Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
Having surveyed the entire eighth chapter of Romans in our last study, we return now to the beginning of the chapter, concentrating on verses 1–4. The first verse tells us, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This sentence is the theme of the chapter, as I said in the last study. Everything else flows from it. The rest of the chapter is basically an exposition of this one idea.
But verse 1 is not only the theme of Romans 8. It is the theme of the entire Word of God, which is only another way of saying that it is the gospel. Indeed, it is the gospel’s very heart.
This means that it is what Paul has been explaining all along. In Romans 1 he spoke of the gospel, saying that he was not ashamed of it “because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (v. 16). He spoke of the gospel again in Romans 3, adding that “now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known …” (v. 21). It is the same in Romans 5: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1), and “Since we have been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (v. 9). He ended that chapter by saying, “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (vv. 20–21).
These are only a few of the many statements of the gospel that have occurred thus far in Romans, and Romans 8:1 is but another. Always it is the gospel. Paul seems never to have grown tired talking about it.
Ah, but we do! Many of us find the gospel wearisome and grace boring.
Why is that, do you suppose? Why are we so different from Paul at this point? I think it is because of what Jesus alluded to in speaking of the woman who anointed his feet with her tears and then wiped them with her hair. She had a sinful past, and those who knew it objected, saying to themselves, like the Pharisee: “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). Jesus answered by telling of a man who had been forgiven a great debt and who therefore loved his benefactor greatly. Jesus’ point was that “he who has been forgiven little loves little” (v. 47). Isn’t that it? Isn’t it true that the reason grace means little to most of us is that we do not consider ourselves to be great sinners, desperately in need of forgiveness?
Four Great Words
We cannot appreciate or even understand what Paul is saying unless we recognize that we are sinners and that we have been saved only by the grace of God. This is taught by the four great words in verse 1.
1. Condemnation. I spoke about condemnation in the last study, saying that we have a hard time appreciating what this means because few of us have ever been found guilty in a court of law. “Condemnation,” as Leon Morris says, “is a forensic term which here includes both the sentence and the execution of the sentence.”1 But no human being has ever pronounced a sentence of “guilty” against most of us, and we think therefore that we are all basically fine people. We are not, of course. This is what Romans 1:18–3:20 has been teaching.
2. Now. “Now” is a time word, pointing to the change that has come about as the result of believers’ entering into the justification that Jesus Christ made possible by his death. We stood condemned by God and were due to suffer the penalty of an eternal death for our sins, the “wages of sin” being “death” (Rom. 6:23). But that has been changed now because of God’s great grace and favor to us.
3. No. This word is weak in the English translations. In our texts it is a simple negative, like most other negatives. In the Greek text “no” is strongly emphasized. First, it is not the simple negative ou but the compound and therefore stronger negative oude. Second, it occurs at the beginning of the sentence, which intensifies the negation. Commentators do not know how to render this well in English, but they write things like: “Not any therefore now of condemnation”2 and “Not only is the Christian not in a state of condemnation now, he never can be; it is impossible.”3 It is a very strong statement.
4. Therefore. The fourth great word in this sentence is “therefore.” To what does it refer? To the arguments immediately preceding this verse in chapter 7? To chapter 5 or chapter 3? Most agree that Paul’s “therefore” is inclusive, pointing back to the entire argument of the epistle thus far. It is because of God’s work in Jesus Christ and because of the application of it to us by the Holy Spirit that there is now “no condemnation.”
God’s Work, Not Ours
Here is a point at which we need to make sure we really understand what is being said. I have pointed out that there is no condemnation for us because of what God has done. But do we really believe that? Or do we still think that somehow, in some way, we are contributing to our salvation?
What Paul writes is that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That is, there are two classes of human beings: those who are in Christ Jesus and who are therefore not under condemnation, and those who are not in Christ Jesus and who are therefore still under condemnation. What he is promising is for those in the first class only. But the question is: How do we get out of the one class and into the other. Is this something we do? Do we earn it? Do we attain it “by faith”? If you have understood what the apostle has been saying up to this point, you will know that it is none of the above. It is because of God’s work in joining us to Christ. This is what the last half of Romans 5 and almost the whole of Romans 6 is about.
Here I must deal with a manuscript problem. Those who use the Authorized or King James text will notice the addition of the words “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” following the words “Christ Jesus” in verse 1. This is certainly an error, as even the famous Scofield Bible, which uses the King James text, acknowledges in a footnote.4 It is worth pointing this out because, if the clause is retained, it suggests exactly the opposite of what the text actually says.
