“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” – Romans 8:12-13


Sin in its various forms is the cause of our separation from God. [1] The sin of rejecting God leads to all kinds of confusion and pain in life. [2] All people are born in and prone to sin. [3] The human predicament is that in our own strength there is nothing we can do to alleviate ourselves of our sin problem. [4] But God who is gracious and great in mercy has designed a redemptive plan in Christ Jesus. This plan solves our sin problem so that, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. [5] This new life in Christ is one that buries the old sins of the past and makes it so that sin no longer has its dominant hold on us. [6] This new life of victory over sin is not lived in mere human strength or resource. To try and live the new life in Christ by our flesh only leads to wretchedness. [7] The way to victory is to live by the Holy Spirit. [8]

Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace. Sanctification is also experienced by God’s grace. But there is a debt or proper response for the Christian. How we respond to the Lord will determine the amount of victory lived out in our walk with Jesus. Which brings us to the verses this study is based upon. If you are struggling with sin in your Christian life, or just not living victoriously, then what follows may be the key to snatching victory from defeat.

The Spirit’s Help in Subduing the Flesh

Romans 8:12-13 – “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” 

We are debtors. The word “debtors” (Greek noun opheiletai) means debtor, one who is obligated, one who is guilty or at fault, transgressor. Included in the definition is the idea of one who is morally bound to live in a certain way. This word does not occur in the Septuagint and occurs only seven times in the New Testament (Matthew 6:12; 18:24; Luke 13:4; Romans 1:14; 8:12; 15:27; and Galatians 5:3). Therefore, Paul continues here with a statement that Those who have been born again and have the Holy Spirit indwelling them is morally obligated (in light of all that God by His grace has provided in the gospel of Jesus Christ) “to live according. . . the Spirit.” Later in Romans 12 Paul will point back to all God has provided by grace to us and say our only reasonable response is to present ourselves to God as living sacrifices.

This debt or obligation is not for God’s sake but for our sake. Paul is illustrating the importance of living by the Spirit and putting “to death the deeds of the body.” If we live the haphazard lusty fleshly life, it will produce death in us. But if we focus on living to the Spirit, it will produce life. Remember what we have said previously in our study, what you feed will live, what you starve will die.

The flesh. The “flesh” (Greek sarx) is that sinful nature of self-centeredness and self-reliance. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves. [9] Our flesh tells us do it yourself. The proper view is for Jesus to increase and for us to decrease. [10] Our flesh tells us I must increase, even if it means Jesus decreases. The flesh and the Holy Spirit working in and through us are opposed to one another. [11]

We owe our flesh nothing in that it only hinders us in our spiritual pursuits. Living according to the flesh leads to death. Why live for and in something, the flesh, which leads to deadness? But how can we defeat the flesh? Paul says, “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body,” that’s the key. We cannot put the flesh to death in our own strength, but the Spirit will help us. SANCTIFICATION OR CLEANSING FROM THE FLESH IS A WORK OF THE SPIRIT IN US AND IS RECIEVED BY FAITH. The Spirit does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

What should we do with sin? Dagon it! Paul here is reinforcing what he has been saying in the last few chapters, i.e., that defeating sin and living a holy life is not accomplished by keeping to the law or trying to live in our own strength but is a work of the Holy Spirit in us. How is this practically accomplished?

I like the comments of Bible teacher and pastor Jon Courson at this point:

“I must mortify the deeds of the body,” some people say. “I’ve got to crucify my flesh”—but it’s impossible to crucify yourself. If you lie down on a cross and pound a nail through your wrist, even if you somehow endure the pain, you’re only half crucified because you can’t pound in the other nail. How do you mortify the deeds of the flesh? There’s only one way: through the Spirit.

After capturing the ark of the covenant, the Philistines placed it in the temple of their fish god, Dagon. The next morning, the Philistine priests got up to find Dagon had fallen down before the Ark (1 Samuel 5:3). They stood Dagon up and went their way. The next morning, they came in again, and there was Dagon, face down on the floor, with his head and hands cut off. Now, at this point, you would think the priests would have said, “Something’s fishy here. This isn’t working.” But, instead, they chose to side with Dagon. They stood him up, patched him together, and said, “The ark’s gotta go.”

