Free from Judgment, Fighting Sin, Full Assurance

Plenary 2 — 2014 National Conference

Look at the Book: Reading the Bible for Yourself

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. 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, 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. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
     we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:1–39).

Digging into the Details

Tomorrow morning I will make the big picture case why that’s the greatest chapter in the Bible. It doesn’t need much argument. But in these three sessions, we are going to get down detailed and dirty. I believe in both. I love to soar and I love to sing. I could sing with you all day about these things. You won’t sing long and you won’t sing deep if you don’t get down into the details. Lots of people don’t like to do detailed work. They just want the fruit. That’s okay I suppose. They’ll just never be teachers and they won’t be very effective small group leaders. Life is a tension between the sweet enjoyments of the fruits of study and the hard mind-bending, backbreaking, maddening work of thinking. So my advice to you right now is that you do two things as you sit there. You don’t need to preserve any of this. It will all be available one way or the other. So, don’t think, “I have to preserve this.”

You should do two things. You should think and you should pray. And I base that on 2 Timothy 2:7, where Paul says to Timothy, “Think over what I say for (ground clause) the Holy Spirit will grant you understanding in everything.” Don’t be among the number who say, “Oh, if the Holy Spirit grants understanding, thinking will just get in the way.” That’s denying the word of God. And don’t be among the number who say, “Oh, if we’re called upon to think, then it’s a purely human activity by which we get meaning out of the Bible.” That’s denying the word of God. Because the Bible says, “Think over what I say with your brain that I gave you for thinking, because in and through thinking about my word, the Holy Spirit gives understanding.”

We’re charismatics and we’re intellectuals because the Bible says to be. We love the Holy Spirit. He’s the main person in Romans 8. He’s everywhere and dense. So we need him now as we go. So, that’s my counsel. Be praying, “Grant me understanding,” and be thinking with me at what we see.

The Law of God and the Law of Sin

What we’re going to do is put the text up here. I have a little rubber tip pen here and I have an iPad here. This is not the technology we use on Look at the Book. This is primitive. Sorry, Apple. It’s a software issue. The reason I say it’s primitive is because I can’t have a cursor. You can’t see me do this. I can’t write very well because it’s so smushy. So now that I’ve apologized for the technology, I’m going to love it.

You may wonder why I’m looking there at 7:22. This is a conference on Romans 8. And Romans 8 starts right after Romans 7:25. The reason I included those prior verses is because of “therefore.” Whenever you see that word, you need to know what went before because what follows it is growing out of it in some way. There’s another reason:

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 (Romans 8:1–2).

That’s another reason why I included these preceding verses because that term “law of sin” has been used twice in those preceding verses. And we won’t know what this is talking about if we don’t pick that up.

So, let’s go back to Romans 7:22 and start reading:

For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members (not his inner being but his arms, legs, sexual organs, and tongue) another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

This other law that’s taken root in his body is against the law of his mind, which I think is the same as the law of God. That’s why I included these verses. There’s the first use of the term “law of sin.” And I think the “law of sin” is this other law in Romans 7:23. He continues:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Why? Because there’s this war in me. I don’t like it. I feel wretched a lot of times. And they’re waging war in me, the law of sin and the law of God. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? He says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25). There’s a deliverer. It’s Jesus. And God through him, has delivered me. How you finish that sentence makes a difference in how you understand all of Romans 7 and all of Romans 8. Has he delivered us from the war — or from the triumph — of the other law?

Understanding the Law of Sin

Keep reading:

So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin (Romans 7:25).

I think “myself” is parallel with “inner being.” He says, “I myself serve the law of God.” So, now we have the “law of God” up there in the first line and the “law of my mind” in the second line. We have the “law of God” again here in that line. So, three times we see the “law of God.” And I am serving this law of God with my mind, with myself, and with my inner being. It’s really deep, authentic service. It’s not in his members, which would be superficial. We know the word “flesh” is bigger than “body” in Paul. But in this text, it’s not less. He says, “But with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” There it is again. So, now we have the “law of sin” twice. We have the other law, the law of God three times. And the one is being served in his inner being, served with his mind, and served with his mind there near the bottom. And he says, “I, myself, am serving the law of God.”

