The story is told of a young man who was the son of a friend of Czar Nicholas I, the Emperor of Russia from 1825-1855. The young man had been given the responsibility of collecting revenues for the government at a border fortress for the Russian army. It was a very important position in which he was to manage the czar’s money and dispense wages to the troops.
The young man liked to gamble, but he wasn’t very good at it. He began to lose money and he didn’t have the funds to cover his loses so he began to cover his losses by borrowing money from the army’s treasury. One day he received word that the government auditor was coming to examine the books. The young man’s heart began to race as he knew that the books wouldn’t balance. He gathered himself and decided to sit down and try to find out how much he had taken. When he came up with a total he couldn’t believe his eyes. He knew it wasn’t possible, but he began to count his own money to see if he could cover the shortage. He wrote on a piece of paper how much he owed the government and how much money he had. He subtracted his money from the shortage and took notice of the great difference. Under the amount due he wrote: “A great debt: who can pay?”
The young man racked his brain to try and figure out how he was going to cover the shortage. He couldn’t go to his family. None of his friends had as much money as he needed. He finally concluded that it was impossible for him to make up the difference. He knew that it was inevitable, he would be arrested, and who knew what would happen after that? He sat down, took out his revolver, and decided that he would kill himself at the stroke of midnight. As he was waiting, his mind still whirling, time rocked along, he became drowsy and drifted off to sleep.
Unbeknownst to the young man, that very night Czar Nicholas, dressed like a common soldier, entered the fortress to make an inspection of the battlements. According to regulations, every light should have been out, but when he passed the office of the young man he noticed that the light was still on. Czar Nicholas went inside and found the young man asleep with a revolver laying beside him on the desk. The ledger was laying beside him with numbers written at the bottom of the page. After reading the numbers and seeing the note, “A great debt: who can pay?” Czar Nicholas knew that the young man had been stealing from him for months.
At first, Czar Nicholas thought about waking the young man and placing him under arrest, but he thought about the boy’s father, his friend, and he knew that it would break the father’s heart if his son were disgraced. So, instead of proceeding to wake him up and arrest him, he bent over and wrote something under the young man’s notes.
In the night the young man was awakened by some noise. He was startled. He looked up at the clock and it was way past midnight. He reached for his revolver when he saw the books open before him. Before he pointed the gun at his head he looked down and saw his note: “A great debt: who can pay?” and there written in big, bold letters was the name, “Nicholas.” The young man knew that he hadn’t written Nicholas’ name. How did it get there? The young man laid the revolver down and got up to go to the file cabinet. He pulled some documents that had the Czar’s signature and compared them to the signature on the paper. It was him! The Czar had been there, in his office. The young man thought to himself, “He has seen the papers; he knows what I have done; he knows my guilt, but he is going to pay the debt himself.”
Instead of taking his life, the young man decided to wait until morning to see what would happen. When morning came a rider rode into the fortress and entered the office of the young man with a sack of gold coins. The young man placed it in the safe and when the inspector arrived for the audit the sack was found to contain exactly the amount needed.
If you are a Christian then this story no doubt causes you to think about your own life and how Jesus Christ paid the impossible debt that you could never have paid. We are all guilty as charged. We deserve to suffer the punishment for our guilt, but Jesus has written His name over our debt, He has suffered the punishment that we deserved. Czar Nicholas covered the debt for one man, a man who was a friend of the family, and he did so with just a sack of gold coins. God’s Word says that “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 NIV) Not a friend of the family, but a declared enemy of God. Jesus paid our debt, not with a sack of coins, but with His very life. Is it any wonder that Paul can write, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1 NIV) Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Romans 8:1-4.
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4 NIV)
As difficult as it was to agonize with Paul through the seventh chapter of Romans, hearing him write about his struggle with indwelling sin, the eighth chapter of Romans bursts forth like the morning sunrise to declare the absolute, undeniable security of the believer in Christ Jesus. The late, Charles G. Trumbull, past editor of Sunday School Times, wrote these powerful words about Romans 8.