Precious people, the way to gain victory over whatever it is you’re struggling with is not to try to topple Dagon, but to bring in the ark, for the ark represents the presence of God. Whatever your Dagon might be, bring in the Spirit of the Lord. How? Just love the Lord. Get up tomorrow morning and before your feet hit the ground, drop to your knees, and give your life to Him. When He whispers in your heart during your coffee break, “Pull away and talk with Me,” do it. When you’re deciding which dial to press on your radio during lunch, just do what the Spirit tells you to do. Allow the Spirit of God to fill your heart, and you know what will happen? You’ll lose interest in the stuff that dominated and controlled you—not because you wrestled with Dagon, but because you brought in the ark.

That’s why Romans 8 is so thrilling! Too many believers are trying to fight evil habits and tendencies on their own—and it’s exhausting. If you walk into a dark room, you don’t scream, karate chop, give teachings about, or rebuke the darkness. You turn on the light.[12]

In other words, Dagon it! The ark of the covenant in the above account represents the presence of the LORD. The god Dagon represents our sin. What we need to do to overcome our sin, especially sin we are struggling with, is to invite God’s presence into our living space first thing each day, and as often as you struggle with your sin. When we invite God’s presence into our life situation, He will break down that idol of sin and knock it to the ground. Practically, this may mean setting your Bible in front of your computer or displaying scripture prominently on your phone. Pray and ask the Lord to show you how to bring His presence into your tempting situations. It is a lot harder to walk over your Bible when sin is tempting you to indulge it. That’s what I mean when I say, “Dagon it! Dagon your sin.”

Apply your faith. To be saved you must see with the eyes of faith Jesus dying on the cross for you and receive that to your account. Once saved, we continue in a sanctifying process as we see ourselves, the old man, by faith, reckoning the fleshly old man crucified on the cross, hanging on the cross with Jesus. Paul was inspired to write:

Galatians 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

The Holy Spirit in us helps us deal with our flesh. We can’t do this in our own strength, but the Spirit in us can. “By the Spirit,” means when we find ourselves involved in a work of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21), we, by the Spirit, honestly confess it and give it over to the Spirit. For example, if I’m jealous of someone, (a work of the flesh) I need to confess that jealousy as a fleshly work and ask God to forgive me, cleanse me from it and replace it with an attitude that flows from the loving fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit helps us do this; we can’t do that on our own. We simply need to cooperate with the Spirit by confessing our fleshly sinful way and surrender it to Him to deal with.

The Bible Exposition Commentary makes the following comment on these verses:

It is not enough for us to have the Spirit; the Spirit must have us! Only then can He share with us the abundant, victorious life that can be ours in Christ. We have no obligation to the flesh because the flesh has only brought trouble into our lives. We do have an obligation to the Holy Spirit, for it is the Spirit who convicted us, revealed Christ to us, and imparted eternal life to us when we trusted Christ. Because He is “the Spirit of Life,” He can empower us to obey Christ, and He can enable us to be more like Christ.

But He is also the Spirit of death. He can enable us to “put to death” (mortify) the sinful deeds of the body. As we yield the members of our body to the Spirit (Rom. 6:12–17), He applies to us and in us the death and resurrection of Christ. He puts to death the things of the flesh, and He reproduces the things of the Spirit. [13]

You may have come to this point and been able to affirm that you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in you. That is good, but the next question, a more probing question is, does the Holy Spirit have you? Have you fully surrendered to the Spirit? Have you relinquished your rights to Him? Can He do what He desires with you when and how He desires to do it, no matter what? Are you holding anything back? Have you invited the Spirit into your spiritual house, but have you restricted the rooms in which He is allowed to go? Have you told Him, “You may go into these areas only, stay away from these others.”? The Spirit knows what is best for us, what we need in life. In our flesh, we look at life through the lens of self and that always gives a warped perspective that leads to spiritual decay. We simply need to deny ourselves, pick up the cross of Christ and follow Jesus in the Spirit. You will not experience all God has for you until you have fully surrendered to the Spirit and all He wants to do in you.

