Monday, April 07, 2014

Sermon on Romans 8:1-11, for the 5th Sunday in Lent, "Public Defender"

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Courtroom dramas have been popular for decades, and it’s no surprise why—a person’s life hangs in the balance. Will they be declared guilty or innocent? Did they really commit the crime, or is the real culprit still out there? Will they serve a short sentence? A life sentence? Face the death penalty? For some it strikes painfully close to home. For others it’s a fascination with what it would be like, or the dread of whether it could happen to me. Everything builds toward the verdict—guilty or innocent. After that, the next great concern is the sentencing. What price will they pay for the crime, if they’re found guilty? Once the sentence is given, it must be carried out.
Whatever the crime, whatever the penalty, it’s a grim reminder that the law is not merciful, and that law breakers runs into danger. “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad” Paul says (Romans 13:3). “He is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain” (13:5). We are wise to obey the law and do what is good, to steer clear of the law and its punishments. So it is with human courts.
But if dealing with human courts is a serious matter, how much more fearful to stand in God’s courtroom to be judged for our sins? Every person, after they die, will be called to God’s judgment. “It’s appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment”, Hebrews 9:27 tells us. But unlike earthly courtrooms, God has no uncertainty as judge, to what we have done or have not done. There’s no doubt as to our total guilt, because God has perfect omniscience—He knows all—and further we’re told that “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them” (Gal. 3:10). The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). So how much more serious is it to face a court and a judgment that is inescapable, and in which every one of us would face the verdict of guilty? None of us stand a chance to plead our own case—representing yourself is discouraged in the strongest terms—because there is no one who can plead they are righteous; no, not one.
But here is the crucial difference between the courts of men and God’s courtroom. In human courts, mercy is uncertain. Depending on the judge, depending on your circumstances, depending on a variety of factors, mercy is at best unlikely. Can’t count on it. But with God, mercy is a promise. “Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful; slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Joel 2:13). But God doesn’t grant mercy due to “extenuating circumstances”, as though it would be just for Him to accept excuses and just “write off” certain offenses as “ok.” Rather, God saw our situation, our helplessness and distress, the sin that required payment, and determined that He would deliver us. And He didn’t resort to cutting corners, finding loopholes, or compromising His righteousness or justice. The way that God delivers us in Christ Jesus maintains not only His justice but also His mercy.
Our reading from Romans 8:3 tells us, “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Our situation was that God’s Law, though good in itself, was powerless to help us toward either obedience or salvation. The Law promised life, but because of our sinful flesh the law stirred up our sinful desires and produced death in us (7:5). So what did God do? He did the job that the Law couldn’t do. He sent Jesus in human flesh to fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law—do all the good and righteous things the Law commands. He bore our sin to the cross, and condemned sin “in the flesh.” He is our human substitute, He bore our condemnation as a man, in the flesh, in our place.
Now focus for a moment on that word “condemnation.” What does it mean? Condemnation is the final result of judgment. It’s both the sentencing for the crime, and the execution of that sentence. Jesus was sentenced to die on the cross—a penalty He did not deserve, but accepted willingly. And that sentence was executed, or carried out when He was actually crucified. Condemned for us. This is how God upholds His justice while showing us mercy. And perhaps some of the most merciful words in Scripture are those of Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No condemnation! In Christ Jesus God has ruled you free from the sentence and execution that your sins demanded. Since Jesus bore your guilty verdict, your sentence, and your death, God grants you by faith His innocence, His inheritance, and His life! It sounds almost too good to be true, but it is! Can you imagine the surprise and disbelief and joy that hits a man on death row, waiting for his condemnation to be carried out, then is told he is free? This is just the sort of joy that is ours when we’re forgiven and set free from the law of sin and death, in Christ Jesus. Our future has been totally changed, God has written a new story for us. God’s judgment is no longer the cause of our fear, but the promise of our deliverance.
Note also that Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Whenever you see a therefore, you should always ask, what is it there for? It’s a sign that he’s wrapping up a thought. What had Paul been talking about in Romans 7? He was talking about the struggle between our old sinful flesh and the new life that God has given us in the Spirit. About the tug-of-war between the sin that still dwells in him, and wants to do what is wrong, and the inner delight in the law of God—the new nature that wants to do what is right. At the end of the chapter he bursts out in frustration against the sin dwelling in his flesh, and cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And he answers his own question, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” Then the next verse is “There is therefore,  no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So what is the therefore, there for? He’s just declared that our victory and confidence don’t rest on ourselves and our weak human nature and its struggles for obedience, but it rests in Jesus Christ our Lord. And in Him there is no condemnation.
The new story that God has written for us in Christ Jesus is of a life set on the things of the Spirit. A mind set on the Spirit, which is life and peace. God’s rescue to our situation did not stop with declaring us innocent by faith in Jesus and releasing us from the condemnation of sin and death. His rescue also makes a new life in us here and now. The new life can be, as Paul describes in Romans 7, turbulent with the struggle between the old sinful nature and the new spiritual person that we are in Christ Jesus. But when we’re frustrated by that ongoing spiritual war within us, we can take heart and cry out with Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” He delivers us from this body of death, and in Him there is no condemnation. We have been delivered from the penalty of our sins because we are in Him. This keeps us from looking to ourselves for deliverance, and always directs our eyes back to Him.
Because to look to Him for our help is exactly the role God gave Jesus Christ, His Son. Earlier, I had said that it is futile for us to “represent ourselves” when we come before God for judgment. We don’t have a leg to stand on. We cannot defend ourselves against the accusation of the Law. But God has appointed Christ Jesus to be our mediator, to stand in our defense. Jesus is like the “public defender” for all people, only He has a perfect record. If we are in Christ Jesus, His blood and righteousness stands in our defense and there is no condemnation for us—we know our verdict in advance. We know in advance where we stand before God: He has already justified us by faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the best and only defense—He’s never lost a case, and never will. But if we reject His defense, if we’re not in Christ Jesus—if we choose to stand on our own—then we bear the responsibility for our own condemnation. John 3:17–18 tells us “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” So Jesus didn’t come for the purpose of condemning us, but to save us and stand in our defense. But if anyone rejects the help that’s offered, and doesn’t believe in Him, they are condemned already. 
So how do we know if we are in Christ Jesus? Not by measuring our own holiness, not by searching in ourselves for some good or merit—Paul already dealt with that frustration for us. But rather we know we are in Christ Jesus by looking to Him and because God has placed His Holy Spirit within us. A few verses after our reading in Romans 8, it tells us that the Holy Spirit identifies or bears witness with our spirit, our inner being, to confirm with us that we are children of God (8:16-17). The Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee or deposit. His down payment on the promises to set us free in Christ Jesus and to give us eternal life in Him. The down payment that the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is going to “give life to your mortal bodies, through His Spirit who dwells in you.” You know you are in Christ Jesus because you look to Him for your life and salvation, and that is the work of the Holy Spirit living in you. When by faith in Jesus, you begin to walk according to the Spirit, and your mind is set on the things of the Spirit, that is evidence that the Spirit is dwelling in you and is at work. The fruit of the Spirit, however humble it may seem at first, is not a product of our sinful flesh, but it’s proof that God is at work in us doing what we were unable to do.
So we don’t live in a courtroom drama with fear and dread over what our verdict will be, uncertain of our future, uncertain of mercy. We do wrestle and struggle with our sin, but the Holy Spirit continually leads us to repentance. And because we have the Holy Spirit in us as God’s guarantee, we know that in this struggle, it is the Spirit who will win out because our victory is in Christ Jesus. And in Him there is no condemnation. So far from facing uncertainty, we have the confidence that God is merciful and just, and He has sent Jesus Christ to accomplish everything that the Law requires. We know the verdict that will come at God’s judgment in advance, that we will be justified or declared righteous by faith, because we have believed in Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Defender, in whom is all our righteousness, our inheritance, and life. In His name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

