Set Free from Sin by the Spirit of God

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Romans 8:1-4

INTRODUCTION: We are starting a new message series this morning called “The Greatest Chapter in the Bible.” Now no one can say for sure what is the greatest chapter in the Bible, there are so many to choose from, but if I were going to choose the greatest chapter in the Bible, I would definitely go with Romans 8.

Apparently, a lot of people agree. Earlier this year I ran a poll on Facebook as to what people thought was the greatest chapter in the Bible. I received a variety of answers, but the book of Romans got more votes than any other book, and Romans 8 got more votes than any other chapter. And that was before I shared it was my favorite chapter as well.

I agree with the person who said: “If I were on a desert island and I could only have one book it would be the Bible, and if I could only have one book in the Bible it would be the book of Romans, and if I could only have one chapter in the book of Romans, it would be chapter 8.” I even have my own saying about this chapter that I’ve been saying since I was in high school: “Romans 8 is great!”

Here are seven reasons why I think Romans 8 is the greatest chapter in the Bible.

1) It is trinitarian. It presents all three persons of the trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and also presents their different roles in the trinity.

2) It is gospel-centered, teaching about Jesus’ death and resurrection (34) and that Jesus died for our sins (3).

3) It presents in detail the three major doctrines of the Christian life: justification (1-4), sanctification (5-17), and glorification (18-30)

4) It presents the full order of salvation: “For those God foreknew he also predestined … and those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)

5) It presents a number of other key doctrines including: the incarnation of Christ (3); our adoption as sons (14-16); our future inheritance in heaven (17); the resurrection of the body (11, 23); and the intercession of the Holy Spirit and Jesus for the believer (26-27, 34).

6) It presents the full sweep of salvation history including: creation (19); fall (20, 22); redemption (24-25); and consummation (21, 23).

7) It contains some of the best known and most loved verses in the Bible concerning God’s great love for us in Jesus Christ:

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)

God has packed so many wonderful truths into this one chapter, it is truly amazing. And so, we are going to spend some time over the next number of weeks studying this great chapter together.

This morning we are going to look at verses 1-4 together. These verses teach us that as Christians, we have been set free from sin by the Spirit of God. That is an incredibly important truth, and we want to see exactly what that means this morning. (Read Romans 8:1-4 and pray.)

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A number of years ago I was walking around the corner of the church when I ran into the ugliest possum I have ever seen. I mean, he was ugly. He was scratched and dirty, beat up, limping and looked like he had recently been in a fight. He stopped and bared his teeth at me, and I backed away slowly. Then he limped on his way around the corner. This was the first of several possum sightings at the church over the next couple weeks which confirmed my suspicions. The world’s ugliest possum had moved onto our church property.

We have a lot of kids at our church, so this was a safety issue. I knew what I had to do. Pastor Ray became Trapper Ray. I got hold of one of those Hav-A-Hart traps and set it with some bait. Sure enough, a couple days later I found old Mr. Ugly Possum trapped in the cage.

I brought him into my office for a bit in the cage and let him watch me while I finished my work. Then I drove him to a wooded area to release him. He snarled at me from the trap in the passenger seat all the way. But what was interesting was when we got to the woods and I opened the trap to let him go, he wouldn’t leave. He just stayed in the trap. I banged on the sides of the trap with a stick to encourage him to go, but he wouldn’t budge. I lifted the trap up at an angle and shook it to slide him out, but he just grasped the edges of the trap that much more firmly. Here was a possum that had been set free but refused to leave his cage.

We can sometimes be just like that possum. As Christians we have been set free from sin by the Spirit of God, but sometimes we hang on just as tightly to sin and guilt in our lives as that possum held on to the sides of an open cage. As Christians we are no longer slaves to sin, but we don’t always take advantage of our freedom. We continue to struggle with sin and guilt in our lives, when God wants us to be free.

Part of the problem is simply knowledge. Even though the possum was free to leave the trap, somehow, he did not yet know that he was free. And so, he remained in the cage. Unless we know that we have been set free from sin, we too can be tempted to remain in the cage.

And that is where Romans 8 comes in. Romans 8:1-4 explains to us how we have been set free from sin. I believe that one of our greatest weapons against sin and guilt in our lives is simply a clear understanding of the truth given to us in these four verses – that we have been set free from sin by the Spirit of God. So, let’s look at these verses together this morning.

I. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (verse 1)
   – John 3:16-18

Let’s begin with verse 1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Verse 1 is a statement of fact. It is a strong statement. There is, right now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We have been set free from the condemnation of sin.

In the original language the emphasis in this verse falls squarely on the word, “No.” There is no condemnation for you who are in Christ, none whatsoever, no condemnation at all! And yet so many of us still struggle with sin and guilt in our lives when in fact, we have been set free.

I also want you to notice the word “now” in verse 1. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation.” In one sense it is saying, “Now that Christ has come, now that you have put your faith in Christ, there is no condemnation for you.” But it also refers to the present. When we talk about condemnation and forgiveness, we are not just talking about heaven and hell in the future. Our condemnation or the removing of our condemnation are both present realities.

John 3 says this: “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18)

Did you catch that? Whoever believes in him “is not condemned,” right now, in the present, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already, right now, in the present. Why? Because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Back to Romans 8, the word translated “condemnation” here carries not only the idea of “condemned as guilty” but also of the actual punishment that follows the sentencing. A good example here would be that of a condemned house. A condemned house is not only deemed unsafe to live in, but there is a judgment hanging over that house. A house that is condemned is going to be knocked down and destroyed. The word encompasses both the condition of the house and its future destiny. So, when Romans 8:1 says that there is no condemnation for the believer, that means there is no sentence of guilt and no corresponding punishment for the one who is in Christ Jesus.

Finally, the phrase “in Christ Jesus” here in verse one describes those for whom there is no condemnation. What does it mean to be “in Christ?” Those who are in Christ are those who have been united with Christ by faith. They are those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ as God’s only Son who died on the cross for their sins. They are those who have confessed their own sin and unworthiness and trusted in God’s provision for them through Christ. And for those who are in Christ, there is now no condemnation. We have been set free from the condemnation of sin.

II. Why is there no condemnation? Because the law of the Spirit set us free from the law of sin. (verse 2)
   – Romans 7:12

So that’s verse one. Verse two tells us the reason why there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. “Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2)

The word “law” can be a tricky word in the Bible, because it can have several different meanings depending on the context. Even today we use the word “law” in different ways. Sometimes we use the word “law” to refer to a written statute: whether a posted speed limit or a law against stealing. Other times we use the word “law” to refer to a recurring principle, like the law of gravity or the laws of physics. For example, if I hold a heavy object over your head and drop it, the law of gravity tells me that you are not going to be very happy with me.

There are three different types of law that we find in these verses in Romans: the law of Moses, the law of sin, and the law of the Spirit. The law of Moses is an example of written law. These are the commands God gave us to obey, especially in the Ten Commandments. But the law of sin and the law of the Spirit are both laws of principle or force. The law of sin is the principle of my sinful nature which rebels against God and desires sin over righteousness. The law of the Spirit is the principle of the Holy Spirit living inside me who desires righteousness over sin.

I want you to note three important distinctions about these laws:
   1) the law of Moses has righteousness, but no power;
   2) the law of sin has power, but no righteousness;
   3) the law of the Spirit has both righteousness and power.

Let me explain what I mean. The law of Moses has righteousness, but no power. Romans 7:12 says, “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” The law God gave to Moses was holy. It was a reflection of God’s righteous character. There was nothing wrong with the law except our inability to keep it. The law of Moses has righteousness, but it offers you no power to keep the law.

The law of sin has power, but no righteousness. The law of sin is that sin principle within me that keeps me from obeying the law of Moses. The law of sin within me does not desire God’s righteousness but rebels against God’s laws. The law of sin has great power, but no righteousness.

The law of the Spirit has both righteousness and power. The law of the Spirit is the principle of God’s Holy Spirit living within me, desiring righteousness, and giving me the power to obey God’s commandments. The law of the Spirit has both righteousness and power.

Notice that Paul calls the law of the Spirit “the law of the Spirit of life,” and he calls the law of sin, “the law of sin and death.” That is because the law of the Spirit leads to life, while the law of sin leads to death. Paul says that if you are in Christ then the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

The power of the Holy Spirit is a greater power than the power of sin. Yes, you still struggle with the sinful nature after coming to Christ, but you are no longer a slave to the sinful nature. The trap door has been opened. You have been set free from the law of sin and death by the law of the Spirit of life. The rest of Romans 8 will examine this truth more fully.

