Death is an essential part of the Christian life in at least three ways.
Ø First, there is a death that we share with Christ when we are united to Him by faith. “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). This death is more fully described in Romans 6 where the “old man” is the old “I” that has died. (The “old man” is not the so-called “old sin nature,” an error which has led many believers into despair.) Our union with Christ in His death means two things: first, the penalty of sin has been paid; second, we are free from the tyrannical domination of sin.
Ø Second, there is a death that we have accomplished: “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). If all Christians have done this, it must have happened at conversion. What do we do at conversion that is like death? We repent of our sins; we turn from sin to Christ. Our lives have taken a new direction. Even though sin still nips at our heels, and causes us painful wounds, we are headed toward our Savior. We have turned our back on our old way of life.
Ø Third, there is a daily death that is our constant battle. Jesus said that we must take up our crosses daily in order to follow Him (Luke 9:23). “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:12-13 NASB).
This third kind of death is my subject for the next few paragraphs. Note the present tense of the verbs, “are living” and “are putting to death.” Unfortunately, most of the popular English translations do not clearly indicate the progressive action that is so clear in the NASB. They simply say, “if you put to death the deeds of the body.” This may imply, as one man said to me, “If you put a sin to death isn’t it dead and gone?” As a corrective to that notion, I offer a parable.
Sin is like a boa constrictor that is squeezing the life out of you. Some people think that killing sin is like chopping off the head of the snake with a machete. It is dead. It can’t bother you anymore. Here is a better picture.
The boa constrictor is trying to squeeze the life out of you. You have your hands around its neck, but you are not strong enough to save yourself, so you cry out to the Holy Spirit to help you. Then the invisible hands of God are placed over your hands, and you begin to strangle that snake. The Spirit doesn’t strangle the snake apart from your hands being on its neck. He only does it through your hands. Finally, it goes limp, so you let go and push it off from you.
Now you are walking down the trail glad and happy, but that snake is not dead. It begins to recover, and it slithers along the trail behind you and up into a tree. Then it drops down on top of you and begins to choke you again. It is not as strong as it was before because it feels the effects of being strangled, but it is still stronger than you are. You would surely die and become its prey except that you cry out to the Holy Spirit who puts His hands over yours so that you can strangle the snake again.
This process happens repeatedly. Each time you cry out for the Spirit’s help, the snake becomes a little weaker. It is not killed all at once, but you are gradually putting it to death by the help of the Spirit. There may come a day when that particular sin truly is dead in your life, but you can never let your guard down, and it is not the only snake in the jungle.
You cannot put sin to death by yourself, and the Spirit will not do it without you, but with His hands covering your hands you can strangle the snake so that it dies a bit at a time. If it does not die completely in this life (and few things do), sin and Satan will be utterly crushed under your feet when the Spirit raises your body to share in the glorious resurrection of Christ (Romans 8:9-11; Romans 16:20).