The Center of Christianity
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, October 25, 2009
Copyright © 2009, P. G. Mathew
In Romans 8:3 Paul deals with the center of Christianity, which is the person of Christ, God's incarnate Son, and his work of atonement, the death on the cross for our sins. Without this verse we have no hope. It is the necessary foundation for the blessings found in verses 1 and 2, that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, and instead we have great liberation through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
This verse deals with our sin problem. No other religion can remedy the human problem of sin because no other religion has a savior who saves his people from their sins. The cross of Christ is the center of Christianity. Paul states, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). Elsewhere he declares, "Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified" (Gal. 3:1). Jesus himself declared concerning his atoning work, "Just at Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of man will be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15).
Before, sin and death ruled our lives. But now the eternal Son of God, in his human nature, defeated our enemies of sin and death. Now grace is king, and Jesus Christ is Lord. Now we ourselves are kings who receive the abundance of this grace. We can rejoice greatly because for us there is no condemnation but only liberation. All of this is because of God's saving work in the fullness of time through his incarnate Son.
God's work in Jesus Christ as described in verse 3 is the reason for our no longer being condemned (v. 1) and our liberation through the work of the Holy Spirit (v. 2). So Paul writes, "For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin condemned sin in the flesh" (v. 3, author's translation).
The Weakness of the Law
The law could not do certain things. For example, the Mosaic law, when interacted with our sin nature, failed to overcome sin and death. Sin instead defeated the law. The law could only pronounce judgment. Paul declares, "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: 'Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law'" (Gal. 3:10). But it failed to defeat sin and punish sin in the flesh. It failed to justify, sanctify, or glorify us sinners. It failed to free us from sin's bondage and give us eternal life. It failed to help us to live the righteous life that the Lord demands. The law failed to provide us the righteousness it demands. It could not conform us to the image of Jesus Christ. The law only empowers sin, so it is foolish to depend on it, as the Pharisee did to justify himself (Luke 18:9-14).
This weakness of divine law is not intrinsic to it. The law was holy, just, good, and spiritual. The problem is with our sin-dominated human nature, which we received from Adam. The law cannot give us divine nature, which we desperately need. For that we must look to the gospel, which alone is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.
The Father's Work of Salvation
What the law was unable to do, God did on his own initiative. Romans 8:3 teaches us that salvation is one hundred percent God's work and one hundred percent the work of grace. In the eternal council before the creation of the world, God the Father made a plan to save his chosen sinners. So Paul says, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For [in love] he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight" (Eph. 1:3-4). Elsewhere we read, "All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast-all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world" (Rev. 13:4); "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:9-10; see also John 3:16 and Eph. 2:4-5).
What motivated the Father to save us from our sins and make us glorious? He was motivated by his own great love and rich mercy. God loved us because he loved us; there is no other reason. We were ungodly sinners with total moral inability to save ourselves, dead in trespasses and sins, objects of divine wrath, sons of disobedience, without strength, and at enmity with God. Yet God loved us with an undeserving, everlasting love. We could not save ourselves, nor could Mosaic law save us. God the Father alone can save us.
Because salvation is a work of God, we can have full assurance of our final salvation. Not Adam but the triune God-the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-is involved. God never fails; Jesus never fails; the Holy Spirit never fails. So we can be fully assured of our final salvation.
The Father sent his own Son in accordance with his eternal plan to crush the head of the ancient serpent. He sent him in the fullness of time, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem us who were under the law. He did not send an earthly creature or the archangels. He did not send a new man, another Adam. No, he sent his own Son.
This sending was not an afterthought. It was in accordance with the eternal council. God sent his eternal Son down to earth from heaven. From the bosom of the Father, he sent his one and only beloved Son. Notice, the Father planned our salvation; the Son accomplishes it by his incarnation and atonement; and the Holy Spirit applies this salvation to us. This same Holy Spirit liberates us from the law of sin and death. Therefore, if God is for us, who can be against us? Sin and Satan cannot have the last word; God Triune does. That last word is salvation, eternal life, justification, sanctification, and glorification. God sent his Son to this earth to bring many sons to glory.
