July 4, 1999 / No. 2948

Are you free? Today, the fourth of July, our country celebrates its independence. We live in a free society – free to worship, free to go tomorrow about our business, free to rear our family, free to pursue our goals. So perhaps you are perplexed by the question. We would answer, “Yes, we are free.”

But I am not asking you about your political state. I am not asking about any iron curtain or political bondage, because that, after all, really has nothing to do with freedom. Are you free?

You say to me, “Do you mean, am I my own man?” Perhaps you answer, “Yes, I do what I want. I’m over 18 and nobody tells me what to do. I’m my own man, strong, independent, confident. Yes, I am free.” Again I say, I am not asking about that. That, too, has nothing to do with freedom.

Are you free from sin, or are you the slave of sin – under sin’s power, held in sin’s dominion, ensnared by sin so that you do what you do knowing what God says and you persist in violating His commandments. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin” (John 8:34). Maybe you respond to that by saying, “Oh, no. I am not the servant of sin. I can quit what I am doing whenever I want. It’s nothing, really. It’s just fun, that’s all.” Then you are the slave of sin. That is the way sinners who are ensnared and under the bondage of their sin talk, sinners who are under the control of sin. The devil never cares if those who are the slaves of sin like to fool themselves into thinking that their sin does not dominate them. All the slaves of sin talk that way.

Are you free, by the love of God and His grace, to forsake your sin, turn from temptation, put away the devil? Are you free, in this sense, that the law of God is your delight and that doing the will of God and being seen as a Christian is your greatest joy? Are you free in Christ? For Jesus also said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Do you possess freedom?

You must listen very carefully to the Word of God today as it comes to us in Romans 8:2, where the apostle says, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”

What is the law of sin to which the apostle Paul is referring? It must become immediately evident to all that when we read in Romans 8:2 of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ, and the law of sin and death, that the apostle is referring to a spiritual power. He has in mind a certain power which always operates. For instance, we speak of the laws of nature, that is, the powers and the principles by which God Himself regulates His creation. Scientists tell us of the laws of expansion and contraction, according to which metals grow larger or smaller in proportion to the degree of heat or cold. We refer to the law of gravity which is active, an active power, every time a boy throws a ball, every time you take a step. So also the Word of God speaks of law. That is, the Word of God tells us that there is an active power, a principle which operates, of sin and death. Paul has used the word “law” this way repeatedly. He used it that way in chapter 7, for instance verse 23. He said that he found a law within him, a certain power, a certain principle, that when he would do good, evil is present with him.

There is, then, a law of sin and death. Sin is not some indifferent, inconsequential nothing. Sinful acts and thoughts are not mere deeds and nothing more to it. But there is a law of sin and death. It is an active, spiritual power and principle. Sin is a power operating always. And the sobering reality of which our God is telling us is that it is either one or the other: either the power, that is, the principle, of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus governs our lives, or a power or principle of sin and death dominates our lives.

Let us look into that law of sin and death. How does it operate?

First of all, this principle of sin and death in our sinful flesh and in the flesh of all men and women is the inclination against God’s good commandments. No, better, we should say it is the enmity, the deep-seated hostility of the human nature against God’s commandments. It is our natural dislike of the law and our desire to violate and to break God’s good commandments. That shows itself in us already in our earliest childhood. We all tend to dislike laws: laws of the home for eating, sleeping, speaking or not speaking; laws for our conduct. Always in us as children and as youth there is the clamor, “Why all these laws?” That itself reveals already that there is a principle in us that is against law. And not only is there a dislike, but by nature we are prone to violate the law of God, to break the good law of God.

That principle operates in us. Think, for example, of a freshly-painted bench on a city street, with a sign: “Don’t touch – Wet paint.” Any painter will tell you that by that sign you are inviting a host of fingerprints. That is also true of God’s commandments. There is a law of sin and death. That is, there is that which is in our nature which is set against the commandments of God. We want to break them. In fact, God’s Word tells us that the law even arouses us unto sin. That is what Paul says in Romans 7:5: “For when we were in the flesh, the motions (desires) of sin, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.” God’s law comes to us and says, “Don’t! Don’t steal. Don’t hate. Don’t commit adultery. Thou shalt not bear false witness.” But there is a principle in our sinful nature which says, the moment we hear that law, “I will. I will break that law.” That is the law of sin and death. It is the principle in our sinful flesh against the law of God.

