The Spirit and Our Confidence in Christ
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Text: Romans 8:1-4 (NIV) 1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do 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, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Introduction: The Spirit brings God’s life into our spiritually dead lives. Now we begin to explore our new life in the Spirit.
- My son Joel and his wife Meredith are about to have their first child.
- Her new life began 9 months ago, it will go through a significant change this week, the years ahead will reveal the unfolding of her potential.
- Spiritually we have a beginning, and the question becomes, how will that life become a unique story that testifies to God’s grace.
Explore the Text
In Romans, Paul Addresses the Profound Problem Created by Two Realities:
- The Deep Reality of Human Sinfulness & the Truth of God’s Holy-Love.
- He Focuses Our Attention on How God Solves this Problem in Christ.
In Romans 7, Paul describes the intensity of our experience of this tension.
The Instability and Uncertainty of Our Religious Games
- Too often theological ideas serve only as our slogans. Our theological rhetoric confuses us.
- Some live as hypocrites: Some live as rebellious people hiding behind theological slogans and religious practices as a mask.
- Some live as legalists: We try to justify ourselves before God daily by our good deeds and by our achievements as good people.
- When a Truth becomes A Lived-Truth: Becoming Real People!
- A growing reality.
- Too often theological ideas serve only as our slogans. Our theological rhetoric confuses us.
The Stabilizing Gospel Announcement of Romans 8:1-4: Now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
- Romans 7 leads us to recognize the stunning beauty of our new life in the Spirit described in Romans 8
- Paul’s Argument: No condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
- “Short sheeting” the truth of what Paul says: People who want “no condemnation” but without the cross and without any change!
- The rest of Romans 8 helps the reader understand what Paul means.
- An elaboration of what Paul announced in Rom. 5:1-12.
- I. Packer calls Rom. 8, Paul’s Christ-centered Pastoral Logic in light of Rom. 7: Paul shows how our heart and mind work under the influence of the Spirit as we become what God has declared us to be in Christ.
Do I live on the basis of God’s grace or am I trying to earn God’s approval?
- Keller’s Illustration: In Chariots of Fire, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell.
- Harold Abrahams at one point explains why he runs, why he wants to win the gold medal in the 100-yard dash. He says, “I want to run, but I’m scared to run because when I run I only have 10 seconds to justify my existence, to prove myself, to show the world what I’m made of. That’s why I run.”
- Eric Liddell speaks to his sister at one point: His sister wants him to be a missionary, to go to China, and he says to her, “Jennie, Jennie, God made me for China, but he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.”
- Totally different approach….When Chariots of Fire was made, Eric Liddell’s sister Jennie was still alive, and somebody said, “Do you think your brother was depicted properly in the movie? That it really showed what he looked like and how he ran and how he was?…. She said, “He used to run like a madman. He always had his face to the sky, his mouth open, a goony smile on his face, with his hands out.”
- Harold Abrahams is obsessed. He’s anxious. He runs to prove to the world he really has what it takes, to prove to himself he’s a man. That’s the reason whenever he runs it’s in agony.
- Eric Liddell says, “When I run, I feel his pleasure.” There’s one place in the movie where the actor actually does throw his head back (Do you remember that?) and open his mouth. He’s worshiping.
- Abrahams looks down from the stands and can’t get it.
- Let me put it to you the way Paul would say. One man was running to honor his Maker, and the other was running to become his maker. One was running because he was justified, because he was loved, and because he was saved. The other one was running to be justified, to be loved, and to be saved. Two utterly different approaches. One is running in the flesh. One is running in the Spirit.
Beginning to Live an Abundant Life: Our New Life Begins in Christ & Continues in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.
- See the Prodigal Son Story in Lk. 15
God’s Action in Messiah and Spirit
1 So, therefore, there is no condemnation for those in the Messiah, Jesus! 2 Why not? Because the law of the spirit—the one who gives life in the Messiah, Jesus—released you from the law of sin and death.
