How the Spirit Does What the Law Could Not Do

November 11, 2001 | by John Piper | Scripture: Romans 8:3–9 | Topic: The Law Series: Romans: The Greatest Letter Ever Written 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. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. We ended last week on this note: not only can the law not justify, but it cannot sanctify either. In other words, it is futile to turn to the law to have our condemnation lifted, and it is futile to turn to the law to have our rebellion against God and our love affair with everything but God taken away. Everyone of us has two deep problems – much deeper than our financial problems or our relational problems or our health problems. We are guilty before God and deserve condemnation, and we are rebellious against God and love his creation more than we love him. And my point last week, based on Romans 8:3-4, is that neither of these problems can be fixed by the law of God – by the Ten Commandments given at Mount Sinai. But they must be fixed or we perish. To fix the first one God turns us away from the law to Christ. Verse 3: "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." God took away our condemnation by condemning Christ in our place. Now what did God do to fix the second problem: our rebellion against God and the addiction we have to crave God's creation more than we crave God? Did he turn us away from the law for justification and then send us back to it for sanctification? Is the law the first and chief and decisive focus of our lives if we want to triumph over our rebellion and our craving for God's creation over God? If we want to love our enemies and not return evil for evil, and have patience and kindness, and be bold and courageous in the cause of righteousness, and endure hardship joyfully in service of the gospel, and spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples, then where shall we turn for help? How do we become holy, loving, and Christ-like after we are justified by faith alone? What do you do? Where do you turn? What is your focus and passion? How do you fight for holiness and love and Christ-likeness? You must fight. The alternative of pursuing holiness is to perish (Hebrews 12:14). How do you fight? Is law the key that unlocks a life of love? The Law Is not the Key to Unlock a Life of Love

"But sin. which were aroused by the Law . but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. Let's review a few of those places where Paul says this. The Law Cannot Conquer the Flesh But there is a second reason why the law cannot sanctify or transform: It cannot conquer the flesh. so we will pass over it quickly: the great ground of transformation is the removal of condemnation. "For if the inheritance is based on law. So Paul asks in Romans 7:13. it is given to turn our inner rebellion into more blatant and visible transgressions. Paul teaches us that the law aggravates our sin and stirs up our rebellion. it cannot change us at the root of our nature: our fallenness and rebellion against God. on the contrary. The Law Cannot Remove Our Condemnation The first one we have spoken of enough. and more manifestly vicious in its use of what is good to do its ugly work. Another place to show its rebellion. "May it never be! Rather it was sin. In fact. which Paul calls our "flesh" in Romans 8:3 – "what the law could not do. It cannot take away our reluctance to love God and our treasonous preference for God's gifts above God (Romans 1:23). we must first have the verdict of guilty reversed – and the law cannot do that. He says in verse18." The Law Came to Increase Transgressions Let's look at Romans 5:19-21. You see this again in Galatians 3. so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful. so that we arm ourselves from thinking that the law can get anywhere with our deep rebellion. The law cannot do what needs to be done. it gives the flesh another base of operation. and not through our own obedience. even so through the obedience of the One [Christ] the many will be made righteous. We see the same thing in Romans 7:8. only God can because of Christ." In other words. in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good [the law!]. 2. That is. Paul contrasts the inheritance of life promised to Abraham by faith with the idea that it could be secured by law." So the function of the law is to make sin more visible in transgressions." The law does not conquer the flesh. The law plays into the hands of our own sinful passions and stirs them up. (19) Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions . If we want to be changed into the image of Jesus. We see this again in Romans 7:5. the sinful passions.Paul says that the key won't work. There are at least three reasons why it cannot. more blatant and prevalent in rousing the flesh. weak as it was through the flesh." Now this raises the question: "Well. "The Law came in so that the transgression would increase. the law cannot remove it. it is no longer based on a promise. were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. And we receive it by faith alone. the law does not conquer the flesh. taking opportunity through the commandment. it rouses the flesh. produced in me coveting of every kind. and so the law cannot provide the basis for our transformation." In other words the law is not the remedy for our condemnation or our rebellion. On the contrary. "Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me?" He answers. until the offspring . 1. "While we were in the flesh. if righteousness comes to us through the obedience of Christ. Paul closes his contrast of Adam and Christ like this: "For as through the one man's [Adam's] disobedience the many were made sinners. then why the law? Isn't the law given to provide righteousness?" Paul answers in verse 20.

