In Rom. viii. 2 the Apostle Paul writes, "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death." What the law of sin and death is we learn from the preceding chapter, the ninth to the twenty-fourth verses. Paul tells us that there was a time in his life when he was "alive apart from the law" (v. 9). But the time came when he was brought face to face with the law of God; he saw that this law was holy and the commandment holy and just and good. And he made up his mind to keep this holy and just and good law of God. But he soon discovered that beside this law of God outside him, which was holy and just and good, that there was another law inside him directly contrary to this law of God outside him. While the law of God outside him said, "This good thing" and "this good thing" and "this good thing" and "this good thing thou shalt do," the law within him said, "You cannot do this good thing that you would;" and a fierce combat ensued between this holy and just and good law without him which Paul himself approved after the inward man, and this other law in his members which warred against the law of his mind and kept constantly saying, "You cannot do the good that you would." But this law in his members (the law that the good that he would do, he did not, but the evil that he would not he constantly did, v. 19) gained the victory. Paul's attempt to keep the law of God resulted in total failure. He found himself sinking deeper and deeper into the mire of sin, constrained and dragged down by this law of sin in his members, until at last he cried out, "Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?" (v. 24, R. V.). Then Paul made another discovery. He found that in addition to the two laws that he had already found, the law of God without him, holy and just and good, and the law of sin and death within him, the law that the good he would he could not do and the evil he would not, he must keep on doing, there was a third law, "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus," and this third law read this way, "The righteousness which you cannot achieve in your own strength by the power of your own will approving the law of God, the righteousness which the law of God without you, holy and just and good though it is, cannot accomplish in you, in that it is weak through your flesh, the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus can produce in you so that the righteousness that the law requires may be fulfilled in you, if you will not walk after the flesh but after the Spirit." In other words when we come to the end of ourselves, when we fully realize our own inability to keep the law of God and in utter helplessness look up to the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus to do for us that which we cannot do for ourselves, and surrender our every thought and every purpose and every desire and every affection to His absolute control and thus walk after the Spirit, the Spirit does take control and set us free from the power of sin that dwells in us and brings our whole lives into conformity to the will of God. It is the privilege of the child of God in the power of the Holy Spirit to have victory over sin every day and every hour and every moment.
There are many professed Christians to-day living in the experience that Paul described in Rom. vii. 9-24. Each day is a day of defeat and if at the close of the day, they review their lives they must cry, "Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?" There are some who even go so far as to reason that this is the normal Christian life, but Paul tells us distinctly that this was "when the commandment came" (v. 9), not when the Spirit came; that it is the experience under law and not in the Spirit. The pronoun "I" occurs twenty-seven times in these fifteen verses and the Holy Spirit is not found once, whereas in the eighth chapter of Romans the pronoun "I" is found only twice in the whole chapter and the Holy Spirit appears constantly. Again Paul tells us in the fourteenth verse that this was his experience as "carnal, sold under sin." Certainly, that does not describe the normal Christian experience. On the other hand in Rom. viii. 9 we are told how not to be in the flesh but in the Spirit. In the eighth chapter of Romans we have a picture of the true Christian life, the life that is possible to each one of us and that God expects from each one of us. Here we have a life where not merely the commandment comes but the Spirit comes, and works obedience to the commandment and brings us complete victory over the law of sin and death. Here we have life, not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, where we not only see the beauty of the law (Rom. vii. 22) but where the Spirit imparts power to keep it (Rom. viii. 4). We still have the flesh but we are not in the flesh and we do not live after the flesh. We "through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body" (v. 13). The desires of the body are still there, desires which if made the rule of our life, would lead us into sin, but we day by day by the power of the Spirit do put to death the deeds to which the desires of the body would lead us. We walk by the Spirit and therefore do not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal. v. 16, R. V.). We have crucified the flesh with the passions and lusts thereof (Gal. v. 24, R. V.). It would be going too far to say we had still a carnal nature, for a carnal nature is a nature governed by the flesh; but we have the flesh, but in the Spirit's power, it is our privilege to get daily, hourly, constant victory over the flesh and over sin. But this victory is not in ourselves, nor in any strength of our own. Left to ourselves, deserted of the Spirit of God, we would be as helpless as ever. It is still true that in us, that is in our flesh, dwelleth no good thing (Rom. vii. 18). It is all in the power of the indwelling Spirit, but the Spirit's power may be in such fullness that one is not even conscious of the presence of the flesh. It seems as if it were dead and gone forever, but it is only kept in place of death by the Holy Spirit's power. If for one moment we were to get our eyes off from Jesus Christ, if we were to neglect the daily study of the Word and prayer, down we would go. We must live in the Spirit and walk in the Spirit if we would have continuous victory (Gal. v. 16, 25). The life of the Spirit within us must be maintained by the study of the Word and prayer. One of the saddest things ever witnessed is the way in which some people who have entered by the Spirit's power into a life of victory become self-confident and fancy that the victory is in themselves, and that they can safely neglect the study of the Word and prayer. The depths to which such sometimes fall is appalling. Each of us needs to lay to heart the inspired words of the Apostle, "Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. x. 12). I once knew a man who seemed to make extraordinary strides in the Christian life. He became a teacher of others and was greatly blessed to thousands. It seemed to me that he was becoming self-confident and I trembled for him. I invited him to my room and we had a long heart to heart conversation. I told him frankly that it seemed as if he were going perilously near exceedingly dangerous ground. I said that I found it safer at the close of each day not to be too confident that there had been no failures nor defeats that day but to go alone with God and ask Him to search my heart and show me if there was anything in my outward or inward life that was displeasing to Him, and that very often failures were brought to light that must be confessed as sin. "No," he replied, "I do not need to do that. Even if I should do something wrong, I would see it at once. I keep very short accounts with God, and I would confess it at once." I said it seemed to me as if it would be safer to take time alone with God for God to search us through and through, that while we might not know anything against ourselves, God might know something against us (1 Cor. iv. 4, R. V.), and He would bring it to light and our failure could be confessed and put away. "No," he said, "he did not feel that that was necessary." Satan took advantage of his self-confidence. He fell into most appalling sin, and though he has since confessed and professed repentance, he has been utterly set aside from God's service.
In John viii. 32 we read, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." In this verse it is the truth, or the Word of God, that sets us free from the power of sin and gives us victory. And in Ps. cxix. 11 we read, "Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee." Here again it is the indwelling Word that keeps us free from sin. In this matter as in everything else what in one place is attributed to the Holy Spirit is elsewhere attributed to the Word. The explanation, of course, is that the Holy Spirit works through the Word, and it is futile to talk of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us if we neglect the Word. If we are not feeding on the Word, we are not walking after the Spirit and we shall not have victory over the flesh and over sin.