The bible is both simple and complex. Very often we can find ourselves nodding at the message of scripture and saying ‘amen’ in our hearts. But then, and even more often, it contains a message that is hard to grasp. Pimarily, this is because we are hearing the words of the holy and mighty Lord of all creation. The holy one speaks to his creatures who are by nature sinners.
Romans 8:1 gives us one of those ‘head-nodding’ moments… There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!
But then, the verses that follow may make us scratch our heads…what is the law of the Spirit?…how are the righteous requirements of the law fulfilled in us?…if anyone does not have the spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ…is that me?
It’s not that this chapter is particularly hard, but the challenge here, to live according to the spirit instead of by the flesh, is a hard concept to grasp and to practice. One key to understanding this chapter is simply knowing what it means to live according to the flesh and what it means to live according to the Spirit. Descriptins of what it means to live according to the flesh are found in chapters 1-7 – either enjoying the freedom from righteousness or the struggle to be righteous. The difficult teaching is what it means to live according to the spirit. What that looks like is partly answered in these verses of 8:1-18 and partly by the rest of the book of Romans.
LOOK AND NOTICE
“Therefore, there is now…” This phrase highlights a turning point in the book. Not just a ‘therefore’ but ‘there is now’! And the turning point matches what Paul has been driving toward for several chapters (1:16-17; 3:23-24; 5:8-9; 5:21; 6:23; 7:25).
There is no condemnation. What Paul has in view here is the consequence of being declared righteous. Only the righteous will be rewarded – all the unrighteous ones will get what they deserve. This has been the problem of sin which we cannot escape from. All who are sinners, and that’s all of us (3:23) stand condemned (6:23) but the righteous ones that comes only through Christ (3:22) are those who believe and put their faith in Christ (1:16-17), they will stand before God with no condemnation. What a wonderful thing to stand free of sin before the holy one! It is a wonderful thing to soak in all that Paul has said about our struggle with sin and the condemnation that we are unable to bypass on our own and to now stand and breath in the fresh air of forgiveness. We have peace with God.
“in Christ Jesus”. We cannot stand uncondemned without Christ Jesus. He is the only way (Jn 14:6). It is not enough to be religious or think that you are good at heart. God does not bless any attempt to worship him. Unless we come to Christ and “bond” with him, we are lost. We must be “in Christ.” Paul uses this language in many of his letters, Ephesians 1 is the classic chapter on this phrase. Romans 6:1-7 also describes this union with Christ. It is not about doing religious things, attending church regularly or even being sprinkled with water. It is about uniting your life with Christ. He is your master, he is your king, he is your head, he is your life coach and inseparable from all that you are and do.
Verse 2 describes the “law of the Spirit” and the “law of sin and death”. The best way to understand the way Paul uses the word “law” here is to think of it as a ‘principle’ or a ‘way’ as opposed to a written code. The focus of this sentence and the rest of the chapter is not about law but about the way of the Spirit and the way of the flesh.
Verses 3-4 What we were unable to do – live righteous lives – Christ was able to do for us. He has accomplished righteousness for us! When we are united with him, we are credited with the work that he has accomplished as if it were us that did it! Without him, we battle in the flesh to get done the impossible. But with him, he has done it for us and so we are free to live according to the Spirit.
Verses 5-8 Life in the flesh compared to life in the Spirit
“the flesh” – the NIV footnote on the text (verse 3) explains that this word is a metaphor for the sinful nature and is usually in opposition to the Spirit. It is not a word of condemnation to creation as if God hates creation or that creation is sinful. That would ignore the fact that God created all things and it was good. But the phrase, ‘the flesh’, embraces the concept of how sin distorts all things good. It is not a sin to eat food but our flesh desires more than we need and we eat obsessively. It is not a sin to have sex, but our flesh craves this feeling and the obsessive desire to feed our passions and to use sex as a toy rather than a gift of God in the right context. It is not a sin to own things but our sinful nature, the flesh, covets more than we need and what other people have and we push God out of the way to get what we want. Sin thrives in our fleshly bodies. We desire to feed our passions and cravings.
Notice how we can have our minds ‘set on’ and ‘governed by’ the things of the flesh or things of the Spirit. This describes the two masters of chapter 6. One is hostile to God and leads to death and the other leads to life and peace. One cannot please God, while the other, it is inferred, can please God. Notice the word ‘desire’ applies to both realms. The flesh desires what the flesh desires but the mind can also desire what the Spirit desires. This would be the definition of being without sin: to desire and accomplish what the Spirit desires! To want what God wants.
Verses 9-13 Life in the Spirit is life with the Spirit in you
Notice that having the Spirit of God living in you is synonymous with having Christ in you! The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son (Jn 15:26) – One who the Son sends from the Father. You cannot have the Son without having the Spirit and vice versa. To be united with Christ is to have the Spirit who guides us into all truth (Jn 4:23, 24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13).
Verses 9-11 describe the connection between life in Christ and life in the Spirit as well as expanding on what it means for the Spirit to bring life (8:6). It was the Spirit who raised Christ from death to life and this same Spirit is given to all who believe and have faith in the Son. There is no room for a two stage conversion here – where you turn to Christ and then ask for the Spirit to come on you. The two are inseparable. If you are in Christ, you are in the Spirit and the Spirit is in you.
