Updated: Jun 24, 2020
Here's where we've been. We've been spending time…considerable and important time…in Romans 8:1-4. These verses speak to us…they speak about us…they speak about Jesus…and they speak about God. These few verses give us the right way to describe our lives before Christ and now, in Christ. In other words, Romans 8:1-4 gives us a world view that accurately paints the picture of how God saves us from our sin and the trajectory of our lives once we know we are saved.
Here are those verses again:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
We have specifically focused on verse 3:
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.
We looked at two keys points within verse 3:
1. God condemned sin in the flesh.
2. He did this by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin.
Today, we're going to focus on two more key points:
3. The law was not able save us from sin.
4. The reason the law could not do this was because of our flesh.
So, before we're done today, I hope to answer two questions: What was it that the law could not do? And why couldn’t it do it? Those two things the law could not do are essential to our eternal salvation. To put it another way, even if they're not Christian, most people are concerned about the eternal trajectory of their lives, and they know we all do bad things, and they have some sense of needing the good things they do to outweigh the bad so in the end they will receive some kind of eternal reward. That's the whole point of the CBS sitcom, "The Good Place." The premise is all humans are assigned a numerical score based on the morality of their conduct in life. High score gets you into the good place. Low score sends you to the bad place. That's not an uncommon way nonbelievers view eternity. They look to the law to accomplish that. Therefore, it is tremendously relevant to your life to know what the law cannot do for you. The last thing you want to do is go to the law for the help you can only get from Jesus Christ.
First, what could the law not do? Romans 8 gives us the answer twice. Justification. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." That is justification. When we are in Christ Jesus - that is, if we are united to Jesus by faith in him - our condemnation from God because of our sin it taken away. In Jesus Christ, God declares us not guilty. God counts us righteous…not by anything we have done, but because in Jesus Christ He condemned sin in the flesh. God does not look upon us any longer as guilty and condemned, but as forgiven and righteous because of what Jesus did for us.
Then comes verse 2:
For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
This is what comes after justification - sanctification. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, the Spirit of God is poured out in our lives and begins to free us from the dominion of sin and death. This means that Christians aren't only counted among the righteous in justification, but we are being transformed by the Spirit of God into becoming more righteous, loving, and holy people. Think Fruit of the Spirit mentioned by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23. Being saved from sin means we are saved for something…
justification begets sanctification.
So in Christ we are becoming more loving and joyful and peaceful and patient and kind and good and faithful and gentle and self-controlled. This is the practical evidence that we have trusted Christ and are united to him and are justified in him.
Here's how that plays out during challenging times. Sanctification - how is God shaping our Christian character in good times and bad? In Ephesians 5:15-16, Paul says:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
So, here's what we do. We are saved through Christ's death on the cross. We are justified, which leads to the Spirit of life growing us into more righteous, loving, and holy people. This growth means that even in a pandemic, our lives are a reflection of the hope that is in us. So we're going to want to do what Ephesians 5 commends to us. We're going to be careful about how we walk, because routines that are tuned to goodness and righteousness develop resilience. Sanctified people are resilient people. Use your time to help others…to lift others up…to encourage others. Become the kind of person that, when others hear your name or see you out and about, the first thing they think about is you are a kind and loving person. There's a positivity to that kind of predictability. And finally, when you are careful and wise and constructive in the use of your time, there is a steadiness surrounding you. That is how God is shaping you. He is sanctifying you, so you will not only know His blessing, but will also be a blessing to others.
So here are three important things to remember, especially in tough times:
Routine Develops Resilience.
Predictability Enhances Stability.
Structure Creates Steadiness.
The Bible is informing and shaping our attitudes and actions. That is how the law of the Spirit of life sanctifies us…growing us into more righteous, loving, and holy people.
None of this could happen if we were left to our own devices. We are imperfect people. Every good thing we do we do because Christ is working in us. The law could not save us. Only Jesus on the cross - justification - can save us. The law could identify our sin. The law could point out our sin and name our sin and stir it up and rub it in. But the law could not remove our punishment. God did that in Jesus' death. Justification is something the law could not do.