So, what is the law of sin? Can we draw the answer so that when we get here at the bottom, we will know what we’re talking about? I think the word “law” here in the term “law of sin” is to be defined by authority, or force, or power, or principle. It’s over against it down here in Romans 8:2, which says, “the law of the Spirit of life.” He says, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

Now here’s a huge question: Has he been set free? Is he saying, “Thanks be to God that the warfare is over”? Or is he saying, “Thanks be to God that I am a victor who still wars but will most surely win”? Now, a lot of people say there are two big camps on Romans 7. One camp is the old-fashioned camp that I’m in, though old and new don’t mean anything as far as truth goes. This group says that what Paul is describing in those verses in Romans 7 is himself as a believer. That’s my view too. I’ll give you three reasons why in a minute. The other view is that it’s not Paul the believer. That’s Paul, the pre-believer or Paul as the representative of Israel, or some other way. And here’s the main argument. Romans 8:2 says, “The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ from the law of sin.” Then Romans 7:25 says, “So then, I myself serve the law of sin . . .” You can’t have it both ways, they say.

If Romans 7:25 says, “I serve the law of sin,” and Romans 8:2 says, “No I don’t. I’m set free from the law of sin,” then we can’t have Paul, the Christian, talking one way in Romans 8:2 and Paul, the Christian, talking that way in Romans 7:25. That’s the main argument. Romans 8 introduces a triumphant Paul. And Romans 7 treats a pre-Christian defeated Paul who did wrong.

Delight in the Law of God

I’ve got about eight reasons why I don’t think that’s the case, but I’ll give you three. And there are really godly, good, wise, loving, Calvinistic people who disagree with me on this. So, this is not a “you can’t fellowship with me if you disagree” issue.

First, I don’t think a pre-Christian Paul could ever say this and mean it: “I delight in the law of God, not only do I delight, I delight in my inner being.” In Romans 8:5–8, it says, “The mind of the flesh does not submit to God’s law. Indeed it cannot.” This is not Paul in the flesh here. This is Paul from his inner being delighting in the law of God. Paul is at pains to distinguish how he relates to the other law, sin, and the law of God. And the way he develops it is that the other law is taking my member’s captive and making me an instrument of unrighteousness.

Does that language sound familiar? What chapter is that from? Well, we switched to a small class. In Romans 6, you have been buried with him in baptism. You have been raised with him. You are no longer under the law, you are under grace. And you would think, “Okay, battle over. I’m set free from the law of sin.” And what does it say? “Do not hand your members over to sin as instruments of unrighteousness.” Why? Because it happens. It happens.

Sin takes up your hands and you smack somebody. Sin takes your eyes and you roll your eyes at somebody. Sin takes your sexual being and makes you look at pornography. Sin does that to born-again people. It’s because Paul said so, not some theology. And one of the places he says it is right here. So, that’s my first reason: Paul’s delights.

A Battle Continues

The second word is here in the text. He uses “I” all through here. So the natural meaning all through these verses is that Paul talking about himself.

Here’s the third reason, and I think it’s a really powerful reason. Look at Romans 7:25. Can you see it through the haze? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Stop. If that were the triumph leading to a post-war freedom from law of sin existence, that’s where the chapter would end, isn’t it? Why in the world would he give a summary statement at the end of the statement of triumph? Is it, “Thanks be to God, it’s over. The warfare is over. Thank God I’m delivered”? This next sentence is crazy if that’s what he’s saying, because the next sentence says, “Because of the victory, I, with my mind, love and delight in and serve God’s holy truth. But with my old man, my fallen nature, my indwelling sin, my remaining corruption, I am from time to time made the servant of the law of sin.” That’s the conclusion of the chapter.

So, when you get to Romans 8:2, what does it mean? It says, “The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Does that have any meaning anymore after Piper just concludes that the warfare is not over? It does have meaning. It’s a meaning that you can get from Romans 6 — a meaning that I think is implicit here. I can put at least four meaningful words on the phrase “set you free.” Every believer in this room is free from the law of sin. He says so right there. That’s the case if you are in Christ Jesus. See that crucial phrase there? If you are in Christ Jesus, you have been set free. This victory is back in Romans 7:25. Thanks be to God. Somebody has delivered me. That has meaning. And the first meaning I would use is decisively. You have been decisively set free, meaning the battle has been fought at the cross, which we’ll see shortly, and it is a victory so that you are decisively freed from sin.

