Gospel Scope: Freed by the Spirit (Romans 8:1-11)
Perhaps, after reading and studying Romans 7, you feel that Paul has put the perfect words to your current struggle. There, he eloquently described our ongoing battle with indwelling sin. That which we hope not to do, we do. That which we hope to do, we don’t do. Paul describes it. We say, “Yes, Paul! That is exactly what I have experienced!”
The question, of course, is must we spend our whole lives frustrated by defeats to indwelling sin? Must we continually live in Romans 7? Will that be our continual existence? We hope not, but our everyday experience might lead us to believe otherwise.
This is where we must remember the theme statement for the entire letter. “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” Paul wrote, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). In Paul’s mind, the gospel is the power of God for salvation. God uses this gospel weapon to save us from sin eternally, but also to save us from sin currently. This is why Paul had said, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25). Through Jesus, Paul saw a way to victory, a way to overcome.
God has the power to save us through the deliverance of Jesus by a life in the Spirit. In Romans 8, the power of the Spirit operating within us will be called “Christ in you” (Romans 8:10). This means the entire Godhead is busily working toward our growth, our victory, our sanctification. We are not destined to a perpetual Romans 7 life. Praise be to God; a Romans 8 life exists! But what does this life look like? How does it operate? This is what we will discover in the chapters to come.
Before heading into this passage, it seems important to note that the Spirit is referenced over and over again in this chapter. In Romans 7 the focus was on me — Paul continually referred to himself (“I”). In Romans 8 the focus is on the Spirit. Over twenty times he is alluded to. He is the One whom Jesus uses to deliver us from the power of indwelling sin.
We are not destined to a life of struggle, but a life in the Spirit. To experience this we must receive our position in Christ, believe in the power of the Spirit, and set our minds on the things of the Spirit. Let’s explore.
Receive Your Position (8:1)
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
The force of Paul’s words is very strong. They could be taken this way: absolutely not one possibility of condemnation by God for everyone in Christ. This is amazing. In fact, in the structure of the Greek sentence, the word “no” appears first for emphasis. There is absolutely no possibility of condemnation coming from God towards believers. Once you are in Christ you are uncondemnable by God.
But what is condemnation? It is an unfavorable or adverse judgment made about us. God makes no unfavorable or adverse judgment about his children.
Now, we might condemn ourselves. We might not yet feel and experience the grace of God upon us. We might toil in feelings of guilt for our past, but this is not from God. There is no condemnation from him.
We might be condemned by others. The Pharisaical spirit lives on. Others will point and criticize and judge. Being named as a believer will raise the bar of expectation. Condemnation might flow from others, but this is not from God. There is no condemnation from him.
And condemnation might come from the enemy of our souls, the devil or his powers. A nebulous feeling of failure is a great weapon of his. He loves to convince us of God’s displeasure in our lives, but this also is not from God. There is no condemnation from him.
Conviction vs Condemnation
There are plenty of times we might come under the Spirit’s conviction, but this is unlike condemnation. In conviction, the Spirit points out a specific area for my personal growth, and I become hopeful. In condemnation, the feeling is general, and I become hopeless, without expectation of any personal growth. Condemnation is a general feeling of God’s displeasure. It isn’t rooted in any reality. We aren’t under it, as believers, because Jesus took our condemnation for us.
We must receive this incredible position. We will have our Romans 7 battles and struggles, but God does not condemn us. We will compare ourselves to others, trying to assess our progress by theirs. This is usually done with a wrong heart, leading us to either pride or condemnation. This is not from God. So, though we battle, compare, and sometimes feel otherwise, we are not condemned by God. In Christ, we are uncondemnable. We must receive this.
Further, we must remember our imputed righteousness. When you believed, God deposited the righteousness of his Son into your account. This deposit was complete, and it gave us the righteousness of God. Another way of thinking of God’s righteousness is to think of the worth of God. God’s worth is now upon your life. You have the worth of God. He values you. He cherishes you. Again, you are uncondemnable in this condition.
All of this is absolutely unmerited, of course. This is part of the reason it is hard for us to receive. Surely, we think to ourselves, I must do something to earn God’s favor. Impossible. It is all grace, a gift.
The truth is, I had many reasons to be condemned. They are listed in Romans 1-3. My mind was debased. I called evil good and good evil. I did not live out the morals I was convinced of in my own mind. I was a religious judge of others. My hands and feet and eyes and mouth were poisonous instruments for evil. I should be firmly fixed in the condemnation of God, but Jesus Christ rescued me from all that. I am now in him, standing uncondemnable before the Father.
