Summary: The mood of Paul’s argument changes abruptly in Romans 8 as he assures the believer that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The believer does not live in bondage to sin’s crippling power, nor will he suffer the eschatological cons
My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth
until Christ is formed in you! Galatians 4.19
The mood of Paul’s argument changes abruptly in Romans 8 as he assures the believer that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The believer does not live in bondage to sin’s crippling power, nor will he suffer the eschatological consequences of eternal damnation in the life to come. The chapter ends on an equally positive note. There is an extended promise that nothing can separate those who walk in the Spirit from the love of God. Those who walk in the Spirit enjoy a special relationship with God and the promise of eternal life. By itself, the Mosaic law is unable to secure anyone’s salvation because those subject to it are crippled by resident sin. God overcame the power of sin through the incarnation of his eternal Son, who, though born in the likeness of sinful flesh, was himself sinless and by his atoning sacrifice destroyed sin’s oppressive rule. Christ’s sacrificial death fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law, thereby liberating those who no longer walk according to the flesh but live by the Spirit’s sanctifying power. It is the Holy Spirit’s rule in a Christian’s life that enables him to overcome the abusive power of sin: In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (8.37). This chapter highlights Paul’s discourse on the theme, the righteous will live by faith. It is a summary statement of what it means to be religious. In the introduction to Henry Scougal’s well known treatise, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, he wrote:
I cannot speak of religion without lamenting that, among so many pretenders of it, so few understand what it means. Some place it in the understanding, orthodox notions and opinions; and all the account they can give of their religion is that they are of this or the other persuasion, and have joined themselves to one of those many sects whereinto Christendom is most unhappily divided. Others place it in the outward man, in a constant course of external duties and a model of performances … Others again put all religion in the affections, in rapturous heats and ecstatic devotion; and all they aim at is to pray with passion, to think of heaven and pleasure, and to be affected with those kind and melting expressions wherewith they court their Savior till they persuade themselves that they are mightily in love with Him. … But certainly religion is quite another thing; and they who are acquainted with it will entertain far different thoughts, and disdain all those shadows and false imitations of it. They know by experience that true religion is a union of the soul with God, a real participation in the divine nature, the very image of God drawn upon the soul. In the apostle’s words, it is “Christ formed in you.” (Scougal, pp. 2-3)
FREEDOM IN CHRIST (8.1-4)
The condemnation that stems from the universal infestation of sin in every man’s heart is repealed by the law of the Spirit of life. Adam’s sin effectively contaminated the entire world (5.15-16) so that every human being has inherited the moral and spiritual proclivities of the progenitor of the race. The resulting wrath of God is rightly visited on all who are bound to Adam by birth. But for those who have experienced the second birth through faith in Christ, this verdict is nullified. They are justified by faith and have made peace with God (5.1-2). The Spirit reveals the will of God; he is at work within the life of the believer to produce works of righteousness that are pleasing to God. In the solitary act of Christ’s atonement he accomplished two things: he destroyed the effect of sin and he effects a life of righteousness in the believer. “Our flesh is judged; our old self was crucified with Christ. Hence the will of the law that justifies us is fulfilled in us because we are subjected to the law of the Spirit. The Spirit brings to us the newness of life that furnishes us with our conduct (6:4). Our justification is based on Christ’s act and becomes effective because the Spirit determines our action. God has made his righteousness manifest (3:21) both because our flesh is condemned and because we have been given the Spirit. It happened from faith to faith (1:17), for our justification came about through the condemnation of Christ, in order for us to believe, and it comes to pass through the work of the Spirit because we believe” (Adolf Schlatter, Romans, p. 176).
The Spirit of life sets the believer free from sin and death. Those who walk by the Spirit are freed from every aspect of sin’s ruling power. God did what the Mosaic law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. Jesus, who is the eternal Son of God, destroyed the effects of sin by bearing in his body and soul God’s wrath against the sin of the whole human race. Consider what Paul has to say in Galatians 4.3-5: In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. More radical than destroying the effects of sin or breaking its strangle hold, God executes judgment on sin. God made his Son, who knew no sin, to become sin for the believer in order that in Him the believer might become the righteousness of God (cp. 2 Corinthians 5.21). It is Christ alone who has perfectly obeyed the law’s demands. “As our substitute, he satisfied the righteous requirement of the law, living a life of perfect submission to God. In laying upon him the condemnation due all of us (v. 3b; cf. v. 1), God also made it possible for the righteous obedience that Christ had earned to be transferred to us. Verses 3-4 then fit into a pattern in Paul’s presentation of the work of Christ that has been called an ‘interchange’ – Christ becomes what we are so that we might become what Christ is. In this sense, then, we may interpret ‘the righteous requirement of the law’ to be the demand of the law for perfect obedience, or for righteousness. And the law’s just demand is fulfilled in Christians not through their own acts of obedience but through their incorporation into Christ. He fulfilled the law; and in him, believers also fulfill the law – perfectly, so that they may be pronounced ‘righteous,’ free from ‘condemnation’ (v. 1). It is in this way that Paul’s stress on faith ‘establishes the law’ (3:31), for, in grasping Christ by faith, people are accounted as really having ‘done the law’” (Douglas Moo, Romans, pp. 483-484).