What Paul describes here will be experienced in the End Time kingdom of God by everyone, but it is now experienced in the microcosm of individual believers’ lives. As born-from-above believers in Jesus we are already living in the eschatological age in terms of the power of the Spirit.
Chapter 7, in my view, is all about how believers can frustrate God's purpose that they live victorious over sin. They do so when—like the Galatian Christians—they try to live it in the old way using the law. We are a new creation in Christ. And as a new creation, designed to live righteously in the power of the Spirit, we do not live "normally" if we try to fuel our lives with the old fuel of the law. Like trying to run a 2009 computer on a 1980 operating system. Or to run an Alfa Romeo sports car on low-octane regular gas. We are designed to run on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. When instead we seek to live righteous lives by obeying laws, we are like someone who hitches his new sports car up to a team of mules.
In Paul's mind, the victory over sin was accomplished by Christ's death, and believers plug into that death as their own to sin. What remains for the Christian is to "reckon" on that reality (Romans 6) and "walk by the Spirit" (Romans 8). We are to "put to death" the old sins as they pop up in the form of temptations. We are to "put on" like new garments the virtues of Jesus (Rom 13:12, 14; Eph 4:24; Col 3:12, 14; 1Pet 5:5). It is like going to an extremely expensive clothing shop after a successful diet and being told that you can try on and take with you any beautiful garment that strikes your fancy.
The old foe is still hanging around, but he is now defanged. It is only a matter of saying "no" to his temptations. The tempter is clever and deceptive, but he has no power to coerce. He may try to plant doubts in your mind, saying: “You never were able to stop doing that before. What makes you think you can now?” But the words of James: "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you" (James 4:7) envisages no real struggle or exertion: merely a firm rebuke. Satan may be “like a roaring lion going about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8-9) but his roar is bigger than his bite.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set you (singular) free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2, NIV adapted).
There seems to be a subtle change in the nature of Paul's use of the word "therefore", beginning in ch. 8. No longer is it the logical compelling of assent, but the ethical compelling of behavior—the "ought" of the Christian conscience. You can see it clearly in v. 12 below.
What is meant here by "condemnation"? Paul has mentioned a condemnation in the opening chapters of the letter which has to do with a person's not being made right with God and therefore being in his sins (see 5:16, 18). But judging from what follows in this chapter Paul is now redefining "condemnation" in terms of the enslavement to sin experientially that is the lot of unbelievers, but which does not exist for believers.
Paul’s use of the singular form of “you” (Greek σε) in v. 2 may be his way of answering the imaginary individual whom he was impersonating in the last verses of chapter 7. He is making a gradual transition from his impersonation to a direct conversation with the Roman church.
A new "law" ("the ‘law’ of the Spirit of Life") has "condemned" the old "‘law’ of sin and death," which is the "other law" that the "I" person in ch. 7:23 saw at work in his inner being. This "law" is the same as what Paul calls "sin in the flesh" in v. 3. As sin produced death through its ruling principle (= law), so the Spirit produces life through the new ruling principle ("law").
For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature (literally, “flesh’), God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful humanity to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man (literally, in the ‘flesh’), 4 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.
The law of Moses could not condemn sin in the sinful nature (‘flesh’). It was impossible, because of the law would have to be implemented by persons with all the weakness of their sinful natures. So how did God accomplish this condemning of sin in our sinful natures? By sending Christ in the likeness of sinful flesh and as a sacrifice "for sin."
How did that work? First, let’s be clear that “the likeness of sinful humanity” does not mean that Jesus’ humanity was unreal. What was unreal was just the fact that Jesus' humanity would lead anyone who had not known him for long to assume that he also fell into sin at times like all other mortals. In other words, it was not the humanity that Jesus did not share with us, but the sinful humanity.
Still, that was enough common ground to enable him to substitute for us in conquering sin and—as a “sacrifice for sin”—in bearing the condemnation and guilt that was due to us. This is what Paul means by saying that in this way God was able to “condemn sin in the human nature.”
That “condemning”—which means destroying the enslaveing power of the sinful nature—is valid only for those who accept Jesus as their Substitute. Non-believers have no access to this liberation from sin’s power resident in their human natures.
Now the enslavement is on the other foot: instead of sin enslaving us through the law and our own sinful natures, united to Jesus in his death and resurrection we participate in God's victory over sin, and live in the realization that he has condemned sin and the sin nature to utter powerlessness.
