Dead to Sin: Dead to the Law

 •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The only way in which a believer is not under the law, is by being dead with Christ. God counts the believer “dead to the law by the body of Christ”; faith accepts this and does likewise. Still, like other matters, experience and faith contradict each other when the soul is in a certain stage under the dealings of His hand; and until things, already true, are experimentally known. One finds in one’s own soul that many things are accepted as true abstractedly, and as of God, yet the soul’s experience has apprehended them but feebly, if at all. “If I may also apprehend that for which I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.” One can sometimes look back at the years it has taken under divine instruction and discipline, to learn experimentally some little sentence of Scripture that has just, as it were, dawned brightly upon one, and been as the voice of God.
One finds too, that there is no use saying to such and such a one, “you have not yet learned that!” with regard to certain truths. You could not make a soul understand that it had not! Thus, I have often said, there could be no proper doctrinal exposition of the Psalms by any man’s pen — no matter how deeply taught of God he might be. No two souls have ever gone through the same experiences, or the same circumstances in which such experiences might be found. Hence, the spiritual experiences produced by the Holy Spirit in one, would not be the same as those in another. The Spirit of God is the same of course; but the feelings of the vessel are different, and the circumstances are not the same. Christ alone has tasted, in divine grace, all that man ever could, or did, or will experience in his own person. He has gone through all, having willingly entered, especially at the close of His life, upon that period of His earthly history when He learned all, so as to be a perfect High Priest, and to be enabled to speak a word in season to him that is weary.
In the Psalms we find these expressions of exercises of heart that must be felt to be understood. Hence, no one could make them intelligible to another. When the soul finds itself in the circumstances, it finds the suited expressions that never could be understood unless it were there. Sometimes it finds Christ giving it the joy of being able to join with and enjoy Him what He could say; at others, Christ in divine grace gives the words that express the soul’s personal experiences, and not His own. Hence, the mistakes that have been made in attributing all the words of Psalms to the Lord’s own feelings personally.
I believe, to speak generally, we have in the New Testament three kinds of experiences; or rather experiences suited to three conditions of the soul.
In Romans 7 we find those of a soul before deliverance is known.
In Romans 8, those of a delivered soul entering in the power of the Holy Spirit upon the sorrows of a creation of which it yet forms a part as having a body unredeemed; and having relationships with the old creation that cannot be severed with impunity; while, at the same time, it is itself of the new creation.
In the Epistle to the Philippians, we have experiences which are the fruit of conscious union with Christ, maintained in practical power in the soul. It might be very justly called the Book of Psalms of the New Testament. The Psalms are the beatings of the heart of the Old Testament: Philippians, those of the New. It has been frequently said by another, that in this Epistle you do not find sin mentioned; I may add, nor do we find the experience of an undelivered soul. It has also been noticed that the flesh is not spoken of, only to say that the writer has no confidence in it. I question if Paul would have been employed to write this Epistle when he wrote that to the Romans. Not that the Holy Spirit could not do so by any one; but the vessel was not yet formed, so that out of his belly (the inward affections and experiences of the soul) might flow rivers of living water from Christ. “I have learned” so and so, is his language here.
But to return. The only way in which the believer can have nothing to do with law as a prohibitory code, etc., is by being dead with Christ. But how few know this in practical power even for deliverance! And while souls are taught that they have nothing to do with the law, which I should not state in so many words, they are left really under law as a principle, and Romans 7 describes their state; at least a modification of it, for this is an extreme case.
“Law, as a principle,” is not the same thought as “the law.” The former being the sense of responsibility to do God’s will, and to suppress all that is not suited to Him in my ways: the latter being a divine prohibitory code aimed against all that “sin” would bring forth in the form of “sins,” or rather “transgressions.” “In the flesh” and “under law” are correlative terms, describing a similar state of soul. The former describes the condition of a quickened soul which has not yet learned the liberty that is in Christ, nor deliverance from “the flesh.” In such a state the soul cannot take up the language of faith and liberty, and, say that the flesh is “not I myself.” It has not yet learned to look upon “sin,” and the new “I” as totally distinct and separate. The bond still exists in the soul’s experience, and though quickened it is “in the flesh.”
If verses 2 and 3 of Romans 7 be read parenthetically — taking verses 1 and 4 consecutively, we will arrive at the meaning more simply. The other two verses are a case put by the apostle by way of illustration, and in order to bring out in a fuller way what verse 4 teaches. The point the apostle is insisting on in the chapter is
(1) the believer’s deliverance from law:
(2) law is the strength of sin, and that which discovers it either as a code or a principle: and
(3) that deliverance is through death to it by the body of Christ, in order to be to another — even Christ risen, for fruit to God:
(4) this being in power of life in resurrection which is possessed: and this
(5) is the true “I.”