In its corrupt form the text reads, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit” (KJV), which seems to be saying that if we continue to lead a godly life “in the Spirit” we will not be condemned, but that if we fail to lead a godly life we will be.
How did such a serious textual error come about? We do not know exactly, but it is not hard to imagine how this might have happened. For centuries before the invention of the printing press just prior to the Reformation, Bible manuscripts were copied by hand, and from time to time the copyists made errors, as we would have done ourselves. In the vast majority of cases the copyists were accurate. That is why we have such accurate texts today. Even where there are errors, we can correct them by comparing the errant copy with the multiplicity of other more perfect manuscripts. Still, mistakes were made, and this seems to have been the case here.
We can imagine a weary monk working his way through the Book of Romans, perhaps early in the morning when he was still sleepy or else late at night. He has finished chapter 7 and begins chapter 8, writing, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus. …” But at this point he either dozes off or perhaps, weary with the arduous work of copying, looks ahead to the end of the book to see how much more there is to do (he is only halfway through!). When he returns to his work his eye falls not on verse 2, where he should pick up, but on the latter half of verse 4, where he copies “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” This is a mistake, of course, a serious one, but it sounds right to him. It flows grammatically. So he continues by copying verse 2 and the verses after it.
Does this mean that we cannot trust the Bible? No! There are only a handful of such problems, and besides, they are well known to those who work with Bible texts. They have been corrected. Nevertheless, in this case the problem existed for quite a long time.
What I am saying is that these words do not belong. If they did, our escape from condemnation would last only as long as our next faltering step or sin; then we would be back under condemnation again. Thank God, salvation is not like that! Salvation is from God. It is by God. What the text says is that there is no condemnation for whose who have been joined to Jesus Christ by God the Father through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit.
The Trinity at Work
Let me repeat that last statement: There is no condemnation for those who have been joined to Jesus Christ by God the Father through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit. I repeat this because it is a Trinitarian statement—it speaks of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—and because it is precisely in these terms that Paul goes on to explain what God has done for us and why “there is now no condemnation.”
Can you see it in the text? After his opening statement in verse 1, Paul has two explanatory sentences, each beginning with the identical Greek word gar, translated either “because” or “for.” The New International Version obscures this a bit, since it translates the Greek word as “because” at the beginning of verse 2 and as “for” at the beginning of verse 3, and because it divides the second of Paul’s sentences (vv. 3–4) into two parts. But it is clear enough anyway. In verse 2 Paul says that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” In verses 3 and 4 he says that there is no condemnation because “what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering, [thus condemning] sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”
When you put together those two parallel explanations of why there is now no condemnation, you see that each of the persons of the Godhead is involved.
1. God the Father. What has God the Father done for our salvation? The answer is in two parts. First, God sent Jesus in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. Second, and by this means, God condemned sin in sinful man so that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in those who are joined to Christ.
Do you see now why I have called verse 1 not only the theme of Romans 8 but the very heart of the gospel? As Paul explains the basis of our deliverance, almost the entire gospel is presented in the next few verses. There is the doctrine of the incarnation, God’s sending his Son Jesus to be like sinful man. The word likeness (v. 3) is important, of course, for it alerts us to the fact that although Jesus was a real man, which made him able to feel as we feel, endure temptation as we endure temptation, and eventually die, he nevertheless did not become like us in regard to our sinful nature. It is what the author of Hebrews means in noting that “we have one [high priest, that is, Jesus] who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
Paul’s statement also contains the doctrine of the atonement. For his argument is that God sent his Son to be a sin offering. This picks up on all we learned about propitiation when we were studying Romans 3. God sent Jesus to die in our place and thus turn the divine wrath aside.
Finally, and by this means, “[God] condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” This refers to justification, God’s work of condemning sin in Christ so that we might be able to stand before God in his perfect righteousness, and to the necessary work of sanctification that follows justification for all who have been saved. (We are going to look at the nature and necessity of sanctification carefully in the next study.)
2. God the Son. What has Jesus Christ done for our salvation? We have already touched on this by noting that he became like us in order to become a sin offering. In the context of what Paul worked out in Romans 3, this has two parts.
