For if you live after the flesh, you shall die: but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live.
I. WHAT IT IS TO MORTIFY. This word occurs but twice in the whole Scriptures — in the text, and in Colossians 3:5.
1. "To mortify" is now commonly used in a far less extreme sense than its original signification. Thus we speak of mortified pride, which has been simply disappointed of its passing object; whereas to mortify is to be in a process of death, though joined to something living — as a diseased limb may be mortified, while the other parts of the body are healthy; and it is only by the process of the healthy part of the body casting off from itself the mortified flesh, that the whole system can escape dissolution. In this sense we are to understand the mortification of the carnal and ungodly desires, which the power of Divine grace, the vital energy of the new creature, will enable it to cast from itself, and thereby save the soul alive, which the process of moral putrefaction had otherwise corrupted and slain. Hence the striking force of the injunctions — "Crucify the flesh"; "put away the old man"; "cast out the bondwoman"; "cut off the offending right hand," or "pluck out the right eye."
2. Then to mortify sin is not to deal equivocally with it, to fight against its practices and leave untouched the principle, as Saul slew the Amalekites, but spared Agag. To mortify sin is not merely to smite and oppose it, but to put it to death — to have "no confidence in the flesh" — to "yield no member to uncleanness" — to "deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts" — to "avoid the very appearance of evil" — to "let it not be so much as named among you as becometh saints." It means, that "if sinners entice, we are to consent not"; but in every sense to "be not overcome with evil," but to "resist the devil, and he will flee from us," clinging hard and fast by "the God of peace, who shall bruise Satan under our feet shortly."
II. WHAT IS TO BE MORTIFIED? "The deeds of the body" — that is, not one deed, but all, whether of the inward or of the outward man. This may be illustrated by the injunction — "If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out"; not that Jesus would have us literally maim the body which He created perfect. But as He had just been speaking of the adultery of the eye, as distinguished from, yet identified in guilt with the actual sin, and there called it "the adultery of the heart," His meaning is, that we should begin the cure of sin at the seat of the disease, the corrupt heart — that we should destroy the fruits of sin by plucking up the lust at its roots. What so delicate, so useful, or so expressive a feature as the right eye! But if rather than sin, and imperil the whole body, the right eye is to be plucked out, then we learn that the tenderest affections and the most necessary comforts that would impair the beauty of holiness are all to be sacrificed. Again, "If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off." The right hand is the emblem of dignity — Joseph sits at the right hand of Pharaoh; of power "Thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things"; of friendship — "To me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship"; of covenants — "Though Coniah were the signet on My right hand"; of industry and business — "Let my right hand forget her cunning."If, then, the "right hand" that casts a stumbling-block in our way is to be "cut off," then is the place of secular dignity to be resigned, if we find it lifting up our hearts above humility. And the post of power must be renounced if we discover that it has led us to forget our weakness apart from God. And the bond of friendship, if it has led us to soften down the points of distinction between the worldling and the believer, must be broken. And the covenant with ungodliness must be dissolved. Even industry in business may be in our way, and if so we must consent to mortification here. Better cut off the hand than lose the head; rather maim the body than mar the soul. If religion be worth anything, it is worth everything; therefore sacrifice anything but Christ.
III. BY WHOM THE DEEDS OF THE BODY ARE TO BE MORTIFIED? There are two agents — the one active, the Holy Spirit; the other passive, the believer himself. "If ye through the Spirit do mortify." We can do nothing without Him; He will do nothing without us.
IV. THE ANIMATING RESULT OF THE SUCCESSFUL CONFLICT WITH THE FLESH. "Ye shall live" a life of grace and holiness, of estrangement from the world and communion with God; of happiness, usefulness, and comfort on earth, and of glory and blessedness in heaven.
(J. B. Owen, M.A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.