Back in verses 13 to 25 of chapter 7, Paul was describing the struggle he faced as a believer. Do you remember? ‘I’m sold as a slave to sin’, he said in verse 14. Sin keeps bossing me around. ‘I don’t understand what I do’, he said in verse 15.
For what I want to do, I do not do. Instead what I end up doing is the thing I hate.
He’s saying he wants to do good. He wants to obey the Lord and to keep his commandments. But he keeps sinning. ‘I desire to do what’s good’, he said in verse 18, ‘but I cannot carry it out.’ Why not? Well, he referred to the sin living within him. Some theologians call it indwelling sin; and, like an unwelcome house guest who is always with us, and won’t leave us alone, so this indwelling sin is always in us, always bothering us, always trying to prevent us from doing what’s right and always trying to get us to do what’s wrong. Every believer is a saint and a sinner: we’re saints because we belong to God and his Spirit is working in us to make us more and more obedient; but we remain sinners throughout our lives. And because we’re sinners, we continue to sin. But because we’re saints, we hate our sins. And so, Paul has been describing this struggle that’s been going on inside of him. And towards the end of chapter 7, he cried out:
What a wretched man I am! ho will rescue me from this body of death?
And the answer, of course, is God. God the Father will rescue him through Jesus Christ our Lord, because one day the Lord Jesus will return to earth in glory and when he comes our bodies will be glorified and will become like his glorious body.
But in the meantime, we have what Paul describes in verse 25: I’m both a slave to God’s law: because I want to keep it and to do it. But I’m also a slave to sin: because this indwelling sin keeps bossing me around and it keeps trying to get me to do what it wants.
And so, we come to verse 1 of chapter 8. And what a relief! What a relief these words are to believers who are constantly harassed by indwelling sin and who feel wretched because of their sin. What a relief it is to read that there is now no condemnation, no condemnation, for those who are in Christ Jesus.
He’s referring to believers, of course: to all those who are united with Christ through faith. Once we were in Adam, but now, through faith, we are in Christ. Once we belonged to Adam and we were united with him and we were headed for condemnation. But now, through faith, we belong to Christ and we’re now united with him and we’re headed now, not for condemnation, but for everlasting life. Once the only thing we could expect from God was condemnation for our sins. But now — now that we’re united through faith with Christ — there’s no condemnation for us to face, because we’ve been justified: forgiven by God and accepted by him for ever. Through faith in Christ, we’re taken out of the courtroom, where we stood before God the Judge as guilty sinners who deserve to be condemned, and we’ve been moved into the living room, and God the Judge has become God our Father. And instead of expecting to be condemned, we can look forward to only good things from our loving heavenly Father.
I often read these words in church after our prayer of confession. We confess our sins and our shortcomings. We ask God our Father for forgiveness. And then, having confessed our sins, we hear these words of comfort and peace and re-assurance:
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
You’ve confessed your sins and you know you deserve to be condemned because you’re a lawbreaker and a sinner. But hear the good news: Though you deserve to be condemned, now there’s no condemnation for all those who belong to Christ. Well, that’s good news.
In verse 2 Paul goes on to explain how this is now the case. Listen to what he said:
because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
Let’s take the phrase ‘the law of sin and death’ first. Paul can use the words ‘the law’ in different ways. Usually he’s referring to the law of Moses and to all the commandments God gave his people through Moses. But here he’s using the words ‘the law’ to refer to a principle or a ruling authority or to a binding authority and power in his life. He did the same in verse 23 of chapter 7 where he referred to the law of sin as a power which was at work in him. So, Paul describes sin as a ruling authority in our lives. And he does so because it bosses us around. It makes us do what it wants. And, of course, sin leads ultimately to death and to everlasting punishment away from the presence of the Lord. So, that’s what Paul means by the law of sin and death: he means sin was this power which ruled over him; and sin leads to death.
But here’s the thing: Paul has been set free from its power now. How has this happened? Well, Paul tells us that the law of the Spirit of life has set me free. And it seems that Paul is using the words ‘the law’ to refer once again to a binding authority or to a power in his life. But this time, the binding authority — the power which has come into his life in order to free him from the power of sin — is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came into his life and freed him from the authority of sin. And he refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of life, because whoever possesses the Holy Spirit possesses eternal life.
Verses 3 and 4
Paul hasn’t said much about the Holy Spirit in his letter up to now. But he’s going to mention him a lot more in chapter 8 and especially in verses 5 to 13 where he contrasts life in the Spirit with life in the flesh, or life in the sinful nature, as the NIV puts it. And then there’s verses 14 to 17, where Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as ‘the Spirit of sonship’ who testifies to believers that we’re children of God. And then, in verses 18 to 27, Paul refers to how the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness as we look forward to the future glory.
