Let's open our Bibles at Romans chapter 8, and then bow our heads before the Lord in a word of prayer: Lord, we have read from the Scriptures about the Spirit of God, the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, who Paul could say 'Has set me free from the law of sin and of death'. Lord, what was Paul's experience we long to be the experience of others, those of us who have experienced new life in Christ want to thank You afresh for all that we have in Him. But Lord, tonight, we're looking to You afresh to send Your Spirit to those who are without Him. Glorify Jesus Christ Your Son tonight, save souls, and stir up the saints with a fresh appreciation of the Gospel of Your grace. For Christ's sake we pray, Amen.
If you were to look up the average dictionary, the definition of 'law' would be something like this: 'Law is a rule of conduct imposed by authority, or accepted by the community as binding'. Another definition is simpler: 'Law is a controlling influence'. Now, society at large today has preferred licence rather than law, a free for all. The community at large has chosen to have no bounds, no laws, and licence seems to be preferred rather than law. I think the reason and the thinking behind that is, that people in our modern age perceive that law does no longer work, if it ever worked. What I mean by that is simply that they have deciphered that law does not prevent crime, and therefore, if law does not prevent crime, why have any laws at all? Abolish the laws, and by natural effect you'll have less crime.
More and more law enforcement officials are coming to the conclusion that the only way to reduce the crime rate is to make everything legal. There are moves, of course, in our own nation to decriminalise all sorts of classified drugs; and that in itself, if adopted nationwide, proponents at least claim that that decriminalisation would produce a dramatic decline in the number of arrests for illegal drug possession - because it would no longer be illegal to possess those drugs! There's also talk about legalising prostitution and several other vices.
One of the leading advocates of decriminalisation in the United States is an organisation with the initials 'LLLL', which stands for 'Less Lawlessness through Less Law'. One of their spokesmen said this, I quote: 'Hiring more policemen, imposing curfews, building new prisons, enlarging the judiciary - these measures only treat the symptoms of the crime wave. If we're ever going to have a genuine improvement in the situation, we've got to attack the root cause of crime: the laws'. Interesting, isn't it?
Let me say first of all that I think that gentleman is correct in one sense, what is that? Well, he's correct in the fact that law does not prevent crime. We've had laws since man began in his origination, right at the very beginning in the Garden of Eden - yet crime has not been prevented by those laws. So perhaps there is a grain of sympathy we ought to have toward this modern generation that has become disillusioned with laws and restrictions, because they clearly do not work, and we see that all around us. But where these proponents for decriminalisation are wrong, is to say that the root cause of crime are the laws. Whilst the laws do not prevent crime, the laws are not the root cause of crime. The root cause of crime is the fallenness of the human heart - men and women, and boys and girls, are the problem in society, not the laws! Their lawlessness, naturally, the fact that they cannot keep the law is the problem.
Now, Paul gives to us in the book of Romans similar principles in the spiritual realm. Paul, here in Romans 8, gives us three laws - right throughout the whole book of Romans indeed - laws of life that cannot be avoided. We want to look at them from Romans 8 this evening. The first law that he mentions is the law of Moses; the second is the law of sin; and the third is the law of life. I want to deal with these, each of them in turn.
Let's look first of all at the law of Moses. Now what does the apostle Paul say about the law of Moses? First of all, let me put it in this way: he tells us basically that the law of Moses was right, but the problem was it had no might. The law of Moses was right, but it had no might. Now the law of Moses is encapsulated for us in the ten commandments that we find in Exodus chapter 20. I'm not going to go down through them all, I'm sure you're familiar at least with some of them. None of us here this evening, I hope, would have an argument with the fact that the ten commandments are right, they are correct. Yet in verse 2 of Romans chapter 8 Paul uses this phraseology that: 'the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death'. Now it is clear from the context of the book of Romans that when Paul is talking about the law of sin and death, he's actually talking about the law of Moses, the ten commandments and the rest of the five books that begin the Bible - Genesis to Deuteronomy.
