Dear radio friends,
The only sin that you can overcome in your life is a forgiven sin. I want to say that very carefully. I want you to hear that and think very hard. The only sin that you can overcome and resist is a sin that is first forgiven freely for Christ’s sake.
We must begin with the joyful confidence that there is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. Then, empowered by that free gift of grace, fight against our sins and say with the apostle, “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). There the apostle is teaching us that forgiveness is first, and then transformation.
If we do not understand that order, first pardon and then by the Holy Spirit renewed, we will become legalists or we will become despairers. But we will not live in the power of the Spirit of Christ. First: no condemnation. Then: we are made free by the Spirit of the life in Christ Jesus. The point is this: justification precedes and is the ground of sanctification. Or I could say it this way: justification (being made right with God through the work of Christ—His work accredited to me) must precede and empower doing right for God. First, no condemnation. Then, we are made free by the Spirit of Christ Jesus. Once again: being made right with God must precede and empower doing right for God.
If you get that turned around, you will perish! Get that backward, and you die. If you say, “Because I do right things, I am made right with God,” then you have another religion. You do not have the religion of Christ or the Bible. You have the religion of man. No, the gospel that God has given, the gospel of eternal life, is very decidedly this: First, by grace we have been made right through the work of another. First, justified. First, God by grace declares no condemnation for you in Christ—not because of your work but solely because of what Christ did. And then, then, following and grounded upon that, then surely, then we do right, we are sanctified, we are freed by the Spirit of Christ. But not the other way around. Not first, I do right and then God pronounces me right. No! God declares me right in Christ, and then He empowers me to do right things.
Now if you are listening to me and you are saying, “Pastor, pastor, pastor. That’s a bit nit-picky. Why so doctrinal. I believe you’re talking to us about the order of salvation: justification, then sanctification and preservation and all the rest. You’re being very, very theological. My mind just does not like to work that way. Why do we need to know all of that stuff?”
I plead with you, if that is the way that you respond, I plead with you in the name of Jesus Christ, that you change that way of thinking if you feel that this is nit-picky, if you feel that this is unimportant, if you feel as if your mind has to be stretched a little bit. The difference is not nit-picky. The difference, as I said, is the difference between life and death. It is the difference between saying, “Man saves himself,” or “God alone saves.” It is the difference between taking the credit, and giving the credit and glory to God and God alone. I can assure you that this is not nit-picky from God’s viewpoint. To God and to God alone is the glory of salvation. Therefore, if television has not turned your brain into mush, and if spiritual things are important to you, then strive to understand these truths: first, justified; then, sanctified.
The apostle Paul, in the glorious chapter of Romans 8, is writing in such a way that we are able to get it straight in our own souls. In Romans 8:1 we have the most precious statement of the gospel: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus,” who have been united to Christ by God, who is our righteousness. On the basis of the cross the verdict has been declared that you are not guilty—all of your guilt has been removed. That is verse 1.
Then, in verse 2, we see what I have been calling sanctification, or transformation. We read, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” He is saying that the Spirit of Christ who first forgave him now empowers him to live a new and holy life in Christ Jesus. We have been set free by the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
We have been set free from what? Well, the verse tells us: from the law of sin and death. What is the law of sin and death? The word “law” here refers to a principle or a power. The apostle is referring to a principle or power of sin active within us, within our body, within our mind, within our arms, within our will. The word “law” here does not refer to a code of do’s and don’ts, like the Ten Commandments. But it refers to a principle, a power working within. The word “law” here is not like what you find when you go to the park or campground and on the board are the rules (or laws): #1—no fires; #2—no alcohol; #3—no pets; #4—no firearms; and on, down the line. But the word “law” is being used rather as we use it in science—law of the universe; law of gravity; law of motion; law of thermodynamics. Then we refer to the law or the power or the principle that is at work in the creation. So the apostle says, there is a law within our members. It is called the law of sin and death. And the Spirit of Christ has made us free from that law.
