Romans 8:3&4 “And so he [God] 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.”
When Paul explains to us the gospel of Jesus – the good news about salvation – he exclusively refers to the great works achieved by God, what the Lord has done. The gospel is not that we must be converted. The good news is not that we must repent and believe. The gospel is not that we must be born again. That’s not ‘news’ at all. It’s not good news to guilty men and women, that they have to do something that they are not inclined to do or unable to do unaided. Good news is something that has happened. A healthy child has been born. A man has been saved from a burning building. The passengers have all been rescued from a sinking ship. The physician has said to you that there is no trace of cancer at all. All that is good news. Something outside yourself has been done and you are told about it. That is the gospel. So it is with the Christian message; it is relating what God has done through Jesus Christ, and so it is in Romans 8:
So what has God done?
- GOD SENT HIS OWN SON.
There is one God; the Father is God, and the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. These three are one God. Jesus Christ alone is the ‘sent one.’ Like Jacob sent his son Joseph on an errand to find out how his brothers were doing in Dothan. God sent his Son Jesus to the womb of Mary, and the birth in Bethlehem, and the long years in Nazareth and so on to Golgotha’s darkness. Jesus was always fulfilling a mission that he’d been entrusted with and that he gladly accepted. It was a mission of love both in the one sending and the one sent. God loved the world and gave his only begotten Son.
- GOD SENT HIM IN THE LIKENESS OF SINFUL FLESH.
In other words Jesus came into a world under the curse. His mother Mary was in pain when she gave birth to him. She would not have chosen to have left Nazareth and ride a donkey and walk alongside it for almost eighty miles to Bethlehem the very week that she was to give birth to her firstborn, but she had no choice in the matter. She lived under the curse of fallen man. Her desire was for Joseph her husband, and he ruled over her, and he had to go to Bethlehem for the census and she must accompany him. So what was a painful enough event, the birth of your first child, was compounded by her loneliness, her mother not being there to help her, the birth taking place in a stable cave, on the floor lying in the straw, not in a bed. There she had her contractions, and panted, and pushed, and groaned. There in the straw the after-birth lay, and Joseph had to help wash the baby and wrap it in swaddling clothes and put the child down in the manger, driving away the stable cat. The birth of Jesus was no different from any other birth of any other child. He was born in the likeness of sinful flesh.
Or think of his death. In his naked body Jesus was indistinguishable from the other two naked criminals who were nailed to the crosses on each side of him. You couldn’t see anything unique or divine or holy about Jesus’ body as he hung and suffered there, writhing in pain, sucking in the air. All three of them were in excruciating pain like that. The two thieves were wicked men suffering such bodily agony. Jesus was an innocent man but suffering similar bodily agony. The crowd saw him in the likeness of sinful flesh as he hung and bled and died. They taunted him and mocked him. They were utterly unintimidated by him because for them it was inconceivable that this criminal, dying with two other criminals, was the Sent One, the Son of God. He was in the likeness of sinful flesh as he had been from his birth and all the time he lived.
- GOD SENT HIM AS A SIN OFFERING.
The Greek says, “and for sin.” But this word ‘sin’ occurs 54 times in the Greek Old Testament and 44 of those times it is referring to the sin-offering. God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin-offering. What was the sin-offering? I will remind you. The Old Testament Christian turned up at the door of the tabernacle. He was leading a young bullock in perfect condition, the animal looking around wondering why he was there. The man laid his hands on the head of this fatted calf – an animal he knew and was fond of – and then he cut its throat. What a sacrifice if he were a poor farmer. He killed his best red heifer before the Lord. Then he disemboweled it. He separated the fat and he tossed it onto the flaming fire on the altar. The priest who had been watching all this then came across and took a cup of the blood dripping out of the carcass. He took it into the Tabernacle and dipped his finger into it and sprinkled it seven times before the veil. He also touched the horns on the golden altar of incense with the blood. Then he poured out the rest of the blood before the great altar. Then there was the steaming body of the calf, the vultures hovering overhead, the flies beginning to gather. There was the skin, the dung, the head, the legs and its ‘innards’ and all that was picked up by the worshipper and the Levites and it was carried outside the camp, a fair journey, with a pile of kindling, to a clean place – not the place of refuse. And the wood was piled on top of it and the whole dead animal was consumed by fire. It became a holocaust, an offering for a man’s sin. That was the sin offering. That was the type, but now here is the anti-type.