The second meaning I would put on it is finally. You have been finally set free. It is sure to happen. Those who are justified will be glorified. It is final. You have been set free. It will not destroy you. That’s the second meaning.

The third meaning I’d put on it is progressively. I fight, I win, and I lose. I win and win. I lose. I win, and win, and win, I lose. And little by little the warfare is waged all your life against indwelling sin. It’s the remaining corruption, the old man that you must reckon dead and put to death. If you do not kill the deeds of the body, you will die (Romans 8:13). This warfare is mortal.

The fourth word I would use to define the meaning of “set you free” here is through exhortation. In other words, this is not mechanical. It isn’t, “He died for me, the Spirit has been given to me, I am free, and I do nothing.” It doesn’t work that way. Paul uses exhortation to bring about the freedom he has set you free. Now, be free. Be what you are. So, that’s the reason I included Romans 7:22–7:25 with the first two verses of Romans 8.

In Christ Jesus

Starting fresh, Romans 8:1 says:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

What we’re going to look at next is this term “in Christ Jesus.” There is no condemnation for those who are “in Christ Jesus.” Paul continues, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). Are you “in Christ Jesus”? Could you even say what that means? Is that your experience? You want to be. Why? Because these two effects are massively important. Do you see the two effects? Could you restate right now on the basis verses 1 and 2, what are the two effects in this text from being “in Christ Jesus”? The first one is right here. There is “no condemnation.” There is no condemnation for those of you in Christ Jesus. This one would be legal. I’m in a court and I didn’t get condemned. I get to go free. Why? Because I’m in Christ Jesus.

What’s the other one? What’s the other effect of being in Christ Jesus? The law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin in Christ Jesus. That’s not legal. That’s power. That’s transformation. There’s a big argument among scholars. Is it legal? Is it forensic? Or is it transformative? Yes, of course it is. It says so right there. And there’s a relationship between those two. So, if you are in Christ Jesus, your union with Christ Jesus produces first a verdict: not guilty. It doesn’t have anything to do with your transformation on the causal side. It does on the other side. We’ll get to that. It’s right there. It’s right there. But on the causal side, your transformation doesn’t cause your verdict. Being in Christ causes your verdict. But once you are in Christ, you’re not just in a legal relationship with Christ, you’re in a vital relationship with Christ, by which the Spirit of life is mightily at work, getting you up in the morning, sticking your nose in the Bible, and a thousand other things to get his fruit produced as you are freed from the law of sin. That’s because you are in Christ Jesus. Big question: How did we get in? Where would you go in the Bible to answer? If someone says, “I want in,” how do you get in?

The Instrument of Union with Christ

I’m going to linger on this for a minute. This is huge, because I want you in. I really want you in. How do you get in? Let’s look at a few texts. Start here. First Corinthians 1:30 says, “Because of him (God) you are in Christ Jesus.” How do you get in? He puts you in. The literal Greek is “from him” are you in Christ Jesus who became wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. Oh, the untold and eternal blessings of being in Christ Jesus. How do you get in? God puts you in. You don’t climb in. You don’t jump in. You don’t scramble in. God puts you in.

The next text to look at. Lots of people relate it to baptism. Sacramental traditions tend to think of them in a kind of okay way. I think the Roman Catholic way is a totally not okay way. They say that baptism is the instrument by which you are united to Christ and thus born of God. Where does that come from? It comes from Romans 6:3–5, which says:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

That’s a lot of union and into language in relation to baptism. And the big question is, “Okay, is he saying that the water going over the body or swallowing up the body through a duly ordained priest or pastor affects the union? Or is he saying that as in baptism, as you’re buried with him in baptism and raised with him out of baptism, that is an emblem, a drama, and an acting out of something that’s happening profoundly deeper and spiritually? Is that what’s happening?