3 For God has done what the law (being weak because of human flesh) was incapable of doing. God sent his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and as a sin-offering; and, right there in the flesh, he condemned sin. 4 This was in order that the right and proper verdict of the law could be fulfilled in us, as we live not according to the flesh but according to the spirit.
When we lived in the English Midlands, I was once visited by two men researching a potential television programme. There had been a lot of talk about ‘Middle England’, they said. Since I lived more or less right in the middle of England, what did I think about it?
It was a faintly ridiculous idea, and though we had an interesting chat I never heard what came of it. There is, in fact, a roundabout a few miles south of where we lived, which pretentiously called itself ‘Midpoint’ or something like that, claiming to be the centre of the country. But of course with a country the odd shape of England there are many different places that could say the same.
When I was teaching undergraduates, I sometimes used to ask them to find a passage which seemed to be right at the centre of Paul’s thinking. Like the geographical question, it is impossible to answer, because of the many-sidedness of his writing; but the verses now before us have as strong a claim as any other passage I know. They have a big, thoroughly Pauline picture of God, father, son and spirit; they contain one of Paul’s clearest ever statements about what was accomplished on the cross; they draw together both his critique of the Jewish law and the seeds of his view of how that law is strangely fulfilled in and through the gospel; and they hold out the glorious, and typically Pauline, hope that there is indeed ‘no condemnation’ for those in the Messiah. A feast of good Pauline themes, in fact.
Faced with all this richness—not to mention the fact that this passage has been a favourite of many preachers for many years, the source of many prayers and hymns, and was turned into a whole cantata by J. S. Bach—we could be forgiven for being a bit bewildered, and failing to notice the role it plays in the actual argument of the letter, which is of course the primary thing one should always look for before delving into the detail. Though the mood and the tone of voice have changed drastically from the end of chapter 7, the same argument is still in process, as we can see by the continual mention of the law through verses 1–4, and on, in our next passage, to verse 7. The larger argument, in fact, of which chapter 7 forms the first section, continues in chapter 8 as far as verse 11. There we discover how it is that the intention of the law (to give life) is finally and gloriously achieved when, by the spirit, God gives resurrection life to all those who belong to the Messiah, Jesus. In our present passage the foundation for that conclusion is firmly laid, as Paul unveils (rather as in 3:21) the ‘but now’ of the gospel, the good news which addresses the problems and puzzles that the whole human race, including Israel, would otherwise still face.
This passage, too, opens a whole set of further discussions which take the rest of chapter 8 to address, notably concerned with the work of the spirit. This, in turn, contributes to the great theme of assurance which Paul sums up in the final paragraph (8:31–39), anticipating it in verse 1 with his great shout of triumph which in turn looks back to 5:1–11, and indeed to 5:1–2 in particular. The present passage and the next one (8:1–4 and 8:5–11) stand together as, simultaneously, the conclusion of the argument of Romans 7 and the introduction to the argument of Romans 8. No wonder they are so dense and tight-packed—though not, fortunately, as difficult to unravel as some of Paul’s other close writing.
I have often remarked that one of Paul’s regular styles of developing an argument is like the opening up of a flower. Out of my window I can see rose bushes. It is winter; they are surrounded by snow; but here and there you can just make out tiny little shoots. At some stage in the late spring they will turn into rosebuds. Then the rosebuds will open and reveal a wonderful flower. And I will think back to the tiny shoots and reflect that the whole rosebud was contained within the shoot, if only I could have seen it.
The present paragraph is an excellent example of this writing style. Verse 1 announces the main point Paul is going to make from now to the end of the chapter: there is no condemnation for those in the Messiah. Verse 2 offers the beginnings of an explanation, but it is so compressed that it will take quite a lot of inspection under a microscope before we can see what exactly it means. No matter; wait for the bud to develop and grow. Verses 3 and 4 open it out so we can see it better. Then verses 5–8 will widen the flower further. Finally, in verses 9–11, the rose will be fully open, releasing its fragrance to all within reach. This should teach us something of how to read Paul: don’t stop at a single verse and wonder why it’s so dense. See it as part of a larger, growing statement and celebration.
