Life in the Spirit - Romans 8:1-4

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 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 8:1-4).

 

 

Many people have called Romans 8 the greatest chapter in the Bible. It has been said that if the Bible is a ring, then the book of Romans is the diamond, and chapter 8 is the apex of the cut on that diamond. The focus of Romans 8 is the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer to enable one to live the Christian life. The chapter begins in verse 1 with “no condemnation” and ends in verse 39 with “no separation.” Nothing could be more positive than this. It is an entire chapter about the spiritual victory and eternal security that we have in Jesus Christ.

 

We have the whole of the Christian life in this one chapter. In verses 1, 30, and 33, we have justification. In verses 2-17, we have sanctification. And in verses 18-39, we have glorification. Paul puts his arms around the entirety of our Christian life.

 

As we walk through Romans 8, we see the believer’s union with Christ (verse 1), liberation in Christ (verse 2), the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (verse 9), regeneration (verses 10-11), mortification of sin (verse 13), adoption by God (verse 15), assurance of salvation (verse 16), inheritance with Christ (verse 17), future glory (verse 18), the intercession of the Holy Spirit (verses 26-27), the providence of God (verse 28), foreknowledge (verse 29), predestination (verses 29-30), effectual call (verses 28, 30), and our eternal security (verses 35-39). This is a theological treasure chest. The vaults of heaven are contained in this one chapter. It is so rich, and yet so practical, as the whole chapter is about our daily Christian living.

 

Paul presents the doctrine of sanctification in Romans 6-8, with chapter 8 being the crowning piece. Romans 6 reveals our vital union with Christ. We have been crucified with Christ, buried with Christ, and raised with Christ. Romans 7 reminds us of our ongoing struggle with sin. Then, Romans 8 shows us our ongoing victory in the Holy Spirit.

 

The Work of the Spirit

The first half of Romans 8 is all about the Holy Spirit’s work in our life as a Christian. This is the only way a believer can live out the life to which God has called him. No one can live the Christian life in their own strength. The only person who ever could was Jesus Christ Himself. The only way that you and I can live the Christian life is by the power of God’s Spirit, which He has put within us in order to reproduce the life of Christ.

 

The Holy Spirit is mentioned nineteen times in the first twenty-seven verses of Romans 8. The Holy Spirit is described as “the Spirit of life” (verse 2). We are to walk “according to…the Spirit” (verse 4). Our mind is to be set on “the things of the Spirit” (verse 5). The “Spirit of God” is the “Spirit of Christ,” and both the Father and the Son have sent the Spirit (verse 9). The Spirit “raised Jesus from the dead,” and this Spirit “dwells in you” to recreate the life of Christ (verse 11). It is by the Spirit that we “put to death the deeds of the flesh” (verse 13). Even our resisting temptation and putting sin to death is by the enablement of the Holy Spirit. We are “led by the Spirit” to pursue holiness (verse 14). It is the Holy Spirit who testifies to our spirit that “we are children of God” (verses 15-16). It is the Spirit of God who gives us the assurance of salvation. How do you know that you are a Christian? How do you know that you are not one who says, “Lord, Lord,” and to whom Jesus says, “Depart from Me, you who work iniquity”? It is by the inner working of the Holy Spirit who testifies to our spirit that we are children of God. We have the “first fruits of the Spirit,” which is our adoption into the family of God (verse 23). It is the Holy Spirit who “intercedes for us” and prays for us according to our weaknesses (verses 26-27). Even in areas where we are not aware of our weakness, the Spirit of God intercedes for us. This chapter is all about the Holy Spirit’s impact on the life of the believer.

 

As we focus on verses 1-4 in this study, we see clearly that sanctification is a work of all three Persons of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In verse 1, we see justification in the Son. In verse 2, we see liberation by the Spirit. And in verses 3-4, we see condemnation by the Father. All three persons of the Godhead are mentioned in these four verses. The entire Trinity is involved in our Christian life.

