Scripture Reading: Rom. 7:15—8:2
It is possible for a person to be free from sin immediately after he has believed in the Lord. However, this may not be the common experience of all believers. After believing in the Lord, many people fall back into sin instead of being freed from sin. It is true that they are saved. They belong to the Lord and possess eternal life. However, they are still troubled by sin and are unable to serve the Lord as they wish.
It is a very painful experience for a person to be continually troubled by sin after he has believed in the Lord. A person who has been enlightened by God has a sensitive conscience. He is sensitive toward sin and has a life that condemns sin. However, he may still be bothered by sin. This results in much frustration and even discouragement. It is indeed a very painful experience.
Many Christians try to overcome sin. Some think that if they try hard enough to renounce sin, they will eventually be free from sin. As a result, they try their best to reject the temptations of sin. Some realize that sin should be overcome, and they continually wrestle with sin in the hope of overcoming it. Others think that sin has made them a captive and that they must strive hard to free themselves from its bondage. However, all these are man’s thoughts; they are not God’s word or teaching. None of these methods lead to victory. God’s Word does not tell us to struggle with sin by our own efforts. It says that we should be delivered from sin, that is, be released or freed from sin. Sin is a power which enslaves man. The way to deal with this power is not by destroying it ourselves but by allowing the Lord to free us from it. We have sin, and there is no way to separate ourselves from it. The Lord’s way is not to vanquish sin. He is saving us from sin’s power by moving us away from it. New believers should know from the start the right way to be delivered from sin. There is no need to travel a long and tortuous path to find deliverance from sin. We can take the way of freedom as soon as we believe. Now let us try to deal with this matter according to Romans 7 and 8.
Romans 7:15-25 says, “For what I work out, I do not acknowledge; for what I will, this I do not practice; but what I hate, this I do…For to will is present with me, but to work out the good is not. For I do not do the good which I will; but the evil which I do not will, this I practice. But if what I do not will, this I do, it is no longer I that work it out…I find then the law with me who wills to do the good, that is, the evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God according to the inner man, but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and making me a captive to the law of sin which is in my members…So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh, the law of sin.”
In verses 15 through 20, Paul repeatedly uses the word will and the phrase do not will. The emphasis is on willing or not willing, resolving or not resolving. In verses 21 to 25, there is another emphasis on the law. These two things are the keys to this passage of the Word.
First, we need to understand the term law. The common understanding of a law is that it is something that remains the same all the time, something that allows no exceptions. Moreover, there is power in a law. This power is a natural power, not an artificial power. All laws have power. For example, gravity is a law. If you throw something up, it will eventually fall back to the ground. You do not have to pull the object down with your hands; the earth has a force that pulls it down for you. If you throw a stone up, it will fall. If you throw an iron up, it also will fall. If you throw something up in China, it will fall. If you throw the same thing up in other countries, it will fall. An object in the air will fall the same today and tomorrow. Any object in the air, as long as nothing is holding it, will fall regardless of time and space. A law remains the same all the time and allows no exceptions. It is a natural force which requires no human effort for its perpetuation.
Romans 7 shows us that Paul was trying to be victorious. He was trying to free himself from sin. He wanted to please God. He did not want to sin or to fail. However, he eventually admitted that his resolutions were all futile. He said, “To will is present with me, but to work out the good is not.” He did not want to sin, yet he sinned. He wanted to do good and walk according to God’s law, yet he could not do it. In other words, what he willed he could not do, and what he resolved to do, he was unable to accomplish. Paul willed again and again, but the result was only repeated failure. This shows us that the way to victory lies not in the human will or human resolution. Paul willed and resolved again and again, but he still failed and sinned. Obviously, to will is present, but to work out the good is not. The best that a man can do is make resolutions.