But there is more. That law of sin and death is that sin breeds sin. That, too, is the principle of the law of sin and death. There is no such thing as a sin. One sin always leads to other sins, apart from the grace of God. James uses the figure in the first chapter of his epistle, verses 14 and 15, of a woman who is pregnant. He says, “When lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin.” Sin brings forth more and more sin. You know that. Every time we sin we open the way for new sins. Perhaps you can remember when you were a little child and you were tempted to steal a quarter off the cabinet in your home, or a little piece of candy, or something from the store. When you did it, you thought everyone was looking at you, and that quarter burned a hole in your pocket. You came home and you thought your parents could see right through you that you had done something wrong. Maybe they asked you and you lied. And you did everything to cover it up. You lied. Oh, that guilty conscience bothered you. But after a while it was not so bad. And next time a dollar bill was not nearly as bad as taking that quarter. In fact, you began to joke about it. Then after that, it was more, and lying and stealing became a way of life.

That is the way it is. That is the way it can be for us in business. The easiest inclination of our heart is to break the law of God. But then that sin, apart from the grace of God, develops into greater sin. We can never come to a sin and willfully transgress and perform it and say to that sin, “Just this once.” If you give yourself over to it, the next time it will be easier.

But more. That law of sin and death is the principle that sin is able to hold us in its grips, to bind us in its shackles. That too. It is like quicksand that drags you down, like a python which wraps itself around you and chokes you to death. There is a shackling power of sin. That power is seen vividly in what we call addictions. But that is true of all sin. Sin gets its grip on us. And it ruins physical life, home life, family life. It brings misery into the church. A man may fall into fornication and you say to him, “Look at what you are doing in your adultery, to your wife, to your children. Look at her with tears. And look at your children.” And although for a time his heart may grieve, he goes back to that sin. It is as Solomon says: When we give place to sin we might think that that sin is manageable. But in reality sin goes down to the chambers of death. It is the way to hell. And many strong men have been slain by her. A drunkard or an alcoholic knows that. He keeps telling himself that he is going to quit. He can quit at any time. He can quit when he wants. You say to him, “Well, why don’t you?” He says, “I don’t want to right now.” He sees the ruin that his drinking is inflicting upon his home and family. And he vows that he is not going to do it again. All that grief gets him to stop maybe for a while. But it is not long before he is back. Because there is a law, a principle of sin and death. And that principle includes this, that sin has a power to hold in its grips. That is true of addiction, but that is true, as I said, of all sin. Sin is a power. Sin is a mighty, strong power.

That law of sin and death is operative. Do not say that that may apply to that person or to that other person. No, it applies to sin. It applies to us. Why can I say, as God’s minister, that we fool ourselves if we say that this law does not exist? For this reason: Because the law of sin and death is nothing other than the hand of God upon the sinner from which he cannot escape. Because of God’s justice, that is why. Because God is in His heaven. That is why this law is maintained. When His commandments are broken, there is also then operative a power that will hold and control and dominate in that sin.

But it is here that the gospel is so beautiful. The apostle cries out, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). It has liberated me. And the triumph of that must resound in our hearts. It hath made me free. The apostle is not talking about some type of rehabilitation, some reform of character. But Paul is talking here of the liberating power of the grace of God: “I am free, free now to rejoice in God. I am free to live in peace. I am free to declare myself blessed because the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. It has liberated me from that terrible bondage.”

What does that mean? It means, first of all, that deliverance and freedom is possible only by the divine power of God through the Spirit of His Son. The Spirit to which the apostle refers, the law of the Spirit of life, that Spirit is the Holy Spirit, third person of the holy Trinity, almighty God. He is the one who is able to subdue all things to Himself. He is the irresistible power of God unto salvation. That means that God’s power alone frees from the law of sin and death. Not resolutions, not human will, and not efforts. Now do not misunderstand. When the Holy Spirit works in us, then He works in us both to will and to do of God’s good pleasure. But it is the power of God alone which is able to free the sinner.