III. Why do we need the law of the Spirit? Because the Law of Moses was powerless to help, so God sent his Son and condemned sin. (verse 3)
   – Luke 18:27

Why do we need the law of the Spirit? We find the answer in verse 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.” (Romans 8:3) The word “law” here in verse three refers to the law of Moses, God’s commandments. Why do we need the law of the Spirit? Because the law of Moses was powerless to help.

The word translated “powerless” in verse 3 can also be translated “impossible.” It is the same word Jesus used when he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” (Luke 18:27) What was impossible for the law of Moses to do? It was impossible for the law of Moses to set us free from sin.

Why was the law of Moses powerless? Verse 3 says because “it was weakened by the sinful nature.” The verb in the original language means “continually weakened.” God’s perfect law, which has righteousness but no power, was continually weakened by my sinful nature, which has power but no righteousness. The problem is not with the commandments. The problem is with me. I have a sinful nature that does not want to obey God’s law.

The law is like a mirror. A mirror can show you that your face is dirty, but it cannot clean your face for you. In the same way, the law can show you that you’re sinful, but it cannot take away your sin. And how does my sinful nature weaken this? The best mirror in the whole world will not help me if I have no desire to wash my face. God’s law was holy, righteous and good, but I did not desire to follow God’s law. The law was powerless to help me, because it was weakened by my sinful nature.

But what was impossible for the law to do, God did. And how did he do it? Look at verse 3 again: “. . . by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.” The words “his own Son” are emphatic in this section. God did not send an angel or an agent or someone else’s son. God sent his own Son “in the likeness of sinful man.”

This is a very carefully phrased statement about Jesus: “in the likeness of sinful man.” I like what John Stott says about this phrase: “not ‘as a sinful person,’ for Jesus was sinless; not ‘in the likeness of humanity,’ for Jesus was fully human; but ‘in the likeness of sinful humanity’ for Jesus was both completely sinless and fully human.”

Verse 3 ends by saying this: “and so he condemned sin in sinful man.” Picture with me for a moment a broken-down house with the word “SIN” written across the front in big, bold letters, and then picture a “Condemned” sign hanging on that house. Now picture a large wrecking ball swinging down and demolishing the whole structure. That is what the law could not do. It could not condemn sin and destroy its power in your life. But God sent his Son to condemn sin for us. We are no longer condemned, because God has already condemned sin in Jesus Christ. “What the law was powerless to do . . . God did by sending his own Son.” (Romans 8:3)

IV. What was God’s purpose in condemning sin? That the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who live by the Spirit. (verse 4)

And why did God do this for us? What was God’s purpose in condemning sin? Look at verse 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 8:4) God’s purpose in sending his Son and demolishing the power of the law of sin in our lives was so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us. Our Bibles sometimes translate this word in the plural as “requirements,” but in the original text this word “requirement” is in the singular. In other words, it does not refer to all the many requirements of the law but to the one overall requirement of the law to be righteous in God’s sight.

Notice that this requirement – the requirement to be righteous in God’s sight – this requirement is “fully met in us.” We do not meet the requirement ourselves. We never could, because we are not righteous in and of ourselves. But the requirement becomes fully met in us through faith in Christ as we live out our lives, not according to the sinful nature, but according to the Spirit of God who now lives in us.

Let’s review all four verses for a moment.

Verse 1: There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Verse 2: Why is there no condemnation?
   Because the law of the Spirit set us free from the law of sin.

Verse 3: Why do we need the law of the Spirit?
   Because the law of Moses was powerless to help, so God sent his Son and condemned sin.

Verse 4: What was God’s purpose in condemning sin?
   That the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who live by the Spirit.

You see, the law of the Spirit does it all! It fulfills the righteous requirement of Moses’ law, and it sets us free from the power of sin’s law. Through Christ we have been set free from sin by the Spirit of God.

CONCLUSION: You might be wondering about that old possum in the cage and if he ever got out. I finally ended up just leaving him there in the cage with the door open and checking back on him later in the day. When I came back a couple hours later, he was still in the cage! I came back several more times, and he was still there. Finally, I came back, and he was gone.

If you are in Christ this morning, you have been set free from sin by the Spirit of God. The door is open. Are you still clinging to the cage? Or are you ready to walk in freedom by the power of God’s Spirit? That’s what we will talk about next week when we look at living according to the Spirit.

© Ray Fowler

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