You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who
are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ
Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what
the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did:
sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an
offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the
requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk
according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
We are picking up in verse 3 where we left off three weeks ago.
"For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh,
God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as
an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh." We said that
it has four statements in it.
- God condemned sin in the flesh.
- He did this by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful
flesh and for sin.
- The law was not able to do this.
- The reason the law could not do this was because of our
Last time we focused on the first two. Now we focus on the last
So what I hope to do this morning is answer two questions: What
was it that the law could not do? And, Why couldn't it do it? The
reason I think this is worth a whole message is that the two things
that the law could not do are things that are absolutely necessary
for us to experience if we are to have eternal life, and, even
though the law could not and cannot do them, people still turn to
the law to get them done. In other words, it is tremendously
relevant to your life to know what the law cannot do for you, lest
you go there for the help you can only get from Jesus Christ.
The Law Could not Justify or Sanctify Us
First, then, what is it that the law could not do? The answer is
given twice in Romans 8:1-4, once in verses 1-2 and once in verses
3-4. Verse 1 says, "There is no condemnation for those who are in
Christ Jesus." This is what we call justification –
if we are in Christ Jesus – that is, if we are united to
Jesus by faith in him – our condemnation from God because of
our sin is taken away. God acquits us. Counts us righteous.
Justifies us. He does not look upon us any longer as guilty and
condemned, but as forgiven and righteous because of what Jesus did
Then comes verse 2: "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ
Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death." This is
what we call sanctification. After we are justified, and
because we are justified, the Spirit of God is poured out in our
lives and begins to free us from the dominion of sin and death.
This means that Christians are not only "counted" righteous in
justification, but actually transformed by the Spirit of God into
more and more actually righteous, loving, holy people. This is the
practical evidence that we have trusted Christ and are united to
him and are justified in him.
Now my answer to our question is that these two things are what
the law could not do. The law could not justify us and the law
could not sanctify us. It was powerless to do both of these things.
The first sign of this is that verse 3 begins with "for." You could
read it like this: Justification is "in Christ" (verse 1), and
sanctification is "in Christ" (verse 2), for the law could
not do these things, only Christ could, and so God sent his Son in
the likeness of sinful flesh. That's the first answer to the
question from verses 1 and 2. Justification and sanctification come
to us by union with Christ Jesus ("in Christ") for the law could
not make them happen.
Now the same answer comes in verses 3 and 4 as well. Verse 3
says that what the law could not do is condemn sin in the flesh,
that is, it could not deal with sin, absorb its punishment, remove
our condemnation. So God did this by sending Jesus into the world
to die for us: "For what the Law could not do, weak as it was
through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of
sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the
flesh." So here we have the same point as verse 1: There is no
condemnation because God executed the condemnation for our sin on
his Son. That is the basis of our justification. That is what the
law could not do. It could not remove the condemnation for our sin.
It could identify it and name it and point away from it and stir it
up and rub it in. But it could not remove our punishment. God did
that in Jesus' death. So again we see that justification is
something the law could not do.
Now verse 4, like verse 2, says that this justification leads to
sanctification, which was also something the law could not do
– since it could not justify us. Notice verse 4 begins with
"so that." This is a purpose of God's condemning sin in the flesh.
God put our condemnation on Jesus and provided the basis for our
justification "so that the requirement of the Law might be
fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but
according to the Spirit." Walking according to the Spirit is what
we mean by sanctification. So what we see here again, as in verses
1 and 2, is that sanctification is the result or the effect of
justification. And that means that both justification and
sanctification are what the law could not do.
You can see it most easily if you just say verses 3 and 4 like
this: What the law could not do God did, namely two things: he
condemned sin by sending his Son to die for us, and because of this
basis for justification he enables us to fulfill the
essence of the law by giving us the Holy Spirit. That is what the
law could not do: justify us and sanctify us. It could not remove
our condemnation or bring about our transformation. And yet both of
these are absolutely necessary if we are going to be saved in the
last day and have eternal life.
The Law Could not Justify Us Because We Were of Flesh
So we need to ask now: Why could the law not do these two
things? Because if we can see the reason for this weakness clearly,
we will be protected from the deadly mistake of counting on the law
for justification and sanctification. And, even better, we will
know where to look for the declaration that we are right
with God and for the transformation that follows.