So, are you a Baptist or are you of another tradition? It doesn’t make any difference at all what you call yourself. Colossians 2:12 gives an answer, I believe, to that question. Paul says:

[You have] been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith . . .

That’s my answer to the question, “Does the water do it or does faith do it?” I think that’s a statement that baptism is an emblem of a burial and a resurrection which is a burial with Christ spiritually and a resurrection with Christ spiritually through faith in the powerful working of God who raised him from the dead.

Faith Awakened

Or drop down to chapter Galatians 2:20. How do you experience that day by day?

I have been crucified with Christ.

When he died, I died. Really? It’s spectacular. That’s why there’s no condemnation. When he died, I died. It is no longer I who live but Christ in me. My union is so profound that I may speak of Christ living in me. He continues:

And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

So, if you ask, what’s the human counterpart to this union? It’s faith. If you say, what’s the answer? How do you get in? God puts you in. And what do you experience when he puts you in? You believe. You trust him. If God puts you in and you must believe to be in, wouldn’t it make sense that he puts you in by awakening your faith? Which is what these texts say. Ephesians 2:8 says:

By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.

So, all of this, including your faith, is the gift of God. How does God put you in? He moves by the Spirit into your life and he makes you new so that you believe. And your belief is the experience of being in. Romans 6:17 says, “Thanks be to God.” Why would we thank God for this? I was a slave. I couldn’t get out. I had shackles on. He says, “You who once were slaves have become obedient from the heart.” How’d that happen? How does a slave with shackles suddenly become obedient from the heart? Answer: Thanks be to God. God did that. That’s why you thank God.

You don’t thank yourself. You don’t thank yourself that you’re obedient to the gospel. You thank God. It robs God of his sovereign glory if you thank yourself that you’re a believer. So, how do you get into Christ? You get in by God’s sovereign work of creating faith in Jesus. There are two effects: a legal effect (no condemnation) and a power effect (freed in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death). Union with Christ is glorious. Enjoy it. What is the relationship between the two? Legally, my union with Christ establishes me as not guilty. No condemnation. Transformationally, it makes me a new person who’s triumphing over the law of sin in measure, not fully. But the measure is so real, it’s caused by God and a proof that you’re in.

What’s the relationship between the legal and the transformative? There is no condemnation because (for) in some sense the law of the Spirit of life has freed you from sinning. Whole theologies hang on how you understand that word for. Protestantism and Catholicism hang on the meaning of the word for.

Here are your two options. Let me step back and just make sure you have something. You have to have categories in your mind to think about. The word for is a because word. It usually gives a ground or a basis. Everybody knows that you could replace the word “because” usually. It’s tricky though because we use the word for two kinds of grounds. Number one, it could be a ground that is a cause. Illustration, “I’m hungry because (for) I skipped breakfast.” So skipping breakfast is the cause of my hunger. Or I could say, “I’m hungry because my stomach is growling.” The same word is connecting the two but it’s a totally different meaning. “Because my stomach is growling” doesn’t mean my stomach growling causes me to be hungry. Skipping breakfast causes me to be hungry.

Well why did you use the word “for” then to say that your stomach is growling in relation to your being hungry, if they don’t mean the same thing? Because that’s the way language is, both in Greek and in English. Different words are grounds in different ways. The first one is a cause. The second one is an evidence because it was an outcome. My stomach growling is an evidence that I’m hungry because it’s an outcome of being hungry.

My skipping breakfast is not an outcome of my being hungry, it’s the cause of my being hungry. Question” Which is meant in the word “for” in Romans 8:2? Are we going to flip a coin? Let’s try both. Let’s paraphrase both so that you can feel the magnitude of what is at stake here. Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation (verdict of not guilty) for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Now, let’s go with the cause:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Because the cause of it is that the Spirit has transformed you into a holy person who is defeating sin, and that’s why you have no condemnation.

That is not Christian theology, but it’s pretty common. What would be the alternative? Paraphrase the other way:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the evidence is plain: The Spirit has been poured out into your life and you are being changed and defeating the law of sin as an outcome of having been justified in response to which God poured the Holy Spirit into your life and began to change you.

