Dear Brethren – there is a reason the Scriptures differentiate between the “works” of the law and the “fruit” of the spirit. The one involves exertion and doing, while the other flows from simply being. The one is innately unnatural, forced and external, while the other results from being one in kind and nature. Jesus often spoke of created things that did what they did merely because of what they were; what God created them to be.
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matthew 6:25-30)
Why then has the mechanics of the Christian life for so many been reduced to an unnatural life of “toiling and spinning” – rooted more in our exertion and work than the natural being and flowing of the life of God? We are fools, destined only for frustration and failure, if we believe we can please God and advance in His likeness by perfectly adhering to this law of “sin and death”. There is, after all, a reason it is called this – because this is where it leads to all who attempt to satisfy it by work!
Dear brethren – if we are truly “in Christ”, joined to Him in life and kind, abiding in His Holy and righteous character, such that the very essence of God flows in and through and out of us by the agency of His Spirit – then no longer are we subject to any principle or law of acceptance that leads only to shortcoming and death. This is what the Apostle Paul strained so hard to convey in his letter to the Romans.
For your edification and encouragement, I am posting an excerpt on this subject from Watchman Nee’s book – The Normal Christian Life. My prayer is that this will help us to understand the depth of our freedom and victory in the True Vine from which all holy fruit flows. The entire book is linked here if you wish to read previous chapters.
THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE – WATCHMAN NEE
There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made free from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:1-2).
It is in chapter 8 that Paul presents to us in detail the positive side of life in the Spirit. “There is therefore now no condemnation”, he begins, and this statement may at first seem out of place here. Surely condemnation was met by the Blood, through which we found peace with God and salvation from wrath (Rom. 5. 1, 9). But there are two kinds of condemnation, namely, that before God and that before myself (just as earlier we saw there are two kinds of peace) and the second may at times seem to us even more awful than the first. When I see that the Blood of Christ has satisfied God, then I know my sins are forgiven, and there is for me no more condemnation before God. Yet I may still be knowing defeat, and the sense of inward condemnation on this account may be very real, as Romans 7 shows. But if I have learned to live by Christ as my life, then I have learned the secret of victory, and, praise God! ‘there is therefore now no condemnation”. ‘The mind of the spirit is life and peace’ (Rom. 8. 6, and this becomes my experience as I learn to walk in the Spirit. With peace in my heart I have no time to feel condemned, but only to praise Him who leads me on from victory to victory.
But what lay behind my sense of condemnation? Was it not the experience of defeat and the sense of helplessness to do anything about it? Before I saw that Christ is my life, I labored under a constant sense of handicap; limitation dogged my steps; I felt disabled at every turn. I was always crying out: ‘I cannot do this! I cannot do that!’ Try as I would, I found that I ‘cannot please God ‘(Rom. 8:8). But there is no ‘I cannot’ in Christ. Now it is:
“I can do all things in him that strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
How can Paul be so daring? On what ground does he declare that he is now free from limitation and “can do all things”? Here is his answer:
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death ‘(Rom. 8:2)
Why is there no more condemnation? “For …”, says Paul: there is a reason for it; there is something definite to account for it. The reason is that there is a law called ‘the law of the Spirit of life” and it has proved stronger than another law called “the law of sin and of death”. What are these laws? How do they operate? And what is the difference between sin and the law of sin, and between death and the law of death?
First let us ask ourselves, What is a law? Well, strictly speaking, a law is a generalization examined until it is proved that there is no exception. We might define it more simply as something which happens over and over again. Each time the thing happens it happens in the same way. We can illustrate this both from statutory and from natural law. For example, in this land, if I drive a car on the right hand side of the road the traffic police will stop me. Why? Because it is against the law of the land. If you do it you will be stopped too. Why? – For the same reason that I would be stopped: it is against the law and the law makes no exceptions. It is something which happens repeatedly and unfailingly. Or again, we all know what is meant by gravity. If I drop my handkerchief in London it falls to the ground. That is the effect of gravity. But the same is true if I drop it in New York or Hong Kong. No matter where I let it go, gravity operates, and it always produces the same results.
