Romans 8 is Paul’s answer to Romans 7. In Romans 7 Paul speaks of frustration, failure, and condemnation. In Romans 8 the condemnation is gone, replaced with freedom and victory through Jesus Christ.
Paul was saying in Romans 7 that if you refuse to accept Jesus Christ, the wretched experience of Romans 7 will be yours. You will be slaves to sin, unable to do what you choose to do. In Romans 8 he says that Christ Jesus offers you deliverance from sin and the freedom to do the good that you want to do but that your flesh won’t allow.
Paul continues, explaining that this freedom was purchased at infinite cost. Christ the Son of God took on humanity. It was the only way He could relate to us, could be our perfect example, and could become the Substitute who died in our stead. He came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3). As a result, the righteous requirements of the law can be fulfilled in us (Rom. 8:4). In other words, Christ made victory over sin—as well as meeting the positive requirements of the law—possible for those who believe, not as a means of salvation but as the result of it. Obedience to law had not been, nor ever can be, a means of salvation. This was Paul’s message and Luther’s message, and it must be ours, as well.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 2.
“In Christ Jesus” is a common phrase in the Pauline writings. For a person to be “in” Christ Jesus means that he or she has accepted Christ as his or her Savior. The person trusts Him implicitly and has decided to make Christ’s way of life his or her own way. The result is a close personal union with Christ.
“In Christ Jesus” is contrasted with “in the flesh.” It also is contrasted with the experience detailed in chapter 7, where Paul describes the person under conviction before his or her surrender to Christ as carnal, meaning that he or she is a slave to sin. The person is under condemnation of death (Rom. 7:11, 13, 24). He or she serves the “law of sin” (Rom. 7:23, 25). This person is in a terrible state of wretchedness (Rom. 7:24).
But then the person surrenders to Jesus, and an immediate change is wrought in his or her standing with God. Formerly condemned as a lawbreaker, that person now stands perfect in the sight of God, stands as if he or she had never sinned, because the righteousness of Jesus Christ completely covers that person. There is no more condemnation, not because the person is faultless, sinless, or worthy of eternal life (he or she is not!) but because Jesus’ perfect life record stands in the person’s stead; thus, there is no condemnation.
But the good news doesn’t end there.
“The law of the Spirit of life” here means Christ’s plan for saving humanity; in contrast with “the law of sin and death,” which was described in chapter 7 as the law by which sin ruled—the end of which was death. Christ’s law instead brings life and freedom.
However good, the “law” (the ceremonial law, the moral law, or even both) cannot do for us what we need the most, and that is to provide the means of salvation, a means of saving us from the condemnation and death that sin brings. For that, we need Jesus.
God provided a remedy by “sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,” and He “condemned sin in the flesh.” The incarnation of Christ was an important step in the plan of salvation. It is proper to exalt the Cross, but in the outworking of the plan of salvation, Christ’s life “in the likeness of sinful flesh” was extremely important, too.
As a result of what God has done in sending Christ, it is now possible for us to meet the righteous requirement of the law; that is, to do the right things that the law requires. “Under the law” (Rom. 6:14), this was impossible; “in Christ” it is now possible.
Yet, we must remember that doing what the law requires doesn’t mean keeping the law well enough to earn salvation. That’s not an option—never was. It simply means living the life that God enables us to live; it means a life of obedience, one in which we have “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24, NKJV), a life in which we reflect the character of Christ.
“Walk” in Romans 8:4 is an idiomatic expression signifying “to conduct oneself.” The word flesh here denotes the unregenerate person, whether before or after conviction. To walk after the flesh is to be controlled by selfish desires.
In contrast, to walk after the Spirit is to fulfill the righteous requirement of the law. Only through the help of the Holy Spirit can we meet this requirement. Only in Christ Jesus is there freedom to do what the law requires. Apart from Christ, there is no such freedom. The one who is enslaved to sin finds it impossible to do the good he or she chooses to do (see Rom. 7:15, 18).
“After,” here, is used in the sense of “according to” (Greek kata). “Mind” here means to set the mind on. One group of people sets their minds on fulfilling natural desires; the other sets their minds on the things of the Spirit, to follow His dictates. Because the mind determines actions, the two groups live and act differently.
To have one’s mind set on fulfilling the desires of the flesh is, in reality, to be in a state of enmity against God. One whose mind is thus set is unconcerned about doing the will of God. He or she even may be in rebellion against Him, openly flouting His law.