No condemnation! This assurance can of course only carry its full force for someone who has pondered carefully the seriousness of sin and the reality of God’s judgment. Anyone who imagined that sin wasn’t that serious, or that God wouldn’t judge it anyway, would probably shrug their shoulders at Romans 8:1. But then anyone like that probably wouldn’t have read this far anyway. The more interesting question about the verse is: why does Paul say ‘therefore’ at the beginning? Where he left the argument at the end of chapter 7 hardly encourages such a shout of triumph. One might have expected him to say, ‘There is therefore a lot of gloom and doom to be faced.’
The answer is not far away, in the string of ‘because’ sentences that follow in the next verses. Indeed, in the Greek, verses 2, 3, 5 and 6 all contain the little word that means ‘because’ or ‘for’, indicating that each step in the argument is explaining what has gone before. There is no condemnation, because the spirit-law has set you free from the sin-law, because God has acted in his son and his spirit to condemn sin and provide life, because there are two types of human beings and you are the spirit-type, because these two types are heading, respectively, for death and life. There is no condemnation, because of all this.
We should not suppose that the word ‘law’ in these verses means anything other than ‘God’s law’. Just as in the closing verses of chapter 3 and chapter 7, ‘law’ is not a ‘general principle’ or ‘system’. Paul revels in the paradox of all this. The spirit has been at work to do what the law wanted to do—to give life, moral life in the present, resurrection life in the future. The law looks on at what God is doing, knowing it hadn’t been able to do it itself, but celebrating the fact that God has done it. It is fulfilled (verse 4).
But how can God do this? Will sin, the old enemy, not strike back again? Well, that remains possible, as Paul knew only too well. But sin has received its death-wound. Before the spirit can be unleashed to blow like a spring gale through the dead wood of the world, the power of evil needs to be broken. The way that needs to happen is for sin to be condemned—not just the passing of sentence, but its execution. Paul declares that this is precisely what has happened in the death of God’s son, the Messiah. This is one of the points where we hear echoes of almost every chapter in the book, not least of the opening statement of the gospel in 1:3–4.
How does this ‘atonement theology’ actually work? Paul is writing in great excitement, but also with great precision. First, God sent his own son, which as we saw in 5:8 meant that God has not sent someone else, but has come in person. For the entire passage to make sense, we have to presuppose that by ‘God’s son’ here Paul means, not just Jesus as Messiah (though he means that too; it is vital in his argument) but Jesus as God’s own second self. Next, the son came ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’; in other words, to the very point where the problem of chapter 7 had been identified (see particularly 7:14 and 7:25). Sin, as we saw in 5:20 and 7:13, had become ‘exceedingly sinful’ through the law; God specifically intended that it should. Now Israel, in whom that increase of sinfulness had occurred, was summed up in one man, the representative king, the Messiah. The weight of the world’s sin was focused on Israel; the weight of Israel’s sin was focused on the Messiah. And the Messiah died a criminal’s death, with ‘King of the Jews’ written above his head. At that moment, God condemned sin. He condemned sin ‘in his flesh’. He had cornered it and condemned it. As the prophet had said, ‘the punishment that brought us peace fell upon him; and with his stripes we are healed’ (Isaiah 53:5).
Notice two things about the way Paul says this. He does not say that God condemned Jesus, but that he condemned sin in the flesh of Jesus. He can say other similar things, too (e.g. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 3:13) but this is his clearest statement. And he also draws in a different image, that of the sacrifice for sins in the Old Testament, the specific sacrifice known as the sin-offering. Why?
In the Old Testament, the sin-offering is the sacrifice used when someone has committed sin unwittingly (not knowing it was wrong) or unwillingly (knowing it was wrong but not intending to do it). Paul has analysed the plight of Israel under the law in such a way that it falls exactly into these categories. ‘The good I want to do, I don’t do; the evil I don’t want is what I do.’ The ‘miserable person’ of 7:24 is answered by God’s provision of the sin-offering in 8:3, just as, at a more general level, the condemned sinner of 1:18–3:20 is promised that there is ‘no condemnation’ for those who are ‘in the Messiah’, because the condemnation of sin has already taken place in him.
