Liberated by the Spirit
Rev. Cornelius Hanko (10 September, 1980)
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).
This glorious chapter of hope and triumph always
strikes a note of appeal in the heart of the believer. This is especially
true because it so confidently declares, "There is therefore now no
condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the
flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:1). Sin is always the
painfully bitter problem in our lives. The guilt of sin can weigh so
heavily upon our souls that we find no peace, no matter where we turn. It
makes our days grievous and our nights filled with sorrow.
It is our conscience that cries out in condemnation
against us. There is the original guilt of Adam. There is the fact that we
are conceived and born in sin, even as David complained long ago. Or as
Paul says, in the previous chapter, "O wretched man that I am! who shall
deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:24). And there are also
our daily sins that rise up against us, seemingly prevailing day by day.
We understand so well the cry of David: "Thy hand was heavy on me; my soul
found no relief."
Therefore the greatest blessing that we can experience
day by day is the ever renewed assurance of forgiveness. Jesus sent a
troubled soul on his way with the word, "Go in peace, thy sins which are
many are forgiven thee." The Psalmist declares the man blessed whose
transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered, in whom God sees no
It is in that blessed confidence that Paul begins his
victory song by declaring, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them
which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the
Spirit" (Rom. 8:1). His conclusion from all that has been said in Chapter
7 is that there can be no condemnation. In fact, there is condemnation as
to nothing, in no respect at all. A blessed comfort for those who are in
But the question remains, How can you and I be sure,
absolutely certain, that this applies to us?
I have known sincere Christians—so you maybe have
also—who never dared to appropriate this truth to themselves. They
believed that this was true for others, but felt themselves too unworthy
to be assured of it. There are others who complacently go their way,
living for themselves, condoning sin, and yet boasting, "The people of the
Lord, the people of the Lord are we."
Therefore the more reason to ask, How can I be sure
that this applies to me? Have I the right to take this confession on my
lips? Paul gives us the answer from his own experience, which is also the
answer of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures: "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). Our attention, therefore, is called to:
Liberated by the Spirit
Our text speaks of being made free, liberated form the
law of sin and death.
What immediately strikes our attention is the peculiar
use of the term "law" here. We read of the law of the Spirit and the law
of sin and death. It should be obvious to all of us that the reference is
not to the moral law as such, not directly to the ten commandments. That
is evident from the fact that the moral law is never referred to in
Scripture as the law of sin and death, nor as the law of the Spirit.
Already in chapter 7 Paul speaks of the law in a more general sense,
speaking of the law of sin and the law of the mind. The law of sin and
death refers here to the principle or the power of sin as it controls and
governs our lives, even as Paul also speaks of the Holy Spirit as the new
principle, the new power that governs and controls our lives. The power of
sin and death in our lives can well be called a law, a governing
principle, or power.
Scripture uses many words to refer to sin. The most
common word means to miss the mark that God has set before us. He calls us
to love and to serve him, and we always direct our actions and deeds in an
opposite direction. Sometimes the word rebellion is used, sometimes
adultery and sometimes wickedness. All horrible words that show how evil
sin really is.
We tend so often to make light of sin, probably because
it is so much a part of our evil nature. Sometimes we condone sin by
saying that no one is perfect. "We all have our faults. That’s the kind of
person I am." Sometimes we resent the fact that what we do is called sin.
"Can’t we have any fun? That is living!" Not to go along with sin is to be
dried up, stupid, narrow, a square. We also tend to make light of sin, as
if it is a thing we can do or not do, do for a time and then leave it, do
and not suffer any severe consequences.
Therefore the apostle speaks here of the law of sin,
the principle or power of sin. Just as there is a law of gravitation that
draws things and holds things to the earth; just as there are laws of
nature, whereby for example, the sun rises and sets on a regular schedule
every day, so there is also a law of sin and death.
That law of sin binds us, enslaves us, makes us its
captive, and drags us to destruction. Sin appeals to us. Just as a child
is drawn to a puddle of water, so we are drawn to sin. A "wet paint" sign
tempts us to find out whether the paint is really wet. A speed sign urges
us to go beyond the speed limit. For the lure of sin arouses the sleeping
lion within us. Still worse, sin breeds sin. One sin leads to another and
still another. Each sin seems less evil and more appealing. Sin breeds a
host of sins, a whole family of sins, from bad to worse, until we are
entwined, trapped in the snares of sin. And the end is death.
Therefore Scripture speaks of those two powers in one
breath. Sin can actually destroy this body. The drunkard or the drug
addict ruins his mind and body with his addiction. He boasts that he can
quit any time, yet the addiction is too strong for him to overcome it.
Many sins, especially sins of sex bear their bitter fruit in the body, so
that today sexual diseases are widespread in our country.
Still worse, sin brings everlasting torment in hell.
The wages of sin are death, for the sinner fills the measure of iniquity
and perishes under the righteous judgement of God in everlasting remorse
and despair. Some forms of insanity are already a living hell here on
earth. Sin is like a quagmire or like a cobra that wraps itself around us
to crush us to death.
Behind all this is the moral law of God. God says,
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole being. The soul that sins
must die. Accursed is every one who does not abide in all that is written
in the book of the law to do it." This begins already in this life in
wrecked lives, ruined homes, shame, misery, pain and finally death. No
wonder that so many choose the way out of suicide, as if that were an
From that law of sin and death we are set free,
according to the text. It is obvious from all that has been said, that the
sinner can never free himself. He cannot even want to be free. Jesus
speaks of the house that has been swept clean of one demon only to be wide
open for seven more demons to take its place. No moral persuasion, no new
resolutions, no cries of anguish can deliver. Nothing but the Spirit of
which our text speaks.
And you can be sure that this deliverance is a painful
process. The first awareness we have of this work of the Holy Spirit is
sorrow for sin, that leads to conversion. There is also, as we well know,
a sorrow of the world. A sorrow that we made a fool of ourselves, or a
sorrow that we got ourselves into trouble. Usually in this case we blame
everybody but ourselves. I have heard people cursing the police officers
for having done nothing more than their duty. This sorrow is because of
the consequences of sin, which disappears as soon as the sky clears once
But there is also a godly sorrow unto repentance, not
to be repented of. This is a sorrow that is aware of the fact that we have
sinned against God. As David says, "Against thee, against thee only, have
I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight" (Ps. 51:4). This sorrow is the
beginning. It brings about sincere confession of sin, and along with the
confession of sin the assurance of forgiveness, the hating of sin, the
grace to fight it and put it away, the power to live a new and godly life
Well may we pause a moment to ask how this is brought
about—that is, how real repentance and deliverance from sin is brought
about, so that sin never more has dominion over us.
The answer of our text is that this is none other than
the work of the Spirit.
By "Spirit" is not meant our spirit, as if we somehow
have a change of heart and mind, and thus open ourselves to the work of
The word "Spirit" must be written here with a capital
"S," referring to the Holy Spirit of God. This Spirit, let us not forget,
is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. He is very really God. He is none
other than the living God Himself. Therefore when we read here of the law
of the Spirit of life, then that certainly must first point out to us that
this Holy Spirit is the sole Possessor of life. God is the living, working
God. Apart from God there is no real life. To live apart from Him is only,
Now this Holy Spirit, as our text also points out,
never works apart from Christ. He is the Spirit of life who is in Christ
Jesus. God saves us always, only through Christ Jesus. This means, that
those who are saved are in Christ. You will remember how Paul emphasises
that "in Christ" in both the epistles to the Ephesians and to the
Galatians. In Christ is all our salvation.
Eternally God sees us in Christ. We are told that
Michaelangelo saw in a rough piece of marble the figure of David, so that
he went to work and carved out the masterpiece of sculpture that
represents David. God so sees us in Christ. Of ourselves, we are sinners,
leprous, undone, dead in trespasses and sins, yet we are righteous and
holy in Christ.
Therefore also we were in Christ when He died on the
cross. That always sets one to marvel. Imagine when He bore the wrath of
God against your sin, you bore it in Him, when He suffered the torments of
hell you did in Him, when He says, "It is finished," you died in Him. Just
as if you had atoned in your own body for all your sins and merited life.
Just as if you had put away all sin and put on eternal perfection in
From this follows that the Holy Spirit works that
consciousness in us. He implants the life of Christ, so that we become new
creatures. Through the means of the Word He washes and cleanses us from
all the filth and corruption of sin. He causes us to hate sin and to flee
from it, so that we crucify the flesh, put off the old man of sin, and
live a new and holy life before God.
We can sum this up by saying that the law of the Spirit
of life in Christ Jesus has made us free from the law of sin and death.
There is a new law in us—no longer the law of sin and
death, but the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. The Spirit never
works apart from Christ, as we said before. It is the law of Christ Jesus.
The law that caused Christ Jesus to walk in love and devotion to His God,
even when that obedience led Him to the cross. It was the law that said in
Him: "I come to do thy will, O God." Therefore we also have Christ’s life
in Scripture as a pattern for us. We are called to be imitators of God, as
beloved children. We must walk in love to God and to the neighbour, even
as Christ gave Himself as an offering and a sacrifice to God for us as a
sweet smelling savour (Eph. 5:1-2).
The Spirit draws that love from Christ and implants it
in our hearts. What a difference grace makes in our lives! We hate the sin
in us. We abhor ourselves in dust and ashes before God. No, that does not
mean that we are now sinless. Far from it. Sin still wars in our members
creating a struggle between the old man of sin and the new man in Christ.
We do that which we hate; we do not do what we should. There is that
constant battle between sin in us and our new life by the Spirit. Grace
abounds. Our conscience no longer condones and excuses sin, but makes us
utterly miserable. At the same time the Spirit, by the Word, creates in us
the power to hate sin, to put it away, and to seek to be pleasing to God.
This according to the Scriptures, is life, real
life, abiding life. Life is harmony with the living God, so that our
desires, our thoughts, our words and our deeds are according to God's law.
This life carries God’s approval and blessing. The peace of God that
passes all understanding floods our hearts and minds. The joy of salvation
is our joy—a joy unspeakable and full of glory—because we live in covenant
fellowship with God. A foretaste of eternal life!
Here is where God’s law fits in once more. That law
becomes our guide, our road map. As long as we follow the road map we
remain on the straight and narrow way that leads to life eternal. The
certainty of attaining our goal is in our hearts. True, our sinful nature
wants to wander off on what looks to us a more pleasant, easier road. Yet
our guide, the Spirit in our hearts always leads us back to the way of
life. Thus we can understand what the Psalmist meant when he said, "O how
love I Thy law, it is my meditation all the day."
And as an added bonus, as it were, we have the
assurance of the forgiveness of sins, the right to eternal life. There is
therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. How do you know?
How do I know? I know that sanctification is the seal on our
justification. The two always go hand in hand. Blessed is the man whose
transgression is forgiven and in whose spirit there is no guile.
May God grant that to you and me in an ever growing measure. Amen.
The life of Rev. Cornelius Hanko, the author of these
devotional sermons on Romans 8, is covered in his memoirs,
Less Than the Least.