 

I. Justification in the Son (8:1)

 

Verse 1 begins with the word “therefore.” Paul reaches back and pulls forward the entire book of Romans to this point. The theme of the book, which began in 1:16-17, is that the believer has the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. Because this is true, Paul writes, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (verse 1). The word “no” is the most important word in this verse. In the Greek, Paul uses a compound word for “no” (oudeis) which is even stronger than the normal word for ‘no.’ Paul is affirming that there is absolutely no condemnation for the believer. “No” is actually the first word of the sentence in the Greek manuscript, which means the primary emphasis is placed upon “no.” Translators have moved the word in order to make the sentence read better, but Paul is strongly declaring that there is absolutely no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

 

“Condemnation” (katakrima) is also a strong Greek word that means ‘death sentence, damnation, eternal death.’ As a believer, there is no damnation sentence hanging over your head. The noose has been removed from your neck, and there is now no eternal death sentence for you. Paul actually uses a double negative, which makes it even more emphatic. “No condemnation” actually means a positive justification. This is a way of saying that you are justified in the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

“In Christ Jesus”

The status of “no condemnation” is reserved exclusively for those who are “in Christ Jesus.” There are only two classifications of people in the world: those who are not under condemnation because they are in Christ, and everyone else who is under condemnation because they are not in Christ. There is no gray area. To be “in Christ Jesus” means that you have union and communion with Christ. The Holy Spirit has placed you into the Lord Jesus Christ. You now have a vital, personal relationship with Christ. Everything that is true of Christ is now true of you regarding all that He has provided.

 

Because you are in Christ, Christ Himself would have to be condemned before you could be condemned. Christ would have to be cast into hell forever in order for the believer to be cast into hell forever. The Bible says that we are already seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). Before you go to heaven, you have already been to heaven. You are just as certain for heaven in this moment as if you had already been there ten thousand years. When God says, “no condemnation,” it is irrevocable, irreversible, declared by God to be true forever.

 

This truth frees us to live the Christian life. We are not on a performance treadmill trying to gain God’s eternal acceptance. It is already a done deal. Rather than trying to live our lives to earn God’s favor, the grace of this status of “no condemnation” by the Father should fuel the fire of our motivation to live the Christian life. What amazing pardon God has given us in Christ Jesus. We can rest assured that, as those who are in Christ Jesus, we have no condemnation before God.

 

Notice that Paul writes, “there is now no condemnation.” “Now” is a word that denotes time. It clearly implies that before now, there was condemnation. Before the elect were converted to Christ, we were under the condemnation and wrath of God. It began the moment we entered this world. We entered into this new state of “no condemnation” when we believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Fuel for Evangelism

We need to tell this to people as we witness to them. Sometimes we put so much emphasis on the love, grace, and forgiveness of God that we hesitate to tell them that they are under condemnation at this very moment. They are under the wrath of God and should flee to Christ, believing in Him, so that now there can be no condemnation. Fleeing from the wrath of God is a legitimate motivation for turning to Christ, because God’s wrath is a real thing. It sweetens the reality of where we are as believers. If we were never under condemnation, this verse would mean nothing to us. But we were previously under the wrath, damnation, and death sentence of God. But now, there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! That is why this is the greatest news that could ever be made known to man. It is amazing grace. This is justification exclusively in the Son. Outside of the Son is condemnation. Inside the Son is no condemnation.

 

II. Our Liberation by the Spirit (8:2)

 

Second, we have been liberated by the Holy Spirit. As Paul begins verse 2, he uses the word “For” (gar), which introduces an explanation of what was just said in verse 1. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (verse 2). This word for “law” does not refer to the Mosaic Law or the Ten Commandments. It refers to a regulating principle, like the law of gravity. It is a governing power. The “Spirit of life” refers  to the Holy Spirit who is life and gives life. The Holy Spirit of God enlivens, empowers, and enables us to live the Christian life. There is this new principle, a new governing force and influence that is the Holy Spirit, and He gives us new life that is in Christ Jesus. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

 

“Set Free”

This law of the Spirit “has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” This is the emancipation in which you and I were set free from another governing principle that once dictated our life, the law of sin and death. “The law of sin and death” is the law of total depravity and the power of sin that had a grip on our mind, affections, and will. In order to move forward in the Christian life, we have to be released from the death grip that the law of sin and death once had upon our entire life. The moment we believed in Christ, God said, “No condemnation,” and at the very same moment He also set us free from the law of sin and death.

