Romans 8: The Emerging Argument

“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.” – Romans 8:1-3

We’re beginning to see the larger argument emerge as the Apostle Paul develops and expounds upon his great statement that there is now no condemnation for everyone who is in Christ, that is, for all who are spiritually united to Christ by faith. To put it positively, everyone who is in Christ is justified, that is, declared by God to be righteous. That’s the good news of the Gospel.

And in our last study we saw how this truth is experientially manifest in our own lives through the power of the Holy Spirit. By being in Christ we have Christ in us by His Spirit, and his Spirit frees us, liberates us, from the power of sin and death! So not only are we declared righteous (“there is now no condemnation”) but we are also enabled to start living righteously! But it’s Paul’s explanation of how this can be true to which we turn our attention now, and which Paul unpacks for us in verse 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.”

The first thing I want us to notice is the emphasis Paul first places on God and what God has done. Meditate on those words there in verse 3, “God has done…” Often we think about God the Father as full of wrath and only wrath. He is a just God and a holy God and so when it comes to the Father’s attitude toward us, we tend to view Him as always and only opposed to us. We tend to think that it’s Jesus who, in a way, steps in on our behalf and mitigates for us, changing the Father’s mind. Now, to be sure, God is full of wrath. God not only hates sin but he also hates sinners (see Psalm 5:5, 11:5; Malachi 1:2-3). But we must never lose sight of the truth that God is also love and full of mercy and grace and kindness.

And what this verse is telling us is that God has brought about our justification; it was his idea to save sinners.[1] God has done it, says Paul; our salvation in Christ, our being filled with the Holy Spirit – all of this is because of God the Father! So, let’s first be encouraged by what Paul reminds us of here: God has done what, left to ourselves, no one else could ever do. What amazing grace!

And it’s good to consider this grace, especially if you find yourself under the accusing arrows of  Satan, who is delighted to whisper in your ear that, according to the law, you are only worthy of judgment and will never be good enough to get to heaven. Friends, Paul reminds us here that God is a saving God, a God who is full of redeeming mercy and love. He has accomplished what no one else could accomplish under the law in order to bring us to Himself!

And it’s this idea which Paul really zero’s in on. “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.” What could the law, the moral law of God summarized for us in the Ten Commandments, what could God’s holy law not do? Simply, it couldn’t justify you. The Law could never make you nor declare you to be right before God. Paul has already made this point earlier in Romans when he said, “by works of the law no human being will be justified in God’s sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).

The only thing the law could do for us was show us and make known to us our sin. In other words, the law could only condemn us. Every time we, as unbelievers, look at God’s law, hoping somehow to find a way to be right with God through it, we only and always see our sin. It’s a mirror which continually reflects our own lives back at us with the glaring words “You’re Not Good Enough.” Now of course, that doesn’t make the law bad. No, Paul has already stated that the Law is good and holy. “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12).

It’s us that are the problem. Because we’re sinful to the core we cannot keep the law. When the mirror looks at us and says, “You’re Not Good Enough”, the mirror is not lying; it’s true, we’re not! In fact, we see etched and engraved on the bottom of the mirror the words “And You’re Not Strong Enough.” We couldn’t even obey if we had a thousand lifetimes to live; we’re too weak, says Paul. The law, weakened by the flesh, could not liberate us from sin nor justify us before God.

The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, so poignantly put it this way. “It is as with a sick man who wants to drink some wine because he foolishly thinks that his health will return if he does so. Now if the doctor, without any criticism of the wine, should say to him: “It is impossible for the wine to cure you, it will only make you sicker,” the doctor is not condemning the wine but only the foolish trust of the sick man in it. For he needs other medicine to get well, so that he then can drink his wine. Thus also our corrupt nature also needs another kind of medicine than the Law, by which it can arrive at good health so that it can fulfill the Law.”[2]

This is why Paul says here in Romans 8 verse 3 that “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.” God has not only freed us from the power of sin and death (vs. 2) but he has also counted us righteous, that is, not condemned (vs. 1). The Law of God could never do that because we, in the weakness of our sin (our flesh), only and ever stood condemned before its holy dictates. But the question then, is how? How did God do this? And here’s where Paul takes us by the hand and leads us into the glorious and beautiful mystery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He says, “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”

Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:21 align wonderfully here. “For our sake He made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Do you see? God sent his own Son (the eternal and divine Son who was with Him in the beginning, who was with God and is God) and sent him in the likeness of sinful flesh. All Paul means here is that Jesus became completely human in every way except that he was without sin. And this fully human, fully divine, fully righteous Savior died! That’s the staggering reality of it. He who should not die, did die, and he died as one condemned under God’s Law! That’s what Paul means when he says, “he condemned sin in the flesh.”

In other words – and this is nothing other than the fullness of the Gospel - the condemnation which we deserve was instead poured out upon Christ. He, in his death, served as our atoning sacrifice; he is our sin-bearer.[3] Which is why, if we are in him, “there is now no condemnation.” The punishment has already been meted out. God cannot punish us again for what He’s already punished in his Son, our Mediator.

And so, what happens now when we approach the Law of God? What do we see when we look into that mirror? Well, we see Jesus Christ. That is, the Law of God see’s Christ in our stead if in fact we are united to him through faith. Do we still sin? Yes, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). But God’s law, which is now written on our hearts, it convicts us. And through the freedom we now have by the Spirit, the Law also informs us so that we can repent and obey. But there’s no more condemnation. How could there be? The condemnation we deserved was already poured out upon the Son of God, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, for us. And so now, there’s only freedom.

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.

[1] Thomas Jacomb comments that “the redemption of lost man was a blessed work, a most glorious undertaking; never was there any like to it, or to be paralleled with it; yet our Lord Jesus would not of his own head engage in it, or thrust himself upon it; no, he must first be sent; then and not till then, did he undertake it. And who sent him? Surely he who only had authority to employ and commisionate him about such a work, viz., God the Father” (Thomas Jacomb, Sermon on the Eight Chapter of the Epistle To The Romans, Verses 1-4 (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), p. 181). This is good insofar as we remember that we are speaking in terms of personal taxis within the one God and that in God’s simplicity, He always and only works with one will in inseparable operations. See Adonis Vidu, The Same God Who Works All Things: Inseparable Operations in Trinitarian Theology (Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2021), especially pages 158-178

[2] Seen in Douglas Moo, Romans 1-8 (Moody Press, 1991), p. 510

[3] Ibid. p. 513


Stephen Unthank