Thursday, December 14th: Romans 8:1-2
In looking at this text we encounter a very important word, “therefore.” This would imply that the truth of this text is connected to what was discussed in the paragraphs before it. This passage comes immediately after Paul describing the weight and struggle of sin in his heart. The clear statement of Romans 8:1 is a cry of exuberant desperation as he reflects on the certainty of his salvation as motivation in his growth towards Christ. Matthew Henry points out that the language of the preceding passage is Paul speaking about himself, but in this text he offers this wonderful truth not only to himself as an apostle, but to all who are “in Christ Jesus.”
As you thought on this text, what did the word condemnation mean to you? Where have you felt that in your own life? We can probably all relate to feelings of condemnation when we have knowingly done thing which were morally suspect or illegal. But there are often other times where we may have lingering feelings of condemnation and we don’t really understand where they are from or why we have them.
This is why our study of the text is very important when it comes to understanding and applying this text rightly. The question we should have is, “What is condemnation, and why shouldn’t I have it if I am in Jesus?” Verse 2 begins with a very important word: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus.” Hopefully you picked up the repetition in these two verses: verse 1: “no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus,” verse 2: “set you free in Christ Jesus.” This word “for” is the connection between these two verses. Why do we have no condemnation? Because we have been freed in Jesus by the law of the Spirit of life.
This explains how we were set free: through the law of the Spirit of life, in Christ Jesus. But the second part of Romans 8:2 also explains from what we were set free from, this is where we find out what our condemnation was: “from the law of sin and death.” The problem which leads to real condemnation and feelings of condemnation is being condemned by the weight of our sin and it’s just punishment of death (see Romans 6:23).
Going back to those feelings of condemnation we’ve all felt, where do we generally find relief from them? Is it from friends who counsel us by saying, “Don’t beat yourself up over it, nobody is perfect.” Or do you just sweep it under the rug of your heart and instead focus on the value of positive thinking and personal strength? What would you tell yourself, or someone else when they are faced with the burden of sin?
Charles Hodge, and 18th century Christian thinker, points out that this text doesn’t mean that there is nothing worthy of condemnation in us. For our sin is condemnable. Neither does it imply that we will never face the burden or power of sin and its condemning influence. “But” he says, “the inference, in the first verse, is the legitimate conclusion of all that Paul had previously established. Believers shall be saved, because they are not under the law, but under grace.”
For Paul, the message we preach to ourselves in seasons of perceived condemnation is that by faith in Christ Jesus our sin has actually and fully been dealt with. In Jesus we are given the Spirit of life, and not the spirit of death. We are not saved because we are sinless. We are saved because we are found in Christ Jesus through faith, and he has dealt with our condemnation. Tomorrow we will see how he did this.
Friday, December 15th: Romans 8:3
The other night my son came into my room at bed time crying because he was scared. Being his dad, and knowing more about the state of our house, our neighborhood, our resources, and the fantasy of monsters and scary beasts, I could have just said, “You don’t need to be scared go back to bed.” This statement would have been true. To the best of my ability I had made sure my family was safe. However this statement would have offered little help for Owen because it provided him a truth, but no assurance of it. Why shouldn’t he be scared?
We often use terms like “blind faith” in a positive sense appealing to the mere invisible aspect of faith. But God never asks us to have blind faith. God asks us to have faith in him based off of what we know about him. This was true when Moses asked to see God on the mountain in Exodus 33 and 34. God didn’t say, “Trust me because I’m God.” He said “Trust me because I am, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’” (Exodus 34:6-7)
God doesn’t want blind faith, he wants faith to be a response to who he is. In the same way I would explain to Owen why he shouldn’t need to be scared (the house is locked, mom and dad are here, and ultimately and most comforting, our good God is in control of all things), God wants us to know the confidence we have for not fearing sin and death. That is what verse three and four (though today we are only looking at verse three) wants to do.
In studying the Bible, words like “for” are important markers in our attempt to understand what the text is doing. Why should we not fear condemnation and death? Why is being found in Christ Jesus a reason for confidence? “For…God has done what the law could not do.”
Paul speaks of “the law” a lot in the book of Romans. The background for “the law” is the Old Testament rules and regulations which God gave his people as the standard of what holy living looks like. Often times Paul also speaks of the law in a life giving sense (as we saw yesterday), but when this is true it is normally qualified by titles like, “law of life,” or “law of the Spirit.” If it’s just “the law” without any additional qualifier, Paul is typically referring to the standard keeping law of the Old Testament.
