What the Law Could Not Do, God Did Sending Christ, Part 1
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Verse 1 declares that in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation. God does not condemn us for our sins if we are in Christ Jesus. Jesus is a safe place from the hurricane of God's holy and just wrath. Verse 2 declares that in Christ Jesus there is freedom from the power of sin. Not yet perfect and final freedom, but decisive and irrevocable freedom. That is, the triumphant blow has been struck, the dominion of sin has been broken, and its final defeat is sure.
The reality of verse 1 is called justification, and the reality of verse 2 is called sanctification. And the relation between them is that the freedom of verse 2 supports acquittal of verse 1 as evidence, but not as cause. We are not justified because our lives have changed. Our lives are changing because we have been justified. That's what we saw last week.
Now we look at verse 3. "For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh." It has four statements in it. 1) God condemned sin in the flesh. 2) He did this by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin. 3) The law was not able to do this. 4) The reason the law could not do this was because of our flesh.
"God . . . Condemned Sin in the Flesh"
Let's draw out some of the wonders in these statements. First, "God condemned sin in the flesh." Notice three wonderful things about what this statement says.
1. Sin Has Been Condemned, not Merely Shown to Be Condemnable
First, sin has already been condemned. What does that mean? It does not mean that sin has been criticized and called condemnable – as when we say, President Bush "condemned" the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. We know it does not mean this because this is something the law could do and did do quite well. The law criticized sin and called it condemnable. The law says, for example, "You shall not covet" (Exodus 20:17). And the law pronounces punishments on law breakers (Deuteronomy 28:15). So the law clearly "condemned" sin in this sense.
But Romans 8:3 says, "What the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did." So God did something more than merely criticize sin and call it condemnable. What then does Paul mean when he says, "God condemned sin in the flesh"? He means that in Jesus' flesh – in his suffering and dying body on the cross – God executed a final sentence of condemnation on the sin of everyone who is in Christ. In other words, "God condemned sin" means God found sin guilty and sentenced sin to be finally punished and carried out the penalty of suffering in the death of his Son.
That's the first wonderful thing about this statement, "God condemned sin" – in the death of Christ, sin was not merely shown to be condemnable, it was condemned, it received its full and just sentence and penalty – for all who are in Christ Jesus.
2. Our Sin Was Condemned in the Suffering and Death of Christ, Since He Had no Sin to Condemn
Now here is the second wonderful thing about this statement: There was no sin in Jesus Christ to condemn. Paul says it here indirectly and says it directly elsewhere. Here he says, "Sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh." Notice that word "likeness." He says "likeness of sinful flesh" because he was not sinful. Jesus had no sin. His flesh was human, and it was like sinful flesh. But it was not sinful.
So how could God condemn sin in his flesh? There was none there to condemn. The clearest answer is given in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." There it is. Paul says it as clearly as it can be said: "He knew no sin." Jesus never sinned. Of all the people who have ever lived, Jesus is the only one who did not deserve to die. Jesus is the only person who ever lived who did not deserve to suffer. But he died and he suffered.
So the question is: Whose sin was condemned when Jesus' flesh was tortured and killed? God condemned sin in the flesh of his completely innocent Son. Whose sin? The answer is given clearly. Romans 4:25, "He . . . was delivered over because of our transgressions." 1 Corinthians 15:3, "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." Galatians 1:4, "[He] gave Himself for our sins." 1 Peter 2:24, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree." 1 Peter 3:18, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous." Isaiah 53:5-6, "But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fellupon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him."
The answer is that our sin was condemned in the suffering and death of Christ, not his. He had none. Which practically means what? Let Paul say it the way he likes to say it in Romans 8:33-34, "Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; (34) who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died." When the question rises, "Who can condemn God's elect?" the answer understood here is, "Nobody." Nobody in heaven or hell or on the earth. Why? Answer: "Christ Jesus is he who died."
And now we know why the death of Jesus Christ takes away all my condemnation. Because when he died God was condemning sin, sentencing it, and punishing it completely and fully and finally for all God's elect – all who are in Christ by faith. Therefore it was my sin that was being condemned and sentenced and punished completely and fully and finally when Christ died. And if my sin was punished there finally and fully, I will not be punished for it again.
Brothers and sisters, there is no other cleansing agent in all the universe that can clean your conscience, besides this one. There is no other shield that can protect you from the white hot wrath of God, besides this shield. There is no other argument that will hold up in the final courtroom of heaven than this argument: Christ died for my sins. Christ bore my condemnation. Christ absorbed all the divine wrath that would and should have come on me.
I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that he died for me.
That's the second wonderful thing about this statement that "God condemned sin in the flesh." The first is that sin has already been condemned, sentenced, punished, executed in Jesus. The second is that Jesus had no sin to condemn. It was ours that was punished. "[God] made Him who knew no sin to besin on our behalf."
3. God Condemned Sin in the Flesh
The third wonderful thing about this statement is that God did it. "God condemned sin in the flesh." Two things are powerfully relevant for us here.
The Love of God Rescued Us from the Wrath of God
3.1 One is that Jesus Christ did not put himself forward between God and man to reconcile them to each other. It's not as though God is only angry at sinners, and sinners are hostile to God, and Jesus loves sinners and puts himself between his angry Father and sinful man to rescue man from God's anger. That is not what Christianity teaches. That is not what happened.
The text says – and the whole Bible is built on this view – that God did this. "Sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, [God!] condemned sin in the flesh." Jesus did not put himself forward between God and man; God put Jesus forward between God and man (Romans 3:25). God "sent His own Son." God saw to it that the eternal, uncreated Son of God took on "the likeness of sinful flesh." God poured out his wrath on the Son as the condemnation and punishment of our sins. Jesus didn't butt in to save us from God. God sent him in to save us from God. God himself saved us from the wrath of God.
When you ponder the cross, don't just ponder the love of Jesus rescuing us from the anger of God. Ponder the love of God rescuing us from the anger of God. If you know Jesus, you know the Father. The heart of Jesus is the heart of the Father. Jesus is as angry at sin as the Father is. And the Father is as caring for sinners as Jesus is.
Jesus said in John 14:7-9, "'If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.' (8) Philip said to Him, 'Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.' (9) Jesus said to him, 'Have I been so long with you, and yetyou have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how canyou say, "Show us the Father"'?"
So be crystal clear on this: the work of Jesus the Son of God is the work of God the Father. If you know Jesus, the Son of God, you know God the Father. If you love Jesus, the Son of God, you love God.
God did it. God condemned sin in the flesh. And the first thing that is so relevant about that for us is that it keeps us from playing Jesus and God off against each other. It helps us see that the Father and the Son have one heart and one mind as they take their different roles in saving us from our sin.
The Exclusivity of the Gospel of the Glory of God in Christ
3.2. The other thing that is so relevant about this third point (that it was God himself who condemned sin in the flesh of the Son of God), is that this does not fit in with other major religions, like Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or Buddhism. The point here is not to be inflammatory in a tense global situation. The point is to preserve the gospel of the glory of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4), the divine Son of God and only sin-bearing Mediator between God and man, in the midst of a cultural stampede toward inclusivism.
What I mean by inclusivism is the teaching that all religions are legitimate paths to God. There is a fear today to speak of the exclusivism of the gospel of Jesus – that he is the Way the Truth and the Life and no one goes to the Father but by him (John 14:6). But this is what Paul is saying here in Romans 8:3. God – the one and only Creator of the universe – sent his Son (his pre-existing, divine, eternal Son) in human flesh to bear the outpouring of his wrath in condemnation on sin. THAT is who God is. If you say, "God did not do that," then the God you worship is not God.
Who is the true and only God? The true and only God is the God and Father of Jesus Christ who was in "the form of God" and "equal with God" (Philippians 2:6) and took on the form of a servant in the likeness of sinful flesh, so that all the fullness of deity dwelt in him bodily (Colossians 2:9). The true and only God sent this divine Person into the world and in his flesh condemned sin – sentenced it, punished it, executed it. Yours and mine. And everyone's, who by faith are in Jesus Christ.
This is the gospel we preach to the entire world – to every religion. There is one God, the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the uncreated, eternal, divine Son of God, whom God sent in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin in order to die for sinners, so that all who believe might be saved – from his wrath and for his glory. The most loving thing we an do for Muslims is to peacefully, meekly, and sacrificially proclaim to them the gospel of Jesus Christ, without which no one will be saved.
To love people like this will require that you have come to see Romans 8:3 as the most precious event in the history of the world. God did it. God condemned sin in the flesh of his own Son. There is no other cleansing for the conscience. No other protection from wrath. No other argument in the last judgment.
Let's believe it, bank on it, live it, and sing it.
My faith has found a resting place,
Not in device nor creed;
I trust the ever living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.
I need no other argument,
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that he died for me.
Enough for me that Jesus saves,
This ends my fear and doubt;
A sinful soul, I come to him,
He'll never cast me out.
My heart is leaning on the Word,
The written Word of God,
Salvation by my Savior's name,
Salvation through his blood.
My great Physician heals the sick,
The lost he came to save;
For me his precious blood he shed,
For me his life he gave.
© Desiring God Foundation. Distribution Guidelines
Share the Joy! You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in physical form, in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For posting online, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. For videos, please embed from the original source. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org