God has made provision for our holiness and He has also given us a responsibility for it. As we saw in chapters 5 and 7, God’s provision for us consists in delivering us from the reign of sin, uniting us with Christ, and giving us the indwelling Holy Spirit to reveal sin, to create a desire for holiness, and to strengthen us in our pursuit of holiness. Through the power of the Holy Spirit and according to the new nature He gives, we are to put to death the misdeeds of the body (Romans 8:13).
Though it is the Spirit who enables us to put to death our corruptions, yet Paul says this is our action as well. The very same work is from one point of view the work of the Spirit, and from another the work of man.
In the previous chapter we emphasized the “by the Spirit” part of this verse. In this chapter we want to look at our responsibility—“you put to death the misdeeds of the body.”
It is clear from this passage that God puts responsibility for living a holy life squarely on us. We are to do something. We are not to “stop trying and start trusting”; we are to put to death the misdeeds of the body. Over and over again in the epistles—not only Paul’s, but the other apostles’ as well—we are commanded to assume our responsibility for a holy walk. Paul exhorted, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (Colossians 3:5). This is something we are told to do.
The writer of Hebrews said, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). He says let us throw off the sin and let us run with perseverance. Clearly he expects us to assume responsibility for running the Christian race. James said, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). It is we who are to submit to God and resist the devil. This is our responsibility. Peter said, “Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:14). The clause make every effort addresses itself to our wills. It is something we must decide to do.
During a certain period in my Christian life, I thought that any effort on my part to live a holy life was “of the flesh” and that “the flesh profits for nothing.” I thought God would not bless any effort on my part to live the Christian life, just as He would not bless any effort on my part to become a Christian by good works. Just as I received Christ Jesus by faith, so I was to seek a holy life only by faith. Any effort on my part was just getting in God’s way. I misapplied the statement, “You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you” (2 Chronicles 20:17), to mean that I was just to turn it all over to the Lord and He would fight the sin in my life. In fact, in the margin of the Bible I was using during that period I wrote alongside the verse these words: “Illustration of walking in the Spirit.”
How foolish I was. I misconstrued dependence on the Holy Spirit to mean I was to make no effort, that I had no responsibility. I mistakenly thought if I turned it all over to the Lord, He would make my choices for me and would choose obedience over disobedience. All I needed was to look to Him for holiness. But this is not God’s way. He makes provision for our holiness, but He gives us the responsibility of using those provisions.
Bridges, Jerry. 1978. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: Navpress.
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