The Law cannot claim you (Romans 8:3-4)
Since the Law cannot condemn you it also cannot claim you. Why is this so? Because Christ has already set you free from the Law’s condemnation by suffering and paying for the Law’s just claim over you on the cross. The “law of double jeopardy” states that a man cannot be tried twice for the same crime. God would not be just to condemn you when He has already condemned Jesus Christ in your place as though He was you. Since Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins and since you are in Christ, God will not condemn you.
The only safe place from the just wrath of God is in Christ Jesus. This is true because the Lord Jesus Christ is the only one who could and did suffer the wrath of God in our place so that we wouldn’t have to.
The Law cannot save a sinner from the wrath of God – it can only condemn the sinner and guarantee that he will indeed be the recipient of God’s wrath. Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20) and because of this the Law brings about wrath (Romans 4:15).
In Romans 8:1-2 we saw the twin truths of justification and sanctification and their relationship to one another. Romans 8:1 is a declaration of justification through no condemnation. Romans 8:2 is a declaration of sanctification because of no condemnation. We saw that justification is the cause of sanctification and that sanctification is not and cannot be the cause of justification. So this means that God’s legally declaring us righteous in Christ is the foundation and cause of our actually becoming righteous by loving Jesus and living for Jesus.
Romans 8:3-4 declares these twin truths of justification and sanctification once again. The Holy Spirit of God wants us to understand the God ordained order of our salvation. Justification always precedes and causes sanctification. Where there is no sanctification, justification has not taken place – not because sanctification causes justification but because justification always causes sanctification. These twin truths are devastating to the heresy of easy-believism and firmly establish the Biblical truth of Lordship salvation.
But not only are these twin truths devastating to libertinism they are also devastating to legalism. Paul has been laboring to show both the intent and the inability of the Law so that men would see their need to be justified and sanctified by faith and not by the Law. In other words the apostle has been laboring to show that the Law cannot justify and that it cannot sanctify. This is the perfect antidote against legalism.
So in Romans 8:3 we read about what the Law could not do but what God could and did do. “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.” Here we see four statements in this verse: (1) The Law cannot condemn sin in the flesh and therefore it cannot justify or sanctify, (2) the Law cannot justify or sanctify because of the weakness of our flesh, (3) what the Law could not do God did, and (4) God condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son and therefore we can be justified and sanctified by faith in Christ.
The Law cannot condemn sin in the flesh and therefore it cannot justify or sanctify. This doesn’t mean that the Law cannot criticize sin or show it to be worthy of death – this is precisely what the Law does. In the sense of passing the sentence of death on the sinner and guaranteeing that it must take place, the Law is perfectly capable. But this is not what our text is speaking of. Our text is speaking of having the ability to set us free from the law of sin and death not by condemning sin in the flesh by criticizing it but by actually condemning sin in the flesh by carrying out sin’s penalty through capitol punishment on a willing and able Substitute. This the Law cannot do! The Law cannot justify the sinner; it cannot exempt him but can only demand his execution. The Law cannot sanctify the sinner; it cannot change him but can only charge him with his crimes.
The Law cannot justify or sanctify because of the weakness of the flesh. “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh….” This portion of verse 3 tells us why the Law cannot justify or sanctify – the weakness or wickedness of our flesh. The problem with the Law is not that its commandments are evil (Romans 7:12) but that we are evil and sold into bondage to sin (Romans 7:14). The word flesh means our old fallen nature – what we are by nature because of our connection to Adam. We are by nature sinners! Therefore it is our nature to rebel against God and His Law and therefore we are rightfully under condemnation. This means that we need to be delivered from the just condemnation that belongs to us and we need a new nature. We need justification and sanctification.
How will we be delivered from condemnation? Not by keeping the Law – we can’t! How will we get a new nature? Not by keeping the Law – we can’t! How then? By trusting not trying! The sooner we see our sickness the sooner we can seek the Savior! Our flesh cannot be empowered by the Law for the Law does not arrest sin in us but arouses it!
What the Law could not do, God did! The Law could not exempt us it could only guarantee our execution; the Law could not justify us. The Law could not change us it could only charge us with our crimes; the Law could not sanctify us! What the Law could not do, God did! God exempted us and justified us and He changed us and sanctified us. How did God do this?
God condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son. Here is the high and holy doctrine of Penal-Substitution. God executed the just penalty for sin in the flesh of His sinless Son as an offering or substitute for my sin and your sin. There was no sin in Christ to condemn so the condemnation that He received was not His own but as a substitute for others. This is clearly seen in 2 Corinthians 5:21 – “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
My sin was punished fully and in its finality in the body of Christ. And if my sin was punished there finally and fully, then I will not be punished for it again – “My sin O the bliss of this glorious thought; my sin not in part but the whole; is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” (Horatio G. Spafford, It Is Well With My Soul, 1873).
But what was the purpose of God justifying us by condemning our sin in the flesh of His sinless Son? Was it just so that we would be justified and have a fire insurance policy guaranteeing that we wouldn’t go to hell? Did God intend to justify us and not change us? What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the condemnation of the Law but under grace? May it never be!
God justified us so that we would love Him and serve Him and thereby be sanctified. This is what verse 4 declares – “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.”
The love of God rescued us from the wrath of God so that we would love God and serve Him in newness of life. Our justification causes our sanctification. We love Him because He first loved us. Another way of saying this wonderful truth is that we are sanctified because He first loved us and justified us. Our obedience is a result of love not Law.
The believer lives a righteous life, not in the power of the Law, but in the power of the Holy Spirit. The believer lives a righteous life, not by trying, but by trusting. This is what Paul meant when he said all the way back in Romans 1:17 that the righteous man shall live by faith.
The righteousness that God demands in His Law is fulfilled in us through the Holy Spirit’s power. Our sanctification – fulfilling the requirement of the Law – is based on our justification – Christ’s fulfilling the requirement of the Law on our behalf.
The Law cannot condemn us and it cannot claim us because of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. We now have no condemnation and experience exempted living.