So what is the state of the wretched man now that he has been brought into Christ? What is the birthright of the new Israel? We now see Paul begin to develop his teaching of the Holy Spirit’s work throughout this chapter, and the glorious result of that work, which is the phrase no condemnation.
“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. 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: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1-4)
Summary of the Text
Paul has given us a vision of the gospel, a vision with global sweep. The problem of sin is a deep and abiding one, for Jew and Gentile both (Rom. 1-3). God promised the salvation of the world through Abraham (Rom. 4:13), and He has fulfilled that promise by giving us a new way of being human through Christ, the last Adam (Rom. 5: 14). Such a message is too good to be true; there has to be a problem. So Paul starts answering objections. Won’t this lead to moral licentiousness (Rom. 6:1)? No, because there is no way to receive Christ without receiving His death, and all that that means (Rom. 6: 3. Doesn’t this mean that God has cast aside His Torah, which He Himself had commanded Israel to treasure (Rom. 7:7)? No, He told them to treasure it, and also to understand what it was for. He gave the Torah so that sin might become utterly sinful, so that He might deal with it in the cross. Therefore, what do we find? First, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (v. 1). How does Paul define those who are in Christ? He defines them as those who walk after the Spirit, not after the flesh (v. 1). Now the law of the Spirit of life (in Christ Jesus) has set me free from the law of sin and death (v. 2). Remember that the sin principle deep within every Jewish and Gentile heart is an opportunist. It takes advantage of the Torah, or natural revelation, or both, and creates the law of sin and death. The law of the Spirit strikes off these chains. For what the Torah could not do (make us righteous), God did by sending His Son as a vicarious sin-substitute (v. 3). The Torah was unraveled by our weakness, not its weakness. God condemned sin in the flesh of Christ (v. 3). He did this so that the righteousness of the Torah (already vindicated by Paul) might be fulfilled in us who walk according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh (v. 4).
Understanding the Laws
There are four ways to think of “law” in these four verses. The first is the law of the Spirit of life (v. 2). The second is the law of sin and death (v. 2). The third is the Torah (v. 3). The third is the law of love, the law that expresses the righteousness of the Torah (v. 4). Paul uses one word to describe all of them (nomos), and so we must be careful not to be wooden in how we seek to understand him.
Those Who Walk
As we will see more clearly when we get to chapter 11, Paul does not assume that every baptized Christian automatically understands these things. These things must be taught, insisted upon, and the body of Christ must be discipled in terms of this gospel. The way Paul teaches, he is heading off a carnal Israelite approach to the Torah within the Christian Church. Notice that he uses nomos to refer to the objective, external presentation of something (like the Torah, or for us, the Bible), but he also readily uses it to describe an abstracted principle, taken from such objective gifts. This means that the book of Romans (if the law of sin within us has its way) can be turned into a death-dealing Torah just as Deuteronomy was. But if we read it rightly, it is crammed full of the words of life. So we should make a point to describe this “right understanding” that is so important. What does it
look like? For those who have this grace, there are three things found in this passage. The first is no condemnation. The second is that they are free from the law of sin and death. And the third is that the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in them. That’s it—guiltless, free, and holy. Not guilt-ridden, bound, and uptight.
But the Rules Are Good
But, we object, the rules that we find in Scripture, and which we derive from Scripture, are good. Yes, they are. And they should be descriptive of our lives. But sin remains the opportunist that it has always been. The libertine objects to the rules of the legalist, but often (not always) the legalist’s rules are actually pretty reasonable on paper. The legalist usually lives longer than the crack-head, and good for him. But does he enjoy his life? “If you eat these bran muffins with oak sawdust filler, you will live twenty years longer.” But if that is what I have to eat, then why do I want to live for twenty more years? The Spirit objects to the rules of the legalist, not because he is so holy, but because he isn’t. He falls short of his own rules because there is an opportunist living in his heart, just like everybody else’s. Nothing carved in stone, or written on paper, not even by God, can deal with this. In order to deal with it, God had to give us His Spirit, and to make us fit to receive the Holy Spirit, His Son had to die.
There Is No Condemnation Because There is Condemnation
Paul begins by saying there is no condemnation for those in Christ. This is not because the need for condemnation was waived, but rather because the necessary condemnation is past. It has already occurred. God sent His Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (v. 3), and to deal with all that sin, condemned sin in the flesh (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21). The death of Jesus was the condemnation of sin—yours and mine. You are a desperate sinner on death row. If the governor puts off your day of execution, you still have a problem. “When shall I be executed?” Temporary good news is “the governor granted a stay, putting it off six months. This kind of gospel good news says that your day of execution was yesterday. “It’s done. Let’s go.”