This upcoming Sunday (12.30.07) we will be having a GraceTalk with the Pastors of Grace Fellowship. One of the questions is as follows:
Can the Pastors talk some more how to “crucify the flesh” from the Freedom series? I missed the session when this was taught. I heard people discussing this perspective that I never really heard it before and thought it would be helpful to know better. The idea of “killing your desires?” Please explain?
Although we will be dealing with this question on Sunday, I was encouraged to address this subject in written form for those who may not attend or want more resources on this subject.
In Galatians 5:24 it says, And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
In the text of Galatians 5:24, Paul alludes to the cross of Christ when saying that the flesh has been executed.
Which surfaces two questions:
#1. In what sense was the flesh killed at my conversion?
#2. How does that relate to temptation I face daily?
In relation to Question #1: It cannot be in the actual, complete, present sense or it would contradict the reality of the continual spiritual conflict with the flesh indicated in Galatians 5;16-25 and in Romans 7:14-25. And it cannot be that Paul has some future sense in mind or he would have used a future verb form, saying, “shall crucify the flesh,” referring to the time of glorification.
I believe the best understanding is to see crucified as an allusion to the cross of Jesus Christ, which, as a past event, fits the aorist tense that is used by Paul. Point? To Paul, our flesh was “crucified” back at the cross – the moment at which the penalty for being ‘of the flesh’ (rebellion toward God expressed through acts of sinful behavior) was actually accomplished.
In relation to Question #2: Because we are still alive on the earth and still possess our ‘humanness,’ we have not yet entered into the future fullness of the effects of that past event (notice that I used the word “effects.” This is not to say in anyway that the victory that Christ accomplished on the cross is diminished! The victory gained for us on behalf of Christ is full and complete – thank you Jesus! My point centers on our inability to live in the reality of what Christ has accomplished in regard to our sanctification, not our justification). Therefore, we must actively be still “killing sin” in our life or sin will be gaining a foothold in our life via the remnant or principle of the flesh that still seeks to bend us toward self-centeredness.
It is at this point that John Owen, theologian writing from Oxford in 1656, provides incredible insight. Owen pushes the Christian to not only say “no” to the flesh, but actively seek out the expression of the flesh and lay the ax to it by doing the opposite before its desires can take root in our actions. In doing this, we now have a valuable key to consider as we seek to daily “kill” the residual flesh in our lives – go on the offensive!
Consider the following from pg. 38, The Mortification of Sin (abridged):
…When the heart at any time recognizes sin and temptation in action, seducing it and forming sinful imaginations to put the lust into practice, the heart must immediately see what is happening, bring the sin to the law of God and the love of Christ, condemn it, and follow it to execute it to the uttermost. When a man [or woman, emphasis mine] come to this state and condition, his lust [used by Owen in many respects to our wrong, self-centered desires not simply sexual desires, emphasis mine] is weakened at the root and principle. …Thus, our victory of mortification will be realized to a large extent as we weaken lust’s presence and enticements. We must implant, promote the continual residence of, and cherish those graces that stand in direct opposition to the lust. So, for example, by implanting and growth of humility, pride is weakened. Passion is weakened by patience, uncleanness by purity of mind and conscience, and love of this world by heavenly mindedness. These graces of the Spirit, as they are expressed in various ways, weaken the perplexing lusts that wage their warfare against us.
For more in depth study on this topic, I recommend the abridged version of John Owen’s, The Mortification of Sin by Richard Rushing. For those who would like a fuller, more robust and challenging treatment on this subject, read the original Overcoming Sin and Temptation a modern treatment alongside Owen’s classic, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor.