by Mike Ratliff
14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! (Romans 6:14-15 NASB)
Most of the early 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?
1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives? 2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. 3 So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:1-6 NASB)
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.
7 What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.” 8 But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; 10 and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; 11 for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful. (Romans 7:7-13 NASB)
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.
14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:14-25 NASB)
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?
1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4 NASB)
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, in a legalistic context, 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?
17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. 25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. 26 BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity. 28 He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. 29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment,so that it will give grace to those who hear. 30 Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:17-32 NASB)
Take this practical counsel by the Apostle Paul, meditate on it, and apply it, especially vv20-24, which is below.
20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:20-24 NASB)
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.’
1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 NASB)
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!