The New Testament leaves no doubt that holiness is our responsibility. If we are to pursue holiness, we must take some decisive action. I once discussed a particular sin problem with a person who said, “I’ve been praying that God would motivate me to stop.” Motivate him to stop? What this person was saying in effect was that God had not done enough. It is so easy to ask God to do something more because that postpones facing up to our own responsibility.
The action we are to take is to put to death the misdeeds of the body (Romans 8:13). Paul uses the same expression in another book: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature” (Colossians 3:5). What does the expression put to death mean? The King James Version uses the term mortify. According to the dictionary, mortify means “to destroy the strength, vitality, or functioning of; to subdue or deaden.”1 To put to death the misdeeds of the body, then, is to destroy the strength and vitality of sin as it tries to reign in our bodies.
It must be clear to us that mortification, though it is something we do, cannot be carried out in our own strength. Well did the Puritan John Owen say, “Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness is the soul and substance of all false religion.”2 Mortification must be done by the strength and under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Owen says further, “The Spirit alone is sufficient for this work. All ways and means without Him are useless. He is the great efficient. He is the One who gives life and strength to our efforts.”3
But though mortification must be done by the strength and under the direction of the Holy Spirit, it is nevertheless a work which we must do. Without the Holy Spirit’s strength there will be no mortification, but without our working in His strength there will also be no mortification.
The crucial question then is, “How do we destroy the strength and vitality of sin?” If we are to work at this difficult task, we must first have conviction. We must be persuaded that a holy life of God’s will for every Christian is important. We must believe that the pursuit of holiness is worth the effort and pain required to mortify the misdeeds of the body. We must be convinced that “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
Not only must we develop conviction for living a holy life in general, but we must also develop convictions in specific areas of obedience.
These convictions are developed through exposure to the Word of God. Our minds have far too long been accustomed to the world’s values. Even after we become Christians, the world around us constantly seeks to conform us to its value system. We are bombarded on every side by temptations to indulge our sinful natures. That is why Paul said, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God remake you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed” (Romans 12:2, PH).
Only through God’s Word are our minds remolded and our values renewed. When giving instructions for future kings of Israel, God said that a copy of His Law “shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deuteronomy 17:19, NASB). The king was to read God’s law all the days of his life to learn to fear the Lord. In that way he could learn the necessity of holiness, and how he might know God’s specific will in various situations.
Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Obedience is the pathway to holiness, but it is only as we have His commands that we can obey them. God’s Word must be so strongly fixed in our minds that it becomes the dominant influence in our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions. One of the most effective ways of influencing our minds is through memorizing Scripture. David said, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
Bridges, Jerry. 1978. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: Navpress.
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