Studies in the Epistles of Paul
Sharing in the the life of Christ
Paul’s letter to the Romans can be divided into three major parts: a presentation of the gospel (chapters 1-8), the place of Israel in God’s plan (chapters 9-11) and exhortations for Christian living (chapters 12-15). Chapter 8 comes near the end of Paul’s explanation of the gospel. It is the climax, and the truths that Paul discusses are astounding.
The chapter begins with an astonishing statement: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (verses 1-2).
Because of what Christ has done, believers are not counted guilty and will not be punished on the day of judgment. We sin, but there is no condemnation. (If we didn’t sin, the question of condemnation wouldn’t even come up.) Paul knows that we sin, so he is saying, there is no eternal punishment for Christians even though they sin.
Hard to believe? Yes, because we know that sin deserves to be punished. Paul agrees, but the gospel announces that Christ has taken our sins, and the consequences, on himself. He has punished sin itself. He has experienced the consequences of sin, and escaped, so that we can also escape. On behalf of all humanity, Christ has experienced the results of our sins, so there is no further condemnation waiting for us. If we trust him, if our lives are in him, we do not need to be afraid. Sin has physical penalties in this life, but for those who are in Christ, it has no ultimate penalty for us.
Why? Because Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death, set us free from the only law that could possibly condemn us. The law that says, “Those who sin shall die,” no longer applies to us, because it has been taken care of — completely. We died with Christ, and it is no longer we who sin, but it’s the sinful nature inside of us that does it (7:17). It will die, and we who are in Christ will live eternally.
God does not want us to sin, but even if we sin, we will not be condemned because of what Jesus has done for us. The law could not give us eternal life, but God could, and he did it through the death of Christ. “For what the law was powerless to do [that is, to give life] 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” (Romans 8:3).
Jesus did not come to condemn sinners — he came to condemn sin. He came to take away its power to control us and kill us. He came to give us life, and to do it in such a way that “the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us” (verse 4). In his life and in his death, Jesus satisfied all the requirements of the law, both its commands and its penalties. It cannot demand anything more.
Life in the Spirit
Paul then tells us that Christians “do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (verse 4). We do not set our minds on what the flesh wants, “but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (verse 5). We are not perfect, but as we are led by the Spirit, we think and do the things of God.
Before we came to believe, our minds were headed for death. The unconverted mind “is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” It is rebellious and disobedient. Paul concludes, “Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God” (verses 6-8).
But now, we “are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ” (verse 9). The Holy Spirit lives in and guides everyone who belongs to Christ, and “the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (verse 6). If we don’t even want to live right, we do not belong to Christ (in the sense that Paul is using it here; everything belongs to Christ in another sense).
Our old bodies are dead because of sin, and they received their wages on the cross (6:2-6). In Christ, though, we have new life — “If Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness” (8:10). Because Christ is righteous, and we are in him, the Spirit gives us life.
“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead [i.e., the Father] will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit, who lives in you” (verse 11). God will also raise us, if his Spirit is living in us, leading us, motivating us. Our bodies will be raised like his — immortal, incorruptible and glorious. The Holy Spirit plays an essential role in our salvation.