Something Sacred is at Stake

“… but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8: 13 NKJV)

The Bible is filled with descriptions similar to Paul’s admonition to “put to death the misdeeds of the body.”

Moses describes for the Israelites in Deuteronomy 30: 11-20 that there are, essentially, two roads before them: one road of wisdom and obedience leading to life and another road of disobedience and folly leading to death.

Even the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20: 1-17) are prefaced with the reminder that the Lord, who had delivered them from bondage in Egypt, knew how to keep the Israelites free. The crucial characteristic of liberty was serious obedience to their Creator’s commands. The Lord was calling them to learn the habit of obedience and, thereby, turn away from the habit of sin that only leads to another kind of bondage. Essentially, the call was to “kill” the impulses that lead to selfishness, cruelty, and arrogant disregard of God’s presence and loving regard for a neighbor.

A major thrust of the ministry of the prophets of Israel—a ministry of encouragement and confrontation that lasted almost 800 years—was reminding the people of the Mosaic Covenant described in Deuteronomy 30: obedience leads to life and liberty, disobedience leads to bondage and spiritual death. A portion of the prophet’s job description was to remind their audiences of the historical context of present day suffering. The prophets were consistently masters of context and most often the people despised their explanation. In essence, their prophetic rants and dramas were attempts, sometimes shocking, to get their audiences to turn away from the “misdeeds of the body” and choose the road that leads to “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Micah 6:8).

During our Savior’s public ministry, he would repeatedly warn audiences of the enslaving, deadening effects of sin and disobedience. Once, after warning of the toxic effects of marital and relational infidelity, Jesus describes the problem of adultery as being launched by internal lust. And, then, in metaphoric language even stronger than the Apostle Paul’s “putting to death the misdeeds of the body,” he instructs the lust-filled coveter to “gauge out their eye” (Matthew 5: 27-29).

The ravaging effects of sin and disobedience are a major thrust of the Scriptures. So are the admonitions and metaphors that plead with us to obey God and truly experience life in its abundance (John 10:10). The scriptures are filled with wake-up calls, declaring in the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Something sacred is at stake in every moment.” The warnings and admonitions are profound reminders that each step in our journey, each word of engagement with others is drenched in meaning and, therefore, consequences.

In the 20th century, a movement of great cultural significance was born when Bill W. launched “Alcoholics Anonymous.” As with any sinful pattern and its addictive qualities (compulsion, loss of control, an inability to stop even after the destructive price-tags are clear), Bill W. recognized the importance of getting help in “putting to death the misdeeds of the body.” This involved admitting and confessing the sinful patterns and costs of drinking excessively, the need for a sponsor who would call the repentant alcoholic to accountability, and finally a fellowshipping group of fellow strugglers. In the “putting to death, evil,” the AA participants affirmed the necessity of honest confession to their “Higher Power,” submitting to mutual support and accountability, and acting as if their sobriety was a matter of life and death.

Of course, in a real sense, we can all be part of a vital and vibrant group of honest confessors, perhaps called, “Sinners Anonymous.” In putting to death” sinful patterns of personal and relational destruction—the selfishness of ego, the blindness of arrogant ambition, cravings that seem beyond our control—we can engage in helping one another to choose the wise road, a gracious obedience, and a Christ-like love.

Paul D. Patton, Ph.D., is one of our Refres{her} bloggers. We appreciate Paul's bravery to add a male voice and round out our blog perspectives in writing what God put on his heart to minister to women. He is a professor of communication and theater at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. He has graduate degrees in Guidance and Counseling, Religious Education, and Script and Screenwriting, and a doctorate in Communication with an emphasis in theater arts. Paul has been married to his wife Beth for over forty years and has three daughters (all actresses)—Jessica, Emily, and Grace, three sons-in-law, David, Joe, and Eric, and four grandsons, Caleb Rock, Logan Justice, Micah Blaze, and Miles Dean.