The Power of One Little Word
Have you ever noticed how one little word in Scripture is enough to bring tremendous revelation and freedom? Romans 8:15 says, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
Why does it say we have not been given a spirit of slavery leading to fear again? This is because Paul, in this letter, has been contrasting living under law and living under grace. When the law is proclaimed, we see how short we fall and the fear of judgment enters our lives. Furthermore, Paul addresses this very issue with the Galatians:
So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir (Gal. 4:3-7).
So we see from these two passages that the spirit of slavery that leads to fear refers to life under the law. However, when we receive our Sonship, i.e. become born again as a child of God, we should never have that fear again. In other words, when God commands something of us as New Covenant sons, our reaction should not be fear, but joy and faith in God’s work in our hearts. John speaks about this difference between law and grace living in this passage:
… this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:3-5).
The Two Types of Preachers
So the job of a law preacher was to reveal the utter helplessness of our self righteousness. But what should the aim of a New Covenant preacher be? It is the exact opposite. A New Covenant preacher should build an absolute confidence in Christ’s perfect work on behalf of man. They should inspire a confidence in the unconditional love that the Father has for us.
… let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful (Heb. 10:22-23).
I remember a time in church as a teenager where we had an old-school holiness guy teach the youth one week. The demands of God’s law were so strongly emphasized and pointed out to us that my heart sunk as I realized this was something I could never accomplish. Little did I realize then, but the law was actually doing its job!
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin (Rom. 3:19).
But I felt confused and condemned because I was ignorant of the New Covenant grace that is present as well as the true purpose of the law. I thought that guy, and many of the other law speakers I had heard, was preaching the gospel. However, the preaching of the futility of our efforts sets the stage for the overwhelming flood of grace revealed in Christ.
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Rom. 3:21-22).
The problem is that we as a church have not made a clear enough distinction between law and grace. We take a little bit of comfort from the law. We might think that we are doing pretty well when it comes to some of our commandment keeping. We might pride ourselves in how well we “repent” when we make a mistake or how much we pray for revival. But we were never supposed to take comfort in the law. The law (tree of knowledge of good and evil) is good, but will kill man if he eats of it.
Likewise, we bring a little bit of judgement into grace. We might think along the lines of, “Yes Jesus saved me from my past sins, but I better make sure to be forgiven of my last sins before I die so I can make Heaven. I better keep short accounts with God or else I could slip away into hell.”
But as we see in Romans, we are to never again be in fear of judgement once we receive the spirit of sonship.
In the days of Jesus on Earth, the Pharisees thought they were okay. Sure they might have known deep down that they fell short of some commands, but hey, they sure nailed it when it came to tithing out of their herb garden. Jesus, who came to uphold and fulfill the law said they were not okay. Let’s look at one of His discussions He had with them (in John 8).
First, Jesus offended them by saying, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” This was probably great news to the humble. But for those who thought they had their stuff together:
They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
So Jesus, excellent Law preacher that He was, had to drive in the point.
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.”
In order that they could be saved, Jesus revealed the disease of sin that was present in them. Their sinning was a symptom of their overall slavery to sin. See, a good doctor is one who let’s you know exactly what is going on in you. It would only harm you if they said that your terminal illness was a mere virus that would pass. But blinded by their self-righteousness, the Pharisees replied,“Abraham is our father.”
Does Jesus then say, “You know, you guys aren’t that bad. Take comfort in the fact that you are better than most other Israelites”? No, he had to uphold the law, which was meant to silence them. The more they spoke, the heavier the judgement of the law got.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father.”
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Wow! So we see what trying to keep the law gets you; an ever-increasing “revelation” about your self-depravity. That spirit of self-righteous ability to be like God started with the devil, the father of lies.
In contrast, to the humble woman caught in adultery, interestingly also in John chapter 8, Jesus did not say, “Okay, you’re still going to be condemned, but I will see what I can do to make it a little better. I’ll throw in some grace with your judgement”?
No, but rather, “Neither do I condemn you. Go (in the freedom of grace) and sin no more.” This is His word to us as well who have received Him. Rather than keeping the law and then receiving “no condemnation”, grace starts us at the highest place of blessing. He does not condemn us, so we have good reason to never fear again and power to not live in sin.
My friends, if you start to get worried or in despair over your stance with God while reading your Bible, remember that one little word. Just stop, relax, and thank God that you are not a slave to fear of law-based judgement again.