The Epistle to the Romans, beloved friends, takes up the Christian, if we compare one aspect of his condition with another, on the lowest ground. If for instance we take the Ephesians, there we find the Christian spoken of as “raised up together, and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus”; but you never get him there in the Epistle to the Romans. Though in the end of chapter 8 it is stated that he is predestinated in God’s original purpose for the glory, yet we never get him as risen and in the heavenly places, but looked at, as on this earth, and of course he is. We will see now a little, with the Lord’s help, how He does look at a Christian on this earth.
Now thus looked at, though not sitting with Christ, yet Christ is his life. Here am I a sinner in myself, and my flesh has got no good in it. The whole Epistle develops very fully what the Christian is, looked at in this world, and the chapter I have read treats one special part of it, and that is his positive state and standing, not his guilt; as to his guilt, it has been treated very fully up to the middle of the previous chapter.
To begin with, the apostle says he is “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed.” And then he goes on to shew why it must be God’s righteousness that is revealed—simply because man has none. God’s law had come and required righteousness in man, which it could not find; but the gospel comes and reveals God’s righteousness, and he is not ashamed of it because it is revealed in it. He shews us the Jews under law and the Gentiles without law, and proves “every mouth stopped, and all the world guilty before God.” Instead of the law making it any better for the Jews, it only proved their guilt; and as to the Gentiles, that which might have been known of God in creation left them without excuse when they went to idolatry.
He next shews us how “God hath set forth Christ to be a propitiation through faith in his blood,” and applies that death to the past and the present, saying that it declared “God’s righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God.” God had been forbearing with them, but there had been no proof of righteousness in His forgiving them one more than another; but now on the cross it is explained. And not only this, but He is “just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” There it is the present time, His righteousness is now revealed, and we stand upon the ground of this righteousness that has been revealed.
The place where it has been shewn and manifested is in setting Christ at God’s right hand. This is a demonstration of the sin of the whole world, because it did not believe in Christ; also a demonstration of righteousness, “because I go to My Father, and ye see Me no more”: the Saviour they had rejected they would see no more till He came again as Judge. Thus the gospel comes and shews us that He is seated there (besides being the Son of God) in virtue of the work of the cross. There is where God’s righteousness is displayed for faith to look at. I see thus the perfect love of God which sought us in this way. I had sins, but no righteousness; I have nothing but Christ to look to, and my eye rests through faith where God’s eye rests; God is satisfied, and so am I through grace. I see the sins put away through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, so that there is no more question of sin, because my righteousness is Christ; He is “made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” All is perfectly settled once and for all, and I am made the righteousness of God through Christ—God’s righteousness. What we rejected God accepted, and proved His righteousness thereby. All the fruit of the old man is done away, and we are in Christ accepted.
But now comes another question; not that of our sins being put away, but of our deliverance from the principle of sin. As we read, “As he is, so are we in this world.” On the ground of what we are by faith all our sins are put away; but then comes the power of sin—this evil nature—what is in me, not what I have done. But can I in this world say that I am delivered from sin? that I am made free from sin?
Now this word “free” is often abused in English; it has two meanings. It is not here used in the sense that there is none in us, as I would say, “That horse is ‘free’ from vice”; but it is in contrast to the word “captive.” It means we are not captive to sin. He takes up the question of law as he took up the question of righteousness. Man had not made out righteousness either with law or without it; then God gave him Christ to be his righteousness. Now the question is whether, we having thus got righteousness, the law can deliver us.
Well, in chapter 8 it says, “What the law could not do.” It is not guilt now, but the flesh is not subject, neither can be. He means it has a will of its own. We know we have a will of our own. Now a will of our own is the principle of sin: whenever I have got a will of my own, there is sin—self-will, just the same as Eve when she would go and eat the fruit. The law thwarted the acting of will, of course; it was “holy, and just, and good,” so it must; but it did not take away, nor did it alter sin; but “what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh”: the law of course had nothing to do with that.
There are three things the law could not do: it could not give life, and, even supposing we got life, it does not give strength; and, another thing of the deepest moment for our souls, it does not give an object. But in Christ I find my life, my strength, and my object. “They that are after the Spirit do mind the things of the Spirit”; they have the true object. I get in Christ an object that is sufficient to delight God Himself.
