Romans is an important book in the Bible, and Romans 8 is an important chapter in this important book. But this chapter does not stand in isolation and it is important for us to understand where it is located in the larger argument of the book and to trace the argument in the chapter. For this first session, we'll try to see this chapter in the context of the book, and we'll spend the rest of the 12 weeks tracing the argument as it unfolds.
(A) The prologue to Romans 8:1
The book of Romans is one of the most highly regarded books of the Bible because it is so systematic. As we look at the “therefore”statement, in Romans 8:1, we need to understand what Rom 1-7 is saying. The table below helps us to trace the argument from Rom 1-7.
|Rom 1:11-12, 15, 18||Sin and judgment||Paul wants to visit the Romans and he speaks of imparting "some spiritual gift to strengthen" them (v.11-12). What is this gift? He wants to preach the gospel to them (v.15). He talks about God’s wrath revealed on a rebellious, sinful world ("ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (v.18). |
The opening verses of Romans begin with God, and a God who is going to judge people for sin.
|Rom 2:1, 9-12||Sin and judgment||Paul goes on to address the Jews. Paul says that there is no real difference between Jews and Gentiles – those with the law are the same – all are sinners and rebels against God. The Jews with their OT thought that they had more and knew more. But Paul told them outrightly that they have all sinned. Nobody is righteous.|
|Rom 3:9-12, 21-22, 27-30||Salvation Past (Justification)|| Paul emphasizes the universal condition of sinful humanity (3:9-12). This is a depressing thought, and Paul declares outrightly that there is no man who seeks after God. Everyone is on the same level playing field as Hitler. Even all the people who look ok in churches on Sunday. Pause and think about it, and most, if not all of us, would instinctively know this to be true. |
There is an important turning point (3:21-22). He says that for the first time, there is now a ‘non-law righteousness’ that is available through faith in Christ (3:22). There is a way to be righteous without being and doing righteous deeds. The man who is evil can be righteous without doing righteous deeds. This good news ("the gospel") about faith in Christ is for all men.
|Rom 4:2-4, 23-25||Salvation Past (Justification)||The OT hinted at this non-law righteousness too. The illustration of Abraham and his faith as OT examples of the gospel now revealed in Paul’s preaching today.||Rom 5:1-2, 11, 18 || Salvation Past (Justification)||Through the gospel, we have peace with God and reconciliation now. Jesus is like a new Adam, introducing a new way and new humanity.||Rom 6:1-4, 12-14||Salvation Present (Sanctification)||Paul deals with the question – if we’re saved by grace, then why bother to obey at all? Why not just sin? Why do we obey even though our obedience doesn't count? His explanation is the phrase ‘union with Christ’; that we are joined to Jesus for righteousness.||Rom 7:4, 15-25|| Salvation Present (Sanctification)||Paul says that we are free from the law. However, the Christian life is full of schizophrenic-like struggle. Paul wonders how we are going to make it through like this. He speaks of the reality and the tension that we live in here on earth. The Christian has been reconciled through faith in Christ and through a non-righteousness, but also keeps sinning.|
Thus, he presents a problem for us. He has been justified, but is still in need of grace every day, and sanctification still needs to take place. How is he going to get through? This sets the stage for Romans 8.
At the end of Romans 7 in verse 24, Paul describes himself as a wretched man who is constantly at war with himself. This is revolutionary because every other world religions says the problem is outside of us. Hence, salvation and the solution lies in the outside. But the gospel says the problem is truly within. The biggest problems of the world have their roots inside of us. If this is true, it means that we need to reorient our lives.
Paul doesn't merely describe himself as a "wretched man", but also goes on to say that he needed deliverance "from this body of death". Do you struggle with this? What does this mean for us as Christians? Pause and thank God for this! For the first time we want something else apart from what we want. Only now, will we know what it means to live in faith and dependence, and this is where Romans 8 comes in.
(B) The people of Romans 8:1
In Romans 7:25a, Paul answers his own question with great hope, because he is certain that God, through Christ, will provide the deliverance he seeks. Romans 8 connects with the logic and conclusion of Romans 7 with the well-placed "therefore". Paul declares in Romans 8:1 that there is "therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."