So let's circle back around to sanctification. Justification leads to sanctification. As Paul says in verse 4:
In order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Notice verse four begins with "in order that." There is purpose to God condemning sin in the flesh. God put our condemnation on Jesus and provided the basis for our justification so that "the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." Walking according to the Spirit is what we mean by sanctification. Paul says the law cannot do either of these things - justify or sanctify us.
But what the law could not do, God did. God condemned sin by sending His Son to die for us, and when He justified us He send His Spirit work in us attitudes and actions that are righteous and good and holy. To put it another way,
we are saved in order that we might bring forth fruit.
Both justification and sanctification are absolutely necessary if we are going to enjoy God is this life and in the life to come.
Here's what can happen when we don't have a firm grasp on justification and sanctification. Some people fall into the trap of legalism. Here's what I mean.
For the easy and obvious example, some people think because they don't drink or dance or wear certain kinds of clothes, it makes them right with God. Or it shows they're right with God. If you believe God is calling you to abstain from alcohol or not tattoo your body or not dance or only watch certain kinds of entertainment or only wear certain kinds of clothing, then by all means those things are great for you. They don't make you a better Christian than the person who does those things. You are just different. To put it another way, doing some of those things don't make a person less of a Christian. They, too, are just different.
The same thing goes for the language we use. I'm not talking blasphemy or taking the Lord's name in vain. I'm talking about people who use slightly more colorful language. Doesn't make them a bad person. I knew someone who thought the word "fart" was obscene. Don't get me wrong. If you don't like that word, God bless you, I'll try not to use it in front of you. But when I say "fart" it doesn't make me a bad person or less of a Christian. And if you don't say "fart" it doesn't make you a better person or Christian.
There are lots of other examples. It's especially insidious with our liberal or
conservative politics. We can fall into this trap of thinking that any of these personal preferences distinguish us as good Christian people. And before you know it, we're loving the works of the law and taking pride in what fine Christian people we are. That's always a trap and a threat.
Here's where we're at. We're all in the same boat. We are all sinners in need of forgiveness. We cannot save ourselves. And this just isn't Presbyterian theology. This is basic, Reformed theology. The law…the 10 Commandments and the other rules Moses gave the people of Israel…following these laws cannot make you right with God. And they certainly can't transform you into the kind of good, righteous, loving, and holy person you want to be.
Paul tells us in verse three that "God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do." The problem with the law isn't that the commandments are evil. The problem is that we are evil. As Paul says earlier in Romans 7:14, "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin." So the law could not rescue us from our guilt and condemnation - it could not justify us - it could not make us right with God. The law could not absorb our condemnation. Only Christ could remove our guilt and condemnation.
So here's where we've come from and here's where we're going.
We are saved - justification - in order that we might bring forth fruit. Justification opens the door to a new life.
Living a new life - sanctification - is about growing in goodness and righteousness and holiness.
Sanctification follows justification.
The burning issue today - why it's so important to understand sanctification follows justification - the burning issue today is how devoted followers of Jesus Christ can live in love and righteousness and holiness in the fragile context we're living in. There is uncertainty and fear and anger beneath the surface of our lives. What is happening? Are we ready to move forward? What will happen to the economy this summer? Will school start in the fall? So many questions. Seeming instability in things we once took for granted. And in the midst of it all, people point fingers of blame. Oh how people love to point fingers of blame.
Do you have the resources in you to be confident and fearless and courageous and patient and kind and fair and loving and sacrificial? In uncertain times, do you have it in you to not return evil for evil, instead blessing those who curse you and praying for those who persecute you? Where will you find this strength? Will you find it in the law?
The law is a non-starter. Look to Christ. Look to the Divine, Living, Loving
Sovereign Lord who died for you and rose again and promises to be with you always; to help you always; and to satisfy your longing in life and death. Look to him. Look to Jesus.
The law cannot satisfy you, but Jesus Christ can.
One last thing. If you need to get right with God this morning, look to Christ, not the law. And if you need help being a righteous, good, holy, and loving person, look to Christ, not the law.