hates them and we want to please him. That's a tremendous motivation.

Because this is the way to life more abundant (Rom. 8:13)

But secondly, because this is the way to life more abundant. Romans 7 is the pathway to Romans 8. Colossians 2:20-23 is the prelude to the resurrection living of chapter 3:1-4. Colossians 3:1-4 introduces the resurrection power that we can experience by union with Christ. And the rest of the book shows the richness of the Christian life, but it can only be experienced as we go through this process of crucifixion. Romans 8:13 says, For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. The irony of the Christian life is that true living only comes to those who crucify their sinful desires. Are you willing to do so? Is the joy of victory worth the pain of battle? For believers it should be.

Because it is a deadly enemy, a citizen of the world and wars with God (2:20; cf. Gal. 5:17)

But if you are not motivated by that, perhaps the next one will motivate you. The third reason we must put to death the flesh is because it is a deadly enemy, a citizen of the world and wars against God. Until we understand how horrible this enemy is, we won't be motivated to slay it. I watched the Patriot this past week, and the hero was only motivated to fight for liberty and to join the army when he began to realize how horrible this one enemy was.

When you begin to understand the dangerous vileness of your sin nature, you will be motivated to hate it, and to want to put it to death. One of the things that I found fascinating about the Jeffrey Dahmer case was that even people who were ordinarily against the death penalty were so revolted by Dahmer's slow torture, abuse, storing of bodies in his freezer, and cannibalism of his victims, that many of these anti-death penalty people were willing to pull the switch on him. So study what the Bible says about how dangerous and vile your real enemy is. The Puritans spoke of the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Scipture speaks of the "filthiness of the flesh" (2 Cor. 7:1), "the lust of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16), being "defiled by the flesh" (Jude 1:23), being led "into captivity to the law of sin" (Rom. 7:23) and becoming the "slave of sin" (John 8:34). The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:17), and sin leads to more sin (Prov. 10:16). Romans 8:7 indicates that the flesh is at enmity with God, and 1 Peter 2:11 speaks of "fleshly lusts which war against the soul." You cannot just leave it alone. Galatians 5 says, The flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit... and then he talks about the victory that comes through His power.

The Scripture says that the Old Man within us deserves to die. The carnal man doesn't believe that. He can't believe that Adam deserved to go to hell, so how could he believe that anything identified with Adam deserves to die. But if we are convinced of the degree of enmity that is there, then we may be willing to execute those sinful desires. I think that Kris Lundgaard's book so vividly describes the awfulness of this enemy within. When you see how bad it is, you will be willing to pull the switch, just like you would no doubt be happy to pull the switch on a person like Dahmer.

Because it will seek to take you captive (Rom. 6:16,19; 8:15; 2 Pet. 2:19)

Fourthly, because the flesh will seek to take you captive. It may seem like just a little sin, but it leads you on until you fall into its trap and find yourselves enslaved. Romans 6:19 speaks of this downhill slide as being slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, It's like pretzels — it's hard to stop with one. 2 Peter 2:19 talks about false teachers who tell you not to get legalistic, and to go ahead and enjoy yourself. But then it says, While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. John 8:34 says, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. You can't just stop with one. It is enslaving. But praise Jesus! Romans 6:6 says, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. It's only through crucifixion that you gain this freedom from slavery. And so, if you have been struggling with sin, take this sermon seriously. Read Kris Lundgaards book The Enemy Within, and then tackle The Crucified Christians by Trapp or Owen's book On the Mortification of Sin.

Because it will seek to kill you (Rom. 8:13)

And then the final motivation is that if you don't kill it, it will kill you. Romans 8:13 says, if you live according to the flesh, you will die... It truly is a life and death struggle. Romans 6:21 says, the end of those things is death. Romans 8:6 says, For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. People are sometimes willing to fight when they know that it will otherwise mean their death.

How should we obey this command?

