Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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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 iniquity.

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 Christ Jesus!

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
I. What?
II. How?
III. Whereto?


I. What?

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 escape.

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 more.

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 in sanctification.


II. How?

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 salvation.

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, ever death.

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 heaven.

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.


III. Whereto?

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.