MESSAGE FOR JUNE 20, 1999 FROM ROMANS 8:1-4

 

          Paul’s opening pronouncement as he begins the eighth chapter of Romans is perhaps one of the most celebrated phrases in the entire Bible. You can almost hear the trumpets heralding the glorious truth, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,…”  Paul is clearly moving into a new area of his treatment of the battle between the power of sin and the power of grace he began in chapter six.  But even though his emphasis will be different, we know that what he will discuss in chapter eight is connected to what he said in chapter seven because he begins chapter eight with the connective word, “Therefore.”  The question this word begs is this:  As Paul proclaims our freedom from condemnation, how is that connected to chapter seven? 

          How is chapter eight, which announces and teaches on the triumph of God over the power and penalty of sin, connected with chapter seven which, for the last 12 verses, gives the autobiographical account of Paul’s repeated failures and frustrations in his attempt to battle sin under the law in the flesh (that is, in his own strength)?  How do you connect on the one hand, our freedom from sin’s power in chapter eight to the seemingly overwhelming power of sin in the last half of chapter seven?  The answer is twofold. First, Paul is connecting our freedom from sin’s condemning power to verse 25 in chapter seven.  You’ll remember Paul in verse 24 gives his anguished cry over his inability to overcome the power of sin in his own strength and asks, “…Who will rescue me from this body of death?”  Then in verse 25 he gives the triumphant answer to this plea for a Rescuer, “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

          The triumphant response that it is Jesus Christ who will deliver Paul and all believers from the power of sin, in part gives Paul the ground to launch from that into, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,”  But in verse one,  Paul also hearkens way back to 7:6 which is the last verse before he launches into his defense of the goodness of the law.  In 7:6, Paul says, “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”  That verse very nicely summarizes what Paul says in chapter eight.  Its as if someone were reading chapter seven and asks Paul, “Hey Paul, in verses 13-25 you give this impassioned account of your frustration over the seemingly overwhelming bondage of being under the law and under the power of sin but in 7:6 you say “..we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not the old way of the written code?” –what’s that about?”  Chapter eight answers that question.  We could put the question this way, “How can believers who, in their own strength can never get out from under or overcome the power of sin, live out increasingly triumphant lives OVER the power of sin?”

          And Paul’s answer to that question is this:  Believers need not fear the condemnation the law of God brings because they have been freed from the penalty and power of sin.  Remember, a big part of  Paul’s argument up to this point is to stress the truth that although the law is good, it condemns--it brings the wrath of God on people because people are unable to keep the law and because sin uses the law to reveal and even stimulate the sin of people.  But at the same time,  in 7:6 (not to mention chapter six) he has held out the hope that in Christ, sin’s penalty and power have been broken.  In Chapter eight, Paul goes into some detail  not only as to HOW did God defeat sin’s power and penalty in the life of a believer but also WHY God has defeated sin’s power and penalty?

          Let’s read what Paul’s answers to those questions are in Romans 8:1-5. 

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For 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, 4in 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.”  The first question we want this text to answer is: HOW did God defeat both the penalty and power of sin in the life of the believer?

          We know from chapter seven that there is no way any sinner can break the power and penalty of sin—that feat had to be accomplished by God and Paul tells us how he did it in verse three.  For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature (flesh), God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.”  Here Paul reiterates his point in chapter seven.  That is that the law, contrary to popular Jewish opinion, could never make a person holy because no one, in the weakness of their flesh could keep the law.  The good news of the gospel is that God filled the vacuum of sinful, human weakness and inability to keep the law with his Son.  There are two ways in which God has broken the power and penalty of sin in the life of a believer.

          When Paul says that Jesus was sent “in the likeness of sinful man” he is not saying that Jesus was a sinner.  He is merely pointing to the fact that, in order for Jesus to pay the penalty for sinful humanity, he had to come as a human being in order to satisfy the penalty of Sin.  The first Adam, a human, sold humanity into the slavery of sin.  That means the only One who could free humanity from sin’s penalty and power had to come to this world as a human being. (quote 5:19?)

          Think about this a moment.  When Adam sinned, he brought the entire human race under the lordship of sin—under its murderous, tyrannical rule.  What’s more, because he was given stewardship over the entire world, that meant that his sin also infected in some way the entire world. So you have a human race that is utterly incapable of overcoming sin—they are in utter subjection to its tyrannical power.  You have a world that, in spite of its glory is polluted with sin.  That means no matter what is done to intervene, sin has a seemingly insurmountable home field advantage, because this world is incredibly sin-friendly.  Its very hospitable to sin because it is tainted with sin. 

But that’s not all.  The person whom Adam sold his God-given authority over this world to is the Prince of darkness.  Adam transferred the dominion God had given him over the world to Satan who became, according to Jesus, “the prince of this world.”  And his agenda is not to in any way help rescue humanity, but to kill, steal and destroy it.  And he had no trouble mowing people down left and right because God had decreed that sin BRINGS DEATH.  So, with the power of sin in his holster he had a veritable “doomsday machine” which he could use as a wrecking machine against humanity.  He had a nuclear powered weapon to use against humanity because he had sin and sin is to humanity what Kryptonite is to Superman.

