By Mike Ratliff
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! (Romans 6:14-15 ESV)
Most of the formative years of my Christian walk were spent in one church from February 1987 through February 2000. During that time we had three pastors. I was in some form of teaching for most of that time. One of the things that always came up when we studied the Old Testament was Romans 6:14-15. It was as if someone always had to make sure that we were not being legalistic. They cast the law as far from them and our church as the East is from the West. Is that how we are to treat God’s Law?
In Romans 6:14-15 we learn that Christians are not under law, but, instead, are under grace. What does this really mean? Does it mean that it is wrong to preach God’s Law under all circumstances?
Or do you not know, brothers–for I am speaking to those who know the law–that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:1-6 ESV)
Paul wrote this section of Romans to Jews for they ‘know the law.’ He states that the law is binding on a person only as long as he or she lives. Paul uses the example of a married woman. She is legally bound to her husband only as long as he lives. However, if the husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. On the other hand, if her husband is alive then she would be judged an adulteress if she lives with another man. She may remarry if her husband dies. What has this to do with the relationship of the law with Christians? Paul used this as an analogy to show that when a person becomes a Christian, he or she actually dies and is resurrected or reborn. They have died to the law through the body of Christ. Now instead of being bound to the law, they are bound to their Saviour. Before this first resurrection each of us were living in the flesh and controlled by our sinful passions, which, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. However, this resurrection unto life has released us from the law because we have died to that which held us captive. In other words, the law can no longer condemn a believer.
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. (Romans 7:7-13 ESV)
Does the fact that the law no longer condemns believers mean that we should treat it as worthless or unimportant? I have received some rebuke from some ’emergent’ types for teaching from the Old Testament to Christians. Are they right to say that I am teaching from the irrelevant ‘Old Covenant?’ Paul very clearly teaches us here that the law is a vital component in God’s work in saving His people. It is the law that convicts both unbelievers and believers alike of sin. Unbelievers learn what sin is through the law. The law is not sin. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. Paul says that before he knew the law he was once alive apart from it. However, after he learned what it was to covet and that that was sin, then he found that sin very much alive within himself. Sin deceived him and brought him to condemnation because he was now guilty before the law for covetousness. The law is good and holy so it was not what caused Paul to be spiritually dead. No, sin did that. It was the law that revealed it. This brings conviction.
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:14-25 ESV)
The law teaches and convicts, but cannot deliver a believer from sin. All of us can relate to Paul’s struggle that he shared in this passage. The law teaches us about what is good and right and what sin is, but is powerless to deliver us into a state where victory may be realized. A believer cannot rely on knowing what sin is in order to repent. Our minds and hearts may very well be delivered from the penalty of sin, but our flesh is not part of that package. We know Jesus and He knows us, but our flesh just wants to be satiated by ‘experience’ of some sort. We desperately want to be obedient to the law of God in our minds, but our flesh still serves the law of sin. So, what is the solution? How can we fulfill the law in our minds and hearts and how we walk before the face of God?
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4 ESV)
The only way a Christian can walk in victory is to deny the flesh and walk according to the Spirit. Oh, we are very capable of doing the former and still do much more than any of us really want. However, as we mature as Christians we learn that role of the law and how we are new creations unto faith not unto legalism. What does it mean to walk according to the Spirit?
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!– assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:17-32 ESV)
Take this practical counsel by the Apostle Paul, meditate on it, and apply it, especially vv20-24, which is below.
But that is not the way you learned Christ!– assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:20-24 ESV)
How do we put off our old self and then put on the new self. We do this by being renewed in the spirit of our minds. What does that mean? The Greek word translated as ‘renewed’ here is ἀνανεόω or ananēoō. It means to be made young through some process of renovation. It is related to another Greek word, ἀνακαίνωσις or anakainōsis. It has essentially the same meaning. We find it in one of my favorite passages, translated as ‘renewal.’
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)
Therefore, what do we learn? The way to walk according the spirit is to put Romans 12:1-2 into practice as the root center of our lives. We present our bodies as living sacrifices to God as acts of worship by His grace. This is self-denial empowered by Him. As we do this we will also cease being conformed to this world. We will not be worldly any longer. We will become spiritually minded, God focused, and obedient in how we walk through each day. We do this through the process of mind renewal. There is that word, ἀνακαίνωσις.
If we are having a sin problem, an obedience problem, that is keeping us in anguish and defeat then the solution is not to exercise will power to try to stop. No, that will only lead to temporary victory and make us miserable as we fail and fail. No the solution is to renovate our minds. This renewal of our minds transforms us into Christians who walk in victory and self-denial. We must ask ourselves what this renewal of our minds is. It is actually the remaking of our minds into a new form. How do we do it?
The renewal of our minds is the Holy Spirit’s work as He changes our thinking through our consistent study and meditation on Scripture (Psalm 119:11; cf. Philippians 4:8; Colossians 1:28; 3:10, 16). The renewed mind is one that is saturated with and controlled by God’s Word. This is why it is imperative to never neglect Sacred Scripture. Get into your Bible, ask God to teach and change you. Mediate on these wonderful passages such as Romans 12:1-2. Ask God to change you according to His truth. Then as you walk through each day, do so in self-denial in the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, do not focus on self, but on others and God.
Soli Deo Gloria!