I spent almost the first half of my life believing the exact opposite of Romans 8:1-11. This sacred chapter opens with “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I couldn’t even get past the first line. This was incomprehensible to me, that God could thoroughly forgive me, especially as the years lingered on, and I defiled myself more and more. But my disbelief began long before I grew up to be a rebellious prodigal, hell-bent on self-mutilation. My first memories all involve shame, and not because someone did something awful to me, but because shame was woven into the fibers of my soul. I was born into a body that was fallen from the beginning, as were you. King David, in Psalm 51, said “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” (vs. 5).
Fast forward (past all the drama)… I was a 25 year old, who had been a Christian for seven-and-a-half years, by the time I began to truly believe this passage, and all the others passages that teach of such lavish grace. I had to learn to see the world, and especially myself, through the lens of grace, which is almost harder than learning a new language because it involves learning to have a new mind. Our mind is the cockpit of our body. So, let’s chew through this passage together…
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” If you are a Christian, let that soak in deep. If you aren’t a Christian, let that woo you into the abundance we receive only through Christ. The rest of this blog won’t apply to you, until you are a Christian, but feel free to read it and let it stir up a longing in you to have what we have.
“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…” (verses 2-3).
Pause. The cross, where Jesus condemned sin in the flesh, is what makes verse 1 possible! If this doesn’t rock your world, I don’t know what will. We were all sinners, rebelling against the God who made and loves us perfectly. Even on our best days, we were performing, but not loving. Until we meet Jesus at the foot of the cross, then everything changes. That’s where we see His love for humanity most clearly displayed, and we begin to love Him, because He first loved us, and set us free from condemnation and shame.
As a child, I was afraid of God, but didn’t delight in Him. I tried to obey the law, whether it was written in the Bible, or just my own conscience, and somehow thought that God was judging me based on how well I got it. Thus, the shame and unholy fear. As a teenager, I misjudged God, so I tried to do the exact opposite of obeying Him. Yet, God, rich in mercy, grace and everlasting love, sent His own Son (Jesus) in our own form (“the likeness of” because He never sinned, so He wasn’t born into normal sinful flesh, but He came ripe with all the trials and temptations), as an offering for sin, on the cross. At the cross, He divides us from our shame and invites us into communion with Him.
“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. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (vs. 4-8)
This work of the cross really ought to change us from the inside out. Later in the book of Romans (Romans 12:1-2), it says “Therefore, I urge you, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind“. There is a direct correlation with how we act and how we think. And there is a direct correlation with knowing we are fully forgiven and free, to how we think about everything else. When we know we are cherished and loved (which comes with understanding the incredible sacrifice of Jesus on the cross), we love Him back. And our love changes our desire which changes our behavior.
When we meet Jesus at the cross, and receive this glorious sacrifice, we receive the immense gift of God-inside-us, the Holy Spirit, who compels us to love even more. Suddenly, our behavior is rooted in loving the Lord, and wanting to bring Him delight, rather than being afraid that He will judge us because we aren’t living up. And circling back to that first verse, if we are in Christ we are free from anything God would judge us for. There is no condemnation for us!
“However, you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, He does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But 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.” (vs. 9-11).
The theologian in me has to point this out: The Bible uses “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ” interchangeably. Throughout the ages, people have tried to justify away Christ’s deity, because the Bible also uses the term “the Son of God”, yet throughout Scripture we also see that this was a picture of an intimate relationship we could understand, but didn’t dismiss the fact that “In Him (Christ) all the fulness of deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9) or that Jesus is the exact representation of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:3), or that it was through Jesus that the world was created (John 1:1-5). Enough said. I just needed to point that out, because one of the most abhorrent deceptions about Jesus is that He wasn’t God, and this, my friends, is a lie that smells like burning brimstone!
Back from the rabbit trail: “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ” is a stern warning to all. If there is any doubt that you belong to Him, wrestle it out until it’s settled. But see it in the context of the verses that precede it. You are not saved by performance. You are saved by the cross. Do you believe in the cross? Do you receive the beautiful truth that Christ is your vindication, not the law that you will fail at a hundred times a day. One of the things I have yet to point out is that Romans 8:1 is found on the heels of the end of Romans 7, where this influential Apostle is confessing his own sin-wrestlings. Paul teaches us that you don’t have to be perfect to be completely forgiven. You just need to accept the Cross!
“If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” All of the other uses of the word “Spirit” (in these few verses) are capitalized in my Bible, except this one. This enlightens us to the fact that He moves from talking about the Holy Spirit (capital S), to our spirit. He capstones this passage with a promise that the same Spirit (and thus power) who raised Jesus from the dead will give us life, even in our mortal bodies, which means He will give us the power to be righteous even though our bodies are bent towards sin!
This passage is astounding! When we fail, He forgives (because of the cross). Yet, He, with the same power that raises the dead, will continuously grow us into the Image of His Son. The process gets a lot simpler if we set our minds on the Spirit (circling back to verses 4-6)… if we focus on these things, rather than still getting tripped up with ourselves every time we scuff our toes. My old pastor used to call this “naval gazing”, and none of us are very effectual when we are staring at our belly-buttons. Even the Apostle Paul knew he wasn’t, and never would be, perfect in his behavior on this side of eternity. Yet he also knew two things that basically nullified the influence his imperfection had to make him a victim or hold him hostage… He knew that He was fully forgiven, and that God dwelled in him and was transforming him with all the powers of heaven living inside of him. And this, my friends, made it possible for him to set his mind on the Lord, and in doing so, filled him with life and peace (vs. 6).
Since we’ve taken a gaze back a few verses, I also want to point out the correlation between walking according to the Spirit, and setting out minds on the things of the Spirit (vs. 4-5). They are also used interchangeably. As a kid, and a young adult, I got switched roles for these two things. I thought if I walked right, I would have life and peace. But in this passage, we see that the mindset is what brings life and peace. The mind that understands grace and forgiveness. And that filtering our thoughts in the context of grace, we begin to walk according to this mindset, and with all the might and majesty of heaven, we become more and more radiant with the brilliance of God’s light. But it all begins with believing in the cross that abolishes all condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus!
To the Lord of Glory, who raised Jesus from the dead, and abolished all condemnation for His people through the cross, be all glory and honor forevermore! May His grace be our North Star!
P.S. For more pondering on Romans 8:1-11, see:
.marthagrimmbrady.com/january-2022-spiritual-growth-challenge/ (which will link you both to the inventor of this challenge, as well as another friend who you can find at amylynnsimon.com/blog)
And if you want to understand more about why I am writing my way through Romans 8 this month, please look at the Preface blog, found at https://spacewelch.com/2022/01/03/a-preface-to-my-musings-on-romans-8/