To make matters worse, when God introduced his holy law, instead of making humanity more able to liberate themselves from sin’s power, just the opposite occurred.  The law only stimulates them to more and more sin and thus was used by sin to tighten the coils of sin even more around humanity.  The strangle hold of sin on humanity only increased with the advent of the law of God.  That is the horrible situation confronting sinful humanity and as we said, to crown it all off, the only way this sin-soaked mess of humanity can be delivered and cleaned up is by a human being.  One reason for this was, God had decreed to Satan at the fall in Genesis 3:15 that it would be the offspring of the woman who would “crush your head and you will strike his heal.” 

          The all too obvious glitch in that solution is that one human being who himself is under the bondage of sin cannot rescue others from that bondage.  If my hands are tied behind my back, how on earth am I supposed to untie your hands?  A person safely locked in solitary confinement will not be leading any prison breaks.  And yet we know that every human being ever born came out of their mother’s womb hopelessly bound by the penalty and power of sin.  When you arrange the pieces on the board as they were, it sure seems like Satan and the power of sin had checkmated the human race.  What possible escape from sin could there be given the incredible saturation of humanity BY sin’s power and the parameters for rescue FROM SIN God had established in the garden? 

          You can almost hear the malevolent, arrogant laughter redounding through the chambers of hell as Satan surveys this wretched situation.  Humanity is totally buried underneath the inestimable tonnage of sin and there is no human who can even begin to step up and challenge his tyrannical rule…save One.  As much as we can imagine the arrogant snickering of Satan,  you can even more clearly hear the unprecedented, once-in-an-eternity gasp of shock that echoed through the heavenlies when the Father revealed his plan of redemption to his heavenly host.  God was going to do WHAT to rescue these rebellious, hell bound ingrates?  It was true that no sinful human could rescue the race from the tyranny of sin, but The Father had, from eternity past decided that he would send his Son, “in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.” 

          This Rescuer would meet all the requirements.  He would come to this earthly, tainted world do battle sin with sin on its home field.  He would daily for 33 years defeat the powers of sin arrayed against Him and live a sinless life.  And he, as the pure, sinless payment would offer himself as a sacrifice of atonement to take the wrath of God against sin and pay the penalty earned by sinful people.  And he did it all of this, NOT in his own divine strength, but by faith looking to His Father, who through the Holy Spirit empowered Him to triumph.

          Where the law was powerless because of the weakness of the flesh, God trumped the power of sin by sending his sinless Son in human form with His supernatural power.  Paul says, “And so he condemned sin in sinful man.”  That word condemned here means, “He broke the power of sin.”  Sin, which had once been an unbeatable foe had been pinned to the mat.  Jesus did to the power of sin what Yukon Cornelius did to “Bumbles” the snow monster in “Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer.”  He took out its teeth.  Its still large and fierce and powerful, but it doesn’t need to paralyze and control those who are in Christ.  Christ took the stinger out of the wasp of sin, by allowing himself to be stung on the cross.  That’s the first way God has broken the power and penalty of sin.

          The second way is found in verses two and four.  After Paul in verse one declares believers free from condemnation, in verse two he tells us why we are free when he says, “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”       Here Paul refers to the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit is at the center of Paul’s argument in chapter eight.  To give you an idea just how huge the ministry of the Spirit figures in this chapter, think about something.  In the first seven chapters of Romans there are four explicit references to the Holy Spirit—it is mentioned four times.  In chapters nine through 16, there are six overt references to the Spirit.  Sandwiched in the middle is chapter eight and in this chapter there are 16 references to the Holy Spirit. Right here, in the middle of the letter and in the middle of this section on overcoming the power of sin through grace, it is the ministry of the Spirit that is brought to the forefront.

          Baptists are often guilty of neglecting the ministry of the Spirit.  The plain and simple truth about that is this: if you don’t have a well developed understanding and dependence upon the Holy Spirit, you cannot possibly walk consistently above the power of sin because God’s overcoming grace is funneled through the conduit of the Holy Spirit.  When Paul says, “the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” he is simply indicating that the ministry of the Spirit sets us free from having to live under the sin-igniting rule of the law.  There are two ways to live, under the law and under grace.  In 6:14 Paul says, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.”  In chapter eight, Paul clarifies what it means to live under grace—it means to live under the control of the Holy Spirit.

          But the question is, why does Paul refer to the ministry of the Holy Spirit as “the law of the Spirit of life?”  Why does he bring in the law here?  I think its because just as there are two ways to live, there are two ways of relating to the law. One way, we’ve seen at length.  Paul calls this being under the law.  This law is the external, enslaving, sin—enflaming law that brings death through sin.  This law brings condemnation.  But “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” because there is another way to relate to the law.  We see this in Jeremiah 31 as he was looking ahead to the New Covenant. In verse 33, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD.  “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts...”  This is the same moral law of God, but it is internal.  It is not a cruel taskmaster calling us to do what we can never do.  NO!  It is the Personal, supernatural, internal moral compass for obeying God and it is written on our hearts. 

