Dead to the Law
Watchman Nee, The Glory of His Life, CFP white cover
Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God. (Rom. 7.4)
For that which I do 1 know not: for not what I would, that do 1 practise; but what I hate, that I do. But if what I would not, that I do, 1 consent unto the law that it is good. So now it is no more 1 that do it, but sin which dwelleth in me. For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me, but to do that which is good is not. For the good which I would 1 do not: but the evil which I would not, that I practise. (Rom. 7.15-19)
Romans 7 is a chapter which we are most familiar with, not only in the reading of it but also in the experiencing of it. We frequently read Romans 7, and how often we live Romans 7. What God wants us to know is how we can be delivered from the demand of the law, or in other words, how we can be delivered from ourselves.
Before we discuss this subject of deliverance and the way of deliverance, we must first mention a condition or qualification of those to be delivered. Even though Godís deliverance is prepared for all, not all are delivered. Everyone may be delivered from the law, but not everyone is delivered. The problem is not on Godís side, it is instead on manís side, for not all men desire such deliverance nor are all willing to pay the cost. The apostle in his experience of Romans 7 finally becomes emancipated only because he has fulfilled the condition of knowing what to hate as well as what to desire.
The most urgent problem here, then, is this: that before you can be delivered, is there to be found in you a strong aversion to that temper which you just cannot overcome, to that sin which defeats you all the time, or to that particular point where you always fall? You may presume to believe that sinning is something quite common to all Christians and is therefore unavoidable. Or you may assume the proper attitude of abhorring such condition before God and of asking to be delivered from sinful acts, unclean thoughts, an uncontrollable temper, and wicked passions. The apostle mentions in this chapter 7 not only how he gets released but also how he feels in his heart before he is released. Before he is delivered, how strongly he hates what he does: "For not what I would, that do I practise; but what I hate, that I do" (v.15). Hence the first and foremost question today is: Do you love what you are doing now, or do you hate what you are doing now? We know the apostle becomes liberated because he deeply hates and desperately asks. He is so unwilling to live a life in sin that he is determined to get out of it. He hates his situation so much that he would rather die than to have it extended any longer. Due to his determination, he receives deliverance.
Do you have such a hungry heart today? Do you really find it impossible to continue on being a Christian in this manner? Can you live on if you are still held by sin and not delivered? Have you seen the horror of your condition? What the Lord has burdened me with in this manner is directed towards those who really desire deliverance, those who truly consider their Christian life to be below par. It is not for those who are self-complacentówho are content to live in defeat and sin. It is for those who seek but have yet to find the way, not for those who regard bursts of temper, lustful impulses, and unclean thoughts as insignificant and deceive themselves into thinking that as long as they confess their sins God will surely forgive and thus everything will be all right. The victory of Romans 7 is for those who have experienced the defeats of Romans 7. Unless there is an abhorrence towards the current condition plus an aversion towards ever continuing in such a situation, there can be no victory. All who live a life of defeat and sin without repudiating it will not experience the deliverance of God.
Let it be remembered that each time there is spiritual progress in your life before God it invariably is preceded by a dissatisfaction with your current condition. All progress starts from dissatisfaction. You must be pressed to a point where you feel you have come to the end and that you just cannot continue on any longer. Such kind of life is so abnormal that you find it impossible to live on under the triple bondage of self, the world, and sin. "Not what I would, that do I practise; but what I hate, that I do"óthis type of paradoxical life should not exist. A way out must be found. And to those people who are in such a crisis God will reveal what deliverance is. There is therefore the great need of going before God and asking Him for grace that He would not allow you to live comfortably in this life of sin and defeat. The starting point for each victory is at that moment when you begin to hate your defeat. Whoever is to be delivered needs to be pressed beyond the measure of tolerance. Only such a person as this is open to deliverance.
What I am now going to share is but the way to deliverance; only God can give actual deliverance. In other words, what I here communicate is only light, but what God gives to you directly is alone revelation. Light cannot deliver you, only revelation can.
Romans 7 is a tremendous chapter. It not being appropriate, in so short a space, to comment on the whole chapter, I will select but one particular verse for our primary consideration. And that is verse 4. It first mentions this: "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law . . ." Do we recognize that we need to be delivered from the law? If I were to say we need to be saved from sins we all would understand this because we all know the dreadfulness of sins. If I were to say we must be freed from the world, this we too would comprehend because we see that the world is so wicked as to have crucified our Lord. If I were to say we should be delivered from self, this we also would appreciate because we recognize that the flesh is truly most abhorrent. But when the writer says here that it is needful for us to be delivered from the law, we may not feel very much concerning its need in our lives. If the apostle had said, Be delivered from self, we would have responded with an amen; or, Be delivered from the world, we again would have responded with an amen; or, Be delivered from sins and uncleanness, we once more would have responded the same way. But when he says, Be delivered from the law by being dead to it, we do not know what to answer. We trust that whatever the apostle says must be right; nevertheless, we are puzzled over why he says it. We know the reasons why we must be delivered from sins, self, and the world; yet we do not understand why we should be delivered from the law. Why does the apostle call for us to be dead to the law so as to be freed from it? Is there any relationship between a being delivered from the law and being delivered from the world, from sins, and from self? The relationship is indeed great!
Let us see that one thing is needful for any Christian who is seeking after deliverance: he must first of all know that God has absolutely no hope in him and therefore he ought equally to regard himself as being hopeless. He must be clear as to what assessment God has of him as well as what assessment he has of himself. We are all Christians, for we all belong to Christ. Some of us may be Christians who have been such for many years. We have had our times of failure and have also experienced many stumblings and driftings. But what do we do after each defeat? Almost to a man, after each failure there is a renewed determination. We say to ourselves, "Next time I will be better, I will not fall again!" Yet each defeat also brings in fresh grief. We blame ourselves saying, "Why did I do it? Why do I always fall? I am a believer, I should not be that bad!" We are very much grieved. Hence nearly everyone after a defeat will arrive at these two consequences: one, he wills to do better in the future; and two, he grieves at the past and sighs. These are the things we all usually do. Oftentimes immediately after a failure we cry with anguish, "Why am I so mean? I will never do it next time. O Lord, deliver me!"
Such an experience is similar to that of Romans 7. The trouble is, though, that before the first grief ends, the chance for new grief already arrives. Before the first determination is carried out, the next determination has to be made. Time after time this happens without any improvement. This, then, is our situation. Yet why is this so? It is because we have not been delivered from the law. We have not seen what the law is, nor have we understood what deliverance from the law means.
In order to know how to be delivered from the law, we must first understand the relationship between the law and us. The law is Godís demands on our flesh. By the law God tells us what is right and what is wrong, what we should do and what we should not do, what is forbidden and what is commanded. Hence the law is Godís demands on us. Or to phrase it another way, the law is Godís demands on all who are in Adam. It is His commandments to all who are in Adam as to what they ought not to do. (The purpose of Godís giving the law is to prove the corruption of the flesh which is beyond cure.) Let us remember that not only can God put us under the law, we too who are in Adam may also place ourselves under the law with a view to pleasing God. This means we may set up rules and regulations for ourselves to keep, by which we are saying: I ought not do this and I ought to do that. Besides the commandments given us by God, we also lay down commandments for ourselves to keep, and they are as strict as Godís. Consequently, we have demands on ourselves as well as God has demands on us. All this indicates that we still have hope in this man that is in Adam. We continue to expect him to strive to be better and more victorious. This, in sum, is our current situation: God puts us under the law, and we put ourselves under the law.