The eighth chapter of Romans has become peculiarly precious to me, beginning with ‘no condemnation,’ ending with ‘no separation,’ and in between, ‘no defeat.’ This wondrous chapter sets forth the gospel and plan of salvation; the life of freedom and victory; the hopelessness of the natural man and the righteousness of the born again; the indwelling of Christ and the Holy Spirit; the resurrection of the body and the blessed hope of Christ’s return; the working together of all good things for our good; every tense of the Christian life, past, present, and future; and the glorious, climatic song of triumph, no separation in time or eternity ‘from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord. (Quoted by Donald Grey Barnhouse, Epistle to the Romans, part 1 of the printed radio messages. Philadelphia: The Bible Study Hour, 1953, 1982).
Rev. Trumbull is so right. At the beginning of Romans 8 we read, 1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” and in the last verse of Romans 8 we read that “nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39 NIV) What greater hope can you or I be given than these comforting words! What greater joy can be had for those who are in Christ Jesus! Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today and see what we can learn.
In verse 1 we see that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The Greek word for “condemnation” is the word, “katakrima” and it is used only three times in the Greek New Testament. The word doesn’t so much mean, “condemnation” as much as it means, “the punishment following the verdict.” We have been released from the prison house of sin. We have been pardoned. We are free to live our life, not in servitude to sin, but in glorious service of Almighty God!
Where does this freedom originate? How did we gain our freedom from the penalty of our sin? Was it from simply letting go of our guilt, our shame? Was it from having a friend tell us that we shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves? Was it from making an effort to try and do the right things for a change? We try these things to absolve our guilt feelings, to try and deal with our shame over what we have done, but let’s be honest—they do not work, not in a lasting way. Paul tells us that there is no condemnation for those who are “in Christ Jesus.” Martin Luther said,
It is impossible for a man to be a Christian without having Christ, and if he has Christ, he has at the same time all that is in Christ. What gives peace to the conscience is that by faith our sins are no more ours, but Christ’s, upon whom God hath laid them all; and that, on the other hand, all Christ’s righteousness is ours, to whom God hath given it. Christ lays His hand upon us, and we are healed. He casts His mantle upon us, and we are clothed; for He is the glorious Savior, blessed for ever. (Cited in Robert Haldane, An Exposition of Romans; [reprint, McLean, Va.: McDonald, 1958], p. 312)
Martin Luther tried every possible means of absolving himself of his guilt. He stayed in the confessional for hours pouring over his sins and confessing them to the priest. He devoted himself to doing what’s right only to find that he still did wrong. Finally, Luther discovered his freedom in Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome,
17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17 NIV)
“The righteous will live by faith.” Faith in whom? Faith in what? Our good deeds? Our ability to do better next time? The fact that we are not as bad as some people that we know? Not at all. Our life, our justification, our hope is in Christ Jesus. I’ve already mentioned that we are all guilty according to God’s Word, but the punishment that we were due was taken on by Jesus as He went to the cross. The prophet Isaiah wrote,
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6 NIV)
What Isaiah and Paul are talking about is justification. God sent His Son, His sinless Son, to stand in our place and receive our punishment so that we might be made right with God, or as Paul says to the church in Corinth.
21 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 NIV)
We have been justified, made right with God, by Jesus. Now let’s move on to verse 2. Let’s read Romans 8:1-2 together.
1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:1-2 NIV)
Here we find Paul mention the Holy Spirit. In Romans 7, the Apostle Paul used the word, “law,” and its synonyms 31 times, but he only mentioned the Holy Spirit once. Where Romans 7 may be called the chapter of the law, Romans 8 would have to be called the chapter of the Spirit. Paul has only mentioned the Holy Spirit 5 times in Romans before he got to chapter 8. In Romans 9-16, Paul will write about the Holy 8 times, but in Romans 8, Paul will use the noun, “pneuma,” which is translated, “Spirit,” some 20 times! What is the reason for Paul’s fixation on the Spirit in Romans 8? Well, it’s quite clear. Paul wants his readers to understand the important role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the followers of Jesus. The law is unable to save us or make us holy, but God has set His Spirit in the hearts of His people to empower us to live the life that God has called us to live.
