“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 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, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4 NAS77)
I want to look at just one portion of this incredibly deep and important passage. I want to know what it was “the law could not do.” Like most Christians, my upbringing led me to assume that Paul meant that the law could not fix my issues, my bad behavior (which is mostly true). There are depths I haven’t seen yet, but what I have seen confirms that as always, it’s so much bigger and deeper than just behavior-modification.
Paul’s statement that the law was unable to do something is in the context of a discussion about the power and impact of a new law that arrived in Christ Jesus – the law of the spirit of life. Paul says that this new law sets us free from an old law, the law of sin and death. Romans 8 is all about living under the new law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
In short, “what the law could not do” is give LIFE. Here are some things Paul wrote elsewhere:
- Galatians 3:21: “…For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.”
- Romans 7:9-10: “And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me…”
- Colossians 2:13-14: “(God in Christ) canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us…”
“Life” as used in scripture needs to be redefined. Generations have taught that the eternal life Jesus gives is the privilege of spending an eternity in heaven. But Jesus himself defined eternal life as knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ whom he sent.1 Maybe the essence of it is really that simple. The law cannot bring intimate knowledge of or communion with God. Isn’t that what it’s about? If two people are in love, for them there’s nothing better than intimate communion with each-other.
At least one reason the law could not do this, Paul says, is that man’s flesh made the law “weak.” Since Adam, man’s flesh has been sinful, corrupt, blind, prideful, self-preserving. Therefore law always led to failure and guilt, shame, and condemnation. Sin was actually empowered by law.2 Therefore God “condemned sin in the flesh” by the offering of Jesus, once for all. God did this in order to translate all of mankind into an entirely different realm, one in which Jesus Christ is the firstborn, not Adam. ALL flesh, (flesh being defined as man’s natural part, especially his natural mind and will), whether good or bad, is dead in God’s sight.
Life is a really big deal to God. When we understand and taste what Life is, we can more easily recognize what both life and death in God’s sight are. Do you want that?
Thanks for reading. May God’s grace be upon you.
- 1 Corinthians 15:56