by Ken Green
Text: Romans 8:1-4
The major theme the apostle is dealing with continues to be the results of justification by faith. This thesis was taken up in Romans 5:1, "Therefore having been justified by faith, we have...”
The closing verses of chapters 5, 6, and 7 serve to underscore the direction of the argument: “...as sin reigned in death even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord... the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord... I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Romans 8 concludes this section with the bold proclamation that there is no condemnation for one who is justified by faith. The point logically follows, for condemnation is the opposite of justification. H.A.W. Meyer says this chapter describes: “the happy condition of a man in Christ.” Fredrick Godet observes that it begins with “no condemnation” and ends with “no separation.”
Between these thoughts, there is “no defeat” (C.A. Fox). In my opinion, we reach the highest pinnacle of God's revelation in this eighth chapter of Romans. While such evaluations are quite subjective, I view Romans 8 as one of the greatest chapters in the Bible. It is with a deep feeling of inadequacy that I attempt to scratch out my feeble comments on this magnificent text.
Those in Christ Jesus
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1).
The “therefore” directs us back to all that has been argued thus far. That there is “no condemnation,” but rather justification for the Christian is not a new thought in the epistle. It is the major thrust (Romans 1:16, 17; 3:21, 24; 5:1, 6-8 14; 7:6). The point is not that he may not again be condemned. The condition that is set forth would imply that one may be so condemned if he fails to continue the spiritual course. The assurance is addressed to “those who are in Christ Jesus.”
It is not to the morally good, or the religious, or the pretender. It is to those who abide in this relationship. Some therein may be weak; some may be strong. Some are wise; others are unwise. Some are mature; others are immature. Regardless, as we abide in Christ (which necessarily implies growth and progress) we are forgiven, declared righteous, and there is no condemnation.
Horatio G. Spafford, in his great hymn of spiritual comfort in the midst of deep grief, proclaimed: “My sin — oh the bliss of this glorious thought. My sin, not in part, but the whole: has been nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Oh my soul!”
A further condition is given in the KJV of “walking not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” The phrase is said by many to be a gloss (of doubtful authority) and is not given in most translations. But the textual legitimacy of the same statement is not questioned in Romans 8:4, so we shall reserve our comments on it until we reach that passage.
Why No Condemnation?
Why does Paul say there is no condemnation for such a one? Is it because he has perfectly kept God's Law? Is it because he is for some reason not obligated to keep God's law? No. It is: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).
The “for” has the sense of “because.” The reason there is “no condemnation” is that the Lord has freed us from that law that condemns. One law has made us free from another law. The law that makes free is “the law of the Spirit of life.” It is the law of the Spirit for the Spirit has revealed it. It is the law of life for through it the Spirit imparts life (John 6:63; II Corinthians 3:6: Romans 8:11).
“The law of the Spirit of life is the forceful and effective operation of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and lives of God's children” (William Hendriksen). This is accomplished through the gospel which is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16; 6:18).
The phrase “in Christ Jesus” likely modifies that which follows: “has made me free,” rather than what precedes. The law is from Christ; the freedom is in Him through His atoning sacrifice and redemption. This law of the Spirit, then, has made me free from another law: the law of sin and death.
The law is that sin produces death. The death sin brings is spiritual death. This is the death from which we may be delivered; not physical death. The Spirit produces life; sin produces death (Romans 6:23). The law of sin and death produces condemnation, and this is what we are delivered from.
As McGarvey expressed it: “Laws which cannot be obeyed result in sin, and sin ends in death.” (Those who wish to quibble over the word “cannot” may take that up with McGarvey. The fact is that none did perfectly obey the law; furthermore, none do perfectly obey law.)
How Is It that There Is No Condemnation?
“For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh...” (Romans 8:3).
Here we see the ineffectiveness of the law. No matter how often we read the law, gaze into the law, meditate upon the law, or even memorize the law, it is not able to bring about lasting change. There is just something the law is powerless to do. The Law of Moses (or any law) is unable to deliver a sinful man from condemnation, or from the law of sin and death. Why could the law not do this? Was the law faulty? No.
The impotence of the law was because of the weakness of the flesh. It was because of man's weakness that the law was without power in this regard. This being the case, if mankind is to be saved, some other means of deliverance was necessary. The means was the sending by God of His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. Such was the form in which He came.
We are told that Christ came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” and made an offering for sin that condemned sin in the flesh. Why? — and here is the major insight of this section — “so that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).
The phrase, “in the likeness of sinful flesh”, has caused some to conclude that Christ actually came in “sinful flesh.” The thrust of this statement is Christ’s offering for sin. Paul teaches that Christ’s flesh was both real and sinless.
Paul does not mean that Christ was sinful (compare Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-15). The flesh is called sinful “because the desires, appetites, and passions of the flesh so often lead to sin” (R. A. Whiteside). John Stott comments: “Not 'in sinful flesh,' because the flesh of Jesus was sinless. Nor 'in the likeness of flesh,' because the flesh of Jesus was real. But 'in the likeness of sinful flesh,' because the flesh of Jesus was both sinless and real.”
The object for which He came was “on account of sin,” or “in order to deal with sin” (William Hendriksen). This He did by dying for sinners and satisfying the demands of justice. When He did this, “He condemned sin in the flesh,” or "in His flesh He condemned sin.”
In what way did He do this? By His life and by His death. By living the sinless life, He showed that the fault was not with the law but with man. His sinless life stands as a condemnation to us. Through His sacrificial death, we see sin in its true colors. If one wants to see the full measure of sin, let him look to the cross.