Summary: We cannot please God by means of our own effort, but only by means of the Holy Spirit’s power.
God calls on everyone to reject the idea that they can justify themselves by their own good works. That’s what everyone who has yet to come to Christ is doing - seeking to justify themselves in the sight of God, in the sight of others or in their own sight.
Religion leads to the “comparison game.” I compare myself to others to prove my worth (Luke 18:11). Whether it’s an atheist, comparing himself to “religious hypocrites,” or the “good old boy” who justifies himself by saying he’ll never darken the church door because “most of those folks in church on Sunday are with me in the bar with me on Friday,” or the church goer who points out the sins of non-church goers - religion, justifying oneself, always leads to the comparison game because deep down, we know everything isn’t right and so we point to those we think are worse than us. Religion is a dead-end road.
One can never successfully justify himself by means of his good works; but in Christ, God has come and performed the one work necessary for our justification - He paid the penalty for our sin through His sacrifice on Calvary and demonstrated that sin’s penalty had been fully paid through His resurrection.
“He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” - Romans 4:25 (NIV)
But not only can we not be made right with God by means of our own effort, but once we have been declared right with God through faith in Christ, when it comes to living right for God, we cannot do that on our own either. Paul speaks of the futility and frustration associated with trying to live a God pleasing life by means of my own energy, effort, and ingenuity in Romans 7:14-24.
Paul illustration is that in New Testament times capital punishment was sometimes carried out by tying a murder victim’s body directly onto the perpetrator’s back. That way wherever he went he was literally weighed down by his crime, with no way to escape the stench of decomposing flesh. Eventually the bacteria-filled corpse infected him too and he died an agonizing death.
We can’t be right with God by our own effort & we can’t live right for God through our own effort. A “religious” approach is doomed to fail. That’s why Paul declares that my deliverance from this “roller coaster” experience of recommit, try & fail, recommit, try & fail, is my personal love relationship with the living Christ (v. 25a)!
Now, the question is, how to we “flesh out” that newness within us (v. 25b)? The key is choosing to reject religion for real power - the power of the Holy Spirit.
1. We have a new law to live by - vs. 1-4
Rather than being subject to the law of sin and death, we can live by the law of the Spirit of life. As we live by the power of the Spirit, rather than self, we pass beyond the life of constant failure and self-condemnation described by Paul in chapter seven.
Picture a coin falling toward the ground under the influence of the law of gravity. The coin is powerless to overcome that downward pull. It is in its very nature to fall. But before goes too far, someone reaches out, catches the coin, and then lifts it higher and higher in defiance of the law of gravity. The law of the spirit of life in their arm overcomes the law of gravity. This doesn’t mean the original law has ceased to operate, but it does mean that a higher law has come into force. When I try, through my own effort, to live for God, the law of sin and death comes into play and I will fail. But “in Christ Jesus” a higher law operates, “the law of the Spirit of life;” and this law sets us free from the lesser law of sin and death.
The limitation of the coin illustration is that the coin has no will of its own, while we do. If we choose to submit to the law of the Spirit of life, we will not remain subject to the law of sin and death; and escape the condemnation associated with the “roller coaster” experience of recommit, try & fail, recommit, try & fail.
2. We have a new Lord to live for - vs. 5-14
If we are going to reject religion to live according to the Spirit’s power, we must choose daily to live under Christ’s Lordship! No longer am I to be Lord of my life, but I must submit to Christ’s Lordship over me.
When describing the life of religious self-effort in Romans 7, the words “I,” “me,” and “my” are prominent. When describing a life lived by the Spirit’s power in chapter 8, the Holy Spirit is mentioned 19 times!