Romans 8:13 – “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.”
It is Easter week and in just 6 short days we will celebrate the reality of the words, “why do you look for the living among the dead. He is not here but He is risen….” These to me are some of the most beautiful words ever spoken because of what they mean: Jesus is alive!
Because He lives, we can live as well. Because He went to the cross and was crucified we can be forgiven. But if the cross is the end of the story then our hope for forgiveness and eternal life is ended as well. Jesus however was raised 3 days after the crucifixion and because of that He is alive and we are forgiven. He is alive and we have the hope of eternal life before us.
Jesus is alive, but Paul gives us some very strange advice in Romans 8:13 when he says, that we are “to put to death the deeds of the flesh.” In other words if we truly want to live we must die. If we truly want to be alive we must die to ourselves . We are called to mortify our flesh to use the language of the Puritans.
Noted Puritan theologian John Owen put it this way, “do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it while you live, cease not a day from this work, be killing sin or it will be killing you.” We must die to ourselves in order to live. So the question is how do we do that? First by repenting of our sins and placing our faith in Jesus. When we do that we are trusting in His work on the cross, and believing that He became sin (our sin – see 2 Corinthians 5:21) and that on the cross He destroyed our sin.
The business of mortification begins at the cross. It begins when we see what Jesus truly did for us on the cross and we place our faith and our trust in that work. The work of mortification begins when we become followers of Jesus.
After we are “saved” our calling becomes that we must “take up our cross daily”. In other words we must daily die to ourselves. How is that possible? Go back to Romans 8:13, it is possible through the Spirit of God. When we rely on God’s Holy Spirit and when we submit to Him, we will die to ourselves.
But here is the good news, just like Jesus, if we die we will be raised up. If we put to death the deeds of the flesh through the power of the Holy Spirit, God will raise us up to righteousness. We die to ourselves and Jesus raises us up in righteousness. When we die to ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit, God begins the work of sanctification within us. He begins transforming us and our character. He begins making us more like Jesus.
John Owen also says, “the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more painted the beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will be more and more crucified to this world. It will become to me like something dead and putrid, impossible for me to enjoy.” In other words the more of the glory of Jesus I see the more I willingly die to myself, because I realize that all of my desires pale in comparison to the beauty and power of Jesus. So where to we most see the glory of Jesus displayed? On the cross and trough the empty tomb. We truly see the glory of God in the Gospel. No wonder Paul mused “I am determined to know nothing among you except Jesus and Him crucified.” As we focus on the cross and on the empty tomb we get a glimpse of the glory of God and that leads us to willing die to ourselves, and when we die to ourselves, God raises us up to righteousness. Our salvation, our justification begins at the cross and so does our sanctification. It all begins at the cross. The Altar Boys sang “Life Begins at the Cross” almost 30 years ago, but it is still true today, life does begin at that cross, eternal life and the life that God desires us to live today. It begins at the cross as we die to ourselves and are raised to righteousness.