Freedom from Tyranny
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, October 18, 2009
Copyright © 2009, P. G. Mathew
"Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." - Romans 8:2
Who is a Christian? Some people think a Christian is one who was born in a so-called Christian land or someone born in a church. But these things do not make a person a Christian, according to the Bible. We need to think seriously about who a true Christian is.
In our last study we learned that a Christian is one who is united to Jesus Christ. Because we are in Christ, his life flows into us and we live in his life. A Christian is one concerning whom it can be said, "There is therefore now no condemnation" (Rom. 8:1). In the second verse of Romans 8, we find a second blessing associated with being a Christian. A Christian is one who is liberated: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death" (author's translation). These two characteristics describe a Christian: there is no longer any condemnation for him, and he has been liberated from all evil.
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because the Holy Spirit liberated us from the tyranny of sin and death. Verse 3 tells us this liberation took place because of God's Son, sent by the Father from heaven to take care of our singular problem of sin. It was sin that kept us from heaven, from God, and from one another. But sin has been dealt a deathblow by Christ's effectual atonement on Calvary's cross.
Jesus declares, "Everyone who sins is a slave of sin" (John 8:34). Such slaves can be liberated, and if the Son sets us free, we will indeed be free. Only Christ can set us free; no one else can do so.
The man of Romans 7:7-25 was not a free man. He said, "When the law came, sin revived and I died." This wretched prisoner of sin cried out for deliverance from the law of sin and death. Only God through Jesus Christ can set him free forever.
Sin is a great power on the face of the earth. It is a terror that deceives people through the pleasure it gives. Sin promises power but delivers slavery. It promises eternal life but delivers eternal death. Jesus says, "The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy" (John 10:10). Jesus came to give us life eternal by putting an end to our death by his death on the cross.
Before, we could only sin. Now, since we have been liberated, we have freedom not to sin-freedom to fight against sin and win. We have freedom to obey God because we have received in Christ not only pardon but also power. Not only the guilt of sin is dealt with, but also its dominion over our lives. Sin and death no longer rule over our lives as kings. As believers in Christ, we are in Christ. We have been set free forever from the power of sin, Satan, and death-free at last, and free forever. The wretched man, the slave of sin, the prisoner sold under sin, is now set free.
Why No Condemnation?
"For the law of the Spirit of life. . . ." In verse 1 Paul declared, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation." In verse 2 Paul begins with the word "for" or "because," giving the reason why there is no condemnation. The Christian life is logical; therefore, we must think logically and not contradict it. We are speaking about biblical logic that begins with God. Sin is irrational.
There is no condemnation because the Holy Spirit accomplished our liberation. No condemnation means no sentence or execution awaits us. The reason given by the Holy Spirit is that the Spirit of God has set all elect slaves of sin free. The law of sin and death is no match for the infinite power of the Spirit of life.
Finally, there is a power that is greater than Satan, sin, and the power of death. This great power in the person of the Holy Spirit is in us, opposing all other powers that are intent on defeating us.
"For the law of the Spirit of life freed me from the law of sin and death." The word "law" occurs twice in this verse. What meaning should we give to this word "law" in the phrase "the law of the Spirit of life"? In the New Testament, it is used to refer to the entire Old Testament, the Pentateuch, the Ten Commandments, or the Mosaic law. It can also mean the principle, rule, or governing authority. In the phrase, "the law of the Spirit of life," I take it to mean the mighty ruling authority of the Holy Spirit.
"For the law of the Spirit of life freed me from the law of sin and death." "Spirit" here is the Holy Spirit, who applies Christ's redemption to every elect sinner. Paul mentioned the Holy Spirit four times earlier in this epistle, but in Romans 8 the Spirit is mentioned twenty times. There is no other chapter in New Testament in which the Spirit is mentioned as frequently. The Holy Spirit is the agent of our liberation.
When the Holy Spirit opposes sin and death, the Spirit always wins. God the Father sent his Son to accomplish redemption, and the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, to apply this great redemption to us. Paul says, "But when the time had fully come, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, Abba, Father.' So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir" (Gal. 4: 4-7).
The Holy Spirit is life and imparts life to the dead. He gives spiritual resurrection: "But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved" (Eph. 2:4-5). He regenerates us. Remember, Jesus said, "You must be born again," that is, born of the Spirit (John 3:7-8). Paul said, "The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." The Spirit of the new covenant is the life-giving Spirit. "I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws" (Ezek. 36:27).
Not only does the Holy Spirit give us spiritual life, but he also raises us from the dead, granting us a glorious, physical, immortal, imperishable body. Paul writes, "And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you" (Rom. 8:11). He is the Spirit of life, both spiritual and physical. Our need is life, and the Holy Spirit who is life gives us life. He resurrects our mortal bodies.