He explains what this law of sin and death is in Romans 7:22, 23. He says there: “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” The apostle says, “I discover, by God’s grace, a principle, a law of sin, in my members; not simply a code of do’s and don’ts, but a power within me—lust within my eyes, my tongue, my ears—there is a principle constantly trying to bring me into subjection. Like gravity draws objects down to the earth, so there is within me a principle drawing me unto sin. It reacts against Christ,” says the apostle. It is the law of sin and death, and if this law is not checked, it will bring me to eternal ruin. There is a principle, a law, of sin within me, from which the Spirit of Christ has set me free.
What are the axioms, the corollaries, of the law of sin and death? There are three.
Number one. According to the law of sin and death within us, we may state that the first principle is: my nature (or your sinful nature) reacts always in resentment to God, in hatred of God and what He requires. The apostle puts it this way in Roman 8:7: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” There is within us, according to the law of sin and death, the inclination and the desire to break the commandments of God and to say to those Ten Commandments: “No!” It comes out already in little children. You say, “No, don’t touch the candy dish.” And they look at you and they reach out. Because you said “No,” they want to do that. It seems as if the law of sin and death provokes sin within us. The apostle says in Romans 7:5, “For when we were in the flesh, the motions [or the desires] of sin, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death.” The Ten Commandments come and say, “Thou shalt not,” and suddenly there is instilled within us the desire to do exactly what the Commandments say “Don’t do.”
I remember, as a little boy, on a cold winter day, back in the days when for heat one would have a fuel tank outside the house—big, cast iron oil barrels filled with fuel oil for the heating of the house—I was outside playing, my friend and I. And his father walked by and said (because it was so cold), “Don’t put your tongue on that barrel or it will freeze to it.” Well, we had never thought of licking a cold barrel. But the moment the commandment came, it was irresistible. And you may talk to my friend about the consequences. The commandment came, the desires of sin arose.
And so we say to the good law of God, the Ten Commandments: “No. Who is God to tell me? He says not to? Well, it must be good to do exactly that.”
That is the first axiom of the law of sin and death. We do not believe that God has our good in mind. But we would rather have the hide torn off us and follow the ways of sin.
Number two. Sin breeds sin. Sin gives birth to sin. You cannot contain the spill. We think we can. What king David thought was a tryst of one night with Bathsheba brought murder and then lifelong, horrible, devastating consequences into his life. You think it is just one little sin? A lie—just one lie in time of trouble—leads to five more, ten more, a lifelong attempt to cover it up. Your mom says, “Were you on the computer while I was gone?” “Ah….” And out comes the lie. The quarter that you took from the counter soon becomes a dollar.
That is the law of sin and death. That law, the second axiom, is: it is never one sin. It is never a little one. But sin breeds sin.
Number three. The third principle of sin and death is that sin does not let go. It sticks fast. It gets down into us. Every sin does, but you can see especially in specific sins of lust and greed and bitterness and anger—what we would call addictions—that there is a law of sin and death. There are the fangs of the pit bull of sin. It does not let go. This is, then, the law of sin and death within my members, says the apostle, in my mind, in my tongue, in my eyes, in my will. And it is real, as real as the law of gravity that holds you down right now on the earth.
There is, then, a law of sin and death, namely, that our nature reacts always in hatred to God and His commandments. Number two: that sin breeds sin. And number three: that sin does not let go.
Now the gospel declares today, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” Let that Word of God come to you. Let it roll over your mind and soul with all of its glory and power, its amazing relief and comfort. It is really the same words that Jesus spoke in John 8:36: “If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” Jesus Christ is the great emancipator. His cross not only erased the guilt and condemnation of sin, but by His Spirit, the Spirit of the risen Lord, He frees me from sin’s dominion.
There is another law, another principle than the law of sin and death. It is a greater law. It is called the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. The Spirit of Christ frees us from the power of sin and death. Paul is referring to the authority, to the power of the Holy Spirit of Christ to bring forth life, the life of repentance, into a dead sinner. The Holy Spirit implants in us another law, another principle—the life of Jesus Christ. It is a life that is directed toward God. It is a new will that God gives now unto the direction of God. He takes Christ and the life of Christ and works it within us. You do not become a holy person by yourself or of yourself. It is the Spirit of Christ, through the Word of God, within you.