There is, in the experimental part of Romans 7, the discovery, first of all, — of the thorough evil of “sin” — the evil nature in me which, though my desires as a quickened soul are right, will not bend, nor do that which is good, but is ever fruitful in evil, and nothing but evil, continually. From whence come then the desires which aim, yet hopelessly aim at doing God’s blessed will, with desire and purpose of heart? Is there not — yea, must there not be another “I” — and a life and a nature which longs to fulfill the law of God, and to do His will? This dawns upon the soul. But there is the antagonism of “sin” to this right and proper will of the new man, which would do all God’s law most heartily if it possessed the power; and “the strength of sin is the law.” The law has provoked “sin,” and brought forth its latent evil and antagonism to the will of God. “I” — with its right desires, and its delight in the law of God, the new “I” and “sin,” are thus pitted against each other, and the soul longs for strength to combat “sin,” but only failure and defeat ensue. The person has no settled peace with God in such a state; and is really “in the flesh.” The new I and sin are one to the soul’s consciousness. The more the struggle goes on to fulfill the blessed desires of the new “I” — the more does the hopeless helplessness to do so become apparent. The “law of the mind”; (that is, its tendency or principle of action as we speak of the “law of gravitation” in accordance with which an apple falls to the ground,) of the new “I” is overcome by the “law of death,” that “other law” or tendency which is in my members — which are subservient to “sin”; and instead of liberty, captivity and bondage ensue.
This useful, though bitter experience leads the soul to the sense of thorough and hopeless weakness and inability to attain to, or to obtain the freedom it seeks, and the new “I” is not yet known as “I myself” — my proper self as before God; nor is “sin” yet known, nor “the flesh” — hateful hating God with tendencies which never cease to be the “law of sin.” In result, when the soul is led to look away to Another, even to Christ for deliverance from what it cannot overcome, deliverance is at once found, and liberty is known. The very moment the soul looked away to Another it owned, even it might be unintelligently, that it had no further hope in self, and this alone brought freedom. It can now look at “sin” in the nature as “no more I,” and deny its every claim — for notice in every way, even religiously; but only as a second person as it were that one is conscious of bearing about with them to the end, whose suggestions and thoughts and actions (if allowed) only inspire disgust and abhorrence, the more deeply and the better they are known: it only can be dealt with by being avoided, and by lending a deaf ear to its suggestions.
The person then is “not in the flesh.” The tie that existed between “sin” and “I” is forever broken — this tie was “the flesh,” and I am not in the flesh but in the Spirit, and am set free from the law of sin and of death (Rom. 8:22For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)).
“Law” and “sin” are correlatives. But “sin” as an evil thing, that is “no more I,” is not what is first before it. The law, or law as a principle, is that which first presents itself to it, and which it seeks to obey. “Sin” is discovered by it, along with new desires which eventually are known as the new and true “I,” and the struggle leads to the discovery, unknown before, of the two in the one person.
I am quite sure that the state of soul described in Romans 7 from first to last does not portray one struggling against “sin” known as not the true and proper I, though there; but it is striving to obey law, or fulfill it as a principle, and the effort brings out the impossibility, by the discovery of ‘‘sin” as distinct from “I.” To begin by seeking to be set free from “sin,” would be to reverse the whole truth of the chapter. “Law” is before the soul; the discovery of “sin” is made in consequence; and the soul has to find deliverance through Another, in whom God has condemned sin in the flesh, and by being dead with Him to sin, and hence to law which was the strength of it.
“Reckon yourselves dead,” &c., “and alive,” &c. These are not to be taken up as reckoning “sin” dead, or the “old man” dead. It is, that we are to reckon ourselves dead to sin, &c., and “he that has died has been justified from sin. It is never said “sin” is dead at all, that I know of; but “I” am dead to sin — to the law, &c., and thus set free from them. Thus, faith is always in exercise. Romans 6:1111Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:11) is abstractedly the bringing to bear upon the soul the great doctrine which he had been reasoning out; that is, our death with Christ to “sin,” and its effects for justification from it; and as possessing justification from “sins” by blood, in one who has died to “sin” itself, even Christ. We must bear in mind the great point of the apostle, stated in verse 1: that we cannot be alive to a thing, and dead to a thing at the same time; and as we possess justification by blood from sins, and justification of life in the Christ who had died and risen; we must be dead to what He died to, &c. Therefore, Romans 6:1111Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:11) comes in as addressed to one who possesses all this in Christ Jesus, appropriating to faith the condition He was in as faiths possessions also.
It does not press the point whether it is for standing or practice; but it is an abstract reasoning by the apostle, of Christ having died to sin and being alive to God, presented to him who believes. It starts from the thought which he began with, that the unholiness of the thought that a person might continue in sin because grace was so free — grace, which reigned through righteousness to eternal life, and which had cleared him and justified him by virtue of what another had done, even Christ. Certain blessings devolved upon him through his federal head — Christ. The chapter takes up and applies Christ’s death to sin, and all that He died to, and His living now to God, as entirely free from anything whatever to do with it, and further, that it is made good to faiths reckoning, and in the practice of the believer. To make a separation at Romans 6:1111Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:11), and say, it is for standing, and Romans 6:1212Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. (Romans 6:12) for practice, is not, I conceive, fair or right. Take all the statements for standing or practice (as faith may appropriate them), as in the abstract, and all seems simple; bearing in mind that it treats of the believer’s deliverance from sin, as chapter 7 shows his deliverance from law (from law as a principle, or basis, of standing before God), and that by being dead to both through Christ’s death.
Words of Truth, New Series 2:121-126.