Here is Calvary. Behold the Lamb of God! He has been sent from heaven to become the fulfillment of the sin-offering, and what he takes away for ever is no longer the sin of Israel alone, but that of sinners in the whole world who are joined to him by faith. It was not we who laid our hands on the head of Christ, it was the Lord who laid on him the iniquity of us all, on our Lord Jesus who was holy, harmless, undefiled and separate from sinners. How meekly and patiently he bore all his sufferings. He entered the holocaust for sins not his own. He bore our sin and blame in his own body on the tree. He was consumed by the magnificent rectitude of a sin-hating God as our substitute dying in the fires of hell in our place. That is why God sent him, as a sin-offering. Nothing else could satisfy the justice of God in the punishment of sin.
- GOD CONDEMNED SIN IN THE FLESH OF CHRIST.
Our N.I.V. chooses to translate the original Greek by the phrase “in sinful man” but the original says simply that God condemned sin “in the flesh” (and that is how the A.V. translates it). “In sinful man” is not very helpful. Paul is referring to the flesh of Jesus Christ. As he hung on the cross as a sin-offering, fully identified with all those joined to him, then God condemned sin in the flesh of his Son. God’s condemnation targetted him alone. Neither of the criminals on either side was affected by collateral damage. The wood of the cross wasn’t scorched; the nails that held him to it did not grow hot, the flesh of Jesus alone received the condemnation because he alone was the Lamb of God without sin. Condemnation is the wrath of a sin-hating God justly focused on the guilt and ugliness and rebellion of man’s wrong-doing. Thank God he is not indifferent, that God doesn’t shrug and go off to focus on some distant stars of this vast universe – “Let them do what they want to!”. Men are made in his image with the nobility that lifts them up to be a little lower than the angels and crowned with glory and honour, and then these same men can kill babies in Bethlehem, and stone a woman to death, and crucify the teacher and healer Jesus and mock him while he dies, and at that sight the heavens were filled with antagonism. God will not be mocked. What men sow that they will also reap.
But wonder of wonders, God condemns the sins of all those who are in Christ, in the death of his blessed Son. That is why this chapter begins by assuring us that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. God will not demand that twice the punishment of condemnation must fall on identical sins. Those things you are most ashamed of, that grieve you the most, God has dealt with their guilt and he has condemned those sins utterly and exhaustively on Golgotha. Jesus has cried out under that condemnation, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” He will never be made to cry that out again. All of us in him will never cry that out. God will never, never forsake us in hell because all our sins, the sins of omission, the sins of thought and imagination, the sins of word and the sins of deed, our past sins, our present sins, our future sins have all been comprehensively condemned on a green hill far away outside a city wall in the Lord Christ. He has drunk the cup of condemnation to its dregs so that no condemnation remains. He has suffered being forsaken by God so that God has no more reason to forsake you than to forsake Jesus again. If the Head is now in heaven, the body to whom he is joined cannot be in hell. We are inseparably one with our head, seated in the heavenlies with Christ, at this moment. That is our status in the judgment of God. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Every sin which our sinful flesh committed has been condemned in the flesh of Jesus Christ. There cannot be any condemnation whatsoever. Condemned for what? He has cleared the lot on Golgotha.
- GOD SENT HIS SON IN ORDER THAT THE RIGHTEOUS REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW MIGHT BE FULLY MET IN US.
