For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.
The first verse of the eighth chapter of the Romans speaks of freedom from condemnation: There is no condemnation for them which are in Christ Jesus. The second verse deals with freedom from the dominion and power of sin and death: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” And the two are inseparably connected as the little, but significant, conjunction “for” by which this second verse is introduced, indicates. The sinner that is relieved from the guilt of sin, and from the condemning sentence of the judge of heaven and earth, is also liberated from the power of sin, that he may walk in newness of life. If someone should boast that he is free from condemnation, but should continue to walk in sin, and to have his delight in the unfruitful works of darkness, he would thereby prove that his boasting is vain.
The relation between these two is such that freedom from condemnation is first, and constitutes the legal basis for the liberation from the dominion of sin and death. As long as one is guilty and under condemnation he has no right to be delivered from death’s dominion. He must first be made legally righteous before he may be set free. But for this very reason, one’s being actually liberated from the slavery and oppression of sin and death, is to him evidence that he was pardoned and justified before the divine tribunal. To this the apostle refers in this second verse by the conjunction “for”. No condemnation for me, for I am set free from the law of sin and death! If the decree of his pardon were delivered to a prisoner in his cell, but he were kept in prison, he would have good reason to doubt the genuineness of the decree; but when the doors of his cell are thrown open and he is set at liberty, he can say: There is no longer any condemnation for me, for I am delivered out of prison. The same is true of the sinner. He is not only justified, but also liberated from the bondage of sin. Hence, he can say with the apostle in these first two verses of Romans eight: There is therefore now no condemnation for me, for not only was the decree of my pardon and justification delivered to me in the gospel, but I am also actually set free from the law of sin and death.
Let us consider for a moment from what the sinner is set free according to our text.
The Word of God here speaks of “the law of sin and death”. What does this expression mean? According to some it refers simply to the moral law of God, while the words “the law of the Spirit of life” denote the gospel. The text might then be paraphrased in the words: “The gospel hath set me free from the law.” But if this had been the intention, why did not the apostle use these simple words? Besides, the moral law of God as expressed in the decalogue can hardly be called a law of sin and death. Nor is the gospel ever described in the Bible as the law of the Spirit of life.
We will more readily apprehend the meaning of the Word of God here, if in both instances the word “‘law” is understood as denoting an active power or principle, that operates in orderly fashion, according to certain definite rules. It is in this sense that we speak of laws of nature. There is a law of expansion and contraction according to which bodies grow larger or smaller in proportion to the degree of heat or cold to which they are exposed. There is a law of gravitation that drags the disabled aero plane inevitably to the ground. In some such sense the apostle had used the word law in the previous chapter. For he there complained of another law in his members that was warring against the law of his mind, and that brought him into captivity to the law of sin which was in his members. 7:23. Law, therefore, denotes some inner, active, directing principle or power that operates in a specific manner.
In this sense the apostle speaks of the law of sin and death, that operates within and upon the sinner, and keeps him in its clutches. Nor is it difficult to discern just what this law is, and in what manner it operates. Sin is the power or principle that controls the natural man from within, an iron-clad law that drags him inevitably down into destruction and eternal desolation. Just as the law of gravitation takes hold of the stone you throw up into the air and drags it down to the ground, so inevitably does the law of sin and death hasten the sinner down into hell. And it does so according to a definite and unbreakable order, the order of the expressed will of God: the soul that sinneth shall die! Sin incurs guilt, and guilt is liability to punishment, and the punishment is death; and death is spiritual darkness, love of the lie, corruption of the heart, perversion of the will, enmity against God. For to be carnally minded is death. And the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. And spiritual death is the source of more sin, and of more guilt, and of more condemnation and wrath of God upon us, and of more death and corruption. And thus the law of sin and death finally drags the sinner into the darkness of eternal desolation. Such is the law of sin and death: sin, guilt, condemnation, death, more sin, more guilt, the heaping up of treasures of wrath, until the measure of iniquity is full.
The dreadful feature of it all is, that this inevitable law of sin and death, this principle that controls the sinner and that drags him to destruction, is very really the hand of God that is heavy upon him, and from’ which he can never escape. For the will of God concerning man, who was originally made after the image of God is that he shall love the Lord his God with all his heart, and with all his mind, and with all his soul, and with all his strength. That law is not a mere code, but the living will of God Himself, that encompasses him on every side, and from which he can never escape, and which he can never violate, even for one moment, with impunity. If he lives and moves and acts in harmony with that law of God, he is the object of God’s favor, and the Most High blesses him with life and joy. But if he rebels, and turns against this will of the living God, he becomes the object of God’s wrath, and this wrath pursues him, enters into his bones and marrow, into his soul and body, makes him unspeakably wretched, and causes him to experience the dreadful reality of the words: “To live apart from God is death!” Such is the essence of the law of sin and death.
This law of sin and death is operative everywhere in the world of man. It accomplishes its destructive and corrupting work in the individual and in all human relationships. It works in man’s body, dragging him to the grave; and in his soul, in his mind and will and all his desires, causing him to sink ever more deeply into the mire of iniquity and degradation. And it reveals its power in every relationship of men, destroying the home, disrupting society, setting nation against nation, causing hatred and envy, war and destruction everywhere. And there is no remedy that is able to cure this dreadful malady. There is no power in man to counteract, to overcome this law of sin and death. Even as there is no physician that is able to overcome the dominion of death and corruption in the body, so there is no moral healer in all the world that has the power to stop the operation of spiritual corruption and death in the heart and nature of the sinner. Education is vain. Moral reform is of no avail. Man is bound from within by the law of sin and death, and there is among men no power to set him free. And as long as the individual is not liberated from the bondage of this law, all attempts to strive for a world free from the ravages of sin and death, free from hatred and envy and covetousness, from disruption and war, a world of freedom, prosperity, and lasting peace must end in utter defeat. War councils, but also peace conferences of men that are in bondage to the law of sin and death, themselves operate under and according to the same law. There is no peace to the wicked, saith my God!
Is there, then, no way out at all? Yes, there is, but it is not man’s way in any sense of the word, it is entirely and only the way of God. Divine power alone is able to set the sinner free from the law of sin and death, and divine power alone actually accomplishes this liberation. This must be maintained in the strictest sense of the word. The situation is not thus that the liberation of the sinner lies at all within the power, or even within the reach of the sinner. When we say that there is a way to liberty we do not at all mean that an opportunity has been created by God for the sinner to liberate himself, or even to determine whether or not, and when he shall be liberated. We mean that the sinner is so dominated by the law of sin and death, that he can never help in or put forth the least effort to his own liberation, that he does not even have the will to be set free, or to seek escape from the bondage of sin and death; but that God sovereignly and freely, by the wonder of His grace sets him free. The sinner is cast entirely upon the sovereign mercies of God. What is impossible with man is possible with God. That is the meaning of the apostle’s words: the law of the Spirit of life hath made me free!
Then, then, is the Christian’s freedom. He is liberated from one law by another, and to be made subject to that other: the law of the Spirit of life. For freedom is not licentiousness. It is not a condition or state in which man is his own law, his own sovereign, but that in which he is made the willing subject to the law of the Spirit of life. Instead of the power of sin and death, the Spirit of life now has dominion over him, controls him, gives direction to his thinking and willing, to his desires and longings, to all his activity, his seeing and hearing, his speaking and acting, from within, that is, from the heart whence are the issues of life. And being made subject to the power and dominion, to the directing and governing principle of that Spirit of life, he is free indeed. For where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.. He is free from sin unto righteousness; free from corruption unto holiness; free from fear unto joy unspeakable and full of glory; free from death unto everlasting life!
