Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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Sin Condemned in the Flesh

Rev. Cornelius Hanko (1 July, 1945)


For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8:3).

In Chapter 7 of this epistle the apostle gave us a glimpse into his own personal, spiritual experience, which is the experience of every believer.

He complained that sin still dwells in his members. When he desires to do the good he does the evil, and even the good that he does is so marred with evil that he hardly recognises it as the good he intended to do. Therefore the law of God, which demands of him the good, condemns him in his own conscience.

So in a way he is no better than before his conversion. Before his conversion, sin also dwelt in his members; he did the evil and not the good, and even then the law condemned him as being evil. In that way, the believer finds that he is no different than the unbeliever. And yet there is a difference. Before time he loved sin and hated God’s law, but now he confesses that he finds his joy in God’s law, which is holy, just and good. Therefore he also hates the sin which the law condemns in him. On the one hand, he still complains, "O wretched man that I am," but on the other hand he says, "I thank God in Jesus Christ our Lord, who has given us the victory."

Therefore Paul can triumphantly exclaim, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:1).

He experiences in his own heart the confession: "I believe the forgiveness of sin," so that he can say from his own experience, "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered" (Ps. 32:1).

He goes on to explain from his own experience how that is possible. "For," he adds, "the law of the spirit of life and in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2).

And he shows how this is the work of sovereign grace in which he rejoices. Sin is condemned in his flesh. The law could not do it. That’s proven. But God did it. God did it by sending His Son to die on the cross for us. Let us consider:

Sin Condemned in the Flesh
I. What?
II. By Whom?
III. How?

I. What?

The apostle uses a very extraordinary expression when he speaks of sin being condemned in the flesh. It is evident that he has in mind a very definite and mighty work of God’s grace in salvation. Therefore he wants to express it just that way: sin is condemned in the flesh.

Sin is spoken of here as a power which works and holds dominion in the heart of the sinner.

The word that is used here is the most common word for sin found in the Scriptures. It means literally "to miss the mark." The idea is that God has set up a "mark" or target at which all our lives shall be aimed. God says, "Do this and thou shalt live. Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and mind and soul and strength. Make that the target of your whole life."

But we always miss the mark. Not accidentally, but purposely. First of all, because we hate that mark. Secondly, because we stand away over-against that mark. Thus we will not and cannot reach it. This makes all of our lives sin in the sight of the living God—sin with all its terror of corruption, unrighteousness, disobedience, rebellion, and evil.

Especially from that point of view, sin is a positive and very real evil within us. Sin is not a power outside of us, that at times takes hold of us and drags us along as its innocent victims. In that way we often try to excuse our sins, but that is certainly not the case.

Sin is within us as unrighteousness, rebellion, and corruption. Everything is working in the wrong direction in enmity against God.

Therefore you can never separate sin form the sinner, as if God would hate the one and not the other. Not sin, but the sinner is guilty. Not sin, but the sinner is punished in God’s righteous judgement.

But to understand our text, we should bear in mind that Paul personifies sin, as a power that has dominion in our hearts.

Sin is the queen who sets up her throne in our hearts and demands of us all our subjection and obedience. Sin is the power that rules over us as our master and makes us her willing slaves. Sin binds us in the shackles of death so that we cannot and will not and cannot will anything else but sin.

And this is true from a twofold aspect. This is true, first, because sin has a right to rule over us given it by God. God has the key with which He locks us in our prison of sin and death. God gives us over to sin. That is His righteous judgement, His curse, for the soul that sins shall die!

Second, sin is also the spiritual power which had dominion in our hearts. By nature we are children of darkness, sons of Satan, loving sin and all the works of evil. We see, hear, think and will, speak and do and live sin, and find our delight in it. Very really we cannot sleep unless we have sinned. What is life to the sinner if he cannot enjoy sin to the full?

Only the believer can realise the tremendous power and dominion of sin within him. Only he understands how willingly he is a victim to the wiles and whims of Satan. Only he knows how impossible it is for him to escape the snares and dominion of sin. Only he has learned to fear and hate this dreaded power. O miserable man that I am!

But now Paul says that sin is condemned in the flesh.

It makes no difference for the moment how it is condemned, but what is significant is that it is condemned. What does this mean? Does it mean that God hates sin and therefore condemns us daily because of our sin. Surely this is true in itself. But it is not the idea that causes the apostle to rejoice in these verses. Evidently he means the same thing as what he said in the two previous verses: "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:1-2).

Sin is condemned in the flesh. The idea is, that God has called that sin, as it was in our members, to judgement before His throne. God tried sin. God declared that she had no right to rule over us any more. Took her power and her dominion away from her. The power of sin is broken, her throne in our hearts is broken down, and her shackles are cast from us.

