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Law addresses man in the flesh, in Adam. The life of the Lord Jesus, by the Spirit, directs and enables man in Him. It is the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2). The former seeks to produce something from the man, subjecting him to this and that exercise and rule in order to produce a given result (and knowing it’s failure—NC). The latter, the Spirit of Christ in me, controls me according to the mind and nature of the Lord Jesus who is my life, and uses my body as a vessel.
In the case of one using the law as a rule of life, there is an effort to attain by the flesh that which is not in it*. In the other case, the Holy Spirit only expresses the desire of the new man, and then demonstrates the qualities of the Lord Jesus, in spite of the flesh which has not only no sympathy with the Spirit, but on the contrary, has unceasing opposition to Him (Gal 5:17).
When I am legal* I am attempting to answer the law by my flesh (sin nature; old man—NC); I am only occupied with an attempt to extract something from the flesh and so long as I do this, it is in a way that is pleasing to the flesh, because the flesh is acknowledged. Now the spiritual man is quite different—he has the taste and the power to also accomplish what he aims at, and he in the Spirit resists and silences the flesh which interferes with him, and there is actual compensation and success at the same time. If there is suffering in the flesh (i.e. in the resisting), there is known joy in the Spirit.
There is not, as in the legalist, depression and excitement alternating according as there is hope or no hope from the process of training, or rather exaction. The spiritual man doubts not the power and good quality of that on which he depends, and he is happy in acting according to the mind of the Lord Jesus, no matter what waves and currents he may be exposed to.
Struggling to row a great boat is legality. There may be some progress where there is no opposition, but then all the tugging though very arduous and self-extracting is of no use. The spiritual life is like a boat powered by steam, and hence it goes everywhere according to the Captain’s orders. Tides, currents nor winds need be taken into account.
Where the legalist is baffled and exercised to no purpose, the spiritual man moves on with dignity and purpose, not attempting what is not in him, but answering by the great power in him to the mind of the Lord Jesus. The legalist is ever thinking of his oar; everything depends on his stroke. The spiritual attends only to the word of the Master, and by the simple movement of the helm turns to the exact point to which he has been directed. The legalist is ever thinking of his conduct (i.e. basing it for favor—NC). The spiritual is thinking of the Lord Jesus and His Word, and seeks strength to walk according to it.
You can always distinguish the legalist from the spiritual by the way each moves about or does any act. The former is thinking of how he is doing it, the latter of the intention of it. The former is thinking of his own manner, the latter of his company and how he can serve them. There is moroseness and severity about the former, but a glow of life and triumph about the latter, “who rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phl 3:3).
- J B Stoney
* “attain by the flesh that which is not in it”: I understand it that the Law was God showing man that outward obedience performed by one in a sinful nature (old man) could not make one’s soul “complete” (Heb 9:9). The outward sacrificial ordinances of Israel cleansed only the body (flesh) but not the soul (Heb 9:13). This required One not in a sinful nature, who was the “perfect tabernacle” (Heb 9:11 – conceived of the Spirit, not the flesh). Thus the believer’s obedience is performed in the new nature which is in Christ (Col 3:10) and not in the sinful nature (flesh – Rom 8:9). Israel’s Law obedience secured God’s forgiveness (i.e. Num 15) but did not address the sin nature. It did not make one’s soul “perfect” (complete – new nature).
* “legal”: obeying with the thought of it addressing favor with God, which the believer already has in Christ; and which in no other way can God’s favor exist towards man. Our obedience pleases Him but will not affect favor and thankfully so. For if obedience affected favor then so would disobedience, even though ignorantly disobedient!
Excerpt from MJS devotional for November 20:
“The moment we begin to rest our peace on anything in ourselves, we lose it. And this is why so many saints have not settled peace. How can you have settled peace? Only by having it in the Father’s way. By not resting on anything, even the Spirit’s work within (i.e. concerning enablement for obedience—NC), but on what the Lord Jesus has done entirely outside you.” – W K