God Condemned Sin

December 12, 2021 Speaker: Ben Janssen Series: Romans: Real Hope for the Righteousness of God

Scripture: Romans 8:1–8:4

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

There are a lot of emotional courtroom scenes playing out in the news these days. I once served on the jury in a federal court case. It was a clear-cut case; we who served on the jury took only about 45 minutes to deliberate. It was obvious that the defendant was guilty. Nevertheless, as we went back into the courtroom, and as the verdict was being read, it was still quite unsettling and emotional. We knew that finding this person guilty meant he was going to jail, and that’s a big deal.

I’ll never forget how I felt in that moment. I am reminded of those emotions as we come to the eighth chapter of Romans.  Something monumental and consequential is happening here. A verdict of condemnation has been declared, but it is sin, not you and me, that is being condemned. In union with Jesus, the Son of God, anyone may now be declared free of sin and free also to live in harmony with God’s own Holy Spirit.

So let us feel the emotions of the moment as we consider this morning how it is God condemned sin. This passage takes us to the day of God’s judgment, God’s decisive act of judgment, and the resulting life that comes from God’s judgment.

The Day of God’s Judgment

Verse 1 tells us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Following what was said at the end of chapter 7, this is a clear line of transition. The therefore in this verse looks forward to what Paul has written in the present chapter, which is meant to bring us relief from the tension, from the discombobulation we felt in chapter 7. The relief comes because God’s day of judgment has come, and it comes with good news for the world.

Plaintiff and Defendant

The word condemnation is a judicial word. While there is no doubt that God is the implied judge, it is not individual sinners who are on trial here. We are not on defense. We are on the side of the prosecution. The condemnation Paul is referring to is the one he first brought up in Romans 5. In fact, the word used in Romans 8:1 occurs elsewhere in the New Testament only in Romans 5:16 and 18, so we must imagine the scene the way Paul first set it up.

In chapter 5, Paul takes us back to Eden, to the story of the world and not just the story of individual sinners. He reminded us there that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin.” The result of one man’s sin was “condemnation” (Rom 5:16), indeed, “condemnation for all men” (Rom 5:18). In other words, since we all share in Adam, we have already come under condemnation, the condemnation of sin. What we need is to be vindicated from it. We need a way out of the condemnation, a way out of the death sentence which is the result of sin.

This is the story, the picture we ought to have in mind as we read Romans 8:1. The hope, the promise, the expectation is that something will be done to overthrow sin as a power over the universe, not just that something will be done to relieve the individual conscience of guilt.

So, in this courtroom scene, we are more like the plaintiff than the defendant. We are not on trial; sin is on trial. But if sin gets off the hook, then we remain under its power. This is the condemnation Paul is talking about. And it is the reason he is not ashamed of the gospel. Here is a message of hope for the world, for all the world. This is not a message of religion, so long as by that word we are referring to that which deals with immaterial things like where you might be after you die. This is a message of good news about the world you live in now and indeed the hope that you might be able to live in it forever.

The Verdict Has Arrived

So, we read verse 3 in light of its clear connection to verse 1.  Verse 1 says that there is hope of “no condemnation.” There is a reality in which there is life free of sin and its death sentence. How could that be? Because of what God did. Verse 3 is straightforward: God condemned sin.

Now note two things. The verb condemned means not just that God declared sin guilty but that he also brought about its punishment. So “no condemnation” means no guilt, but it also means no penalty.[1] It means that whatever sin has done to us, there is a way out of its clutches. Verse 3 argues not that God will condemn sin but that he has done so already. It is done, over, finished. Paul is saying something quite extraordinary here. Just think of it. What would it mean for God to have already condemned sin?

Here we must hurry to the second thing to note in this main sentence. What God has declared guilty and upon which he has already carried out its sentence is sin. And by sin Paul means “sin as a ruling and regulating power.”[2] As we saw last week, here in Romans sin is being personified. Sin is an actor, an aggressor. It seizes opportunities (Roman 7:8, 11), it produces death (Rom 7:13), it takes control and ownership over fallen human beings (Rom 7:14-17). In verse 2 it is contrasted with the Holy Spirit. This sin or evil is not an impersonal force or power. This is Sin with a capital-s. It is not just evil from which we are to pray for deliverance, but the evil one.

And what Paul tells us here in verse 3 is that God has done it. He has condemned and punished the evil one. He has already condemned Sin. The great victory has already been won.

The Act of God’s Judgment

Now let’s ponder this good news together this morning. Let’s see how it has come about. How has God acted to bring about this great judgment, this great victory, to pass? Let’s examine the details from what we are given here in verse 3.

