The terminology we use to describe God’s work in salvation is almost exclusively positive. We talk about the new birth, the new life, transformation and regeneration. But we also have to recognize that salvation requires death—specifically, the death of our old, sinful selves. We have to die if we’re going to be saved.
And throughout the rest of our earthly lives, we will carry around the remnants of that spiritual death. Like Lazarus, we still bear the grave clothes of our former selves, unable to fully discard the unredeemed flesh. On this side of heaven, we will never be free of that dead, old self.
In his sermon, “Spiritually Living, Yet Still Stinking,” John MacArthur explains why believers can’t stop sinning altogether—why claims of “entire sanctification” are empty lies. Dealing with the biblical facts about the nature of sin and salvation, John paints an encouraging portrait of the believer’s struggle against the flesh. He exposes the battle every Christian must face. And he helps listeners consider the glorious truths of their new birth in Christ.
You want to know something very interesting? The greatest transformation in your life has already taken place if you’re a Christian. It will be far greater than at your death. Your death will be a subtraction experience. You will just lose your unredeemed humanness. Your salvation was a transformation. You have already been created fit for heaven. And God did not do this miraculous work of regeneration, new birth, and creation, and have in it some components of sin because God can’t create sin. Therefore Paul understands that the new I is not sinning, it is sin that is still there. This new life is pure and ready for heaven and has holy aspirations and holy longings and loves the Law of God. So this new life is the full expression of that life which will fit heaven.
So why do we go on sinning? Because we still possess the corpse. Paul says it again, verse 18, “I know that nothing good dwells in me;” that is in my flesh. He puts it, he calls this old man, the remnants of this dead corpse, flesh. . . . Verse 20, “If I’m doing the very thing I do not wish, I’m no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.” . . . It’s like a holy seed in an unholy shell, incarcerated and infected with the flesh. Or even a better illustration, the dead corpse is still attached to him.
Moreover, John encourages listeners to break the sinful habits of our old self and stifle the influence of our flesh.
So what do we do? We kill every expression of that corpse, put it to death. How do you do that? Oh, that’s another study, but you do that by applying the means of grace, abstaining from sin, avoiding temptation, making no provision for the flesh, fixing on Jesus, walking in the Spirit, meditating on Scripture, praying fervently, all the means of grace. It’s a lifelong battle. But you’ve got to take it seriously. If you want victory, if you want growth and progress, don’t wait for some epiphany experience, don’t expect some second work of grace, don’t expect to have some euphoric response to the teaching of the Bible that will catapult you to another level. It’s a slow, steady climb and all the way you’re gazing at the glory of Christ, being caught up in the wonder of who He is, walking in the Spirit, obeying Scripture and being changed into His image and killing the remaining sin every time it shows itself, using all the means of grace to do that.
“Spiritually Living, Yet Still Stinking” is a tremendous help when it comes to understanding the believer’s position in Christ, and the constant struggle against sin. It’s a great encouragement for the battle all Christians must daily wage against sin and temptation. And it provides powerful theological insight against the false teaching that promises an easier path to sanctification.