New Covenant Power: Spirit, Not Law
Passage: Romans 7:1–7:6
I am going to begin by asking a couple of questions and what you really believe to be the answer to them will tell you if you are living in the New Covenant or not. First: What power is there, that is able to overcome self, sin, the devil and the world? Second: What has the power to turn you from the misery of sinning, to the joy of bearing fruit for God? Is the answer commandments and laws or is it something more?
If your house is on fire, do you need a book on how to put out a fires or do you need a fire hose? You need water gushing out of a fire hose! If you are in a boat that is rapidly sinking in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico do you need a sign that says, “what to do in case of emergency” or do you need a Coast Guard rescue ship? You need the ship!
My point in asking these questions is to emphasize that our battle with sin requires a much bigger answer that even Christians sometimes imagine! You think you will conquer your sin problem, with laws and rules but the reality is you need more radical help than laws can give you. Our problem, to say the least, is bigger than a set of rules can help. Terry Virgo said the purpose of Romans 7 is to show “the inability of the law to transform humans beings.”
If you are trying to stuff your anger by obeying the law against anger, or trying to be good and godly by keeping a set of rules, you need a bigger answer. You need a God sized answer. You don't treat cancer with cough drops and you don't treat sin with rules, principles, and laws. What the law could not do, God did! The only sufficient answer to the tyranny of sin is Jesus Christ, experienced by His Spirit, dwelling in you. The letter kills but the Spirit gives life. The Holy Spirit is the sanctifying power, the sanctifying influence, at work continually in you! John Brown called the Holy Spirit, “the Grand instrument of Christian sanctification.”.
It really does matter that you know this! Because there is a distorted version of Christianity that can creep into you life that burdens you, kills your faith and joy. It feels heavy, it feels like a straight-jacket, or at least a coat the fits too tight. You feel a load of demands upon you and feel powerless to carry them out.
As I see it, the normal pattern, even for believers, is to feel that they CAN keep the laws and rules, they will just work harder than they have before, or harder than others. But there is failure and frustration, you want to, but you don't. Then there is condemnation. And you end of feeling like Paul, when he said, “What a wretched man I am”.
In reality a person who is born of God IS under the New Covenant and cannot actually be put back under law. But by losing sight of these truths, by being ignorant of these truths, by slipping into unbelief in the glory of these truths, you can end up thinking and feeling as you were under the law. And.... Nothing can burn you out faster than carrying the burden of trying to be righteous without the power to be righteous. It is like pushing a heavy stone uphill!
It is like driving your car with a policeman in the back seat, with his Iowa code of driving regulations, and he is continually reminding you of every regulation and keeping track of your traffic violations. There is this EXTERNAL pressure to obey the speed limit. This external authority demands that you do the right thing. The driving laws may be good and right, you may even agree with them, but it seems driving has become a burden, with that policeman in the back seat.
Jesus addressed this feeling when he said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavily burdened, and I will give you rest”. If effect Jesus said, “Are you tired, worn out and burned out on law-based religion of the Pharisees? I am the answer to that.” He ushered in a New Covenant with a new way of living, that brought life and power, not just demands.
Romans Chapter 7:1-6 gives us the essence of the New Covenant way of living in this phrase, Now, “we serve in the new way of the Spirit, not in the old way of the written code.” We have two ways of living. One belongs to the old way or the Old Covenant and one belongs to the New Covenant. The Old way is the law, to work to keep an externally imposed standard. The New Way is to live by the Power of the Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who is the only full and certain power to overcome self, the devil and the world.
I was talking with David Janecek after a prayer meeting one Wednesday night and he said, “One of the problems in churches that do not emphasize the Holy Spirit is that all you have left is the law”. IE If you do not honor the Spirit as the power of the Christian life, the only way you can seek to change yourself (or other people) is through rules of behavior, codes of conduct, written or spoken expectations that you try to get people to conform to. Without the Spirit all you have is a religion of self-effort. Like pushing a heavy stone up a hill.
Paul says in these verses that you were once married to the law, to this way law-based, way of living. But he declares emphatically that we have been released from that. He uses the analogy of marriage to describe your bondage to the law. And he uses the death of a spouse to demonstrate your release.
Romans 7:1 “Do you not know, brothers , that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. ...If she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress, . But if her husband dies, she IS RELEASED from that law, and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.”
So in this illustration, the law is a husband to whom a woman is bound. The picture is a woman married to a perfectionistic, and demanding man. He comes home and checks to see if she dusted under the bed, to see if she has all his socks folded. He has thousands of rules for her and although they are very good rules, she cannot keep them all and even worse he condemns her for her failures to live up to his expectations. But then he dies, much to her relief. Then she meets another man, a kind and loving man and they fall in love and get married. Now she does dishes and cleans house out of love. She serves her new husband in a completely new way.
