It Doesn’t Work
We shall not find that this crisis experience of Romans 6 solves all our daily problems. Indeed, many have given up in despair, who have come the best they know how along the reckoning road of 6:11, but they just don’t find that it works. It seems to remain more a theory than something which affects their ordinary conduct. That is the very reason why there is a Romans 7 and 8, as well as 6! Chapter 6 puts our feet on this highway of holiness, but does not tell us how to walk. There are some profound and subtle lessons yet to learn. If chapter 6 is the crisis, chapters 7 and 8 are the continuance. Therefore for a steady walk their teaching must be grasped as well.
In the middle of chapter 6 Paul introduces a puzzling statement which he does not elaborate until chapter 7. In 6:14 he suddenly remarks that another factor has to be considered in the victorious walk–law. It is not just a straightforward fight between sin and grace. The place of law must be understood: the reason for it, the effects of it, and the present attitude of the believer to it. If we skip lightly over this, we shall not really know how to walk confidently in this newness of life. We might well think, Why bother about it? We have now learned that we have died in Christ to sin, we have believed it and stepped out on it. Is not that enough? No, it is not, as so many have found.
What is law? It is the way things work. There are laws that govern this universe; they are the only way in which it can work. Scientists get busy and discover some of them, and can label them the law of gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, and so on. These laws, being the way nature works, are not opposed to nature, they are explanations of nature. So is the moral law. It has been summed up in one phrase–God is love. “That royal law of Scripture,” as James called it. That “perfect law of liberty.” It is a natural law of God. It is God’s nature, and was the nature of all beings till the fall of Lucifer.
But since Lucifer, a war has broken out. A rival law has appeared. God’s law of love is no longer the law of our nature. The law of sin and death wars against the law of the Spirit of life. The law of God’s love has become an outcast from humanity, the law of self-love in its stead.
In order that the whole of fallen humanity may not slip into corruption and hell, God has introduced His law of love again among mankind as a series of commandments. But these are no longer fallen man’s nature. They are the exact opposite. They come from without to him and immediately rouse in him the antagonism of that law of sin and death which reigns in him. It is that law of opposites at work. Thus the good law immediately sites into life its opposite, and will always do so while we are in our mortal bodies and in this poisoned world. So we must get this fact clearly in our minds. It is an unchangeable law of this life: “I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is pressent with me.” (Rom. 7:21). We shall save ourselves a lot of heartache if we face this squarely. The presence of evil is constant. We shall never be free of it. The existence of God’s law among us continually arouses its opposite. It is because of this that we so continually sense the presence of evil and are distressed by it. We want to love, but are so conscious of hardness and criticism. We want to be pure, but are so conscious of the sensual, and so on.
Paul gives us an example of this in his own life in 7:7-13. He writes it in the past tense as a definite incident in his experience. He does not say when it took place, whether pre- or post-conversion. I rather think the latter, because we have no indication that he came under conviction for the sin of lust (or covetousness) before he was saved. He rather regarded himself in those days “as touching the righteousness in the law blameless.” This was a profounder discovery, more suitable to the experience of saint than sinner. He was hit one day by the one commandment which went deeper that the external, the tenth, probing into the inner desires of the heart. “Thou shalt not covet,” and in no time he discovered all kinds of unruly desires arising in him. The dormant sin principle is suddenly aroused by the new consciousness in Paul. That is exactly why the servants of Jesus become more sin-conscious, not less so, as they progress. The more perfections they see in that perfect law of liberty, the more the sin-principle is aroused to manifest the opposite.
This, says Paul, is the work of the law in the world. It is not that nature of man, as it was originally meant to be. It is an outcast from this world. The only approach it can make to man, therefore, is external, as a written law, as a code of morals. The effect is bound to be fierce opposition from the sin-nature; but that means it can do one good and necessary piece of work: it can show up latent sin, so that sin, by its very opposition to God’s law, can be seen to be “exceeding sinful.”
But now what are we to do when we are face to face with sin through the law? At conversion the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. It did that, thank God. Through it we saw our guilt and condemnation, and then we saw Him who was made a curse for us, and we were saved. But that has by no means settled the law problem. If it did, we should have no such question raised in this chapter, right after our union with Christ in death to sin.
That former condemnation was for past sin. This present condemnation (8:1) is for present failure. It concerns our desire for constant holiness, our recognition of the law which calls us to perfection, and yet the frustrating opposition of “the motions of sin in the flesh.”
Paul then goes on to show us that it is not merely the constant presence of evil that bothers us: it is the power of evil. We are new creatures in Christ, we delight in the law of God after our purified inward man (7:22). With the mind we serve the law of God (25), we would do good (21). It is definitely not we that are the trouble (20). But we find that when we are set on doing what is right, we have not the power to do it (18). The willingness is there, but not the ability. Finally, Paul enumerates another law, the law of inevitable slavery to the dominion of sin (23). We are taken captive by the law of sin and death. It is always too strong for us.
