“For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.”
This beautiful chapter of Paul’s epistle to the church at Rome begins with the triumphant declaration that there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. All men are sinners and thus liable to the severe condemnation of God. But for those who are in Christ Jesus, there is no condemnation.
What a blessed truth!
But how can we be assured of this?
Through Jesus Christ, God condemned sin in the flesh. Our sin stands as the sole basis for God’s condemnation of us. As long as we appear before God with our sin, He will condemn us. But in Christ Jesus God condemned sin in the flesh. And so there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
For what the law could not do….
The law is God’s law. Its ten commandments express the will of God for every area of life. It shows us the duties we owe both to God and to man. The essence of the law is to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
What the law cannot do is bring us a favorable verdict of God.
The context places us in God’s courtroom and speaks of condemnation. God judges us daily according to His law. His verdict is either guilty or righteous. Should we appear in God’s courtroom with sin, He will declare us guilty and condemn us. This condemnation brings a terrible punishment that utterly destroys the sinner. But if we can appear before God in perfect obedience to the law, He will declare us righteous and bless us.
What the law cannot do is bring this favorable verdict of God to us. It can show us God’s will for our lives. It can show us what we must do to secure a favorable verdict. It can give wonderful promises of blessing to the righteous and stern warnings of destruction to the sinner. But the law itself cannot be the means for us to secure a favorable verdict in God’s courtroom so that we can receive His blessing.
Many have been mistaken about this. The proud Pharisee of Jesus’ day thought that he could keep God’s law perfectly and that his obedience would earn him a favorable verdict of God. In fact, he considered this to be the purpose of the law—a means to earn God’s favor and blessing. To him the law was a great power. This is the error of works righteousness or self-righteousness. This error has continued in many different forms to this very day.
But the law has no power to bring us a favorable verdict of God.
This is because the law is weak through the flesh.
The flesh is our sinful flesh. On account of the fall of Adam, sin has taken control of the human nature, so that we are all born depraved, incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil. This fallen human nature of ours is identified here and elsewhere as our flesh.
Our flesh renders the law weak (impotent) to bring us a favorable verdict of God.
Before the fall, God’s law had power.
God certainly had a law for Adam in the garden. This law focused on the two trees in the garden. From one, Adam was to eat; from the other, he was to abstain. In addition, God’s covenant law of love that He has for us applied also to Adam in the state of perfection.
And that law was powerful. It expressed the will of God, the standard whereby He would judge Adam. It also promised blessing to Adam’s obedience, as well as a warning of punishment for disobedience. Should Adam eat of the tree of life in loving obedience to God, he would live. But if he were to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in rebellion against God, he would surely die. Adam had the ability to keep this law. He also had the ability to disobey the law, which he did. But the important thing is that he had the ability to keep the law in order to receive a favorable verdict of God and all the blessings that that verdict would bring him. The law with its promises and threatenings even encouraged Adam to obedience. In the state of perfection, therefore, the law had power.
But our sinful flesh renders the law impotent in this regard. This is because our sinful flesh makes it impossible for us to keep the law. The law promises God’s richest blessings to those who keep it. They will know the Lord’s mercy and live long in the land that the Lord will give them. The law also warns that God will not hold guiltless those that in hatred transgress His commandments. But for all that, the law has no power to bring us to obedience and a favorable verdict of God. This is because the law has become weak through the flesh. The only power the law has is to bring us under the condemnation of God.
And so God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.
This means that the triune God sent His eternal Son into our world to assume the human nature. Through the virgin birth the Son of God became one of us. Although He remains true and eternal God, He took to Himself our flesh so that He is truly God and truly man. This is the miracle of the incarnation.
Notice that God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. No, the Son of God did not take on Himself our sinful flesh. In that case He would have been conceived and born in sin, as we are. Being miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit, the incarnate One is also the holy one (Luke 1:35). Rather, the Son of God took on Him the likeness of sinful flesh. This emphasizes that He was like us in every way except sin. Even the workings of death were present in His human nature, so that it was corruptible and mortal.
Furthermore, God sent His Son for sin.
This means that God sent His Son as a sin offering. In the years between the writing of the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Old Testament Scriptures were translated by 70 scholars from the original Hebrew into Greek. This translation is known as the Septuagint. This name reflects the number of men (70) who did this work. It is also sometimes identified with the Roman numerals LXX. In the LXX the Hebrew word for sin offering is consistently translated “for sin.” Interestingly, the inspired writer to the Hebrews in chapter 10 quotes Psalm 40:6-8. And in verse 6 he refers to sin offerings with the LXX expression “for sin.” Only in this case the KJV translates this phrase as “sacrifices.”
And so we understand that God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh for a sin offering.
This means God laid upon His own Son the guilt of our sin. Repeatedly, Jesus spoke of those whom the Father had given Him. This is the elect church. The guilt of their sin was laid upon Christ, so that He stood condemned before God. All His life long, but especially on the cross, Jesus endured the punishment of that condemnation. And He did so in perfect love and obedience to God, fulfilling all that God requires of us in the law.
Through this perfect sacrifice of His Son, God condemned sin in the flesh.
By the term “sin in the flesh” is meant sin as it lives and reigns in our flesh. This is an example of personification. Sin is viewed as a person who lives and reigns in us, ruling our lives. Sin has this position and power because of the fall of our first parents.
But God has now condemned this sin.
He condemned sin so that sin is no longer able to rule our lives. In Christ we become new creatures who live not after the flesh but after the Spirit.
Nor is sin able to bring upon us the condemnation of God. For the time being, we still struggle with sin. The works of God’s grace are not yet finished in us. But the sin that remains cannot serve as a basis for our condemnation. This is because the sacrifice of Jesus Christ covered all our sins and renders us righteous before God.
So there is no condemnation for them that are in Christ Jesus!
And remember this, that, because God condemned sin in the flesh, those who are in Christ Jesus no longer walk after the flesh but after the Spirit. This is the defining mark of those that are in Christ Jesus.
That we may lay hold of this personally and be assured that there is no condemnation for us, let us in Christ Jesus walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.