There is no space left to reflect further on verse 4. It belongs, in any case, closely with the verses that follow, to which we now turn. But stay for a moment with the opening verses of chapter 8. You might even want to learn them by heart. You will seldom come upon a fuller or more exact statement of what God achieved in Jesus the Messiah, his son. Like someone in the desert discovering a small spring emerging from a huge cavern of water, there is enough here to live on for quite some time.
Keller: ROMANS CHAPTER 8 VERSES 1–4
- FIGHTING SIN WITH THE SPIRIT
In Romans 7, Paul showed us that Christians still wrestle with remaining, indwelling sin*. He says: “But what I hate I do” (7:15). But, at the same time, Christians have experienced a revolution in consciousness—a real disgust over sin and (now) an inability to find any lasting pleasure in it: “But what I hate I do.” These two facts keep us from either the legalism that says: Real Christians don’t struggle with sin anymore, or the permissiveness that says: Real Christians are human; they sin just like anyone else. The Spirit of God has come in and transformed our “inner being” and self (7:22) so we want God and holiness, but our “flesh” or “sinful nature” is still powerful enough to keep us from doing what our new desires want.
But Romans 7 does not say everything about the Christian life. Our new condition—a “double nature”—can actually lead to more distress unless we “live … according to the Spirit” (8:4). Paul gives us directions on how to live in the Spirit. Unless we do, we will find ourselves continually doing what we hate.
Before showing us how to live according to God’s Spirit, though, Paul wants to show us how God’s Son has given us life. Verse 1 begins “therefore”—he could be reaching right back to sections such as 3:21–27 (as John Stott suggests) or to the previous two chapters (Douglas Moo’s position), where Paul has characterized the Christian as one in whom sin is still powerful, but whose inner “true” self is “a slave to God’s law” (7:25), and who can look forward to being rescued “from this body of death … through Jesus Christ our Lord”.
However far back in his letter Paul is looking, the great truth of 8:1 is captured in two words: “no condemnation.” These two words tell us of our position as Christians. To be “not condemned” is, of course, a legal term; it means to be free from any debt or penalty. No one has any charges against you. A person who is in Christ Jesus is not under any condemnation from God. Paul already said this in Romans 5:16 and 18.
This is tremendous! It means God has nothing against us! He finds no fault in us. He finds nothing to punish us for.
However, the phrase Paul uses is not simply that Christians are “not condemned.” This is a much stronger phrase than that. He says that for Christians there is no condemnation at all. It doesn’t exist for us. It’s not that we have moved out from under it for a while, but that it could return. No; there is no condemnation for us at all—it doesn’t exist anymore.
The reason it is important to mention this is that many think that a Christian is only temporarily out from under condemnation. Many want to limit the meaning of this phrase to our past, or to our past and present. But Paul is saying categorically that condemnation no longer exists at all for a believer. It is not waiting in the wings to come back and cloud our future!
Many believe that Christians who confess sin and then live a good life are forgiven and are, at that moment, not condemned. But they believe that, should they sin, they are back under condemnation until they confess and repent again. In other words, if a Christian man were to sin, he would again come under condemnation and could be lost if he died in that state. If this were true, then Christians would be people who are always moving back and forth, in and out of condemnation.
But this view doesn’t square at all with the comprehensiveness and intensity of Paul’s statement. Paul says quite literally that condemnation itself no longer exists for us—“There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). Thus, the moment we come into Christ Jesus, condemnation is gone forever. There is no more condemnation left for us—it is gone. There can never be condemnation for us. There is nothing but acceptance and welcome for us!
The Problem Of Forgetfulness
The great twentieth-century Welsh preacher D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that: “Most of our troubles are due to our failure to realize the truth of this verse.” What happens if we forget that there is “now no condemnation”?
On the one hand, we feel far more guilt, unworthiness and pain than we should. From this may come drivenness from a need to “prove ourselves”; great sensitivity to criticism, defensiveness; a lack of confidence in relationships; a lack of confidence and joy in prayer and worship; and even addictive behavior, which can be a reaction to a deep sense of guilt and unworthiness.