This is to a certain degree what Paul is saying. In Paul's illustration you and I are the woman who is bound to this husband who rules by laws and commands. The husband is the law. But Paul adds little twist and goes on to say that you and I are the one that dies. Vs 4 “So my brothers you also died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you might belong to another, (be joined to another) to him who was raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God.”.
Before you get lost in this simple story. Here is all you need to remember: You were at one time bound to the law (much as a woman is bound by law to her husband in marriage) but now you are released from the law (much as a woman is released from her husband when he dies). Now you are joined to (married to) Christ.
*The thing that released you from the law is not that the law died, but that you died. Through Christ, you died! You died to sin and you died to the law and law keeping. You are therefore freed from the law and law-keeping as a way of life! It's over! (Kenny! Those days are over!) You died!! Your break with the Law, is that total.
*You died to the law, SO THAT you might belong to, be joined to, be married, to him who was raised from the dead. Your Relationship is not with words written in ink, not with some external list of expectations. But with a living person, who indwells you by his Spirit – SO THAT you might bear fruit for God! A man and woman joined in marriage bear fruit – they have kids. A person joined to Christ bears fruit for God. Just as miraculously as conception and birth are on a human level so miraculous is this relationship of being joined to Christ and bearing fruit for God. There is a mystery to this! I cannot explain how this works. But as you look to Jesus, love Jesus, abide in Jesus, you will become all that you are supposed to become. You will bear fruit!
Christ does not remain just an external person just telling us what to do. He has send his Spirit into our hearts to conform us to his will, to help us do all that is pleasing in his sight, to bear fruit through us. This is the inadequacy of the WWJD idea. We need MORE than to imitate Jesus. He is our example but it's much more than that.
We do not have time this morning to go into a full explanation of the law. But most of you know that you cannot be saved by keeping the law. The laws of God, can only define sin, tell you what is sin and what it is not. It cannot forgive sins. The purpose of the written code of law, is to make you see your failure, to lead you to cry out for help, to make you see you cannot measure up, that you cannot save yourself. The purpose of the law is to prepare you to turn to Jesus to save you. Romans 3:20 “No human being will be justified in God's sight, by the works of the law”.
BUT what you may NOT know, is that the law is just as powerless to sanctify you as it is to save you. It cannot remove your sin from you or reduce the amount of sinning you do. And the law cannot produce fruit! Written instructions never made an apple grow. A commandment never produced kindness or patience or love of God. Only the Spirit does that.
Vs 5 “For when we were controlled by the the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.” What effect did the law have? Before we were saved, it aroused our sinful impulses and tendencies. Rules, codes, laws, even God's good laws, stirred up sin, increased sin, made us conscious of sin and sins grip on us. Our sinful passions were at work and we bore the fruit of immorality, anger, rage, selfishness, greed, creating discord, coveting what other have. Without a new heart, born of the Spirit, all the law can do is work together with your sinful passions to increase your law-breaking and then to condemn you for being a law breaker.
Now the Jewish people would have said, “These laws are given to make you holy, to make you suitable to approach God”. The New Covenant (Paul) says these laws stir up sin! The New Covenant says, “It is impossible to be justified (to be right) with God by keeping a written code of laws. AND it is impossible to live the new life in Jesus, by keeping a written code of laws”. It is impossible to be sanctified (to be godly, holy, fruitful) by this method of living. In fact Paul argues that the law is actually a great enemy to sanctification. It keeps people in continual struggle and condemnation and perpetual infancy.
NOT because there is something wrong with the law. But because there is something wrong with human beings. You don't have the power in yourself to live for God and to please God. You cannot please God, live for God, bear fruit for God, serve God WITHOUT a new power, a new life, without the Spirit.
The legalist seeks to solve your sin problem by bringing the law to you. “You need to sin less, so here is the law, the rules, the code, the steps, here are the ceremonies, the rituals.” The gospel of Jesus Christ teaches just the opposite. If you want to be freed from sinning you must be freed from the law and from law-keeping as a way of life.
As Vs 6 says, “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” God wants you to know that you have been completely released from trying to serve him by law keeping! And he provided a new way to live in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
So you can (and should) confidently say, “Through Christ Jesus the Spirit of Life has set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:11 “If the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies.”.
It is incredible that we could ever consider our relationship with the Holy Spirit a side issue! Christ died and rose again to prepare us for his future indwelling us by His Spirit. The goal of his death and resurrection and ascension, was so that he could send His Spirit into your heart! Jesus said, “It is necessary that I go away so that the Holy Spirit, the Helper can come with counsel, with fellowship, with his words spoken in your souls.
Be clear on this: The Power of the Christian life is NOT written words but the Spirit of God living and working in you! The laws can show us what we OUGHT to do and what we ought to be, BUT only the Spirit can make you good. Only the Spirit can produce new life in you, continuously, daily, at all times and in all places. If you follow the lead of the Spirit, yield yourself to him daily, trust in him to bear fruit in you, he will do it!!