That’s a totally different theology, and it’s really good news. The other way is really bad news. Which is it? Is it, “Oh, I’m a Protestant. I know what it is”? That’s a bad argument. How would you answer that? You could answer it by going all over Paul and finding arguments that he doesn’t mean that sanctification is the ground of justification, which is what option one would be saying. Romans 8:2 is the sanctification verse, and Romans 8:1 is the justification verse which is the origin and source of the other.

Penal Substitution as the Ground for Sanctification

My answer is that Paul gives us a pointer when he repeats the logic in Romans 8:3–4. Go there. I’m going to say this is like getting underneath Romans 8:2 and explaining the relationship between Romans 8:1–2:

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 . . .

Okay, we know we’re dealing with the same issue. Romans 8:3 is about no condemnation. He condemned sin in the flesh of his Son — your sin in his flesh. He didn’t have any sin because he came in the likeness of sinful flesh. It was real flesh, not sinful. Which means that when he was condemned for sin and condemned sin, it wasn’t his. Glory. Whose sin? Mine. But it was in the flesh and should have been in me — my hands, my feet, my side – and it wasn’t. Whose hands, feet, and side was it? His. What’s this called? It’s called substitution. It’s called penal substitution because he’s condemned. This is courtroom language picking up on Romans 8:1. Jesus is executed for my sin. It’s in his flesh, not mine. I go free, he goes to hell.

So Romans 8:3 is a justification verse. It’s on that level repeating verse 1 and getting underneath it. And it’s followed by “in order that.” It says:

In order that the righteous requirement of the law (that’s love and real life transformation) might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

So Christ took my place and became my condemnation so that there’s no condemnation for me in order that I might walk by the Spirit. The debate is over. Do you get it? Do you see it? This freedom from condemnation here is the backstory. It’s the power, the enabling, and the cause of something in order that I might walk according to the Spirit, which is exactly what Romans 8:2 is talking about. The law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death. But now the logic of the relationship between Romans 8:1–2 is plain because he repeats it. It’s no condemnation (Romans 8:3) in order that you might live by the Spirit.

You’re not living by the Spirit to get no condemnation. You’re living by the Spirit because you are freed from condemnation. And he bought it fully for you and experienced it for you so that the Holy Spirit might be poured out into your life and you might not live according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. So my answer is this “for” is evidence because that’s what the connection between Romans 8:3–4 teaches. If you have the Holy Spirit in your life according to Romans 8:4, and he’s there fulfilling the just requirement of the law in your life, and you’re not walking according to the flesh, but you’re walking according to the spirit, you have been justified. And you didn’t do it in order to get justified. That is about as important as it can get in this text.

The Impotence of the Law

Think with me for a few minutes about what the law could not do:

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.

That’s real transformation. It’s giving evidence that we are not condemned. Then he says, “For God has done what the law weakened by the flesh could not do.” What could the law not do? And what did God do by sending his own Son? There are two things the law couldn’t do. First, it couldn’t condemn sin in the flesh.

When I first started I thought, oh my, the law is very good at condemning. That’s all the law does for those who are in the flesh. When the mind of the flesh meets the law, you don’t get law-keeping, you get lawbreaking, and therefore, you get condemnation. The law is really good at condemning. So what do you mean when you say “the law weakened by the flesh couldn’t condemn”? Well, it does condemn, but it doesn’t condemn sin in the flesh of Jesus. The law could never provide you with your substitute without which you only go to hell. The law can only condemn you successfully. It could never render a verdict of not guilty. Only Jesus can render a verdict not guilty because the Father, by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. The law can’t do that. It has to be done.

The priest couldn’t do it. The sacrificial system couldn’t do it. Only the Son of God could. And notice he is coming in the flesh. This is not like God sent John Piper to Bethlehem 34 years ago. This is God sending his Son from heaven. In the fullness of time God sent forth his Son, born of woman. This is from heaven to earth. This is the second person of the trinity. In him all the fullness of deity dwells. He’s the radiance of the Father, the exact imprint of his character. This is God taking flesh so that he can do what law could never do. Law can only condemn people who are in the flesh. And we are all in the flesh until Romans 8:9 happens, which we’re not there yet. This is just preparation. So, that’s the first answer to what the law couldn’t do.

