Thirdly, why should we practice mortification? It sounds an unpleasant, uncongenial, austere, and even painful business. It runs counter to our natural tendency to soft and lazy self-indulgence. If we are to engage in it, we shall need strong motives. One is, as we have seen, that we have an obligation (12) to the indwelling Spirit of life. Another, on which Paul now insists, is that the death of mortification is the only road to life. Verse 13 contains the most marvelous promise, which is expressed in the single Greek verb zesesthe, “you will live.” Paul is not now contradicting himself. Having called eternal life a free and undeserved gift (6.23), he is not now making it a reward for self-denial. Nor by “life” does he seem to be referring to the life of the world to come. He seems to be alluding to the life of God’s children, who are led by His Spirit and assured of His Fatherly love, to which he comes in the next verses (14ff). This rich, abundant, satisfying life, he is saying, can be enjoyed only by those who put their misdeeds to death. Even the pain of mortification is worthwhile if it opens the door to fulness of life.
This is one of several ways in which the radical principle of “life through death” lies at the heart of the gospel. According to Romans 6, it is only by dying, with Christ, to sin, its penalty paid thereby, that we rise to a new life of forgiveness and freedom. According to Romans 8, it is only by putting our evil deeds to death that we experience the full life of God’s children. So, we need to redefine both life and death. What the world calls life (a desirable self-indulgence) leads to alienation from God, which, in reality, is death, whereas the putting to death of all the perceived evil within us, which the world sees as an undesirable self-abnegation is, in reality, the way to authentic life.
From: The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World by John R. W. Stott; The Bible Speaks Today series (Downers Grove, IL/Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), pp. 229-230. Comment on Romans 8.1-39.