On Romans 8

Romans 8  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 8
It is a grand thing for our souls, on the one hand, to be firmly established in the grace of God towards us, to allow no insinuation of the enemy to raise a question touching the efficacy of what Christ has wrought for us—the fullness of the redemption that is in Him, and, on the other hand, to use all the liberty, the comfort, the certainty of God's love towards our souls, as a reason for not sparing in us that which is contrary to Him. Nothing can make up for a soul's slighting what is due to God; nothing can justify a heart in indifference to His glory, in carelessness about sin. Whether it be our own sin, or the sins specially of our brethren, or any sin against God, we ought to feel that offends Him. Even if we hear of it in the world, it should be a sorrow: much more what touches His honor in the Church. But I am sure that we ought to be humbled most of all by what touches His honor in ourselves. Now God has amply provided for this; and the chapter before us is full and explicit upon it. In the very beginning, the exceeding blessedness of the portion of every believer is brought out. It is not only that we have Christ for us, but we are in Christ. What and who is He in whom we are? What does God think of the Blessed One in whom He has set us for Himself! Is there a single fault that God finds with Christ! Is there a conceivable blessedness that He does not find there? Now, this is exactly what we want. Full of faults, without one single thing in us which God's eye could regard with complacency and delight, He who has been pleased to put us in Christ before Himself, has been pleased to give us the knowledge of it. For it is not something done in a corner, or something mysterious and concealed from the knowledge of those to whom this exceeding grace is shown. The God who thought of such mercy has revealed it fully, that we may not have one cloud in our souls, but the positive, absolute, unvarying certainty that we are in Christ before God. We can look back at Adam, and see what we are by nature—not to speak of the bitter fruits all the way through. We can see him sinning and rebelling; we can see him covering his sin and throwing the blame upon his wife, and virtually on God Himself; we can see his pride and untruthfulness—for such is always the effect of sin naturally. Such is the flesh. But we are not in the flesh. By that wondrous work of Christ, by death and resurrection, God has now a blessed way; and He has applied it to our souls, and given us the knowledge of it, that we are no longer regarded as what we are in Adam, or in ourselves; but, as the wife is not viewed according to what she was in her father's house, but married as she is to her husband, so and much more is it with us. She may have been in the humblest position before, but it is her husband's name, and his position, which gave and determine her place now: she has a new relationship, which she has now acquired in virtue of what is in him. So it is with the Christian. Only, in our case, it is not merely a name that we receive. In the earthly instance, the wife might abide as worthless as she was before; but with the Christian it is not a nominal title. In God's ways it is a reality of privilege and relationship which His own power has established, and His own Spirit has made true to the soul. And although there is that which reminds us of what we were—that old, abominable nature, which is not in the slightest degree changed by our having a new standing: yet there is this precious truth—that the more we enter into our place in Christ, and appreciate Him to whom we belong, the less power our nature has to show itself. Where we question the blessing, where we doubt the grace, and hesitate about the reality of our relationship to Christ, all is weak and dim and uncertain. There may be godliness; but it will always be godliness under the law—the effort after something in ourselves instead of the living upon what God has given us in Christ, And although there may be a measure of separation from sin, yet there will be the danger of thinking something of ourselves because of it—the comparing ourselves with what we were, and thinking how much better we are; or comparing ourselves with other people, and thinking that we are not quite so bad. All this results from one fatal error—the constant tendency of man's heart to think of himself and of what he may be to God, instead of thinking of him who is the fullness of grace, hiding himself, and the Holy Ghost giving him a power beyond himself. It is remarkable that, in this very same chapter, where we have, first of all, the fullness of the deliverance, we have, next, a plain statement of the irreconcilable evil of the carnal mind, and solemn exhortation to the Christian, who has the Spirit dwelling in him, but withal, the flesh to judge and the deeds of the body to mortify. Still there is a perfect deliverance—a deliverance that will not be one whit better when we are taken out of this world and brought into heaven; for, I maintain that we are not a bit more forgiven in heaven, or more secure in heaver), or more precious to God in heaven, than we are made on earth: for what gives us our preciousness and stamps our character before God, is something that God has given us in His Son while we are on the earth. Hence it is that departing front this life is merely a circumstance; the essence of the blessing is in Christ, and we are in Christ, and there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.