For the fact of life will not do; we must have it, of course, but that is not sufficient. The old man is here yet: there are lusts. The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and “it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be”; therefore the law instead of delivering me brings me into captivity. It is just what we get in Romans 7. Suppose a man quickened in this world, what will be the effect of the law upon him? It will give him the knowledge of sin; “I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment,, deceived me, and by it slew me.” Yet “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good”; but it did not give anything of what we want; it was only the rule outside it, and gave us nothing to enable us to walk up to it. Here was a man in a kind of sleepy indefinite way going on quite comfortably, a man with a good conscience; “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” When the law came, it said, “Thou shalt not covet”; but it did not take away the lust; and he found at once another law warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin. There was no deliverance. God allowed him to use every kind of effort to get the victory; but it all only went to prove not simply that he was guilty, and that he had an evil nature, but that besides this he had no strength; and that is an exceedingly miserable condition.
If we were to tell the world that they had no strength, they would say, Why, there is an end to all morality! Even a child has faith in its own powers; it says, Oh, I will be good tomorrow! But I say, I am going to punish you to-day—for what you are now! And this lesson of no strength is a great deal a more humbling one to learn than that of the fact that certain sins have been done in some past time of my life. It raises the question, not of what I was before I knew Christ, but of what I am now that I do. “They that are in the flesh cannot please God”; but the effort made to do so is very useful in this way, that it brings us to the discovery of what we are. If you have found this out, you have found out what Paul did: “to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not.”
But now is there no deliverance? Of course there is— positive deliverance!
As I have been saying, the apostle shews us, besides the question of guilt, the question of state. I have been seeing what the state of bondage is of a renewed man under law, in contrast to the state of a renewed man knowing what it is to be risen with Christ. We are united to Christ risen, and, being thus, He brings in, not the death of the law, but our death. So that I have not got to hunt up things in my heart to see whether evil is present with me; this would be law, and the law cannot help me at all; but I have got Christ as my life, Christ risen and glorified too; and I am past death and raised up, though I do not go on to glory here, because it is a man here walking on the earth. I have got Christ to be my life, not Adam; I am not alive to God at all as born of Adam; we are “not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in us.” When I stood as a child of Adam before God, the law was applied to me on that footing. I have not got what meets it. As long therefore as I am in the flesh, I cannot meet God or please God, and I never can get free or happy with God. So much the better, that I may find it out.
Now the flesh never changes; “it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” When man fell, the world got so awfully bad that God had to destroy it; when God’s Son came into the world, they crucified Him; when the Spirit came, the flesh lusted against it; and when it has gone into the third heavens, it puffs a man up—if there were a fourth heaven, it would only puff him up more: that is the end of it!
But there is deliverance! If there were not, I would not speak of it. Then where is it? In death! It is when Christ has died and has risen that He becomes the power of life in me; but in itself this does not put away the flesh. There is nothing for it but what is added: “God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh”; there is no pardon, no taking it away, nothing but absolutely condemning it. If I take the cross, the highest act of grace, I find that there God condemned sin in the flesh.
But then, beloved friends, this condemnation of sin in the flesh, what was it in? I cannot get away from this evil nature, and Satan too is against me. But Satan is nothing to the new man! Only “resist the devil, and he will flee from you”; but he is everything for the flesh, of course! The world is just a great system that the devil has built up round man to keep him easy without God. It began at once with Cain; he goes out from the presence of the Lord, and what is he to do? He builds himself a city in the land of the vagabond. God never made the world as we see it; of this world Satan is the prince. Cain built his city so as to be comfortable in the world; and there were the artificers of brass and iron, and there he gets Jubal with his music, and he calls the city by the name of his son, and there we see all the conveniences of life, and harps, and organs, and then people ask, What is the harm of brass or iron, of harps or organs? None! I do not say there is any harm in music and instruments; but this I say, there was a great deal of harm in his making himself comfortable in them without God. We have got capacities for music and art and so on, and people take pains to amuse themselves with them because there is a famine in the land.
