Introduction: With this set of Bible notes, we draw near to the Christmas season, and rejoice to see revealed in Romans the very doctrines we treasure most about the birth of our Savior.
We begin by reminding ourselves of how the Apostle Paul begins the book of Romans:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Monday: read Romans 8:1-4 & Luke 2:21. In Luke 2:21, at His circumcision as an 8 day-old, we see God’s Son suffering in our nature: “in the likeness of sinful flesh”, as Paul puts it in Romans 8:3. This phrase, “in the likeness of sinful flesh”, really sums up what our Lord came to earth to do and to suffer in our nature, and therefore deserves special attention. What Paul is saying is that Christ Jesus at His birth assumed all that was necessary in our sin nature in order to destroy it on the Cross. His humanity was so real that He truly looked like a criminal dying there. His humanity had to assume not just our guilt, but also the very human form that could be a sacrifice for us. Listen to James Philip as he carefully defines what this phrase means and does not mean, from his commentary on Romans:
The choice of words is made with great care since, on the one hand Paul must avoid implying that Christ was man only in appearance (which “in the likeness of sinful flesh” could seem to suggest), or on the other that there was sin in Him (which “in sinful flesh” would suggest).
Meditate and Pray: “Lord Jesus, thank you that your humanity is real, and that you plumbed the depths of what it means to be tempted, resisting sin to the utmost. We confess that we mar our lives, and because of sin, we de-humanize our existence. We are so much less than what you created us to be, having lost our true knowledge, righteousness and holiness. But thank you that in your sinless human flesh, you have restored our humanity to what it was meant to be. We therefore gladly ask you to rule over every aspect of our lives; our thoughts, actions and very breath. Thank you that you have chosen us to bear fruit for you in our lives down here. We ask for that fruit to grow, that we might be conformed to your image as our Savior and Elder Brother. Amen.”
Tuesday: read Romans 8:3 & Luke 2:21. Through the bloody rite of circumcision in Luke 2:21, Christ endured the pain of a ritual which symbolized the cutting away of sin. He bled as an infant at His circumcision because He was fulfilling all righteousness in our place, including the Old Testament Law that all 8 day old male children among God’s people had to be circumcised as a sign of the inward cleansing of their sinful hearts. Circumcision is an outward sign of the inward grace which we each pray for God to accomplish in our lives, through the spiritual circumcision of Christ. Paul speaks of this in Colossians 2:11-12:
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Meditate and Pray: “Lord God, we need you to circumcise our hearts, by your Spirit cutting away the pollution of sin through the gift of regeneration (Deuteronomy 30:6). Then we shall love you as we ought. But Lord Jesus – why did you have to be circumcised, when your love for your Father is perfect and your heart, will and actions are without any taint of sin? Thank you for taking our place, and substituting your sinless infancy for us, who are “conceived and born in sin” (Psalm 51:5). Amen.”
Wednesday: read Romans 8:1-4, Luke 2:21 & 1 Peter 1:19-20. When exactly did our Savior know that He would obey His Father and willingly take our nature in order to suffer in our place? Well, it was ordained long before Christ was circumcised! He was in fact set apart by God the Father in the eternal covenant of redemption long before He came down to die for us in the covenant of grace! As 1 Peter 1:19-20 say of our Lord Jesus, He was set apart to suffer and die for us, “from the foundation of the world.” That is why, in Luke 2:21, it is not His parents which choose His name. It is God the Father, through His angel, who decrees from the beginning of time, that His Son would be named “Jesus”, the lamb to be slain for us! May the Lord make us zealous students of all the Scriptures, and may our hearts burn as Christ Himself, by His Spirit, opens those Scriptures to prove that He had to suffer (Luke 24:25-27)!
Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun: read Romans 8:1-4. Perhaps it is best to sum-up our focus on the birth of Christ over these winter Bible notes by noting exactly what God the Father did (through His Son’s human nature) in order to justify us as righteous in His sight and to remove the guilt and condemnation due to us for our sin. What the Father did, as explained in Romans 8:1-4, is as follows:
1) He sent His Son to be condemned in our place, and to suffer our penalty for sin so that we would be delivered from such condemnation (Romans 8:1).
2) By His Spirit working faith in us we are enabled to receive Christ’s life as lived for us, and are joined to Christ in union with Him. We thereby become those that are “in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
3) By that same Spirit who raised Jesus Christ from the dead (Romans 1:4), there is now a new law controlling our lives – “the law of the Spirit of life”, (Romans 8:2), by which we can now live in the freedom of the Kingdom of Christ and say ‘no’ to the dominion of sin (see Romans 6).
4) But none of the blessings of which we speak are ever to be taken lightly, for they all come from the judgment which the Son endured in His body on the Tree! So with thankfulness we now pay particular attention to Romans 8:3 as it describes that suffering in our flesh. Here is the New American Standard Bible translation: “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.” (NASB)
Notice that Paul’s language in verse 3 does not speak about God forgiving our sins in His Son’s flesh. Rather, Paul says that God condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus. The word ‘condemned’ means that God “sentenced sin to death” in the flesh of His Beloved Son! But make it more personal: He sentenced my sin to death in the flesh of His Son! In this way, God broke sin’s hold upon us by having His Son absorb in His flesh the full death sentence which our flesh deserved! In this way God used death, (the very weapon by which sin keeps us under its sway), as the means of delivering us from its power! What saving genius on God’s part, to turn sin’s sword against its own heart of darkness!
What then is the result? It is two-fold. First, we are now counted in God’s eyes as having perfectly fulfilled the full requirements of the Law of God. God looks upon us as if we had done what Jesus did; we acted and suffered death in Him as He acted for us. And even further, His perfect obedience is also imputed to us!
But that’s not all. In the second place. our bodies are redeemed by Jesus, and become His! Just as Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed to us in our justification, so now according to Romans 8:4, our very bodies which used to practice only sin, can walk free from sin and death’s accursed rule, in the freedom of the Spirit of life! Yes, we still struggle with the remnants of our old sin nature, and against Satan, but now we can truly pray that God will take our bodies, our hands, our minds, our wills and hearts, and use them for His holy purposes – even as hymn # 585 says:
Take my life and let it be,
consecrated, Lord to thee.
take my moments and my days,
let them flow in ceaseless praise
let them flow in ceaseless praise