God has provided the means of victory in life, the indwelling Holy Spirit who is able to help us live a life holy to God. The Spirit in us brings us spiritual life and victory over the influences of the flesh. All we need to do is surrender and submit to Him.

But how practically does the Spirit help us, “put to death the deeds of the body”? Let me share an illustration from my life.

Victory Over Victoria’s Secret

When my children were young my wife and I would sometimes go to a local mall to shop or just walk around. In that mall is a big unavoidable Victoria’s Secret women’s lingerie store. The store has huge posters of scantily clad women in lustily tempting poses designed to allure women who are seeking what they have as well as catching the eye of men who want their women to have what the women in the Victoria’s Secret have. Now when we would go to the mall we had to pass by this store. Passing by this store created a tempting situation for me. My flesh was whispering,” Go on, look at that, look at those women, wow!” Satan and my flesh wanted me to gawk and salivate over those lusty babes in scantily clad clothes. How does the Spirit going to put those kinds of lusts to rest? How was the Spirit going to help me in that kind of spiritually precarious situation? In our day and age of sexual promiscuity such tempting situations are common. How can we put such desires to death? How can and does the Holy Spirit help us?

Let me share how I gained victory over Victoria’s Secret. We have mentioned how the Holy Spirit in us brings the outpoured love of God in us (Romans 5:5). The one with the Spirit in them is compelled or driven by God’s love (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). As we yield and present ourselves to the Spirit in such situations the power of God’s love comes to bear and bring us victoriously through. This is how it works. As I was walking hand in hand with my wife, I would think of the love I have for her (which is given to me by the Spirit). The Spirit helped me to know and reckon true by faith how much I love my wife and family. I would think of how it would hurt her, (the one I love and have pledged my life to), to see me looking at another woman and that deterred me and caused me to look the other way. Then I would think of what my kids would think if they saw their dad (their pastor dad!) holding hands with their mom and then gawking at some strange sexual object of a woman. They would think, “Why is daddy looking at those women who are half naked? Doesn’t he love mommy? Isn’t he satisfied with mommy? Does he really love her most? Would he leave her if he had the chance to go with one of those other women?”  The thought of bringing such thoughts into my children’s minds caused me to willfully turn away. But most importantly, the Spirit helped me to think of what people would think if they saw me, a pastor, wearing our church t-shirt, (complete with our church logo of a cross on a green hill and blue sky background, with an illuminated dove on it and the words emblazoned across the sky saying, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given us” – Romans 5:5), what would people think of that guy with the religious shirt whose looking lustily at the Victoria’s Secret babes? I’ll tell you what they would think, they’d think, “What a hypocrite! What a phony! Some Christian he is, walking with his wife and kids and gawking at those half-naked women.” The Spirit helped me by bringing to my mind the shame I would bring to the Lord because of a bad witness. The Holy Spirit caused me to say, “No! I’m not going to give in and defame and shame my Jesus’ name. I am not going to stoop that low. I’m not going to give in and cast the name of Jesus in the mud. I’m going to kill that desire to look right now in the power of the Spirit.” And I did, and I still do put to death such tempting thoughts in the power of the Spirit. If such a tempting situation arises to this day, I just walk on and look the other way. Now, in such circumstances then and now, my wife knows I look the other way. My kids know I look the other way. And my Lord knows I look the other way. And it’s all because of the love of the Spirit He pours out in me. The love of God is a powerful force in putting to death the deeds of the flesh.

Today we don’t have to walk in a mall to see tempting things. Today we have phones with Internet access. Our phones too often have become our idols. We are tempted to access all kinds of perversions and temptations in prolific forms. “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like” are all a click away.[14] If we are to have victory in secret over Victoria’s Secret types of temptations, we need the Holy Spirit to help us.

The Spirit confirms all of this to me by bringing to bear portions of Scripture that direct me. When I find myself in a tempting situation as that described above, the first verse that the Spirit brings to my mind and heart is Job 31:1, “I have made a covenant with my eyes: Why then should I look upon a young woman.” Other verses the Spirit has used with me in such situations and might use with others are:

Psalm 101:3a – “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes; . . .”