Two ways this New Covenant way of living can be misinterpreted: One: People can misinterpret this message to say I died to the law, great, I can go live by the impulses of the flesh! They may think they can go out and sin and think that's OK. But we died to the law NOT so that we could live carelessly, loosely, in sinful, as kind of free spirits with no faithfulness to God or others. But so that we could be joined to Christ to bear fruit for God.
God saved you to free you from sin and manifest his righteousness through you. You are not only declared righteous. You are saved to live out a righteous life. The message of Romans 7:1-6 is God's righteousness is produced in you not by the power of the law, not through a written code, but through the power of the Spirit.
Two: Because we say the Spirit empowers us to change, some people say things like, “I will just have to keep on losing my temper until the Spirit changes me. I can't do it myself so you will just have to put up with my foul words.. I would like stop looking at pornography but the Spirit hasn't taken that sin from me yet. There is no thinking like that anywhere in the Bible! That discredits and denies the Power of the Spirit. And as long as anyone thinks like that, he or she will will be trapped where they are!
*When you wake up in the morning you are completely free from the demands of some kind of written code. You are completely free to look to Jesus. You say, Lord, bear your fruit in me today. Hebrews 13:20,21 “Now may the God of peace who raised up from the dead the Great Shepherd of the Sheep, himself, equip you in every good thing to do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ.”
*We are not trying to develop a church full of people who keep rules, and live up to external expectations, but people who know Jesus, abide in Jesus, and who live consistently in the life of the Spirit he gave us. The church is not a school for teaching moral virtues, or good manners. We are here to help you live by the Holy Spirit.
*Legalism, or imposing laws on people, is not the cure for careless or worldly living. When we see believers behaving badly, saying things they should not say, going places they probably should not go, seeing things they should not see. It is so tempting to say you need to stop going to these kind of movies or stop watching so much TV, stop sleeping in on Sunday morning. And there is a place for that!! But the real issue is that brother or sister really is not living in this abiding relation ship with Jesus and his Spirit. That is where we need to take people.
*Watch out for messages that pull you from simple, continual dependence upon the indwelling Spirit of God or pull you into condemnation of the law. Harvey MacKay writes a column for the Des Moines Register in the business section on success and happiness. Every column he has list of things to do. Here are some recent ones: Review your goals, adjust your energy level, eliminate tasks that leave you feeling drained, Resist the urge to vent, find your stress triggers and avoid those situations, show up on time or better yet be early, Network – ask for help for people who can mentor you. Volunteer – join a task force or committee. Take on projects that no one else wants. Stay ahead of industry developments, study trade publications, study market trends. Love what you do and you'll never work a day in your life. Make happiness your aim in life. Brush away that chip from your shoulder. Be friendly – always project a pleasant attitude. Attend company events – connect outside the regular workday with managers and co-workers. Whew! I don't know how you could remember to do all that stuff. And next Monday there will be 10 more!!
Some people view the Christian life much like Harvey MacKay's advice column, an endless list of good ideas. Harvey has some good ideas but far better to talk to the Spirit and simply speak to him and ask for the power to help you today live for the glory of God. Say to the Spirit who is the Lord, “What shall I do in this situation? What shall I say, enlighten me, lead me, uphold me”. He will become your Master, your Guide, your Support, your Protector, your Invincible Upholder”.
*Beware of excessive dependence on accountability partners or groups. We need each other to encourage us. Loners don't do well!! But the other extreme is to expect other people to keep me in line. Call me each week and check to see if I had a hour of devotions, or to see if I read my Bible. Ask me if I looked at pornography, or yelled at my wife this week. Check to see if I went to church, or small group. IE Put some pressure on me. Hold me accountable. What happened to the Holy Spirit? He's out of the picture.
Encouragement and exhortation to live a godly life is good! But God wants the power and direction of our lives to come from INSIDE-from the impulses, the leading of the Holy Spirit. Romans 6 says “You became obedient from the heart”.
*You cannot make the Christian life all about following the activities and disciplines of another person. Luther said he prayed 3 hours every morning and 4 hours if he had a lot to do. But if you set that as a law for yourself, I am pretty sure you will fail miserably. Many godly believers do amazing things that are born in their hearts by the Holy Spirit but if you go try to copy that on your own, you will experience something LESS than New Covenant Life!
I want to close by saying this: Our way of life is obedience to the Holy Spirit, walking by the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit, trusting in the Spirit for continual inspiration...The Spirit is a real thing, a real person, operating, in you, working in you, speaking to your soul, influencing you, manifesting himself through you. He comes to you with fruit, of love joy peace,... Follow and obey everything you believe to be the Holy Spirit. Depend upon him moment by moment to help you, be sensitive to his voice, obedient to his leading. Consciously choose to rely on the Spirit to guide you in thought word and deed. That is the transforming Power of the New Covenant.
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