The Life that Overcomes
J. T. Mawson
QUESTION—“If a believer has a new life and nature and also the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, why is it that he is so often overcome by sin and more or less in the struggle described in Romans 7”?
The following report of Addresses on Romans 8:1-4, given in Sydney, N.S.W., about a year ago, may help some whose difficulties may be expressed in the above question which was handed to us a few weeks ago.
It is God’s intention that His children should live lives free and fruitful, to this end He has given them a new life, and this life is the life that overcomes. Christianity is not always looked upon in that way. It is often viewed as a legal system the object of which is the repression of the evil that is in men. Many think that all it can do for them is to check their evil tendencies and to prevent them from doing the things they would like to do, consequently they find no joy in it at all, and more often than not a joyless Christian is a defeated Christian. Now the law was just what they think Christianity is. It said “Thou shalt not”; it was one big DON’T. Even when it said “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” it was saying “don’t.” If a man knocked one of your eyes out your natural desire and impulse would be to strike back, swift and sure, and blind him utterly. No, the law said, you must not do that, one eye for one eye and no more, and so it curbed the evil passions of men, or rather it was given for that purpose, but it failed. It was like a strong cord that bound men hand and foot and said, “Thou shalt not,” but like the demoniac in the Gospels, men broke their fetters and went their own way and did their own wills. Grace is different. It gives A NEW LIFE, not a new code of morals—and the life it gives is an overcoming life; it overcomes evil with good. It is eternal life, the gift of God, and to every believer on the Lord Jesus Christ it has been given. Whenever it manifests itself it must triumph, for it is Divine, Christ Himself is it.
Now it is evident that a great many believers are not enjoying this life. The life is theirs but its free and happy expression is thwarted; they are not living in Romans 8, but are bound fast in Romans 7, sighing and struggling, but apparently sighing and struggling in vain. I am reminded of a pathetic sight that I saw when last in Scotland. It was a great eagle in a massive cage. The sun was shining brilliantly in the heavens and seemed to be calling to it to rise from the earth and soar away into its natural element, and the royal bird in answer to the call of the sun spread its mighty wings and stooped for flight, and then, as though conscious to its very heart of the iron bars that held it captive, it lowered its wings and dropped its head in apparent disappointment and shame. I watched that fettered bird on that lovely summer’s day with an intense interest. Again and again the light flashed in its eyes as it faced the sun and lifted its wings, full of determination to have done with its bondage, but just as often its great pinions sank down and it bowed its neck, the most striking figure of depression and defeat that I have ever looked upon. I turned away from it with a tightening about my heart and moisture in my eyes, for I had well known an experience of that sort, and well I knew that thousands of Christians are just there. They have the DESIRE for heavenly things, to be free in the love of God; and they have the life and power too, or they are no Christians at all, and yet they are held fast who should be free; they are caged who should be conquerors; the law of sin and death holds them still in its bondage, though it has no claim upon them, and no power to hold them if they only understood.
The Epistle to the Romans shows us how we may enter into the liberty and triumph of the new life that is ours in Christ, and that is chiefly my subject on this occasion. Our chapter begins with the statement, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” There the verse should stop; it is an absolute statement, and it is one we may well dwell upon.
At one time we were in our sins, we did not believe in Christ, then we were under condemnation. But now there is no condemnation for us. What does it mean? It means first that the question of our guilt has been settled, not for our satisfaction but for God’s. It has been settled, not in any way that we could devise, but in a way that God has devised; so that He, who is the Judge, no longer condemns; instead, He justifies. It is God that justifieth. Now how can that be? We must be clear about this. God met us at the Mercy-seat. Chapter 3 tells us that God has set forth Christ to be a propitiation through faith in His blood. Christ is the propitiation—the Mercy-seat—the meeting-place. There we have met God, and instead of our sins being bound upon us and our souls cast into eternal hell God justified us there, for He is just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. The blood of His beloved Son, whom He gave for our salvation, proclaims His justice, and through that blood He can justly justify all those who believe in Jesus. What a meeting place; there God’s glory is maintained, His justice satisfied, and we are saved, and all this in and through our great Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ.
