It doesn’t get much better for a preacher. To sit down at the beginning of the week to start preparation for the coming Lord’s Day, to open the Scriptures at the passage due to be expounded and to read, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). If that doesn’t life his heart and fire him with zeal to proclaim the truth, he probably shouldn’t be in a pulpit. What a joy to remind the people of God of their glorious privileges ‘in Christ Jesus’ and to explain to the unconverted the wonderful salvation that God has provided ‘in Christ Jesus’.
The opening verses of Romans 8 are undoubtedly the charter of true spiritual freedom. In a day when much attention is given to various forms of ‘liberation’, here the apostle Paul deals with the most fundamental freedom – freedom from sin and from condemnation by a holy God. How sad that so many regard Christianity as a form of bondage when in truth it is the greatest freedom imaginable. Could it be that Christians have not fully grasped their God-given privileges and tend to live as if they were still in bondage? Perhaps the world has some excuse for thinking as it does.
In a couple of verses Paul shows us something of the richness of our freedom in Christ. There is ‘no condemnation’: the burden of sin and guilt has been lifted. As those who have been ‘justified by faith’ (Romans 5:1) we are liberated from the righteous condemnation of God and we know we will not receive ‘the wages of sin’ (namely, death) of which Romans 6:23 speaks. And that’s not all. Not only are we freed from the guilt of sin, we are freed from the power of sin. As Paul states, ‘For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death’ (verse 2). The Holy Spirit has given new life to those who were formerly held in bondage to ‘the law of sin and death’. No longer is sin the dominating power in the Christian’s life, though, as Paul shows at length in Romans 7, a battle with sin still rages within every one of God’s people. The outcome of the conflict, however, is certain. United to Christ in his death and resurrection, as described in Romans 6, we are liberated from the guilt and the power of sin. The gateway to godly living is open.
At the heart of our freedom is of course the work of Christ. The law could not save us, given the sinfulness of our nature (the ‘flesh’ as Paul describes it in verse 3), but the marvel of the gospel is the ‘what the law could not do…God did’. By his gracious action, salvation in its fullness has been provided. He did it by ‘sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh’ – sharing our human nature yet without sin, and it was ‘for sin’, probably drawing on the Old Testament language of the atoning sin offerings. All the sin and guilt of his people were counted as his and so God ‘condemned sin in the flesh’, in Christ’s body on the cross. The full price of liberation has been paid and all those ‘in Christ Jesus’ are set free.
Not only does God liberate us from certain things, namely the guilt and power of sin, he liberates us for something – for godly living. We are freed ‘in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us’ (verse 4). How striking that Paul puts the law at the heart of Christian living. Far from dismissing God’s law, as many Christians do, Paul shows that it has a crucial place in holy living. We obey not in order to be saved, but we obey because we have been saved. The life of those ‘in Christ Jesus’ is to be guided and shaped by the law of God which, as Paul puts it in Romans 7:14, is ‘spiritual’. Nothing that Paul has said so far in this epistle allows us to dismiss God’s law as no longer relevant to us. It is vital for godly living, and disregard for the divine law is surely one of the main reasons why Christians are so often indistinguishable from the ungodly world around them.
Obedience to God’s law, however, is not just one more self-help prescription, as if we could obey in our own strength. God does not place that crushing burden on his children, but rather provides all the strength we require. We are to be those ‘who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit’ (verse 4). Depending upon the Spirit’s ministry, obedience is possible for us, and expresses the joy of salvation in Christ.
Precious truths to delight the heart of every child of God. What a privilege to preach this gospel.