What is meant by being delivered from the law? It is to be totally disillusioned about yourself. Not only to be fully disappointed, but also to expect nothing anymore. Henceforth you no longer entertain any hope in yourself. This is a being delivered from the law. God, as it were, allows you to sin day after day in order to make you realize how corrupted and unclean, how unamendable and unconquering you really are, how unable you are to keep the law because you are beyond any help. He wants you to know why He has crucified you in Christ and with Christ. It is because you are corrupted beyond cure. When you finally see yourself helpless, as well as understand that God considers you hopeless, you will then stand on the ground which God has given you. God says you are corrupted to the core and there is absolutely no hope for you; you too say you are so corrupted and helpless that you can only sin, therefore you entertain no hope in yourself. Now this is a being delivered from the law. And what a great deliverance it truly is. The one and only deliverance is a seeing yourself as being utterly hopeless.
Once I met a dear brother in the Lord, a Mr. Keil. He was good with respect to the gospel, and he was used by God to win many souls. At that time he was already 60. One day as we were strolling along, we talked about this matter. He said these lessons should always be taught. I asked him what he meant. He answered thus: "Speaking of my past history, when I was a young believer, I was really most zealous and truly expected to serve the Lord well. I wished to make progress all the time for I wished Keil to do well. But things turned out differently. My situation went from bad to worse: I saw myself being increasingly unable. I was so disappointed, and was truly surprised at my inability. One day a brother spoke to me, saying, ĎMr. Keil, God does not expect what you expect of yourself. You yourself have so much hope, yet God has no hope in you.í I was amazed at such words, and I therefore asked him what God said about me. This brotherís answer was this: ĎGod knows how you are without strength, that you cannot do anything, and that you are completely helpless. And this is why He crucified you. So that you are fit for nothing but to be crucified.í Since that day, as though scales had fallen from my eyes, I can now really see that God has absolutely no demand on me. I today know I can do nothing, and therefore God has had me crucified. Why, then, should I strive anymore.
Even though we know quite well in theory and in teaching that the old Adamic life is unamendable and beyond cure, yet strange to say, when it comes to experience, we still entertain hope in this Adamic life and try to amend and to improve it. Many of us are saying, I am surprised I could commit such a sin! May we be reminded that we should not be surprised at all. What sin will we not commit? We can commit any sin because the root of sin is in us. God crucified us because He saw we were, and still are, helpless and hopeless. So that when the Lord died, we too died. That God has crucified us reveals His estimate of us. Except for death or for being cast aside, we are not fit for anything.
How different is our own appraisal from Godís. We always think we are able and that we can. We consider ourselves capable of victory, sanctification, and progress. But God expects nothing of these from us. He declares that from head to foot our whole being is full of sins and we are altogether useless. Apart from death there is no salvation. Today we should see this basic fact of how God looks at us and what He thinks we deserve. Whoever sees this first is blessed.
How many Christians begin to see that God has absolutely no hope in them only after they have suffered many falls, encountered many defeats, and in their walk have traversed many irretrievable miles! The earlier we see this fact the better. For actual deliverances begin here. Indeed, the release of the true life also starts from here: to see ourselves before God as fit for nothing but death. The earlier we see this the quicker the progress. The entire problem revolves around our conclusion with regard to the old Adamic life. No doubt we all know how unamendable and irredeemable is this old Adamic life; nevertheless, I may ask how few really see they ought to dieóhow few actually acknowledge that apart from death there is no alternative. Knowing the teaching is one thing, understanding and seeing is another. Teaching is comprehended by the mind, but seeing must be revealed in the spirit. All which is without revelation and seeing is not counted because there will be no effect.
To be delivered from the law is to be delivered from Godís demand, which means that, having known the work of Christ as well as the life of Adam, we give up the idea of trying to please God. As long as there is in our heart the thought of seeking progress and pleasing God by our own effort, we are not delivered from the law nor are we exempt from sorrow and despair. Knowing that God does not expect anything from us is the only way not to despair.
We need to be delivered from the law; but how? It is only through death. Why is death capable of freeing us from the law. Because as long as we live, the law has its demand on us. A living person must not violate the law inasmuch as he will be prosecuted if he does. This is exactly what the apostle means by this statement: "For the woman that hath a husband is bound by law to the husband while he liveth" (Rom. 7.2). If the husband still lives, the law has its claim on the woman; but if he dies, the influence of the law ceases and it demands no more. Therefore, apart from death there is no other way to be liberated from the law. For if we live, the law will keep on demanding of us.
