The Life of God in the Soul of Man
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. (NIV)
True Religion According to Henry Scougal
Let's begin by stating the central truth of Henry Scougal's book, The Life of God in the Soul of Man (Sprinkle Publications, 1986, originally, 1677), first in the old 17th century language he uses and then in contemporary language. The central truth of the book in his words is that true religion is essentially an inward, free, self-moving principle of divine life, not merely a system of thought or behavior constrained by external considerations. It is the life of God within the human soul enlivening and motivating; it is not "driven merely by threatenings, nor bribed by promises, nor constrained by laws" (p. 36).
A Helpful yet Misleading Comparison
How would you put that in more contemporary language? I would say: Becoming a Christian is more like a larva becoming a butterfly than like a republican becoming a democrat (or if you prefer: a democrat becoming a republican).
What Is Helpful
There is something wonderful and true about this comparison and there is something terrible and misleading about it. The wonderful and true thing is that being a Christian does indeed compare to being a non-Christian like flying in a garden compares to lying in a cocoon.
When the divine command comes to a butterfly, "Fly!" it feels no burden, no fear, no guilt. It just does what it has been made to do: it flies—and sings to the grace of God with every flap of the wing. It has the new nature of a flier that it didn't have when it was a larva in the cocoon. That is what Scougal means by the "vital principle" of true religion in the soul.
But when the divine command comes to the larva in the cocoon, "Fly!" it does not fly. Instead it has three options for how it can respond. 1) It can sink in despair and say, "I can't fly! There is no hope for me!" Or 2) it can soar in self-deceit and say, "I am flying! See, there is the ground way down there." Or 3) it can do what St. Augustine did and cry out, "Command what you will, and grant what you command—Make me a butterfly, O my God!"
The true and wonderful thing about the comparison is that it points to the necessity and the miracle of the new birth. To be a Christian is to have a new vital principle of life in the soul so that the commands of God are not oppressive, but are the beckoning of a beautiful spring day and the aroma of a flower-filled garden. By the grace of God we have been transformed into butterflies. The life of God has come to dwell in our soul and it is now our nature to be up and flying for the Savior.
What Is Misleading
But there is also something terrible and misleading about the comparison between a larva becoming a butterfly and a republican becoming a democrat. It could give impression that the study and reflection and choice that goes into changing your political affiliation is not part of what goes into becoming a butterfly. But that would be terrible and misleading.
The miracle of spiritual metamorphosis from a non-Christian larva to a Christian butterfly does not happen through the unconscious chemical processes inside a cocoon, but through the conscious consideration of truth. Everywhere in the Bible men and women, who are larva-like in their capacities for spiritual flight, are spoken to as responsible persons. The messengers of God speak to them with persuasions and evidences and entreaties and exhortations and commands and warnings and promises and reasonings and arguments and incentives—that they should be up and flying!
Why? Because the beauties and the aromas of the garden where butterflies fly are the glorious perfections of God. And the perfections of God are glorified most if the conversion of non-Christian larvae into Christian butterflies is owing to the compelling power of the beauty of the garden of his perfections. But how do these perfections come to be known and loved? The answer is that the perfections of God are known by the mind and relished by the will. And therefore, if God is to get glory, all metamorphoses—all conversions—must come about by addressing the mind and the will of non-Christians with the compelling truth and beauty of the garden of God.
Summary of the Comparison
So, on the one hand, it is wonderful and true to say that becoming a Christian is more like a larva becoming a butterfly than like a democrat becoming a republican, because conversion does involve the giving of a new nature with new powers of spiritual flight.
But, on the other hand, if you press the comparison too far, it is terrible and misleading because in fact Christian conversion is more like changing political parties than becoming a butterfly, because it always involves the presentation of truth to the mind and a reasonable appeal to the will of the unbeliever.
How the New Life Comes into Being in the Soul
How then does the new butterfly-life of the Christian come into being? Henry Scougal says that the root of the new, divine life in the soul of man is faith. And he defines faith beautifully and profoundly and so differently than most contemporary Christianity. He says that faith is a "feeling persuasion of spiritual things." Faith is not just a feeling. And it is not just a persuasion. It is a "feeling persuasion." And this new feeling persuasion of divine things is the root that taps into the divine life of God in the soul.
And how does that root of faith come to be planted in the soul? The Bible says, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). The "feeling persuasion" of divine things happens when the truth and beauty of those things are exhibited to the mind in the Word of God.
And this is what I want to do in the rest of our time this morning. I want to exhibit to your mind from the Word of God in Romans 8 three effects or results of having the life of God in your soul. And my prayer as I do this is that the truth of these things would commend itself to your mind and that their spiritual beauty would be compelling to your will and that you would be gripped by a "feeling persuasion" of these great spiritual realities, and so come to enjoy them in your own life forever.
Three Effects of the Life of God in the Soul
In Romans 8:9 Paul identifies Christians like this: "But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you." Christians are those in whom the Spirit of God dwells. This is what Scougal means by the life of God in the soul of man. God lives in the soul of man by the indwelling of his Spirit. Let us look, then, at three effects of this awesome reality of the indwelling of the life of God in our souls.
1. A New Relationship
The life of God in the soul of man brings about a new relationship to God and his Son.
