Romans 8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 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, 4 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. NASB
It’s a sad truth that many Christians have looked at God’s acceptance of their apology as little more than a release from guilt. There is a difference between knowing you’re forgiven and “no condemnation.” It’s the difference John Piper points out in this quote: “our apprenticeship to Jesus is living into both our potential and our limitations.”
Even forgiven believers struggle to accept the potential God has created in them because there are obvious limitations that condemn us; the ”shoulds.” The “Shoulds” are “the law of sin and of death” that “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” has overcome. We have incorrectly separated our potential from our limitations rather than celebrating that God has a plan to weave a life for us that includes potential AND limitations.
Nothing is more powerful than the realization that careless. broken and sinful people can be forgiven AND that Jesus has a plan to redeem our potential AND limitations as part of the perfect life He’s creating for us right here and now. Can you believe that? It’s true!
Read what the Apostle Paul wrote in Second Corinthians 12:10 “For when I am weak, then I am strong…” Click the image to enlarge it. It’s a visual object lesson. God has lined up those secured vertical strands of His promises to be like the years of our life. Our choices sometimes fall under the promises and sometimes skip right over the top of them. The Lord has chosen to weave those “+” and “-“ choices of our life into a fabric that completes His life in us. Potential AND limitations woven together “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;” confident that we are part of His perfect design. “Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 8:3 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, 4 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. 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. NASB
This week an interesting discussion about the word “likeness” became the catalyst for fresh look at Romans 8 and part of a previous Advent post from 2015. We all know what the “Law could not do.” It couldn’t change us and even those first two people couldn’t manage to obey it.
“What a surprise to find myself in my favorite chapter from the whole Bible for my Advent reading today. If you remove the “religiousity” factor of laws you have to admit we can’t live without them. We need laws to create order and some level of security in our society. I’ll bet I’m not the only one that’s broken some of them: ever rolled through a stop sign? That’s an easier-to-swallow version of “weak as it was through the flesh” to own up to. Now that our minds are in the right place maybe we can face the issue of “sinful flesh”…and “in us.”a
Eden was where “weak as it was through the flesh” became a reality. There was only one law but the bad choice to violate it was where the separation between man and God began. [BTW that’s not unlike that stop sign.] The amazing truth of Advent is God chose new birth to fulfill something that one “first” law was unable to accomplish.
Advent is pretty dramatic evidence of the second time God created perfection for all mankind to experience. The birth of Jesus revealed God’s determination to redeem and replace what had been lost in Eden. This time perfection was a person, not a place. That first Advent God chose a baby, His Son…God with us…Jesus, to restore His own “Image” within “the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin.” Advent is our annual reminder that Jesus is the reality of God’s promise to unite the likeness of our sinful flesh with His own Image “in us.”
a Click here to read that original post
Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Paul is purposefully using a type of word play in much of this chapter that I didn’t include above. His words are meant to shift the focus of familiar concepts and challenge thought processes about how we interact with God. There were two things I read in preparing for this post that were helpful to me. One was a line from The Message version of Romans 3; “Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.” The second was from one of John Piper’s writings about this chapter where he referred to the Law as a track, not a ladder.
Ladder-thinking regarding God, sin, obedience to the Law, faith and justification seems to be part of human nature. I know my own tendency is to want a list to check items off so I can move on to the next rung. Instead God has provided reality. Life is filled with either/or’s, if/then’s and hide & seek’s. It’s like a track where the same laps must be repeated over and over in order to achieve the desired goal. That is exactly why Paul’s challenge from Romans is so important today.
• Sin hides us from God.
• The Law of self-preservation hides us from grace.
• Self-preservation hides us from obedience of the heart.
• Christ reveals the truth of the Law and obedience of the heart
• Obedience of the heart reveals faith
• Faith reveals grace
* Grace reveals justification
• Justification reveals God’s righteousness.
These realities are a vital part of our relationship with the Sovereign God of the universe through Jesus Christ. There is not a ladder, only a track. Repeat laps as needed.
John 15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in [accept and act in accordance with] my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. [NRSV]
This year my Advent posts are going to be like one of those mystery TV shows that begin with the solution and then proceeds to lay out the evidence. My advent begins with the assumption verse 10 is the solution. I plan to continue searching verse-by-verse for evidence that reveals why Jesus Christ deserves the repeated annual observation we call Advent. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find. We have this book of His-tory and John is the recognized expert on Christology [Christian theology relating to the person, nature, and role of Christ]. Expert witness testimony is an important part of the solution to every mystery.