I had a Christian friend, a wholesale provision merchant; one Sunday night he had been to a stirring Gospel meeting in which sinners had been saved. My friend woke up the next morning and went to his business with the joy of the Gospel in his heart. He had not been sitting in his office very long when a woman was shown in. She was one of his customers who owed him a considerable sum of money. He had allowed the bill to run on, and continued to supply her with goods because she had told him she was just about to realize on some property; and he had believed her, but she had deceived him all the time. But she had come that morning to tell the truth—she had nothing to pay. She was really a bankrupt, and she cast herself upon his mercy. He had a Christian cashier who had also been to the Gospel meeting the night before, and the woman was asked to retire into the outer office while my friend and his cashier discussed the matter between them. Then she was called back, and the cashier put his hand into his pocket and took out his bunch of keys, unlocked the safe, took out the cash-box, and counted out from it the full amount of the bill, and pushed the money across the desk to the master. He counted the money, put it into his pocket, then he stamped the bill and wrote across it “amount received in full,” and dated it and signed it and handed the receipted bill to the poor bankrupt storekeeper. It was some minutes before she realized what it meant; she looked at the receipted bill, and then at her erstwhile creditor and then the tears burst from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks as she thanked him. She was free, she was at peace with him, and she went out of the office clear of that debt; it was remembered against her no more. But, you say, the amount came out of his own cash-box. Exactly—but it was the amount due and he accepted it, and she was clear. How every illustration fails in the presence of the fact that out of the glory of God came God’s beloved Son, and for us He went into death to pay the mighty price which God has accepted, the price that only could clear us righteously before a righteous God. The amount has been received in full, and we who believe are justified, we are free, and the bill never can be sent in to us again. That is the meaning of that blessed statement of Scripture, “Their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more.” There is then no condemnation when it is a question of our sins. Have you got as far as that? If you have you have peace with God. The One who paid the mighty price and did the great work is raised again from the dead, an evidence that God is satisfied with that which He did, and since He was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification, we have peace with God through Him. “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The song begins in the heart and bursts from the lips when that point is reached and our feet are set on the march to victory.
Then comes the question of our old sinful state, and this is the great trouble with many. If God had left us where we were, on the ground of our own responsibility for blessing: “in the flesh” as the 8th chapter puts it, we could not have been clear of condemnation, for we should still have remained in a position and condition before Him that only condemnation could have come upon. So God had to deal with that question as well, and He has dealt with it. And we must learn the truth as to this as well as the truth as to our sins if we are to be really free. If you read Romans 5 you will find a great many beautiful things in it. You will find that seven times over it is said that we receive certain things through or by our Lord Jesus Christ. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through Him we have access into this grace in which we stand; we shall be saved from wrath through Him; we joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the reconciliation; we reign in life through Him, and have eternal life through Him. But these joys and blessings belong to another sphere of life to that in which we lived before we knew God, and we want to be practically and experimentally in the new sphere of life. If I had a blackboard here, I would inscribe upon it two circles; over one I would write “Adam” and over the other “Christ.” We have all lived in the first circle, we were born into it; Adam was our head, our progenitor, and as he was, so were we. Adam was disobedient, so were we, for his nature has come down to us. Adam’s disobedience brought in death, and death passed upon us all, for we have all sinned. Condemnation came upon him and it rested upon us, for we were like him and stood where he stood. So within the Adam circle I would write:
These great blessings of which I have spoken don’t belong to that circle, nor can they be enjoyed there. How could peace, joy, liberty, life, victory, spring up and flourish in the circle of sin, condemnation and death? But God’s grace has abounded exceedingly and a new circle has been formed. The “Christ” circle, and it is to that circle that the blessings belong and there only are they enjoyed. Christ was the obedient One, and His obedience was accomplished on the cross. Verse 19 should read “by one obedience.” It is the work of Christ that has brought in life and blessing in contrast to the “one disobedience” of Adam that brought in condemnation and death. There is a very sweet thought in connection with that which will appeal to every Christian heart here. Christ was the obedient one, He went into death as the whole burnt offering. In Leviticus 1-4 we have both the burnt offering and the sin offering, setting forth in figure Christ’s death on the cross. The sin offering sets forth what He was as made sin for us, bearing all the judgment that was our due; the burnt offering sets forth all the fragrance of His complete obedience to the will of God. So that while Jesus, from the manger to the cross, was always and altogether delightful to the heart of God, there was never a moment when the Father found more pleasure in Him than when He yielded up His life in perfect obedience to God’s will. Think of the death of Christ from that standpoint. That death yielded great glory to God, great satisfaction to the heart of God, because of the absolute obedience of it. Adam put SELF first and disobeyed, Christ put GOD first and obeyed, and He who did that has become the Head of a race, the beginning of a new creation, and He imparts to every member of the race of which He is Head and Leader His own life, and that life is a life of justification, it is a sinless and a victorious life. So that in the Christ circle there are
And God in His abundant grace has taken you out of the “Adam” circle and put you in the “Christ” circle.
God has given every one who has believed the Gospel of His Son that place. It is all grace—the much more abundant grace that is greater than all our sin; but there it is, and faith accepts it and delights in it. We are now no longer in Adam but “in Christ” before God. Am I using phrases hard to be understood? I am using Scriptural phrases, and endeavouring to show you the way of life and victory. Romans 8 tells us that there is now “no condemnation to them that are IN CHRIST JESUS.” Be determined to understand what “in Christ Jesus” means, so much depends upon it, and God would not have written those words if He had not meant us to understand them.
But it is not enough for us to know that God has given us this position of favour and blessing, we want to be in it experimentally, don’t we? We want to live the overcoming life. If the desire is there it is all to the good, and we shall be of one mind with Paul when he asks in chapter 6, “What shall we say, then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid.” We have no wish to live in that old circle of sin and condemnation and death, we desire to live in the new circle of obedience, and justification, and life, to be experimentally and practically in Christ, and so living the life that overcomes.
Now that which holds us in the old circle in our practice and experience is SELF, and we could never part company with self but for the greater attraction that is in Christ. The more attached to Christ we are the more detached from self we shall be. As Christ draws us after Him we are drawn out of the old circle, but there is only one way out of it, and that is by death. We shall be done with self and sin completely when we die, or the Lord comes. We pass through death now in figure in baptism. So the apostle continues his argument “How shall we who are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” I am not thinking of the mere rite of baptism, or the who and when and how of it, but of its deep significance. Too many are occupied solely with the form, and show a lot of ill blood in contending for it, who miss entirely its deep meaning. Let the Ethiopian Eunuch illustrate this for us. He was returning from Jerusalem an unsatisfied man, reading Isaiah 53, when the Holy Spirit sent Philip to him; and Philip, from that most affecting chapter, preached unto him JESUS. The meekness, gentleness and love of that blessed Person won the Ethiopian. Philip’s heart was full, and he had a good text, and with the unction of the Spirit he spoke of the suffering Saviour whose love carried Him into DEATH. As the Eunuch listened he fell in love with Jesus, and though not a word, as far as we know, had been said about baptism, he said, “Here is water: what doth hinder me to be baptized?” It meant, “He died and I will die with Him. I want to reach Him, I will part company with self, and the world and all its honours, for His sake. I must have His company.” He could not actually die, but He would do so in figure. That is what baptism means. It means: Good-bye, world—Christ for me! Good-bye, old life—Christ for me! Good-bye, self and sin—Christ for me! But who is up to that but the one who has fallen in love with Christ? On that line is Christian liberty and the life that wins, and on that line alone.
Now we have ascertained three great facts:—
1. God has settled the question of our sins in His own way for His glory and our justification.
2. God has transferred us from Adam to Christ; in His reckoning we are no longer in the circle of sin and death, but in the circle of obedience and life. Faith accepts that.
3. By our baptism we have assented to what God has done, and in figure passed out of the old circle into the new. Our responsibility now is to be true to our baptism.
Now here the great problem confronts us. The pull of the old circle is strong. All the tendencies of the flesh combine to hold us there in our experience and practice, and how can we be free experimentally? The answer is that there is a new power, a power that pervades the new circle—it is “the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” In the Adam circle—or shall I call it henceforward the SELF circle?—there was the law of sin and death, a terrible principle that held us by its mighty power, from which we could not release ourselves. But, says Romans 8:2, “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” I will try and illustrate. Suppose I had a piece of steel upon this table: there it lies, held by the law of gravitation, with no power in itself to rise or release itself from the law that holds it. But suppose I hold a powerful magnet over it; another force comes into play—the law of magnetic attraction—and at once the steel responds to the pull of it and springs to the magnet. Thus acts the law of the spirit of life. Christ is the magnet, the great lode-stone of our souls. We have an object outside of ourselves now, and Christ is that Object, and just as the steel has a nature that responds to the magnet, so have we a nature that responds to Christ.
I read recently a paper by a celebrated aviator. In it he said that the law of gravitation had no longer any terrors for them, for engineering had been so perfected that they now had motors so powerful and reliable that they could defy the law of gravitation. It is a feeble figure of a great reality; as being “in Christ Jesus”we have a new object outside us and a new power within us, and the power and the object work together. The new Power is the indwelling Holy Spirit and the new Object is Christ.