Our sinful love of independence and control and self-exaltation simply makes the law into a new theater for revolt. Therefore God calls us not to turn to the law for transformation – for love and holiness and Christ-likeness – but to turn to the living Christ. Verse 20 begins. you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit. The law gets taken captive by the flesh and made a servant of sin. it will not work. The Key to Sanctification: Walking by the Spirit What then is the key to sanctification – holiness. "God condemned sin in the flesh (4) so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us." I'm going to argue in the weeks to come (from Romans 13:8 and Galatians 5:14) that the "fulfillment of the law" is a life of Christ-exalting love. The law cannot magnify the Son of God as more glorious and more valuable and more desirable than the pleasures of sin. But before we turn there." God's purpose to increase the transgression by introducing the law was not an end in itself. Even if you did turn to the law and experience some measure of success in becoming a law-abiding person (as the Pharisees certainly did. though the body is dead because of sin. Why? Why would God design redemptive history like that? Why would he add the law to increase the trespass? Back to Romans 5:20. That leads us to the last reason the law can't sanctify us. And the ultimate purpose is seen in verse 21: "So that." Whose Spirit? Romans 8:9-10 tells us: "However. even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. If we turn to the law to fix our rebellion and the our adulterous indifference to God. But for now just focus on the means appointed by God to get there: "Walking by the Spirit. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ . but also for our sanctification. But God's whole purpose in the plan of redemption is that his Son get the glory not only for our justification. who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. who worked for us in history and works in us now by his Spirit. Only when Christ himself wins our affections over all contestants will he get the glory God means for him to have. It was an occasion for displaying more grace. love. make sure you see this second point: the law can't remedy our rebellious reluctance to treasure God because it stirs it up." The ultimate aim is to make sure that Jesus Christ gets the glory for the triumph of righteousness in the world – both in justification and sanctification." Transgressions Increased to Display More Grace and More Glory So we ask. not to ourselves and not to the law. If Christ is in you . to show where God is really going in his purpose. Paul immediately adds: "But where sin increased. as sin reigned in death. Christlikeness? Verse 4 says the key is to walk by the Spirit. grace abounded all the more.should come to whom the promise had been made. We will only become worse. And this the law could not do. he does not belong to Him. 3." The "Spirit of God" and the "Spirit of Christ" and "Christ" appear to be . yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. The Law Couldn't Give the Son the Glory for Justification & Sanctification The last reason the law cannot sanctify we just saw at the end of Romans 5: God's purpose is to sanctify us in a way that the credit and the glory for our liberation and transformation go to Jesus Christ. "The Law came in so that the transgression would increase. including Saul of Tarsus) Christ would get no honor from that." Then.

so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. having died to that by which we were bound. "But now we have been released from the Law. He changes us to the core. He wins from us our deepest delight and admiration and trust. seen and savored above all things. it is by turning to the living Christ. It can't conquer your addiction to the praise of men. The parallel between Romans 7:4 and 7:6 show the same thing as Romans 8:4 and 9. reigning and indwelling. indwelling Jesus Christ – gives life. And this is the method of holiness that glorifies him. He writes the law on our heart. The key is Christ. In Romans 15:18 Paul says. you won't get the transformation and he won't get the glorification. to Him who was raised from the dead. It can't overcome your rebellion." The "Spirit of God" and the "Spirit of Christ" and "Christ" appear to be inseparable and almost interchangeable ways of describing the life-changing presence of God in the life of the believer. my brethren. The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. Let's look at a few confirmations of this.because of righteousness. You stay in bondage. But the point I want to make is simply this: it is not by turning to the law that we fulfill the law and lead lives of love. And thus he breaks the power of cancelled sin. To keep the law the way God wants it kept in this age you must turn away from it to "be joined to another. not the law and not us. "Therefore. Only the Spirit – the living. If you want to bear fruit for God you must die to the law. And you can see in the parallel with verse 6 that what Paul has in view here is the same Spirit that he does on Romans 8:4. And the instrument of our appropriation of this power is not to turn to the law but to fix our gaze and our faith on the glory of Christ crucified and risen. If you want to live a life of love you must die to the law. you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ." Where did our obedience come from? It came from Jesus Christ and what he has done through the gospel." And the fruit is love. "I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me." Then you will "bear fruit for God. and he is dishonored. resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles. in order that we might bear fruit for God." This is the clearest statement of all that the looking to the law is not the first or chief or decisive means of bearing fruit for God. The aim of God is that Jesus get the exaltation and that you get the liberation. Serving in the Spirit and bearing fruit from union with Jesus are the same thing. It is letter. If you want to fulfill the law you must die to the law. That is the power that sanctifies." Serving in the newness of the Spirit in verse 6 parallels bearing fruit for God by being joined to Christ in verse 4. And why is that important? Because unless you pursue obedience through seeing and savoring him. to Him who was raised from the dead. Love is the fruit of turning to the living Christ and finding him more to be desired than everything that hinders love. but the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ. How to Pray If You Are Dead to the Law & Love to Bear Fruit for God How then should we pray and move forward? Let's bow and I will lead you in a prayer built on this truth: . so that you might be joined to another. The power of sanctification is not the law. And letter kills. The Law Cannot Make You a Loving Person The point is this: The law simply can't make you a loving person. That is you must not turn to law-keeping as your first or chief or decisive way to defeat your rebellion and become a loving and holy person.

Sarah and Freedom (Sermons) . as the all-satisfying joy of my life. and powerless to obey. I pray that you would have mercy on me. You are my only hope. I receive you as my Savior and Lord and Treasure. Part 3 (Sermons) Don't Go Back from Sonship to Slavery (Sermons) Hagar and Slavery Vs. Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. I am sick and corrupt. I turn away from the law. I repent of all the sins I know. And so. What I see and know of you now. I pray that you would display your glory to me in the gospel. © Desiring God. And. I turn away from all earthly pleasures and take you. how plain it is to me now that I need something so much deeper and more powerful and more personal than the law. and those you know and I don't. But I am flesh. and open the eyes of my heart to see you as you really are in all of your surpassing beauty. I am by nature a rebel and find more pleasure in what you made than in you. I turn away from my own resources and bank on your blood and righteousness for acceptance. and you alone.org Related Resources The Word of Faith that We Proclaim. I know your law is good. Serving in the Spirit. I embrace with all my heart. © Desiring God Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. to you. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God. Lord Jesus. For web posting. And ask you to dwell mightily in me and make yourself the Victor in my life so that when I love my brothers and my enemies – as I intend to do with all my heart – the glory will go to you. O Lord. O Christ. I renounce Satan and all his ways and all his works. and on your help for holiness. Part 1 (Sermons) All Jews and Gentiles Are Under Sin (Sermons) Dead to the Law. Amen.O Lord Jesus. a link to this document on our website is preferred. Website: desiringGod.

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