THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT No. 1
An exegesis of Romans 7-8
By Larry White
I would like to deal with the subject of walking in the spirit. I don't claim to know everything about the subject, but I will show you my present understanding had through study and personal experience. I won't be able to cover every aspect of the subject but will attempt to give an overview of the subject.
There is in the world in which we live a dual quality or nature to reality. One quality is, as it were, superimposed over the other.
see with the eyes
we see by faith
is the reality
the realm of flesh
is the realm of spirit
The spiritual realm is what Paul refers to in the book of Ephesians as the heavenly places. The term "places" is added by the translators to carry the idea of a realm. The word Paul uses is "the heavenlies".
It is where all spiritual blessings are to be had
It is where Christ sits on his throne at God's right hand
It is where we are raised to sit along with him
It is where the spiritual principalities and powers are
It is where the Christian's warfare is
In the seventh chapter of Romans, Paul takes us back in time before Jesus came and justified us, and he uses himself as an example of a man under law. He shows the inability of a law to help man in his sinful condition and of man's inability to rid himself of sin, and sin's power, by keeping a law.
So his thesis is briefly stated in:
For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins, which were through the law, worked in our members to bear fruit unto death. But now we have been released from the law, having died to that in which we were held; so that we serve in newness of spirit, and not in oldness of letter.
"When we were in the flesh," is before Jewish children of God became Christians. The Law exacerbated sin by inflaming the lust for the taboo and the prohibited. Therefore it only worked death. But now as spiritual children, they have died, along with Jesus, to the Law, and can rightfully break with the Law and serve God in the spirit.
The thesis stated, now Paul will prove this very thing and give an in-depth reason as to why it is true.
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? May it not be. Yet, I had not known sin, except through law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, "You shall not covet:"
law = (no article) meaning any law in general, but especially the Law of Moses as the case in point. I donít think man here was morally ignorant Ė but he was naÔve; not understanding the power of sin or its deadliness. "Thou shalt not covet" was given to man to fix his attention on the spontaneous movement of his soul (in lust) and to discover in this lack the symptom of an inward revolt against the will of God.
but sin, taking occasion through the commandment, worked in me all manner of lusting: for without law sin is dead.
I think what he means is that when someone tells you something is wrong Ė then that makes it all the more attractive, because the prohibition raises a barrier between us and the thing we desire. Thatís when sin becomes active inciting us to rebel against this "mean God". Without law the sin principle is inactive Ė dead. This is how the passions of sin were BY the Law, as in verse 5.
And I was alive apart from law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died;
That is, there was a point at which man was alive without law Ė but when the commandment, telling him something was wrong came, sin, that is, the principle of rebellion against God, revived and became active and man spiritually died.
and I found the commandment, which was unto life, this to be unto death:
God gave the law for manís good Ė it was ordained to life, but its immediate result was condemnation and death [because of sin].
for sin, taking occasion, through the commandment deceived me, and through it killed me.
That is, the sin that was in man Ė the egotistical principle of selfishness and rebellion against God; it made the commandment fill a role that was contrary to its nature. By it sin killed me, i.e. it murdered me spiritually.
So that, the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and righteous, and good.
Paulís conclusion: It wasnít the Lawís fault, the Law is totally good.
Did then that which is good become death unto me? May it not be. But sin, that it might be shown to be sin, by working death to me through that which is good; -- that through the commandment sin might become exceedingly sinful.
Man without law could not see how deadly sin was Ė because he had no rule by which to see; he needed a spiritual ruler (or law) so that sin might be shown to be deadly.
The next passage is one of the more difficult of all the scriptures. However there is a secret to this complicated passage. Notice here that Paul will say the same thing three different times yet phrasing it in different ways. I'll number them and on this web page I'll color code them for you. Each time he says the same thing, there are three elements to the statement.
The carnal condition of man enslaved to sin..
What happens when carnal man is confronted by the Law.