By the Spirit (Rom. 8:13)

He delights in God's laws (Rom. 8:2,4)

But let's see how we can obey this command to put to death those sinful desires. And though there are many things that we can do such as prayer, fasting, meditation, using the means of grace, attendance at church, etc., I want us to be focused on what makes our attempts to crucify the flesh different from the formalist Christians. Listen to the following sobering statement of John Owen on how formalists (in other words, Pharisees) can imitate the real thing. He says, "Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world." Yes, Satan tries to deceive false religions into thinking that if they deny themselves, they will live. They teach salvation by good works. Remember that we started this sermon by the Pharisee's counterfeit of fighting against the wrong things. Pharisees saw the enemy as being anywhere but inside of us. It was my upbringing, or it was my spouse, or my environment that was at fault. It's my body's fault. But we not only need to detect the right enemy; we also need to use the right methods.

Notice in your outlines that we don't focus on the methods that we engage in, but on the power of God. First of all, turn to Romans 8:13. It says, For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Notice especially that phrase, "if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body." The Holy Spirit is the one who makes our striving against sin possible. Galatians 5:17 says, For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. Yes, He's the one who's causing all that trouble. The Holy Spirit who indwells you takes away the joy of sinning. Praise Jesus! What used to be fun, is now troubling. And we can praise God for His faithfulness in doing this. The Spirit delights in God's laws and makes us hunger and thirst after righteousness. Romans 8 indicates that the Holy Spirit renews our minds, our wills and our emotions to be more sensitive to God's law and to be more averse to evil.

He takes away the joy of sinning (Gal. 5:17)

He changes our minds about sin (Rom. 8:5,6)

He produces the opposite graces (Gal. 5:16-25)

But Galatians 5:16-25 especially talks about the Spirit producing the fruit which is the opposite of the things we are crucifying. And just as those sinful desires if left uncrucified weaken and destroy the soul, the fruit of the Spirit when cultivated weakens and destroys the flesh. Without the Spirit's power we would never be successful. Are you depending upon the Spirit's power when you fight?

Through union with Christ (3:3-4)

Union with Christ gives us security (2:20; 3:3-4)

But turn back to Colossians 3 which emphasizes our union with Christ. Chapter 3:3 says, For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. It's hidden. It's protected. Union with Christ gives us security. We do not gain security by being better and better at putting sinful desires to death. The very opposite is true. Because we are secure in Christ, we don't always have to be watching our back side. It is a sense of gratitude, peace and sins forgiven that can give us zeal in overcoming sin. Don't ever think that you can gain God's favor by moritifying the flesh. It is only as you already have God's favor because of what Christ has done that you can put those things to death. Let me read you an extended quote from Horatius Bonar, a godly Scottish pastor over a hundred years ago. He said:

It is forgiveness that sets a man working for God. He does not work in order to be forgiven, but because he has been forgiven, and the consciousness of his sin being pardoned makes him long more for its entire removal than ever he did before.

An unforgiven man cannot work. He has not the will, nor the power, nor the liberty. He is in chains. Israel in Egypt could not serve Jehovah. "Let my people go, that they may serve Me," was God's message to Pharoah (Exod. 8:1); first liberty, then service.

A forgiven man is a true worker, the true Law-keeper. He can, he will, he must work for God. He has come into contact with that part of God's character which warms his cold heart. Forgiving love constrains him. He cannot but work for Him who has removed his sins from him as far as the east is from the west. Forgiveness has made him a free man, and given him a new and most loving Master. Forgiveness, received freely from the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, acts as a spring, an impulse, a stimulus of divine potency. It is more irresistible than law, or terror, or threat.1

Isn't that great? I think we have all experienced the joy and motivation of this forgiveness. But too many of us lose sight of it. A constant reminder of our security in Christ from judgment is a prerequisite to successful resistance to sin. Justification is a practical help for sanctification.

Union with Christ gives us authority (3:1)

But secondly, union with Christ gives us authority over the flesh, the world and the devil. Colossians 3:1 says, If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Because we are united with Christ, we have the authority of Christ. Paul in Ephesians 2:6 said, [He] raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Yet how few of us lay claim to the incredible authority that we have as being seated with Him as kings and priests.

When Satan attacks us with temptations, we can resist the devil and find Him flee from us. When the flesh raises its ugly head, we can pray from our position in heaven and thank God for the victory we have in Christ, and that He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. We can lay claim to the Holy Spirit's empowering. We can ask God to rebuke the flesh and to subdue the flesh. But we have authority that we must lay claim to.