The willing is present but not the good, because sin is a law. Following verse 21 Paul showed us that he remained defeated even after he made numerous resolutions. This is because sin is a law. This law of sin was present with him every time he resolved to do good. He was subject to the law of God in his heart, but his flesh yielded to the law of sin. Whenever he willed to obey God’s law, a different law rose up in his members, subjecting him to the law of sin.
Paul was the first person in the Bible to point out that sin is a law. This was a very important discovery! It is a pity that many who have been Christians for years still do not realize that sin is a law. Many people know that gravity is a law and thermal expansion of objects is another law. But they do not know that sin is a law. Paul did not know this at first. After sinning repeatedly, not voluntarily but involuntarily by a potent force in his body, Paul discovered that sin is a law.
Our history of failure tells us that whenever temptations come, we try to resist them. But we are never successful in this resistance. When temptations come again, we again try to resist them, only to end up in another defeat. This experience repeats itself ten times, a hundred times, or a thousand times, and we still find ourselves defeated. This is the story of our failure. We fail again and again. This is not something that happens by chance; it is a law. If a person committed only one sin in a lifetime, he could consider sin as something incidental. However, those who have sinned a hundred or a thousand times will say that sin is a law; it is something that continually drives them on.
II. Man’s will being unable to overcome the law of sin
Paul failed because he exercised his will to make resolutions. After verse 21, Paul’s eyes were opened. He saw that the enemy he was dealing with — sin — was nothing less than a law. When he saw that sin was a law, he could only sigh and say, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” He realized that it was impossible for him to prevail over sin by his will.
What is the will? The will is man’s own volition. It is what man wants, determines, and decides to do. It is man’s opinions and judgments. Once a man’s will resolves to do something, he begins to carry it out. Man’s will can produce some power. Therefore, there is power in the will.
But herein lies the problem. When the will comes in conflict with the law of sin, which one prevails? The will usually prevails at the beginning, but ultimately sin prevails. Suppose you hold up a book that weighs one catty [a Chinese measure of weight] with your hand. Gravity is pulling it down while you are trying your best to hold it up. But the unceasing operation of the law of gravity will eventually prevail, and the book will fall to the floor. You may try to hold it up with your hand. You may prevail for an hour, but after two hours you will feel tired, and after another hour your hand will no longer obey you. Eventually, you will let go of it. Gravity never tires out, but your hand does. The law of gravity is pulling the book down continuously, every hour, every minute, and even every second. Your hand cannot fight against the law of gravity forever. The longer you hold the book, the heavier it feels. The book has not become heavier, but the law of gravity has triumphed over the power of your hand, and you feel as if the book has become heavier and heavier. The same principle applies when you try to overcome sin with your will. The will can stand against sin for a while. But the power of sin far exceeds the power of the will. Sin is a law; it is not destroyed by the resistance of man’s will. Whenever the power of the will slackens, the law of sin surfaces. The human will cannot persist forever, but the law of sin is always active. The will may prevail for a little while, but in the end it will always be overcome by the law of sin.
Before we see that sin is a law, we keep trying to overcome it by our own will. When temptation comes, we hold our breath and try to overcome, only to find that it has overcome us instead. When temptation comes again, we make a stronger resolution because we think that our last failure was caused by a faulty resolution. We tell ourselves that we will not sin this time and that we will overcome. But the result is the same — we fail again. We do not know why our resolution cannot bring us victory over sin. We do not realize that overcoming sin by the will never works.
It is easy to see that temper is a sin. When someone says something unkind, you feel hurt and upset. If he continues to speak unpleasant words, you may hit your desk, blow up, exchange words, or do anything. Afterwards, you may feel that as a Christian you should not have lost your temper, and you may resolve to control your temper the next time. You pray and believe that God has forgiven you. You confess your sin to others, and your heart is once again filled with joy. You think that you will never lose your temper again. But a little later, you hear more unkind words and become upset once again. When these words come to you the second time, you begin to murmur within. By the third time, your temper explodes. Afterwards, you realize that you were wrong again, and you ask the Lord for forgiveness, promising Him that you will never lose your temper again. But the same thing happens the next time you hear unkind words; after a while, your temper flares up again. You exercise your will again and again, only to find that you fail again and again. This proves that sin is not an accidental mistake; it is not something that happens only once. It is something that happens repeatedly, something that haunts you all your life. Those who lie continue to lie, and those who lose their temper continue to lose their temper. This is a law; no human power can overcome it. Paul did not learn this lesson at first, so he exercised his will repeatedly to no avail. It is impossible for man to try to overcome the law of sin by his will.