The second thing the law can’t do is produce law-keeping. The law cannot enable you to fulfill the law. But God sent Christ so that would happen. Do you see that?

By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 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 (Romans 8:3–4).

The law couldn’t do that. The law could not produce the law. The law could only condemn for disobedience to the law. There had to be a New Covenant. Jesus said, “This is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

The Righteous Requirement of the Law Fulfilled

The blood is right here in this phrase “condemned sin in the flesh.” This is the new covenant in my blood. What is the New Covenant? God says, “I put my Spirit within you and called you to walk in my statutes” (Ezekiel 36:27), which is happening in Romans 8:4. That’s the New Covenant fulfillment of the fruit of the cross. My sins are forgiven in the New Covenant first and then on the basis of my forgiven sins, the spirit in me starts to cause me to walk not by the flesh any longer, but according to the Spirit which fulfills the righteous requirement of the law. What’s that? My answer comes from Romans 13:8–10:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Wow. And what is love? It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit. So Christ bore my sin and took my condemnation, in order that real power might be poured into my life as I walk according to the Spirit, so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled. I’m arguing that’s love. The whole law. If you love people, you keep the law. And the law couldn’t do that. What the law weakened by the flesh could not do, God did. And he did it by the blood of Jesus releasing the Holy Spirit in the New Covenant, causing you to walk in love.

Linking Justification and Sanctification

Let’s just draw out a few more implications of this relationship between justification and sanctification, because those are the big words. Romans 8:3 is the objective work of God for me, so that my sin is condemned in Jesus. And Romans 8:4 is the subjective work of God in me, in us. Do you hear that? It’s in us. Here’s an implication of that. The only sin that the Holy Spirit can defeat in your life is a forgiven sin. Do you see that in that text? Christ died that your sins might be forgiven, your guilt might be removed, God’s wrath might be removed, and condemnation might be removed. He died so that acceptance, forgiveness, and love would be swallowing you up in order to kill sin. Therefore, you can’t kill any sin that’s not covered.

If you try to turn that around, you will live in defeat all your life. You’ll really struggle with assurance. This chapter more than any other chapter, is meant to help you not struggle with assurance. We all do. But Romans 8 is about security. That’ll come really plain as we move forward.

Life in the Spirit

Now, we’re in Romans 8:5–8. I’m going to take just a few more minutes. “For” in Romans 8:5 is grounding Romans 8:4, where we fulfill the law through love, by the power of the Holy Spirit:

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5).

If you have a life deeply stamped by the Spirit, your mind loves the things of the Spirit. And if you have a mind controlled and stamped by flesh, you love the things of the flesh. The things of the flesh are anything minus God. That’s my definition of flesh. Anything considered apart from submission to God through it. Keep going:

For to set the mind on the flesh is death . . . (Romans 8:6).

Death is at work in the flesh. It’s a deadness to the things of the Spirit. Therefore, because the mind of the flesh reveals the presence of death at work, therefore, the flesh sets its mind on the things of the flesh. Death is at work in me. It’s going to kill me in the end ultimately, if it doesn’t get solved. And presently, there’s a deadness to the things of the Spirit so that my mind is just going to the things of the flesh. Oh, I love the things of the flesh and have little affection for the things of the Spirit. Why? Deadness is at work in me. But the mind that is set on the Spirit is life and peace (Romans 8:6). Life is at work in me. Romans 8:2 says:

The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

So when life is at work here, my mind is just wrapping itself around the things of the Spirit. I love them. And the word of God is one of the most clear things. Things that aren’t of God, anything considered apart from God, doesn’t have that hold. Powerful life is at work. Deep peace is at work.

Unable to Submit to God’s Law

Let’s keep going:

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law . . .(Romans 8:7).

This “for” here is probably arguing for the first half of Romans 8:6. To set the mind on the flesh is death, for the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. Got that? Okay, what is my deadness? What is my death? Why is everything going to be dead for me? I’m going to go to death. I’m living in death. Answer: because you are an enemy of God. That’s who you are. You don’t like God, you won’t submit to God. You have a backbone of steel, a forehead of brass, a stiff neck, and you want things to go my way or the highway. We think, “Get out of my life, you sovereign being.” That’s who we are. And that’s dead. We are dead to the things of God, dead to the things of the Spirit, dead to all beauty and all reality that flows from and reveals God. That’s deep wickedness. Keep going. The “for” in Romans 8:7 is probably one of those evidence “fors”.