What are the commandments Jesus is referring to? There’s a long list you can find with an internet search but John 13:34 has recorded this from my first witness, Christ himself; “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
My second expert today is the Apostle Paul with evidence that supports Jesus’s new commandment. “For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” Romans 10:4
There’s more than beauty to the Advent story that makes it important. God provided a solution to the mystery of life in that cradle that could remind us every year He offers so much more than what we know to expect. Jesus is the reality of our salvation, growth and “abiding” in His and God’s love. My third witness today is John Piper from Come Thou Unexpected Jesus: “Jesus was long expected. But when and how and where and why he came were all unexpected…He did not come to meet [our] expectations but to love [us] in the ways [we] most desperately needed…[that’s] the place [we] are most likely to really adore him.” [edited]
John 15:9 As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. [NRSV]
That kind of complete love is one of the biggest challenges our faith calls us to recognize. We struggle because we know our own well-kept secrets. The wonder of the love of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ is that He knows all our secrets too and He still finds us lovable. Accepting and acting in accordance with Jesus and His complete love is where hope triumphs over the secrets that have kept us from being “love”able.
Romans 5:5 ..and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
√ Re·new·al: the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, run-down, or broken
Romans 2 [NIV]
13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous…15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.
18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?
• What “if you know his will and approve of what is superior BECAUSE you are instructed by the law” written on your heart, not a list of do’s and don’ts.
• What if the “requirements of the law” include internal instruction about judgment and renewal for those who are “righteous in God’s sight?”
• Then the accusation of judgment becomes the instruction of the law within us that bears witness to our conscience and the needs of our heart.
• Then our renewal becomes the evidence within us of God’s own defense of our heart as He directs our thoughts toward His righteousness.
“If you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth.“ God is “bearing witness’ to your thoughts through those requirements of judgement and renewal. What is written on your heart is His best option for the renewal of your mind and His best defense of your righteousness. “You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?
There’s a thread of thought that ties together the different parts of God’s Word written by different authors. It’s a thread that always emphasizes the contrast between what God is willing to offer and what man in his own spirit is willing to ignore.
Here’s what God is willing to offer: Romans 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” [NIV]
Here’s what man is often willing to ignore: “Romans 1:21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.” [NLT]
Not taking notice of God is not a neutral position at all. The Bible brings that contrast into clear focus with the daunting list of consequences of not accepting God’s offer and the outcome of choosing what man in his own spirit is willing to ignore “Romans 1:26…Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either.” [MSG]
“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” Romans 15:4 NIV
I read the Scripture from Romans early Sunday morning before church. It caught my eye because my last post had been about letting our history become His Story in the New Year. I thought of history as being wiped away to clear the slate for a new year. Then I went to church and heard “The promise of salvation doesn’t always look like what we expect or want.” It wasn’t a sermon about wiping away the unexpected and unwanted interruptions that happen in every life. It was a message of recognizing the promised presence of Jesus with you in the midst of the worst news or circumstances.
Later that day I read this from Henri Nouwen’s Creative Ministry: “We are…invited to look at our history as the sequence of events that brought us to where we are now and that help us to understand what it means to be here at this moment in this world.”
History has impact on our present, our future and our imperfection. The ultimate unwanted and unexpected interruption of the perfection God created happened way back in Genesis 3. Even in the consequences that followed that sin I see God’s hope for history in His unexpected provision for those first two people. “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” There are many other examples of people in the Bible who endured the consequences of their own imperfection but found strength to hope in God’s Word.
We’ve just completed the celebration of God’s ultimate solution for our imperfection, the birth of Jesus Christ. He’s our evidence of “everything that was written in the past.” The details of the promise of our salvation won’t always work out as we expect or want. We’re still dealing with the consequences of imperfection but we can trust and depend on God’s perfect solution “so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” Faith in Jesus is evidence of God’s hope for our life and that makes it a part of His Story.
A New Year is one of those times when I just need God to tell me:
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix you attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” [Romans 12:1-2 MSG]
That’s the Happy in this New Year I pray for you