This week we studied Romans 8:1-11, which begins:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh in order that we might fulfill the righteous requirement of the law. — Romans 8:1-2
With these words Paul kicks off the chapter that is the pinnacle of his great epistle to the Romans. In these four verses we find the heart of the gospel: God sent his Son Jesus Christ to condemn sin so that the Spirit might set us free to live in a manner that fulfills the righteous requirement of the law. And those who have been set free in Christ are no longer—and never will be again—condemned! With this glorious declaration Paul is looking back at the foundation that he has been building for justification by faith alone, and looking forward to the love of God in Christ from which nothing in all creation can separate us, making us more than conquerors in him. Nothing can separate us from God’s love because we are justified and there is therefore now no condemnation for us. Put the other way, There is no condemnation for us because we are now in Christ, and once in Christ there is nothing that can separate us from God’s love.
We need to understand this gospel truth because, as Paul has so clearly expounded in chapter 7, we still commit sins, even though we are justified. And the sins we commit make us miserable! Yet we must not let the misery of our failure to obey the law convince us that we are condemned. Justification is a one-time act, once and done. Before we were justified we were condemned, but NOW we are not. And because we are justified, with no turning back (remember, you cannot be un-pickled!), there is therefore now NO condemnation.
Paul then explains, with painstaking precision, that the law was powerless to save us from our sins. It was powerless to do so because that wasn’t the purpose of the law. The law was given to show us what sin is so that we might not sin, but in our flesh we were powerless to obey and fulfill its righteous requirement. We were born already in bondage to our sinful nature, and therefore in our flesh we were hostile to God’s law. We could not—would not—submit to it. The law therefore was a death sentence for us. It was never meant to make us holy; it was never meant to atone for our sins; it merely stands ready with justification for obedience and condemnation for sinners.
But God has done what the law could not do! At the cross Jesus bore the sins of all who would believe and God condemned those sins, pouring out his righteous wrath upon his own Son instead of us. Our sins were imputed to Christ, and his righteousness was be imputed to us. This is how we are set free from the law of sin and death. And now that we are set free from our bondage to sin (being in the flesh) we are in the Spirit, enabling us to obey the law of God, fulfilling the righteous requirement to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). We obey not our of fear of condemnation, but out of gratitude and the joy of our salvation. We’ll never obey perfectly, but our failures are forgiven and our efforts are Spirit-empowered.
In 8:5-9 Paul is contrasting unbelievers with believers: those who walk according to the flesh are unbelievers, and those who walk according to the Spirit are believers, there is no third category of humanity. We all used to walk according to the flesh, but those who have been justified now walk according to the Spirit. Justification always leads to sanctification, which is what Paul is getting at when he writes of our walking according to the Spirit. And here he emphasizes the role of our mind in our sanctification. The Spirit of God is working in us to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13), but we are required to put our effort into the project now too. This effort begins in our minds.
What we set our minds on is a clue whether we are in the flesh or the Spirit, and how we are therefore living. This is important to understand, because there is nothing that we believe in our hearts that does not first go through our minds. And how we live flows out of our hearts.
[E]ach tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. — Luke 6:44-45
If your default thoughts were to sprout forth in fruit on a tree in front of your house, what would that look like? Remembering that true Christians are still sinners, the mind-fruit ripening on our trees will always be a mix of good and bad, but good fruit will be there. Paul is telling us that the Spirit produces a mind that will default to life and peace, while one who is unconverted can only produce fruit that is hostile and unsubmitted to God and absolutely incapable of pleasing him.
What is the default setting of your mind? What do you think about when you aren’t thinking about anything in particular? Also, when you set your mind to deliberately focus on something, what is important to you? In either case, are you wrapped up in meaningless twaddle, self, worry, fear, anger, or self-justification? Or are you thinking about others, the sermon from Sunday, a passage of Scripture from your morning devotion, a snippet of a hymn, or a prayer? Perhaps you find yourself lamenting a missed opportunity to witness to a friend, confessing a sin that’s just come to mind now that it’s quiet, or puzzling over how to apply a principle from scripture to your life. The point is not that we need to measure our good thoughts against the bad thoughts in a scale. Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit to help produce fruit in our minds, hearts, and lives. If you are in Christ, you will produce this fruit.
And speaking of being in Christ, what does that mean?
In John 15 Jesus speaks of himself as the Vine and those who abide in him as the branches attached to the vine, and thereby in vital, life-giving union with him. Later, in John 17, Jesus prays for all who will believe in him:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” — John 17:20-21
Here, just as in Romans 8:1-11, the unity which is characteristic between believers and God is a mysterious mash-up of us in God and God in us that is to be not merely a reflection of the unity of the Godhead, but the spiritual reality of how closely knit together we actually are with Christ. For Paul, it is the very definition of being a Christian. For our Lord Jesus, it is the answer to his prayer for us. And note what he is asking for—he is asking that we would be as closely united to himself and the Father as he and the Father have been united to one another throughout all eternity. And this remarkable union with God will result in demonstrating to the watching world the truth that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
In our passage of Romans Paul refers to this union with: “in Christ Jesus,” in the Spirit,” “the Spirit of God dwells in you,” “(to) have the Spirit of Christ,” “Christ … in you,” etc., you get the idea. Look for this in Paul’s writings, and particularly as we go through Romans 8.
That’s all for this week. May you be blessed as you set your minds on Romans 8:12-17, and may the Spirit produce in you the fruits of life and peace.