You would have expected Paul to say in this fifth and final explanation of the reason why God sent his Son to the cross was that we might escape condemnation and be justified. Of course he did that, but Paul is looking further, beyond our pardon. He wants us to appreciate more than the moment when our chains fell off and the cell doors opened and the blessed message, “Free and forgiven” thundered forth to the sound of trumpets and Hallelujahs. Paul is thinking of the new saved life of the justified man. He is considered the double cure of sin, not merely from its guilt but also from its power over us. We have a whole lifetime before us. How is our deliverance from condemnation through Jesus Christ going to impact us? What will be our walk? Paul says, “From now on the righteous requirements of the law are going to be fulfilled in every Christian as we live according to the Spirit.” We are living under the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. That law spoke through Ezekiel the prophet and it said, “I will put my Spirit in you.” That is the voice of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. That law spoke also through Jeremiah through whom God said, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” I will put my Spirit within you. I will put my law within you. There is no tension between these two entities. The Spirit loves the law. What that law says the Spirit helps us to perform in everyone who is in Christ Jesus. That law cannot be ignored, or forfeited, or abrogated. No spiritual high experience can compensate for the absence of our happy duty of fulfilling the law by the power of the Holy Spirit. The law of the Spirit of life is not there as a decoration; it is there as a mighty engine, enabling, empowering, activating our entire lives to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbours as ourselves. The law of the Spirit of life transforms the believer so that every single Christian now lives according to the Spirit, not perfectly of course because of remaining sin, but the direction of our lives and the tenor of our lives is in keeping God’s commandments. He lives under the law of the Spirit of life. He fulfils God’s righteous requirements by the Holy Spirit. He loves God and he loves his neighbour, and how does he show his love for them? By keeping God’s law, that is, by living by the ten commandments.
Let me show you this very precisely a few chapters later on in Romans 13 where Paul in the practical section of the letter is exhorting these Christians in Rome to love one another. This is how he does so, by urging them, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow-man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law” (Roms. 13:8-10). You see how Paul selects some of the ten commandments and they are in the order in which they are found on the tablets of stone. You show your love for people by always keeping the law. You don’t steal from them. You don’t lie to them. You don’t hurt them if you love them. We do so by the helping power of the indwelling Spirit, and we do so not to earn redemption but because we have been redeemed by the perfect law keeper, Jesus Christ. We keep the law by the strength the Holy Spirit gives us, and we do so to the end that God is glorified through our conduct. Let me unlock this fulfilling of the law of love by keeping God’s law.
i] We keep the ten commandments because they reflect the character of God. You love your own father because of the things he stood for, his integrity, and his patriotism, and his common sense, and his joy, and his generosity. When you see such things mocked then you are sad because you learned to love those virtues in the life
of the best man you ever knew as you grew up. So too your heavenly Father has a certain character, the one who loved you so much that he didn’t spare his Son from the cross to suffer your condemnation that you could be justified. I love my heavenly Father. I worship my Father. I want his name to be hallowed in the world and in my life. I want to live like him, and copy him in everything I do, and the ten commandments tell me how to do that,
ii] We keep the ten commandments because they have an abiding authority over our lives. We’ve seen that when Paul tells these Gentile Christians living in Italy how they are to live he turns instinctively to these commandments. They had a special status in the Old Testament. They are found twice in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. God wrote them down. He dictated the other commandments to Moses and Moses wrote down the ceremonial laws and the civil laws but the ten words from Sinai were written by God in duplicate on two tablets of stone one for God himself and one for the people, and they were preserved in the most holy place imaginable, in the Holy of Holies, inside the ark of the covenant, the throne of God, beneath the cherubim. But now a thousand miles away in Rome the church of gentiles is being taught the ten commandment because those words from Sinai have an abiding authority.
I heard Nicky Gumbel on a video tell the story of taking his two small boys to play soccer one Saturday morning at 10.30. The two teams were there but no referee turned up and the mood turned ugly! “You be our referee,” they cried to Nicky. So with the greatest reluctance he started the game – someone who had never ‘reffed’ a game of soccer before, with the scantiest knowledge of the rules, and soon there was trouble. “That goal was offside, that tackle was illegal, the other team should have had the throw in.” There was anger, chaos and frustration, and then, on his bike, in his referee’s outfit, came the ref, thinking the kick-off was at 11. Then what a different game! The decisions were made and explained. Those who fouled were given a yellow card. Goals were disallowed for off-side and everyone enjoyed themselves. The rules of the game don’t spoil the game, they make the game! The law of God will be relevant to every believer to the end of time.
iii] We keep the ten commandments because they were given to redeemed people. You remember how they are introduced in Exodus twenty: “And God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Ex. 20:1&2).” In other words he addressed people whom he had redeemed all by himself from the bondage of slavery. They were redeemed and this is how they were to live. It is an exact parallel with ourselves. God says, “I have given you your freedom, and now this is the way to keep your liberty, by keeping my commands.” Peter Masters compares the commands of God to a drawbridge. Once the drawbridge is raised you cannot get across the moat into the castle. It is an impassable barrier. There is a city bright. Closed are its gates to sin. Naught that defileth ever can enter in. But if you are a friend and not an enemy then the drawbridge is let down and you discover that it has ten strong handrails to assist you on your way and stop you falling into the water. The menacing barrier has become a help and support on your way into Zion, City of our God. So we approach the Ten Commandments with the assurance that they are going to help us to know how to live. And that leads on to the fourth reason why we keep them.