Psalm 119:11 – “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!”

Proverbs 4:25 – “Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you.”

Proverbs 6:23-28 – “For the commandment is a lamp, And the law a light; Reproofs of instruction are the way of life,24 To keep you from the evil woman, From the flattering tongue of a seductress.25 Do not lust after her beauty in your heart, Nor let her allure you with her eyelids.26 For by means of a harlot A man is reduced to a crust of bread; And an adulteress will prey upon his precious life.27 Can a man take fire to his bosom, And his clothes not be burned?28 Can one walk on hot coals, And his feet not be seared?”

Therefore, how can we define the manner in which the Spirit helps us put to death the deeds of the body, the deeds of the flesh?

The Threefold Death Knell to Deeds of the Flesh – The Spirit’s love; His love-letter; and His lovers

There is a threefold death knell that the Spirit sounds in putting to death the deeds of the flesh. When these three things ring true in our lives, the deeds of the flesh are put to death. What are these three things?

The First Ring of Death for the Flesh.

First the Spirit pours out God’s love into our hearts (Romans 5:5,8; 1 Corinthians 13). This is a love for God, a love for the people around us (especially those closest to us like believers, our family, and friends), and a love for His word. This love poured out in us by the Spirit is best described in the following verses:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 – “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.”

“Love never fails,” it states. Notice that the love described in 1 Corinthians is a selfless love. Like God’s love in Christ, it seeks first to give, it seeks first the betterment of others, it turns its back on self. That’s the kind of love the Spirit gives us (Romans 5:5). And having that kind of love is a priority in the life of the believer especially given the latter days in which we now live.

The Priority of the Spirit’s Love

We have seen that love in the believer comes from the Spirit. We do well to reiterate this in quoting Paul in Romans where earlier he was inspired to write:

Romans 5:5 – “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

This love of the Spirit is of utmost importance for the believer. Peter exhorted believers in his first epistle to have such a love when he was inspired by God to write:

1 Peter 4:7-8 – “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. 8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”

Notice Peter mentions this love in conjunction with the prayer life of the believer. The believer receives the love of the Spirit by requesting it prayerfully. Peter then says, “above all things,” implying that having the love of the God the Spirit in you and working through you is a top priority for the disciple (see John 13:35). We have already seen how Jesus made this point with Peter at the end of the gospel of John (John 21:15-17).

The love Peter refers to here is translated from the Greek term agape meaning, “love, charity, brotherly love, affection, good will, benevolence.”[15] Such love is a giving godly divine love that can only come from God. Peter further describes this love with the adjective “fervent.”

The word “fervent,” is translated from the Greek term ektenes which means, “without ceasing; fervent; stretched out; earnestly, assiduously.” [16] the idea here is that of an athlete who stretches him or herself out to the limit preparing for their sport. The believer receives the love of God in them when they receive the Holy Spirit at regeneration. The believer surrenders moment by moment to the Spirit who works them out in building their spiritual love muscles. Loving is not always easy, but it is the will of God in the life of the believer. And such love “covers a multitude of sin.”

The word “covers,” here comes from the Greek term meaning, “cover; hide; veil; to hinder the knowledge of a thing.” [17] Love is a kind of holy cover-up of the sin we inevitably see in other believers. An example of this is found in the book of Genesis (Genesis 9:20-29) when an account is given of a lapse in Noah’s walk with the Lord. Noah is drunk. Perhaps with the change in the environment the fermentation process of grapes was accelerated unbeknownst to Noah. Nevertheless, Noah is drunk, and his son Ham comes upon Noah in Noah’s tent where Noah has evidently fallen asleep and unraveled his clothes revealing his nakedness. It was an embarrassing situation. Now Ham had a choice, he could discreetly and lovingly cover up his father and never mention the situation again so as to protect his integrity and honor, or he could seize the moment and take advantage of his father’s vulnerability to exalt himself. Ham chose the latter and went and told his brother Shem and Japheth. He may have even poked fun at the old man who had drank himself to sleep and become naked. When Noah awakes and recovers, he severely rebukes Ham.