Once the Lord grants you mercy and shows you that sin is a law, you will not be far from victory. If you continue to think that sin is an occasional act and that victory can be secured through additional prayers and struggles against temptations, you are far from victory. Paul’s story shows us that sin is a law. The power of sin is strong; our own power is weak. The power of sin always prevails, while our own power always fails. As soon as Paul realized that sin is a law, he knew that none of his methods would work. His determination was useless; he would never overcome the law of sin by his will. This was a great discovery, a great revelation to him.
Paul saw that a man cannot experience deliverance by the exercise of the will. As long as a man trusts in the power of his own will, he will not turn to God’s way of deliverance. The day will come when you will prostrate yourself before God and acknowledge that you can do nothing and henceforth will do nothing. That will be the day you find deliverance. Only then will you understand Romans 8. Brothers and sisters, please do not belittle Romans 7. We must first have the knowledge of chapter seven before we can have the experience of chapter eight. The problem is not whether you understand the doctrine in Romans 8 but whether or not you have emerged from Romans 7. Many have buried themselves in Romans 7; they are still trying to deal with sin by their will. The result is nothing but failure. If you have not seen that sin is a law and that your will can never overcome this law, you are trapped in Romans 7; you will never arrive at Romans 8. Our newly saved brothers and sisters must accept God’s Word as it is written. If you try to find your own way out, you will end up with nothing but sin. You will sin again and again, and your eyes will continue to be veiled. You will remain in your blindness. Your eyes need to be opened to see that all your willing and struggling is in vain.
Since sin is a law and the will cannot overcome this law, what is the way of victory?
III. The law of the Spirit of life freeing us from the law of sin
Romans 8:1-2 says, “There is now then no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has freed me in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and of death.” The way to victory is to be freed from the law of sin and of death. This verse does not say, “The Spirit of life has freed me in Christ Jesus from sin and death.” (I am afraid that many Christians think this way.) Rather, it says, “The law of the Spirit of life has freed me in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and of death.” Many Christians see the Spirit of life setting them free from only sin and death. They do not see the law of the Spirit of life freeing them from the law of sin and of death. It takes many years for some Christians to realize that sin and death are a law in them and that the Holy Spirit is another law in them. When the Lord opens their eyes, they will see that sin and death are a law and that the Holy Spirit is a law as well. The realization of the Holy Spirit as a law is a great discovery. When we realize that the life-giving Spirit is a law, we will jump up and exclaim, “Thank God, Hallelujah!” Man’s will cannot overcome the law of sin, but the law of the Spirit of life has freed us from the law of sin and of death. Only the law of the Spirit of life can free man from the law of sin.
Once we realize that sin is a law, we will no longer try to do anything by our will. When God grants us mercy to see that the Holy Spirit is a law, we will experience a great change. Many people only see the Spirit of life giving us life. They do not see that the Holy Spirit is another law in us, and that we can be freed spontaneously from the law of sin and of death when we trust in this law. There is no effort involved for this law to deliver us from the other law. We do not need to will, to do anything, or to hold on to the Holy Spirit. We do not need to be that busy when the Lord’s Spirit is in us. If we fear that the Lord’s Spirit will not work in us unless we rush in to help Him in times of temptation, we have not seen the Spirit as a law within us yet. May we see that the Holy Spirit is a spontaneous law within us. The way of deliverance from sin is not through the exercise of the will. If we exercise our will, we will end up in failure. God has given us another law which spontaneously frees us from the law of sin and of death. The problem of one law can only be resolved by another law.
