Romans 8:2–4 (ESV) — 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 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, 4 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.
Last week we looked at the “therefore” in verse 1.
- We saw it contained history – the man Adam, and the man Jesus with His one act.
- We saw that it also contained theology – the application of the history; the meat on the bones of history; the thing that gave the history meaning.
- We also briefly explored union with Christ.
In our verses today, Paul gives us more theology.
- Specifically, the “what” that the history, the theology and union with Christ do for the believer.
- In effect, Paul describes some of the results of our union with Christ.
He sets it up in verse 2.
- “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
For those “in Christ Jesus”…
- “the law of the Spirit of life”…
- Has set the believer free from “the law of sin and death”.
So what are these two “laws”?
I am with Douglas Moo on this one.
- Paul isn’t talking about the Mosaic law in verse 2.
- He is referring to law as a “binding authority” or “power”.
We have seen him do this before.
- Romans 3:27 (ESV) — 27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.
- Romans 7:23 (ESV) — 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
So the two laws are:
- The power and authority of the Spirit of life…
- The power and authority of sin and death.
This means what we have in Romans 8:2 is this:
- The authority and power of the Spirit – found in Christ…
- Has set the believer free from the authority and power of sin and death.
What does the power of sin and death bring?
- Why would one want to be set free from it?
BTW – to tie this back to Paul’s dominion theology:
- Where does the power and authority of the Spirit of life operate?
- The domain of grace – “under grace”.
- Where does the power and authority of sin and death operate?
- The domain of sin – “under sin”.
We have to take special notice of something hugely significant in verse 2.
- Paul establishes the necessity of the work of the Spirit.
Doug Moo says Paul’s citation of the Spirit…
Introduces, “the Spirit as a key agent of liberation from the old realm of sin and death” – Doug Moo.
And importantly Paul also establishes cooperation between the person and work of Christ…
- The “therefore” from 8:1…
- And the liberating work of the Spirit…
“The Spirit’s liberating work takes place only within the situation created by Christ” – Doug Moo.
- As Paul says, the power and authority of the Spirit sets us free in Christ.
- The Spirit plays a role in the believer’s address change.
BTW – This should remind us of what we learned in 1 Corinthians 8:6.
- There we saw how the Father and Son were coworkers in creation.
- Here, Christ and the Spirit both work to provide freedom.
So, by virtue of union with Christ…
- The power and authority of the Spirit has set us free from sin and death.
In verses 3-4, Paul then tells us how it is the Spirit sets us free in Christ.
- It is basically a play-by-play description of exactly how the history and theology set the believer free.
- “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, 4 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.”
Before we unpack Paul’s play-by-play…
- I want us to notice two things.
First, notice that it is all God!
- “God has done”
- “Sending his own Son…He condemned sin”
- “According to the Spirit”
Second, notice that Paul’s play-by-play…
- Highlights the work of all three persons of the Trinity in securing the believer’s freedom.
- God, Son and Spirit.
- So we see the Trinitarian Gospel.
Now, let’s unpack the details of how Father, Son and Spirit set the believer free.
- Let’s unpack the Trinitarian Gospel.
(1) “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh [“this-worldly orientation”], could not do.”
- As we have seen in previous lessons on the law (here the Mosaic law)…
- It is “incapable of rescuing people from the domain of sin and death” – Doug Moo.
In fact, in the domain of “under sin” where all are “in Adam”…
- The law actually “strengthens the power of sin” – Doug Moo.
Tom Schreiner puts it this way:
- “Without the Spirit the law only produces death. But for those who have the Spirit the law plays a positive role” – Tom Schreiner.
Remember – the law was never the problem.
- Paul never threw the law under the bus.
- One’s address – under sin – and the power of sin and death is the problem.
BTW – this means that one of the many things the Gospel does is…
- Provide the proper address, or context, for God’s law to work as intended.
So God, obviously knowing the problem that the law presents in the domain of sin…
- Sends His Son.
- John 3:16 (ESV) — 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
(2) “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”
When Paul says God condemned sin in Jesus’ flesh, three verses really help us get at the meaning.
