For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. (Rom. 8:2)
The apostle Paul tells us in this great epistle of Romans of three laws that he faced in his life.
First, there is the law of God. Its commandments he found to be holy, just, good. But it had no power to save. It could bring condemnation; it could never bring deliverance from the bondage of sin.
Second, there is the law of sin and death. The law of God is good and holy, but it is outside of us, beyond our ability. The law of sin and death is inside us, and it is in direct contrast to the law of God. The apostle explained the conflict in personal testimony: “For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do (Rom. 7:18-19). But here in chapter 8 Paul goes on to tell us of a third law that triumphs over the law that is weak in that it cannot save and the law that is contradictory and hinders the believer’s desire to please God in a life of holiness and power.
The third law Paul calls the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. He opens this chapter of celebration in Romans 8 with a victory statement: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (8:1-5).
Most believers are acquainted with the first two of these three laws. They know that the law of God is good–it is holy, ideal and challenging. But its lack of redemptive power, its inability to deliver them from their dilemma (their bondage to sin) only adds to their sense of failure and frustration.
Back in Romans 7:9-24, Paul described the defeat and despair of Christians who have yet to discover the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. They come to the close of each day with a sense of having failed spiritually. As a revivalist, I meet them at the altars or after the services and hear their confessions: “I am dead, dry, defeated; there’s got to be something more to help me rise above my dilemma.” Their condition is usually described in other terms, but they are coming to see themselves just as the apostle saw himself: O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (7:24).
Too many professing Christians are mired in the “flesh life” and have come to accept their defeat as “the normal Christian life.” Comparing themselves with their fellow believers walking in bondage, many have come to terms with defeat. Living in bondage, they go on in indifference, coldness and hardness of heart, emptiness, powerlessness, joylessness, prayerlessness and self-condemnation. To hear a preacher preach or a brother or sister testify to the “baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire” brings immediate attacks of doubt by the enemy. They are urged by the evil one to label such a sermon or testimony as extreme, fanatical or weird. Even after reading what Jesus taught in the Gospels and all that happened to early Christians in the book of Acts, some still hold back from surrendering their lives to Christ and praying for the sanctifying fullness and power of the Holy Spirit. They are willing to settle for the form of religion without the power (II Tim. 3:5).
But there are those who will read their Bibles with hungry hearts and open their minds and hearts to trust God for the spiritual freedom He promises in Jesus Christ. Weary of their wretched condemnation, contradiction and confusion, they cry out in search for an answer with the apostle, Who will deliver me from this body of death? Paul’s expression, this body of death, is no reference to his mortal body; it’s a reference to the source of his spiritual struggle, his contradiction–the second law, the law of sin and death.
Paul found the answer to his problem: Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!
He then opens Romans 8 in a spirit of celebration of his freedom from the power of sin. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. Then Paul goes on to paint a picture of the true Christian life as it was planned by God the Father, provided by God the Son and produced within the believing, surrendering believer by God the Holy Spirit. Here we have God’s plan for each one of us for a life of power to live out the law of God and giving us power over the law of sin and death. While we still have to deal with the flesh, we also have the power of the Holy Spirit to help us put to death its desires in order that we might continue to live in the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:12-13).
It is by the Spirit that we are enabled to put to death the desires of the flesh. Consequently, we are enabled by the Spirit to live a life of victory over sin. Those who live according to the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus are enabled to live free of lust, greed, pride and hate. They are enabled to love and forgive, enjoy a single-hearted devotion to Christ and remain free from covetousness. Those who walk according to the Spirit are enabled to remain free from resentment, worry, murmuring, doubting and speaking ill of others. Those who walk in the Spirit find time for prayer and worship. They find grace to overcome the world while relating socially. They watch for an opportunity to share their faith in Christ with others who are hungry and needy.
The believer who walks in the Spirit is not free from temptation. Not even Jesus, in his humanity was free from temptation. But the Spirit-filled believer finds the Spirit to be the secret to overcoming temptation. The Holy Spirit will always help us find the way of escape (I Cor. 10:13), whether it is fighting, fleeing or forbearing.
By walking according to the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus the believer finds the freedom to walk in holiness and power. But we need to say something about continuing to live the sanctified life. Paul the apostle wrote in Colossians that in order to be presented holy and blameless before the Lord, they must continue in the faith. Otherwise, he said, would mean they would shift from the faith (Col. 1:22-23). Walking in holiness and power does not mean that we reach “sinless perfection” in this life. Even John Wesley, an advocate of “Christian Perfection,” disclaimed “sinless perfection.” He challenged his hearers to read “The Perfect Law of Love” (I Cor. 12) and then claim “to not be wanting” (Plain Account of Christian Perfection, p. 83). Even the sanctified sometimes fall short of the glory of God. We sometimes grieve or quench the Holy Spirit. When this happens, we must repent. Many times, even since I’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit, I’ve repented, calling on the Lord for His forgiveness for either a wrong attitude or an act, either a wrong disposition or deed. I’m glad for His promise, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9).
One of Wesley’s definitions of sanctification was “the circumcision of the heart whereby God cleanses the heart and enables the believer to love Him with his total being.” Divine love poured into our hearts is the secret of our holy life. We can test ourselves by this.
LOVE heads the list of the fruit of the Spirit. The apostle could have placed a colon after the word and allowed that the following eight virtues were products of agape love which he deemed the primary evidence of the Spirit-filled life. With this in mind, I close with the observation that God in His Word measures true spirituality in terms of LOVE.
Please notice how the apostle Paul believed divine love in us will express itself.
JOY is love singing.
PEACE is love resting.
PATIENCE is love enduring.
KINDNESS is love sharing.
GOODNESS is love’s character.
FAITHFULNESS is love’s habit.
GENTLENESS is love’s touch.
SELF-CONTROL is love in charge.
Our Lord Jesus was a man filled with the Holy Spirit. He perfectly displayed the fruit of the Spirit during his 33 years on planet earth in all of his relationships–family, followers, foes and the world. When we allow the Holy Spirit to reproduce His fruit in us we are displaying the same graces as our Lord displayed. However, Jesus never once grieved the Holy Spirit, and never once fell short of the glory of God. None of us can make this claim. We do sometimes fall short of a holy life. But let us not take lightly the call of God to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), to be holy (I Pet. 1:17) and to set our minds on the things of the Spirit, which will result in life and peace (Rom. 8:6).