The conclusion that man is under the dominion of sin and not in control of himself in the flesh.
- 14. For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
15. For that which I do I do not know: for not what I wish, that do I practice; but what I hate, that I do.
16. But if what I would not do, that I do, I consent unto the law that it is good.
- 17. So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me.
- 18. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not.
- 19. For the good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practice.
- 20. But if what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me.
- 21. I find then the law, that, to me who would do good, evil is present.
- 22. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:
- 23. but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.
- 24. Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?
So then let us comment on these verses:
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
The law is spiritual because it is in accord with the righteousness of Heaven and in accord with the things a spiritual man would be doing. The problem was that it wasnít given to spiritual men, but to carnal men.
Question: Can we, or could carnal man have kept the law perfectly?
Some say, ďYes. God would not command something that we could not keep. We just would not keep it.Ē
But think about that. What is wrong with all of mankind, if from the giving of the Law through Moses down to the time of Christ, every individual would not? and from Christ up to the present day, every man that has been born would not? Is not that just the same as could not?
This is what Paul goes on to describe, that there was something in him which allowed him to admire the law of God and desire to obey it (his mind) but at the same time he met an adversary in himself (his flesh) which prevented him from doing what he desired in his mind Ė and not only that but also, which sold his will into slavery to the power of an egotistical and selfish principle in himself called sin. If I do what I donít want to do Ė then Iím actually consenting that the Law is good. His mind and will are in agreement with the Law
For that which I do I do not know: for not what I wish, that do I practice; but what I hate, that I do.
Paul is describing carnal manís predicament under law (when faced with a code of spiritual conduct) he wants to do good but instead practices what he doesn't want. He ends up doing evil.
But if what I would not do, that I do, I consent unto the law that it is good.
If I do what I donít want to do Ė then Iím actually consenting that the Law is good. His mind and will are in agreement with the Law
So now it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me.
So therefore, it isnít I myself (my spirit and heart and mind) that does wrong, but sin that dwells in me (my body). But he is emphasizing the miserable state of bondage he is in, that sin rules him; he is not the master even of his own house. He ends up going against his better wishes.
Now Paul repeats it in different words.
For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not.
Nothing good dwells in manís flesh; there is only the complacent care of his person through pride or sensuality. He wants and wills to do good in this mind, but in him (his flesh) he never finds the ability to do good.
For the good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practice.
This is the condition of a carnal man enslaved to sin through his flesh.
But if what I would not, that I do, it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me.
If I end up doing what I donít want, then Iím out of control Ė sin has enslaved me through my flesh.
One more time.
I find then the law, that, to me who would do good, evil is present.
He finds a principle (law) that when he would do something good, something evil in his flesh would always be there. He describes this principle: he is dealing with 4 laws.
Law of God =
Godís moral requirement written or unwritten
Law of my mind =
self rule by which he appropriates the Law of God
Law of my members =
the subjective organ by which sin rules us
Law of sin =
the principle of an egotistical rebellion against God
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the law of sin which is in my members.
Therefore plugging in the definitions above: "For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see a different rule in my members, warring against the rule of my mind, and bringing me into captivity under the enslaving principle of sin which is in my members."
Hence, there is a war going on in a man under law. He wants to obey God but his flesh battles against him and drags him captive to the dominion of sin.
O Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?
Frustration, misery and death are the only things the written code of Godís law can bring to carnal man.
Paul then gives a thanks for the solution to the problem and then summarizes man's predicament in the Old Testament.
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then I of myself with the mind, indeed, serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
So this is the dichotomy of man under law. With his mind he tries to serve the rule of God, but with his flesh he does the opposite and serves the rule of sin.
Now, what is the solution? What makes us free from this bondage?
There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death.