Now don't misunderstand what Paul is saying. He is not saying that the law in its intrinsic worth is wrong, that the law of God is bad. We've already established that not to lie, not to kill, not to steal, not to commit adultery etc is good, it is right. The law in itself, as Paul says in another place in Romans, chapter 7 and verse 12, the law is holy, the commandment is holy and just and good. Its intrinsic worth is righteous - but when Paul says that the law of Moses is the law of sin and death to him, he is speaking of the law of Moses' value in bringing us to God as sinners. It has no might to bring us to God. In other words, if we think that by keeping and adhering to the rules and regulations of the ten commandments or the first five books of the Bible, that we'll get to God and eventually achieve heaven, we will be bitterly disappointed. Because, though the law of Moses is right and correct, it has no might to bring us to God.
Now, perhaps you're asking, I hope: 'Why is that?'. Verse 3 gives us the answer: because it was weak in the flesh, weak through the flesh. What that simply means is that we cannot keep the law of Moses in our flesh. Though the law of Moses is right and the commandments are correct, all that they achieve for us is to defeat us. The law of Moses shows up our inability to keep it. Now you might say: 'Well then, what was the purpose of God giving us the law of Moses in the first place?'. The answer is the purpose that has been achieved after God has given us the law: it has shown up our sin. Romans 3:23 tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we have missed God's righteous standard which He has revealed helpfully to us in the law. Romans 3:20 says: 'Therefore', because of that, 'by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in God's sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin'.
The law was not given to us, the ten commandments were not given to us so that we could tick off a check box beside each of them after keeping them, and say: 'Well, I've kept all ten, or maybe I've got an average, and I'm going to go to heaven now'. That is not the purpose why God gave the ten commandments, in fact the opposite is true: He give us His law to show us our need, to show us that we are sinners, to show us that we are condemned in the eyes of God. If you like, it's like a magnifying glass - the sins that perhaps we could not have seen before God gave us His law, when He gives us this magnifying glass of the ten commandments, all of a sudden our lawlessness and our sinfulness becomes gigantic. It was never given with the intention of saving us, because it could not, for our flesh is weak to keep it.
Therefore it's obvious that not only the book of Romans, but indeed the whole New Testament, indeed the whole Bible, teaches that you cannot be saved by the works of the law. Whether you're talking about the law of Moses, or any other law of a religion, a law cannot save because we as human beings are law-breakers by nature. So what we see going on in the social realm around us in society, the lawlessness, is reflected in every human heart. We are law-breakers, and law is not working in the spiritual realm because we can't keep it. We're weak in the flesh.
Now, right away here we see why the Gospel is a stumbling block to so many people in Paul's day and in our day today, because there are so many who still believe that they can be saved through adherence to laws. The Jews in Paul's day and Jesus' day believed that through keeping the ten commandments, through keeping the Decalogue, the ten words that Moses gave, through keeping the rituals and rules of the books of Leviticus and so on, that they could achieve righteousness with God - so much so that the Pharisees even added over 600 extra laws that were intricate interpretations of the other laws that God gave, just to make sure that they got it right! Heaven depended on these laws, and there are many religious people in our world today, and you hear them say: 'Well, I go to my church, I go to such-and-such, first and second and third this-that-and-the-other'. You don't have to be religious to be of that mindset, it's not just religious people. Even athiests, who are very moral at times, they don't say 'I go', perhaps they say 'I do' or 'I don't do'. 'I do my best' or 'I don't do any harm to anybody', you've heard those statements before.
Maybe you're here tonight, and you're a person, maybe not admitting it, but deep down in your heart you think in some way that adhering to a certain list of rules and regulations will achieve merit with God, and eventually hopefully keep the door of heaven ajar for you. Now listen very carefully to what I'm saying tonight: on the authority of God's word, it is impossible to be saved by works - impossible! The apostle James in his epistle, who labours much on the importance of works after salvation, tells us clearly in chapter 2 and verse 10: 'For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all'. That means if you live 50 years of your life and kept all the ten commandments, and all of a sudden near the end of your days you slipped up and coveted something, or told a lie, or took the Lord's name in vain, you've broken them all.