You may ask, “but how do you know that this internal law points specifically  to the ministry of the Holy Spirit?”  In Ezekiel 36:26-27 he looks forward to this same New Covenant and God says through the prophet, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new SPIRIT within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  “And I will put MY SPIRIT within you and CAUSE YOU TO WALK IN MY STATUTES, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”  Ezekiel promises the same thing Jeremiah does, only instead of using the language of a law written on hearts, he speaks of it more specifically in terms of the indwelling of the Spirit.  How does God write the law of God on our hearts?  He puts His Spirit within us to give us that inward source of guidance and direction and to give us the power to overcome the power of sin.
          Paul says the Spirit’s ministry or “the law of the Spirit of life” has set  me (some translations have “set YOU free” which I think is better)—it has set the believer free from “the law of sin and death.”  How does this work?  Think of it the same way you would think about another case where one law liberates you from another law.  When you board an airplane, as it sits on the runway, you are under a law.  You are stuck to the ground by your own weight and the weight of that airplane.  The law of gravity has you in bondage to the gravitational pull of this earth.

But when that plane begins to taxi and reaches a certain speed, another law kicks in and liberates you from the law of gravity and you rise above the ground and overcome the law of gravity.  This is called the law of aerodynamics and when it is engaged degree you are liberated from the earth-binding law of gravity.  Likewise, as long as you are under the law of sin and death, you will never be able to overcome the pull of sin on you.  You may fight it with all your strength, but if you are under the law you will not overcome it on your own.  The law of the Spirit of life, when it is engaged, transcends or overpowers the law of sin and death and you rise above the downward pull of sin.  The one greater, supernatural law of the Spirit enables you to live above the natural, fleshly level of sin.  If you are wondering how you can tap into this “law of the Spirit,” keep reading in chapter eight.  We’ll get to it in the next few weeks.

This brings us to the next question we should ask of Paul here in this text.  We’ve seen HOW God defeats sin’s penalty and power in the life of the believer—through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ which serves as a basis for the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  The second question this text answer is:  WHY did God defeat sin’s penalty and power in the life of the believer?  Did He do this so we could have assurance of our salvation or so we could go to heaven?  Those things are part of the answer, but that’s not the answer Paul gives here.  Did he set us free so we could be more comfortable?  We’ll see later in the chapter that that wasn’t God’s motive.  The reason Paul gives as to why God defeated sin’s penalty and power in the life of the believer is found in verse four.  [3c]“And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met [or, “fulfilled”] in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature [“flesh”] but according to the Spirit.

Why did Jesus Christ come to this sin—soaked world to do battle with sin on Satan’s home field?  Why did he every day for 33 years need to live a sinless life? Why did he offer himself as a pure, sinless payment for our sin, taking on the wrath of His Father, and paying a penalty we owed for sin?  Why did he on that cross break the power of sin?  Paul says here its so that we could, by the power of the Spirit, live supernatural lives in obedience to the law!  That’s what he says when he says “so the law might be fulfilled in us who do not LIVE according to the flesh, but who LIVE according to the Spirit.”  This is not legal or forensic.  This is lived out obedience to the law.

Think about this for a moment.  If a reason Jesus Christ did all of this intensely tortuous stuff like suffering the physical torture of crucifixion and becoming sin for us and receiving the wrath of his Father so that we could obey the law in the liberty of the Spirit, what does it communicate to Him when we and so much of the church refuse to live in obedience to Him?  It says the same thing a child says to a parent who labors for years so the child can go to college and they drop out of school in the 11 grade.  That says to the parent, “I don’t care about the blood, sweat and tears you shed to save for my schooling, it was an utter waste of time and energy on your part.”  Likewise when we don’t earnestly seek to learn how to live in obedience by the Spirit, what that says to Christ and to the Father is, “What you did for me in this regard was an utter waste of time.  I’m NOT going to use the overcoming power you bought for me, so why did you bother?”  Do we see that one reason Jesus Christ died and in dying broke the power of sin and the reason God sent the Third Person of the Almighty Trinity was so that we could live supernaturally, above the power of sin thanks to the enabling of the indwelling Holy Spirit?

Those people who view obedience as an option to the Christian life are trampling in utter disrespect on the blood of Jesus and a significant part of God’s good plan in the gospel. God has, with unimaginable extravagance and generosity purchased with the blood of His Son and given the gift of His Spirit so that we could have the capacity to, (quoting Ezekiel) “walk in my statutes and...be careful to observe my ordinances.”  There is therefore now no condemnation in Christ Jesus BECAUSE God has sacrificially offered up his Son and given the gift of His Spirit to liberate us from the crushing weight of the law of sin and death. May God give us grace to fully utilize what God has done for us to the praise of His glory.

 

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