Paul also says, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Cor. 3:17). Not only does the Holy Spirit give us eternal life, but he also gives us freedom to say no to sin, to resist the devil that he may flee from us. This Spirit who gives us new life also gives us new power. Before our conversion, sin permanently dwelt in us as king, ruling in power (see Romans 7:17, 20). The Holy Spirit dwells in the man who is in Christ Jesus-the man of no condemnation, the man who enjoys freedom from the tyranny of sin and death-and opposes the defeated sin in that man. So Paul writes, "You, however, are controlled not by the flesh but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Rom. 8:9). Thank God for the Holy Spirit living in us! He is a mighty opponent of finite sin and Satan.
Elsewhere Paul declares, "Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership upon us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come" (2 Cor. 1:21-22). The fullness of salvation-our glorification-is guaranteed by the indwelling Holy Spirit. This ruling presence of the Holy Spirit is the distinguishing mark of a Christian. Yes, there is still sin in us, but the Holy Spirit also operates in us, making us overcomers. Thus, when Paul speaks of the law of the Spirit of life, he is speaking about the internal operation of the Holy Spirit in us, not the objective accomplishment of redemption on Calvary's cross.1 Our problem is internal, and the Holy Spirit has come into us, making us taste victory in Christ.
This Holy Spirit unites us to Christ so that we enjoy Christ's life forever. We live in his life, which is eternal life. So we live in the newness of life and bear fruit for God. The law of the Spirit of life freed us from the law of sin and death.
"For the law of the Spirit of life freed me from the law of sin and death." What is the meaning of "law" in the phrase "law of sin and death"? This is a difficult question, but we have the answer. It is the Mosaic law, as we see in verses 3, 4, and 7. But there is something else: It is the Mosaic law in its reaction, relation, and interaction with sin in the sinner. Though the law itself is holy, just, good, and spiritual in its relationship with the flesh, it aggravates sin and leads to sin and death. The law was never given to save or to impart life. This holy law provokes and stimulates sin, producing condemnation and death.
Paul speaks about this in Romans 7: "For when we were controlled by the [flesh] sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the [the Mosaic] law were at work in our bodies so that we bore fruit for death. . . . But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from law. But when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. . . . Did that which is good then become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good so that through the commandment, sin might become utterly sinful" (Rom. 7:5, 8-9, 13). Elsewhere he says, "The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law" (1 Cor. 15:56). The good law produces sin and death. It does not weaken sin; it gives strength to it. (PGM) That is why children who come from Christian homes may have more trouble unless they are born of God.
A believer who has experienced this liberation of the Holy Spirit is set free from law, sin, death, and Satan. He died to sin (Rom. 6:2) and law (Rom. 7:4). Therefore, he is not under the rule and authority of sin and the law. Paul declares, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law" (Gal. 5:18). The Christian is in Christ, united to him in his death, burial, and resurrection. Now he lives the resurrection life and enjoys the peace of God that transcends all human understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Christians live forevermore! The believer who is set free from the law of sin and death will live eternally in Christ because Christ will not die again. Jesus said, "I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades" (Rev. 1:18). As believers, we are liberated by the Spirit of life from the Mosaic law in its reaction, collaboration, and relation with the sin nature that produced sin and death. There was a connection with the Mosaic law and the law of sin (Rom. 7:23, 25). There is a connection with the Mosaic law and sin in our body. The man of Romans 7 was a prisoner who needed freedom. He was serving the law of sin, aggravated by the Mosaic law. Deliverance came for him in Christ Jesus by the law of the Spirit of life. Praise God, there is now no condemnation, but only liberation forever! We may speak about eating too much, drinking too much, smoking too much, or buying too much. All those behaviors are slavery. But Jesus Christ sets us free today. The truth will set us free!
The Mosaic law of God is, to fallen man, occasion of both sin and death.2 The letter kills. Death is sin's natural concomitant. Paul writes, "Just as sin reigned in death [or through death], so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 5:21). This death that is the wages of sin was destroyed by the death of Christ in our behalf. Christians, therefore, do not die; they sleep in Christ Jesus.
In Adam we received sin and death. In Christ we receive righteousness and eternal life. Praise God, we have been delivered from Adam and put in Christ by God.
"For the law of the Spirit of life freed me from the law of sin and death." Paul uses a technical term (eleuthero˘) that speaks of bringing freedom to slaves. The Holy Spirit has freed us not only from the penalty of sin, but also from its reigning power. Before, Satan, sin, and death ruled us. We were their slaves. Now they have no more dominion over us. The law of the Spirit of life has freed us from the law of sin and death. We have been taken out of the realm of sin and death. The cry, "Who shall rescue me from this body of death?" has been heard. We are no longer controlled by the flesh (Rom. 8:9), but by the Spirit.
