(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 10/27/02 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Let's turn to Romans 8 and read verses 1 through 9:
Romans 8: (1) [There is] therefore now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to flesh, but according to Spirit. (2) For the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus set me free from the law of sin and of death. (3) For the Law [being] powerless, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in [the] likeness of sinful flesh, and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh, (4) so that the righteous demand of the Law might be fulfilled in us, those not walking according to flesh, but according to Spirit. (5) For the ones that are according to flesh mind the things of the flesh. And the ones according to Spirit [mind] the things of the Spirit. (6) For the mind of the flesh [is] death, but the mind of the Spirit [is] life and peace; (7) because the mind of the flesh [is] enmity towards God; for it is not being subjected to the Law of God, for neither can it [be]. (8) And those being in the flesh are not able to please God. (9) But you are not in flesh, but in Spirit, since [the] Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone has not [the] Spirit of Christ, this one is not His.
Two weeks ago, we looked at verse 1, which is an encapsulation of what it means to be a believer. The OBJECTIVE reality is that believers are not under condemnation because of what Jesus Christ has done for them. This is the GROUND of their salvation - the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. The SUBJECTIVE reality is that believers do not walk according to flesh but according to Spirit because of what the Holy Spirit has done IN them. This is the FRUIT of their salvation - walking in holiness and obedience. The OBJECTIVE reality, the GROUND of salvation, has to do with IMPUTATION of righteousness, which is the legal CHARGING of Christ's righteousness to our account. The SUBJECTIVE reality, the FRUIT of salvation, has to do with IMPARTATION of a principle of holiness. Righteousness imputed is the ground; a principle of holiness imparted is the fruit.
In the verses that follow, Paul expands on both of these realities. From verses 2 through 4, he expands on the OBJECTIVE reality, with a transition at the end of verse 4, and then from verses 5 through 9, he expands on the SUBJECTIVE reality. The subjective reality then extends into the next paragraph, which begins at verse 10.
So let's go through each of these verses. First, verse 2:
Romans 8: (2) For the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus set me free from the law of sin and of death.
Here Paul talks about two laws: the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus and the law of sin and death. As we've seen before, the meaning of the word "law" comes from its context. It doesn't necessarily mean God's revealed will by way of command in every instance. So what is "the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus"? In the context, I believe this is talking about the gospel. The "Spirit of life" is talking about the Holy Spirit who regenerates us. "In Christ Jesus" is the same phrase we saw in verse 1, which is talking about salvation by the work of Jesus Christ. This is a Law of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone. And what has this Law done? It has set us free from another law, which is the law of sin and death. I believe that THIS law is talking about the condemnation that all people are under by nature. Because the sin of Adam has been imputed to all whom he represented, all whom he represented are sinners by nature. And all to whom that sin is imputed actually sin in their persons. All are born in sin. They are under the law of sin. And what is the consequence of sin, the wages of sin? As we saw in Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death. Thus, all who are under the law of sin are under the law of death. So we see it here called "the law of sin and of death." It is the law of condemnation. So now we see the entire verse as an explanation of the first part of verse 1. The gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ has set us free from condemnation. There is therefore now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus. That law of sin and of death has been taken away. We have been set free from it.
Verses 3 and 4 go into HOW we have been set free from it. Let's read these verses, which is actually one sentence:
Romans 8: (3) For the Law [being] powerless, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in [the] likeness of sinful flesh, and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh, (4) so that the righteous demand of the Law might be fulfilled in us, those not walking according to flesh, but according to Spirit.
The first thing we see is ANOTHER Law. Which Law is this one? Well, we see in verse 4 that it says, "the righteous demand of the Law." Thus, we know we're talking about God's Holy Law, God's commandments, the Law of perfect righteousness. It's the Law that is being talked about in Galatians 3:10-12. Let's turn over there:
Galatians 3: (10) For as many as are out of works of Law, [these] are under a curse. For it has been written, "Cursed [is] everyone who does not continue in all the things having been written in the book of the Law, to do them." (11) And that no one is justified by Law before God [is] clear because, "The just shall live by faith." (12) But the Law is not of faith, but, "The man doing these things shall live in them."
THIS is the Law that is being talked about here. The first thing we see about the Law is that it was powerless. But wait a minute. This is God's Holy Law, right? How could it be said that God's Holy Law is powerless? What comes after this phrase shows us what it means. It was powerless in that it was weak through the flesh. So how was God's Law powerless? It was powerless to save. It was powerless to justify. We just saw in Galatians that no one is justified by Law. And Romans 3:20 says, "by works of Law not one of all flesh will be justified before Him." God ordained it so that the Law would not justify. The Law would only condemn. What is one of the main purposes of the Law? It is to show sin, as the end of Romans 3:20 says. It was never meant to be a means of justification. When God commanded perfect obedience to the Law, He was NOT saying that any human being would be justified by keeping the law perfectly in his own character and conduct. He was NOT putting forth this possibility. The reason He commanded perfect obedience was to show us that perfect obedience is what is required for fellowship with him and that we COULD NOT obey perfectly, and thus we COULD NOT be in fellowship with him based on our own law-keeping, and thus we needed a SUBSTITUTE and REPRESENTATIVE who COULD and DID obey the Law perfectly IN OUR PLACE. So the Law was powerless to justify because God had ORDAINED that it would be powerless to justify in order that JESUS CHRIST would be exalted in the salvation of sinners. It's not that God hoped that salvation would come through the Law, and when he found out that His Law was powerless to save, He went to Plan B. No - the powerlessness of the Law to save was all in God's perfect plan of salvation. The Law could not save because of the weakness of the flesh, which is the sinful flesh of natural man. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. No one will be justified by works of the Law.
