A Commentary by John Stott

Romans 8:2-4. The freedom of the Spirit (continued).
     Secondly, the sending of the divine Son involved his becoming incarnate, a human being, which is expressed by the words *in the likeness of sinful man*, or better ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ (RSV). This somewhat roundabout phrase, which has puzzled commentators mainly because of its use of ‘likeness’, was doubtless intended to combat false views of the incarnation. That is, the Son came neither ‘in the likeness of flesh’, only seeming to be human, as the Docetists taught, for his humanity was real (E.g. 1 Jn. 4:2; 2 Jn.7): nor ‘in sinful flesh’, assuming a fallen nature, for his humanity was sinless (E.g. 2 Cor 5:21; Heb.4:15; 7:26), but ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’, because his humanity was both real and sinless simultaneously.
     Thirdly, God sent his Son *to be a sin offering*. The Greek expression *peri hamartias* (literally, ‘concerning’ sin) could be a general statement that he came ‘for sin’ (AV, RSV) or ‘to deal with sin’ (REB), without any indication how he did it. But probably the reference is specifically to the sacrificial nature of his death. For *peri hamartias* was the usual LXX rendering of the Hebrew for ‘sin offering’ in Leviticus and Numbers, and should clearly be translated ‘sin offering’ in Hebrews 10:6, 8 and 13:11. And since the sin offering was prescribed specially for the atoning of ‘unwilling sins’, which is exactly what the sins of Romans 7 are (‘I do what I do not want to do’, 20), Tom Wright concludes, ‘There can no longer be any room for doubt that when Paul wrote *kai peri hamartias* he meant the words to carry their regular biblical overtones, i.e. “and as a sin offering”’ In any case, ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ is clearly an allusion to the incarnation, and ‘to be a sin offering’ to the atonement.
     Fourthly, *God…condemned sin in sinful man* (3, literally, ‘in the flesh’), that is, in the flesh or humanity of Jesus, real and sinless, although made sin with our sins (2 Cor. 5:21). God judged our sins in the sinless humanity of his Son, who bore them in our place. Friedrich Buchsel points out that ‘when it (sc.*katakrinein*, to condemn) refers to human judgment there is a clear distinction between the condemnation and its execution’ (E.g. Mk. 14:64: ‘they all condemned him as worthy of death.’ TDNT, vol. III, pp.951ff.). But in the case of the divine *katakrinein* ‘the two can be seen as one’. Hence in Romans 8:3 ‘the pronouncement and execution of the sentence’ are both included. The law condemns sin, in the sense of expressing disapproval of it, but when God condemned sin in his Son, his judgment fell upon it in him. As Charles Cranfield puts it, ‘for those who are in Christ Jesus…there is no divine condemnation, since the condemnation they deserve has already been fully borne for them in him’.
     Fifthly, Paul clarifies the ultimate reason God sent his own Son and condemned our sin in him. It was *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 Spiirit* (4). One might have expected Paul to write that ‘God condemned sin in Jesus in order that we might escape the condemnation’, that is, ‘in order that we might be justified’. Indeed, this was the immediate purpose of the sin-bearing death of God’s Son. Consequently, most of the early Fathers, the Reformers and subsequent Reformed commentators seem to have interpreted Paul’s statement of verse 4 in the same way. Hodge, for example, insists that verse 4 ‘must be understood of justification, and not sanctification. He condemned sin, in order that the demands of the law might be satisfied’, the law’s main demand being the sentence of death for sin. Yet if God’s purpose in sending his Son was limited to our justification, the addition of the final clause (*who…live…according to the Spirit*) would be a *non sequitur*.
Tomorrow: Romans 8:2-4. The freedom of the Spirit (continued).
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Romans: Christ the Controversialist. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.