iv] We keep the ten commandments conscious that each one represents a family of sins. Each sin that is named is the chief offence of a whole species of sin. It’s well known for example, that the commandment against adultery also covers lust in the heart. The commandment against murder includes hatred. The commandment that warns against idol worship includes any form of dependence on anything, any carnal satisfaction that displaces God. So when a commandment forbids a major sin all the lesser sins in the same family are included in the scope of that commandment. There are greater and lesser sins. A momentary flash of lust that we entertain is not as bad in the sight of God as the sin of King David.
v] We keep the commandments because we see in them not only the negative prohibitions but their positive requirements. Let’s see that very simply.
Having no other gods implies loving God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Not bowing to idols means honouring and revering God as Creator and Redeemer in our every thought, capturing all our thoughts to Christ.
Not misusing God’s name means honouring that name in every moment of our lives, and confessing it in witness by both our words and our actions.
Remembering the Sabbath means finding our joy and rest in labouring for God and his kingdom not only one day a week, but all seven.
Honouring our parents means accepting and promoting those family values that God set into creation and honouring all God’s family members.
Avoiding murder implies loving and protecting life and the image of God in man.
Avoiding adultery means keeping our hearts pure from lust and from twisting sexuality to suit our appetites. It also implies placing love for God above all other loves.
Ceasing to steal is insufficient to obey God’s command, which demands that we work hard to earn enough money to be lavish and extravagant in graciously giving it away to those in need.
Not bearing false witness implies that in every situation we must honour the reputations of those around us, refusing to allow any shadow of dishonour to fall across their reputations because of our words. It also means that our words are to bear testimony to the truth of God and to the person of Christ.
Refusing to covet means that our hearts must be completely sold out to the good of the kingdom and thoroughly careless about the material implications of that passion.
So that is what Paul is talking about in our text, when he tells Christians who know that they face no condemnation, “that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us.” “Fully met . . . ” not selectively, not pick’n’mix, but just as I’ve been describing them, and in the way the Lord Jesus fully explains meeting the law of God in Matthew chapter five. That is the way of those who live according to the Spirit. It has nothing to do with tongues speaking. It is the way of the most stringent ethical challenges to our behaviour day by day. We need the power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead, the power that said in the beginning, “Let there be light”, sheer undiluted omnipotence at work within us to sanctify and transform us – that is needed to live according to the Spirit
How impossible to keep the commandments. Think of it, that one day we will all stand before the bench, not of a judge with the Ten Commandments posted up on the wall behind him, but we shall stand before the Author of those commandments, the one whose attendants cannot look at him as they busy themselves around his court, hiding their eyes. This God, the God who is light, in whom is no darkness at all, who cannot look on iniquity, he is our judge. I find myself to my shame gazing at iniquity, at violence and lewdness, but God can’t look at it! But there is good news. Our joy is not only that these commandments have been intensified and enfleshed in the life of Jesus the Son of God, but they have been transformed and fulfilled by his righteousness. He came to this world in love and in love he was born under the law’s demands, and in love he gave himself to take the condemnation of law-breakers. In love he gives everyone of his people a strong and sustained desire to keep his commandments and growing energy to do that. So Christians actually do live according to the Spirit. It is not that they wish they had the Spirit, and agonize for him, and weep and wait for the Spirit to be given to them but that God the law-giver has also given them God the Spirit to sustain them as they seek to walk worthy of God day by day. He gives them the assurance that for them there is no condemnation, that each time they fall he picks them up, he dusts them down, he pardons them, and he helps them on their road to glory.
