14 The Gospel and Religions
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.
We should remember that when Paul said 'the law', he usually meant Judaism. Paul often uses the Greek word 'nomos' in his writings. This word is usually translated to mean 'the law,' but this word among Jews at his time usually pointed to 'Torah,' and this Hebrew word 'Torah' meant the whole religious system of Judaism. When Paul claimed that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, he meant that a man can not be accepted into the fellowship with God by the observances of all the regulations of Judaism, but he can enter into the fellowship with God only through committing himself to Jesus as Christ.
Therefore when he said,gGod has done what the law could not do,hhe meant that God had done what Judaism could not do. As Judaism is the only one true religion for the Jew, what Judaism could not do can not be done by any other religions. Paul's sentence above tells us that God has done what no religion could do.
Basically, religions show us the aim we should achieve and show us the way to do it, demanding our efforts and fitting conduct. But religion could not succeed in leading us to the aim. Why? Paul describes the reason very simply; "weakened by the flesh." 'Flesh' is Paul's usual expression for human nature. Religion could not succeed in leading us to the goal of real fellowship with God because of the weakness of human nature.
God has done what the law, religion, weakened by the flesh, could not do. How did God do what religions could not do? God did it "by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."(Rom.8:3b-4) The first half of this phrase (8:3) tells us what God did in Christ Crucified (Message No.11) and the second half (8:4) tells us what God does in us by his Spirit in order to fulfill his purpose to lead human being to the reality of fellowship with Him (Message No.12).
Gospel is the testimony and message of what God has done in Jesus Christ what religion could not do. Gospel is, therefore, different from religion. By the way, Christianity is a religion among many religions in the world. Surely Christianity is a very precious religion because it includes the gospel in it and testifies Christ, but it is not the gospel itself but a religion. Therefore, what Paul said about Judaism is applied to Christianity. A man can not be introduced into the reality of the fellowship with God by the obedient works of Christianity, but he can enter into it by committing himself to Jesus Christ, that is, by Christ-faith and by being given the Holy Spirit in God's unconditional grace. God working in us, that is the Holy Spirit in us, works out what we, human beings, can not do.
In Rom.8:3~4 the two things that God has done for us are described. First, God sent his own son Jesus Christ into the history of mankind in order to redeem (rescue) us from the reign of anti-God powers. We, human beings, are under the ruling anti-God powers. We are captives of the powers that always work against God. In Paul the human nature, 'sarkos' in Greek and 'flesh' in English, always works against God's nature by birth. This side of the human nature is called 'sinful flesh' in Paul and 'original sin' in Christianity.
gGod sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.hI understand that in this sentence the phrase 'in the flesh' modifies the preceding noun 'sin', not the verb 'condemned'. There is sin, deeply and universally rooted in human nature.
Why did God have to do his final saving work in a historical figure, a real man? In other words, why did the eternal savior, God's Christ, have to appear as a man? Here Paul answers, because it was necessary for God to condemn sin in the flesh. As long as a man stays in the flesh, that is, his nature is under the reign of anti-God powers, it is impossible for God to have fellowship with a man. God clearly had to declaregNohto the flesh in which sin, the betrayal to God, stays by nature.@
Second, God sent us his Spirit through risen Christ in order to fulfill God's purpose in us. After He condemned sin in the human nature in Jesus on the cross, God raised Jesus from the dead. And to those who believed Jesus as Christ, the Saviour risen and appointed by God, God sent his spirit and began to work in them. The purpose of this work of God is stated in Rom.8:4, "in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.hIf God did not send His Spirit to men and did not work in them, men would be left by themselves and would have to walk according to the flesh, their own weak human nature. As Paul said,gThe law, weakened by the flesh, could not do,hwe could not fulfill the demands of religion nor achieve the goal that the holy religion pointed to.
The right demands of the holy religions could be fulfilled only when we walk according to the Spirit. If we were not given the Holy Spirit, we could not walk according the Holy Spirit. Therefore, God gave us the Holy Spirit in order to fulfill His purpose in or through His people who walk according to the Spirit they received. First God had to condemn sin in the flesh so that He could give His Spirit to men in the flesh. Two things, sending His own son to condemn sin in the flesh, and giving His Spirit to those who, recognizing their sin, betrayal to God in the flesh, turn to God and receive His reconciliation, are one.
'God as working' worked out this final redeeming work in Jesus Christ, condemning sin in the flesh (human nature) on the cross of Jesus of Nazareth, and giving the Holy Spirit to those who believe this Jesus as the risen Christ, living for ever and giving eternal life to believers. Here again I would like to emphasize 'God as working.' God is not a substance nor existence. God is working itself. 'God' is the name for the pure and ultimate working that calls into existence the things that do not exist (Message No. 9).
This 'God as working' will, we are sure, finish His working according to His plan, the aim of His creation. The goal of God's working is called 'the kingdom of God' or 'the reign of God', and it is being realized by the Holy Spirit given to those who are in Christ. God is at work in those who are in Christ. His work will be finished and completed. Those who know that God calls into existence the things that do not exist and has finished the final redeeming work in Jesus the Christ are now waiting eagerly for the appearance of His reign in history. This appearance includes the appearance of the sons of God in glorified bodies, the resurrection of the dead in the last days(Rom.8:19).