So, while Paul emphasises again and again the person and work of the Lord Jesus who died to pay for our sins before being raised again, he also wants to teach us about the Holy Spirit whose work is also vital to our everlasting salvation. We owe our salvation to the Lord Jesus who died for us and was raised. But we also owe our salvation to the Holy Spirit who is at work in us. And, of course, we owe our salvation as well to God the Father who sent his Son and his Spirit to deliver us from our sin and misery. And one day, because of the work of God the Son and because of the work of God the Holy Spirit, we’ll come into the presence of God the Father in glory.
So, having said that, let me turn to verses 3 and 4 and this is as far as we’ll go today. But listen to Paul’s words in verses 3 and 4:
what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteousness 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 mentions the law here, he’s referring now to the law of Moses. And do you remember? He’s said previously that the law is good. And it’s good, because it was from God. But the law was weakened by our sinful nature. Or, it was weakened by our flesh. Do you remember? The law had been taken over by sin so that the sin living inside us uses the law against us. Sin uses God’s good commandment to get us to sin more and more.
That’s the reason Paul says the law was weakened by the flesh. And because the law was weakened by the flesh, it was powerless to do something, says Paul. What was the law powerless to do? Well, it was powerless to help us to keep it. The law could command. The law could demand. It could say to us:
This is what you’re to do.
But the law wasn’t able to help us to do the things it commanded. And the law wasn’t therefore able to give us life. The Lord said to his people in the Old Testament:
Do this and live.
But none of them were able to do all the things he commanded them to do. The law couldn’t help them to keep it. And the law couldn’t give them life. In other words, the law couldn’t free the people in the Old Testament and it can’t free us from the sin and death which Paul mentions in verse 2.
But what the law can’t do, God has done by his Son. And Paul tells us that God the Father sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. Now, he’s not suggesting that the Lord was only ‘like’ us and didn’t really become one of us. He doesn’t mean that; the Lord became one of us at his incarnation. But at the same time, Paul wants to avoid the suggestion that the Lord was sinful like us. He was made like us in every way, yet he was without sin.
And Paul tells us that God the Father sent his own Son to accomplish two things. First of all, Paul tells us that the Lord Jesus was sent to be a sin offering; and so God condemned sin in sinful man. In other words, when the Lord Jesus died on the cross as the once for all, never to be repeated, perfect sacrifice for sin, he suffered the condemnation we deserve for our sins. Sin — our sin — was condemned.
That’s the first thing. Secondly, Paul tells us that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us. You see, the Lord Jesus not only died for us, but he also lived for us; and he kept God’s law for us. So, when God looks at the believer, he regards us as if we’ve fulfilled every demand of the law, because Christ kept it for us throughout his earthly life.
The law couldn’t help us to keep the law; but believers have kept the law because Christ has kept it on our behalf. And the law couldn’t give us life, but it could only condemn us for breaking the law; but Christ has suffered the condemnation we deserve so that we might have everlasting life. What the law couldn’t do, God has now done by his Son.
And this is true for who? Well, look at the end of verse 4, because this is where he brings in the Holy Spirit again. This is true for those who do not live according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. And I’ve used the word ‘flesh’ in place of ‘sinful nature’, because Paul is really thinking of two realms or two kingdoms here. I think I’ve mentioned this before when we were studying verse 5 of chapter 7. You see, there’s the realm of the flesh, or the realm of the human only, which has become dominated by sin and death because of Adam’s fall. And then there’s the realm of the Spirit, which is dominated by righteousness and life. And through faith in Christ, we’re transferred out of the realm of the flesh where there’s only condemnation now and we’re brought into the realm of the Spirit where’s there’s now no condemnation, but only forgiveness and everlasting life.
And so, Paul is saying to the believers in Rome; and he’s saying to us today: Once you lived in that old realm, that old kingdom, of sin and death. But now, you’ve been brought into this new kingdom of the Spirit. And there, the law has been fulfilled by Christ on your behalf. And there, the condemnation you deserve has been suffered by Christ on your behalf. And what Paul will go on to say in verse 11 is that, now that you possess the Holy Spirit, then the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead will also raise your mortal body from the dead too.
So, right now, we have to put up with ongoing and indwelling sin in our lives. Every day it makes us feel wretched. But sin cannot hold us or condemn us, because as well as having indwelling sin, believers have the indwelling Holy Spirit in our lives. And he’s freed us from the law of sin and death which condemns us. And the indwelling Holy Spirit, who once raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, will also raise our bodies from the dead as well.