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Sending His Son in the Likeness of Sinful Flesh


Dr Grant C Richison


Over the years at Christmas I have decided not to follow the pattern of a superficial and shallow presentation of Christmas but a more in-depth look at the coming of Christ.

Romans 8:3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,

3 For what the law could not do

Freedom from sin’s condemnation was not achieved through the law. Jesus accomplished what the moral law could not do. There is a weakness in the law; it could not give freedom from condemnation, justify or impart new life.

in that it [the law] was weak through the flesh,

The Mosaic Law was impotent because of the “flesh.” The flesh or sin capacity cannot deliver the believer because it could not meet the demands of the law. Even a Picasso cannot fashion a work of art on toilet paper. The weakness of the sin capacity made it necessary that God would intervene into the situation.

God did by sending His own [unique] Son

What the law cannot do God could do. He did it without violating His integrity of absolute righteousness. God must always be consistent with His perfect righteousness. In that way He is true to Himself. He did this by sending Jesus to take our hell that we might have His heaven.

There is an importance to the word “own” in the phrase “His own Son.” Jesus has unique and special relationship to the Father. He was no remote messenger but someone of the Father’s special possession. He belonged to the Trinity. As a member of the Trinity He is God.

The Father sent His own Son from glory to earth by the incarnation. God gave His very best, His very own Son who existed with Him for eternity past. Emphasis on the greatness of who was sent is of primary importance here. There is significant contrast in this to the weakness of the law.

The Son succeeded in fulfilling God’s demands where the law itself failed. Jesus met all the just demands of the law. He accomplished what the law could not by condemning sin in the flesh of Jesus.

God offered His very best to save our souls and sanctify our lives. The Father loved us to the degree of giving His very finest for us—His unique Son. His Son existed for eternity in the past with the Father. The Son did what the Law could not do by condemning sin in His human body.

in the likeness of sinful flesh,

This phrase shows how God dealt with judicial condemnation of sin on behalf of man. Jesus (who existed for eternity) stepped foot on earth in a human body to die for our sins.

The “flesh” here is the human body. God did not send Jesus in “sinful flesh” but in its “likeness.” Jesus never had a sin capacity. The Greek puts emphasis on the word “likeness” which carries the idea of form rather than just resemblance.

Jesus’ body was the same kind of body that Adam had before he sinned. Adam’s and those that followed him ended with “sinful flesh” because the sin capacity was resident in them because of the fall. The sin capacity was not in the nature of man before the fall in the original creation of Adam. When Jesus took on true humanity (“flesh”), He did not take on resemblance but the reality of humanity. He had the identity of humanity but without sin.

Jesus did not inherit a sin capacity from Adam because He did not have a human father and was birthed by Mary directly through the Holy Spirit.

Ga 4: 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law…

Christ took upon Himself a physical nature that was subject to infirmities that sin brought upon it, but not to sin itself. That is why He could identity with our weaknesses (He 4:15).

Therefore, Christ was sent not in sinful flesh but in the likeness of sinful flesh. God also sent Him in the flesh, not sinful flesh. Jesus assumed human nature without sin or an act of sin. This separation from the sin capacity or from an act of sin was indispensable for Him to save sinners from their sin. The Father could then offer Him as a Lamb without blemish or spot.

Paul does not say “sinful flesh.” Nor did he say “in the likeness of flesh.” That would be Docetism, that is, Christ only had the appearance of a human flesh but did not possess it truly. Paul did not simply use “in the likeness of flesh” because he wanted to distinguish how Adam came into the world before the fall. Therefore, Christ did not come in sinful flesh or in the likeness of flesh, but in the likeness of “sinful flesh.”

Paul’s statement of “in the likeness of sinful flesh” is very precise. If he said that Jesus came “in the likeness of flesh,” it would have given the impression that Jesus only appeared to come in human form but not physically (Docetism). On the other hand, if Paul were to put the phrase as “in sinful flesh,” he would have attributed a sin capacity to Jesus. No, Jesus had true humanity but without sin. Paul kept both of these ideas in tension.

On account of sin:

Jesus took on humanity for the purpose of dealing with our sin as a substitutionary sacrifice.

He condemned sin in the flesh

Jesus condemned the issue of sin by His death on the cross. The word “condemned” means that He passed judicial sentence on the sin problem to free men from having to deal with the sin issue before a perfect God. The Father assumed the position of punishing sin in the death of Christ. This absolved all people of the sin problem. The issue now is to accept the one who paid for their sin. The integrity of the Father could not allow for sin to go without punishment. We can also say that the Son was willing to come to die for our sins.

God roots the verdict of “no condemnation” (v.1) in the flesh of Jesus. His physical death on the cross dealt with sin finally and completely. The Father condemned the Son for our sins.

God’s condemnation of sin by sending Jesus to die in His flesh is a judicial act. God poured out the full weight of His judgment against sin on Christ. He did not condemn Jesus the person but the physical body of Jesus. Putting to death of His body became a substitution for the condemnation we deserved.

The sin capacity as a controlling power was dethroned by Christ’s physical death on the cross. Jesus took our penalty for sin as a sacrifice for sin. That was the effect of His death on our behalf.

This verse does not say that we are unsusceptible to sin but that we are free from the necessity of sin. The Son of God bore our penalty of sin as our substitute. God will save no one without a penalty. God is always consistent with His character.

Redemption in Christ involves putting away the guilt of sin by a judicial act of God established by the death of His Son. God saved us in our sins by this but He also provides a way to save us from our sins presently.

There is no such thing as sinless perfection among Christians but there is such a thing as being removed from the jurisdiction of the law and placing us under the jurisdiction of the Spirit of life in Christ. God cannot condemn a believer joined to Christ.

Oh what a Savior we have! May God bless each of you this Christmas with true knowledge of what Jesus did with His body on the cross.