Reading: Romans 8:14-16,26,29.
"The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:2).
That, we said, is the secret of the remarkable transformation in
the experience of a man who in the first place is groaning,
miserable, defeated, whose life is frustrated, who wants the will
of God but cannot attain to it, and the man who is having a
glorious time in spite of living in a world that hates him, that
all the time threatens to ruin him, but who knows that his way is
to be a triumphant one with the end being glory. This is the law
of the Spirit of Life, and we are told that the secret of it all
is a relationship with God, but that is not just some power
committed to him.
We often use the comparison of the filling of the empty vessels with oil, which is, from one aspect, a true expression of the power of God. But it is a very inadequate comparison to express what is happening to this man in Romans 8. He is not just being filled up with a power; he has, by the Spirit, come into a relationship. For him the Spirit is supremely the Spirit of Life, and so we read together, "The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God". That is the secret and so the apostle says, "if children then heirs". The inheritance will be ours if we are children and if we grow up to come of age. And so that is what we are waiting for - our adoption. I do hope that when you read "adoption" you do not think in terms of poor little homeless orphans being taken into a family and told to call somebody Father and Mother who are not their father and mother. That is not what Scripture means by adoption; it is very far from it.
The adoption for which we are waiting is the coming of age, the
public recognition of those who are truly born in the family. And
that is why we have said the secret is this: the law of the Spirit
of Life in Christ Jesus, not merely that He is the living
Spirit, although I think that sometimes needs to be said. Some of
the Lord's people think of the Spirit as some abstract power like
electricity, or some other such power, forgetting that He is a
Person with His own distinct personality within the Godhead; just
as distinct as the Father and the Son. The apostle is not only
saying that, but also that the Spirit is the effectual, vital link
between ourselves and God in Christ, so the law that is in us is
not merely the law of the Spirit in general, but it is the law of
the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. When we have Him, we
are true born children. Thank God for the great grace that has
made us children of God. How greatly has the Father loved us. The
child has all the potentialities of the Father's desires and
purpose in him, but God's great concern is whether the child will
grow up, reach maturity, come of age, and be able to enter into
Whatever you may think about it, and however the church may neglect it, the apostle says this is a matter of vital importance. We may all be happy and joyful because we are children of God. We may proclaim, "Thank God we are born, let us go and see how many others can be born". Yet the apostle says that if we don't get beyond that, he would have us know that here in this world we are in the presence of a great cosmic yearning and longing, not just that men might be born, but that they might grow up and that the day of adoption, the day of the manifestation of the sons of God (not the children of God) might come. Of course, they are children of God, you cannot be a son without being a child; you have got to begin by being a child. I have no doubt that if we know nothing else of Romans 8, we do know this, that "the Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God". If you do not know it, it could happen now if you look to Him. And so we must be children to be sons.
Growing to Maturity
The question arises as to the possibility of being a child and never being a son. May I put it this way, that the great purpose that God has in our being born again, that for which He is yearning, that burden of unutterable prayer for the saints which is with the Spirit, is all to this end: that the day may arrive when the grown-up, come-of-age, mature sons of God are recognised by Him so that He may call the whole universe to take its relationship with Christ as centre because Christ is now the Firstborn among many brethren. The law of the Spirit of Life is all the time pressing to that. The Life will reach that end if it is given its way. And so the question arises in the church of God, not as to whether the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus is in the church, or is in the individuals (that is not the question; if we are born again that is a fact) but as to why the Spirit cannot reach His goal. It is because of the law of the Spirit of Life.
That brings us to this whole question of law. The Bible says a
lot about it, and Paul, especially in this letter, Paul wrote a
great deal about the law. He not only speaks of the Mosaic law, he
often passes from that to the general when he is speaking of works
of law. But in almost every case in which law is mentioned in this
letter, as elsewhere, the apostle is thinking and writing of what
we think of naturally: of an outward, written code of conduct, a
form of regulations as to behaviour. He says that however
earnestly you study the Divine law and resolve to keep it, there
is no way to sonship along that path. Mark you, it is not because
there is anything lacking in the law; the law is holy, the law is
good, and - surprisingly - the law is spiritual. You didn't think
the law was spiritual, did you? You thought the law was the
opposite of spiritual. The law is spiritual, but the law is no
good to me because I am carnal. The apostle, in developing that
together with the uselessness of the law comes to another phrase
in which "law" is used in a different connection.