Paul wishes especially to emphasize that if you are apart from Christ, it is impossible to keep the law of God. Again and again Paul returns to this theme: no matter how hard one tries, apart from Christ one cannot obey the law.
Paul’s special purpose was to persuade the Jews that they needed more than their “torah” (law). By their conduct they had shown that, in spite of having the divine revelation, they were guilty of the same sins of which the Gentiles were guilty (Romans 2). The lesson of all this was that they needed the Messiah. Without Him they would be slaves of sin, unable to escape its dominion.
This was Paul’s answer to those Jews who couldn’t understand why what God had given them in the Old Testament was no longer enough for salvation. Paul admitted that what they had been doing was all good but that they also needed to accept the Messiah who had now come.
Paul continues his theme, contrasting the two possibilities that people face in how they live: either according to the Spirit—that is, the Holy Spirit of God, which is promised to us—or according to their sinful and carnal natures. One leads to eternal life, the other to eternal death. There is no middle ground. Or as Jesus Himself said: “ ‘He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters’ ” (Matt. 12:30, NKJV). It’s hard to be plainer, or more black and white, than that.
The life “in the flesh” is contrasted with life “in the Spirit.” The life “in the Spirit” is controlled by the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. He is in this chapter called the Spirit of Christ, perhaps in the sense that He is a representative of Christ, and through Him Christ dwells in the believer (Rom. 8:9, 10).
In these verses, Paul returns to a figure he used in Romans 6:1–11. Figuratively, in baptism “the body of sin”—that is, the body that served sin—is destroyed. The “old man is crucified with him” (Rom. 6:6). But, as in baptism, there is not only a burial but also a resurrection, so the person baptized rises to walk in the newness of life. This means to put to death the old self, a choice that we have to, of ourselves, make day by day, moment by moment. God does not destroy human freedom. Even after the old man of sin is destroyed, it still is possible to sin. To the Colossians Paul wrote, “Mortify [put to death] therefore your members which are upon the earth” (Col. 3:5).
Thus, after conversion there still will be a struggle against sin. The difference is that the person in whom the Spirit dwells now has divine power for victory. Furthermore, because the person has been so miraculously freed from the slave master of sin, he or she is obligated never to serve sin again.
The new relationship is described as freedom from fear. Slaves are in bondage. They live in a state of constant fear of their master. They stand to gain nothing from their long years of service.
Not so with those who accept Jesus Christ. First, they render voluntary service. Second, they serve without fear, for “perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18). Third, adopted as children, they become heirs to an inheritance of infinite worth.
“The spirit of bondage is engendered by seeking to live in accordance with legal religion, through striving to fulfill the claims of the law in our own strength. There is hope for us only as we come under the Abrahamic covenant, which is the covenant of grace by faith in Christ Jesus.” —Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1077.
The inward witness of the Spirit confirms our acceptance. While it is not safe to go by feeling merely, those who have followed the light of the Word to the best of their understanding will hear an inward authenticating Voice assuring them that they have been accepted as children of God. Indeed, Romans 8:17 tells us that we are heirs; that is, we are part of the family of God, and as heirs, as children, we receive a wonderful inheritance from our Father. We don’t earn it; it is given to us by virtue of our new status in God, a status granted to us through His grace, which has been made available to us because of the death of Jesus in our behalf.
Further Thought: “The plan of salvation does not offer believers a life free from suffering and trial this side of the kingdom. On the contrary, it calls upon them to follow Christ in the same path of self-denial and reproach. . . . It is through such trial and persecution that the character of Christ is reproduced and revealed in His people. . . . By sharing in the sufferings of Christ we are educated and disciplined and made ready to share in the glories of the hereafter.”—The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, pp. 568, 569.
“The chain that has been let down from the throne of God is long enough to reach to the lowest depths. Christ is able to lift the most sinful out of the pit of degradation, and to place them where they will be acknowledged as children of God, heirs with Christ to an immortal inheritance.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, p. 229.
“One honored of all heaven came to this world to stand in human nature at the head of humanity, testifying to the fallen angels and to the inhabitants of the unfallen worlds that through the divine help which has been provided, every one may walk in the path of obedience to God’s commands. . . .
“Our ransom has been paid by our Saviour. No one need be enslaved by Satan. Christ stands before us as our all-powerful helper.”—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 309.