Romans 8:3-4 God’s work of grace

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the closest he came to a systematic presentation of his theology – the theology given by the Holy Spirit.  Both doctrine and the resulting practice are set out.  Romans 8 is an outstandingly majestic chapter, with some of the most profound teaching in the letter.  After a ringing affirmation of the Christian’s freedom from condemnation (v1-2), Paul turns to consider the plight in which sinners find themselves and the way in which God has brought us to new life.  Consider Romans 8:3-4 God’s work of grace.

1.  Our miserable failure

It may seem Paul is speaking not about our failure, but that of the law – ‘what the law was powerless to do’.  The law is God’s standard for our moral conduct, but it is unable to provide the basis for freedom from sin and condemnation.  The real failure is in human beings.  The law ‘was weakened by the sinful nature (the ‘flesh’)’.  Here ‘flesh’ refers to the whole of sinful human nature, the corrupt spring of life.  It is in a state of warfare with God (Galatians 5:17).  Our corrupt nature results in sinful acts of all kinds (Galatians 5:19).  We are all born with such a nature.  The law could not break that slavery in our lives.  The path of salvation by efforts to keep the law is doomed to failure (Hebrews 7:19).

2.  God’s gracious answer

God could justly have condemned every sinner, but instead he decreed that many would be saved – ‘what the law was powerless to do…God did’ – a twofold answer:

  • ‘Sending his own Son’.  He took the gracious initiative in coming to seek sinners.  It is love beyond our comprehension (John 3:16).  Salvation is entirely by grace.  In view is the incarnation of the Son – ‘in the likeness of sinful man’.  Christ took our nature, subject to weakness and temptation, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), taking a servant role (Philippians 2:7).  He came ‘to be a sin offering (lit. ‘for sin’)’.
  • ‘Condemned sin in the flesh’.  God the Judge passed sentence on sin and executed condemnation through the death of his Son.  What appeared to be defeat was in fact the greatest victory (Colossians 2:15).  Sin has been dealt with at the cross where Christ took the place of his people (Isaiah 53:5).  The Substitute is the perfect answer to our need.

3. Our obedient response

When we come in repentance and faith to Christ, we receive a share in his victory.  We have new life, no longer in bondage to sin.  Ahead is a whole life, with the goal of holiness.  Note the description in v4 ‘that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us’ (v4).  For the Christian the law is now our guide for life, pointing us to the right way to live.  Keeping God’s law is now a response of love and gratitude – ‘If you love me, you will obey what I command’ (John 14:15).  If love is real, it will be shown in action.  We still need divine help to enjoy victory – we ‘do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit’.  Obedience has become a delight and a means to glorify God.

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