Up to the 8th chapter of Romans we only read of the Spirit of God once—in the 5th chapter, where it says that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost that is given unto us. But when we come to the 8th chapter, over and over again we read of the Spirit. Nineteen times in the first part of the chapter we read of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit has become a new power which is in us, to put us into intelligent and living contact with the great Object outside of us. We turn away from ourselves to Christ, and we find in Him that which satisfies our hearts. Beloved Christians, is it not so? Just the glimpses we have had of Christ have filled our hearts with love to Him. We have sat under His shadow with great delight and have found His fruit sweet to our taste, and we have to say of Him that He is better than all the blessings He gives. He is altogether lovely. Has He become the Object of your heart? Do you want to live with Him? Do you seek His companionship? Do you want to reach Him? You say. “Can I reach Him?” Not in the body yet; we are going to reach Him in the body soon: but we can reach Him now in spirit, for the Holy Ghost dwells within us to enable us to do it; so that that living, blessed Christ of God becomes a reality to us—the object bright and fair to fill and satisfy the heart; more present to faith’s vision keen, than e’en the dearest object seen. Yes, Christ becomes exceedingly precious to the heart. We are brought into communion with God about Him. And we know Him in all the beauty of that grace which was manifested so perfectly when He was here upon the earth, and it is that which has won our hearts. We have followed Him in thought as He bore the cross to Calvary, and there we have learnt the sweetness of that love that shed its fragrance upon death’s dark vale, and the infinite love that led Him into those sorrows and sufferings has won our hearts. We love Him and delight to say—He is altogether lovely. And if He is the Object outside of us, we prefer Him to self, and we let self go because of the treasure we have found in His love. And the Spirit of God dwells in us to keep up that affection for Christ and to maintain us on that road.
Then we learn that what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. Thank God, no question needs to be raised in our hearts now as to how God feels about all that we were. What we were as “in the flesh,” and all the sins we had committed as connected with that condition, have passed under God’s judgment at the cross, and have been removed out of the way that we might be entirely free, and that, as we walk in the Spirit, the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled IN US. To be fulfilled in us is more than being fulfilled by us; it implies that we have a life and nature that delights in what the law asks. What are those righteous requirements? Well, that we should love one another. If we love and are occupied with Christ, we shall be interested in the things which interest Him. If you are entirely indifferent to the interests of any person I am certain you have no love for that person. If you love a person, you are interested in that person’s interests. And so, if you love Christ, you are interested in His interests, you love those who are precious to Him, and you will be ready to suffer for them, and won’t be back-biting, quarrelling and criticizing; you won’t be seeking to injure others if love is active; you will return good for evil and you will be ready to forgive. It is in this way that the new and victorious life finds expression. Not in great exploits, as some imagine and desire, but in self-forgetful service, remembering that it is written in this same epistle, “EVEN CHRIST PLEASED NOT HIMSELF.” That is the victorious life, for it is the life of Christ, and in that life we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us—chapter 8:36-37; not by killing, but by being killed; not in doing deeds that would call attention to ourselves, but in denying self, setting self aside, and being ready to suffer for His sake.
Now for a moment turn back to chapter 6. Verse 14 says, “Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under law but under grace.” Law made great demands which we could not satisfy, being “in the flesh.” It made its demands without supplying any life, virtue or power by which they could be met, and so it only exposed our bankruptcy, or helplessness, and sin. It showed what we were. Grace shows what God is—God in the fulness of His goodness and love in Christ; and it tells us that all He is, is for us. Grace is the never-failing, always available supply by which the life which we have in Christ is kept in vigour, and by it every demand from every quarter can be faced. It is what God is, and God is for us.
A word may be necessary as to what the flesh is which is contrasted so strongly with the Spirit in the early part of this chapter.
“The flesh” is not the body; it cannot be that, for the body becomes the temple of the Holy Ghost. It is that evil principle that governs man, that makes him his own centre instead of God. It is the very nature of man until he is born again—all his motives spring from self-love: see it in the ambitious politician, the man who is making haste to get rich, the man who lives for pleasure; let us look at our own lives apart from Christ and the Spirit—that is the flesh, and the end of that is death. If we live in the flesh we shall die—corruption and death are the end of that road. But if we are walking in the Spirit and minding the things of the Spirit, we shall not be self-centred, we shall be Christ-centred, and there will be life and peace. Which road shall we take—the road that ends in death, or the road of life and peace: shall we walk after the flesh and be self-centred, or walk according to the Spirit and be Christ-centred?
There is only one overcoming life, and that is the one life that has been imparted to all who believe. It is the life of the risen, victorious Christ who has conquered death, shaken the dominion of the devil to its very base, and who has gone up on high to be a life-giving centre and head, and to maintain in triumph by His ceaseless intercession all those whose faith and hopes and love are centred in Himself.