Union with Christ gives us hope (3:4)

Thirdly, our union with Christ gives us hope. In chapter 3:4 it says, When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Because we are united with Christ, we will one day return with Him in the clouds and actually judge the world. If that is the final result of our present union, then there is hope for us. We can lay claim to His promise that He who has begun a good work in us will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. Amen? So we have looked first at the Spirit, second and Christ.

According to God's plan (2:20,22; 3:10,16,17)

But thirdly, we must resist the flesh by the plan of the Father as laid out in His Word. In chapter 2:20 Paul complains that these people should not be using the world's strategies for conquering sin; we should not be following the doctrines and commandments of men, but the doctrines and commandments of God. And though we are not giving the specific blueprints for conquering each and every sin this morning, the Bible has those. You may prefer the world's ways to the difficult discipline of memorization and then meditation on the word. You may prefer the easy ways of the world's methods to the difficult methodologies laid out in Scripture. Yet I can guarantee you that if you don't do it God's way, it is an illusion of victory when the flesh stops fighting.

John Owen said, "Sometimes they think, indeed, that they have foiled sin, when they have only raised a dust that they see it not; that is, they distemper their natural affections of fear, sorrow, and anguish, which makes them believe that sin is conquered when it is not touched. By that time they are cold, they must to the battle again; and the lust which they thought to be slain appears to have had no wound." We must do it God's way or we will have no permanent victory over any sin.

And yet, because of the resources we have in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, we need not fight in vain. There is hope. And point V outlines some of the additional reasons for hope. And we will end with these encouragements.

Is there hope for me to ever win these battles?

Yes. We have already been crucified positionally (2:20; 3:1; Rom. 6:6)

We have hope because true believers were already crucified positionally in Christ in 30 AD. Colossians 2:20 makes that clear. And Romans 6:6 says, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. And if you read the whole chapter in Romans 6 you will see that all who were positionally crucified with Christ, are being transformed and will be glorified. There is an unbreakable chain, because what God begins He always finishes.

Yes. We have already been crucified experientially (Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 2:20)

The second thing that can give you hope and encouragement of success is that you have already been crucified experientially if you are born again. Galatians 2:20 says not only I have been crucified with Christ [that is our positional crucifixion. But it goes on to say] it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. The moment we were regenerated, the flesh was put on the cross and Christ began to live His resurrection life through us. Again, we don't begin the process of crucifixion. We merely work out what He has already worked within us.

Yes. The cries of the flesh are progressively getting weaker and weaker (Gal. 5:17 to 24; James 4:5)

But thirdly, Galatians 5 not only commands us to crucify the passions and desires of the flesh, but it also says that the flesh is being progressively weakened by the working of the Spirit. James 4:5 says, do you think that the Scripture says in vain, 'The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously?" No. His yearning is not in vain. There is progress in the Christian life.

Let me read you once again John Owen's description of the progress that is made as we nail a particular fleshly impulse to the cross: "As a man nailed to the cross; he first struggles, and strives, and cries out with great strength and might, but, as his blood and spirits waste, his strivings are faint and seldom, his cries low and hoarse, scarce to be heard; - when a man first sets on a lust or distemper, to deal with it, it struggles with great violence to break loose; it cries with earnestness and impatience to be satisfied and relieved; but when by mortification the blood and spirits of it are let out, it moves seldom and faintly, cries sparingly, and is scarce heard in the heart; it may have sometimes a dying pang, that makes an appearance of great vigour and strength, but it is quickly over, especially if it be kept from considerable success." And so you can gain the victory over even your besetting sins.

Let me end with one last verse. Paul told Timothy, Fight the good fight... Let me ask you, "What is a good fight if you are in it?" In case you have any doubts, it is a fight that you win, right? I have never been in a fight that I considered good that I didn't win. All other fights were bad fights. And if we are given promise of a good fight, then there is no reason why we cannot fight the good fight with all our might knowing that through our God, we will do valiantly in putting to death the sinful impulses of the flesh. May God give each one of you grace to do so. Amen.

Yes. One day we will return to judge all evil (3:4)

Therefore we not only must put these sinful desires to death, but can put them to death one by one (3:5)


  1. Horatius Bonar, God's Way of Holiness.

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