Now let us turn from how the law of God makes its claim on us to how we set up law to make demand on ourselves. When do you charge yourself? At the moment when you rise up quite late today you make up your mind that you will get up early tomorrow. Or when you realize how unclean is your life as you struggle from dawn to dusk in the whirlpool of sin and of the world, do you not will to overcome hereafter? You always think you may and you can. Thus, you see yourself as very much alive. The work of Christ cannot be manifested in you.
But if you really know God that He has given you up (in fact, the only thing He can do with you is to crucify you), and if you realize that you are fit for nothing but death, then you will not make any resolution. This is what had happened to me. How I frequently willed never to do it again. But then I asked myself: Am I worthy of death? If so, why will at all? Hence let us see that the way of victory is not in resolution but by standing on the ground which God has given us. Do not hope for better next time, but stand on what ground God may give us. We should no longer make any resolution, neither expect progress nor strive for victoryóbecause we know all these come from the old Adamic life. We instead will put it to death: we will ignore it altogether. As we truly stand on the ground of death we triumph and are set free from every bondage. Consequently, death is our only way out. Neither the world nor sin nor self nor anything else can touch a person who is dead. If we reckon ourselves as dead, we will be beyond the reach of any of these things.
Let us go a step further and see how we die. "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ . . ." Our death is through the body of Christ. As Christ himself died, so we died also. The time when Christ died is when we died. Since Christ has died, we too have died. This is not committing spiritual suicide, nor do we reckon ourselves as dead arbitrarily, attempting to hypnotize ourselves to death. No, it is because we have seen the accomplished fact of Christ on the cross. We therefore know that God has already included us in the death of Christ. When we see this, we cannot help but acknowledge ourselves as being dead.
There are two spiritual experiences in the world which are most amazing. One is seeing Godís plan; that is to say, seeing what God has planned for you and what He designs you to beóto wit, God has sentenced you to death. The other amazing experience is seeing what
God has done for you in Christ. These two spiritual facts are exceedingly great, that you can see what God has determined for you and also see how you are united in one with Christ, thus enjoying in Him all that He has accomplished. For instance, when Jesus Christ died on the cross you were there too, because God had included you in His death. And when His body was broken you too were broken. His crucifixion is your crucifixion, since you and Christ are one. For this reason we are careful about baptism.
Many people suggest that baptism is only an outward ritual, therefore unimportant. Not so. Baptism is a full testimony to what has happened within. We believe that when Christ died, we too have died. The first thing after death will be burial. So by water baptism we are buried. If we do not believe we are dead we will not consent to be buried. Our assent to our being buried is because we believe we are dead. Baptism, then, is a burial performed on the basis of believing both the death of Christ and the death of ourselves. Burial proves that we are dead. To illustrate: When the veil was rent, the cherubim embroidered on the veil were also rent. Just as the veil was rent from top to bottom by God, so the cherubim were rent by God from top to bottom. We know the veil represents the body of Christ (see Heb. 10.20). The cherubim are Godís created beings. When Christ died, the whole creation of God died too. This is the meaning of our being made dead to the law through the body of Christ.
The way of deliverance lies not in a forced reckoning of ourselves as dead. Such teaching of forced reckoning is erroneous. What, then, is the correct way? It is reckoning ourselves as dead in Christ. Not that we die ourselves, but that we were made dead through the body of Christ. Since Christ has died, and we are united with Him, therefore we too have died. The secret of victory is a never looking at ourselves outside of Christ. This is what Christ means by the words "Abide in Me" found in John 15. It is never to look at ourselves outside of Christ. There is nothing good to be looked at outwardly, and these ugly sights cannot be improved either. If we want to look at ourselves we can only look at ourselves in the Lord. As soon as we look at the self outside of Christ we immediately fall. How often we forget the accomplished fact of Christ. We become angry with ourselves, saying, "How can I do this?" We always fail, we constantly fall. We bemoan ourselves and lose heart. Yet let us recognize the fact that all these things are done by the self that is outside of Christ. In Christ we are dead to the law. In case anyone among us has not known this deliverance, why not let that person look at himself in Christ today? In Christ God has had us crucified. He regards us as irreparable, hence there is no salvation except death. He has sentenced us to death and has also crucified us in Christ. We are now delivered from the claim of the law. We are free.
