Put Sin to Death
Many people have died thinking they were right with God. Praying the “sinner’s prayer” does not make everything right with God. Shouting “Grace, Grace” from the rooftops does not open heaven’s door. Believing that Jesus died on the cross for your sins does not necessarily mean that you are right with God.
Sin is the great barrier between the holy God and sinful man. It is an abyss we cannot cross, an unclimbable mountain, guilt we cannot remove. Even so, sin must be definitively dealt with before we are right with God and have a legitimate claim to heaven. No ritual, promise of personal amendment, or good work will atone for our sins. He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and he will put all sin and sinners out of his sight. If we die in our sins, he will put us away in hell forever. The world mocks such a God and such a claim, but walk through any cemetery and see who has the last laugh. Except sin is no laughing matter. Its wages will be paid in full. The soul that sins shall die – judicial, horrible, everlasting death in hell.
Matthew 1:21 says, “And you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” Sin is our mortal enemy. It is killing men and women, families and nations, businesses and universities. It is killing you and me (Ps. 38:4; 40:12; 130:3). God sent his Son into the world to destroy sin (Heb. 9:26) and to remove the barrier between the Holy and the filthy, the Judge and the condemned. He hates sin and loves us so much that his Son voluntarily humbled himself to take upon himself our nature, obey, suffer, and die to provide full atonement for our sins.
The first aspect of his sin-delivering work is well known, though often poorly understood. He suffered in his own body on the tree the full penalty of our sins. This includes not only the personal pain inflicted upon the sinner but also the judicial curse for his sins. Unjustly condemned before man’s tribunal, Jesus Christ was condemned before God in our place, the substitute of all who believe upon him. No sinner who calls upon the name of the Lord in faith, hating and repenting of his sins and trusting the Savior’s obedience and sacrifice, will ever come under condemnation. Jesus paid sin’s horrible price. When we believe upon him, the fruit and power of his death to sin are applied to us so that our debt to divine justice is paid in full.
About the specific way his death atones for sin we must be clear. His death was neither sentiment nor a divine example. His death was propitiation, a full satisfaction to God’s justice (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2). We become “not guilty” because Jesus Christ became guilty in our place (2 Cor. 5:21). He took our death sentence upon himself. By becoming sin, he obtained our redemption – deliverance from sin’s curse. Blood must be shed for sin, and he gave his for ours, paying the ransom price of our redemption. He made his soul an offering to God in place of the condemned (Isa. 53:10). He is the only offering for sin that God will accept, for he alone is a worthy and sufficient offering.
This is the glorious beginning of the way Jesus Christ destroys our sins. Many are happy to hear that “Jesus died for my sins,” but they are a little more hesitant to affirm that “he arose that we might walk in newness of life.” Some positively cringe at “without holiness, no man will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14), or, “Be ye holy, as I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:15). We must, however, have a complete Savior and a complete salvation – deliverance from the curse as well as the power of sin, justification as well as sanctification, reconciliation with God as well as righteousness in life.
Mortification is our ongoing duty with respect to his sins (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5). To mortify is to kill. Our sins must be progressively killed. Mortification will never be perfect in this life, but it will certainly occur to some degree in all those united to Jesus Christ. God hates sin. Even in his children, sin grieves the Spirit (Eph. 4:30), provokes God’s jealousy (1 Cor. 10:22), and brings his rebuke and even threat of judgment (Heb. 10:29; Rev. 2:5,16; 3:3,15-19). Our Lord’s words to some of the seven churches in Asia Minor, as well as his repeated warnings to the Corinthian and Hebrew believers, should be taken with utmost seriousness.
It is no more popular today than it was in the first century to insist upon this aspect of Jesus’ saving work. Many, even preachers, consider “holiness” the fanatical side of the gospel. It does not preach well, for it may come across as negative and non-evangelical – which is true the way some preach holiness – guilt, merit, legalistic requirements, and manmade rules. It certainly does not flatter believers, who often come to service because they want to feel better, not know God better in his righteousness, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. There is also, I suspect, the ungrounded fear that too much mention of sin killing and personal holiness will undermine the gospel of grace. It is best to focus upon God’s kindness, his willingness to forgive, and his unchanging love.
These are glorious truths, but professing believers receive little benefit unless a Savior is preached who saves us from our sins – unto holiness. We do not elevate God’s grace by denying its power unto godliness in all to whom God reveals it (Tit. 2:11-12). In fact, by denying holiness, not speaking of duty, not warning against sin, and belittling God’s law, we turn his grace into wispy and wimpy sentiment. He is full of grace, abundant in loving kindness and willing to forgive. He never treats us as our sins deserve. He knows that we are dust and possess his gospel treasure in fragile clay pots. At the same time, he will show the power of his grace by making our fragile lives holy, in union with Jesus Christ, with all praise to his strength and faithfulness.
We must go further. Mortification of sin is evidence of new life in Christ. Jesus Christ kills sin in us. The absence of mortification is evidence of spiritual death. This is not to make holiness a condition of heaven in the sense of worth or merit. It is to make holiness a condition of heaven in the sense of Christ’s transforming life in us. He will make fruitful and obedient all those truly united to him through faith. Mortification of sin is strictly an evangelical grace; it is not a legalistic requirement that has merit or the sinner’s worthiness or guilt avoidance in view. The failure to distinguish these kills holiness by denying the full-orbed work of Jesus Christ. It cheapens grace, on the one hand, by treating sin too casually, as if God simply winks at the believer’s sins. It creates despair, on the other hand, if we view holiness and obedience apart from God’s covenant of grace with us in his Son. He did not covenant with his Son to be the Redeemer of his elect to leave us under the power of sin, but to deliver us from it – progressively, as we use the means of grace, abide in him, and learn to wield his spiritual weapons to put sin to death.
A full gospel emphasizes both aspects of Christ’s redeeming work. His sacrifice on the cross obtained our redemption from sin’s curse; his resurrection broke sin’s power. We are no longer under any condemnation justly demanded by God’s law because we have nothing left to pay. Jesus paid it all! Equally vital to the gospel, we have been crucified and raised with him to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:1-14; Gal. 2:20). Union with Christ is thus the power of mortification. “Being then made free from sin, you became the slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:18). Deliverance from sin’s curse brings deliverance from sin’s power. Putting sin to death is thus the fruit of a living, saving union with Jesus Christ.
Think of the sins that are troubling you. Perhaps they are like bad friends you simply cannot shake. Do not faint or despair. Jesus came to heal you. He knows you need a physician, that sin is a disease that no earthly medicine can heal. Go to the doctor God has sent. Tell Jesus your sins, your grief, fears, and sorrows. Keep telling him, asking him to put your sins to death. Use the medicine he has provided. He gives you his Spirit and says that “if we walk by the Spirit, we shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh” (Gal. 5:17). He says that his word is the sword of the Spirit that will quench Satan’s fiery missiles (Eph. 6:10-18). He says, “I am the propitiation for your sins. I am your righteousness, the anchor of your soul within the veil of God’s presence. I made you right with God by my obedience and sacrifice. I will make you righteous in life by my power and grace.” Walk with me, and be holy.
The secret of mortification is fellowship with the sin killer, Jesus Christ. It is an honest fellowship; we must confess all to him. It is an active fellowship; we must abide in him, hide his word in our hearts, and use his word in temptation and trial. It is a promised fellowship; He will not leave us to languish if we call upon him in faith and repentance. He is the living water who cleanses and strengthens. It is a constant fellowship; seek him always. Pray without ceasing – wrestle, fight, run the race. Keep looking unto Jesus. He is sin’s conqueror. He will kill it and give us joy and peace through righteousness.