It would be good to underline the danger of constant condemnation through the law, of which warning is given in Rom. 8:1. It is probably the most prevalent cause of unhappiness and ineffectiveness among God’s people. If the thunders of the law have ceased to terrify us through the peace of justification, the pointing finger of the law at our daily shortcomings is a constant discomfort. For we do “come short of the glory of God,” and do so daily.
What are we to do about it? We can liken ourselves, our renewed selves in Christ, to a piece of elastic. We are hidden in Him, we abide in Him, but Satan and his unclean demons, using all methods of allurement and disturbance that this distorted world affords, find plenty of means of pulling at the elastic! We are “drawn away of our own desires and enticed,” and often the enticement leads on to consent, and we have sinned (James 1:14, 15).
Not the blatant sins of our past life, not certainly persistent sinning, for those who do that are not born of God (1 John 3:9); but wrong attitudes of heart and mind, the quick word, selfishness, impatience, sins of the eyes, sloth in witness, the finer points of failure in holiness, which we had never even noticed in our insensitive days; these we fall into and mourn our fall. And the moment we have been spotted by the flesh, if we don’t get clear at once, the law is in operation and we are condemned; for we have slipped back into that self-law-sin realm of Rom. 7.
Then how get out, and how learn to get out quickly? First, there is the big lie of the Accuser of the brethren. He will cast doubts on our crucified position in Christ, and try to tell us that our “old man” is still very much alive in us. That is a falsehood. But many accept it, and drag their feet through life on the false assumption that they have a divided self, a divided heart, a divided nature. Their conception of Christian living is a continuous struggle, a losing battle between their old nature and their new: “the flesh lusteth against the spirit, the spirit against the flesh; these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” But that does not mean two co-equal natures battling in the believer one against the other.
We have only one nature at a time; we cannot have more, for our nature is our very selves. We were by nature the children of wrath, we are partakers of the divine nature. That is the death and resurrection in Christ. No half measures about that! The old nature is the old man which has been crucified with Christ. The new nature is the new man, which is we risen with Christ and Christ living in us. This verse of Gal. 5:17 on flesh and (the human redeemed) spirit is a concentration in a few words of the teaching of Rom. 7.
We live and walk in the Spirit, led by the Spirit (Gal. 5:25, 16, 18). We are not then walking in the flesh (independent self), which we have crucified (5:24). Because we are not walking in the flesh, the law has no claim on us, for it only presents its demands to independent self (5:18). Because the law has no hold on us, the lusts of the flesh (the motions of sin in the flesh) are not stimulated by its challenge to impose their demands on us (flesh lusting against spirit), and to dominate our helpless self (ye cannot do the things that ye would). While we abide in Christ, we are dead in Him to law, and therefore dead to sin which is by the law.
But if we do not walk in the Spirit, then we return again under law, into the flesh and self-effort, and therefore under the dominion of sin in the flesh. That is not a question of an old and new nature, which was settled at the new birth. This “flesh and spirit” matter is a question of the daily walk, and the possibility of slipping back any time for a visit to the flesh and thus to sin, law and condemnation.
So we have to learn not to accept the big lie of our return to a permanent old condition, just because we are caught out by the flesh on occasions: nor to live in the bondage of a false, but very commonly held conception of being two people at once, with a civil war within, a good and bad nature, and who will win? No. Let us confess with the same assured voice as Paul that “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath set me free from the law of sin and death.”
But then equally we must not stay, even temporarily, under condemnation, when Satan has caught us out. It is the easiest thing to do, and our distressed feelings are really self-pity and pride. It is not so much that we have grieved the Lord that disturbs us, as that we have failed. The acceptance of condemnation is a form of self-righteousness.
God has told us, when we sin, to get quickly to the light, recognize and confess the sin, and then He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse our consciences from all sense of unrighteousness. “The cleansing fount I see, I see; I plunge, and oh, it cleanseth me.” To remain in condemnation, therefore, is really disobedience and hurt self. We can learn many lessons from simple believers who keep short accounts with God. They are tripped up, they humbly recognize it, they claim the cleansing blood, and go on their way rejoicing; and often they use their testimony to such daily simple experiences to be a blessing to others. The elastic of the new self has been stretched by temptation; let it snap back into place.