We are in the Spirit and in Christ. Paul says, "[Jesus Christ] gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age. . . . For [God the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves" (Gal. 1:4; Col. 1:13). Friends, we are no longer in the sphere of flesh, sin and death, or the law; we are now in the sphere of the Spirit. We have been taken out of Satan's dominion and are now in the kingdom of God, where there is life, righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. We have been taken out of Egypt and brought to the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem. Our guilt is gone and we have power to resist sin and Satan. Now Satan flees from us. In Christ we are warriors against sin by the Spirit. In Romans 8:13 we read that we can put to death the misdeeds of the body by the Holy Spirit.
It is true that we are not perfect. Sin has not been fully eradicated from a Christian. But sin has lost its dominion over us. Now we can fight against it and defeat it. We enjoy freedom from sin and its tyranny. The gospel "is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16). The gospel liberates us from the terrible situation sin created. Christ was sent to deal with sin, and he defeated Satan and sin forever.
We have been freed! The verb is in the aorist tense, indicating a decisive act that took place in the past. Therefore, we are not being freed daily; we are freed once for all and freed forever. We will never go back to slavery or condemnation. We have crossed over in Christ from death to life.
A great chasm has been fixed. The redeemed cannot go back to condemnation and wrath of God, or the dominion of sin, death, and Satan. The stronger one, our Lord Jesus Christ, has attacked and defeated the strong one, the devil, and set his hostages free forever.
Therefore, grace reigns now, and so we reign in life, we who receive abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness. The law of the Spirit of life freed us forever from the law of sin and death-its power, authority, and rule.
Romans 6:18 tells us we have been set free from the control of sin. Here eleuthero˘ is used in the aorist passive form, meaning God has set us free forever and he has done so in the past.
And not only have we been set free from sin, but God has also enslaved us to righteousness. Our freedom from sin is freedom to serve righteousness. We are slaves now to righteousness, to God. Before, as slaves of sin, we continually committed unclean, lawless, and wicked acts leading to death. Now we are slaves of righteousness, which leads to holiness. Sanctification is the evidence that God has saved us and justified us. "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God" (v. 22). We have been set free from the control of sin and have become enslaved to God. Now we produce holiness resulting in eternal life.
Many people complain about churches that exercise authority. They want freedom to sin, but true churches will oppose such "freedom." These people are really asking for autonomy and antinomianism. But God saved us from one slavery and brought us into another slavery. There is no neutrality or autonomy for a Christian. We are still slaves, but now we serve a different master, God Triune, who gives us justification for condemnation, power for weakness, life for death, and ability to live a holy life and not a life of uncleanness. He brought us out of hell and brought us into heaven. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free," says Paul (Gal. 5:1). Use your freedom to serve God and one another in love.
How Should We Enjoy This Freedom of the Spirit?
How, then, shall we enjoy this freedom given to us by the Holy Spirit? T. W. Manson says, "Moses' law has right but not might; Sin's law has might but not right; the law of the Spirit has both right and might."3 Paul speaks of the living by the Spirit, meaning by his control, authority, and power: "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the lusts of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16). That is a guarantee. "Live by the Spirit" means "Be led by the Spirit." The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of holiness, truth, power, and love. He leads us in the narrow way, the way of righteousness, the highway of holiness, the way of the word, of which he is the author. And the same Holy Spirit leads us into his holy church where we have vital connectedness with God's people. Those who look for autonomy have not been delivered from the law of sin and death.
What do you want-tyranny or freedom, uncleanness or holiness, condemnation or justification, death or life, joy or misery? Thank God, there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Thank God there is liberation in Christ Jesus. Thank God we can live a victorious Christian life. Thank God we can be overcomers.
Since we have been set free, let us enjoy this freedom to the fullest by serving Jesus Christ. Paul did so. That is why he calls himself in Romans 1:1, " Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus." Let us also call ourselves slaves of the only Sovereign, our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no greater honor than to be called a slave of Jesus Christ, who himself was known as the suffering servant.
No president, no Supreme Court, and no government can take this freedom away. Paul was God's free man, even when he was in chains in the Roman prison. Yet he rejoiced in the Lord in all things. It is a great freedom.
If you are not in Christ Jesus, you are outside and under condemnation. You are a slave of sin and death. May the truth of the gospel set you free today! If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Repent of your sins and trust in Christ alone and his work of atonement. He breaks the iron yoke of slavery and sets every repenting sinner free. Be free today, as Christ makes us free now.
1 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 277.
2 Haldane, Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, 188.
3 Quoted by Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, 301.
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Copyright © 2009, P. G. Mathew
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