You and I are in the middle of a war. We fight a fierce enemy each and every day. Each morning this enemy renews its relentless assault, sometimes quietly, sometimes boldly but always in opposition to what is right and good. That enemy is sin. Whether you realize it or not, sin daily wages war against our soul (1 Peter 2:11). To stand idly by as if nothing is going on is to have lost the battle. Sin will overcome us unless we consciously fight back. That is why the apostle Paul wrote:
“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.” (Romans 8:13, ESV)
Life lived according to the whims of our sinful nature brings about a life of death. But for those who have trusted in Christ and have the indwelling Holy Spirit, life can be different. Prior to salvation, the Bible teaches that we were enslaved to sin (Rom. 6:6) and following our own sinful lusts and passions (Ephesians 2:1-3). But once we are made new by the shed blood of Christ, everything changes. We are slaves to sin no more. We are no longer powerless against the onslaught of sin’s deceit.
Notice that our weapon this this warfare is the Holy Spirit (by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body). He is the key to victory. This means that we don’t defeat sin by willpower or vigorous self-discipline (not that those things can’t be good) but our primary arsenal will be God living within us.
We need to ask what this means lest we fall into ambiguity with this “Spirit-talk.” Practically this means that we need to be prayerfully vigilant so that we can put our finger on sin when it first attempts to worm its way into our life. This vigilance can only come via a scripture-saturated understanding of what sin is so that we can spot its hideous manifestations.
Next it means that we rely upon God’s Holy Spirit to give us the grace at that very moment to resist sin’s temptation and make the righteous choice. That means, for example, when we are tempted to take our bad day out on our spouse with a string of harsh words or when remember that tantalizing website is only a click away, we stop dead in our tracks in that moment and believe that God can keep us from stepping in stinky pile of sin. For me, that almost always involves a brief prayer of dependence upon God which goes something like: “God you know how tempting this is right now, but I know that sin destroys and your Word says this is sin. I don’t want to choose death, I want to choose life. I know your Holy Spirit lives within me so please grant me the power to live righteously at this moment.” That is a prayer that God always answers. The power is always available if we will avail ourselves to it.
In his book, Mortification of Sin, John Owen famously said:
…the choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin…Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you. Your being dead with Christ virtually, your being quickened with him, will not excuse you from this work.
Never stop waging war!