So, in light of this, what then? God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. In the fulness of time, at the very time God ordained it, God the Father sent God the Son to this earth as a man. The Holy Spirit came upon the virgin Mariam and conceived a baby who was fully God and fully human. His name was Jesus Christ. He was made in the likeness of sinful flesh. That doesn't mean that he was a sinner or that he even had the capacity to sin or had a sin principle in his flesh. It means that he was truly a man in the flesh, subject to all the infirmities of the flesh that were a result of Adam's sin. He was subject to being tired and hungry and thirsty, just like we are. He was also subject to death, just like we are. And since He came to this earth as a man, in the likeness of sinful flesh, He was also obligated to keep God's Law. Galatians 4:4 says that Jesus Christ was born of a woman and came under Law. But, unlike any other man, he was not under Law as a private person; He was under Law as a representative and substitute for a people whom God had chosen before the foundation of the world.
Now for us, when we come into this world under Law, we are condemned by the Law. We can't meet up to its standards, so it must condemn us. But what happened when JESUS came into this world under Law? He was perfectly righteous. So the Law could not condemn Him in His character and conduct. In this sense, he CONDEMNED SIN when he was in the flesh. The Law was powerless because of the weakness of those in Adam, which was their inability to keep it. But when JESUS came, there was no weakness of Christ's flesh that made the Law powerless. Christ KEPT the law PERFECTLY and thus CONDEMNED sin in the flesh. There is another sense in which Christ condemned sin in the flesh, and that is on the cross, when He took the condemnation that our sins deserved and took it away, blotting out the handwriting in the ordinances against us, which was contrary to us, and taking it out of the midst, he nailed it to the cross, as Colossians 2:14 says. Sin was condemned IN HIM when our sins were imputed to Him, and He suffered the just wrath that our sins deserved. Thus, since sin was already condemned IN HIM on the cross, is there any condemnation left for us who are in Christ Jesus? There is no condemnation left, because Jesus Christ took every last bit of condemnation for every single person whom He represented on that cross. So, as Galatians 4:4-5 says, Jesus Christ came under the law in order to REDEEM the ones under the Law. Had Christ not come to earth in the likeness of sinful flesh, there would have been no REDEMPTION for those in sinful flesh. Jesus Christ came as a man while remaining God so that he would lay his hand upon both God and man and make reconciliation through His blood.
Verse 4 says that Jesus Christ condemned sin in the flesh so that the righteous demand of the Law might be fulfilled in us. Here's the reason why Jesus Christ condemned sin in the flesh. What is the righteous demand of the Law? Is it to try hard to keep God's commandments? Is that the righteous demand of the Law? If trying hard to keep God's commandments were the righteous demand of the Law, then human beings in and of themselves could live up to the righteous demand of the Law. Is the righteous demand of the Law to not outwardly kill anybody, commit adultery with anybody, or steal from anybody? If those things were the righteous demand of the Law, then human beings in and of themselves could live up to the righteous demand of the Law. And if human beings in and of themselves could live up to the righteous demand of the Law, then justification would be by what? WORKS. But none of those things are the righteous demand of the Law. The righteous demand of the Law is ABSOLUTE, 100% PERFECT, CONTINUOUS CONFORMITY TO EVERY SINGLE JOT AND TITTLE OF EVERY SINGLE LAW, BOTH OUTWARDLY AND INWARDLY. That's the righteous demand of the Law. God demands in His Law that people CONTINUE in ALL THINGS according to the Law TO DO THEM. And ANY SINGLE DEVIATION, no matter HOW SMALL, to that demand, automatically means a curse. Are you able to fulfill the righteous demand of the Law in your own character and conduct? Are you without sin? If you say "yes," then God says in 1 John 8 and 10 that you deceive yourself, that the truth is not in you, that you make God a liar, and His Word is not in you. Those of us who have been brought to the end of ourselves know that we are FAR from being able to fulfill the righteous demand of the Law in our own character and conduct. If our justification were based on our fulfillment of the righteous demand of the Law in our own character and conduct, we would be justly condemned to hell, because if God marked our iniquities, we would not stand.
But Romans 8:4 says that the righteous demand of the Law IS fulfilled in us. How is it fulfilled in us? God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and concerning sin, condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous demand of the Law might be fulfilled in us. The righteous demand of the Law is fulfilled in us because Jesus Christ lived a perfectly righteous life, meaning that he was CONTINUALLY, 100% OBEDIENT TO EVERY JOT AND TITTLE OF EVERY SINGLE LAW, both OUTWARDLY and INWARDLY, and he was obedient to the death of the cross in our place, thus condemning sin in the flesh, and this perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed to every one of God's people at regeneration, so we are declared NOT GUILTY, NOT CONDEMNED, and thus we have met the righteousness demand of the Law in the person of Jesus Christ. There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, because the righteous demand of the Law has been fulfilled in us, so that we are declared not guilty because of the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone.
The end of verse 4 again describes those who have been saved based on the work of Christ alone as those who are not walking according to flesh but according to Spirit. This is a transitional phrase that is the bridge between Paul's talking about the OBJECTIVE, JUSTIFYING work based on the righteousness of Christ alone to Paul's talking about the SUBJECTIVE work of an implanted principle of holiness that is the necessary FRUIT of regeneration. The Lord willing, we will again go over this SUBJECTIVE work in two weeks.
Let us who have been saved meditate on and rejoice that the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and of death through the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ so that the righteous demand of the Law might be fulfilled in us, that we are justified and sanctified not based on our own works but based on the work of Jesus Christ alone. Amen.