To everyone for whom Jesus Christ has died the Spirit is sent forth. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ. And all those whom God has pardoned in the blood of His Son—in them also He sends the Holy Spirit to work the power, the sanctifying power, of the Spirit. In Christ there is no condemnation. And in Christ there is a power for transformation. This is very important. Every Christian, forgiven in the blood of Jesus Christ by the grace of God, will also be given the Holy Spirit of Christ within his heart and life.
But, you say to me, free? The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death? Did not Paul himself say that that law of sin and death was still in his members, was still active within him? Free? What do you mean, free?
The apostle uses that word “free,” not in the sense that that law of sin is gone. It is not that you would say, “Well, now that Christ has come into my life, I couldn’t swear again, I don’t even think of that. I couldn’t tell a lie; I couldn’t lust after a woman.” No, that kind of freedom from sin, from the performance of sin, is not given to us until heaven. But “free” means that the principle of sin is now checked. It means that the dominion of sin is broken. It means that, by the grace of God, we contradict and live contrary to the law of sin and death. It means that the power of Christ is now the power or the principle of the life of all those who are in Christ. He makes us free.
How? Two ways. Number one. The Spirit of Christ makes us free first in a very painful way. He gives us to know our sins. He convicts us, says Jesus in John 16, of sin. He slays us. He introduces us to our sin. I mean, truly to know our sin as our problem. Do you know your real problem? Do you say, “My problem is my wife. My problem is my mother. My problem is my parents, they’re so unreasonable. That’s why I’m miserable today. That’s my problem.” The Spirit makes us free by showing us our real problem—our sin.
To liberate me, the Spirit must first show me myself, must show me that I am the evil sinner, must give me to confess: “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners of whom I am the chief.” The first thing the Spirit of Christ does is to show us ourselves and Christ.
Number two. The Spirit makes us free, the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus makes us free from that ruling principle of sin through repentance. Repentance is freedom. To say, “I’m sorry,” before God; “I confess my sins; I have sinned against heaven,” is freedom. The devil says to you, “Don’t say that! Don’t humble yourself. You give up yourself. You expose yourself. You must be proud. You must build up the walls of pride—they will protect you, they will keep you.” But the Spirit of Christ tells me that that is nonsense and foolishness. Repentance is freedom. Repentance brings to me the enjoyment of the smile of God. Repentance is a soft heart before God, broken in tears before the Savior. It is a miracle. It makes me walk, looking to the Savior. In Christ Jesus we receive power to repent from our sins and thus to be free.
We are united to Christ by faith. We receive through Christ the power of a new and holy life. God has forgiven us freely, of grace. And because Christ has done all things for me, the Holy Spirit now works within my heart to bring to me the knowledge of my sin and the spirit of repentance. And in that way, I walk in the liberty of the life of Christ.
Perhaps you say, well, so what? What really does all of this mean? It means two things.
Number one. Out of the blood of Jesus Christ that justifies us we are given the power of Christ to fight our lust, greed, anger, pride, and selfishness. As I began, the only sin that you can resist and overcome is the sin that is forgiven in Jesus Christ. You overcome sin, you fight sin, out of the knowledge that God has forgiven you in the blood of Jesus Christ. How do you approach the battle against your sin? Do you approach the battle as a victim? Do you say, “I can’t help it. Everyone does it. It’s simply to be expected. It doesn’t matter”? Do you view yourself as a victim? Do you just say, “Well, this is what is expected”? You must, instead, view yourself as a conqueror. You must understand that your sins are forgiven and therefore you are made free. You must say, “I want to thank Him. I will fight against sin.” The question is not what everybody else is doing, what is expected? But the question is: Has God forgiven me? Then I will fight out of the love and joy of God in my heart. I will fight against every sin that He has forgiven me.
Number two. This gospel means that all is to the glory of God. Salvation is entirely of grace. And anything less, to attribute any part of salvation to man, is to blaspheme God and to lose the truth of salvation. Make your work, make your doing right, the reason God says you are right in His sight, and you blaspheme Him.
But the gospel is this (and understanding this, you shall live): forgiven, freely of grace, so that I might repent now, justified, so that I might be sanctified; made right with God in order that I might now do right. No condemnation in Christ. And now the Spirit of life in Christ makes me free.
And all to God’s glory!
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the precious truths of Thy Word. We pray that they may be instilled within our hearts in this day. In Jesus’ name do we pray, Amen.