Paul has made it very clear to us throughout our study of Romans that our sin nature has imprisoned us. Paul wrote in Romans 7 that before we came to know Jesus we were controlled by our sin nature. Paul also said that for believers there is a constant, ongoing struggle with indwelling sin. What is the key to victory for the followers of Jesus? The indwelling Spirit. In Galatians 5:16, Paul wrote,
16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Galatians 5:16 NIV)
The “law of the Spirit” has set us free from the “law of sin and death.” “Law” used here is not talking about the Mosaic Law or the Ten Commandments as much as it is talking about a “principle,” “authority,” or “power.” If we live by the power of God’s indwelling Spirit then we will not follow the “powers” that lead to sin and death. What Paul is really writing about is sanctification, the biblical teaching that once we are justified, God begins His work of molding us and shaping us into the image of His Son. God begins to move out of our lives those things that are opposed to His character and He begins to instill within us the attributes and characteristics that characterize who He is. “If you live by the Spirit you will not gratify the desires of the sin nature.” Don’t think for a minute that we are merely passive in this great work of God. God calls us to pursue a life of holiness in this process of sanctification.
In John’s Gospel we read about a story where some men brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery. They reminded Jesus of what the law said—she should be stoned for her actions. Jesus knew that the whole encounter was a set-up so He said, “If there are any of you who are free from sin then fire away.” The men dropped their rocks and left the scene. In John 8:10-11 we read,
10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:10-11 NIV)
Jesus forgave the woman for her sin, but He didn’t stop at that point. Jesus said, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Because of what God has done for us in Jesus—forgiving us of our sins and empowering us by His Spirit, we are to leave our life of sin. It is so important for you and me to understand the proper order of activity. God forgives, then we live. John Piper once said, “The only sin that you can defeat in your life is a forgiven sin—justification (pardon) first, and sanctification (power) second.” (John Piper, desiringGod.org) Let’s move on to our next verse. In Romans 8:3, Paul writes,
3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man… (Romans 8:3 NIV)
Paul told us in Romans 7 that the law is “holy, righteous, and good.” The law is all of these things, but it is unable to save us, it is unable to deliver us from our bondage to sin. The law was powerless to deliver us because it was weakened by the sinful nature. We can’t keep the law because we are rebellious and hard hearted. But what the law was unable to do God did by sending His own Son. Jesus came to do what the law was unable to do. There is a phrase here that is so awesome we just have to slow down for a moment and take the time to understand it. Paul says, God sent His Son in the “likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man.”
What does Paul mean by the phrase, “in the likeness of sinful man?” Does Paul mean that Jesus wasn’t really like us, not really “flesh and bones?” The Gnostics sure believed that Jesus was different than us. Was Jesus truly human? The great Bible teacher, John Murray, has written about what Paul was attempting to show us. Murray writes,
He is concerned to show that when the Father sent the Son into this world of sin, of misery, and of death, he sent him in a manner that brought him into the closest relation to sinful humanity that it was possible for him to come without becoming himself sinful. He himself was holy and undefiled—the word ‘likeness’ guards this truth. (John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, William B.Erdman’s Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI. 1959. pg. 280)
Throughout the history of the Church the nature of Jesus has been attacked by folks like the Gnostics and others. Who was Jesus? Was He fully God, fully divine? Was He fully human? Was He a “spirit being,” not subject to the same temptations and sorrows that we are faced with each day? All of these questions have been asked and answered in a variety of ways. The answer is—Jesus was fully God and fully human. He carried our flesh and blood, but He was God incarnate. He was tempted in the same way that we are tempted, but He was different from us in that He never succumbed to temptation. The writer of Hebrews said,
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are– yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15 NIV)
Paul says that the law was weakened by the sinful nature, our nature. Our flesh is a substandard material you might say. The law was given to give life, not eternal life, but life. The law points the way to what is right, but because of our sin nature we are tempted and we fail. We are sinful by nature so the law could not accomplish all that was intended. This was not the only purpose of the law. We’ve seen in past studies that the law’s purpose is also to shine a spotlight on our sin. Boy, it does a good job with that one doesn’t it!