The law or rule of the Spirit of life makes us free from the rule or dominion of sin and death. This dominion of sin and death was described by Paul in chapters 5 through 7. Sin's dominion is broken because the spiritual life that is given to us at our immersion is none other than the holy life of Christ communicated to us by the Holy Spirit, which both raises us up to the spiritual realm and from here, makes us free from the dictates of the flesh so that now we can fulfill the righteous requirement of the law.
The dominion of death, is that to die while in sin is to be unable to go to God and live in his presence. People had to go to Hades before Jesus died and justified them. Physical death is God's way of postponing the judgement until forgiveness and spiritual life was available through Christ's atonement. Therefore, life in the spirit makes the physical death that we die not the incarceration in a cell away from God but rather a brief interruption of the natural life-cycle of the normal man. Sin having been atoned for by the sacrifice of Jesus, physical death has no more sting because we now reign in spiritual life by Jesus Christ and can go on to a life with God. (Rom.5:17)
"Spirit of life" in this verse can either be the genitive of cause - the spirit which proceeds from life, or the genitive of effect - the spirit that produces life in the believer. Both would be correct. The Spirit makes us spiritually alive.
Tit. 3:5-6 Regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit Jno. 3 Being born of the Spirit Rom. 6 Raised to walk in newness of life
By following and walking in the spirit by faith (being led by the Holy Spirit), I'm not forced any longer to obey the lusts of my flesh. I've been liberated from the dominion of sin that ruled in my members, that Paul described in Chapter 7. This Life is the active principle of the victory Paul describes in Rom.6:4-14 where we can now choose to present our members to God as instruments of doing what is right.
Now I can serve God in the spirit. (see Rom.7:6)
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:
What the Law could not do is that it could not condemn sin in the flesh. It could condemn sin, but only from a tablet of stone, it could not condemn sin where it had its stronghold, i.e. where it dwelled - in the flesh of man.
When the Law met up with the flesh, the flesh went wild with sinning. That made the Law weak through the flesh. It could not realize in any man its good, life-giving work because the Law worked through the flesh it was trying to control. It was giving an external directive to human nature.
But God did what the Law could not do. He sent his son personally to do the job. He came in the flesh - the likeness of our flesh, where we are enslaved to sin (as Paul says "the flesh of sin") and there, in the flesh, he condemned Sin. I understand by his never once sinning he showed that sin is not worthy of existing in humanity - he condemned it. By his living a spiritual life here in the flesh - he condemned sin and showed us that we too, through his power can do the same.
Now the Spirit of Life, recreates that holy life of Christ in every Christian and we gain the same victory over sin as we walk in the spirit and are led by the Spirit of God. Compare Rom 10:4:
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes.
God has a righteous requirement in Heaven that is an expression of his holiness and love. It is the absolute moral standard of right and wrong to which all moral judgments must appeal. There were essentially two great manifestations of the righteous requirement of Heaven given to man. One was the Law and the other one was Christ. Christ is the end or the goal of the Law concerning righteousness. To have Christ, to be in Christ, is to have, in one stroke, all the righteous requirements that Heaven demands fulfilled in ourselves.
Rom.8:4 that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
Since the Law is spiritual (Rom.7:14), i.e. it coincides with the righteousness of Heaven, then to walk in the spirit is to have the righteous requirement of the Law fulfilled in ourselves. That is why Paul says "if you are led of the Spirit you are not under law" (Gal.5:18) You do not need to be.
The law or rule of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, is what can govern my behavior now. The Spirit has enabled me to have a choice to obey the law of God now. That new spiritual life has made me free from the dominion of sin.
To walk in the spirit is to walk like Christ walked here in the world and have his image renewed in us; having the holy life of Christ recreated in our own life. As Paul says, to have "Christ formed in you". That means that I accept by faith the life of Christ within me and I put on and walk in accordance with the new man by faith, the new divine nature and life that I have in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
That's how we overcome sin in our lives. Not by dent of our own willpower in the flesh obeying an external command written somewhere, but by humbly believing and being renewed and transformed from the inside - out by the working of God's power in our inner man. The righteous requirement of Heaven becomes intuitive. By walking in the spirit we fulfill the Law.
