Therefore, consider the members of your earthly body as dead to sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)
Put them to death. You can’t do it partially. Sins, like Amalekites, have a way of escaping the slaughter, reviving and launching new and unexpected assaults on our most vulnerable areas.
In Romans 8:12-13, Paul says, “So then, brothers, we are under obligation not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh — for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die, but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the practices of the body, you will live.”
It is characteristic of a believer, who is living, to be killing the deeds of the body by the power of the Spirit. After declaring victory over sin in Romans 6, Paul then describes the ongoing battle in Romans 7, and now he describes the triumph and experience that wins the battle and silences the conscience. And he says it is putting to death the deeds of the body. As the King James says, “mortifying sin.”
A true believer will not act like Saul, who wanted to pamper and preserve Agag. But he will act like Samuel who hacked him without mercy into pieces.
You can’t tame the flesh. You can’t make it a house pet. You can’t say, “Well there’s only a few of them, let them run around, they’re not going to harm anybody.” Paul says, “You better get after all of them and kill them just as God instructed His people to do with these marauding Amalekites.” Dramatic action.
Our Lord spoke of such action on several occasions, such as in Matthew 5:29-30 when He said, “But if your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you.”
He’s not calling for self-mutilation; he’s calling for mortification. It’s a very similar thing. Paul never promises a believer immediate freedom from sin’s harassment. He doesn’t say that all the Amalekites will die. He says you’re going to have to keep putting them to death all through your life.
And Paul doesn’t say you can solve this problem with a crisis moment, second blessing, instant sanctification experience. He doesn’t say you can solve it with a passive approach saying, “Let go and let God. I can’t do anything, I’m not going to get involved in this, let God do it all.” And he doesn’t suggest some turning point decision of rededication or reconsecration after a sermon. He says what you’ve got to do is continually, through all your life, as noted by the tense of the verb, be putting to death the deeds of the body.
He’s not calling for some kind of life of physical pain. That’s not the idea. I remember meeting a man who wore a belt that was filled with little needles because he wanted to rip his flesh all the time, so that he could somehow deal with his sins. I know of people in the history of the Catholic Church who put tacks and nails and rocks in their shoes to inflict pain on themselves thinking somehow they could mortify sin.
Paul is not calling for a life of self-mutilation or monastic deprivation. He is describing, rather, a way of life that seeks to crush sin, sap it of its strength, deprive it of its influence and thus yield a clear and a good conscience that brings peace and joy, security, and hope.
Basically, mortification of sin involves the cultivation of new habits of godliness combined with the elimination of old habits of sin. And that is a constant warfare to which we must remain perpetually committed.
This post is based on a sermon Dr. MacArthur preached in 1993, titled “Hacking Agag to Pieces.” In addition to serving as the pastor of Grace Community Church and the voice of Grace to You, Dr. MacArthur is the chancellor of The Master’s University in Santa Clarita, Calif. You can learn more about TMU at www.masters.edu.
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