We must absolutely stand on these two facts. First, God sees that apart from death there is no other way to deliver us from the law. Second, God has already crucified us in Christ. The first speaks of Godís plan, and the second, of Godís work. The first is a decision, the second is an accomplishment. We have been broken into tiny fragments beyond the possibility of being made whole. Aside from death there is no salvation. Hence the foundation of redemption is in the cross. How we must accept this fact in our daily life so as to be delivered from the law. If we stand firm on this ground we will prosper. Of course you and I must confess and ask God for forgiveness when we fail. Nevertheless, we do not need to cast another look at the past since all our defeats and falls derive from the old Adamic life. Should we ask the Lord to give us strength so that we will not do it again, to men this looks excellent but to God this is unnecessary because we have died in Christ. Our history has ended, and therefore none of our decisions and desires count. How people always deem the making of a resolution to be the best thing in life, not knowing that it is like a reed which cannot withstand the enemy nor has any use before God.
We have seen how God has crucified us with Christ. But this alone is not sufficient. So we have the following word: ". . . that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God"óand thus we have not only the negative deliverance but also the positive joining, otherwise all will still be in vain. God has not only crucified us, He has also joined usówho have been delivered from the lawóto Christ, who was raised from the dead. The one is a coming out, whereas the other is an entering in. The one is the severance of a relationship, while the other is the establishing of a relationship. It is a being delivered from the law on the one hand and a being joined to Christ on the other. And this latter is what we mean by resurrection. Resurrection is a being joined with Christ, yet not the joining of one but rather the joining of many to Christ. Resurrection is the bringing of many sons into glory. This is what is alluded to in John 12: "Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit" (v.24). Originally there is only one life; now this life enters into many grains. Originally there is but one grain of wheat; now it has multiplied to become many grains. Likewise, Christ through death distributes His life to all believers. Thus, there are two facts in Christ: one is that God has included us in the death of Christ, and therefore when Christ died, we too died; the other is that we are raised together with Christ from the dead, thus receiving His imparted life. These are what all regenerated persons possess and possess together.
We who are resurrected in Christ will bring forth fruit to the glory of God. Since God has given the life of Christ to us, we hereafter are able to live out Christís life. Whatever be the grain of wheat that is sown, there shall be the thirty, the sixty or the hundred grains which grow out of it. If a person plants barley he will not get wheat or squash. What is sown is that which grows. There can be no change. If what is sown is wheat, all which grows out will be wheat. How can we live like Christ and bear fruit to glorify God as Christ did? In only one way: by letting Christ live in us and letting Him live out of us. Consequently, Christ not only died for us on the cross but He also lives for us within us. Who can make us live like Christ? None except the One who gives the life of Christ to us. As we have the life of Christ, we may bear fruit to the glory of God.
Today, lay these things before God and hope that you may see how God looks upon you and me as being hopeless and helpless. Although you may still hope in yourself as though you are able, God entertains no such expectation since He has already crucified you in Christ. Whenever you take your existence outside of Christ you immediately fall. You should only see yourself in Christ. In Him you are in possession of two facts: namely, having died and been resurrected. The one who lives is he who is in Christ. God wants you to live by the life of Christ. On the other hand, all who are in Adam have died. Lay hold of this fact and you are delivered from the law. Keep in mind that you have not only died to the world, to self and to sin, you have also died to the law so that you will hope no more in yourself but stand firm on the ground which God has given you.