“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…” Colossians 3:5
When you become sensitive to the struggle with indwelling sin, you may begin to wonder if you are a Christian at all. You may be saying to yourself, “If I belong to Christ, surely I should not be struggling with sin in this way. I should have left this sin behind by now.”
If you’re worried about the struggles you have with thoughts and desires that seem to rise from within you, what we are learning here should come as a great relief to you. The experience of battling with sin is not a sign of failure. It is the normal experience of an authentic Christian life.
The new life does not mean the battle is ended; the new life means the battle has begun. This is evidence that you’re a Christian, not a dead fish floating down the river. You have life in you and that’s why you’re in the battle. The apostle Paul lists some sins a Christian may be tempted by…
“Sexual immorality, impurity and lust…” Colossians 3:5
“Greed, which is idolatry…” Colossians 3:5
Have you ever noticed that before? Greed is idolatry, because you’re putting money in the place of God. You’re putting your confidence for the future in money instead of God.
“Anger, rage, malice…” Colossians 3:8
Malice is wishing harm on another person.
Sins of the tongue
“Slander… filthy language… do not lie…” Colossians 3:8-9
Slander is speaking in a way that will make others think less of a person.
These are just a few examples. The point is that the impulse to sin will keep rising up from your flesh in some way, shape or form. When you gain ascendancy over one brand of sin, sin will start throwing up another brand… the battle never ends.
The relentless war against sin in the Christian life is called “mortification.” It’s the same word from which we get “mortal,” which means: subject to death or “mortuary,” which is a place where the dead are taken. To “mortify” means “to put to death.” There are only two references in the New Testament to this word, but it gets to the heart of the conflict every Christian has with sin…
“If you live according to the sinful nature you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live.” Romans 8:13
“Put to death, therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature…” Colossians 3:5
The impulse to sin keeps landing in new ways in your life and it has to be dealt with. Every day, something will happen that could provoke pride, or envy or self-pity in you. Have you not found that true in you this week?
Every day, another situation will arise that might lead you into impatience, ingratitude or sins of the tongue. You have to mortify it as it comes. Putting sin to death is not a one-time deal. We are always in this business of mortifying the flesh. John Owen says…
“Always be killing sin or sin will be killing you.” 
It’s like a battlefield—the enemy is always coming against you.
Today, I want to speak as plainly and as practically as I possibly can about how to engage in this battle. Anyone who has been a Christian for any time knows that the battle is real. But knowing that the battle is real, how do you engage in it?
Five Strategies for Killing Sin
five strategies for killing sin
1. Make sure you are in Christ
“Put to death, therefore…” Colossians 3:5
This is the first and most important strategy. My pastor used to say, “Whenever you see the word ‘therefore,’ always ask ‘What is it there for?’” The “therefore” refers back to something. There is always a connection being made with what comes before it.
What we have in the first four verses is essential to what we are being called to in verse 5. Verses 1 to 4 tell us…
“You have been raised with Christ…” (3:1)
“You died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God…” (3:3)
“When Christ, who is your life appears, you also will appear with Him in glory…” (3:4)
So, the first question is, “Is that true of you?” This is a description of a real Christian. There’s no use trying to mortify your sin if you’re not a Christian believer.
A Christian is a person who has new life in Jesus Christ. Before you were sin’s prisoner, but now you have been set free and you are in a position to fight. The reason you are able to engage in this fight is that you have new life in Christ. The Holy Spirit lives in you.
Mortifying sin is possible only when you are in Jesus Christ. That is why the apostle Paul says, “by the Spirit… put to death the misdeeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). It is only possible when Christ’s Spirit lives in you.
A person who is not in Christ, a person who is not a Christian, can change his or her behavior. People who are not Christians can stop drinking. They can stop swearing. You don’t need to be a Christian to gain control of your temper. You can do this with will power and with accountability. There is evidence all over the world of this.
But only a Christian can mortify sin. What’s the difference? When you are in Christ, you confront sin out of the knowledge of a loving Father and a joy in the Son and the strength you are given by the Spirit.
Mortification leads to growing in faith, growing in hope and growing in love. It leads to prayer and worship and godliness. None of these things come out of self-help programs. All of them come from the mortification of sin by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Picture with me a person who struggles with a compulsive addiction—gambling, pornography, alcohol or maybe drugs… This person knows that he or she needs help, and so they come to church.