First, as a sin offering to God, Jesus made propitiation for our sins. When we were studying chapter 3, I pointed out that this is a term borrowed from the world of ancient religion. It refers to turning the wrath of God aside. Many in our time have judged this to be unworthy of the character of God and say such things as, “As if his wrath needs to be turned aside! God is not angry, he is love.” But this can hardly stand in any honest study of Romans. What Paul has been saying from the beginning is that we are all under wrath because of our wickedness. The wrath of God is precisely our problem. It must be dealt with. How? We cannot turn it aside. All we do serves only to increase it, since we accumulate wrath against ourselves constantly by every thought we have and everything we do. Only God in the person of his Son can turn that wrath aside, and this he has done by Jesus’ bearing it in our place. No one who fails to understand and believe this can be a Christian.
Second, Jesus did a work of redemption. Again, when we were studying chapter 3, I pointed out that redemption is a term borrowed from the ancient world of business, just as propitiation is borrowed from the ancient world of religion. It refers to buying something in the marketplace, and also to buying it out of the marketplace so it will not have to be sold there again. This means little if we think of it in regard to mere objects, but it means a great deal if we think of it in regard to people, especially slaves. To redeem a slave was to buy the slave out of the slave market so that he or she might be set free. This is what Jesus did for us. Paul touches on it in Romans 8 when he says that “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2). He means that he was once a slave to sin and death. But Jesus freed him from that, as he has all who have been saved by him.
3. God the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Godhead is brought into the picture in verse 2 (“the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death”) and in verse 4 (“who do not live according to the sinful nature, but according to the Spirit”).
What has the Holy Spirit done for our salvation? He has joined us to Christ, so that we become beneficiaries of all Christ has done. When we were studying this doctrine in Romans 5, I pointed out two things. First, that it is terribly important and perhaps the most critical doctrine of salvation in Paul’s writings. Paul used the phrases “in Christ,” “in Christ Jesus,” “in him,” or their equivalents 164 times in his writings. We can hardly emphasize this enough.
Second, this union is hard to understand. We recognize that this was true for those living in Jesus’ and Paul’s day as well as for us, because instead of simply explaining the doctrine in abstract language, both Jesus and Paul used illustrations.
Jesus spoke of it as the relationship between a vine and its branches: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit of itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. … Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4–5). He also used the image of eating and drinking, which we adhere to literally every time we share in the Lord’s Supper: “This is my body” and “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor. 11:24–25).
In his writings Paul illustrates the concept by three very powerful illustrations. The first is the union of the head and the body, in which he compares the members of the church to the various parts of Christ’s body (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12–27; Eph. 1:22–23; Col. 1:18). The second is the union of the parts of a building, sometimes described as a temple that has the Lord Jesus Christ as its chief cornerstone (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9, 11–15; Eph. 2:20–22). The third and most powerful illustration is the union of a husband and wife in marriage. Paul ends his teaching about marriage by saying, “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32).
By joining us to Christ, the Holy Spirit seals our salvation and makes possible the great declaration of this chapter: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
No, Nay, Never
I think of a popular Irish folksong called “The Wild Rover.” Perhaps you know it. It tells of a young man’s restless days and of his return home, ending with the chorus, “No, nay, never; no, nay, never, no more will I play the wild rover, no never, no more.” It makes me ask, “Can there ever be a condemning judgment for those who are in Christ Jesus?” I answer, “No, nay, never—no more.”
Do you remember Jesus’ teaching about eternal security in John 10? He was speaking of how he and the Father hold us safely: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27–30).
When I was teaching John’s Gospel I compared this to a carpenter who will sometimes join two boards by driving nails through them and then bending the protruding tip of the nails over sideways, embedding them in the wood, thus clinching the nail. I said that this is what Jesus does. His first nail is the doctrine of eternal life, a life that will never end. But lest we fail to appreciate that eternal life really is eternal life, he clinches it by the explanatory words “shall never perish.” Then he drives the second nail, that we are secure in his hands. In case we fail to appreciate that, he clinches this nail, too, adding that the Father also has us in his hands, that no one can snatch us out of the Father’s hands, and that he and the Father are one.
In the same way, Paul teaches that “there is now no condemnation”—(1) because of the Father’s work; (2) because of the Son’s work; and (3) because of the work of the Holy Spirit. Now it is “no, nay, never” for those who are in Jesus.
But do not presume on this security. This is a great doctrine for those who truly are in Christ, but it is only for those who are in him. Make sure you are. If you are not sure, give the matter no rest until the Holy Spirit himself plants upon your heart the assurance that you really are Christ’s.