  1. Romans 8:1 begins with a “therefore”. This signals us that he’s putting forward a conclusion about something he’s discussed before. Read chapter 7. What is the struggle that he (and we) faces, and where has he found victory? What is the victory? When have you felt discouraged and defeated? Did you find strength and comfort in Jesus’ good news?
  2. Condemnation here in Romans 8 refers to the sentencing and execution of our judgment in sin. To be “condemned” is to have your guilty verdict declared and to be sent to your punishment. What condemnation did the law demand because of our sins? Romans 5:12; 6:23; Galatians 3:10. How marvelous is it that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? How can you describe this good news for you?
  3. Paul talks at length through Romans about how the Law is powerless to save us. Why is this so? 7:7-16; 8:3, 7. Is it a flaw or failing of the law? How has Christ Jesus done for us what the law could not do? Romans 8:2-4; Galatians 4:4-5.
  4. The mind of the flesh and the mind of the Spirit set themselves on contrary things, and are not compatible with each other, giving rise to the struggle described in ch. 7. Even while this is so, why can Paul say that the Spirit rules over and gives us life, peace, and the confidence of final victory? Romans 8:12-17. What particular sins do you struggle to overcome? Where do you look to find courage and victory?
  5. How does Jesus’ death and resurrection give confidence to Christians, not only concerning the resurrection of our bodies in the future life, but also about the daily strength of His Spirit to work in our mortal bodies in this present life? 

No comments: