THE HOLY SPIRIT AND OUR HANDICAPS
There is therefore now no condemnation [disability].
There is, therefore, now no condemnation [disability] to them which are in Christ Jesus…. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.—Romans 8:1, 2
O UR DISABILITIES AND HANDICAPS need not limit our usefulness. We are not doomed to limp along doing our poor best, hardly daring to hope that the future can be better than the past. There is deliverance from all our temperamental and psychological problems. This is the optimistic and satisfying thesis of Paul the missionary in Romans 8.
Nowhere in literature, sacred or profane, is there a more poignant portrayal of the defeated life than in Romans 7. The agony of heart which approves the good but does the evil is presented in graphic pictures. “For that which I do I know not: for not what I would, that do I practice; but what I hate, that I do” (7:15, A.S.V.). “To will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not” (7:18, A.S.V.). The apostle is deeply conscious of an inversion of will. His whole will is against the involuntary sinful actions of the flesh. He does not choose them, but when the critical point in temptation arrives his will is paralyzed. The climax is reached in7:24(A.S.V.): “Wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me out of the body of this death?”
From the unrelieved pessimism of chapter 7 we emerge into the glorious optimism of chapter 8. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). Some have difficulty in following the train of Paul’s argument as it moves out of chapter 7 into chapter 8. The subject of chapter 5 is deliverance from the penalty of sin. Chapter 6 presents sin as a tyrant from whose power the cross of Christ brings deliverance. Chapter 7 vividly depicts the civil war in the believer’s heart, culminating in his cry for deliverance from sin’s power. But in chapter 8 the answer apparently has reference to deliverance from sin’s penalty, and it seems that the apostle has back-tracked in his argument. In reality this is not the case.
The late Archbishop Harrington C. Lees has placed us in his debt for an illuminating suggestion derived from the Greek papyri discovered in the early years of the century. Let me quote:
One of the great debts which we owe to the modern discoveries of those who have been translating for us the Greek papyri is this: that the word “no condemnation” has a different bearing to what we often thought. The word in the Greek though still a legal term, is not criminal but civil. It refers to land on which there is a legal embarrassment, a handicap, a mortgage, a restrictive covenant, a ground rent, some arrears; the dead hand of the past pressing upon the tenure of the present. The estate must be guaranteed free from that. “No drawback,” says the lawyer when he makes the conveyance and passes over the estate.
So long as there is an encumbrance on the estate, the legal owner does not have full and unrestricted enjoyment of his property, since someone else has a claim on it. But to those who are “in Christ Jesus,” united to Him by a living faith, there is no sort of condemnation or handicap, either civil or criminal.
Now with this fresh light on the text, it is not difficult to discern the apostle’s line of argument. In chapter 7 the Christian is groaning under the pressure of past sin and failure which is cramping and blighting his present experience. The message of chapter 8 is that spiritual failure in the past need not adversely affect the present, for “there is therefore now no condemnation”—no drawback, disability, handicap, encumbrance—”to them which are in Christ Jesus.” The only qualification is that we be “in Christ Jesus.” Since that is our blessed privilege, this is true of us. We need no longer limp along under the crippling disabilities and handicaps of the past. There is nothing carried over from the old life whose power is not broken judicially through our union with Christ in His death and resurrection. This is the Gospel for the believer.
It is one thing to see a truth taught in the Scriptures and quite another to translate it into personal experience in the context of our own temperament and environment. What is the secret? Chapter 7 is studded with the capital “I” which occurs more than thirty times, while the Holy Spirit is mentioned only once. In chapter 8 it is the Holy Spirit who is prominent and the capital “I” occurs only twice—and even then in a joyous connection. The open secret is that deliverance from domination of sin will be ours when the capital “I” ceases to be central and the Holy Spirit is honored and obeyed. He can then mediate to us the resurrection power of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the Divine Dynamic, the Divine Stimulus. More is said about Him in this chapter than anywhere else in Scripture, with the exception of the Upper Room discourse. It is He who transforms defeat and despair into victory and delight. Chapter 8 thus presents the believer as entirely free from the hampering shackles and encumbrances of the past.
Who among us is not painfully conscious of his handicaps and disabilities in Christian living and service? We come up against them at every turn, and it is this fact which makes Paul’s categorical statement of such tremendous importance to us. “No handicap, no disability.” How glad we should be that our great High Priest shared the weaknesses of our human nature, is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and in the gift of the Holy Spirit has made adequate provision for every drawback to which we are subject! Let us consider some of the disabilities to which the activity of the Holy Spirit is the satisfying answer.
A BIAS TOWARD SIN (8:2)
The “law of sin and death” is universally operative, giving us a fatal bias toward sin. Not one of us naturally tends toward that which is holy. “Every virtue we possess.., is His alone.” This verse reveals two opposing laws, the higher of which offsets and neutralizes the power of the lower. The power of the Divine Personality of the Holy Spirit counter-acts sin’s sway and leaves the believer free to fulfill the law of God of which he so heartily approves. Just as the law of life in the plant counteracts the downward pull of gravitation and allows it to express itself in flower and fruit, so the irresistible “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” neutralizes the downward bias of sin and leaves the believer free to manifest the graces and produce the fruit of the Spirit. A bias toward sin need no longer disable us.