And that is so crucial for us all. You may have come today
wondering how these Baptists think about salvation and about how to
get right with God and have eternal life. Well we think about it
the same way Biblical Christians have thought about it for
centuries: this is historic Christianity, not just Baptist
Christianity. The law – the ten commandments and the other
rules that Moses gave the people of Israel – cannot make you
right with God and cannot transform you into the kind of righteous
and loving persons you want to be.
Why not? Verse 3 answers: "For what the Law could not do,
weak as it was through the flesh, God did." The problem
with the law is not that its commandments are evil (Romans 7:12),
but that we are evil (Romans 7:14). The word "flesh" does not mean
skin, in Paul's vocabulary. It means our old fallen nature. We will
see this next week in the following verses where he contrasts the
mind of the flesh and the mind of the Spirit. The flesh is what we
are and what life is without God and his gracious, saving work by
the Spirit. That is what the law encounters when it comes to
So what is the weakness of the law? The weakness of the law is
that it was not designed to redeem fallen, condemned, rebellious,
selfish people like us.
Think about this first in relation to justification. The reason
we need to be justified is that we stand under the condemnation of
God because we are fallen. Remember Romans 5:18, "Through one
transgression there resulted condemnation to all men." Flesh is
what we are by human nature, and what we are by human nature is
under condemnation. What is the remedy for condemnation? If you are
guilty of a capital offense and under the condemnation of a death
sentence from God, what will save you?
I'll tell you what will not save you. Commandments will not save
you when your problem is guilt and condemnation. What happens when
commandments come? Paul tells us in Romans 7:9, "When the
commandment came, sin came alive and I died." The commandments
don't bring about redemption, they bring about wrath. Romans 4:15,
"The law brings wrath." A man who is guilty and under legal
condemnation will not be saved by commandments; he will be saved by
acquittal. He needs a judge to pardon and forgive. He needs
justification by faith and not by works of the law. That's why Paul
comes to the end of his long indictment of the human race in Romans
1-3 by saying, "By works of the law no human being will be
justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of
sin" (Romans 3:20).
So the law could not do what absolutely has to be done if we are
to be rescued from our guilt and condemnation: it could not justify
us. It could not set us right with God. It could not take away our
guilt. It could not absorb our condemnation. What
it did was show
us our guilt (Romans 3:20; 7:7) and to make us even more sinful by
stirring up the rebellion of our flesh (5:20; 7:5). "Through the
commandment sin [becomes] utterly sinful" (Romans 7:13).
Trust Jesus, not Law-Keeping
So this morning, if you want to be set right with God, don't
look to the law. If you want to be acquitted and justified, don't
depend on law-keeping. No amount of law-keeping can turn the
verdict of guilty to not-guilty. One thing can change that verdict
that hangs over your head: the perfect Son of God living and dying
in your place. For his sake alone God counts you to be righteous
when you trust him. Hence Romans 3:28, "We maintain that a man is
justified by faith apart from works of the Law." Trust Jesus, not
So the law cannot justify us because we are in the flesh,
meaning we are fallen and condemned. And commandments of the law
cannot remove guilt and condemnation. Only Christ can.
Why Is It that the Law Could not Sanctify Us?
Now we turn to sanctification. Why can't the law sanctify us?
Why can't it make us holy and righteous and loving people? Now here
there is so much to say that I think I would do a disservice to the
truth if I tried to pack it in here at the end of the message. So
let me just tell you where we are going, Lord willing, next week as
we take up this question and move with it into verses 4-8.
It is a burning issue today how Christians can live in love and
righteousness in the fragile world we have just moved into where
fear and anger lie just beneath the surface of our lives. Fear of
anthrax and bombs and the collapse of life-sustaining
infrastructures we have always taken for granted. And anger at
someone or some people and we are not even sure who.
Do you have the resources in you to be confident and fearless
and courageous and patient and kind and fair and loving and
sacrificial, not returning evil for evil, but blessing those who
curse you and praying for those who persecute you (Romans 12:17;
Matthew 5:44)? Where will you look for this? Will you look to the
It won't work. Look to Christ. The living, divine, loving,
omnipotent Lord who died for you and rose again and promises to be
with you and help you and satisfy your longings in life and death.
Look to him. The law cannot sanctify you, but Christ can. That is
what we will take up next week, if God wills.
Till then, if you need to get right with God this morning, look
to Christ, not the law. And if you need help being a loving and
righteous person this week – and who doesn't – look to
Christ, not the law.