March 23, 2014
This is our third week in Romans 8. We started with the great and glorious truth that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (8:1). The reason there is now no condemnation for us is because the Spirit has set us free from sin in Christ Jesus (8:2). That means our freedom from sin and condemnation is all a gift of God’s grace: Jesus has accomplished it for us, and His Spirit applies it to us. More specifically, God sets us free from the penalty of sin by justifying us through faith in Jesus (8:3), and God sets us free from the power of sin by sanctifying us through the indwelling of His Spirit (8:4). Last time, we dug into the details of verse 3. We saw that the way God sets us free from the penalty of sin and justifies us through faith in Jesus is that He puts our sin on Jesus and condemns our sin in Jesus. As a result, we are no longer condemned, because our sin is gone from us and the condemnation for our sin has already been carried out. We also saw that the law is not able to do this. Because of our sinful nature, the law cannot justify us. It can only condemn us, because we really are guilty. Only God can do the great work of removing our sin from us and giving Jesus’ righteousness to us. So for those who are in Jesus, God does for us what the law cannot do. He justifies us and fulfills the righteous requirements of the law for us through Jesus’ righteousness. This week, we’re focusing on verse 4, which shifts from justification to sanctification. It’s still part of the same thought that “God has done for us what the law could not do.” But now we’re focused on the fact that God sanctifies us when the law could not. We’ll dig into what that means, and then we’ll come back at the end and reflect on the relationship between justification in 8:3 and sanctification in 8:4. So 8:3 tells us, “God has done what the law could not do…” and 8:4 finishes the thought, “in order that the
righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Make sure you realize what an astonishing statement that is. It’s one thing to talk about justification and say that Jesus has fulfilled the law for us. Since He’s the one fulfilling the law, us being sinners doesn’t keep Him from fulfilling the law. It’s a whole nother thing for Paul to say that Jesus also fulfills the law in us. How can Jesus take sinners like us and fulfill the law in us? Yes, Jesus’ life fulfills the law… but ours? How can that happen? There are six truths I want us to see as we think about Jesus fulfilling the law in us. 1. When you are in Jesus, a real change happens in your life. Make sure you see that the gospel message of these verses is not just, “Say you believe something, repeat the words of a prayer, and then live however you want.” No, the people who are really in Jesus… who really trust Jesus… who are really justified by Jesus’ righteousness… are also people who are so completely and totally changed by Jesus that the righteous requirements of the law are fulfilled in us. We were sinners by nature (5:12-21) and sinners by practice (1:18-3:20), and we were so sinful that our natural response to the law was to sin more and more (7:5, 13). Now, we are fulfilling the law (8:4). This is a radical life change, and this type of change is what happens when you’re “in Christ Jesus.” What exactly is this change? Truth #2 helps us start to answer that question: 2. Love is the fulfillment of the law. “Love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). “Love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). “The whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14). “And (Jesus) said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:37-40). If the law is going to be fulfilled in us, then we must love God and love people, because that is the fulfillment of the law. That leads us to truth #3:
3. The Spirit produces love in us. “The fruit of the Spirit is love…” (Galatians 5:22). “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another… (How?)… But I say walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:13-16). This is why the law could not do for us what God did. The law is an external tool. It cannot change our nature. It cannot turn the sin nature in us into a heart of love. The law is powerless to change our heart, and that is the very change that must happen in order for us to fulfill the law. Only the Spirit, not the law, can produce the love in us that fulfills the law and leads to our sanctification. But how does the Spirit do this? Truth #4: 4. The Spirit produces love in us through faith. “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:2) “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:5) The answer: “Just as Abraham believed (had faith in) God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Galatians 3:6). The only thing that counts is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). So the way the Spirit produces the love in us that fulfills the law is through faith. In other words, it’s when we believe… when we trust… that the Spirit does this work. But more specifically, Galatians 3 twice says “hearing with faith.” What are we hearing? Truth #5: 5. The Spirit produces love in us when we hear the word of Christ and believe. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Make sure you see this! The word of Christ stirs up faith, and when we believe, we receive the Spirit, who produces loves in us. In other words, when we talk about trusting the Spirit to produce love in us, what we have to be trusting is Jesus and His gospel! The gospel is for the sanctification of believers! The gospel is the means by which the law is fulfilled in us. We don’t trust Jesus to justify us initially and then move to trusting our own effort to sanctify us over time. No, we trust Jesus to justify us initially, and we keep trusting Jesus to sanctify us over time. We never move on from Jesus and His gospel. Jesus and His gospel provides the pardon to justify us, and Jesus and His gospel provides the power to sanctify us. All of the Christian life is lived by faith in the Son of God who gave Himself for us. All of the Christian life is lived by trusting Jesus to do for us and in us what we can’t do ourselves. When you long for the work of the Spirit in your life… when you know you need the Spirit to work in your heart… express your dependence as “hearing with faith.” Spend time in the Bible, looking to Jesus in His Word, and let what you see of Him in His Word stir up the faith that receives the work of the Spirit. Faith grows strong on the Word, and that faith receives the Spirit! 6. The Son gets the glory when the Spirit produces love in us. If the way love is produced in us is through faith in Jesus and His gospel, then Jesus gets all the credit for the love that’s produced. His work is the source of our love. And that fits perfectly with what Jesus tells us about the work of the Spirit in John 16:13-14, “When the Spirit of truth comes… He will glorify me.” It is the work of the Spirit to glorify the Son. And the way the Spirit does this is by producing love that fulfills the law in those who are trusting Jesus and His gospel. The Spirit produces love in such a way that the Son gets the glory for that love. Side note: One of the most reliable ways to discern if something is a true work of the Spirit or some type of human or demonic counterfeit is to ask, “Does this glorify Jesus the Son?” The Spirit will never draw attention to humans, to Himself, or to anything other than the Son.
Let’s bring this back to Romans 8:4. When we walk according to the Spirit, one of the many things that means (and perhaps the main thing) is that we are focused on Jesus the way the Spirit is, and we are trusting Jesus and His gospel for all the spiritual work in our lives. The Spirit is pleased to pour out His power in the lives of those who trust the Son in that way. The Spirit’s power changes our hearts and produces love in us, and love fulfills the law. Therefore, not only does Jesus fulfill the law for us, but His Spirit also changes us so that the law begins to be fulfilled in us (by His love that He is producing in us). The more we trust Him and rely on Him, the more He fulfills the law in us. Thus, the process of sanctification is a process of trusting Jesus more and more for the rest of our lives. And now we’re ready to see the relationship between justification in 8:3 and sanctification in 8:4. Look at the connection between the two verses, “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, (here’s the connection) in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not
according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Make sure you see that justification comes first. God declares us righteous, not because we are living that way, but in order to enable us to live that way. Our right standing with God doesn’t depend on how we live. No, just the opposite! How we live depends on our right standing with God. This is a deep truth of the Christian life that we cannot miss! We do not pursue holiness in order to be justified. God justifies us in order to empower us to pursue holiness. So justification is the ground and source and power for sanctification. In other words, God does His work of declaring us holy, and out of God’s declaration comes the power for us to be holy. Do you see why this distinction is so significant? Do you see that our sanctification depends on knowing this truth? The only way we will find the power for holiness is when we believe what God has done for us to guarantee it will happen. Piper gives a great illustration of why it so significant to know that everything hinges on God’s declaration first and foremost, not on your effort. He says, “Suppose that you are on trial in a courtroom for a capital offense. Your life hangs in the balance. A guilty verdict will mean death, and a notguilty verdict will mean freedom and life. And suppose the judge says to you: ‘There are two ways we can deal with this. I can acquit you right now, decisively and irrevocably, and release you so that you can go and live a free and joyful and loving life that shows you really are not a rebellious, crime-loving law breaker, though you have been. Or I can postpone the trial and the verdict for several years and assign you a parole officer to watch you all that time, and let you go out and prove yourself to the court by your life, and then have the trial after that, and base the verdict on whether your behavior was satisfactory or not.’ “In one case you are free from condemnation and with gladness live a life that shows the wisdom and mercy of your Judge. In the other case you have the trial always hanging over your head, and the basis of that future verdict will be your own behavior and whether you have measured up.” This is the difference “between fighting fearfully to get justified and fighting confidently because we are justified… between your heavenly court-trial being behind you with an irrevocable verdict of not guilty and your trial being in front of you with the verdict up in the air depending on your performance… between the freedom of confidence and the bondage of fear… between giving Christ the double glory of both being our righteousness as well as working righteousness in us and giving him only the single glory of helping us become our own righteousness.” This is the difference between fighting sin in the weakness of not knowing whether you will win, or fighting sin in the power of knowing that Jesus has already won for you! I pray that we see the power of this truth! What you believe for your justification is also what you must believe for your sanctification. Think about the way that you first ran to Jesus in faith, knowing that only He could save you. Do you still run to Him that way every day, knowing that only He can sanctify you? Do you turn to Him for the power to change your life and make you holy? Do you spend time in His Word, believing His promises? Do you spend time in prayer, asking His Spirit to fulfill those promises in you and produce love in your heart? This is where your sanctification comes from. Trust Jesus to do it, so that He gets the glory He deserves in your life!