This Spirit is the Spirit of God as the Spirit of Christ, indwelling in the body of Christ and all its members. For Christ, Who died on the accursed tree for our transgressions, was raised again from the dead unto life immortal and incorruptible and heavenly. And the resurrected Lord was taken up into heaven, and enthroned on the right hand of God, clothed with all power in heaven and on earth, with power, too, over life and death. And to this exalted Christ was given the promise of the Ho]y Spirit, in order that in and through that Spirit He might apply to His own all the blessings of salvation, of righteousness and life and peace, which He obtained for them by His perfect sacrifice and obedience. In that Spirit He returned to His own, on the day of Pentecost, and through that Spirit He takes up His abode with them, indwelling in His Church, which is His body, and imparting Himself to them, so that He fills them with His grace. The law of that Spirit, that is, the governing and controlling power of that Spirit, now directs them and causes them to stand and to live in perfect liberty.
For this Spirit is the Spirit of life. Life is the very opposite of death. Death is enmity against God, life is the love of God. Death is disharmony with, opposition to God; life is harmony with Him. Death is the reaction of our whole nature against the living God; life is the harmonious activity of our whole being in the direction of God. To be motivated in all our thoughts and desires, in all our aspirations and volition, in all our walk and conversation, individually and in relation to others and to the whole creation by the love of God,—that is life! To have all our thoughts concentrated upon God, to long for Him, to will His will, to seek His glory, to be consecrated to Him, to experience His blessed favor, and to dwell in His fellowship, the fellowship of His blessed friendship,—that is life. For this is life eternal, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent,. To know Him, to see Him face to face, to taste that He is good, and to glorify Him for ever,—that is life. And that life is freedom. All the rest is bondage. Of that life the Spirit is the principle, the Author. Hence, He is called the Spirit of life. And by the governing power of that indwelling Spirit the shackles of sin and death are cut, that we might live unto God in Christ. And that life is freedom indeed.
And as we live in the sphere of that freedom, we know that there is no condemnation for us. For thus the Word of God here teaches us: There is no condemnation for the law of the Spirit of life hath made me free! Do not misunderstand this connection. The meaning is not that I am not under condemnation because I am free and walk in liberty. We are not first regenerated, and liberated from the bondage of sin, in order then, on the basis of our indwelling holiness and holy walk and conversation, to be declared righteous before the bar of divine justice. The very opposite is true. I am first justified, declared completely righteous, as if I never had committed any sin, and that solely on the ground of the perfect obedience of Jesus my Lord. He is and remains my only hope. Nevertheless, by the fact of my being liberated from the law of sin and death, I am all the more sure that there is no condemnation for me. For I was in prison, and now I am at liberty. I was in the bondage of sin and death, and now my shackles are cut. And I was set free by order of the supreme judge of heaven and earth. If a prisoner escapes from his bondage, breaks prison, his liberty is stolen, and he cannot conclude that he is pardoned. But I did not break from my prison, I was legally liberated. God sent His Spirit, and He made me free from the law of sin and death. Moreover, this law of the Spirit of life operates only in Christ Jesus, nowhere else. If, therefore, I am liberated by that law, I am assured that I am in Christ Jesus. And for them that are in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation! God is for me, who can be against me? He it is that justified me, who is he that condemn eth?
But, perhaps, you object that there is so little evidence of this new freedom in your life. Perhaps, you hesitate to appropriate the words of this part of the Word of God and make them your own. For you find that the law of sin is still working in your members. Freedom from sin? Ah, it looks to you like a beautiful, but very distant, and unattainable ideal. Sin cleaves to you. Sin you commit every day. There is not a day, there is not a moment in your life that you live in perfection, so that you could really say: I am free from sin. If, therefore, your being free from the law of sin and death must be evidence of your being free from condemnation, it is but a poor comfort.
And that is true. If freedom from sin reveals itself in a life of perfect sinlessness in this world, then no one can take these words of the apostle on his lips. But listen. Do you hate sin? Are you sorry for sin? Do you fight against the law of sin in your members? Do you need forgiveness? And do you earnestly long for perfection and have a delight in the precepts of your God? And is the cry of the publican yours; God be merciful to me, a sinner? Then you are free in principle, and there is no condemnation for you. And then you may look forward in hope to the day when the inmost longing of your heart shall be fulfilled, and you shall enjoy for ever the perfect and glorious liberty of the children of God!