On the other hand, we will have far less motivation to live a holy life. We have fewer resources for self-control. Christians who don’t understand “no condemnation” only obey out of fear and duty. That is not nearly as powerful a motivation as love and gratitude. If we don’t grasp the full wonder of “now no condemnation,” we will understand each word of the rest of 8:1–13, but completely miss the sense of it! Lloyd-Jones summed this up with a useful illustration:
“The difference between an unbeliever sinning and a Christian sinning is the difference between a man transgressing the laws of … [the] State, and … a husband [who] has done something he should not do in his relationship with his wife. He is not breaking the law, he is wounding the heart of his wife. That is the difference. It is no longer a legal matter, it is a matter of personal relationship and … love. The man does not cease to be the husband [legally, in that instance]. Law does not come into the matter at all … In a sense it is now something much worse than a legal condemnation. I would rather offend against a law of the land objectively outside me, than hurt someone whom I love … [In that case] You have sinned, of course, but you have sinned against love … [so] You may and you should feel ashamed, but you should not feel condemnation, because to do so is to put yourself back ‘under the law.’ ”
(Romans Chapters 7:1–8:4, pages 271–272)
Verse 1, then, reminds us of the central argument of Romans 1–7: there is no condemnation for sin for believers. Verse 2 explains a second aspect to God’s victory, on our behalf, over sin—there is now no bondage to sin, either. “Through Christ Jesus” (v 2)—through faith in him—“the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” As we saw in Romans 7 (see Romans 1–7 For You, page 168), Paul uses the word “law” to mean:
(a) God’s law or standards.
(b) A general principle.
(c) A force or power.
So in 8:2, “the law” seems fairly clearly to carry the third meaning. The Holy Spirit comes to free us from bondage to the sin within our hearts. So verse 1 tells us we are delivered from the legal condemnation of sin; verse 2 that we are being delivered from the actual power of sin. Put another way, salvation deals with our legal guilt (v 1) and our internal corruption (v 2).
Some people wonder about the relationship of verse 1 to verse 2. Paul basically says: There is no condemnation for Christians because the Holy Spirit frees us from sin. This could be read to mean that our sanctification by the Holy Spirit is the cause or the ground of our justification—that it is as we fight sin and obey God that we are made right with God.
But all of Romans up to this point denies that. Instead, Paul is likely saying: We know we are out of condemnation because God has sent the Holy Spirit into our life to free us from sin.
How God Did It
In verses 3–4, Paul shows us how God has achieved the two aspects of salvation (no guilt, no bondage). First, God sent his Son to become human (“in the likeness of sinful man,” v 3) and become a sin offering. In other words, the death of Christ defeats sin legally, by paying the debt. Second, God did this not simply to defeat sin legally, but to wipe it out actually in our lives: “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who … [live] according to the Spirit.” The work of the Holy Spirit within us empowers us to obey the law (albeit never perfectly, and thus never in a way that contributes to, nor undermines, our salvation). The great British pastor John Stott explained it this way:
“We are set free from the law as a way of acceptance, but obliged to keep it as a way of holiness. It is as a ground of justification that the law no longer binds us … But as a standard of conduct the law is still binding, and we seek to fulfill it as we walk according to the Spirit.”
(Men Made New, pages 82–83)
But why did God send his Son to bear our condemnation, and send his Spirit to break our bondage? Verse 4tells us that everything Christ did for us—his incarnation (“sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man,” v 3), his death and his resurrection—was all in order (for the purpose) that we might live a holy life. This is an amazing point. The thing Jesus lives for, the purpose of his entire life, is to make us holy, fulfilling “the righteous requirements of the law.” This is the greatest possible motive for living a holy life. Whenever we sin, we endeavor to frustrate the aim and purpose of the entire life, death and ministry of Jesus Christ! If this doesn’t work as an incentive for living a holy life, nothing will.
