Paul’s letter to the Romans can be divided into three major parts: a presentation of the gospel (chapters 1-8), the place of Israel in God’s plan (chapters 9-11) and exhortations for Christian living (chapters 12-15). Chapter 8 comes near the end of Paul’s explanation of the gospel. It is the climax, and the truths that Paul discusses are astounding.
The chapter begins with an astonishing statement: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (verses 1-2).
Because of what Christ has done, believers are not counted guilty and will not be punished on the day of judgment. We sin, but there is no condemnation. (If we didn’t sin, the question of condemnation wouldn’t even come up.) Paul knows that we sin, so he is saying, there is no eternal punishment for Christians even though they sin.
Hard to believe? Yes, because we know that sin deserves to be punished. Paul agrees, but the gospel announces that Christ has taken our sins, and the consequences, on himself. He has punished sin itself. He has experienced the consequences of sin, and escaped, so that we can also escape. On behalf of all humanity, Christ has experienced the results of our sins, so there is no further condemnation waiting for us. If we trust him, if our lives are in him, we do not need to be afraid. Sin has physical penalties in this life, but for those who are in Christ, it has no ultimate penalty for us.
Why? Because Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death, set us free from the only law that could possibly condemn us. The law that says, “Those who sin shall die,” no longer applies to us, because it has been taken care of — completely. We died with Christ, and it is no longer we who sin, but it’s the sinful nature inside of us that does it (7:17). It will die, and we who are in Christ will live eternally.
God does not want us to sin, but even if we sin, we will not be condemned because of what Jesus has done for us. The law could not give us eternal life, but God could, and he did it through the death of Christ. “For what the law was powerless to do [that is, to give life] because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).
Jesus did not come to condemn sinners — he came to condemn sin. He came to take away its power to control us and kill us. He came to give us life, and to do it in such a way that “the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us” (verse 4). In his life and in his death, Jesus satisfied all the requirements of the law, both its commands and its penalties. It cannot demand anything more.
Life in the Spirit
Paul then tells us that Christians “do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (verse 4). We do not set our minds on what the flesh wants, “but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (verse 5). We are not perfect, but as we are led by the Spirit, we think and do the things of God.
Before we came to believe, our minds were headed for death. The unconverted mind “is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” It is rebellious and disobedient. Paul concludes, “Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God” (verses 6-8).
But now, we “are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ” (verse 9). The Holy Spirit lives in and guides everyone who belongs to Christ, and “the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (verse 6). If we don’t even want to live right, we do not belong to Christ (in the sense that Paul is using it here; everything belongs to Christ in another sense).
Our old bodies are dead because of sin, and they received their wages on the cross (6:2-6). In Christ, though, we have new life — “If Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness” (8:10). Because Christ is righteous, and we are in him, the Spirit gives us life.
“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead [i.e., the Father] will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit, who lives in you” (verse 11). God will also raise us, if his Spirit is living in us, leading us, motivating us. Our bodies will be raised like his — immortal, incorruptible and glorious. The Holy Spirit plays an essential role in our salvation.
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation,” Paul says (verse 12). It is not to live according to the flesh, for if we do that, we will die (verse 13). Paul does not directly say what our obligation is, but his contrast implies that we are obligated to live according to the Spirit of God. There is no ultimate penalty for failures, Paul says in verse 1, but the obligation still remains: “if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (verse 13). We are called to serve the Spirit, not the flesh. We are commanded to serve God, not self. We are commanded to resist sin, to put misdeeds to death.
The old person is condemned; the new person is not. Therefore, we want to spend as much of life as we can in the new. Whatever we do according to the sinful flesh will die, but whatever we do in obedience to God will be of eternal value. The more we reject sin and the more we obey God, the more we are really alive. “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (verse 14). If we are in Christ, we are guided by the Spirit into a life that pleases God. Our obedience is led by the Spirit; we cannot take credit for it. Paul says that the life he has now is Christ in him (Galatians 2:20); Paul cannot take credit for the work that Christ does in him (Romans 15:18).
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com
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This article was written by Michael Morrison in 2004 and updated in 2014. Copyright Grace Communion International. All rights reserved.
The Spirit does not enslave us or frighten us with threats of condemnation, but gives us a secure membership in God’s family: “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’ For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children” (verses 15-16, New Living Translation).
Since God’s Spirit lives in us, we can confidently call God our Father — and this has important implications. “If we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…” (verse 17). This means an assurance of salvation and an assurance of glory — but it also means that we suffer, as Jesus did. “…if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
When our lives are placed in Christ, then we share in his life, both the good and the bad. We share in his sufferings, in his death, in his righteousness and in his resurrection. As God’s children, we are co-heirs with Christ, sharing in who he is and what he has done. We are united with him — forever in glory!
Things to think about
- If there is no condemnation for believers (verse 1), should we ever have feelings of guilt? Why?
- In what way does the Spirit “control” our minds? (verse 6)
- How do we get the ability to put our misdeeds to death? (verse 13)
- When we call God “Father,” do we feel fear, duty, or privilege? (verse 16).