The apostle speaks of a terrible, yet blessed spiritual reality in the heart of every believer. Don’t forget that when sin is called to judgment before God’s throne, you and I are called in judgment. There before God’s judgement seat, as we daily appear before it already in this present life, we stand accused. The devil, the world, our own flesh must condemn us. And we have no counter-plea to offer. Sin rules over us, but by the righteous judgment of God it also has a perfect right to rule over us. Yet while we stand in judgement, sin, not we, is condemned.

Sin is condemned so that God declares that sin has no more right to hold dominion in our hearts. And at the same time God strips sin of its power.

Sin is condemned in the flesh. On the one hand that means that there is no condemnation for us any more. Justified, forgiven! On the other hand, it means that we are given grace to fight against that sin that wars in our members. Grace to walk, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Sin is still there. But the Spirit enables us to wage war against it, until the day that sin is finally and fully condemned and destroyed when our bodies are laid away in the grave.


II. By Whom?

Who does this? To this the apostle answers every emphatically: God. The law could not do it, but what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh God did. He condemned sin in the flesh.

By the law is meant here none other than the law of God, which was given already in paradise and was repeated in the form of the ten commandments from Mt. Sinai.

That law was given unto man to life. To Adam in the state of righteousness that law came to show him how he must live before his God. That law was even in his heart, always saying, "Do this and thou shalt live." And walking in the way of God’s precepts Adam experienced God’s approval, God’s well-done, which filled his heart with peace and joy and made it possible for him to have covenant fellowship with God.

That law, as it once was given unto life, is certainly not weak in itself. It was the life principle for Adam in the state of rectitude, so that Adam’s experience of that law was good. Even Paul says of that law that it is holy and just and good (Rom. 7:12). And every believer confesses with Paul that he has a delight in that law according to the inward man. He is able to say, "O, how love I thy law. It is my meditation all the day" (Ps. 119:97).

The law is not weak of itself, but as the text states, the law is weak through the flesh. Our sinful flesh makes the law weak, helpless to give us life. True it is, that law still says to us and demands of us, "Do this and thou shalt live." But the fact is, that I cannot do it. And not only that I cannot, but I won’t. Sin came into the world, and with sin came God’s curse upon it. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Eze. 18:4). Thus we were given up unto condemnation under the dominion of sin and death. We soon experienced that he who sins becomes its slave with heart and mind and soul and strength.

Therefore, the law condemns us. For that same law says, "Accursed art thou!" "Cursed is everyone that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them" (Gal. 3:10). There is no escape. Not even for the man who foolishly, proudly, seeks his salvation by the works of the law. There is simply no good in man. Accursed always! The law by sin is unto death!

But what the law could not do, God did. God Himself did it in sovereign good pleasure to reveal the riches of His grace. God took hold of sin. Called it before His judgment seat. God condemned it once and for all. God gives us the testimony in our hearts that He has condemned sin in the flesh. "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11:33).


III. How?

If we finally ask, "How?" we are led back to the cross of Calvary.

God sent His own Son. This is mentioned here as an act of the Triune God. The sending of the Son was not by the First Person alone, but by all Three Persons in the divine Trinity, even as all things are out of the Father in the Son and through the Holy Spirit. The Father gave the Son of His bosom, the Son gave Himself and the sacrifice is made in the Spirit who sustains the Son in His suffering.

This expresses, too, the act of divine love. There was no other way! No lesser price could pay the ransom for sin. It demanded all of God’s life, it demanded His own Son. It demanded that He spare Him not. It demanded the very life of the Son, unto death, the accursed death of the cross.

And notice: "God sent." God mandated Him. Even from eternity God appointed His Son to that work. God sent Him into the flesh. God sent Him on the way of suffering. God sent Him to the cross, into death and the grave. All the way, "I came to do Thy will, O Lord" was always His ready and willing answer.

Therefore we read that God sent His Son "in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin."

"In the likeness of our flesh"—not as we had that flesh in perfection in paradise, but as that flesh is now marred by the weakness of sin. Not as if he became a sinner. He did not take on sinful flesh, but the likeness of it. He became like unto us in all things, except sin.

"For sin"—that the guilt and curse of sin might rest upon him, and that He might destroy its power.

Because He was God’s obedient Son, God entrusted to Him the keys of death and hell. He suffered and died, made the sacrifice for sin and broke the bondage of sin and death on the cross.

Of this we have personal knowledge. By His Spirit we have assurance of forgiveness. No condemnation! By that same Spirit we have learned to hate sin and to flee from it. Sin is still in us, but we are no more in bondage to it.

This is assured to us in the Lord’s Supper. At the Supper we are called to examine our own hearts, whether we be in the faith. We find innumerable weaknesses. But there is also in us a hungering and a thirsting for God, the desire to be satisfied in Him forever. This is God’s work, beloved. Let us draw near to Him. Amen.

The life of Rev. Cornelius Hanko, the author of these devotional sermons on Romans 8, is covered in his memoirs, Less Than the Least.