THE DESIRES OF THE FLESH (8:5, 6)
The natural desires of our human nature, though neutral in themselves, have become debased and perverted through our racial heritage and our own indulgence in sin. “The mind of the flesh” manifests itself in unhallowed ambitions, in rivalries, in proud demeanor, in unholy longings and imaginations, in unkind and censorious speech. Even in our best moments the mind of the flesh intrudes. But when by a definite act and attitude of committal we allow the Holy Spirit to control and dominate our minds, He transforms its tastes and desires. It is for us to choose whether we will set our minds on the things of the flesh or on the things of the Spirit. God cannot do that for us. But the moment we set our weak wills on God’s side, the Holy Spirit immediately responds and empowers. The disabilities arising from the desires of the flesh are not final.
AN UNCONTROLLED HEART (8:9-11)
In Melbourne, Australia, while the owners were away on vacation, a group ofteen-age “rock-’n-roll” addicts commandeered their home and for two weeks staged a continuous party, leaving the home a shambles. The wrong people were in control. How fickle are our hearts, how easily drawn away from devotion to Christ by the lure of the world and the lust of the flesh! But the Holy Spirit is here revealed as the permanent Caretaker of the heart—Monitor, Censor, and Guard—and attention is drawn to His omnipotent power in this connection. He is the “Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead.” With this mighty Spirit in control of our hearts anything becomes possible. There is no disability of the heart where the Spirit is in control.
A HOSTILE WILL (8:7, 13)
“The mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God; neither indeed can it be” (A.S.V.). We are all familiar with the manner in which our wills rise up in rebellion against the will of God. When under the impulse of sin the body asserts its desires, the will turns traitor, collaborateswithit, and betrays the citadel to the enemy. Here is a grave disability, but for it there is a Divinepanacea in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. “If ye through the Spirit do mortify [lead to death] the deeds of the flesh, ye
shall live” (8:13). He will enable us to conduct a constant execution of that evil principle, and further will impart the will to do His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
AN INDEPENDENT SPIRIT (8:14)
“I do like to do what I like,” said the little daughter of a friend. We all like to run our lives, and in most of us there is an inherent tendency to resent any authority imposed from without. Even regeneration does not eradicate the desire to “turn every one to his own way.” The characteristic of the Sons of God is that they are led by the Spirit of God, and sons here indicates not children but those who share the rank, character, likeness, and privilege of their Father. Independence of spirit is a mark of spiritual immaturity or decadence. Submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit is a sign of mature Christian character. The Spirit will gladly lead us when we place the reins of our lives in His hands, and will deliver us from this disability.
A TIMOROUS HEART (8: 15-17)
“Ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear” (A.S.V.). It is not at all difficult to relapse from faith into fear, in circumstances with which some of us are familiar. All unbidden, fear tends to clutch at the heart, and before its onslaught we feel utterly impotent. Satan will endeavor to persuade us out of our sonship, as he did with Jesus, with his twice-repeated, “If thou be the Son of God.” He will attack us on our call and on our consecration at any point which will stifle confidence in God. It is here that the Holy Spirit unites with our spirit in witness that we are ‘indeed children of God, that He did Indeed call us, that our consecration was real and not counterfeit. Fear and faith are entirely incompatible, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of faith. When He is in control the disability of a timorous heart disappears.
A PRAYERLESS HEART (8:26, 27)
“We know not how to pray as we ought” (A.S.V.). Prayer is so complex a spiritual exercise that the ripest saint would readily subscribe to the apostle’s statement. In the face of our own disinclination to pray, and our infirmities when we do overcome our reluctance, this assurance of the help of the Spirit of prayer is doubly welcome. He will assist us in the infirmities of the body. Adverse climatic conditions, lack of privacy, and difficulty in concentration, physical pain and discomfort—all come in the scope of this Divine undertaking to help our weaknesses. The Spirit of prayer will teach us to pray.
The consistent teaching of this glorious chapter is that every drawback or disability under which we may labor is more than offset by the inworking of the Holy Spirit. But one point must be underlined. He can do in us and for us only as much as we trust Him to do. “According to your faith be it unto you” is a principle of universal application. If we are content to continue in an unsatisfactory prayer life and do not definitely trust Him to help us in our weaknesses, we thereby shackle His omnipotence. He will do all we trust Him to do. Do we honor Him by trusting Him fully?
During the Delhi Durbar which followed the coronation of King Edward VII, the Maharajah of Dabha had a plot of land outside Delhi allotted to him. When he went away he paid a large sum into the local treasury in order that that piece of land might be free from the burden of taxes forever. “I, the King, have rested here,” he said, “therefore the land shall be free from burdens forever.” And today those who are near Delhi who have no money may freely claim their place in that spot which another has paid for. They may enjoy without restriction the gift which their king made to them. Our Lord Jesus too “pitched his tent” here (John 1:14), and all the blessings of which this chapter speaks have been paid for by Him. We may now enjoy them without restriction, for “there is therefore now no condemnation [disability] to them which are in Christ Jesus.”
Taken from the 7th Chapter of J. Oswald Sanders book entitled Spiritual Clinic.