There is no effort involved when we try to overcome one law with another law. We have mentioned before that gravity is a law. It pulls every object down to the ground. But helium is a gas which is lighter than air. If we seal it in a tight balloon, the balloon will rise up. It will rise spontaneously; there is no need to fan it or support it by any force. As soon as we let go, the balloon will rise. The rising is a law, and we do not need to do anything about it. In the same way, no effort is involved when we deal with the law of sin and of death by the law of the Spirit of life.
Suppose someone scolds you or strikes you without cause. It is possible for you to overcome the situation even without realizing what has happened. After the whole thing is over, you may wonder how you did not get angry when you were scolded. You should have been very angry at the other person’s word. But surprisingly you overcame the situation without even realizing it! Indeed, all victories are unconscious victories because the law of the Holy Spirit is operating and upholding us, not our own will. This kind of spontaneous victory is genuine victory. Once you experience this, you will realize that only the indwelling Spirit can keep you from sin; you do not have to will not to sin. It is also the indwelling Holy Spirit who is enabling you to overcome; you do not have to will to overcome. Since this law dwells in you, you are delivered from the law of sin and of death. You are in Christ Jesus, and the law of the Spirit of life is in you. Spontaneously, you are free. As long as you do not rely on your own will and effort, the Holy Spirit will bring you into victory.
Hence, victory over sin has nothing to do with our effort. We did not exert any effort when the law of sin directed us to sin. Similarly, we do not need to exert any effort in order for the law of the Holy Spirit to free us from sin. Genuine victory is one that requires no effort on our part. There is nothing for us to do. We can lift up our eyes and say to the Lord, “All is well.” Our past failures were the result of a law and today’s victories are also a result of a law. The former law is powerful, but the present law is more powerful. The former law is indeed potent in bringing us to sin, but the present law is more absolute in saving us from condemnation. When the law of the Spirit of life is expressed through us, its power is far greater than that of the law of sin and of death.
If we see this, we will truly be freed from sin. The Bible does not say that we can overcome sin with our will. It speaks only of freedom from sin: “The law of the Spirit of life has freed me in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and of death.” The law of the life-giving Spirit has pulled us out of the realm of the law of sin and of death. The law of sin and of death is still present, but the one on whom it worked is no longer there.
Every saved person should be clear about the way to deliverance. First, we must see that sin is a law in us. If we do not see this, we cannot go on. Second, we need to see that the will cannot overcome the law of sin. Third, we need to see that the Holy Spirit is a law, and this law frees us from the law of sin.
The sooner a new believer realizes this way of deliverance, the better it is. In fact, no one needs to wait for many years before seeing the way of deliverance. You do not need to suffer many hardships before experiencing freedom. Many brothers and sisters have wasted their time unnecessarily; they have shed many tears of defeat. If you want to experience less pain and tears, you should realize from the start that the way to deliverance lies in these words: “The law of the Spirit of life has freed me in Christ Jesus.” This law is so perfect and powerful that it will save you to the uttermost; there is no need to do anything to help it. This law frees you from sin completely, sanctifies you wholly, and fills you with life spontaneously.
Brothers and sisters, do not think that the Holy Spirit within us only expresses His life through us occasionally. If we think this way, it proves that we only know the Spirit; we do not know the law of the Spirit. The law of the Spirit expresses His life continuously. It remains the same at all times and in all places. We do not have to tell this law to behave in a certain way; it behaves the way it does without our guidance. Once the Lord opens our eyes, we will see that the treasure within is not just the Holy Spirit or a life, but a law as well. Then we will be released, and the problem of sin will be over.
May God open our eyes to see this way of deliverance. May He open our eyes to see this secret to victory, and may we have a good start on this straight path.