Of course, we all know that from childhood we've been breaking all of the ten commandments right until now. You can't keep the law, because the law is a package. If you fail in one little point, all of the law is shattered. It's like the spokes of a wheel, and when you break one spoke the whole wheel collapses. You cannot keep God's law! You've heard people say in the context of commerce: 'The customer's always right'. I heard about a policeman who said to a shopkeeper who was robbed by a criminal: 'In my job the customer is always wrong'. That's the way it is with God's law, the customer is always wrong, you're always failing, you're always falling short. The Bible makes it clear: religious rules, rituals, regulations, rites, they are all impotent to save man's soul!
Martin Luther was a German monk, and he immersed himself in works in an attempt to save his own soul. He thought that through meritorious works he could be in favour with God, and he gave his testimony revealing the extent of the attempts that he would go to to save himself through works. This is what he said: 'Over a thousand times I have vowed to God to live righteously and have never kept my vows. Now I make no more promises, for I know I cannot keep them. If God will not show me mercy for the sake of Christ, I shall never stand before Him. If you want to be converted do not be eager to learn about all this self-denial and discipline and all these tortures, love Him who first loved you'. In a sermon that he preached in Brent, Luther tells how he came to the knowledge of the truth of how his soul could be saved. He said: 'My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my character would satisfy Him. Night and day I pondered until I saw the meaning of the words of the Bible 'the just shall live by faith'. Then I grasped that the justice of God is the righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy He justifies us through faith. Immediately', he says, 'I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through the open doors into paradise'.
He grasped it! After trying to earn his salvation and earn heaven through works, he was able to see through the Scriptures that it's not something that can be earned, but it's the gift of God that must be received by faith alone - Ephesians 2:8-9: 'For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast'. Indeed Paul, in chapter 4 of this epistle and verse 5 says: 'And to the one who does not work, but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted unto righteousness'. God saves those who do not work for salvation, but who believe in the One who justifies the ungodly.
The law of Moses will do you no good, my friend. I'm not saying it's not good, of course it's good - it's good not to steal, it's good not to blaspheme, it's good not to covet, it's good not to commit adultery - that is God's holy law, but you know as well as I do that you can't keep it. It is right, but it has no might. The second law Paul talks about in Romans is the law of sin that was in his body. This law of sin has might, it is very strong to the point of almost being irresistible, but it is not right. This is where theology, if you like, becomes very personal. This is the human side that we face when we attempt to keep the law of Moses, we face the law of sin that is in our members, the struggle that we have with the flesh and all the temptations that come with it.
Paul talked of this in Romans 7 and verse 23, listen to what he says: 'But I see another law in my members', in my body, 'warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members'. What a struggle! This law of sin in his soul and in his very body. He says in the same chapter 7 and verse 21 that this law of sin reigns: 'I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me'. Do you ever experience that? You try to do your best, maybe it's in keeping the law, maybe it's just in being moral, maybe it's in kicking some kind of habit that you're embarrassed about. Whilst your mind would like to do it, you have a law within you that is driving you, compelling you irresistibly to sin in that particular way. It reigns, that's what the Bible says, it is the result of the fall of man in the garden of Eden. Adam gave over the jurisdiction of this universe to Satan, and sin came upon all men; and now sin reigns in our universe, but sin reigns in our bodies.
Not only does it reign, Paul says, but it wrecks. In Romans 7:24 he says: 'O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of death?'. I wonder is there someone listening to my voice tonight, and you have been wrecked, ruined by the reign of the law of sin in your life. It could manifest itself in alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, prostitution, gambling, theft, lying, coveting, adultery, divorce, suicide, drug abuse, vandalism, racism, fascism, sectarianism. All of these things are symptomatic of the reign and the wreckage that sin brings into personal lives. This is so near to you tonight, this is something that is so relevant to you - right out of God's word it's coming into your personal circumstances. Have you ever wondered why you have never been able to eradicate this law of sin in your body? Why society has never been able to eradicate the scourge of humanity? This is why: there is a law of sin in our bodies!
Science has not tamed it, though it has sold us the lie of evolution to tell us everything is getting better - things aren't getting better! It's obvious things are getting worse! Politics has not the answer, no matter what party you adhere to. Whether you think that Plato's Republic can be brought to bear on any society, it has never ever brought peace and righteousness to reign. Religion has failed too. Many a church in Christendom has failed to turn the tidal effects of this law of sin - why? Because it's in us, and it has might, it is strong - but it is not right! It overcomes us, it reigns in us, and it wrecks our lives and the lives of those around us and in society at large.
I want to leave with you tonight the third law, which is the law of the Spirit. We've looked at the law of Moses - it was right, but it had no might. As far as we are concerned, we're weak in the flesh to keep it. The law of sin is in us which adds to the problem - it is not right, but it has much might. It leads us all astray. But this law of the Spirit that Paul talks about is right, and it has might! It is from God, and gives with the gift of the Spirit of God the ability to keep God's commands. The word 'Spirit' is found 20 times in Romans chapter 8, and it speaks of the third person of the Trinity, but in the sense that He is the life-giving power. It's not a theory or a theology that gives you might to do what is right, it's not an ethic, it is not a philosophy, it is a Person, it is the Holy Spirit of the Living God.
When you hear people talking about being born again, this is what they speak of: God's Spirit coming into your life to cause you to live aright. When this law is instrumental in your life, verse 1 says there will be no condemnation. You will be set free from the law of sin and death. The law of Moses will be cast out, you'll not try and keep all that because you've something better, you've the Spirit of God in you to live the very life of Christ before others! The law of sin will be put to death, because it was crucified with Christ. You will be freed, emancipated to live the life of Christ in you.
Now you might say: 'How is this possible?' - and I perceive that this is often what people say when we talk about being born again, evangelical language of the slate being wiped clean, just repent of your sins and put faith in Christ, and everything will be a fresh start. People find that very difficult to swallow, 'It's too good to be true! How can it be? If you're right in saying that we cannot keep these laws of Moses, the ten commandments, we cannot be righteous and moral to satisfy God. If you're telling us that the negative of that is that there is a law working against all those things in our members, how can you just say all of a sudden that being born again will make us right?'. Well, here's the answer in verse 3, look at it: 'For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God' - God! - 'sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and as an offering for sin, condemned sin in the flesh'.
Now listen to this tonight: if you were to put the Gospel in a nutshell, the Gospel of God's grace is all of God, God did it. What Moses' law cannot do for us, what you cannot do in your own flesh - not only because it is weak and sinful, but there's this law working through it - God did! That's what the Bible says! If you have believed any other Gospel, other than the one that says there's nothing that you can do, you are hopeless, you are helpless, you are a sinner, even your very righteousness and good works are nothing in God's sight, filthy rags; but you must come and accept, by a gift of grace through faith, salvation - that's the only thing you can do - if you've accepted any Gospel that is contrary to that you've been sold a bill of goods. If it's not the Gospel that God did, it's not the Gospel.
Romans 1 tells us that the Gospel is the Gospel of God that has been revealed from heaven. It's not man-made, it's not concocted, it's of God! How did He do it? 'What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son', verse 3 - Christ came! God did through Christ coming, His own Son in His likeness - but He came in the likeness of sinful flesh. His Son, He came as sinless man - if He didn't come as sinless man, He would have needed a Saviour Himself, but He came as perfect man into this world to save mankind on their behalf. He also came as the Son of God, deity, because only God can save, only God could do this great work of salvation. Note that it doesn't say He came in sinful flesh, He was not a sinner! Neither does it say that He came in the likeness of flesh, He wasn't some ghost, He was a real flesh and blood and bone human being like you, born of the Virgin Mary. He had to be, because He had to shed that blood to die. He was perfect, and He was real, and here's how salvation is accomplished: God sent this Son...and then it says that as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh. Not only did Christ come, that's how God did it, but Christ was condemned as an offering for sin.
