Whether you’re brand new to SonRise or have been around SonRise for a while, let me briefly state what we seek to accomplish in this sermon moment each week. During the preaching portion of our Sunday morning gathering we employ and enjoy a style of preaching called expositional preaching. Which means that whoever is preaching, myself or another elder, we do not aim to say anything new but seek only to say what God has already said, such that the point of the text in view that week is the point of the sermon. So, in preaching we make it our aim to be the nothing more than waiters, whose task is taking the Chef’s meal and bringing it to the table without adding to it, taking away from it, or changing it in any way, shape, or form. We don’t to do this randomly but orderly, as we work through books of the Bible. So when we come to specific passages week after week we come to them in their own context, having already examined the verses that come before and anticipating the verses that come after. Or to put it another way, we seek to sit underneath the authority and illumination of Scripture rather than standing over the Scripture to ensure that it leads us as we handle it.

This is our goal, we don’t do it perfectly, but we do aim to be faithful handlers of God’s Word.[1]

Last week we began working our way through one of the greatest chapters in the Bible, Romans 8. Beginning in v1 with no condemnation and ending in v39 with no separation, Romans 8 covers the whole of the Christian life. And last week we just lingered over v1 as is fitting for us to do because you could make argument that v1 is the greatest verse in this greatest chapter of the Bible that is Romans 8. Today we press on, looking at the context v1 comes to us in, v1-4. In these opening four verses we find out three things: what God did, how God did it, and why God did it. Let’s begin in v1-2, where we see…

What God Did (v1-2)

“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.”

v1 contains, as we saw last week, three choice phrases that launch our souls heavenward. The first phrase is “Therefore”, which displays how Paul is now drawing conclusions and applying what he’s already told us in Romans 1-7. The second phrase is “no condemnation”, which displays a courtroom legal setting where God the Father, the just Judge over all things, passes the verdict of ‘not guilty’ on us because Jesus was condemned for us. The third phrase is “in Christ”, which displays, not a kind of universalism all people regardless will be saved in the end but that those who receive the great gift of no condemnation are only those who come to Christ in faith. We then drew out four applications of the possible trillion that flow out of v1: freedom from guilt, freedom to love, freedom from cultural approval, and freedom to obey.

Now that’s what we dug into last week in v1. In a true sense we used the magnifying glass method…zeroing in on and laboring to see and be stunned by the truth God has given to us there. Today, we’ll back up a bit and take v1 in its proper context, which is v1-4. Notice what word begins v2? “For”, which means what we’re about to read in these next few verses gives us the reasoning why v1 is true. Actually if you back up further and look at v1-8, v4 and v8 are the only verses that don’t begin with the word “For”, all the rest do, which shows us how Paul builds and builds all these verses on top of one another to make his teaching clear to us.

This is where I’d like to make a correction on something I’ve told you before. I can do that right? It might seem like a small matter but as your pastor I too am growing in my knowledge and understanding of God’s Word. So, if we find ourselves somewhere out of line with Scripture we must assume we’re wrong, God’s right, and thus we should be the ones to adjust. Well, when we were going through Romans 6-7 I said every time Paul uses the word ‘law’ in Romans he is referring to the Mosaic Law, the Ten Commandments. Well, that’s not quite correct. There are a few times when this is not the case. v2 is one such example where the word ‘law’ is used in a different sense. Paul uses it twice in v2 and each time he’s not referring to the Mosaic Law but is using the word to mean something like a ‘general principle’ or ‘general work of.’[2] See it in v2, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” ‘Law’ is being used here as a kind of generic term describing what the ‘Spirit of life’ does to us and what ‘sin and death’ does to us. See that?

Now I think we can ask a bigger question, what does v2 mean and how does it expand on v1? v1 told us the great declaration, that for those who are in Christ there is now no condemnation. Well, what did God do to make that happen? Enter v2. We were set free. How? Once we were under the power of sin and death, but we’ve been set free by the Spirit of life. This is what v2 means. It shows the inner working, or behind the scenes of v1. v2 then, is another description of the gospel, of our being set free in Christ. But notice it, this is one of the first moments in Romans where Paul speaks of the gospel’s power to save in relation to the Holy Spirit. It’s been hinted at before in 2:29 where it says true circumcision is a “…matter of the Spirit…”, and in 5:5 where it says “…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Spirit…”, and hinted at again in 7:6 when it says we now “…serve in the new way of the Spirit…” But now, clearly and powerfully, Paul says it is the Spirit of life, or the Holy Spirit, that frees us from sin and death. Church, see it and rejoice in it. The moment we believe in Jesus we’re united to Jesus, we go from being ‘in Adam’ to being ‘in Christ’ and the moment we become in Christ the Holy Spirit comes into us and does certain things to us. What things? The Spirit frees us from sin and death (that’s v2) and frees us from condemnation (that’s v1). And we can be assured that once the Spirit does this in us, He’ll keep on working in us so that these things increase in us, until the moment we’re with the Lord in glory. This is how v2 expands on v1. v1 states what is now true of us and v2 shows us what God did to make that true of us.

