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The Law Of This Spirit Of Life
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1, 2, A.V.).
It is in chapter 8 that Paul presents to us in detail the positive side of life in the Spirit. “There is therefore now no condemnation”, he begins, and this statement may at first seem out of place here. Surely condemnation was met by the Blood through which we found peace with God and salvation from wrath (Rom. 5:1, 9). But there are two kinds of condemnation, namely, that before God and that before myself (just as earlier we saw there are two kinds of peace) and the second may at times seem to us even more awful than the first. When I see that the Blood of Christ has satisfied God, then I know my sins are forgiven, and there is for me no more condemnation before God. Yet I may still be knowing defeat, and the sense of inward condemnation on this account may be very real, as Romans 7 shows. But if I have learned to live by Christ as my life, then I have learned the secret of victory, and, praise God! “there is therefore now no condemnation”. “The mind of the spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6), and this becomes my experience as I learn to walk in the Spirit. With peace in my heart I have no time to feel condemned, but only to praise Him who leads me on from victory to victory.
But what lay behind my sense of condemnation? Was it not the experience of defeat and the sense of helplessness to do anything about it? Before I saw that Christ is my life, I labored under a constant sense of handicap; limitation dogged my steps; I felt disabled at every turn. I was always crying out: ‘I cannot do this! I cannot do that!’ Try as I would, I found that I “cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). But there is no ‘I cannot’ in Christ. Now it is: “I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).
How can Paul be so daring? On what ground does he declare that he is now free from limitation and “can do all things”? Here is his answer: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:2). Why is there no more condemnation? “For ...”: there is a reason for it; there is something definite to account for it. The reason is that there is a law called “the law of the Spirit of life” and it has proved stronger than another law called ‘the law of sin and death”. What are these laws? How do they operate? And what is the difference between sin and the law of sin, and between death and the law of death?
First let us ask ourselves, What is a law? Well, strictly speaking, a law is a generalization examined until it is proved that there is no exception. We might define it more simply as something which happens over and over again. Each time the thing happens it happens in the same way. We can illustrate this both from statutory and from natural law. For example, in this land, if I drive a car on the right hand side of the road the traffic police will stop me. Why? Because it is against the law of the land. If you do it you will be stopped too. Why? For the same reason that I would be stopped: it is against the law and the law makes no exceptions. It is something which happens repeatedly and unfailingly. Or again, we all know what is meant by gravity. If I drop my handkerchief in London it falls to the ground. That is the effect of gravity. But the same is true if I drop it in New York or Hong Kong. No matter where I let it go, gravity operates, and it always produces the same results. Whenever the same conditions prevail the same effects are seen. There is thus a ‘law’ of gravity.
Now what of the law of sin and death? If someone passes an unkind remark about me, at once something goes wrong inside me. That is not law; that is sin. But if, when different people pass unkind remarks, the same ‘something’ goes wrong inside, then I discern a law within—a law of sin. Like the law of gravity, it is something constant. It always works the same way. And so too with the law of death. Death, we have said, is weakness produced to its limit. Weakness is ‘I cannot’. Now if when I try to please God in this particular matter I find I cannot, and if when I try to please Him in that other thing I again find I cannot, then I discern a law at work. There is not only sin in me but a law of sin; there is not only death in me but a law of death.
Then again, not only is gravity a law in the sense that it is constant, admitting of no exception, but, unlike the rule of the road, it is a ‘natural’ law and not the subject of discussion and decision but of discovery. The law is there, and the handkerchief ‘naturally’ drops by itself without any help from me. And the “law” discovered by the man in Romans 7:23 is just like that. It is a law of sin and of death, opposed to that which is good, and crippling the man’s will to do good. He ‘naturally’ sins according to the “law of sin” in his members. He wills to be different, but that law in him is relentless and no human will can resist it. So this brings me to the question, How can I be set free from the law of sin an death? I need deliverance from sin, and still more do I need deliverance from death, but most of all I need deliverance from the law of sin and of death. How can I be delivered from the constant repetition of weakness and failure? In order to answer this question let us follow out our two illustrations further.
One of our great burdens in China used to be the likin tax, a law which none could escape, originating in the Ch’in Dynasty and operating right down to our own day. It was an inland tax on the transit of goods, applied throughout the empire and having numerous barriers for collection, and officers enjoying very large powers. The result was that the charge on goods passing through several provinces might become very heavy indeed. But a few years ago a second law came into operation which set aside the likin law. Can you imagine the feelings of relief in those who had suffered under the old law? Now there was no need to think or hope or pray; the new law was already there and had delivered us from the old law. No longer was there need to think beforehand what one would say if one met a likin officer tomorrow!
And as with the law of the land, so it is with natural law. How can the law of gravity be annulled? With regard to my handkerchief that law is at work clearly enough, pulling it down, but I have only to place my hand under the handkerchief and it does not drop. Why? The law is still there. I do not deal with the law of gravity; in fact I cannot deal with the law of gravity. Then why does my handkerchief not fall to the ground? Because there is a power keeping it from doing so. The law is there, but another law superior to it is in operation to overcome it, namely the law of life. Gravity can do its utmost but the handkerchief will not drop, because another law is working against the law of gravity to maintain it there. We have all seen the tree which was once a small seed fallen between the slabs of a paving, and which has grown until heavy stone blocks have been lifted by the power of the life within it. That is what we mean by the triumph of one law over another.
In just such a manner God delivers us from one law by introducing another law. The law of sin and death is there all the time, but God has put another law into operation - the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, and that law is strong enough to deliver us from the law of sin and death. You see, it is a law of life in Christ Jesus—the resurrection life that in Him has met death in all its forms and triumphed over it (Eph. 1:19, 20). The Lord Jesus dwells in our hearts in the person of His Holy Spirit, and if we let Him have a clear way and commit ourselves to Him we shall find that He will keep us from the old law. We shall learn what it is to be kept, not by our own power, but “by the power of God” (1 Peter 1:5).
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