I find in the cross of Christ “the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world”; I find sin and the flesh condemned there. Condemned in what? In death! If the law condemned sin in the flesh, it only got to the lust; it was the ministration of death, and ministers condemnation. But what I get in Christ is death—the death of the old man. In His sacrifice I get death: He has not only been crucified for my sins, but I have been crucified with Him. Whilst He has become my life, His death is as available for the old man as His life is for the new. He not only died for our sins, but He died unto sin once; “in that he died, he died unto sin once”; not that He had any for Himself, but that He put Himself there for us; and then “likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord”; I have the full power of life.
“God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” I find sin a grief to my heart. Now, God condemned it in Christ on the cross; and as a believer I have death to sin just as much as I have condemnation for sins all gone. “He died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Well, now, that is where it comes out!—I cannot win the victory! But God is teaching me the whole thing is settled; it is, “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” It is not simply that the old man is not there—that is not deliverance; nor that the combat is not there: but do you think it is the same thing if I am struggling with a man and I get him down with my knee on his chest, or if the man gets me down with his knee on mine? If I combat with Christ for me, I get my knee on him. Of course there must be combat, but meanwhile I am not saying I am captive to the law of sin, whereas what we see in Romans 7 is a man who is: his soul is all right, but he cannot do it.
I get in the death of Christ this testimony, “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God”; and as to ourselves, we are to be “always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” I am thus set free. It is not that flesh is not there; it was in Paul, but he had the thorn in the flesh to buffet him; he got it to keep something down. Well, that proved it was there; the thorn kept it down so that it did not shew itself, but still it was there. If you fancy it is not there you lower your standard; but there is no reason why you should ever for one single instant let the flesh stir or shew itself. And what has brought you to this is death; of course, you must have life for it, or else you would be dead to everything.
Now, you are never called to die to sin, because the old man has died in Christ and the new man cannot die. Have not you been baptised to death? Then how can you Hve on in sin if you are dead to it? Are you dead? And where? In the death of Christ. It is always a past thing; there is no such thought in Scripture as our dying; it is we “are dead.” You have never any death for the old man but that of Christ on the cross. What faith gets hold of is this; I have died in Christ; then I am free. Therefore mark, beloved friends, what he says: “How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer therein? “He brings in death instead of the law; he puts the flesh to death, to faith, of course; he does not look for fruit from it; but he comes and kills the tree and puts another in its place, and that is Christ, and says, “Yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace”; I am now free!
Well, you are free; and what are you going to do? Are you going to give yourself back to sin again? Why, “yield yourselves to God as those that are alive from the dead.” Of course He does not come and say this to unconverted men; but, the moment a man calls himself a Christian, I say, Now you are alive and free; to whom are you going to give yourself?
One word more. It is of great importance to grasp this complete redemption—the death and resurrection of Christ Himself become the power of life to us, so that we can reckon ourselves dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God. “What fruit had you in those things?” But now, he says, you have fruit— fruit to holiness down here; you walk in a path that you know has beauties—positive fruit of holiness in this world, and “the end, everlasting life.”
But, I repeat, in this epistle you are perfectly in the world, and how are you to get power? Through death. Suppose for a moment that I always held myself dead, there would not be a movement—not a lust; therefore, John, speaking of it in an abstract way, says, “He that is born of God doth not commit sin.” It is just as if all sorts of evil things were outside in my passage, and the danger lay in my opening the door and letting them creep in; you will find all these evil things in your room if you do not watch. What we are called upon to do is, not to die, but to put to death; “Mortify your members that are upon the earth”; that is, I have power to do it, so I am to put them to death. Christ is my power, of course.
But, now, are you content to be dead? Of would you like to spare some of your flesh? Are you content to have no more of the world than a dead man has? Constantly we shall find we have little chambers in our hearts that we do not like to open to God; we go on in our prayers until we come to that, and then we stop, and then God has to break the door open in some rude way. Practically you are saying, I would sooner have this idol than God; not in your soul, of course, or you would not be a Christian. But now, supposing you have not anything kept back from God, have you taken this ground with Him that you are practically dead? It is not perfection, because I know no perfection but Christ glorified. The only perfection that is before a Christian is conformity to Him in glory, and I am never satisfied until I am with Him in that glory. But are you free? Have you got real deliverance? “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” The first thing we want is forgiveness; but the second thing we want is deliverance, and it is there for us. I have my eye on that Man in the glory; I am going to be like Him; it is there I get the object that is before my soul.