Theology of Romans, Part 6

Walking-After-the-Spirit

Walking in the Spirit

Romans 8:3, 4

 

We aren’t saved from sin’s grasp by knowing the commandments of God because we can’t and don’t keep them, but God put into effect a different plan to save us. He sent his own Son in a human body like ours—except that ours are sinful—and destroyed sin’s control over us by giving himself as a sacrifice for our sins. So now we can obey God’s laws if we follow after the Holy Spirit and no longer obey the old evil nature within us.  (TLB)

Verse 2 is positively triumphant, but incomplete:

For the power of the life-giving Spirit—and this power is mine through Christ Jesus—has freed me from the vicious circle of sin and death.  (TLB)

It’s incomplete in the sense that Paul’s declaration of his freedom from “the vicious circle of sin and death” is given as a statement of fact, yet how this freedom was gained in not given.  Yes, it is the result of work of the Holy Spirit, but surely there is more to it than that.  Verse 3 tells us what exactly the Holy Spirit does in us to bring about this freedom from sin:   God put into effect a different plan to save us.

Background

The law (the system of Jewish teachings and practices) was given by God.  Because it came from the very heart of God, the law was completely just and holy and, therefore, good.  But, as perfect as the law was, it was ultimately ineffectual because of the weaknesses of man’s flesh.  This raises a question in the minds of some Bible readers:  Can man’s sinfulness and weakness really limit the working of God?  Questions like this one are more often than not the result of ignorance of the what the Bible really says.  The more pertinent question is this:  What was it the law could not do?  Contrary to what some may think, the law was never given to save a soul.  That was not God’s purpose in giving Moses the Ten Commandments.  Simply stated, the law could not make a person holy; it could not sanctify anybody.

Weak flesh

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh…  (Romans 8:3a  NKJV)

The law of God was rendered weak on account of our weaknesses; our sinful nature.  The law, with all it’s righteous demands, amounted to nothing because man could not fulfill those demands.  Without God’s help, there was simply NO WAY any Jew could live the way God wanted them to.   Similarly today, there is simply NO WAY any human being can live a life completely pleasing to God on his own.  He needs God’s help, and this is why these verses are so important.

As Paul previously taught, the law was very good at pointing out sin, but it could never stop sin because it was “weak through the flesh.”   In fact, man’s sinful nature actually found the law appealing in a perverse way.  Instead of recognizing what God’s law was really about, man, because of his sinful nature, took that law and changed it into something God  never intended it to become:  a  means of grace.  Man took something spiritual and turned it into something carnal.  Man took what should have been a blessing and turned it into a curse.

The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  (1 Corinthians 2:14  RSV)

Man without Christ is “unspiritual,” psychikos.  As such, he is blind to that which he cannot relate to:  the spirit and the things of the spirit.  He is cut off, not only from God, but from the things of God because of his sinful nature.  Therefore, he cannot have any kind of a relationship with God even through the law of Paul’s day.   Instead of using the law to draw to close to God, sinful  man foolishly and arrogantly tried to use the law to make himself holy.

It’s interesting to see how the Jewish rabbis added more and more rules and regulations to God’s law in a vain attempt to make it easier for man to obey the essential tenets of the law.  How ridiculous it is to think education can save man from his sin.  The Jewish religious leaders thought this in Paul’s day, and secular progressives in our own society think we can educate or even legislate man into a better human being.  History and experience shows neither education nor legislation can do this.  Only God, through the Holy Spirit, can.

Divine intervention

…God put into effect a different plan to save us… (Romans 8:3b  TLB)

The weakness of the human spirit demands God’s intervention.  Nothing else can possibly help man get over his sin problem.  His weakness—his totally depraved nature—can do nothing to help himself.  The law made demands which the Jew couldn’t possibly meet, then that very same law condemned them when those demands were not met.  The conundrum meant that it was up to God to do for man what he could not do for himself.  Of course, the law’s real intent was to show man just how sinful and helpless he was in the first place.  Therefore, this “different plan” wasn’t really a new plan or a contingency plan at all, but rather one God knew would kick in one day.

And that is the way it was with us before Christ came. We were slaves to Jewish laws and rituals, for we thought they could save us.  But when the right time came, the time God decided on, he sent his Son, born of a woman, born as a Jew, to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law so that he could adopt us as his very own sons.  (Galatians 4:3—5  TLB)

Once again, let’s remember that we are not Jews; we were never enslaved to the law.  However, we are enslaved to this idea that good behavior alone can change our standing before God; that righteous deeds produce righteous character.  The fact is, they do not, any more than the law saved a single Jewish soul.  It did not.

He sent his own Son in a human body like ours—except that ours are sinful—and destroyed sin’s control over us by giving himself as a sacrifice for our sins.  (Romans 8:3c  TLB)

Surely Romans 8:3 must be one of the most significant verses in all of Scripture as it relates to the nature of Christ.   This statement is the very bedrock of the faith:  the virgin birth!

