Paul uses truths from the whole of his argument in Chapters 5-7 to launch into one of the greatest and most encouraging sections of scripture in all the Bible. He celebrates our privileges and responsibilities in light of our justification by faith and life in the Spirit. We both live in Christ and have Christ’s Spirit indwelling us. As a result we don’t fear death, we don’t serve the flesh, we live in peace with God and we’re free from the burden of earning our place before God.
Paul draws a conclusion not just from what he said at the end of Chapter 7, but likely from the entire argument of Chapters 5-7. He began Chapter 5 with the declaration, Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. He ended Chapter 5 with, And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (vss 20-21). Chapter 6 ended with, For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (vs 23). And Chapter 7 ended with, Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (24-25a).
The logical outcome of these truths is verse 1 of Chapter 8. It’s why he starts with ‘Therefore’. In light of the truths of Chapters 5-7 (and, in a broader sense, the argument he started in Chapter 3), There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. It’s a short statement and yet perhaps the most encouraging truth ever written. We are not subject to God’s wrath and judgment. We are justified by faith, we stand under grace, we’re not subject to the Law (or said another way, the Law’s been fulfilled for us), and we’re bound for eternal life. We are forgiven and free. [Note that it’s true now – we live after Christ’s redemptive work so we are now no longer under condemnation.]
This is really a trump card verse. No matter what our life is like, no matter how frustrating or full of stress and uncertainty it is, no matter how many disappointments we face, we can throw down the Romans 8:1 card and everything recedes into its relative significance. I may not like how things look right now but my biggest problem in all of life and in all the universe is solved. I am under NO condemnation because I am IN CHRIST. There is no better truth to meditate on than this.
How do we know verse 1 is true? Because the power of the Holy Spirit (the law of the Spirit of life) has broken the power of sin (the law of sin and of death) in our lives and set us free in Christ [the use of the word law in verse 2 likely does not refer to the Mosaic Law – it means “what’s always true” or “this is the principle of…”]. How is it that the Holy Spirit can break the power of sin in our lives? Because God did what the Mosaic Law couldn’t do (since sin used the Law to awaken sin in everyone who heard it – 7:9-11 – and thus kept the Law from justifying anyone); He sent His Son as a man (in the likeness of sinful flesh) to be a physical sacrifice for sin (condemn sin in the flesh – His physical death defeated sin – He died and was buried as a man – 6:4) and fulfil the Law’s requirement in/for all who now walk in the Spirit.
So we walk in the Spirit because the Spirit has set us free from the power of sin and the Spirit can do this because of Christ’s work on the cross. It is Christ’s work that frees us from condemnation (justification) and from the power of sin (sanctification).
Ultimately there are only two ways to live – according to the flesh and according to the Spirit. What’s the difference? It comes down to what we set our minds on. Those who are according to the flesh – who don’t enjoy the power of the Spirit, who serve (unknowingly) the law of sin and death (vs 2) and who don’t care about their status before God or that any sacrifice is required for their sin – set their minds on the things of the flesh (they focus only on this world and what’s important in it). Those who are according to the Spirit, however, set their minds on the things of the Spirit (they walk by faith instead of sight).
Think about what Paul says here and what it means for believers. It’s easy to live according to the flesh, isn’t it? It’s easy to live as if this world and what we see around us and the problems and priorities that beset us are all there is. But if we live in the power of the Spirit and if the Spirit has broken the power of sin in our lives because of Christ’s work, then our perspective has to be different. We live with different priorities and a radically different view of the circumstances and people in our lives. Our goals are eternal rather than immediate or worldly. Conversely, when we live as if what we see is all there is, we walk as if the Spirit doesn’t indwell us and there’s no power in our lives. It’s when we walk in the Spirit that this life becomes a means to please and glorify and know God rather than a selfish pursuit of happiness as an end.
The difference in outcomes for the two mindsets is stark. The mind set on flesh ends in death. Paul actually says it IS death because it has no hope. For the mind set on the Spirit, however, the result is life and peace. This doesn’t mean that life is easy or without trials and pain, it just means that through Christ’s work and the Spirit’s work the believer lives in peace with God and in life with Christ and looks forward to eternal life with God. When we see it so starkly contrasted we understand how foolish it is to ever live with our minds set on the flesh.
Why is the mind set on flesh death? Because it’s hostile toward God and is unable to please Him. Note this – the unbeliever ultimately cannot please God. He’s enslaved to sin and has no ability on his own to change his status before God. Even the best and most respected lives are doomed apart from Christ. [Verses 7-8 should be evangelical verses for us – when we look at those around us who are without God we have to remember their true status regardless of how moral or positive their lives appear – they cannot please God and their current mindset and direction end in death.]
Notice the following phrases in these verses: Spirit of God; Spirit of Christ; Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead; His Spirit. It may not be Paul’s intention, but we clearly see the Trinity represented here. Paul uses these phrases essentially interchangeably. All ultimately refer to God. The Spirit that indwells us is God’s Spirit, Christ’s Spirit, and simply, the Spirit.
Notice also the word ‘if’. We are not in the flesh but in the Spirit IF indeed the Spirit of God dwells in us. Conversely, IF anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. And IF Christ is in us, though the body is dead because of sin (7:14-25), yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But IF the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in us, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies through His Spirit which indwells us. The proof that we are His is that His Spirit and His Spirit’s power are in us and enable us to live righteously and walk according to the Spirit. If we don’t walk according to the Spirit (according to righteousness) we can’t claim to have Christ’s Spirit in us.
Paul finishes with an amazing truth about life in the Spirit. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies that are dead in sin (which means that while 7:14-25 is true, we never have to sin and the same power that raised Jesus from the dead – the power that defeated death itself (!!) – is available to us to overcome sin). And it’s HIS Spirit who indwells us. Christ may not physically be in this world, but His Spirit empowers us and walks with us. We live WITH Him and in His strength (which is why Jesus told His disciples that they would actually be better off once He ascended and sent the Helper to them – Jn 16:7). We are IN Christ, Christ’s Spirit is IN us, and His power is available to us to enable us to walk according to His commands.
If we are in Christ we’re not condemned because Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice for sin. We are free from God’s wrath and judgment. The requirement of the Law has been fulfilled for us and in us through Christ. Christ’s Spirit indwells us and enables us to overcome sin and live in freedom from it. God’s power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us. Thus we live differently from the world with different priorities and perspectives. We live in peace with God through the power of God’s Spirit with the ultimate promise of eternal life with Him.
We’re free from condemnation. We’re alive in Christ. We have Christ’s Spirit. What problems and stresses and disappointments in life compare to this?