Here are two bewildering laws of evil that are a constant experience in our daily life, even though we have taken the place of death to sin! What a contradiction it seems! The law of the constant presence of evil, and the law of its dominion over me. No wonder Paul cries out, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (24). And note that this is all written in the present tense from verses 14-25, for it is the continuing experience of all believers who have not discovered and do not walk in the Romans 8 way. It would not be honest to treat this in any other way. If God led Paul to write it in the present tense, it is to emphasize an ever-present fact, if we are foolish enough to remain in it.
And now for the great lesson of the chapter. Here the scene is laid of the head-on clash within me of the holy law of God and the evil law of Satan, and the victory going to Satan each time! I don’t want it to, I try to conquer, but I can’t. I can neither do the things I want to, nor stop doing the things I hate. What is the obvious conclusion? That the I in me is helpless. Yes, even the redeemed I, the I that delights to do the will of God. At last I have come to the rock-bottom lesson that God has been seeking to teach His people through the centuries. Is this not what Lucifer refused to acknowledge–that he was created helpless so far as being godlike was concerned? He was created to contain God Himself, who would then manifest all godliness through him. Is this not what god sought to teach Adam by offering him the tree of life? But he went the same mad way as Lucifer, and preferred to risk living by his own self-sufficiency. We saw how God took years to teach this lesson to His great men of past ages, so that when they at last realized their helpless condition, they could experience the might of His indwelling. We saw Israel almost gaily ignore the same lesson. And now here we are ourselves back in the Garden of Eden, faced with the Tree of Life. Romans 7 is the Garden of Eden experience for the believer. We can come right through Romans 6 and take our place as dead with Christ and risen with Him. We can yield ourselves to God as those that are alive from the dead, and present our members for His service, but the emphasis is still on us. We have died, we are risen. Until we have deeply learned our lesson, it is an easy thing to think that now the risen I, dead to sin, can live the holy life. That is why, as we said, not much mention is made of resurrection life in chapter 6. We have first to get a further insight into helpless risen I, before the full life can be revealed in chapter 8.
Then at last the truth can dawn. The point of Christ’s resurrection from the tomb was not that He rose from the dead, but that Another raised Him, “the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead.” He had become a completely dead body for our sakes, and it was the Father that raised Him. And so it is in our co-resurrection with Him. Another within us is the resurrection life. Romans 8 takes us to this. It is the chapter of God’s Spirit–mentioned 19 times, just as chapter 7 was the helpless human spirit, I, the redeemed I, mentioned 47 times. Our resurrection with Christ means an indwelling Christ as the One who has raised us. Here is the union completed.
What then do we do about the law of God and the law of sin in this new relationship? Paul, by the Spirit, is amazingly radical. He says, You have not only died to sin, you have died to law (7:1-6)! What does he mean?
It is like this, he says in effect. You once lived in sin and paid no attention to any law. Then the law caught you and first showed you your guilt before a holy God. Then when you had been justified from that by faith, it caught you again and showed you that you are a helpless captive to sin. Now you have learned a deeper lesson, that you have been brought into an inner union by grace, where Christ lives His life in you, and you just go along with Him. But Christ is the law. He is love, which is the perfect law of liberty. That means you take no further notice of the outward law. It has its elementary purposes in the world (Gal. 4:3, Col. 2:8, 20), but not for the spiritually mature. Your life now is Christ living in you. He lives the law in and by you (8:4). So long as you walk after Him, abiding in Him, He will fully and naturally live the life of love in you, and sin shall not be able to get at you, for there will be no you! You crucified with Him, yet living, yet not you, but Christ living in you.
Christ is our law. We do not obey the laws of our country as such. We go along with an indwelling Christ. So long as He who is love, makes it plain that such laws are right laws, we gladly and loyally obey them, because it is His obeyings within us. But if a law were passed, as in the days of Daniel, calling on us to worship another god or to cease praying, should we obey that? The same would refer to accepting any challenge or standard just from man. We can rapidly come under bondage and “law,” just by hearing how God has led or used another, and we say to ourselves, Why has He not used me like that? Or when someone challenges us to have this or that experience, or do this or that piece of service, or make this or that sacrifice. All such can be “law” to us and give us the false condemnation of failure, or alternatively drive us to false effort. As dead to all outward “law,” we learn to receive nothing and follow no one, unless the inner Spirit coupled with the Word, constrains us. Then it is He going before, when He putteth forth His sheep, and all is well.
And so we come right out at last to the noontide of the gospel. On the one hand cut off through the cross from all enemies, on the other, knowing our created helplessness to live to the glory of God. He has taken up His permanent abode in us in all His divine fullness, not to impart this or that goodness or power to us, but Himself to be the all within and without. Yet Romans 8 does not take away from our own aliveness, the “nevertheless I live” of Gal. 2:20. It is always true, and so the emphasis is on our walk in the Spirit, our minding the things of the Spirit, our mortifying the deeds of the body, our not living after the flesh. This is no strain, however, because it is really He living in us.
We have negatively died to sin, the downward pull: we have positively died to law, the upward pull, which incidentally stimulated the sin. We have stopped striving and straining not to do evil or to do good. We are out of it, dead with Christ to the lot. And now He has taken over, and we walk quietly with Him, trusting, not trying.