When God Sent His Son

God’s victory over Sin—over Satan, over evil—came when God sent “his own Son.” God’s victory was won when God sent his Son, Jesus.

To be the Son of God means to be God’s anointed one, chosen to rule as God’s representative on earth. In the Old Testament the phrase could be used to refer to the nation of Israel or her king, but especially it refers to the promised great king, the Messiah, the Christ. This is, of course, who the Bible says Jesus was.

But Jesus was not like previous “sons of God” who ruled over Israel. His was a strange messiahship indeed. For as striking and consequential as his life was, far more striking and consequential was his death. Second Temple Judaism new no shortage of would-be Messiahs, but what put such claims to death was, well, the death of the would-be Messiah. At that point, the movement around such a figure would either die out or be picked up and advanced by a successor, usually a close relative, a new Messiah. The death of Jesus, notably, did not reflect this known pattern. After his death, no one took up his cause as the new Messiah.

But neither did the Jesus movement die out—far from it! The movement has continued to this day, and Christianity is alive and well, still centered around the belief, not that Jesus was Lord, but that he is Lord. Not that he was the son of God but that he is the Son of God and remains so. What explains this? Paul has already told us in the fourth verse of this letter to the Romans. Jesus “was declared to be the Son of God in power . . . by his resurrection from the dead.” It is the bodily resurrection of the crucified, dead, and buried Jesus of Nazareth that gives new meaning to his death. Far from being a defeat for him and his movement, it was the moment of his greatest victory.

In the Flesh of the Messiah

Admittedly then the entire scope of the Christian argument depends on the veracity of the bodily resurrection from the dead of Jesus of Nazareth. But what is the argument if indeed the resurrection is true? The argument is that we now know not only when God condemned sin (when he sent his Son) but also where it is that God did it. He condemned sin in the flesh—that is, the flesh of the Messiah.[3]

The word flesh here is not meant to signify the skin, the physical body of Jesus, but the totality of his humanness. God executed his punishment on Sin in one place, in the human nature of his own Son. We are not wrong if this makes us think especially of the physical death of Christ on the cross, for the Bible elsewhere affirms that it was “on the cross” that God triumphed over the power of sin (Col 2:13-15). But this should not be seen as the whole of it. We cannot separate Easter from Christmas.

We can see both tied together in this verse. God condemned sin in the flesh of his own Son whom he sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” This is the argument of Christmas, the meaning of incarnation. Jesus did not drop down mysteriously from heaven. He entered the world by birth, as all of us do. In other words, he was truly human, as human as you and I. He came in our likeness, not that he only appeared to be like us, but that he was really and truly human like us. Paul seems to use the word likeness because he calls our humanity sinful flesh, and in this Jesus was notably different. His humanity, though sinless, was still genuinely human.[4] As a human, he could have sinned, but he never did. And that means that his death would mean something different for sin. It would not mean the victory of sin the rather the victory of the Son, the victory of the Son of God over sin once and for all.

As a Sin Offering

See now how it is that God defeated sin and evil and Satan and what this means for humanity. God defeated sin, we are told, when he sent his Son. He did it, as we have seen, in the very human nature of his Son. But notice also what verse 3 says. God sent his son “in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin.” For sin? What does that mean?

The ESV contains a marginal note that the phrase could be understood “as a sin offering.” And that is how some English translations render it, like the NIV or the CSB. But these are not really interpretive translations. This exact Greek phrase is the customary Greek translation for the particular Old Testament sacrifice known as the sin offering, so it seems quite clear that this is what Paul is referring to.[5] The sin offering is the Old Testament sacrifice that provides the solution to sins of ignorance or of sins done against the will. In other words, it would be the exact sacrifice needed to remedy the problem addressed throughout chapter 7. It is the problem that Israel found herself in under the old covenant. There was a general inability to live as God had commanded, either because of ignorance or because Israel found herself doing things you did not want to do, things she wished she could stop doing but, like a slave, she found herself compelled to keep doing it over and over again.

The point is not to take us back to Old Testament religion and leave us there but to show that Israel’s particular problem so vividly described in chapter 7, is precisely what has been decisively solved in the sacrificial nature of Jesus’s death.[6] The point is to show us what God has done in the incarnation of his own Son in the person of Jesus. Jesus was sent to break the power of sin, to defeat it once and for all, so that a new humanity could exist, the kind of humanity God intended all along, one that is no longer enslaved to the controlling power of sin.

