Updated: Jun 22, 2020
In this new series, "Arrival," we're going to look at how, in Jesus Christ, God has given us a transformational language for speaking about ourselves, our world, and our place in the world. He has given us a new way to talk about sin, forgiveness, and purpose in life. It is nothing short of a total reorientation of how we see ourselves and our place in the world.
Here's where we left off last week:
Romans 8:3 says, "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do." So God did something more than criticize sin and call it condemnable. When Paul says, "By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh," he means that in Jesus' flesh - in his suffering and dying body on the cross - God executed a final sentence of condemnation on the sin of everyone who is in Christ. In other words, when we say God condemned sin, we mean that God found sin guilty and sentenced sin to be finally punished and carried out the penalty in the suffering death of His Son.
I want to spend a long moment getting at what Paul means in verse 3, "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do."
Let's start with what the law can't do. The law can't change us. There's nothing in the law that can make us right with God. There's nothing in the law that can free us from sin and death. What the law can do is speak to us. The law speaks to us. It tells us what we are to do. It defines for us what good and righteous people look like. The law sets the parameters for what a good person looks like. The law spells out for us the things we must do and must not do if we want to be good people. Are you with me on that? I think most people want to think they've been decent human beings; that the good in their lives outweighs the bad. Even nonbelievers have this sense about life that if there is a heaven, you'll go there if you've done more good in your life than bad. And the law defines what good and bad are.
The law boils down to this. It tells us what we are to do, and then it reminds us precisely what we are…born to sin. In other words, by defining what makes a good person, we have something to compare our lives to, and we can see the places we fall short. So while the law cannot change us, it does show us who we are.
So back to verse 3. What does Paul mean when he says the law is weakened by the flesh? Remember, the law shows us how high the standard is for what it means to be a good person. The law is not the enemy. Think of it this way. If you like to garden, you probably have some of the necessary tools. One is probably one of those three-or-four tined metal rakes with a long wooden handle. The metal part is solid…reliable... hardened. Think early spring. The ground is still fairly packed down. As you begin to work the soil, the wood handle breaks. The metal part is fine. It's the wood handle, weakened by time and use, that breaks. The metal wasn't weak or bad. The handle was. That's what Paul means. We are the weak handle. The law could never do what it was supposed to do…make us righteous…through us.
That's what Paul means when he says the law is weakened by the flesh.
Let's now take up the second part of verse 3:
By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.
To begin to understand this, here's something you might want to write down:
Our Sin Was Condemned in the Suffering and Death of Christ, Since He Had no Sin to Condemn.
Do you hear the wonderful thing in that statement? There was no sin in Jesus Christ to condemn. You see it indirectly here. But Paul says it directly elsewhere. Listen again to how Paul says it - sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. The key word there is likeness. Paul says likeness because Jesus had no sin. His flesh was human, and it was like our flesh… like sinful flesh. But Jesus knew no sin.
Here's how Hebrews 4 puts it:
"We have a high priest who was tempted in every point like we are, yet without sin."
Years ago, I preached a sermon on the how the sinless life of Christ was
essential to our understanding of how his death on the cross reconciled us to God. Someone challenged me on that point. He thought I was naïve to think that Jesus was without sin. But what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross hangs on the very truth of his sinless nature. He was preexistent with the Father. Jesus was begotten, not created. He was with God when the universe was created. Co-equal with the Father, Jesus was born in human form…in human likeness, to offer the perfect sacrifice for our sin. That's exactly what Paul is saying here in verse 3. Jesus' flesh was human, and it was like sinful flesh. But it was not sinful.
So how could God condemn sin in the flesh? Because Jesus was sinless, there was no sin in him to condemn. The clearest answer is given in 2 Corinthians 5:21:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
There it is. "He knew no sin." Paul couldn't be more clear. Jesus never sinned. Of all the people who ever walked this earth, Jesus was the only one who did not deserve to die. We are the ones who need to be delivered from the rule and the reign and the tyranny of sin. R.C. Sproul nailed it when he called our sin "cosmic treason." That's what we do when we sin…we commit cosmic treason. But not Jesus. Jesus suffered and he died.
So the question is - Whose sin was condemned when Jesus' flesh was tortured and killed? God condemned sin in the flesh of His completely innocent Son. Whose sin? The answer is clearly given in Romans 4:25:
He was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
There's also 1 Corinthians 15:3:
Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.
Finally, Galatians 1:4:
Who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. - Isaiah 53:5-6
The answer is simple. Our sin was condemned in the suffering and death of Christ. Jesus had no sin. So there was no sin to condemn. And what does that mean? Here's how Paul says in later in chapter 8:
Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
- Romans 8:33-34
So, when the question is asked - who can condemn God's elect? - the answer comes back, "Nobody." Nobody in heaven or hell or on the earth. Why? The answer - "Christ Jesus is he who died."
We now know why the death of Jesus Christ has taken away all our condemnation. When Jesus died God was condemning sin, sentencing, and punishing it completely and fully and finally for all those God has chosen to save. It wasn't Jesus' sin that was condemned and sentenced and punished; Jesus was without sin. It was our sin that was condemned and sentenced and punished completely and fully and finally when Jesus died. Because it was done once and for all in Jesus' death on the cross, that means we will not be punished for it again. That has a huge impact on feelings of guilt and shame.
Here's something you might want to write down:
CHRIST ABSORBED ALL THE DIVINE WRATH THAT WOULD AND SHOULD HAVE COME TO ME.
Here's another way to put it:
Because we are under the rule and reign of grace, there is not now nor can there ever be condemnation. Sin shall have no dominion over you.
So far, in these few verses, we've seen two tremendous truths:
Sin has already been condemned, sentenced, punished, and executed in Jesus.
Jesus had no sin in himself to condemn. It was our sin that was punished.
And now, the third tremendous truth:
3. God did it.
Verse 3 says "God condemned sin in the flesh."
We're going to explain this first, with what verse 3 doesn't teach. There's a common misunderstanding to what it means to say that Jesus rescues us from sin. This notion makes sense but it's not Biblical. It's not at all what Paul is talking about here in chapter 8. It's wrong to say that Jesus died on the cross to put himself between God and humankind to reconcile them to each other. The assumption is that Jesus loves sinners and puts himself between his angry Father and sinful people to rescue them from God's anger. That's not what the Bible says happened.
What does Romans 8 say? God has done this. "By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh." Jesus did not step across the volunteer line to put himself forward between us and God. God put Jesus forward between us and God. God sent His own Son. God saw to it that the eternal, uncreated Son of God took on the likeness of human flesh. God poured out His wrath on the Son as the condemnation and punishment for our sins. Jesus stepped in to save us from the wrath of God. God sent Jesus to save us from God. God Himself saved us from the wrath of God.
When you look at the cross, see how the love of God rescues us from the anger of God. As Jesus once said, if you know the Son, then you know the Father. The heart of Jesus is the heart of God. Jesus is as angry at the rule and the reign and the tyranny of sin as the Father is. And the Father is as loving toward and caring for sinners as Jesus is.
Let's close with a point of crystal clarity:
The Work of Jesus the Son of God is the Work of God the Father.
That's what verse 3 means. God has done this. God has condemned sin in the flesh. Remember from John 14, where Jesus says, "If you had known me, you would have known my Father also; from now on you know him, and have seen him…he who has seen me has seen the Father." God condemned sin in the flesh. The Father and the Son have one heart and one mind as they take their different roles in saving us from our sin.
And where does that take us? The moment we become Christians, we are under the power of grace. Sin has been condemned. This is the Gospel of Salvation.