Whenever the same conditions prevail the same effects are seen. There is thus a ‘law’ of gravity. Now what of the law of sin and death? If someone passes an unkind remark about me, at once something goes wrong inside me. That is not law ; that is sin. But if, when different people pass unkind remarks, the same ‘ something’ goes wrong inside, then I discern a law within – a law of sin. Like the law of gravity, it is something constant. It always works the same way. And so too with the law of death. Death, we have said, is weakness produced to its limit. Weakness is ‘I cannot’. Now if when I try to please God in this particular matter I find I cannot, and if when I try to please Him in that other thing I again find I cannot, then I discern a law at work. There is not only sin in me but a law of sin; there is not only death in me but a law of death.
Then again, not only is gravity a law in the sense that it is constant, admitting of no exception, but, unlike the rule of the road, it is a ‘natural’ law and not the subject of discussion and decision but of discovery. The law is there, and the handkerchief ‘naturally’ drops by itself without any help from me. And the ‘law ‘discovered by the man in Romans 7:23 is just like that. It is a law of sin and of death, opposed to that which is good, and crippling the man’s will to do good. He’ naturally’ sins according to the ‘law of sin in his members’. He wills to be different, but that law in him is relentless and no human will can resist it. So this brings me to the question,
How can I be set free from the law of sin and death? I need deliverance from sin, and still more do I need deliverance from death, but most of all I need deliverance from the law of sin and of death. How can I be delivered from the constant repetition of weakness and failure? In order to answer this question let us follow out our two illustrations further. One of our great burdens in China used to be the likin tax, a law which none could escape, originating in the Ch’in Dynasty and operating right down to our own day. It was an inland tax on the transit of goods, applied throughout the empire and having numerous barriers for collection, and officers enjoying very large powers. The result was that the charge on goods passing through several provinces might become very heavy indeed. But a few years ago a second law came into operation which set aside the likin law. Can you imagine the feelings of relief in those who had suffered under the old law? Now there was no need to think or hope or pray; the new law was already there and had delivered us from the old law. No longer was there need to think beforehand what one would say if one met a likin officer tomorrow!
And as with the law of the land, so it is with natural law. How can the law of gravity be annulled? With regard to my handkerchief that law is at work clearly enough, pulling it down, but I have only to place my hand under the handkerchief and it does not drop. Why? The law is still there. I do not deal with the law of gravity; in fact I cannot deal with the law of gravity. Then why does my handkerchief not fall to the ground? Because there is a power keeping it from doing so. The law is there, but another law superior to it is operating to overcome it, namely the law of life. Gravity can do its utmost but the handkerchief will not drop, because another law is working against the law of gravity to maintain it there. We have all seen the tree which was once a small seed fallen between the slabs of a paving, and which has grown until heavy stone blocks have been lifted by the power of the life within it. That is what we mean by the triumph of one law over another.
In just such a manner God delivers us from one law by introducing another law. The law of sin and death is there all the time, but God has put another law into operation – the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, and that law is strong enough to deliver us from the law of sin and death. You see, it is a law of life in Christ Jesus – the resurrection life that in Him has met death in all its forms and triumphed over it (Eph. 1:19-20). The Lord Jesus dwells in our hearts in the person of His Holy Spirit, and if we let Him have a clear way and commit ourselves to Him we shall find that He will keep us from the old law. We shall learn what it is to be kept, not by our own power, but ‘by the power of God’
(1 Peter 1:5).
THE MANIFESTATION OF THE LAW OF LIFE
Let us seek to make this practical. We touched earlier on the matter of our will in relation to the things of God. Even older Christians do not realize how great a part will-power plays in their lives. That was part of Paul’s trouble in Romans 7. His will was good, but all his actions contradicted it, and however much he made up his mind and set himself to please God, it led him only into worse darkness. ‘I would do good’, but ‘I am carnal, sold under sin”. That is the point. Like a car without petrol, that has to be pushed and that stops as soon as it is left alone, many Christians endeavor to drive themselves by will-power, and then think the Christian life a most exhausting and bitter one. Some even force themselves to say ‘Hallelujah!’ because others do it, while admitting there is no meaning in it to them. They force themselves to be what they are not, and it is worse than trying to make water run up-hill. For after all, the very highest point the will can reach is that of willingness (Matt. 26:41).
If we have to exert so much effort in our Christian living, it simply says that we are not really like that at all. We don’t need to force ourselves to speak our native language. In fact we only have to exert will-power in order to do things we do not do naturally. We may do them for a time, but the law of sin and death wins in the end. We may be able to say: ‘To will is present with me, and I perform that which is good for two weeks’, but eventually we shall have to confess: ‘How to perform it I know not’. No, what I already am I do not long to be. If I ‘would ‘it is because I am not. You ask, Why do men use will-power to try to please God? There may be two reasons. They may of course never have experienced the new birth, in which case they have no new life to draw upon; or they may have been born again and the life be there, but they have not learned to trust in that life. It is this lack of understanding that results in habitual failure and sinning, bringing them to the place where they almost cease to believe in the possibility of anything better.
But because we have not believed fully, that does not mean that the feeble life we intermittently experience is all God has given us. Romans 6:23 states that ‘the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”, and now in Romans 8: 2 we read that ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus ‘has come to our aid. So Romans 8:2 speaks not of a new gift but of the life already referred to in Romans 6.:23. In other words, it is a new revelation of what we already have. I feel I cannot emphasize this too much. It is not something fresh from God’s hand, but a new unveiling of what He has already given. It is a new discovery of a work already done in Christ, for the words ‘made me free ‘are in the past tense. If I really see this and put my faith in Him, there is no absolute necessity for Romans 7 to be repeated in me-either the experience or the conduct, and certainly not the tremendous display of will-power.
If we will let go our own wills and trust Him, we shall not fall to the ground and break, but we shall fall into a different law, the law of the Spirit of life. For God has given us not only life but a law of life. And just as the law of gravity is a natural law and not the result of human legislation, so the law of life is a ‘natural’ law, similar in principle to the law that keeps our heart beating or that controls the movement of our eyelids. There is no need for us to think about our eyes, or to decide that we must blink every so often to keep them cleansed; and still less do we bring our will to bear upon our heart. Indeed to do so might rather harm than help it. No, so long as it has life it works spontaneously. Our wills only interfere with the law of life. I discovered that fact once in the following way.
I used to suffer from sleeplessness. Once after several sleepless nights, when I had prayed much about it and exhausted all my resources, I confessed at length to God that the fault must lie with me and asked to be shown where. I said to God: ‘I demand an explanation’. His answer was: ‘Believe in nature’s laws’. Sleep is as much a law as hunger is, and I realized that though I had never thought of worrying whether I would get hungry or not, I had been worrying about sleeping. I had been trying to help nature, and that is the chief trouble with most sufferers from sleeplessness. But now I trusted not only God but God’s law of nature, and slept well. Should we not read the Bible? Of course we should or our spiritual life will suffer. But that should not mean forcing ourselves to read. There is a new law in us which gives us a hunger for it. Then half an hour can be more profitable than five hours of forced reading. And it is the same with giving, with preaching, with testimony. Forced preaching is apt to result in preaching a warm gospel with a cold heart, and we all know what men mean by ‘cold charity’.
If we will let ourselves live in the new law we shall be less conscious of the old law. It is still there, but it is no longer governing and we are no longer in its grip. That is why the Lord says in Matthew 6 – ‘Behold the birds . . . Consider the lilies”. If we could ask the birds whether they were not afraid of the law of gravity, how would they reply? They would say: ‘We never heard the name of Newton. We know nothing about his law. We fly because it is the law of our life to fly.’ Not only is there in them a life with the power of flight, but that life has a law which enables these living creatures quite spontaneously and consistently to overcome the law of gravity. Yet gravity remains. If you get up early one morning when the cold is intense and the snow thick on the ground, and there is a dead sparrow in the courtyard, you are reminded at once of the persistence of that law. But while birds live they overcome it, and the life within them is what dominates their consciousness.