He condemned sin in the flesh. What that simply means is that what Jesus did in His flesh condemned sin. Sin that condemns you before a holy God, sin that is working in your members and reigning and wrecking in your life, what Jesus did in His flesh has condemned sin - sin is condemned! That sin is in us, and because that sin is in us we are condemned - but because Jesus condemned sin in His own flesh, we can be free: that is the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. That's the Gospel, my friend. Paul puts it in other place like this: 'God hath made Christ to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him'. Again he says: 'Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree'. In this book in chapter 6 he says: 'Knowing this, that our old man', that old sinful nature, 'is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin'. Peter said: 'He', Christ, 'in His own body bore our sins, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes we are healed'.
Jesus' death on the cross is the answer to the problem of not being able to keep the law of Moses, which is right but has no might. It's the answer to the law of sin that reigns and wrecks our lives, that is so strong with might but is not right. This death of Christ on the cross is our substitute, taking our sin, bearing our shame, exhausting our judgment on our behalf. It causes God to be able to say: 'Well, if He took your sin, and if you embrace Him by faith, I will give you My righteousness. When I look on you I'll no longer see your sin, but I'll see Jesus'.
Can I tell you something? This doctrine changed the course of history not only in the New Testament, but in Europe during the period of the Reformation. This was the intrinsic crux of the message that shook the church of Rome and that whole empire at that particular time, and the whole of the continent of Europe and the world. Martin Luther we've mentioned, another called John Calvin - he was defining on one occasion the central truths of the Reformation, in other words the difference between Roman Catholicism and the Gospel of the Bible, and it's simply this: Roman Catholicism, and many other religions, teaches that we can achieve righteousness with God by working - but the Bible tells us 'No!', as we've seen tonight, it is a gift of grace that we must receive by faith.
Calvin, defining the centre of the Gospel, said this: 'As all mankind are, in the sight of God, lost sinners, we hold that Christ is their only righteousness, since, by His obedience, He has wiped off all our transgressions; by His sacrifice, He has appeased the divine anger; by His blood, He has washed away our stains; by His cross, borne our curse; and by His death, made satisfaction for us. We maintain that in this way man is reconciled in Christ to God the Father by no merit of his own, by no value of works, but by gratuitous mercy' - nothing of me, all of Christ! That's the Gospel!
Let me illustrate it to you like this, I heard this story just today of two brothers who lived in an oriental city. One was a wild prodigal son character, the other was a man who had been saved by the grace of God and was seeking to live for God and Christ. One day, suddenly, the wild brother ran into the home covered from head to toe in blood - he had murdered a man. The strong arm of the law was nearby, the police were closing in on him. His converted brother decided that he would offer to change his clothes with his brother's bloody clothes. His brother consented, and when the police came in the converted brother was arrested, and eventually through the judicial process sentenced to death. He wrote a letter to his prodigal brother the day before he was executed. This is what the letter said, listen very carefully: 'This is the Gospel in a nutshell. Tomorrow, clothed in your garments, I die in your stead. You, clothed in my clothes, will, in remembrance of me, henceforth live justly and holy. That is why Jesus died - clothed in your garments He died in your stead, with your guilt upon Him, that you might live righteously, justly and holy with His clothes on you'. There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, there is the opposite of condemnation which is justification - the act of God whereby a sinner is declared righteous in His sight because of Christ! Romans 5:1: 'Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God' - not of works! You can't work for your salvation, you can't work against the law of sin in you. All you can do, my friend, is throw down your hands and say: 'No works of mine, no merits of mine, but I plead Jesus and the merits of His blood, that alone can save me, Father!'.
As the old Scottish catechism puts it: 'Realise there is nothing in you, but embrace Christ as He is freely offered in the Gospel, and you will be saved'.
Lord, we thank You for sending Your Son. We thank You that He was made an offering for sin for us, He became our sacrifice - what love! We cannot comprehend it, and yet Lord we have great joy and peace in accepting it, and embracing the grace of God that is in Christ Jesus - that though we are afar off, though we have nothing to commend ourselves in Your sight, You have mercy on sinners like us and make us sons and daughters of God by grace. Lord, would You lavish Your grace on some soul tonight, would You revive Your own people with the might of Your grace as we thank You for the One who has made it all possible: Christ alone. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the eighth recording in his 'The Gospel Explained' series, entitled "Three Laws Of Life" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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