Adam was called a son of God. Angels are called sons of God. We are called sons of God by regeneration and adoption. But Jesus Christ alone is eternal God, the one and only Son, the second Person of the Trinity, uncreated Son who created all things and all things exist because of him.
The Arians thought Jesus Christ was a creature. Many people today believe this heresy. In fact, many theologians and ministers today are essentially Arians. But Paul says Jesus Christ is God's own Son. He is God, whom the Father sent to save us. There is no other Savior but Christ. "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). No science, no human philosophy, no political leader, no material riches, no other religion can save us. God sent his Son to save us. Repent or perish. Believe in him who is co-eternal and co-equal with the Father, or perish.
The Son's Accomplishment of Salvation
Adam failed to obey God, but his own Son did not. No sin, no devil, or anything else in all creation can frustrate Jesus Christ from saving us. Our salvation is guaranteed by the triune God, into whose name we have been baptized. God sent his Son, whose existence in heaven as God preceded his human existence, to die for our sins. Just as God spared Isaac, he also spared us. Yet he did not spare his Son but gave him up for us all.
The Father sent his own Son "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (v. 3). This is a unique expression not found anywhere else in the Bible. But we read about the incarnation in several scriptures: "The Word became flesh" (John 1:14); "born of a woman" (Gal. 4:4); "made in the likeness of man" (Phil. 2:7); "God was made manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim. 3:16); "He shared in our humanity of flesh and blood" (Heb. 2:14); "A body thou hast prepared for me" (Heb. 10:5); "of the seed of David according to the flesh" (Rom. 1:3); "a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have" (Luke 24:39).
Romans 8:3 does not say "in the likeness of flesh." If it did, Paul would be espousing the first-century heresy called Docetism, from the word doke˘, meaning "it seems." Docetism taught that Jesus seemed to have a body but his body was a phantom. (PGM) Alternatively, it taught that "the Christ" came on a human Jesus at baptism and left at the cross. John deals with this heresy in his first epistle: "This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world" (1 John 4:2-3).
Orthodox believers must confess that Christ came in the flesh, was crucified, dead and buried, and on the third day was raised from the dead. Doctrine is of fundamental importance. When you go and visit other churches, listen to what the minister is teaching. If it is not Bible, have nothing to do with that person or that church.
Romans 8:3 also does not say "in sinful flesh." Theologian Karl Barth thought the body of Jesus Christ was sinful. But a sinful Jesus cannot save us because he himself would need a Savior. The Bible teaches that Jesus was sinless. The angel called him the holy one, the Son of God (Luke 1:35). Paul writes that Jesus knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21). He was tempted like us in all things yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). In Hebrews 7:26 he is called holy, blameless, and separate from sinners. He is unblemished and without spot (Heb. 9:14; 1 Pet. 1:19). It was impossible for death to keep its hold on him because he was sinless (Acts 2:24). The wages of sin is death, but he was sinless. Death did not have any power over our sinless Savior. He laid down his life freely for our sins, and on his own accord he took it up again.
The Son came "into the closest possible relation to sinful humanity without becoming himself sinful."1 Incarnation was extreme humiliation for the Son of God, for he became subject to all human frailties except sin. Adam was without sin, yet he was tempted in paradise and fell. Jesus Christ was without sin. He came to this fallen world, yet he was tempted in all points like us. He alone felt the greatest intensity and power of temptation, yet he did not sin. He suffered pain, sorrow, and disappointment and became mortal and weary. Yet he did not fail.
Why did Jesus become incarnate? To honor God's law in his life and death, actively and passively. Adam failed to glorify God, but Jesus Christ glorified his Father by obeying God's law. He did so as our head and representative, perfectly fulfilling the law in our place.
Because of Christ's obedience, we are not condemned and enjoy full liberation. We can resist the devil by telling him: Christ died for all my sin and obeyed in my place every law perfectly. We can do so because we died with him, were buried with him, and were raised with him to live a new life. Paul says in Romans 6:6-7, "For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be [rendered powerless], that we should no longer be slaves to sin-because anyone who has died has been freed from sin."
"God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh." The Son possessed the necessary qualification to act as our substitute. What is true of Jesus is true of his people. So sin and death have no claim on us. He sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh "for sin" (peri hamartias). God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to solve our sin problem once and forever. We cannot save ourselves; we needed a Savior. His name is Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21).
Christ dealt with our sin problem that kept us from fellowshipping with God. This sin problem, this Adamic nature, brought us under law, sin, death, and Satan. Christ was sent to solve our sin problem once and for all. In the Septuagint the phrase "for sin" means "for sin offering" (Isa. 53:10). Christ came to solve our sin problem by offering himself to God as a sin offering. He came to bear our guilt and be crucified, that he may remove in his death our spiritual and physical death. The whole sacrificial system pointed forward to him because the blood of bulls and goats cannot cleanse our conscience from sin. God prepared for him a body in which he lived and died as our substitute.
God sent his own Son in human nature to suffer the wrath of God that was due us. He poured his wrath upon him that he may be just and the justifier of those who believe in the person and the atoning work of Jesus. Jesus offered himself as a sin offering so that we might receive the divine nature of Christ in place of our sinful nature. He tasted death in our place. The Hebrews writer says, "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" (Heb. 2:9). We will not die; we will sleep in Jesus.
God condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ. That is why there is now therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. What the law could not do, God did in his Son. God punished our sin in the flesh of his Son. By Christ's death, the devil was condemned and driven out, our sins atoned and the law was fulfilled. Now there is no condemnation for us but only liberation and victory. We are no longer under the power of law, Satan, sin, and death. God condemned sin in his Son in our place. We overcome the devil by the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony. In fact, the devil, the super-powerful angelic creation, runs from us as we point our finger on the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross in our place.
God condemned Satan and sin in his court forever. By putting his Son to death, Satan and sin are defeated: "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil-and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Heb. 2:14-15).
John writes, "He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work" (1 John 3:8). The cross of Christ solved our sin problem. From there he cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" The answer is, "To solve the sin problem of my elect sinners, that they may be justified, sanctified, glorified." God broke the power of sin and Satan by his Son's death in order to bring many sons to glory. God accomplished his judicial action through the sacrifice of Christ. "He caused [his Son] to descend to hell for us, the hell climaxed at Calvary."2
What a glorious exchange! Christ took upon himself our sin and guilt that we may be given his perfect righteousness. He died our death, so we live his life forever. The psalmist says, "In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices" (Ps. 75:8). It was our cup, but Jesus took it and drank it to the last drop, emptying the cup of God's wrath. And now the psalmist says, "I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD" (Ps. 116:13) Our cup of salvation runs over, our cup with the new wine of the Holy Spirit, our cup of rejoicing.
Now in Christ, we are under the rule of Jesus and King Grace. The guilt and power of sin are gone. We experience the benefit of Christ's redemption in three stages. First, we are made alive and given eternal life, pardon, and power. We are no longer living according to the flesh; we are in the Spirit, and in the Spirit we resist sin and win. Second, at death our spirit shall be perfected to dwell with God, which Paul says is a far better, blessed condition. Third, at Christ's coming, we will exchange our miserable bodies for an imperishable, immortal, glorious body.
In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:52-57)
Jesus said, "Do not be anxious. Your heavenly Father knows what you need." What we needed was freedom from sin. From all eternity God has known our need, and in the fullness of time he took care of it by sending his own Son to hell on the cross. If Christ has redeemed us, we do not need to worry about anything. We can rejoice and serve God with great thanksgiving.
1 John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 280.
2 Hendriksen, Romans, 247.
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Copyright © 2009, P. G. Mathew
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