Paid in Full!
A sermon on Romans 8:1-4 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 4/13/03
Who here likes to receive mail? Are you ALWAYS happy to receive mail? You kids may answer, “Yes!” but adults know there are three types of mail: personal mail, junk mail . . . and bills.
Imagine that you go to the mailbox one day to retrieve the mail. You look among the Flyers from Bi-Lo and ads from K-Mart for any personal mail. “No letters,” you sigh, but there is one thin envelope with your name written on it. You open it and read this:
REMINDER: Upon your birth, you inherited a debt of $100 billion from your first parent, Adam. You have since increased the size of that debt considerably on your own account, so that your total debt as of March 31, 2003 amounts to $545, 612,312,012.25. This amount – plus any more debt that you accrue – is payable immediately upon your death. Any amount outstanding at that time will result in your being condemned eternally to the debtors’ prison, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Furthermore, take note: even if the debt is paid off in its entirety, there is an entry fee of 1 trillion to the heavenly kingdom. No one enters unless the entry fee has been paid.
You are advised to prepare accordingly.
So you try to prepare. You count your pennies and quarters and find you don’t have nearly enough. So you sell your grandfather’s baseball cards, your car, your house, all your clothes except what you wear – and add it all up. What does it all add up to? For some of us here it might add up to $5.25; for others, perhaps a few hundred thousand; maybe some of you have a few million somewhere you aren’t letting on that you own. But let’s say miraculously you work hard mowing lawns and make some smart stock market investments, and in the end you scrounge up 50 billion. Wow! So you die and go to God and say, “Here it is, Lord! Look what I’ve done! $50 billion!”
And God says, “Thank you, Coty, for that downpayment. Let’s see, at your last notice you owed $545,612,312,012.25. Since then you have accrued another 200 billion in debt. So subtracting your downpayment, you now owe $695, 612,312,012.25. Plus the $1 trillion entry fee. You have 30 more seconds to complete payment.”
“But God, I worked so hard”
“Do you agree that you incurred this debt?”
“Well, yes. I did.”
“This debt must be paid. Is there anyone willing to pay it for you?”
“1.7 trillion? I should think not!”
“Then you have condemned yourself.”
Romans 8:1-4 tells us that there is One who will pay that humongous debt. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Let’s see how the passage works this out.
We’ll have three major headings this morning:
Verse 1 tells us there is NOW no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But what was situation before “Now”?
Verse 2 tells us: we have been set free from “the law of sin and of death.” What does this mean?
Paul uses the word “law” in several different senses in this passage. In this case, he uses it both as a power controlling us and as a rule, a statement of truth. We’ll emphasize the rule this morning. We thus understand “the law of sin and of death” to be “the rule that says, ‘He who sins, dies’”. This phrase thus parallels the first part of Romans 6:23” “The wages of sin is death.”
Consider our present standing before God apart from the work of Christ Jesus. We are condemned; we are under a death sentence. Why? Both by our actions and by our nature.
Romans 6 tells us the wages of sin is death, and Romans 7 tell us sin is powerful and present in us:
21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. (Romans 7:21-23)
Paul describes even one who wants to do good falling into sin. This is true of all of us. Thus, apart from Jesus Christ, each of us should sense our condemnation before God because of our actions, because of our sins.
But apart from Christ Jesus we are condemned before God even apart from the guilt of our own sins. In Romans 5, Paul shows that all of us are condemned because of the guilt of Adam:
as one trespass led to condemnation for all men (Romans 5:18)
So in our opening debt analogy, we inherit a huge debt which we cannot pay even before we start adding to that debt ourselves. We are worthy of condemnation both by nature and by action.
But the problem is not just our present standing. Suppose that someone paid off your entire debt to God at this minute. Suppose your original sin in Adam was covered, and that all the sins you have committed since you were born were covered also. Are you now free from condemnation?
Right now, yes, you would be free. But what about 30 minutes from now? Can you live a righteous life from this moment on into the future?
No. We cannot. We have no power to live a righteous life. Look at the beginning of verse 3:
What the law, weakened by the flesh could not do
Paul tells us here that no set of rules combined with human willpower will lead to a righteous life. By making rules for ourselves we can clean up a problem or two – but fundamentally rulemaking is incapable of rooting out the depth of the sin problem within us.
One of the problems with making rules is that morality becomes “linism”: We draw a line and say, “As long as I stay on this side of the line, I’m ok. If I cross the line I’m sinning. I really want to sin, so I’ll get as close to the line as I possibly can.” When we do that, we have a strong tendency to move the line. “Oh, surely just a little more that direction is ok. I’ll shift the line – but I won’t cross it!” But even more – the very desire to get as close to the line as possible without crossing it is sin! It is phariseeism!
Rulemaking at best reforms us externally. Inside, we will still have wrong desires, or pride, or lack of love.
Consider especially what Jesus says in the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” You cannot make that commandment into a line! This is a positive command, what we are to do every minute of every day. Do we do that?
Thus, even if all our past sins and original sin were paid for, we would all be in trouble. Our future sins would condemn us. Thus, in the analogy even while working hard to raise money to pay the debt, even while coming up with the huge sum of $50 billion, the overall indebtedness increased. Even in the midst of our good works, our total debt to God goes up.