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV) — 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
- Galatians 3:13 (ESV) — 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—
- Romans 3:25 (ESV) — 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
These three verses hit on various dimensions of Paul’s words.
- The sinless Son of God took our sin upon Himself.
- As our substitute, He became a curse “for us”.
- The Father could then condemn and bring His judging righteousness upon our sin without killing us.
- Because, the history and theology of the Son’s and Spirit’s work separated us from our sin.
Tom Wright puts it this way:
- In Christ, our sin was executed – Tom Wright.
- Sin was condemned, not Jesus – Wright.
How was it that Jesus could do this for us?
If He were a mere human being – a divinely appointed human agent – there would be some problems.
- He would be “in Adam”, born in Garden Exile (outside of God’s Garden blessing, presence and life) and be under sin and death.
- He would be powerless before the authority of sin and death.
- He would be a sinner Himself…in need of a remedy.
But wouldn’t the Virgin Birth have remedied this?
- Perhaps, if one thought, as Augustine, that the sin nature was transmitted through the “seed”.
- But as we know, this view of the Fall is virtually non-existent now.
So, how is it that Jesus could be a human but not be in Garden Exile – subject to the domain of sin?
- He somehow had to be share in the divine nature of the Father…
- While at the same time taking on humanity.
- The God-Man who came in the “likeness of sinful flesh”.
What does this phrase mean?
- “Total identity” with – Tom Schreiner.
- “Mere similarity” with – Tom Schreiner.
Both Schreiner, Moo, and just about all of Christendom opt for the first.
- So Paul intends us to know that Christ did not come in “superficial or outward similarity, but inward and real participation” in our sinful flesh.
What does it mean that Christ fully participated in our sinful flesh?
I really like how Tom Schreiner answers this question.
- It means that Jesus’ “body was not immune to the powers of the old age: sickness and death”.
- “His body was subject to the disease, death, and weakness of the old order, yet the Son himself was not sinful, nor did he ever sin” – Tom Schreiner.
- As Paul affirms in 2 Cor. 5:21.
But isn’t being “subject to…death” an indication of being in Adam and in Garden Exile?
“Paul is walking a fine line here. On the one hand, he wants to insist that Christ fully entered into the human condition, became ‘in-fleshed’ (in-carnis), and, as such, exposed himself to the power of sin (cf. 6:8–10). On the other hand, he must avoid suggesting that Christ so participated in this realm that he became imprisoned ‘in the flesh’ (cf. the negative use of this phrase in 7:5 and 8:8, 9) and became, thus, so subject to sin that he could be personally guilty of it” – Doug Moo.
- Bottom line – we don’t have all the answers.
One more very important thing to notice about this “likeness of sinful flesh” language:
- Paul certainly understands Jesus to be a man…
- But maintains a very strong distinction between Jesus’ humanity and everyone else’s humanity.
Jesus came from the Father – as in existed with and was sent from there to us.
- And Jesus’ flesh was “in the likeness” of ours.
If Jesus were only human, why say this?
- It would be very awkward indeed, for example…
- To describe Moses, a divinely appointed human agent of God, as being “the likeness of sinful flesh”.
Couple this with the association that Paul makes…
- Between the Father and the Son in 1 Corinthians 8:6…
- And we see yet another piece of the Trinity puzzle.
So God sent…
- And in Christ, the believer’s sin was condemned.
- So what about the Spirit?
(3) “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 the interplay between God’s judging righteousness and His holiness…
- There exists a righteous requirement…
- One that must be met in order to enter back into His life, presence and blessing.
- Specifically, the requirement is perfect love, obedience and righteousness – Moo.
This requirement is met in the believer – fulfilled in us – by Christ’s work on the cross.
- And Paul links this fulfillment to the Holy Spirit.
- This requirement is met in the context of walking not “according to the flesh”…
- But those who walk “according to the Spirit”.
The transfer out of sin and into grace…
- Is achieved by the work of Christ…
- And applied by the Holy Spirit.
So why does the theology and history of the “therefore” from verse 1 bring no condemnation?
- God’s sending…
- And Jesus’ work on the cross…
- Freed the sinner from the law of sin…
- And put us under the life of the Spirit
We will dig deeper into the life of the Spirit next time.