We’ll dig more into the Spirit in v4. For now, move on to our second heading where we see…

How God Did It (v3)

“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…”

I know I just made a confession to my exaggerated statement of the word ‘law’ but here in v3 and v4 we do come back to Paul using the word law to refer to Moses , or the Ten Commandments, again. The context makes this clear. As soon as v3 begins there is a contrast being shown to us. What God did vs. what the law could not do. What was the law trying to do? Look at the start of v4, trying to fulfill “the righteous requirement…” Why could the law not do this and why could God do it? Paul says it, the law was weakened by the flesh, or because of the weakness of our flesh it was unable to do this. Remember, God said if the Law was kept fully His people would’ve earned a perfect righteousness, but they couldn’t keep the demands of the law because of their sin.[3] But see the contrast now, what the law couldn’t do, God did! This contrasting phrase is really the whole gospel in a nutshell. What the law could not do, God did! What our goodness can never achieve, God did achieve. What our morality could never achieve, God did achieve. What our behavior could never achieve, God did achieve. We can’t, but God can, and God did. That’s the gospel.[4]

But how did God do it? “By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh…” See the wordplay here?[5] The law was “weakened by the flesh” yet God “condemned sin in the flesh” by sending His Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Paul is so careful about his words here. He could’ve said God sent Christ in sinful flesh, but that would mean Jesus was a sinner, which we know isn’t true from other parts of Scripture. Paul could’ve said God sent Christ in the likeness of flesh, but that would mean Jesus only appeared to be human, which we know isn’t true from other parts of Scripture. Paul carefully avoids these errors. Instead Paul says God sent Christ in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, teaching us that the Son of God truly took on human flesh like us – without becoming a sinner like us – in order to handle the problem, the penalty, and the power of sin for us.[6]

Just a few days ago, I was glad to find myself in a surprise evangelistic encounter. Don’t you love when God sets up moments like this? I had certain plans in mind and clearly God had plans too. And so, as I’m walking out of the East Main Street coffee shop I hear, ‘Adam, why did Jesus come?’ I turned to see the stubborn man I’ve shared the gospel with many times before saying this to me, and for a moment I just stood there unsure of what to make of his words. He saw my happy confusion and said again, ‘Why did Jesus come? I’ll tell you Adam, he came to announce that the kingdom of God is within you. Hear that? The kingdom of God is within you. Do you believe that Adam?’ I said, ‘No.’ To which he said, ‘Right, like you’ve told me, you don’t think anything good is in us do you?’ I said, ‘Right, sin is within us. Jesus came to save us from sin.’ This back and forth went on for a bit until he grew a bit hostile with me and so I reminded him of what I had told him many times before and went on my way. Did you hear though? To him Jesus’ coming had nothing to do with sin. Rather Jesus just came to announce the Kingdom of God is already within you. This is how the world thinks about Jesus. He didn’t come for sin, no, leave that talk behind. Jesus came to bring the kingdom of God, to reconcile Jew and Gentile, to show how life is really meant to be lived, to teach us what love truly is, and on and on and on. Church, if we speak like this, and say the coming of the Son of God had nothing to do with sin, we’re wrong. It was to deal with sin that He came! In the likeness of sinful flesh, for sin, to condemn sin in the flesh! Many indeed speak of Jesus like this, without any reference to sin. Be reminded, there is no relevance of Christ’s coming into the world apart from the fact of sin.[7]But we know why people so avoid this right? Because to say such things implies that you must admit that sin is real, that something is wrong with the world, and that something is wrong with you, that you’re a sinner, that you can’t fix yourself, and that God had to intervene in our world in Christ in order to deal with sin. Once again, we see that unless we see and own our sin we’ll never know how God so loved the world.

We’ve seen what God did and how God did it, to end look at v4 where we see…

Why God Did It (v4)

“…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.”

In v1-3 we’ve seen both the Father and the Son at work. The Father loved the world by sending the Son into the world for sin. Here in v4 we see the purpose all of this work not only aims at but the purpose it actually achieves. And in this purpose we arrive at the work of the Spirit.

v4 begins by, no surprise, by picking up where v3 left off. Remember God did what the law couldn’t do. We would be righteous if we were able to keep the law, but due to the weakness of our flesh we could not, so God did what the law couldn’t do. He sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, for sin, condemning sin in His flesh on the cross…” why? To make us righteous. To gift us the very righteousness Jesus earned for Himself in His perfect life. That’s what the start of v4 means.

But then see where Paul goes with the rest of v4, God so worked by sending His Son for sin in order that we’d be made righteous and become those “…who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” This means the purpose of God’s work in Christ to deal with sin is to free sinners from the power of sin and death and enable them to keep the law from the heart by walking in step with the Spirit, or living according to the Spirit, or living under the influence of the Spirit, or living in the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why God has done what He’s done. To save us and put His Spirit within us.

This text calls us out. All of us in this world have a bent about us, a prideful independent streak entrenched within us that makes us think we should be and therefore simply can do whatever we want. ‘I do what I want…’ and then we add, ‘Merica!’ Do you see how the gospel saves us from that? Or do you still do you life the way you want? Do you still do life on your terms? God didn’t send His Son for sin, to free us from sin, and to fill us with His Spirit so that we’re encouraged all the more to keep on doing whatever we want to do! No. He sent His Son for us and put His Spirit within us so that we’d walk in His ways, not in our ways.

Conclusion:

This is who you are, be who you are. God has loved us. God has sent His Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, to condemn sin for us. And God has sent His Spirit to reside within us. And the Holy Spirit so works within us that we no longer walk according to our own understanding, but according to God’s. What does it look like to walk according the Spirit? That, Lord willing, will be answered next week as we look at v5-8.


[1] The Response Church in San Diego (Acts 29) begins every sermon with a description very similar to this.

[2] R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 250.

[3] Douglas Moo, Romans, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000), 249.

[4] Sproul, Romans, 251.

[5] Moo, Romans, 249.

[6] Kent R. Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1991), 143.

[7] John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 280.

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