The law makes you righteous by fulfilling it. The problem was that no one was able to keep the law perfectly. In this way the law was weak. Matthew Henry explains “The law made nothing perfect: It was weak. Some attempt the law made towards these blessed ends, but, alas! it was weak, it could not accomplish them.”
The law was weak because our sinful flesh was unable to keep it, and the law provided no way to help us keep it. But this is why it is important to do our study well. In this text we see Jesus came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” and “for sin.”
As we approach Christmas we celebrate the coming of Jesus, “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” He became fully man, but lived a life without sin (this is what the word likeness implies, see Hebrews 4:15). We also see the reason Jesus came, “for sin.” Jesus came to deal with the problem which stood between us and the law: our sin. In the Greek, this phrase actually implies “as a sacrifice for sin.” Sin frustrated our attempts to follow the law, but Jesus came as man to do what we couldn’t: keep the law.
Why should we not fear if we are in Christ Jesus? Because Jesus has met the requirements of the law in the flesh (as a man) so that the burden of breaking the law (which was condemnation) would no longer apply to those who are in Christ. He is not condemned by his sin. The reason for confidence as a believer is the beauty and perfection of Jesus Christ. We cannot encourage ourselves or speak hope to our friends if we do not also see the glory of Jesus and his role in severing the law of sin and death. Jesus is our assurance.
Saturday, December 16th: Romans 8:4
In 1863, the famous Emancipation Proclamation effectively freed the slaves who were in bondage in the United States. Legally, and in an instant, those who were enslaved were declared free regardless of if the felt free or not. What the history of Civil Rights in America shows us that our biggest challenge is teasing out the implications of what was legally declared to be true. Slavery, racism and economic castes still brood in our country and abroad.
The challenge was in the government’s ability to protect these now freed slaves, but also in the slaves ability to make a life outside of this type of servitude. In her book, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” Isabel Wilkerson describes the challenge of “share cropping.” The blacks in Southern States were legally free, but the culture they lived in provided no resource for them to make a living as free men/women. The result was share cropping. A title given to an agreement between the white plantation owner and the families of former slaves where the owner agrees to “pay” the laborer for his work. This “agreement” payed less than pennies on the dollar to the laborers families, but also made it almost impossible for a family to leave since the land owner gave them a place to live. They didn’t make enough money to live on their own, and the culture surrounding them would not help them, so they (through no fault of their own) were forced to live essentially as slaves even though they were freed.
This tension in history reveals a similar tension in our own story of redemption. When Jesus lived and died “for sin” he legally declared those who were in him as free from sin’s condemnation. However, as we just saw above, the declaration of freedom is only the beginning of new life. If Jesus’ sacrifice only freed us, but did nothing to change us or empower us, then we are prone to live life at the mercy of sin. Or what Paul later says we “submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). This legal declaration of righteousness in Christ is called justification, and the life lived as a free person in Christ is called sanctification. The cooperation between our declaration and our new life is the topic of conversation at this point in Romans 8.
Romans 8:4 begins with an important phrase, “In order that…” Why did Jesus condemn sin (justification)? In order that, then Paul points out two purposes. First that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in him (this is what we looked at yesterday). Jesus met the standards of perfection in the law and was therefore declared righteous, or perfect, by the laws standard. Being found in Christ Jesus means that his righteousness is counted (applied) to us and therefore we have no condemnation.
But as we see in this text, righteousness was applied in order that “the law might be fulfilled in those who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Jesus’ perfection met the letter of the law. But if our hope is only that in Jesus we have kept the law, we are faced with a problem still. Again Charles Hodge says of the law, “What it cannot do is to free us either from its guilt or power. It can neither justify nor sanctify.” We needed more than a declaration of freedom. We needed power to live in freedom. The law unfortunately doesn’t have this power.
However this is why Jesus gives us the Spirit. He has given us a new law written in our hearts. A law which empowers us and enables us to live the life our justification declared possible. Jesus saved us so that we would live a freed life. Therefore living a life which walks not according to the flesh (in sin) but according to the Spirit is a sign of the great transforming power of Jesus.
The 20th century pastor, John Stott says, “Although the law cannot secure obedience, the Spirit can.” He goes on to say that this verse shows the purpose of Christ’s incarnation (taking on of flesh” as “first, holiness is the ultimate purpose of the incarnation and atonement [where Christ was sacrificed for sins].”
We have all faced the dilemma of knowing we are freed from sin, but feeling powerless to change. This verse should become our comfort. Jesus saved us in order that his righteousness would empower us to walk in the Spirit. He has broken the culture of sin which enslaves by declaring us free, but also empowering us to see a way forward in the power of the Holy Spirit and the righteousness of Jesus. He has broken the curse of sin and promised us growth towards him and away from death.