You may be saying, “I am that person.” Let me speak to you directly… The greatest need in your life right now is not for you to stop gambling or drinking or watching pornography or taking drugs. The greatest need in your life right now is for you to come in faith and repentance to Jesus Christ and place your entire life in His hands.
Not only will you be able to change your compulsive behavior, when you come to Christ, but when you come to Him, you will receive new life, and then you will be able to mortify your sin.
Tell Christ you’re a compulsive sinner and you have no hope of being accepted by God without Him. Trust in Him. Believe in Him. He died on the cross to reconcile sinners to God. Ask Him to do that for you. He lives so that those who come to Him should no longer live for themselves. Ask Him to give you His Spirit so that you will live for His glory.
As you confess your sin to Christ, He will forgive you and cleanse you. Christ invites you; He will receive you. He will give you new life, and then you’ll be in a position, not simply to end some behaviors, but to mortify your sin.
Here’s what happens when a person manages to change compulsive sins without coming to Christ: A man sees that a sinful compulsion is causing destruction in his life, so he gets in a group and he makes some progress.
And when he makes some progress, he no longer feels his need of Christ. He ends up further away from Christ than when he was in his addiction.
John Owen says that when a person tries to change their behavior without giving themselves to Christ, it is…
“…like the beating of an enemy in an open field, and
driving him into an impregnable castle.”
If sin is obvious to you, don’t beat it back into the impregnable castle. Use the fact that it is now out in the open to drive you to Christ.
five strategies for killing sin
- Take responsibility for the task to which God has called you
Every Christian is called to mortify sin. God gives us His Holy Spirit for this purpose, but this is our work and God has called us to it. Notice the language of the New Testament…
“Put to death… whatever belongs to your earthly nature” Colossians 3:5 Who is to do that? We are.
“You must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander…” Colossians 3:9 Who is to do that? We are!
“Abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” 1 Peter 2:11 Who is to do that? We are!
“Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Ephesians 6:11 Who is to do that?
“Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” Ephesians 4:25
Who is to do that? We are!
“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called…” 1 Timothy 6:12 Who is to do that?
“Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace…” 2 Timothy 2:22 Who is to do that? We are!
The language of the New Testament is always active when it comes to the believer’s warfare with sin. God has given you power. His Spirit lives within you. God has put you in a position where you can act! And that is what you must do. That’s the whole point of mortification. The Holy Spirit works in us and with us, but for the Christian, never without us.
five strategies for killing sin
- Win some battles in your war against the flesh
The key words are “some battles.” Notice, I don’t say, “win the battle.” This is not a battle that you fight once and then it is over. The battle against sin is always with us. It’s a long warfare.
Every time you say “Yes” to a sin, you increase its power in your life. Every time you say “Yes” to a sin, you make the next temptation harder. It takes a stronger position—like the weeds. You increase its influence every time you indulge it, every time you cherish it. And every time you say “No” to a sin, you weaken its power in your life. Owen says…
“The power of sin is weakened and abolished little by little.” 
So, win some battles in your war against the flesh.
Think about football—the game hinges on field position—it’s all about moving the ball forward. In any game, there will be times when you’re on offense and you’re moving the ball forward, and there are also times when you’re on defense and you’re trying to keep the other team from moving the ball. The game can be won or lost at either end of the field. Every time you say, “No” to sin, you move the ball forward. Every time you say, “Yes,” sin moves the ball forward.
Insights about sin from the NFL
1. Even when you’re gaining yards in a drive, you can never rest. When you think you’re doing really well, sin can snatch the ball and be down to the end zone before you know it.
2. The time when you have put points on the board is the time when you most need to be on your defense. When you’ve been exerting yourself in serving or you’ve led someone to Christ, your ministry is moving forward. Know that sin will be coming back at you.
3. When sin has broken through your defense and scored a touchdown, you don’t leave the field of play. It’s time for you to begin a new drive against sin in your life. Move the ball forward. Look sin in the face and take it on.
John Owen says…
“Sin will not die except by being gradually and constantly weakened: Spare it and it heals its wounds, and recovers its strength.”
five strategies for killing sin
- Cultivate virtues that expel the sin you are seeking to mortify
Unlike behavior modification in the world, progress in the Christian life is not just about sinning less. It’s about the fruit of the Spirit growing more.