 

This is very important, because it tells us that justification and liberation are inseparably bound together. There is no one who is justified who is not at the same time set free from the law of sin and death. Sometimes you hear bad Christian teaching that you can be justified, yet continue to live a life of sin. Then maybe a few years later, you will finally decide to be committed and change your life. The Bible says that you cannot be justified and continue to live the same life of sin. The Christian has been “set free from the law of sin and of death.” There has been a break from your old way of life. Justification and sanctification cannot be separated. All who are justified are also immediately being sanctified. John Calvin put it this way, “As Christ cannot be divided, so also these two blessings which we receive together in Him are also inseparable.” Christ cannot be divided and neither can these two blessings be divided.

 

“In Christ Jesus” is the common theme in verses one and two. A whole new life in Christ began the moment you were justified. You may have been in need of additional biblical teaching about what God had done in your life, but the reality of this change, nevertheless, began in that moment of justification. Being “set free from the law of sin and of death” has put you on a new course with a new governing power in your life. The Holy Spirit gives us spiritual life with the power to pursue holiness, righteousness, and love. We do not live perfectly, but we do live in stark contrast to the way we used to live.

 

III. Condemnation by the Father (8:3-4)

 

Third, we see condemnation of sin by God the Father. This sounds very negative, but it is an incredibly positive negative. The Father has condemned sin in the flesh so that we can now pursue holiness and walk according to the Holy Spirit. Paul writes, “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.” (verse 3). Paul’s use of “Law” in verse 3 does not refer to a governing principle as in verse 2, but to the moral law of God, the Ten Commandments. God requires all believers in all ages to abide by this moral law.  

 

The Law has power to tell us what to do, but it does not give us the power to do it. This is what Paul means when he writes, “weak as it was through the flesh.” This weakness refers to the impotence of the Law to enable us to do what it requires. There is nothing wrong with the Law. The weakness was not in its teaching, because its teaching points us into the very center of God’s will. The weakness was in its inability to give us the power to obey what it requires of us. “The flesh” refers to our own human limitation. The weakness is in us. This is why we need the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to keep the Law. God has intervened. What “God did” refers not to the pardon for sin that we need, but to the power He gives us to live the Christian life. God intervened and made provision for our sanctification.

 

The Sinless Flesh of Christ

Then Paul explains what God did, “sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” Please note that He did not send His Son in sinful flesh. Only in the likeness of sinful flesh, which is a reference to the incarnation and virgin birth. Jesus always remained holy. The deity of Christ goes back to eternity past and is without beginning. Jesus has always existed and always been God. Regarding Christ’s human conception, the Holy Spirit conceived in Mary, and the result was the Holy offspring (Luke 1:35). In the womb, Jesus took upon Himself a human nature. The Divine nature took on a human nature such that they are two natures in the one Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. His human nature was sinless because it was conceived by the Holy Spirit, not by Adam’s seed. Jesus entered the human race so that He could deliver us from sin. He had to be in the likeness of sinful flesh, yet without sin.

 

“As an offering” is not in the original text, but has been added by translators to help us as we read. The literal wording is “and for sin.” The wording is emphatic and to the point. Jesus was sent by the Father in the likeness of human flesh to deal with sin in our lives. Not only to give us the pardon of sin, but also to break the stranglehold that sin once had as it governed how we lived. We are now enabled to live a brand new life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Sin Condemned

In the phrase “He condemned sin,” “He” refers to the Father. God sent the Son in the likeness of human flesh to deal with our sin. By this, God the Father condemned sin and pronounced a judgment upon the power of sin in our life such that it is no longer the dominant ruling force in our lives. It is still present within us, but it is no longer the dominant power in our lives. We can now live this new life in the pursuit of holiness.

 

The word for “condemned” has the same root word as “condemnation” in verse 1. There is no condemnation for the believer in verse 1, but in verse 3, we see that God “condemned sin in the flesh.” He overthrew the power of sin in the life of the believer. “In the flesh” refers to Jesus’s human nature. Jesus was “born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law” (Galatians 4:4-5). Jesus had to enter the human race in order to deliver us from the power of sin in our life. He had to stand in our shoes, get in our skin, and, by His obedience to the Law of God, break the power that sin once had in our lives. He had to become experientially involved by becoming like us, though yet without sin. The noose that was once around our neck was removed by Christ. The Father placed it upon His Son so that we could be delivered from both the condemnation and the power of sin in our daily lives.