Stott: Justified and Liberated
In Romans 8, Paul paints the essential contrast between the weakness of the law and the power of the Spirit.Over against indwelling sin, which is the reason the law is unable to help us in our moral struggle, Paul sets the indwelling Spirit, who is both our liberator now from “the law of sin and death” and the guarantee of resurrection and eternal glory in the end. Thus the Christian life is essentially life in the Spirit, a life that is animated, sustained, directed and enriched by the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, true Christian discipleship would be inconceivable, indeed impossible.
The word therefore indicates that the apostle is summing up his argument thus far about salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ. The word now emphasizes that this salvation is already ours if we are in Christ.
The first blessing of salvation is expressed in the words no condemnation, which are equivalent to justification. Paul will go on to explain that our not being condemned is due to God’s action of condemning our sin in Christ. Our justification, together with its corresponding truth of “no condemnation,” is securely grounded in what God has done for us in and through Jesus Christ.
The second privilege of salvation is expressed in the next statement: “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Thus “liberation” joins “no condemnation” as the two great blessings that are ours if we are “in Christ Jesus.” These two blessings are linked by the conjunction because, indicating that our liberation is the basis of our justification. It is because we have been liberated that no condemnation can overtake us.
What have we been set free from? From “the law of sin and death.” The context demands that this is a description of God’s law, the Torah. Shocking as it may sound, God’s holy law could be called “the law of sin and death” because it occasioned both. To be liberated from the law of sin and death through Christ is to be no longer under the law, that is, to give up looking to the law for either justification or sanctification.
The means of our liberation Paul calls “the law of the Spirit who gives life.” This must mean the gospel. The gospel has freed us from the law and its curse, and the message of life in the Spirit has freed us from the slavery of sin and death. This liberation has been Paul’s own experience. It is also the experience of every believer in Christ.
The law could neither justify nor sanctify because it was “weakened by the flesh,” that is, our fallen selfish nature. But what the sin-weakened law could not do, “God did.” He made provision for both our justification and our sanctification. He sent his Son, whose incarnation and atonement are alluded to in verse 3. Then he gave us his Spirit, through whose indwelling power we are enabled to fulfill the law’s requirement.
Paul unfolds what “God did” in five expressions.
First, God sent “his own Son.” The statement that it was his own Son indicates that the Son enjoyed a prior life of intimacy with the Father. It certainly expresses the Father’s sacrificial love in sending him.
Second, the sending of the divine Son involved his becoming incarnate, a human being, expressed by the words “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” The Son’s humanity was simultaneously both real and sinless.
Third, God sent his Son “to be a sin offering.” As “in the likeness of sinful flesh” is clearly an allusion to the incarnation, “to be a sin offering” clearly refers to the atonement.
Fourth, God “condemned sin in the flesh,” that is, in the humanity of Jesus. God judged our sins in the sinless humanity of his Son, who bore them in our place. The law condemns sin, in the sense of expressing disapproval of it, but when God condemned sin in his Son, God’s judgment fell upon sin in the sinless Christ.
Fifth, God sent his own Son and condemned our sin in him so that “the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us.” Law-abiding Christian behavior is the ultimate purpose of God’s action through Christ. “Righteous requirement” refers to the commandments of the moral law as a whole, which God wants to be “fully met” in his people. The law can be fulfilled only in those who live “according to the Spirit.” The flesh renders the law impotent, but the Spirit empowers us to obey it.
Holiness is Christlikeness, and Christlikeness is fulfilling the righteousness of the law. The end God had in view when he sent his Son was not only our justification, through freedom from the condemnation of the law, but also our holiness, through obedience to the commandments of the law. Although law obedience is not the ground of our justification, it is the fruit of it and the very meaning of sanctification.
Holiness is the work of the Holy Spirit. Romans 7 insists that we cannot keep the law because of our indwelling sinful nature; now Romans 8:4 insists that we can and must because of the indwelling Spirit. Holiness is the fruit of trinitarian grace, of the Father sending his Son into the world and his Spirit into our hearts.
 Stott, J., Larsen, D., & Larsen, S. (2016). Reading Romans with John Stott: With Questions for Groups or Individuals (Vol. 1, pp. 123–127). IVP Connect: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press.