Paul chose his words with supreme care, lest he be misunderstood.  Paul does not say the Father sent His son to us in a body exactly like ours, but in one similar to ours.  Truth is, Christ’s body was a body of flesh before and after the resurrection, in this sense it was like ours.  And yet it was essentially different because Christ’s body was not of the same nature as ours.  He looked just like us in every way, but He was as different from us as a straight line is from a circle!  He couldn’t be the same, otherwise He couldn’t have been the Lamb without blemish.  If Jesus Christ had been the son of Joseph the carpenter, then He would have been exactly like us:  corrupted by sin and subject to sin as we all are.  His nature would have been exactly like ours:  sinful.  But because He was no ordinary baby, being born of a virgin and whose Father was the Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ was all divine (from His Father’s side) and yet all human (from His mother’s side) at the same time!  Indeed, it all  makes your head spin, proving the truthfulness of 1 Corinthians 2:14.

Moving from Christ’s body to His Work, then.  His work was “to be a sin offering,” NIV.   It has been noted that the NIV’s translation may be a little too intense.   The idea Paul may be trying to put across is simply that Christ’s mission was to deal effectively with sin, thus making it possible for His people to live the kind of life demanded of them.

This is why the virgin birth is so important.  It was in the very realm of sin—the realm of the flesh—that our Lord came and defeated the tyrant known as Sin.  The work of Jesus, and in fact His very Person, pronounced the doom of sin.  Dodd comments:

By His life of perfect obedience, and His victorious death and resurrection, the reign of sin over human nature has been broken.

Yes, thanks to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, sin is a defeated enemy.

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.   But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1 Corinthians 15:56, 57  NKJV)

The reason for it all

Verse 4 gives us the reason for verse 3:

So now we can obey God’s laws if we follow after the Holy Spirit and no longer obey the old evil nature within us.  (TLB)

…that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  (NKJV)

Jesus “condemned sin in the flesh,” thus enabling us to live as God demands us.  John Murray wrote,

Jesus not only blotted out sin’s guilt and brought us night to God, He also vanquished sin as power and set us free from its enslaving dominion.  And this could not have been done except in the flesh.  The  battle was joined and the triumph secured in that same flesh which is in us the seat and agent of sin.

Jesus conquered the sin in us, and in doing so, He freed us up to fulfill the “righteous requirement of the law.”  What does that mean?  Paul himself gives us the answer:

Pay all your debts except the debt of love for others—never finish paying that! For if you love them, you will be obeying all of God’s laws, fulfilling all his requirements.  (Romans 13:8  TLB)

Love does no wrong to anyone. That’s why it fully satisfies all of God’s requirements. It is the only law you need.   (Romans 13:10  TLB)

And where does this “love” come from?

…the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.  (Romans 5:5  NKJV)

The righteousness demanded by the law is an absolutely perfect manifestation of God’s love.  This makes complete sense:  God is perfect, therefore He could demand no less than perfection.  This perfection, though, is not native to human beings:

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… (Romans 3:23  NKJV)

As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one… (Romans 3:10  NKJV)

The thing is, though, God not only redeemed us from the “curse of the law” and the guilt and corruption of sin, He  made it a reality for His children to live righteously.  There is a lot confusion around this idea of sanctification as a “second work of grace.”  This the Bible does NOT teach.  The Bible does not teach that there are two works of grace:  justification and sanctification, and that the latter ought to be sought after.  What the Bible DOES teach is this:

And I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished on that day when Jesus Christ returns.   (Philippians 1:6  TLB)

A justified person IS a sanctified person.  Period.  Now, in the practical sense, as we discussed previously, the redeemed person declared justified and made righteous must now live a sanctified life; he must exert some effort to live up to his new life.  How is this possible?  God makes it possible!

…if we follow after the Holy Spirit and no longer obey the old evil nature within us.  (Romans 8:3b  TLB)

Here is why so many Christians fail in their attempts at holiness.  Real sanctification is MORE than just living right.  It is MORE than just you exercising self control.  The Bible makes it clear that sanctification is a work of Christ in the believer that begins at the moment of our conversion.  It is, as Calvin might have said, part of “perseverance.”  Here in Romans, our “perseverance” is described as “following after the Holy Spirit” (TLB).  When we are born again, the Lord begins a work in us and, just like real babies eventually learn to walk, so we must also learn to walk spiritually, in the footsteps of the Spirit.  Following after the Spirit is learning to discern what God wants for us, then with the help of the Holy Spirit, living the way God wants us to.

And so, dear brothers, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living sacrifice, holy—the kind he can accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask?  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think. Then you will learn from your own experience how his ways will really satisfy you.  (Romans 12:1, 2  TLB)

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