For starters, let's see who this verse applies to? Does it apply only to Paul? It applies to those who are in Christ Jesus, all who share the same condition in 7:24 and need deliverance. This means all humanity, and all of us!
In Romans 8:1, Paul also is implicitly referring to the doctrine of ‘union in Christ’. He has explained it previously in Romans 6:1-11, and in summary, this means that if Jesus died for you and He was raised for you, you have died and have been risen too. Everything that happened to Jesus, has happened to me. The suffering that was supposed to happen to me, has gone to Him, and the blessing that was meant to go to Him has come to me. Paul expresses it in more vivid terms in Gal 2:20 -- "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
Union with Christ simply means that we have been joined to Jesus, and there is no separation. The old self has died, and in its place a new self in Christ lives. Thus, when God looks at you and me, He sees the perfection not of our own works, but of Jesus. Honestly, many of us struggle with this truth because it sounds too good to be true, and we cannot imagine a love that is so amazing and joins us to Christ in this way. Romans 8:1 reminds us that this is the truth, no matter what we feel.
(C) The promise of Romans 8:1
Romans 8:1 gives us the assurance of "no condemnation". What does this mean? Many of us struggle with guilt and shame, and there are many ways that we are burdened by the weight of condemnation. The Bible does show us 3 ways we face and struggle with this:
- When our heart condemns us (i.e.our conscience) (1 John 3:20): These are the times when we rehearse our own failures and determine to try harder/prove ourselves. We often strive to reach our potential and prove ourselves because if we don't, we will feel like failures. Do you feel like you need to pass that exam, maintain that GPA, get that job, obtain that promotion, marry that person, live that lifestyle etc, otherwise your life is a failure? Many of us live with this hanging over our heads, and it is not that uncommon in our society.
- The "accuser", Satan (Rev 12:10): He echoes in your mind what your heart says and knows -- that there is a standard, and you fail it.
- People who look at us and pass judgment (John 8:11): This is the world we live in, and we do this all the time too. We've all walked in on the first day of school/at a new job and sized everyone up within the first few minutes.
Romans 8:1 means that there is no condemnation for each one of these situations. Though our heart may condemn us, in Christ, there is no condemnation. Though Satan tempts us to despair, in Christ, there is no condemnation. Though people around us may judge, isolate and reject us, in Christ, there is no condemnation.
How can we be sure? After all, it does sound too good to be true. The wonderful verses in Isaiah 53:4-5 speak of Jesus who entered into our world, and "he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows". He was "smitten by God, and afflicted", "pierced for our transgressions", and "crushed for our iniquities". Jesus was humiliated, rejected, broken and cast out not for merely as an abstract idea of forgiveness, but for you. If this is true, our feelings don't really matter when contrasted with the objective truth and fact of what actually happened to Jesus. Isaiah 53:5b also speaks of the result of this chastisement -- it "brought us peace". Jesus bore our pain, brokenness and guilt on the cross and brought us peace with God, and therefore no condemnation for those who are in this Christ.
What does this mean for us? This 1 verse speaks abundantly about the love of God. Do you struggle with this, wondering how and why God would love someone like you? The simple truth that "He loves you" is not just an abstract emotion, but was demonstrated powerfully in Jesus, who acted in love and showed it on the cross. These words also remind us that we who live in Christ have enormous freedom. We no longer have to bear the burden and weight of condemnation. It doesn't mean that we no longer sin, but it means that though we struggle with sin (the Romans 7 idea), we can claim Romans 8:1 and run to Him.
There is one simple application of this verse. Perhaps we can pause and consider our fears in life. What are you afraid of? What "bad things" do you dread? It could be something small (like getting stuck in traffic or caught in the rain), or something more major (retrenchment, breakup, illness, conflict etc). But whatever it is, if Romans 8:1 is true, we know for a fact that these bad things don't happen as a punishment from God. He has already poured out all His wrath on Jesus on the cross. Through Jesus now, He would never forsake all who place their faith in Jesus, and who have been united with Christ both in death and life. Romans 8:1 provides us with much hope in these moments in life, and this is why we can sing:
No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand.