Victory in the Spirit

Dr. Brian Allison

The surrendered life is the victorious life—the life of overcoming the power of sin, the life of knowing progress in the Spirit; and that is the life we are to live as Christians. The surrendered life is the life of spiritual rest. We can rest in Christ because Christ is our all-sufficiency, and that is why we can live overcoming or victorious lives. Christ is pleased to live His life in us and through us. Christ by His Spirit gives us victory. Therefore we can rest in Him. Now, spiritual rest is not synonymous with inactivity. The Scriptures talk about a proper kind of spiritual struggling and striving. We are free from sin, but we are not free from struggling. We are free from self-effort, but we are not free from striving. Philippians 3:13b,14 reads, "...forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, [we are to] press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." This language bespeaks expending energy and showing determination. Jesus teaches us in Matthew 7 that we are to strive to enter into the kingdom. Striving and struggling are legitimate terms in Christian experience; but we must remember that we are not defeatedly striving and struggling, dependent upon ourselves, and relying upon our personal resources; if that were the case, then we are lost. Healthy striving, biblical struggling—wanting to be more and more like Christ, wanting to lay hold on that glory which is set before us—should be done in and through His Spirit. It should be the Christ-life within us, moving us on, pushing us forward, causing us to secure new ground in the Spirit. Christ alone is our sufficiency and our rest. Again, just because He is our sufficiency and our rest, that does not mean that we do not have to continue to fight or battle against sin, and all that this entails.

Sin is an ever-present reality in the life of a Christian. The Christian has been delivered from the dominion of sin, but not from the presence and plague of it. Even though the Christian must continue to battle against the vestiges of sin in his life, he has been given spiritual resources by which to overcome and deal with it. Accordingly, Romans 8:1-4 reads, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit."

The continuing presence of sin

We cannot understand Romans 8:1-4 without first understanding Romans 7:14-25. The break between chapters 7 and 8 is really a superficial one, for chapter 8 is a continuation of the argument in chapter 7. Chapter 7 is foundational for understanding chapter 8, and thus Paul uses the language of inference in 8:1, "There is therefore now..." He is drawing a conclusion in light of what he has previously said. Yet Romans 8:1 is not only a conclusion, it is also an introduction; it is not simply an inference from what he has just stated, but it is also a premise for what he intends to say.

There are three fundamental points stated in Romans 7:14-25, which we must keep in mind, if we are to appreciate the truths in Romans 8:1-4. The first point concerns our natural condition. We, by nature, are fallen creatures, for sin has become an intrinsic part of who we are. Verse 14 reads, "For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin;" and, verse 17b reads, "...sin...indwells me;" and verse 21a reads, "I find then the principle that evil is present in me." So, our natural condition is a fallen one; it is characterized by sin.

The second point is that sin, which characterizes our fallen state, exerts tremendous power and pressure on our being and behaviour so that we have no natural control (in our natural condition) to fully harness such power and pressure. Verse 15a reads, "For that which I am doing, I do not understand [it is beyond my control and certainly independent of my consent];" and verses 16,17a read, "But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin;" and verse 20a reads, "But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it." So, sin's activity, which characterizes our natural condition, is beyond our natural control; it has a 'mind' and a power all of its own.

The third fundamental point concerns the Christian's struggle with sin. In being born again by the Holy Spirit, the Christian receives a new spiritual nature; and as a result, the Christian experiences an internal conflict because sin continues to characterize the flesh. The Christian possesses both a fleshly nature and a spiritual nature. God gives us a new heart, but we have a new heart along with a fallen condition—"our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16b). As a result, there is conflict and struggle within. Again, verse 15 reads, "For I am not practising what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate;" verses 18,19 read, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish." From verses 22 to 25, Paul spells out and clarifies the Christian's internal conflict—the Law of God set over and against the law of sin and death; the renewed mind in a state of opposition to the members of the body. In terms of our actual experience as Christians, Paul writes, "So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin" (Rm. 7:25b).

Justification from sin

Romans 7:14-25 deals with the Christian's sanctification experience with respect to his natural condition—the fact that he still lives in, and is identified with, a fallen world. But having emphasized our experience in reference to our natural condition, the apostle proceeds to address our experience in reference to the spiritual provision by which we may counteract remaining sin. If we stop at Romans 7, we may feel hopeless. Romans 8 presents our victory. We cannot be free from the presence of sin in this life, but we can be free from absolute control and enslavement to it.

Thus, Romans 8:1 reads, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Paul had just said, "So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin" (Rm. 7:25b). Hence, one could draw the conclusion, "If sin is still a part of my life and experience, then there may still be the possibility that I will be condemned and lost." Paul, out of pastoral concern, counters with this bold affirmation that there is no condemnation for those who are in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Though there is the reality of sin, and though we continue to sin, Paul emphatically states (he uses two conclusive particles in the original Greek) that the Christian has been forever justified.

Condemnation means 'being worthy of punishment'; and more particularly, 'being resigned to the wrath of God.' Paul says that even though sin is ever-present, and that we must battle with it incessantly, our confidence, consolation, and encouragement are derived from the truth, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Because we sustain a personal relationship and vibrant fellowship with the living Lord, because we are in spiritual union with Christ, there will be no punishment, even though we must continue to contend with sin. We must never forget this. Satan will come along, when sin has tripped us up, and accuse, "You're a Christian? You can't be saved." The verse does not say that there is no accusation, but it says that there is no condemnation. The evil one, the accuser of the brethren, will condemn us, but we must confront him in the Spirit and by faith rebuke him, saying, "Get behind me, Satan, for there is no condemnation. I am justified in Christ. I have been delivered in Christ, and there is absolutely nothing you can say or do that can change my position in Him." Have you been listening to the evil one?

In John 8, we have the account in which the Pharisees and scribes bring to Jesus a woman who was caught in the very act of adultery; and they put Jesus to the test to see if He would contradict the law of Moses. They said to Him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in the very act of adultery. Now, in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What then do You say?" Jesus did not answer. He stooped down and looked at the ground, writing in the dust. When these religious leaders persisted, He straightened up and demanded, "He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her" (Jn. 8:7). The Spirit of the Lord was present there, convicting hearts, because they started to file out one by one, from the oldest to the youngest. Jesus looking up again saw only the woman, and He said, "'Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?' And she said, 'No one, Lord.' And Jesus said, 'Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more'" (Jn. 8:10,11). And this is what Jesus says to each of us—"Neither do I condemn you, go your way." We have a secure, irrevocable position.

Because Christ was condemned on the cross, we are delivered from condemnation. Because He received the wrath of God—the punishment of God—on the cross, we are delivered from that wrath. Because He died in our place, we will never die (i.e., be separated from God's presence). Again, the evil one comes and accuses, "That was a gross sin that you committed there...those are wicked thoughts that you had there...that was an unclean act that you did there...that is a wicked mood that you have there...you seem to be showing fleshly character, fleshly behaviour. How can you call yourself a Christian? Christians do not act like that." Your response must be, "Satan, there is One who loved me and died for me. There is One who was buried, rose again, and ascended on high for me. This One represents me before the Father; this One intercedes for me in Spirit to the Father. I have passed from judgement to acceptance. I am saved for time and eternity, and absolutely nothing you can say, or absolutely nothing you can do, will make me think otherwise, because I walk by faith not by sight." Do not let the evil one cause you to question your salvation. Romans 8:1 is a solid bedrock for our faith—"No condemnation." Another way of saying this is, "There is irrevocable justification for those who are in Christ Jesus." Now, the justification mentioned in chapter 8 is different than the justification mentioned in chapter 5 of this same epistle. In chapter 5, Paul states that we are justified by faith. In chapter 8, he states that we are justified by our spiritual position and condition; if you like, by our good works. We will see that as we move on in the passage. Spiritual regeneration (along with faith) is the reason and confirmation of our justification before God.

The Spirit overcomes sin

Paul proceeds to tell us why there is absolutely no condemnation for those who are vitally united with Jesus Christ—"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death" (8:2). The true Christian will never be condemned because he or she has acquired a new nature, and thus forever stands accepted before God. The Spirit has set him or her free from the dominion and death of sin. We are not condemned because there has been a change in our spiritual position and in our spiritual condition. We are forever justified before God because we have acquired a new heart; and we can no sooner lose this standing and state, than we can actually change the colour black into white, and yet, at the same time, have the original colour black.

We, as Christians, have been delivered from the law of sin and of death. You may retort, "Hold it! That does not make sense to me. We distinctly read in Romans 7 that we must always contend with the law of sin and of death; but here it says that we are freed from the law of sin and of death." In response, in chapter 7, Paul says that there is a law of sin at work in the members of the body, and that there is the experience of being a prisoner to this law (v. 23). He further says that with his mind, he is serving the law of God, but with his flesh, the law of sin (v. 25). This statement is a key for understanding 8:2 in which he says that we have been freed from the law of sin and of death. Paul—in rigid, black and white terms—understands the individual as consisting of an inner side and an outer side (do not push the language too far). There are the members of the body and there is the mind. The law of sin and death will continue to characterize the outer man, our bodily members; but a new law has been introduced and operates in the 'sphere' of our hearts, our spirits. Being born again, the law of sin and death no longer has complete control and governance over us. Our spirits have been set free. In chapter 7, Paul talks about the Law of God according to the inner man that stands in opposition to the law of sin and death in the members. Now, in chapter 8, he refers to the law of the Spirit of life which, of course, relates to the Law of God. The Spirit generates new spiritual life in the heart, transforming the heart. The new life bestowed by the Spirit has set us free from the law of sin and death that characterized our hearts, and continues to characterize the flesh. The Holy Spirit gives life, He effects life—He brings about a change of the heart. The Spirit is life; and through His indwelling, we experience life, rather than death. Notice Romans 6:18, "Having been freed from [the dominion of] sin, you became slaves of righteousness." Consider also 6:22, "Now having been freed from [the dominion of] sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life."

So, as Christians, we have received new hearts; we have received the Holy Spirit Who indwells our spirits; but because we are still a part of this fallen world, we still must contend with the reality of sin which characterizes our fleshly nature. Again, we consist of two natures—a spiritual one and a fleshly one. In Christ Jesus, we are made anew, and that is our answer for overcoming sin. We cannot do it in ourselves, by our own ability and through our natural resources. It is only by the life and power of the Spirit working in our hearts that we can conquer sin. If we are not living in the Spirit, we will be overcome by the flesh. But because the Law of God is the governing principle of our regenerated hearts, we want to live righteously. Accordingly, through the aid of the Holy Spirit, we will produce that righteousness that God requires.

God deals with sin

If we do not have the Spirit, if the Spirit is not working in our hearts, we will make no progress in the Christian faith, we will not produce the righteousness that God requires; and God requires righteousness. It is only by and through the life and enablement of the Spirit that we can overcome. He is our spiritual provision. God gives this spiritual provision on the grounds of Christ's redemptive work—"For what the Law could not do [i.e., 'the inability of the law'], weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh [not sinful flesh, but in the likeness of sinful flesh] and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh" (8:3). The law was given by God to reveal to us what constitutes righteousness; and we have a moral obligation to keep the law and thus to produce the righteousness that God requires. But we could not keep the law in our natural condition. We did not have the natural ability to do it because the flesh is characterized by sin. Thus, it was impossible that the law (by conforming to it) could be a means by which we could be righteous. We could not, cannot, and will never be able to keep the law and produce the righteousness that God requires. But God loved us, and pitied us, and thus made a way for us that we, indeed, might be able to produce the righteousness that He requires of us. That way was in the Son of God. His atoning work and redemptive death constitute the basis for our deliverance from sin.

Jesus came and lived a life of obedience, a perfect life, at the end of which He gave Himself up unto death. It was a sacrifice to appease the wrath of God. God's justice was exacted, and the punishment for sin rendered, in the death of the Son of God on the cross. Jesus was made a sin offering for us—He who knew no sin, in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. In being made an offering for sin, judicially speaking, God unleashed the full weight of His wrath, and on the cross 'consumed' the Son of God. On the cross, God dealt with sin in the very human flesh of the Son of God. Consequently, we may be free from sin because God judicially made Christ a sin offering, and He punished sin in Him. As an expression of God's grace, having dealt with the sin question, God gives us His Holy Spirit so that we truly may live as overcomers, not being subject to sin any longer.

Free from sin to live righteously

God's grand purpose for the death of Christ, in dealing with sin, is that we may live righteously—"In order that the requirement of the Law [God expects us to be righteous because He is righteous] might be fulfilled [realized] in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (8:4). The Spirit frees us from sin and empowers us so that we may demonstrate righteousness. Do you see the implication? We have a choice now. Prior to being saved and born again, we were simply slaves to sin, in complete bondage to sin. Sin was our master, it controlled our whole being; but Christ died for us—the just for the unjust in order to bring us to God. Christ provided the spiritual means by which we may now live in a way that is pleasing to God. We have our natural condition, along with His spiritual provision. We live in two worlds, and every day we have a choice to make—to do evil or to do right. There are no excuses; we do not have to live defeated lives. We can choose to live according to the world, and give in to the law of sin and death in the flesh, or we can choose to live to please God, and come under the control of the law of the Spirit of life. The more we give in to the Spirit, the more we live in accord with the Spirit, the stronger becomes the exertion of the law of the Spirit of life, and less powerful in our experience is the law of sin and death. In feeding one, we starve the other.

There are no excuses for not living the victorious Christian life. We are to follow the Spirit, live in the Spirit, overcome by the Spirit. We have been given everything for life and for godliness. God wants us to live victorious lives, not bound by sin, but slaves to Christ; pursuing Christ, living for Christ, enjoying Christ, rejoicing in Christ. God calls us to a higher plain—a fuller life, a deeper life, a more wonderful life; and He has given us the means by which we may do that. There is hope, there is joy, there is peace, there is rest in Jesus.