12-13 provide some application along with this teaching. We are not now ready to lay down and retire as though God has done everything and we can now budge in his grace. We have an obligation. Not a repayment but a logical conclusion to the transaction of grace – that is, to live with and by and through the Spirit. It makes no sense to be saved from sin and death only to remain in it. We have been set free from the slavery and captivity of sin so that we may pursue a living and breathing relationship with the Spirit. Although we still live in the flesh, by the Spirit we can put to death the misdeeds of the body. This too is a great promise, that we can do now what we were previously unable to do.
Verses 14-17 the pleasure of being a son
When we walk with the Spirit of God, we are identified as God’s children and therefore heirs of his kingdom. Being a Christian has enormous benefits! It is devastating to think of Christianity as a life choice and a morality code. That is missing the point completely! Christians – true Christians – are people who call God Father and are waiting eagerly to see him face to face and to live in his presence forever. Christians – true Christians – set their minds on what the Spirit desires because this is who they now are – God’s children and co-heirs with Christ. Imagine that! We don’t merely receive entrance into heaven, we inherit, like a brother of Jesus, the keys to the kingdom!
The good news and the news – we will be glorified with Christ! For now, however, we experience a life like he experienced – where many will not understand why we do or think like we do. Where people will mock us simply because we trust in God. Where people may persecute us in subtle and direct ways because we call ourselves Christians. Also where we live in the world of the flesh – subject to death, to illness, to injury and to grief of every kind. This is the world of the flesh that we live in but our hope and our minds and our hearts and desires are set on the things of the Spirit – to inherit what Christ and the Spirit have prepared for us!
What does it mean to live in the realm of the Spirit? Many may assume that this means we meditate and follow the spontaneous promptings of the Spirit as he secretly whispers to our spirit. There is a small element of truth here where, at times, we are prompted to speak to certain people or to go or not go based on a feeling. This is both rare in the Christian experience and not prominent in the bible. Paul appears to have been led by the Spirit not to go into an area of mission that he had intended to go (Acts 16:6). The way that the Spirit works and speaks to us, however, is through the word of God: the bible! Two references will suffice to make this point although there are many more places to go to and attending the “Start Living” course will give a fuller study on how the Spirit and the word are inseparable. Ephesians 6:10-17 speaks of the armour of God. It is complete with items pointing to the Gospel of grace that comes through faith and is capped off by the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. God’s word comes to us by the Spirit and is the weapon that equips us thoroughly to fight the good fight of faith. The second passage is in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. The bible is described as God-breathed – this can equally be read as “God-Spirited”. The scriptures are described here as sufficient and effective. There is nothing else we need and it will accomplish what it sets out to do. It equips the Christian for every good work.
Being in the realm of the Spirit is to be informed by the mind of God rather than being informed by the things of this world. It means meditating and being transformed by the mind of God rather than our own imaginations and dreams. The Spirit teaches us and trains us, equips us and rebukes us all from the word of God. This means that the Spirit inspired us as we read from the word of God and it also means that the word of God is Spiritual.
What does ‘abba’ mean? This is simply Aramaic for father but is used only by immediate family members. It has been said that it is a more affectionate word than what the word ‘father’ conveys and some have said that using the word ‘daddy’ brings a close resemblance to what is being said here. How far this must be taken should be governed by the context of our passage. What Paul is putting across in verses 14-17 is that we are now in the family along side Jesus Christ! We can speak to God the Father directly because of our union with Christ and because the Spirit is in us.
Read the bible. How often do we neglect to put this obvious application into practice! Reading the bible more doesn’t make us more Christian but neglecting to read us is an indication of how much influence the realm of the flesh has on us. So, put down that kebab and read your bible! Stay up an extra ten minutes and read your bible! Delay your first job of the day by 15 minutes and read your bible! Make sure that in your Growth Groups, you are encouraging one another to read the bible for all it’s worth.
Confess the misdeeds of the flesh that you are battling with and ask the Spirit to help you to put it to death. Shoot that sin in the head and kill it! Stop flirting with it. Stop walking past it and dreaming about it – set your mind on the things above and get rid of it.
Related to the last point is this: being a Christian doesn’t mean that sin is magically removed from your life. Battling with sin is part of the Christian growth process. But we only grow as we persevere and walk with the Spirit away from it.
Praise God that there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus. Reflect on what it means to know Christ and to be redeemed. Reflect on what it would mean if God did not send his Son.
Praise God that he not only sent his Son but he and the Son also sent the Spirit of Truth to live in us! We are not alone!
What further applications can you see in the passage?
Abba Father – my dad – thank you for the gift of your Son and for the gift of the Spirit. I praise you for being so generous and gracious to a person so bound up in the realm of the flesh. Please help me to put to death the things of my past, the sins that trick me and lead me astray. Please help me to set my mind on the things that you love. Thank you for the hope that I can only find in you. I ask all this in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord, through the Spirit of Truth. Amen.