 

Empowered to Obedience

Paul continues in verse 4, “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.” “So that” (hina) means ‘in order that.’ It denotes the purpose. This is a potent statement. There is still the requirement of the Law in our Christian lives that we follow and live the Ten Commandments. We are not free to live however we want. It needs to be “fulfilled,” or lived out, in our Christian lives. To be “fulfilled” means that holiness is realized in our life through our obedience to the Law of God.

 

We once walked “according to the flesh.” We lived under the direction and dominance of our sinful flesh. But as believers, we no longer walk that way. “Walk” refers to our daily conduct. Putting one foot in front of the other as we daily live our Christian life. “We now walk “according to the Spirit.” We now live by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Law is being realized and fulfilled in us as we live in obedience to what God requires. God commands us to have no other gods before Him. We shall not make a graven image and worship it. We shall not take the name of the Lord our God in vain. There is some alteration with the practice of Sabbath, but we still are to prioritize Sunday as the Lord’s Day and worship the Lord with God’s people on Sunday. We are to honor our father and mother. We are not to steal or bear false witness. We are not to covet our neighbor’s wife and possessions. All of that requires our obedience.

 

This can only be realized in our Christian lives as we walk according to the Spirit. Without the Spirit, we are like a paraplegic who cannot take one step. But with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can win the gold medal. The Spirit of God enables us to do what God requires of us.

 

Conclusion

 

You and I must live moment by moment in the power of the Hoy Spirit. We must walk according to the Spirit. Here are five words to practically describe how to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

First, intentionally. We must be consciously aware of our own weakness and purposefully live yielded to the lordship of Christ. We must be aware of our need for the power of the Holy Spirit. This must be intentional. Throughout the day, as we are faced with challenges that stretch us, we will either walk according to the flesh or according to the Spirit. We must intentionally choose to walk according to the power of the Holy Spirit and rely upon His power. Whether we pray aloud with words or silently within our heart, we must acknowledge our need and ask for His strength. As we are sitting at our desk, driving our car, talking with others, arriving at home, disciplining our children, and communicating with our wives, we must be consciously aware and dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit to live in a God-honoring way. We cannot pull this off in our own strength.

 

Second, continually. We must be always walking according to the Spirit. At home, at work, at play, there is no timeout or time off from walking according to the power of the Holy Spirit. From the moment we wake up, throughout the day, and until we are asleep in our bed, we need to commit to continuously walk according to the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Third, humbly. We must be yielded and dependent upon the Spirit. Yielding, submitting, and surrendering our lives to the Person of the Holy Spirit. We cannot try to do this in our own power. We must admit and confess our constant need for the Spirit’s help.

 

Fourth, obediently. God’s holy Law requires obedience. We must keep and obey the Law from our heart, meaning willingly, joyfully, voluntarily. Not with a sense of coercion or against our will. The Spirit of God enables us to obey the law from the heart.

 

Fifth, prayerfully. We need to ask God, both in our personal prayer life and consciously throughout the day, to give us the power of His Spirit to live in a way that glorifies Him and honors the Lord Jesus Christ. We must pray that we would react to people in a God-honoring way, that we would answer people in a way that honors the Lord, that we would make the right choices and keep the right priorities. This requires our prayer, participation, and responsibility. We must be praying for God to enable us to walk according to the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

These are incredibly important verses that lay a foundation for our understanding of how to live the Christian life. There is now no condemnation. We are not living the Christian life with a sense of guilt. Rather, we are motivated by grace. The Spirit of God has set us free from the law of sin and death. The Spirit is now the operative, dominant, ruling force in our lives. That is a reality. You do not have to pray for that—it has already happened. What the Law could not do, the Spirit of God is working out within us, both to will and to work for God’s own pleasure. The Spirit inclines us toward obedience and empowers us to live in a way that is compliant with the word of God.

Dr. Steven J. Lawson

Dr. Steven J. Lawson is President and founder of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to equip biblical expositors to bring about a new reformation in the church. Dr. Lawson hosts The Institute for Expository Preaching in cities around the world. Dr. Lawson is also a Teaching Fellow for Ligonier Ministries, where he serves on its board. Moreover, he is Professor of Preaching and oversees the Doctor of Ministry program at The Master’s Seminary, where he also serves on its board. Dr. Lawson is also Professor in Residence for Truth Remains, a work designed to promote and proclaim God’s written Word. Further, Dr. Lawson serves as the Executive Editor for Expositor Magazine published by OnePassion Ministries.