Nor is this a mere general standing for certain persons; but the apostle goes on to say, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” He appropriates it to himself: he makes it a personal thing, not a mere vague matter, in which the positive joy of it is all lost to the individual soul. The same word of God that shows the common standing of the saints in Christ immediately makes it also a personal thing. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made ate free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending This own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” it is entirely a question of God working for His own glory. Man wrought to the shame of God and his own sorrow. God now has taken the work in hand, has done it perfectly, and He communicates this to us. He wants us to enjoy it, and to be settled in the happiness of it. We are brought there in Christ. Why should we not believe it and keep it always before our souls? Why should we not treat any doubt of it as coming from the devil? For we must remember that the enemies' spite is not so much against us as against Jesus. And if we belong to God, and have got the blessing of his blessing and glory that he has lost forever and ever, therefore it is that he hates us. Leaving his own first estate, he had rebelled against God, and all hope was lost for him—because there is no call for a fallen angel. Yet for us who had chosen him for our friend instead of God, the grace of God has come down to such poor, sunken, low ones, and has most richly blessed us. Therefore the hatred of the enemy is turned against us. Well, immediately after the holy Ghost has shown us the full deliverance in Christ, now, He says, as it were, I must let you know a little about yourselves. The fact of our being in Christ does not hinder that we have got the flesh in us; and the flesh is a hostile thing to God. It never seeks God's will. But the difference between the unconverted man and converted is, that the former has got nothing but flesh; while the converted man, besides the flesh, has got a new nature, which he did not possess before—a new life, which. he derives, not from the first father of all men, but from the lust Adam. This is what the apostle goes on to show. You have got this evil nature still about you, though you are not regarded as in it, but as completely delivered from it. You are no longer called by your old name, but by your new name, because it is Christ that has taken you to himself; and the Holy Ghost is the seal of it. “To be carnally minded is death.” I do not take this as referring merely to the unconverted man. It is true of the converted also. Does he allow the fleshly mind in himself? So far there is the working of death.
In the latter part of Rom. 8 it is a godly soul, under law, struggling with the flesh, but without any sense of deliverance, and therefore completely miserable. Here it begins with deliverance as a settled thing: but yet in the one thus delivered there may be the yielding to the evil thing. And what is the effect? Loss of joy—loss of the happy spring of confidence in God. It is serious where allowed, which is different from being overtaken in a fault through unwatchfulness, and which the soul goes to God about and renounces; there is nothing in that to keep the soul under the power of evil. It is a sorrowful matter, of Course; but for all that, God gives perfect deliverance from it, I mean, in a practical way. But, on the other hand, if a little evil is allowed, perhaps the very smallest thing, what may not be the issue? For, as we find in Matt. 18 where a brother begins only with a personal trespass against another, his conduct about that little wrong may at last become so bad that he is no longer to be treated as a brother at all, but as an heathen man and a publican. The thing began with only a little spark, but it became a great fire; and not an atom of Christ appears in the man whom we once entreated as a brother. Yet even then it is not said that he is an heathen man and a publican, but, “let him be to thee as an heathen man and a publican.” He does not show one single spark of divine life, there is no answer to Christ in his soul; and when it comes to that, “let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” This is very solemn; but the same thing is true in daily experience. If there is something I cling to, and that I allow myself in day by day—perhaps it is a little sin—perhaps no eye sees me—but what will be the issue of it? I get doubtful, clouded; then I begin to get hard; I no longer grieve at the loss of joy in my soul; and perhaps I end by becoming bitter against the very saints I used to love, and despise the truth which I would have died for before. This may go on for a good while, until perhaps some dreadful sin is allowed for the purpose of arousing the careless soul. And I am assured that there is never a case of open outbreak of evil, but what there has been for long a great deal of careless walking in secret without God previously.
The apostle here shows the working of the flesh. It might have been supposed that because there was the complete deliverance, there could not be this working of the flesh. But here there is a man who begins with deliverance, with the certainty that there is no condemnation, and still there is that wretched flesh; and all that can be done with it is to mortify it. “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye, through the Spirit, do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”
There it is evidently taking in the twofold thing. If a person has nothing but the flesh, he is unconverted; but if, as a believer, he allows the flesh, so far death works. If he sows to the flesh, he must of the flesh reap corruption. “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” There it is not speaking, about Christ, but of the power in which the Holy Ghost works in a man who is a Christian. If the power of that life is not manifested, the person is miserable, and makes others miserable. On the other hand, “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” It is not only as many as live in the spirit, but as are led of the Spirit of God. No doubt it is the case with all the saints of God that they are led by the Spirit of God in the main, but not perhaps in the detail. Yet it is not the spirit of fear that we have got. God does not wish to alarm us in the least degree, but only this—hold fast your liberty as firm as a rock, but never allow that which is contrary to God. Never allow the little beginnings of evil. If you do, you will find, so to speak, that there is death in the pot. There will be that form from which no power can deliver you except the renouncing of self practically, because you have got Christ. God has wrought this mighty deliverance for you; and, prayerfully and self-denyingly looking up to Him, we shall have His power against self in our souls. But what follows this? We have the Holy Ghost as One that comforts us, that intercedes for us, that sympathizes with our groans in all our sorrows, that helps our infirmities. Theft come the last verses. After everything, and taking in all the trial, yet the blessed truth comes out—God is for us. But whatever the joy of this wonderful truth, let us remember that the object of God in giving it to us is always for the exercise of self-judgment, and with a solemn warning before our souls that it may be a very little evil that is allowed, but that very little becomes the parent of a great deal of sorrow and of shame.