So we are presently condemned, both for our past sins and the guilt of Adam’s sin that we inherit. And even if that were to be covered, even if we could start with a clean slate, we would be condemned once again for our future sins. We are in a desperate condition.
Look at the second half of verse 3:
When God sent his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh
God acts! He does not leave us in our hopeless state, but intervenes to save us from condemnation.
We’ll break down this clause into four sections to see God’s action more clearly:
1) “When God sent His own son”
God acted at great cost to Himself. He sent His own dearly beloved son to suffer and die for us.
In Genesis 22, God has Abraham act out this future sacrifice. Do you remember what God said in commanding Abraham to do this?
"Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you."
“Your son, your only son, whom you love.” Just so with God. The cost is great.
2) “In the likeness of sinful flesh”
Note that Paul does NOT say “in sinful flesh.” There is no sin in Jesus Christ! There is no inherited debt from Adam (because of the virgin birth), and no increasing debt because of sin in his life:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21
Jesus was truly man, truly flesh – but He was only in the likeness of sinful flesh. He had no sin.
3) “And for sin”
God sent Jesus “for sin” – that is, “to deal with sin” or as the NAS renders it, “as an offering for sin.” This is the purpose for which God sent Jesus into the world. God glorifies Himself through dealing with our sin problem.
4) “He condemned sin in the flesh”
“Condemned” is the main verb in the sentence; it is the most important thought here. What does this mean?
We use the word “condemned” in two different senses. A TV news anchor might report, ““President Chirac of France condemned US military action in Iraq.” This means he declared that it was wrong. But surely that is not the meaning of “condemned” in Romans 8:3. The Law tells us sin is wrong! God has to be doing something here that the Law could not do!
But consider this use of “condemned”: “By rejecting the convicted murderer’s appeal, the Supreme Court condemned him to death. There is no further appeal.”
In this sentence, “condemned” means “stated that it is just to execute him, and put into motion a chain of events that will inevitably lead to his execution.”
This is the sense in which “condemned” is used in Romans 8:3. “God condemns sin in the flesh.” In whose flesh? The flesh of Jesus Himself! God states that it is just to execute Jesus – the One in whom there is no sin. In order to deal with sin, He sends His perfect Son in whom there is no guilt, and puts all the guilt of all our original, past, and future sins on Him. He then has him executed – His Son, His only Son, Whom He loves. As we sang earlier today, “Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree.”
God Himself offers His beloved Son for our benefit and His glory. God acts!
What is the result for those who are in Christ Jesus? There is no condemnation! God condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus so that there is no condemnation for us! The negatives are gone, the debt is paid!
But there is more than this. God not only covered our debt. He also gives us life, He makes us righteous.
Consider verse 2:
The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
I paraphrase this: “The rule that says “He who sins dies” does not hold for those who are in Christ Jesus. Instead, this rule holds: “He who has the Spirit has life.”
Paul says something similar in verse 11:
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
If you are in Christ, you have the Spirit. And the Spirit is a life-giving Spirit, so that whoever has the Spirit has life.
Verse 4 says this in a yet different way:
the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us
As we said above, our negatives are covered – but they are not replaced with zeroes, but with positives! God does not stop at declaring us “not guilty”; He also declares us positively righteous!
In our imperfect analogy, this is the entry fee to heaven: being righteous. For in the Bible we read again and again statements like: “Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” “Be ye holy for I am holy.”
God requires us not only to avoid evil but also to become righteous. And by the death and resurrection of Jesus, He accomplishes that, as Jesus’ righteousness is credited to our own account, it is imputed to us.
Do you see the vital importance of this?
a) First, when you have been credited with the righteousness of Christ, no accusation – from man or even from Satan – can stick to you.
Satan or others will tell you, “You failed as a parent!” “You failed as a child!” “You terribly hurt those close to you!” But you can reply, “Yes, I know; that sin is terrible. There are millions more. And I should suffer in hell for them all. But God does not condemn me as I deserve. For the righteous requirement of the Law is fulfilled in me because I am in Christ Jesus.”
b) Second, when you have been credited with the righteousness of Christ, you have no doubts about God’s actions towards you: they are not part of your condemnation. Sickness, tragedies, annoyances - all that happens is controlled by God for your good and His glory – all are acts of love. They may be acts of loving discipline, but all are acts of love, even if they appear otherwise. For there are no sins of yours that require any more punishment – you have the righteousness of Christ!
Free in Christ! Righteous before God!
But there is a flip side of this great truth. What is the status of those who are NOT in Christ Jesus, who do not have the Spirit of life? They are condemned. They are subject to judgment before a holy God. In debt for trillions, they can only scrape up a few hundred thousand, or millions, or billions. There is no hope apart from a Savior.
My friends, you are condemned, both by inheritance and by your own actions. John tells us:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him. (John 3:36)
In the end there are only two possibilities:
You will be the object of God’s love for all eternity, His bride in whom He delights above all things. You will see more and more of His infinite goodness day after day after day.
Or you will be the object of God’s infinite justice for all eternity, struggling to pay back an ever-increasing debt, suffering for your continued sin of rebellion against God.
Do you know Him? Are you broken, fallen before Him? Do you acknowledge that you cannot pay your debt? Do you admit that whatever standing you have before Him results only from his mercy?
Once condemned. You can be set free. Will you choose that freedom?
This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 4/13/03.
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