God has been truly gracious to us. He has given us this new law of the Spirit, and for us to ‘ fly’ is no longer a question of our will but of His life. Have you noticed what a trial it is to make an impatient Christian patient? To require patience of him is enough to make him ill with depression. But God has never told us to force ourselves to be what we are not naturally: to try by taking thought to add to our spiritual stature.
Worrying may possibly decrease a man’s height, but it certainly never added anything to it. ‘Be not anxious”, are His words. ‘Consider the lilies, . . . they grow. ‘He is directing our attention to the new law of life in us. Oh, for a new appreciation of the life that is ours! What a precious discovery this is! It can make altogether new men of us, for it operates in the smallest things as well as in the bigger ones. It checks us when, for example, we put out a hand to look at a book in someone else’s room, reminding us that we have not asked permission and have no right to do so. We cannot, the Holy Spirit tells us, encroach thus upon the rights of others. Once I was talking to a Christian friend and he turned to me and said: ‘Do you know, I believe that if anyone is willing to live by the law of the Spirit of life, such a man will become truly refined.’ ‘ What do you mean?’ I asked. He replied: ‘That law has the power to make a man a perfect gentleman. Some scornfully say: ‘You can’t blame those people for the way they act ; they are just country folk and have no educational advantages. ‘But the real question is, Have they the life of the Lord within? For I tell you, that life can say to them: “Your voice is too loud or, ` That laughter was not right”, or, ‘Your motive in passing that remark was wrong. ‘In a thousand details the Spirit of life can tell them how to act, so producing in them a true refinement. There is no such inherent power in education.’ And yet my friend was himself an educationalist!
But it is true. Take the example of talkativeness. Are you a person of too many words? When you stay with people, do you say to yourself: ‘What shall I do? I am a Christian; but if I am to glorify the name of the Lord, I simply must not talk so much. So to-day let me be extra careful to hold myself in check.’? And for an hour or two you succeed until on some pretext you lose control and, before you know where you are, find yourself once again in difficulty with your garrulous tongue. Yes, let us be fully assured that the will is useless here. For me to exhort you to exercise your will in this matter would be but to offer you the vain religion of the world ‘ not the life in Christ Jesus. For consider again: a talkative person remains just that, though he keep silent all day, for there is a ‘natural’ law of talkativeness governing him (or her!), just as a peach tree is a peach tree whether or not it bears peaches. But as Christians we discover a new law in us, the law of the Spirit of life, which transcends all else and which has already delivered us from the ‘ law ‘ of our talkativeness. If, believing the Lord’s Word, we yield ourselves to that new law, it will tell us when we should stop talking or not start! -and it will empower us to do so. On that basis you can go to your friend’s house for two or three hours, or stay for two or three days, and experience no difficulty. On your return you will just thank God for His new law of life.
It is this spontaneous life that is the Christian life. It manifests itself in love for the unlovely – for the brother whom on natural grounds we would not like and certainly could not love. It works on the basis of what the Lord sees of possibility in that brother. ‘Lord, You see he is lovable and You love him. Love him, now, through me!’ And it manifests itself in reality of life in a true genuineness of moral character. There is too much hypocrisy in the lives of Christians, too much playacting. Nothing takes away from the effectiveness of Christian witness as does a pretense of something that is not really there, for the man in the street unfailingly penetrates such a disguise in the end and finds us out for what we are. Yes, pretense gives way to reality when we trust the law of life.
Oh Most High and Holy Father – Truly we cannot work to find thee, or labor to ascend to where you dwell, to be as You are in essence and life and being! Truly, even our best effort and intention can only lead to frustration, failure and death. We thank You Oh Lord, that our redemption and sanctification are not subject to any man-sized or man-sourced willpower or religious urge, but to the essential provision of life and victory in the shared life of the Lamb! We affirm and believe with all that we are that we can be and do all things in Christ Jesus who strengthens us! In His beloved name we pray, Amen.
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Please pray for us here at Living-Walk, that we would watch and see the Master at work, and understand what He would have us do.
Your friend in Christ Jesus,