- Eph.1:19-20 ...and what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to that working of the might of his strength which he worked in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly realm,
- That working is the might and strength of the same power that was used in Christ's resurrection. That working is based upon our faith in how Jesus has affected our condition before him. He has made us alive.
Rom.6:11-12 So also you, account yourselves to be really dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey the lusts of it:
If you account to yourself that you are alive unto God, and if you will respond and be influenced by faith in who you are in Christ, the motivation to holy living will not stem from following a commandment out of fear - but rather it will arise out of the character of love that you possess by faith in the spiritual life created in you.
You could say that this is putting the horse back in front of the cart. This is "putting on the new man" where you believe what the scriptures say about you, and then you let your actions be conformed to the image of your inner man.
Some will tell you to do it backwards, by acting holy on the outside and your inner man will conform to your actions. I think that is working through the flesh and doomed to failure. It is not based upon faith. It is not primarily the behavior that we are trying to produce but rather the inner character of love and holiness - that bears the fruit of godly behavior.
If we live in the Spirit, in the Spirit let us also walk.
"If" is not conditional but logical. "Since we live in the spirit..." Therefore what is my motivation to keep in line with the Spirit? It is that I live in the spirit.
Do we all really believe that we live in the spirit?
With whom are we walking and keeping in line?
The truth of the scriptures tell us about the position in Christ that we have by faith, and it tells us about the new life that we are experiencing. Our lives should conform to the image of the life of Christ that we see in the scriptures. They are the truth. If we keep in line with the Spirit (the Spirit of truth), then our lives, our inner character and our outward fruit should be in harmony with what we find in the scriptures. If our attitude and actions are not in line with the scriptures, it is not primarily because we are not following them, but rather there is something wrong with our relationship to Christ. He is not living in us.
His living in us and our loving as he loved is our rule of conduct - our law. And it we are not right with Him and our heart is in rebellion, then we will not be walking in the spirit and we cannot fulfill God's law in our lives. We are not allowing him to live in us and be led of the Holy Spirit. And since the scriptures are the truth - our lives will not be in harmony with them either.
Two things we need to walk in the Spirit:
1. We need to have faith. A humble, childlike trust in Jesus Christ. Faith gives us the choice to serve God. Because when we believe in the truth of the spiritual life that we all possess, that the Holy Spirit has quickened within us; that belief makes the life in the Spirit real to us, and we have something else to cling to and work with and concentrate on when we are faced with temptation and refuse the flesh. We can just walk away with Jesus. If we try to refuse the flesh without faith, without relying upon who we are created to be in Christ, then we just go down in defeat. When we by faith reject sin, then we have something with which to replace it, something that is much more desirable and more satisfying and rewarding - and that is life in the spirit.
2. We need a willingness of heart. We must give our lives to Christ in submission, and resolve in our hearts to serve God no matter what. It does not matter what God or the Holy Spirit creates in us, without our full self-sacrifice it will not work. God will not force you to do anything. We must by faith crucify ourselves and die with Jesus and let God begin living in us. Place yourself and your whole concern into his hands and watch how effective he can be in your life.
I can set my affection on things above when I have a strong faith. Because the Spirit has enabled me to have the choice. He is recreating the image and life of Christ in my inner man - as I choose Christ and bring my will into subjection and obedience to him.
Without the Spirit dwelling in us, it is impossible.
Without faith, it is just as hard.
But if you have faith in God, and want to get it right with him, and have him live in you and be powerful in your life enabling you to overcome the world through his strength - then we ask you to come and give your life to God. Repent of your past life of sin, confess to man what you believe and be immersed into Christ. God will wash you clean from all sin and begin treating you as his child.
(Originally delivered as a sermon in Eagle Point, Or. October 7, 1984)