This is the gospel Paul preached, the gospel of which he was not ashamed. For this gospel was the news that sin as a power of condemnation over all humanity—indeed over all the universe—had been itself condemned. And that would mean that God would now be able to deliver on the hope of life, real human life that sin has prevented for far too long.[7]

The Life of God’s Judgment

This life—the life God has planned all along for his creatures—is what now remains following God’s great act of judgment against sin. It is life in God’s kingdom, and it is here, right now, for everyone who wants it. It is free; you cannot earn it. But see how you may lay hold of it.

The Impossibility of the Law

The beginning of verse 3 has been interpreted in the translation of the ESV. It is more likely an example of an anacoluthon, an unexpected interruption in the grammatical flow of thought.[8] It reads like this: For the impossibility of the law because it was weakened by the flesh—God condemned sin in the flesh by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as a sin offering. So Paul began the sentence wanting to say something about the law’s incapability. What is it the law cannot do?

The law certainly cannot save, not because it has nothing to do with salvation but because sin took advantage of the law. It would be a mistake, then, to look to the law of God—to God’s commands, to God’s instructions—for the life we yearn for without first looking to Christ who breaks the power of sin that has taken advantage of God’s law.

Practically this means not that we should not take note of God’s instructions, but that we must constantly, repetitiously, zealously, take note of Christ. We do not go to our Bibles for insight for living but for insight for seeing Christ in all the Scriptures. We must see Christ! Only Jesus can rescue us from the wretched people we are.

No Condemnation in Christ

Our text this morning could not be clearer. “There is therefore now no condemnation for …” For whom? “For those who are in Christ Jesus.” Salvation is found only in Christ. What we must do is get into Christ. As John Calvin wrote,

First, we must understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us.[9]

Verse 2 says the same thing. “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” There is freedom from the guilt and shame of the law seized by sin. There is rescue and relief from the slavery of Satan. But this freedom is found only in Jesus.

It’s not so much a religious claim. Because the Bible says in John 3 that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world” because the world was already under condemnation, and death is the undeniable proof of that. God sent his Son into the world so “that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:17-18). The salvation the Bible is talking about is the salvation of your life, your real human existence on planet earth. It is your life that matters to God and that he sent his Son to save.

Light Has Come into the World

The Apostle John goes on to say that “this is the judgment: the light has come into the world” (Jn 3:19). The final judgment of God has already been declared in the sending of his Son. And this judgment of God is the condemnation of sin. It is a devastating judgment.

But it is also a life-giving judgment for those who are united to Christ. Verse 4 says that God condemned sin “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.” We’ll get more into this next week, but see what it is that God meant to do in sending his Son and condemning sin. He meant to bring about what it is his law wanted to do but, because of sin, couldn’t do. He meant to give us life, not just in the resurrection, but right now. Here. Today. There really is new life, indeed, eternal life, in Jesus Christ.

***

Today is the third week of Advent, and the theme for this week is joy. The pink candle stands out from the three purple candles. Why the different color?

In Christian tradition, purple is the color of repentance, fasting, and spiritual preparation. It is the dominant liturgical color during Lent. It is also appropriate for the first, second, and fourth Advent themes of hope, peace, and love. We are encouraged to reflect on the agony and misery the world experiences in the absence of the hope, peace, and love that comes only in and with the Messiah.

But the third week of advent is represented by pink because pink is the color of triumph and celebration. This is the more appropriate color to go with the traditional theme of Advent week 3: joy. You can’t have purple for week 3! We are reminded here, in the middle of our preparations for the Christmas celebration, that we do not wait and make preparations with any uncertainty about whether the Messiah will come. We prepare with the joy of knowing that he has come, and that he will surely come again. Joy to the world, the Lord is come! The day of his arrival was, in the words of the angels to the shepherds at Bethlehem, a day

of good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Lk 2:10-11)

So if we understand these words, if we can comprehend what this announcement means, then Christmas, the day in which we celebrate the birth of Jesus, will be a day of great joy regardless of how you did with your Christmas shopping or holiday preparations.

_____

[1] Walter Bauer et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 519.

1:277.

[3] C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols, The International Critical Commentary (New York: T&T Clark International, 2003), 1:382.

[4]  N.T. Wright, “Romans,” The Acts of the Apostles, Introduction to Epistolary Literature, the Letter to the Romans, the First Letter to the Corinthians, The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 10, ed. Leander E. Keck (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 578.

[5] Ibid., 579.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 578.

[8] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 401.

[9] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, The Library of Christian Classics, ed. John T. McNeill (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 3.1.1.

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