For many Christians, this is understood when it comes to the future. We believe one day we will “go home” to be with the Lord, in his presence eternally. We believe, in that moment, that our sin will be washed away. We will come under the full weight of God’s love and acceptance. We cannot fathom condemnation during that portion of our lives.
Additionally, for many Christians, we understand the deletion of our condemnation in our past. At our conversion, our sin was separated from us as far as the east is from the west. We believe we have been previously washed and cleansed from our sin. We can see how we were transferred from condemnation to justification at that point.
But the present-day lack of God’s condemnation is hardest of all for us to accept. Am I really pleasing to him at this moment? Does he truly love me? Don’t I so frequently disappoint him, bringing his condemnation upon my own life? No! We are uncondemnable in Christ. There is absolutely no room for it in our lives. We are new in Him.
The prophet Zechariah spoke to the leaders of Jerusalem during an important, yet difficult, time of rebuilding. The high priest was named Joshua. Zechariah had a vision about Joshua. In the vision, Satan was accusing Joshua before God, attempting to attack the man with condemnation. “And the LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him, he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD was standing by” (Zechariah 3:2–5 ESV). In the same way God cleaned and forgave Joshua, the Lord also forgave us.
Believe in the Spirit’s Power (8:2-4)
For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2)
So, we know we are not under the condemnation of God. What happened to us that brought this about? Paul tells us, “The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” We are under, as we saw in Romans 7:1-6, a new law. We died to the old one, so now we are married to Christ. In this union with Christ, we have a new law we’re under, the law of the Spirit.
But what is the law of the Spirit of life? It is a new operating principle for God’s people. Previously, we tried to please God by our own strength. Sadly, this only perpetuated the Romans 7 battle with sin and failure. We could not find deliverance in our own strength. But the law of the Spirit of life actually changes us from the inside out. Hebrews and Jeremiah referred to this as the New Covenant.
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Hebrews 8:10 ESV).
God actually writes his law, his will, upon our hearts. We begin to possess an internal motivation as he transforms us from the inside out. This life in the Spirit is the life which allows us to live a life of freedom. The cross set us free, but the Spirit continually applies the cross to our lives, enabling us to run in the freedom Christ won for us. We were “set free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death,” and the Spirit enables us to experience this freedom.
When Paul cried out, “Who will deliver me!?” he was seeing the need for Jesus to do the delivering. This is how. The Spirit of Christ fills and enables his people to overcome the flesh, to live on a higher plane, on a deeper level.
Think of the law of gravity and the law of aerodynamics. The law of gravity pulls objects to the earth, but the law of aerodynamics applies a force great enough to enable flight. In a similar way, the way of the body of sin, the flesh, is like gravity. It pulls against us. Without any resistance, without the operating presence of the Spirit, there is no possibility of any other experience. We will give in to the flesh. We will be stuck in Romans 7. But when the Spirit becomes involved in our lives, we become enabled to rise up and over.
Here, Paul refers to this as the law of the Spirit. This means that as the law of gravity, for the believer, the law of the Spirit is always in operation. This is good news. It means the Spirit is continually working, pulling, pushing, developing, strengthening us for the battle. He is working harder for our sanctification that we are. My heart beats and beats for years on end. It just happens. The Spirit is working and working for years on end. His work just happens. The flesh is real, but the Spirit is working. We are under the law of the Spirit.
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh. (Romans 8:3)
How this was initiated is no mystery to Paul, or to us. When the law could not perfect us, when our sinful tendencies led us to failure after failure, God sent his Son. Jesus substituted himself for us. Condemnation is no longer ours because he condemned sin in the flesh right there at that moment. Our freedom wasn’t won by human efforts, but via the effort of Christ, his perfect work on the cross.
How he accomplished this is powerful. Paul said that the Father sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. Jesus took on humanity. Looking like sinful humanity, sinless Jesus became one of us. We celebrate this incarnation every Christmas. God became flesh and dwelt among us. The very human flesh that could not win any of us the righteousness of God was lived in by God. He took on human flesh and, in it, won victory for us. He condemned sin in the flesh on his cross.
In order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:4)
What is God’s design for us now? The law of the Spirit is present, because of the work of Christ, so what does the Father will for us? Paul writes that all this was done, “In order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” In other words, the law of the Spirit grants us the power to actually live out the righteous requirement of the law we were previously powerless to keep. Even after conversion, when we attempted to please God in our own strength, we were powerless. But the law of the Spirit provides this power. When we walk “according to the Spirit” we tap into the strength of God for obedience, the best life possible.