How does that Spirit liberate us? The first experience of freedom by the Spirit of Christ is a very bitter experience. It is not pleasant. There are many who would give the impression that it is a very easy thing. They would say, “Yes, today I was in the gutter as a pig. I was a drunkard, an addict, I cursed and swore and gambled and lived in immorality. But all of a sudden that is all changed. I don’t even care for the stuff. I hate it. I couldn’t swear if I wanted to. I never lust anymore after a woman. All of a sudden I’m free.” It does not work that way. It is not a cheap or easy deliverance. It is a blessed freedom that does not come in an easy way. Today man wants everything push-button. He wants everything immediate. He cannot wait for anything. That has to be true with religion, too, and with spiritual things. It has to come cheap and quick. But that is not the way it works. The first work of freedom performed by the Holy Spirit is a bitter one in which we are brought to sorrow over sin as that sin is before the face of God. First a godly sorrow. Now the apostle Paul, in II Corinthians 7, says “This sorrow is not like the sorrow of the world, simply a sorrow in which we say, ‘Boy, did I get myself into a mess,’ a sorrow that we were such fools, a sorrow over all the suffering that comes into our life.” Yes, that may indeed be. But it is in the very sorrow which is worked by the Holy Spirit that I confess that I have sinned against God. Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight ( Ps. 51). That is the kind of sorrow that can wet our pillow at night and cause us to cry out, the sorrow of the publican of which Jesus spoke in Luke 18, that he beat upon his breast and could not so much as lift up his eyes unto heaven. It is a sorrow which leads to repentance, a sorrow which now gives us to see that sin, which once we treasured, as something very repulsive and ugly and covered with the filth of death.

That is what the Spirit works in us first. But the Spirit does more. For our verse today says that He is the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. When God performs the wonder of freedom in our hearts, He comes and He not only reveals to us the horror of our sin, but He puts the Spirit of Christ into us. He implants Christ Himself into us, the life of Christ. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is putting in our heart the principle, the power, of the risen life of Jesus Christ.

And now, living out of that principle, we are free. We are free because Christ has been placed in us. We are free not only because Christ died for the payment of our sins, not only because our sins deserved eternal punishment and He took that punishment upon Himself for all of His own, but we are free also in that Christ now lives in us, so that out of that life of Christ we see sin as an evil thing and we experience the joy of walking in obedience to God.

Do you? Are you free? Then you live.

You say, “But I enjoy sinning. There’s no fun if you can’t sin. You can’t have a good time unless you have some sin.” You think that is what living is all about? You say you have to live a little bit, by which you mean that you have to break God’s law? You think that is life? That is not life. That is death. That is bondage.

No, life is in Christ. For me to live is Christ, says the apostle Paul. Do you say that by the grace of God? Are you free? Then you live out of that power of the life of Jesus Christ in a life of obedience. Not that sin is gone. Not that that old craving for sin is not present. But there is a new principle, a new power. And that principle is loving God. That principle is being overwhelmed by His amazing love and grace to me.

That means that now your greatest joy will be that you are pleasing to Him in your life. And your greatest dread will be that He will look upon you with a frown. That is freedom. That is life. Life is to be found in Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and the joy of serving the living God.

Are you free? Is that law, that principle of Christ, yours? That is freedom.

Do you like to play with sin? Do you like to see how far you can go? Sin really does not bother you? Only when you have to suffer or are caught, but otherwise it really does not bother your heart? Then the Word of God says to you on this day: Despite all the boasts of freedom and fun, you are a slave, a slave of sin and death. And it is only God who can prick your heart and make you free.

Or, today, by the Spirit of Christ and by the grace of God, is there this principle in your life: that you say “Sin still is in me. And I see it as a terrible thing. And it grieves me. But I am free. I am free to fight my sin. I am free now to rejoice in my God. I am free to be sorry before God for my sin. And I am free to know the joy of forgiveness and the delight that comes to me in obeying my God.” That is freedom!

Are you free? Freedom is only in Jesus Christ. And that is comfort. That means that you stand forgiven in the blood of the Lamb. You know that your sins are forgiven you. Then you go forth to walk in freedom.

Let us pray.

Father, we thank Thee for the freedom that is ours in Jesus Christ. Cause, O Lord, that that freedom may be worked in the hearts of sinners, sinners whom Thou hast loved and chosen from eternity but yet know not Thee, that they may, O Lord, be brought out of bondage and slavery and brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God. Amen.