The mind that is set on the flesh being hostile to God is evidenced by the fact that it will not submit to God. God says, “Trust me. Love me. Bow before me. Swear allegiance to me. I’m your God. I made you. I rule the world.” We say, “No, I will do it my way. I will do sexual things my way. I’ll do money things my way. I’ll do married things my way. I’ll do parenting things my way. You just stop telling me what to do. I hate to be told what to do.” That’s who we are. Every one of you is born that way. Every little baby thinks, “Give me food or I will cry your head off. And after that, I’ll bite your nipple if you don’t produce.” That’s another issue of parenting, but that’s a different conference. We’re not doing conferences anymore because Piper gets in trouble too often.

We are born this way. We do not submit to God’s law. And then it gets worse. You wonder why I went where last night, the need to be born again. Indeed, it’s not just that we won’t, we can’t. We can’t submit to God’s law. Indeed, we can’t please God (Romans 8:8). These are big can’ts here, friends. These are theology-shaping cannots. If your view of humanity is that we have the resources within us to overcome the power of the flesh and bring ourselves to Jesus, you just have a totally different theology than in the Bible. We are dead and we cannot please God.

The Impossibility of Pleasing God

Here’s one last comment before we take a break. I remember years ago, I think I was in my 20s and was still in seminary. As I was coming into the experience of the bigness of God, my mind was being dismantled and I was having to rebuild everything. As I saw texts, I took a course on Romans 1–8 where everything changed. I remember when it hit me. I thought, “Are you saying, Paul, that God is so God-centered, and life is so God-centered, and all the universe is so God-centered that no unbeliever can please him in anything he does?”

That’s right. That was one of the most paradigm changing thoughts I’ve ever had. And you might be sitting there saying, “What? What about philanthropy, honesty, and staying married? You can’t please God if you’re an unbeliever?” No, they don’t. They don’t. Why? Because they’re not doing it out of submission to God. The philanthropy is rebellion. Parenting is rebellion. Honesty is rebellion. Why? Because God is being ignored. Other things are being treasured above God. He’s being dethroned. Treason is being committed at the moment of building a hospital for the poor.

I’ll give you an example. I have four sons and a daughter. Suppose one of my sons says, “Daddy, can I use the car tonight, go to the ball game?” I say, “Sure. Would you just wash the car for me this afternoon so that it looks nice for you and then for us tomorrow morning when we drive away? Would just take you 30 minutes to just wash it up.” He rolls his eyes and says, “I don’t want to wash the car. I have things to do.” I say, “Well, if you don’t wash the car, you’re not going to get to use it tonight.” This never happened. I’m making this up. Other things like it happened, but this one I’m making up.

He goes to his room and an hour later, I see him out there washing the car. Now how do I feel about that? Do I feel pleased? My heart is breaking. Why wouldn’t you just do it because I asked you to? That’s philanthropy, that’s parenting, that’s staying married. That only makes sense. I mean, those kinds of wild and radical statements only make sense that way. I mean, 96 percent of the people in Minneapolis would hear that and say, “You’re stupid. You are crazy to say that only people who believe in Jesus can please the creator of the universe. You’re just crazy. You’re cultic. Goodnight.” That’s what they’d say. And maybe some of you are saying that. But if you are so God-centered that Romans 8:7–8 rule your life, that everybody’s hostile to God until the Holy Spirit moves in, then you know nobody submits to God’s law while they’re in the flesh and all unbelievers are in the flesh.

They cannot submit to God, and therefore they cannot please God because. Pleasing God means washing the car because you love God. God wants to be loved, enjoyed, trusted, and honored by happy obedience. He loves cheerful car washers, preachers, moms, dads, lawyers, doctors, and teachers, who do it out of cheerful dependence on God. I do what I do, and he smiles, and he’s pleased. And if we don’t believe in him, don’t trust him, don’t follow him, and don’t lean on him, nothing we do pleases him.