For Paul, this is a description of freedom. Some might think of fulfillment of the righteous requirement of the law as drudgery, but it is actually the deepest joy. There are restrictions for God’s children, but these restrictions are life-giving. Think of two bodies of water, one a swamp, the other a river. The swamp is unconfined, free to run wherever without restriction, yet it is stagnant. The river is confined by its banks, yet it is full of life. The restriction actually leads to vitality. This is the way of the Spirit. Life is found as we enjoy freedom within his restriction.
It is clear that Romans 7 is still in Paul’s mind here. He refers to the flesh and its inability, the agonizing struggle against the perfect law. License will minimize the law’s demands. Legalism ends in despair. But God’s plan is to live through his people, enabling them to live a righteous life! We are set free, in part, to live a new life for God’s glory.
This Law of the Spirit Brings Immense Joy
In a famous story from his earthly ministry, Jesus went to visit Samaria. Jews would not normally associate with Samaritan people, nor would men interact with women, but Jesus met a Samaritan woman at the famous well of Samaria. Jacob had dug the well initially. It was a significant place. Jesus asked her for a drink, and she was shocked he spoke to her. He told her she should’ve asked him for water. He went on to describe the water he gives: “Whoever drink of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). And again, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).
This is the life Christ provides for us, should we choose to walk in it. We aren’t to walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. I remember my first years experiencing this law of the Spirit in my own life. A new believer, my flesh was raw and strong. It still is. But in those early days, I had never tasted the victory Christ provides. I began simply walking with him, enjoying Jesus in various ways. His word, fellowship, service, accountability…I did what I could to put myself where the Spirit could operate. Slowly, steadily he began his transformative work.
Since then, I’ve had as much of him as I’ve wanted. He has faithfully continued his transformative work.
Set Your Mind on the Spirit (8:5-8)
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5-8)
If the Spirit is a law working in our members and if he is actively conforming us to the image of Christ, how ought we operate? Paul tells us to “set the mind on the Spirit.” That is life and peace.
In the unregenerate state, we are positionally in the flesh and “cannot please God.” In Christ, we can go back to a flesh experience, but this is not our position. We are new creatures in Christ. This means we can, and must, set our minds on things of the Spirit. Doing so leads us to subjective and objective peace in life.
Perhaps much of your own frustration in life is an outflow of where you place your mind. Could it be that your mind has been set on things of the flesh? This always leads to fatigue and frustration. But to set our minds on the things of the Spirit leads to life and peace.
But don’t miss the announcement: because the Spirit is in us, we do not have to yield to the flesh. We aren’t forced in that direction any longer. Previously, we had no choice. Now we do. We are free.
Reminder: We Are in the Spirit (8:9-11)
“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:9–11 ESV).
Our position as Christians is in the Spirit. There is the possibility of walking in the flesh or Spirit, but our position is in the Spirit. Our position is not in the flesh. We were transferred from the flesh to the Spirit by Christ. His Spirit dwells in us. Christ, Paul says, is in us.
James writes, “Do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “'The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously?'” (James 4:5 NKJV). The Spirit jealously longs for our full attention and devotion. Too often a believer loses their joy and remains in the Romans 7 struggle with indwelling sin because they feast on the flesh. To set your mind on violence, sexual immorality, crudeness, and greed means that you are feeding the flesh. The flesh will become victorious over the Spirit. Can a Bibleless Christian expect to see the power of God upon their lives? Can a Christian out of fellowship expect to see victory over sin? Will a believer who gives God a minuscule portion of their life see massive change? No. Not at all.
We must put our minds on the Spirit. The Spirit dwells in us. Feed Him. Foster all he would support and encourage. Give him more Scripture to work with, more fellowship, more generosity, more service. These elements are like fuel to the Holy Spirit’s fire. He takes them and transforms us in and with them.
An eagle raised by chickens might have difficulty in living out his true identity. Surrounded by, raised by, chickens would color his actions. The believer used to be sold under the flesh. The law had complete power over us. We could not run in any semblance of victory.
But now we are new in Christ. This is difficult to believe at times and it is more natural to behave as we used to be. But we are new in him. As we feed the Spirit, avoiding the condemnation that is not ours, we will watch his power unleashed upon our lives.