That has been the abiding lesson of the final verses of Romans chapter 7, that we are involved in a fight with remaining sin. Paul confesses his familiarity with his falls; “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Roms.7:18&19). That is the struggle we all face, but you understand the difference between a sin and living according to the sinful nature? Every single Christian without exception from the youngest lamb in the flock of Christ, the newest believer in the whole world, is, from the moment of his new birth, under the law of the Spirit of life. The Holy Spirit indwells him, and he has a new Lord who is Jesus Christ. Our Saviour is there protecting us, and the Holy Spirit is leading us. But sin has not been removed from our lives; remaining sin continues to rise up in rebellion and tempt us and discourage us, and it will do so all through our Christian lives and even on our deathbeds. That is the experience of every Christian. So we live with the tension of wanting to love and serve God with all our hearts, but that also we find the power of sin in us making us choose the wrong options, and we can give in to sin too readily. However, sin no longer is our lord and master. That is Jesus Christ the Saviour, he who bore our condemnation, he is the Lord who is in charge of our lives. So the road is often rocky and bumpy and we find ourselves clambering out of one ditch or another – like Peter the night he denied the Lord, having to climb out of the ditch of despair. We seem to go two steps forward, six back, eight steps forward and one back. It’s not you alone who experience that but every Christian. But we are still here on the narrow way, we are going somewhere, and there is the Spirit of God leading us, and Jesus Christ is still our Master in control.
For example, imagine that Somali pirates have got on board a great liner and they have rounded up a lot of the passengers and the crew, and they have herded them together in one large dining room under rifles and machetes. These pirates are a perfect nuisance, but they have failed to take the bridge of the ship. The captain and the chief engineer are still in control. They have actually radioed for help and a destroyer is on its way. They are heading for a rendezvous with their deliverer. There are armed soldiers guarding the bridge, and the pirates, though they are running all over the ship, are always frustrated because they have failed to take charge of the ship, and they know that they are heading for arrest and capture and prison.
That is the picture in the Bible of the Christian life; no Christian is living according to the law of sin and death. None of us for whom Christ has died, is living any longer according to the flesh – the sinful nature. However big your falls and however frequent, you are not under the lordship of the flesh. You are under the lordship of Jesus Christ who has fulfilled all righteousness for you, and also taken your condemnation so that for you there is no condemnation. He has given to you the Holy Spirit so that you are finding strength to keep going, and keep going, and keep going, led by the Spirit of God day by day to glory. The thrust and direction of your life is this, to live according to the Spirit and fully meet the righteous requirements of the law in your daily living.
The Holy Spirit of God has come to live in every Christian permanently. He has created new desires and goals and longings to which we had previously been strangers when we lived under the law of sin and death. We have been made free from all that delight in wickedness, and we find ourselves wanting to learn more and more about Jesus, to walk close to him, to serve him, to make him look good, to make our lives count for him, to tell the world about him. That is living according to the Spirit. Of course our reach far exceeds our grasp. We have moral falls. We make mistakes. We act foolishly – still! It can feel like being slapped in the face with a cold, wet haddock. We thought we were under total control of the Spirit but then remaining sin pulls us down. It is heart breaking and spirit crushing.
We keep praying, like my friend Alan, who told me this year that he had taken time off to go to a quiet cottage and spend the day in meditation. He prayed at length for everyone he knew until he was weary. He discovered he had prayed for fifteen minutes, and there was the rest of the day stretching out before him. That is how hard it is for us to pray because of remaining sin. We pray and when we confess our sins so often we dwell on those sins instead of our forgiving Lord. But we still pray briefly and often. We turn to our Bible and Scripture can be hard to understand, and it is hard to concentrate, and hard to practice what we can’t understand. We keep going, battling on. We have discovered the wicked pirates on board our vessel. We have been made aware of what the 1689 Confession calls ‘remaining corruption.’ Many Christians are not aware of how powerful this is. If we knew what a cesspool of filth was still in our hearts then we would despair, but God only very gradually reveals it to us, when we are mature and strong enough to take into our thinking this burden. Then he gives us strength to overcome this force within us, and we know that each victory will help us some other to win. So here are the blessings of this text . . .
What a comfort that God has condemned our sins once and for all – every single one of them – in the flesh of the Lord Jesus on Calvary.
What a comfort this is, that by the Holy Spirit’s energy and indwelling we always desire to obey the just requirements of the law of God, though never perfectly attaining that.
What a comfort this is, that it is not the sinful nature that dictates to us how we live day by day but God the Holy Spirit.