Going through his bitter experience of Romans 7 and explaining
about this law of God which is so holy, so high, but so
unattainable, he says the trouble all the time is that there is in
me another law, "I see a different law working in my members"
(Rom. 7:23). Now, in this case he uses "law" in a different sense.
It is not only different from the law of God and opposed to that,
but he is talking now, not of a code, but of a new principle of
operation that is working all the time. However many eccentric
ideas it may seem to have and however many aspects of its
movements may be discovered, it is working according to a fixed
set of principles; there is a regularity and inevitability about
its working. It is the law of sin, alas, and it is in me! This is
not just some vague thing, it has quite definite ways of working,
and so he calls it an inward law.
Now, of course, there is or there could be a code of conduct, an outward, written law which corresponds to that inward law, which would be very different from that which you read in the Bible. It would, of course, be just the opposite. It would make pretty grim reading to read in writing what I am like, the explanation of the law which governs my conduct: "Thou shalt worship thyself; thou shalt serve thyself". Instead of God being the centre and love to God being the great regulation, self is the centre and love of self the outstanding statute in that code. But there is, or there could be, an outward law which corresponds to this inward principle which is all the time operating in me. I work according to a law (nobody has troubled to write it and I hope they never will, but it could be written, and after I saw it written I would repudiate it), yet in myself I do it because it works in me. Now you see what we are coming to. The apostle says the secret of the will of God is not in trying to observe that law as written outwardly, but discovering a blessed truth which is the opposite of that law of sin and death, and that is the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus; the inward principle of action operating all the time according to fixed and regular ways so that it can be called a law.
The Inward Law
Now, that was the trouble with men when they saw that in the
Person of Jesus Christ. They said, "It is not law abiding, it is
lawless". That was the trouble when they saw it in the apostle,
"This is antinomianism. You do not keep the Sabbath, and here is
the code as to what you should do", and they could not understand
that the life of the Lord Jesus was governed by law - not the
outward law, although it corresponded in His case, and it will in
ours in the measure in which the Spirit does govern our lives -
but an inward law working all the time according to the Divine
working. Some tried to find out what that law was. I suppose
James, the brother of the Lord, tried. He was a righteous man, but
it baffled him, it seemed to him to have no rules about it. And so
in the case of the apostles, if you take up the book of the Acts
and you try to establish a code of conduct that will explain their
every action, you can't do it. It baffles analysis; it baffles any
explanation according to principles which we understand, and so
they said it is lawless. They did not understand - nor shall we
understand unless the Lord shows it to us - that there is an
inward law of the Spirit of Life.
When the Spirit came to the disciples they didn't indulge in a
series of disjointed, meaningless or impulsive actions, but they
moved according to Divine law. They often didn't know the
explanation, but they did know this: that there was with them a
living Lord who was everything, to be obeyed instantly, and that
He controlled their lives. Now that is the way to sonship. How the
apostle laboured to show these people, and more particularly to
show the Galatians that they could not attain to sonship by
studying the Bible or going to meetings, or trying to get it all
analysed and worked out, and saying they are going to do this to
become a son. You cannot do it like that, but the Holy Spirit is
the Spirit of sonship and is the secret of growing up. To be ready
for that great day He must apply the law to our lives inwardly,
the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus.
May I give a warning to those who take it for granted that they
are spiritual, and in their immaturity begin to do things and not
to do them because they feel the Lord has told them to do
something, or the Lord has not told them to do it. The law of the
Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, when we are perfectly spiritual
people, will so lead us that we shall always do the will of God.
But when we are not perfectly spiritual people, the Lord has to
use safeguards, not because the Spirit cannot be trusted but
because we cannot yet be trusted. Why was the letter to
the Corinthians written with so many injunctions as to conduct, as
to behaviour, as to this and that? Should not the Spirit of God
have led those men unerringly? Yes, and He would have if they had
been spiritual people, but since they were not spiritual people,
certain things had to be said to them which, had they been
spiritual, would have been unnecessary.
The pity of it is that so much that is written in the Word is
taken and made a new law, and "You must do it like this, and you
must keep every detail of that, and if you do you will be
according to God". And yet, when all the details have been
thrashed out and somebody or other has decided what it really
means in all the conflicting interpretations, and you are doing it
according to what the Book says, somebody comes in among you and
says, "My, isn't it dead? Where's the Life?" There is no Life when
you are working on the basis of the law. The law for us is an
inward Spirit of Life. Nevertheless, when we are not spiritual
(and who of us will claim to be?) the Lord provides safeguards,
not laws, but checks upon us. If we were perfectly spiritual
people we should obey the Word of God even without reading it;
spontaneously we should do the thing. We shouldn't have to say,
"Now I ought to do that", but until we reach that stage, we must
keep to the Bible, not as a basis of favour with God, but as a
corrective and safeguard to spiritual guidance. If we were
perfectly spiritual, we should always do our duty. By that I mean
things that are not necessarily written down in so many words in
Scripture, but even if they were not our duty in our home or our
duty in our work, if we were perfectly spiritual we should do
that. The strange thing is that some people claim to be spiritual
and in their sense of the Lord's guidance ignore their duties and
bring shame to the Name of the Lord by so doing. It is safer to
check up your sense of the Spirit's guidance by duty and to give
the Lord just that extra means of being sure that, after all, it
is the Spirit and not what you think is the Spirit.
If we were perfectly spiritual we should find that all our behaviour and our sense of guidance and of the Lord's will would find perfect harmony and corroboration among our fellow members in the church, and particularly among those who in any sense may represent the church. If we were perfectly spiritual, there would be no difficulty, but how many people who claim to be spiritual come into conflict with and contradict the mind of the Lord as found in His church? It is safer to remember that we are not so spiritual as we thought we were and to check up our sense of guidance with the witness in the church as to the will of God; thus always be ready to support our personal sense of things, for our safety as well as for His glory. These are provisions for the unspiritual, if you like to put it like that. Well, let us be humble and confess ourselves unspiritual and make use of the provision, never forgetting that the vital and final truth is that the sons of God are not led by the Word of God, or by the Word spoken, but by the Spirit of God. That is the ultimate truth, and when that ultimate truth is realised it will be found to harmonise with all the others. There is no contradiction with Him. The contradiction is with us because we are unspiritual.
The Spirit of Life
The law of the Spirit of Life. It is more Life that is needed and that means that the Spirit who gives Life must be more closely and attentively obeyed because He works according to laws. Those who reach sonship are not those who pray and pray, and by virtue of their great praying attain a thing (although we need to pray), but they are those who are all the time sensitive and susceptible and obedient to the laws of the Spirit of God. He will do the rest. He will bring us to sonship. He has in His own hands that great law of manifestation of the sons of God. He is the executor, the executive power, the living personal representative of the risen Christ and in Himself is all the ability and all the Life requisite for this great family of sons. Once again, let me say it: the Holy Spirit works according to laws although it may not look like it very often, and the way to move with Him to His goal is to go His way and not to try to make Him go our way. And going His way means obeying His laws.
The law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus is an inward thing, an inward matter, an experience of the Spirit which is essentially a matter of Life, and Life is not on the circumference of the person, but at his very heart. The manifestation of Life is on the circumference, but the root is within.
Now, here we trust the Lord may help us because there are so many misconceptions about the Holy Spirit. That which is essential, not only to our full salvation, but to the attaining of the full purpose of our salvation, is not merely some outward power, energy or ability that the Spirit may place upon us or commit to us, but is a matter of obedience deep in the centre of our being. It is a new Life which is different from ours: His Life, throne Life, kingdom Life.
The question arises as to whether Romans 7 answers to the experience of the apostle after his conversion. If it does, surely it is a most striking thing to remember the circumstances of the apostle's initial reception of the Holy Spirit. Marvellous! Who of us has not wished to know what Saul of Tarsus knew when the scales fell from his eyes and he was baptised in the Name of the Lord? A marvellous committal of Divine power and wisdom filled and flooded his life. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, there is no doubt about that. Now, if Romans 7 represents something that happened after that day, it means that what Saul of Tarsus knew at the beginning was not the full experience of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus spoken of in Romans 8. In other words, while the Spirit was mightily upon him and with him, he was not yet, in the deep, inward sense, a spiritual man. I am not competent to say whether Romans 7 represents his experience as a Christian, but I do know it represents the experience of many Christians, and therefore it can be the experience of a Christian. And we must not idealise and imagine things which are not true with regard to men filled with the Holy Spirit. We do not know much about the apostle Paul, though we get some hints. But take Peter, a man filled with the Holy Spirit as much as Paul was, and yet you remember there was a moment when Peter behaved very badly, and had to be reproved and humble himself. Do you think that he had sinned and the Holy Spirit had withdrawn His power? I do not; but I think that Peter was not then a spiritual man and in that particular point he did not obey the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, and what happened? Why, the same old Peter came out that he thought had been dead for years, dead in the sense of held under the dominion of Christ's death, but still capable of making a return if given the opportunity.
Well, so much for the apostles. Take the Romans themselves. We
know nothing of the beginning of the Roman church, but we have no
reason to think that it was any different from the beginning of
the Corinthian church, or the Ephesian church, or from any of the
churches of that time. And if you read in Acts, or in the letter
to the Corinthians, it is manifest that they began in a flood-tide
of the Spirit, such a flood-tide that they were carried along by
it and mighty expressions of Divine power were found among them.
And yet the apostle wrote Romans 7 to the Romans and he did not
waste time writing to the wrong people. He sought to lead them
into Romans 8, which surely suggests he saw that it may be
possible to be caught up in a mighty tide of the Spirit in a more
outward way and not yet know in a deep inward way the law of the
Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. Now, I am not saying that the
Spirit was on them but not in them; I am making no distinctions,
but I do say it is a dangerous thing for us to presume that a
powerful or remarkable experience of the Spirit of God, in and of
itself, makes us spiritual people.
The Corinthians were having marvellous experiences of the
manifestation of the power of the Spirit among them, and were
greatly gifted, yet the apostle wrote to them, "Ye are carnal and
I cannot write to you as spiritual". The law of the Spirit of Life
in Christ Jesus is a deep, inward matter. Of course, in our day
many of us know nothing of these more sensational manifestations.
Many of us know the peril of spiritual gifts... shall I put it
this way: the perils of ministry. If at any time the Lord in His
great grace can take us up and in some unusual way perhaps express
His power through us, the danger is we take it for granted that we
are spiritual people. It also works the other way, that sometimes
we have a very bad time and think we are not spiritual people, but
it has nothing to do with that. But, how perilous it is because
God in His grace endues us with the power of His Spirit for some
purpose, for us to take it for granted that we have reached the
Divine end, or are reaching it. There are so many factors that
will conspire, factors very often outside of ourselves, such as
the very company in which we are, that can determine the power or
otherwise of our ministry.
If ever I am tempted to feel that the Lord is using me, that I am getting on spiritually, sometimes I remember Balaam - and sometimes I remember the ass too - Balaam spoke by the Spirit of the Lord, and yet he was not a spiritual man and God wasn't pleased with Balaam; but He had a purpose to be fulfilled and a word to be uttered. So mighty is He and so mighty is His Spirit that He could use whom He would. That is a very humbling thought. Oh, surely it is a sign of unspirituality in us all, that the thing we crave for, pray for, and delight in is somehow to wield a power, to be gifted with a gift, to feel that we are serving the Lord mightily! It is not that that will take us to the throne. It may take others to the throne and leave us behind; Balaam said wonderful things for Israel and got nothing but judgment for himself. Is not that why the apostle said that he was so careful lest having preached to others, heralded them on to the prize, he himself should be disqualified? A spirit-filled man and yet not a spiritual man; that may sound a contradiction, but I fear it is a possibility.
What, then, is the distinctiveness of the experience of the Holy Spirit in this age? It is not miraculous gifts. That was true of the Old Testament age, and I can match what you can give me in the New Testament of manifestations of the Spirit. Do not think the Holy Spirit only began His existence when Christ went up to glory and Pentecost came. The Spirit is eternal as Christ is, as God is. Do not think that the Spirit never came down to earth or was not in men before Christ. And so you go through your Old Testament here and there, with long intervals; nevertheless, you can find all the miracles, all the manifestations. You remember when Moses took the seventy elders up to the Lord they all prophesied as much as any in Corinth prophesied, and it was a miraculous thing. You remember when Saul, the king, caused a sensation and everybody said, "What... is Saul among the prophets?" Why did they say that? Because something happened to Saul which didn't happen to ordinary men, in a sensational and miraculous way. You have only to turn to the book of Judges to find mighty deeds being done, and it is specifically stated "by the Holy Spirit". Look at Samson, and again and again the Spirit of the Lord came upon him and mighty things were done. Would you say that Saul or Samson were spiritual men? No, but the Spirit was mightily upon them.
We are healing, yes, and what is excluded in modern healing: raising from the dead. Spiritual healing always included raising someone from the dead. In the case of the Lord, and of Peter and Paul, they had miraculous powers of healing, which included raising from the dead. But this is not peculiar to the New Testament. There are also Elijah and Elisha, and our Lord Himself mentioned both those men in the synagogue at Capernaum. They were men marked out by God and by mighty wonders done by the Holy Spirit.
And so we could go on praising the Lord. Look at the little
cluster of people before Christ came and when He was first born:
Elizabeth, Zacharias and Simeon. This is a height of spirituality
in a soul-moving, stirring way to magnify and praise the Lord.
That is not peculiar to this age. Simeon did that and so did
Zacharias. "Oh then," you say, "You must grant me this: the
special manifestation of the power of the Spirit is to be a mighty
witness of Christ in great conviction." No, not even that. John
the Baptist is pre-Pentecost, not typical of this age, and was
there ever a greater witness in the power of the Holy Spirit,
piercing men's hearts, cutting their consciences, causing them to
cry out? There was never one who could point men to Christ, the
Lamb of God, to prepare a way for the Lord as John the Baptist.
No, if you are looking for these miraculous manifestations as
being typical of this age you have made a big mistake. They are
Old Testament experiences.
The great feature of Pentecost as Peter explained it was that what had been isolated and temporary and limited in the Old Testament was now to become general. That was the great thing. Instead of just being one, and then years later another, and a long delay, and individuals, the promise is now "on them all". That is what Peter said: "on them all". Young and old, without distinction of age or sex, and no distinction of social condition. While Acts says, "My servants and My handmaidens", Joel (from whom the prophecy was taken) was speaking of servants and slaves and maidservants. Joel said the day will come when the Lord will not make these distinctions. The gift will be for all and the Holy Spirit be freely given to all who call upon the Name of the Lord and are saved. That is the great point about Pentecost, in that something new had happened. So it is not in that realm we must seek the specific nature of the Spirit of God in our age.
Well, there was the Gospel age, and so far as men were concerned,
the great feature of the Gospel age for the Lord's people was that
they were being instructed and taught by the Spirit. Those with
whom we are concerned were disciples. And while reading through
the Gospels we are perhaps unduly interested in the miraculous
things that happened, I think if you will ponder this you will
agree with me that the weight of the effect of the experience of
three and a half years of uninterrupted walking with the Lord for
those disciples, was the tremendous amount of spiritual knowledge
they accumulated, assuming that His miracles were but occasions
for more teaching.
We cannot regard the particular purpose of the Spirit's presence in this age as being miraculous manifestations, nor can we regard His presence as being particularly to teach us Divine truths about Christ. The disciples were not spiritual men and many of the lessons they were supposed to learn they didn't learn, but in three and a half years they accumulated a tremendous amount of information about Divine things. Many children of God today are quite satisfied with that. That is their idea of the Spirit's presence in the church: they have the Word and when they know it, they are "spiritual". Were the disciples spiritual at the end of three and a half years? Not only were they not spiritual, but they could not be spiritual, for the Spirit, in the sense of Acts 2, was not yet given. There was a sense in which they were taught by the Spirit, but it is quite clear from the discourse of our Lord Himself that He regarded them as greatly lacking something in spite of all their teaching. What then were they lacking? In other words, what is the peculiar significance of the purpose of the Spirit's working in our age? It is vital, living relationship with Jesus Christ in an inward way and that could not take place until Pentecost. Pentecost stood for something more than the outward, something more than the mental. It was a deep inward relationship of life with the Lord. They were children of God and by that, potentially sons of God, and so are we. That age has come in and we believers in Christ have that relationship with Him.
And now you will notice what the goal is which we have described as sonship and adoption and manifestation. The goal is described in verse 29, that we might be "conformed to the image of His Son". Now God deals with realities and when He says "conformed to the image of His Son", He doesn't mean somebody who speaks something like Christ or does something like Christ, but He means the very image of Christ is in him. That is the goal of the Spirit's work so far as we are concerned. It can be on very simple terms, although sometimes very costly ones, which I will state in the simplest way: obedience to the laws of the Spirit. Now that needs a lot of explanation. It is in this that the children of God are lacking: in not knowing what the laws of the Spirit are. While they are enjoying something of a great deal of His presence in a personal way, they fail again and again to co-operate with Him, and often obstruct Him in His one declared purpose of bringing the children of God to sonship.
When the church was in a bad way the apostle John, the only
survivor of the apostolic band, was specially commissioned by the
Lord for a ministry of recovery among them to that end. He wrote
his epistle (which merits a good deal more study than it gets) to
that end. He wrote his gospel, and the great burden of the gospel
and the epistle is to show us the One in whom the Life was
resident. I have spoken about the limitations in the gospel age; I
mean in the disciples. But there was One here who in those three
and a half years (or thirty-three and a half years) was working as
the Son of God, in whom the Spirit was without measure, whose
obedience to the law of the Spirit was instant. John tells us the
Life was manifested. Eternal Life was what they saw in Jesus
Christ, yet there was much more that they did not see; that is,
eternal Life and that Life is now in the throne and is the key to
the liberation and blessing of the whole universe. Christ shall be
All and in all. It will be Romans 8 alright, because of that Life!
There is nothing arbitrary about it. Neither God nor Satan could,
if they would, deny the throne to Jesus Christ because His very
character, His very Life is the throne Life. This Life is in His
Son, but wonder of wonders, it is in us too!
God has given to us eternal Life. It is not just something committed to our personal care. No, this Life is in His Son. "He that has the Son has the life." May God help us to know that Life is governed by law, and if that Life is to reach its full development in us, its laws must be obeyed. Sometimes through unwillingness or ignorance the people of God are disobeying the laws of the Spirit of Life, and that is delaying the manifestation of the sons of God.
I cannot say anything about those laws at this point, but we can come to the Lord afresh, thanking Him for the infinite possibilities of glory in our relationship to Him. We are children of God destined to be sons, thanking Him that the process of bringing us to glory is all in the hands of the Holy Spirit. Thank God it is not in ours, for we would never get there. But recognising that He needs our co-operation, our obedience, our abstention from all obstruction, the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus will bring us to the liberty of the glory of the sons of God.