a series of essays on the Spirit-filled life
by Del McKenzie
One of the most often asked questions for people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ is, "How can I overcome the power of sin in my life?" The short answer to that question is found in Romans 8:13 where we are told that by the Holy Spirit we can put to death the deeds of the sinful nature. This statement gives clear insight into one of the Holy Spirit's great ministries to believers. Whenever we try to do away with a sin in our lives we are faced with our own inability. It doesn't take us long to realize that if we suppress a sin there will be another one that surfaces somewhere else in our lives. We can pretend it isn't there or refuse to recognize it as sin but honesty will make us face our inability to conquer sin in our own strength. If the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help. I realize I don't have what it takes. I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me?
This Scripture is clear that sin brings death in some form and to some degree. Sin is a wretched paymaster, promising life but meting out death. The wages are paid not in a lump sum but regularly and periodically. Death is not to be regarded merely as the final payment but as that which already casts its dark shadow over life as well as a portent of the deeper darkness to come. Sin always separates us from God to some degree and often separates us from other people. Death is separation and something dies when we let sin enter our lives.
But there is another kind of death, another kind of separation. The deeds of the sinful nature can be put to death. They can be separated from us. That is the teaching about holiness that is woven all through the Bible. Sin does not have to reign in us. We have no obligation to the sinful nature. Our obligation is to God and a life of holiness. The message of Romans, chapters 6, 7 and 8, is that God has a plan for dealing with the power of sin as well as with its guilt. Through justification the guilt of sin is removed. By faith in Jesus it will not be charged against us. It is through sanctification that the power of sin is broken. The sinful nature's desires are broken as the Holy Spirit works that sanctification into our lives.
Everything we have is found in Jesus and so when Paul asks the question about who will deliver him from the wretchedness of sin's power, the answer is "Jesus Christ our Lord" Romans 7:25. The Holy Spirit is the agent for taking this victory secured by Jesus and making it real to us personally and individually John 16:14. It is His power that overcomes the power of sin. He deals with the sinful nature by implanting the nature of Jesus into us. No one can hope to deal effectively with the sinful nature simply by determination alone. We, in ourselves, are not able to suppress it or to eradicate it. But by the Holy Spirit's ministry of applying the death and life of Christ to us we can separate ourselves from its desires. All sin is an eruption of the sinful nature. Dealing with individual sins is necessary but that human nature, the "fleshly" me, can have its power broken by the infilling and control of the Holy Spirit.
Cooperation with the Holy Spirit is clearly and forcefully presented here and throughout the Bible. He will not do it without the exercise of our will and we cannot do it without the life and power which are inherent in His nature. The Bible teaches that we must have a desire for freedom from sin if it is going to happen. Pacifism will always leave as slaves to the sinful nature. It is those who hunger for righteousness that are filled. The water of the Holy Spirit comes to those who are thirsty. Everything we get from God comes out of His grace but it also always comes in response to faith. It is faith in the person of Jesus and what He has done that opens the gates of grace and allows for a divine power to flow into us. Simply reading the Bible will not release that power. In fact, God's law (His commands) will arouse the sinful nature Romans 7:5. Unless we connect with the Holy Spirit and experience His ministry all we will do is exchange one manifestation of the sinful nature for another. We may, for example, eliminate adultery but open the way for hypocrisy.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit our minds can be so renewed in Christ that we will not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature Romans 13:14. That comes as we clothe ourselves with Jesus. The putting on of the Lord Jesus is such a complete preoccupation with Him and His will that the believer does not make opportunity for the sinful nature to do what it wants. The Spirit is the Spirit of life and cannot do otherwise than oppose the sinful nature and its desires, the things that lead inevitably to death. The Holy Spirit is the one who makes Jesus real and enables us to so abide in Christ that we can produce much fruit, the fruit of righteousness. Nothing good comes from our sinful nature, Romans 7:18, and so we have to say "no" to ungodliness and its passions Titus 2:12. It is when the nature of Christ is implanted into us that we can do that. In Colossians 3 there is a vivid picture painted in words about how Jesus died not only as our substitute but also as our representative. It is clearly stated that we died with Christ. When He hung on the cross we hung there with Him. That historical fact becomes our position when we put our trust in Him. It becomes our experience when "put to death, therefore…" anything that comes out of the sinful nature.
It is by the filling and fullness of the Holy Spirit that we experience His enabling in putting to death the deeds of the sinful nature. It begins when we receive Him in His fullness. It is a definitive relationship that must be initiated at some point in our spiritual journey. It is then an on-going, continual filling which is always possible through faith. When He is saturating and controlling our lives His power is released so that we can resist the sinful acts that would come from our sinful nature. The filling is continual and so is the putting to death of those desires that come from our sinful nature. The verse should read, "If by the Spirit you continue to put to death the deeds of the sinful nature you will live."
We cannot ignore the sinful nature nor can we negotiate with it. It cannot be appeased. Trying to satisfy its desires only increases and intensifies them. That can lead to an addiction. The only answer is to put them to death through the work of Jesus on the cross and by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is God's answer and provision and it is good, available and a wonderful answer to the cry of the regenerated person. The result will be to live. It will be a life that is worth living. It will be a life that is really a life.
The Holy Spirit is the wonderful companion that Jesus said would be with us and in us. His walk with us can provide us with the power to defeat the desires of our human, sinful nature and live in an ever-increasing holiness. It is no wonder that Jesus told His first disciples to wait in