As believers we are not to be dishonest, but we are to be discreet. We are not to revel in the shortcomings of other believers. Uncovering the sin of other believers gives Satan and the world ammunition against the work of God. Sin, when discovered should be confronted in a loving and discreet way. Godly authority and spiritual counsel should be sought in such situations by going to church leadership. Sometimes a sinful situation can be worked out between the two parties. But sinful situations should never be used to attack or carnally expose another. Love confronts sin and seeks to help the sinner in a constructive way in the Spirit. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love looks out for the brethren (see 1 John 5:16-17).

When you’ve got the love of the Spirit in you and your tempted, just tap into that love (as the above examples illustrate) and walk on by that temptation, (run if you have to!) The Spirit working His love in and through our lives will make us all more than conquerors in Him who strengthens us.

The Second Ring of Death for the Flesh.

Second, the Spirit brings to mind God’s love-letter the Bible to us. The Spirit brings to mind portions of Scripture that meet the needs and give us powerful counsel in tempting situations. He might bring to mind a verse like that found in 1 Corinthians 10:13 which states:

1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

When tempted this above verse from the Spirit is a key that unlocks a door of hope to overcoming temptations or trials that we face. The Spirit has a verse to guide you in all situations. Seek His guidance, strength and help and He will get you through. When the Spirit brings s that verse to your mind and heart it’s like a deep death knell sounding for your flesh.

The Third Ring of Death for the Flesh.

Third, the Spirit brings the law of Christ to bear. What is the “law of Christ”? Paul is inspired to tell us in his letter to the Galatians when he writes:

Galatians 6:2 – “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

The law of Christ is the loving mutual support of believers for each other. As believers we are God’s lovers. In the Spirit we are lovers sent by God as agents of His love who share God’s love with those around us. Jesus said:

John 13:35 – “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The fellowship of believers is so very important to overcoming the deeds of the flesh. Together believers and encourage and exhort and support one another in Christ. The Spirit uses this fellowship to strengthen and uphold the believer (see Hebrews 10:24-25). The psalmist was inspired to write an entire psalm about the sweet strength and support of fellow believers toward each other (Psalm 133). When brothers and sisters in Christ unite to bear one another’s burdens in the love of the Spirit of Christ, it rings the third and final death knell for your flesh.

When the Spirit of God pours out the love of God and applies the word of God in our lives, the deeds of the flesh can be put to death. This truly is what it means to Dagon it! It’s bringing the Spirit and His word before our idols of sin each moment of every day. The love of the Spirit and the inspired word of God are a powerful, even unbeatable combination. Couple that with the law of Christ which is believer’s bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and you are well on your way to being more than a conqueror through Him who loved us (Romans 8:37). Remember that the next time you are tempted in a situation. When you face temptation, ask the Spirit to help you by pouring out His love into your heart, applying His word to your life and by bringing a brother or sister in Christ to help you bear the burden. The Spirit can and will help you to put to death the deeds of your flesh. He will help you through victoriously. Bring the Lord with you wherever you go. Every Dagon-idol of sin set up in your life or that you come across each day, bring the Lord before it and ask Him to break it down. You’ll be surprised what bringing God’s presence into your life can do in terms of providing victory over entrenched sin. God can tap out and count out the sin you’re fighting. And in doing so, Dagon it! And God will be glorified. In Jesus’ name. Amen!

[1] See Isaiah 59:1-2

[2] See Romans 1:18-32

[3] Romans 3:19-31; 5:12-21

[4] Romans 3:1-18

[5] Romans 5:1-11

[6] Romans 6

[7] Romans 7

[8] Romans 8

[9] Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23-24

[10] John 3:30

[11] Galatians 5.

[12] Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (pp. 939–940). Thomas Nelson.

[13]Wiersbe, W. W. 1996, c1989. The Bible exposition commentary. “An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire ‘BE’ series”–Jkt. (Ro 8:5). Victor Books: Wheaton, Ill.

[14] Galatians 5:19-21

[15]Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario

[16]Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario

[17]Strong, J. 1996. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship: Ontario

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