Paul says that God sent His Son in the likeness of sinful humanity to be our “sin offering.” Through Jesus’ death He condemned sin, not us, but sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. John wrote,
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17 NIV)
Jesus didn’t come to condemn us, but to condemn sin in us. Sin has been condemned by our Savior. Oh, we still fight our battles each and every day, but sin will lose in the end and Jesus will reign victorious in the lives of His followers! Let’s take one final step. Let’s read Romans 8:3-4 together.
3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4 NIV)
Through Jesus the righteous requirements of the law are fully met in us. Who is “us?” Those who are in Christ Jesus! Who are those who are in Christ Jesus? I meet people all of the time who say that they are Christians, but you sure couldn’t gather enough evidence to convict them in a court of law. They are Christians by name only. They like to think of themselves as Christians, but there is no evidence that Jesus is residing in them, empowering them, convicting them, changing them, and using them to bless the lives of others and bring glory to the name of God. Paul says that “Christians” are those “who do not live according to the sinful nature, but according to the Spirit.”
Just last week we heard Paul confess that he was a “wretched man.” Paul agonized as he wrote, “Why do I do the things I don’t want to do and fail to do the things that I know I should.” Was Paul a Christian? If you read Paul’s letters then you will come to understand that it was because Paul was a follower of Jesus that he agonized over his sin. He hated his sin. He wanted to be rid of his sin. He was pursuing holiness with all of his being. Paul was doing battle with the sin he saw in his life, he was not living in accordance with his sinful nature. There is a big difference. Let me show you what I mean.
In Romans 8:4, Paul says, “who do not live according to the sinful nature…” The Greek word that is translated, “live,” is the word, “peripateo” and it means, “to walk, to regulate one’s life, or to live.” Let me show you some examples of the use of the word so that you can gain a better sense of what it means. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament the same word is used in 2 Kings 20:3. In this verse King Hezekiah was extremely ill and at the point of death when he turned to the Lord in prayer. He prayed,
3 “Remember, O LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. (2 Kings 20:3 NIV)
In the New Testament there are several examples of the word. In Romans 6:4, Paul uses the word to describe what is to take place after we come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.
4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4 NIV)
Jesus comes to live in our hearts; we follow Him into the waters of baptism so that our old life might be buried with Him so that we may live a new life. Finally, in 1 Thessalonians 4:1 we read,
1 Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. (1 Thessalonians 4:1 NIV)
We don’t “live” according to our sinful nature. No, we don’t walk in our old way of life. No, we don’t pursue what matters most to the world. No, we won’t give in to our cravings, our fleshly desires. We are living for our King! We will be empowered by His Spirit as we move about throughout the day. And we will do so, as Paul says to the people of Thessalonica, “more and more.” When we come to know Jesus and are justified by God that is only the beginning of the process of our growing in Christ.
This past week I had the blessing of praying with someone in my office to receive Jesus as Lord of his life. My new friend was a broken man. His sin was draining the life out of him. As he told me his story I heard him say time after time, “I’m not a bad guy.” He said, “I’ve never stolen from anyone. I’ve never robbed anyone. I’ve never hurt anyone. I’ve just got this issue. I’m not a bad guy.” I said, “As we’ve been talking I’ve never once suggested that you are a bad guy. Herman has never said that you are a bad guy, but you keep trying to make your point—you aren’t a bad guy.” I said, “Do you know why you keep saying that? It is because your sin has covered you with shame and guilt. Your sin has changed you into someone you are not.”
I told my friend that I thought maybe he had been in control of his life long enough. He agreed. I said, “You don’t want to give me or Herman control, but you might think about giving Jesus the reins of your life.” He said, “I want to. I’m sincere. I know I need the Lord.” We prayed together and he asked Jesus into his heart. I told him, “Jesus has taken your shame. He has taken your guilt. He has set His Spirit in your heart to empower you to fight the battle that is waiting for you the moment you step out of that door.”
There is a battle, but those who are in Christ are not fighting alone. We walk in the Spirit, we are empowered by the Spirit, and we are more than conquerors through Christ Jesus our Lord. If you are not “in Christ” this morning then you are “in trouble.” You are fighting a losing battle my friend. Won’t you surrender your heart to Jesus this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 7, 2014