In the last part of verse 9 Paul says, "Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." In other words the fundamental effect of having the Spirit is that he makes you belong to Christ. You are not your own. You were bought with a price. And the Spirit of God and of Christ (which are one) has sealed this new relationship forever. You are Christ's this morning because you are indwelt by the Spirit and life of God.
But the indwelling of the life of God brings about a new relationship not only with God the Son, but also with God the Father. Verses 15 and 16:
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
The Spirit of God is the Spirit of adoption. Or to put it another way, the life of God in the soul of man creates a living union between Father and child. The nature of the Father is imparted to the child, and the old relationship of slave to slaveholder is utterly changed. A new, free, overpowering impulse now governs our lives: not cowering slavery, but glad-hearted sonship.
2. A New Leadership
The second thing that the life of God in the soul brings about is a new leadership.
Verse 14: "All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God."
When the Spirit of God invades the soul of man, a new leader emerges, namely, God. But the leadership is not the dominating external constraint of a slaveholder. It is the leadership of a new inner principle of life, as Henry Scougal would say. The Spirit loves the things of God and so he leads by imparting that love of divine and holy things to us. And so the commandments of God are not burdensome because we have the nature of God within us.
The Spirit leads by implanting a kind of homing instinct for heaven. Or, to change the image, the leadership of the Spirit is so powerful and yet our response is so free that Paul calls it fruit—the fruit of the Spirit—and not works, in Galatians 5:22. The Spirit leads forth the fruit of righteousness by making the tree good.
3. A New Freedom
That brings us already to the third thing that the life of God in the soul brings about, namely, a new freedom.
Verse 2: "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death."
Christians are not lawless. There is a law in Christ Jesus. But it is something very different than the mere written code engraved in stone. This law is written on the heart. It doesn't just tell us not to sin; it comes with its own power to break our bondage to sin. And therefore it frees us from death which is the penalty of sin. And is called in this verse the "law of the Spirit of life," because it is nothing less than the Spirit of God himself writing the will of God on our heart so that, as verse 4 says, "the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk . . . according to the Spirit."
So the life of God in the soul of man frees us from the dominion of sin not by stamping our toes when we take a wrong step, but by stamping itself, with its own nature, on our heart and making its own will the thing we love to do. The greatest freedom in the world is becoming the kind of person who loves to do those things against which there is no law (Galatians 5:23!!!).
Is God a Schizophrenic?
But here Paul has to face up to the problem of schizophrenia in God. On the one hand, he has taught us very clearly in this book that all of us have sinned and fallen short of God's glory (3:23), that the wages of sin is death (6:23), and that the holy wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness (1:18).
But here in Romans 8:2 God, the just and holy Judge of all the earth, sends his Holy Spirit not to punish sinners but to free them from the power of sin and the sentence of death. So how is God not a schizophrenic? Does he hate sin and pour out his wrath on sinners or does he send his Spirit to free condemned sinners from the control of sin and the curse of death?
The Solution as Paul Sees It
Verse 3 is the solution that Paul sees.
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.
Before God made an agreement with his Spirit that the Spirit should go and free sinners from the power of sin and from the sentence of death, he first made an agreement with his Son that the Son should go and bear the condemnation for sin.
So when the Spirit of God goes forth to free his people from the dominion of sin and the sentence of death, it is not because God has ceased to hate sin, or that he has ceased to be a just judge. It's because the just and awesome Judge of the world who hates sin with infinite hatred is so rich in love that he put his Son in our stead and secured for us an eternal acquittal.
Complete Harmony and Unity in the Trinity
So there is not the slightest whiff of schizophrenia in the Godhead. There is complete harmony and unity as the trinity conspires to redeem a people for the praise of God's glory.
- Out of the riches of his love, God the Father plots the salvation of his sinful people.
- He covenants with his Son to stand in their stead under his holy wrath on the cross.
- And then he turns, as it were, to his Spirit and says, "Fear not that we are working at cross purposes. By the death of my Son I have acquitted my people of all their sin and taken away their guilt. And now I commission you with all my heart and with all my soul: apply this great purchase to their hearts and strip the chains off their souls."
A Closing Appeal
O, how I hope you see, and love, and praise the interweaving of the work of the Trinity in your salvation! The Father planned it, the Son purchased it, and now the Spirit—the very life of God in your soul—is applying it, freeing you from the chains of sin that have no place on the souls of the redeemed!
O, do not resist him! Do not quench his fire or grieve his heart! His work on your behalf is very glorious and very precious. Do you know why the Holy Spirit is grieved when we resist him? It's because he loves the Son of God. For every time we resist the work of the Spirit in our lives we belittle the blood of Christ, because Christ shed his blood to purchase for us the gift of the Holy Spirit.
If we neglect the new relationship he provides with God as Father, if we oppose the new leadership he brings, if we grab the chains of our sin and resist his deliverance, then we treat the blood of Christ as a cheap thing, because the very aim of shedding his blood was to secure for us the presence and power and cleansing of the Spirit of God—life of God—in our souls.
Yield to the ongoing work of God's Spirit in your life today! Trust in the finished work of God's Son today! And praise the greatness of God's love and the glory of his grace that planned it all.