After listing some examples of sins that we’re to mortify, Paul lists virtues that we’re to pursue…
“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14
The more you cultivate the fruit of the Spirit, the less you will be hampered by the works of the flesh. Identify and vigorously pursue the qualities that are most contrary to the sin you are seeking to mortify.
Last week I mentioned self-pity. What virtue is most contrary to self-pity? Thanksgiving! So, launching an assault on self-pity means actively cultivating a spirit of thanksgiving, which involves noticing the gifts of God that I often take for granted, and reminding myself, through thanksgiving, that I am blessed. Cultivating thanksgiving expels self-pity.
What about greed? The best way to launch an assault on greed, when the things of this world are becoming too important to you, is to cultivate the grace of giving. You break the power of money in your life by giving to God, because when you do that and keep doing it, you’re demonstrating that God is more important to you than money.
When Jesus says, “You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24), what do you do? Give to God. You are His servant and that means you use money for Him.
This is a great issue to talk about in LIFE groups. Last week some groups made lists of sins that need to be mortified. You may want to go back and ask which virtues are most contrary to each of these sins.
For example, pride is weakened by the growth of humility. Passion is weakened by the growth of patience. You may find that you need more patience in your marriage and He may teach it to you in another sphere. That contract hasn’t come yet. Why? Because you need to learn patience.
As you target the mortification of particular sins, target the cultivation of particular virtues. If this is new to you, then you are at just the beginning of becoming like Jesus Christ.
five strategies for killing sin
- Pursue obedience to Christ in all areas of your life
A few years ago, I went through the difficulty of a ruptured disc in my back. I am so grateful for the kind and patient physiotherapists who worked with me. They had me doing all kinds of exercises. And when I had completed my physical therapy, the physiotherapist told me, “Now, Colin, you have to keep doing these exercises…”
So I asked her, “Which of these exercises is specifically for the back?”
She rolled her eyes—she’d heard this before! “Your whole body is connected,” she said. “You can’t help your back in isolation!”
We must target particular sins for mortification. If you don’t do that, you’re unlikely to make any progress in mortification. But we will only succeed as we pursue lives of full devotion and obedience to Jesus Christ.
You cannot mortify sins in isolation. You can’t overcome lust while you’re still indulging laziness. You won’t overcome greed while you’re still indulging pride. Half-hearted Christians are never successful in mortifying sin.
If you are only concerned about one sin, you won’t make much progress, “Oh, God, heal my marriage… Oh, God, help my affliction.” John Owen has a fascinating comment on the person who is only focused on one sin…
“God says… ‘If he could be rid of this lust, I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this or he is lost.’” 
If the sin that bothers you is the only thing that is bringing you to God, and God relieves that battle, you may never come to Him again, and then you would be completely lost! J. I. Packer says…
“We must forestall sin’s attempts to regain control in our hearts… by preoccupying ourselves in the active service of God.” 
Place your life in the hands of Jesus Christ—with all your struggles and with all your sins. Offer yourself to Him.
Use the Opportunities of the Word, Worship and Fellowship
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts since,
as members of one body, you were called to peace. Colossians 3:15
The body of Christ is God’s gift to you in your battle against sin. Cherish this gift. Guard and protect it. Stay close to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Do everything in your power to be at peace with them, so that you can minister to them and they can minister to you.
Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly… Colossians 3:16
Be in the Word as you wage this war. Open your life to the Word every day at home and every week at church. Realize that this is the Word of Christ to you. Receive it with faith. Let it lead you to repentance.
Singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs… Colossians 3:16
Worship plays a huge role in overcoming compulsive behaviors in your life. A wise, godly man once counseled a colleague who was caught in a gambling addiction. Greed got to him, and as we read, greed is idolatry.
The godly man told him, “You worshipped your way into this and you will worship your way out of it.” You set your heart on this thing. You gave yourself to it, now “set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated…” (Colossians 3:1).
 John Owen, “The Mortification of Sin,” Banner of Truth, p. 5
 Ibid., p. 35
 John Owen, “Overcoming Sin and Temptation,” p. 88, Crossway, 2006
 J. I. Packer, “God’s Words,” p.187, Baker Academic, 1998
© Colin S. Smith
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