The goal of salvation is not just a right standing that gives entry to Heaven, but a new creation that includes a new humanity walking in God's ways. The word "walk" (Hebrew הָלַך halakh, translated here by Paul into Greek περιπατέω) was the usual way in ancient Israel and Judaism of referring to following the commandments of God. The Jewish ethical-legal term halakha derives from this convention, and we see it most clearly in the poetry of the Psalms, especially Psalm 1:1-2
Blessed is the man who does not walk (halakh) following the advice of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
There are so many allusions in Romans 8 to Psalm 1 that one is tempted to think that Paul was writing his own commentary (what is called a midrash) on that psalm.
There are two ways of "walking" in Psalm 1, just as there are two in Romans 8—according to the sinful nature ("flesh"), and according to God's Holy Spirit. Believers who live ("walk") according to the Spirit fulfill the ethical requirements of God's law. The same truth is beautifully conveyed by verse 3 of Psalm 1
He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.By "yielding fruit in the proper season" the psalmist doesn't mean to imply that there are fruitless seasons, but rather that every season of a person's life has its proper "fruit" to delight the heart of God by his/her behavior.
Paul wrote in Colossians 1:10 that believers should "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work (i.e., in every kind of good work) and increasing in the knowledge of God."
Those who live (lit., 'are') according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
Just as Paul insists that the key to "walking" by the Spirit lies in "setting one's mind on" what the Spirit approves and desires, so the psalmist identifies the key to walking the right path in delighting in the Torah and meditating on it day and night (Psa. 1:2).
The Holy Spirit and the New Testament revelation supplement and interpret—they don’t eliminate!—the Torah of the Old Testament. In both eras the key to avoiding sin is setting one’s mind on what God approves, as expressed in his written word. The verse “I have hidden your word in my heart, so that I will not sin against you” in Psalm 119:11 is as valid today as it was then.
"Setting one's mind on" something means wanting it. What is it that you and I want most each moment of the day? Popularity? Delicious food? Fine clothes? A beautiful or handsome body? A beautiful house? A promotion at work? A big house? Sexual gratification? Athletic prowess?
Not all these things are necessarily wrong. But if our 'minds' are set on such things, we will not live the life that the Holy Spirit wishes to give us. To have that life, we must want the right things: to help others, to give rather than to receive, to suffer ostracism, if need be, in order to share Christ with others, to live simply in order to be able to give more. It isn't enough just to pray "O God! I want to be filled with the Spirit and live victoriously." Because in this chapter of Romans God has told us how we are to do that. One of the necessary steps is to "set our minds on" pleasing him and wanting that more than anything else.
The desires that spring from our old natures lead to spiritual death, but the desires that spring from the Spirit lead to life and peace. We see here that the goals of the two groups of people are different: death for the wicked, but life and peace for the godly. Similarly in v. 13 below. Malachi 2:5-7 tells us that God made a covenant with the priestly tribe of Levi:
My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction—because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty.
When you remember that all believers in this age are priests of God (1Pet 2:5, 9), this suddenly takes on a relevance to you and to me that it might not otherwise have. Like the Levitical priests, we too can live like this, in a covenant of life and peace. True instruction can be in our mouths. We too can walk with God in peace and righteousness, and turn many to righteousness.
The unbeliever’s mind is “controlled by the sinful nature” and cannot submit to God’s law and therefore please God in all respects. A believer’s mind can and should be “controlled by the Spirit of God” and thus submit totally to God’s law and please him in everything. For us who believe the option is still open not to submit to God nor to allow the Spirit to control our minds. But at least we have a real choice, and it is a serious sin for believers not to care about obedience to their Lord.
The non-believer lives according to the sinful nature (what Paul calls the "flesh") — its wishes and preferences, and consequently cannot please God. In the same way, the psalmist wrote (Psa. 1:4-6):
Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Of the startling sentence "those who are in the old sinful nature (i.e., unbelievers) cannot please God" (v. 8) George Eldon Ladd, (Theology of the New Testament, 511) writes:
This statement surely does not mean that [unsaved persons] can do no deed that pleases God. Romans 2:15 affirms that even Gentiles have the Law of God in some way written in their hearts; and so far as they obey the inner Law, they must be pleasing to God. Romans 8:8 means that unregenerate humanity cannot please Gdd by loving him and serving him as God desires.
And—I would add—they cannot please God by doing what he most wants of them: trusting in his beloved Son as Lord and Savior. Failure to do this is a continuing insult to God that cannot be "made up" by doing him the favor of an occasional kind act.
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Godly living is not an optional matter for those redeemed from slavery to sin. There is an obligation to serve the Redeemer.
Because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
The Redeemer is also the Father, so that obedience is rendered out of tender love, not hard compulsion.
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
And since this makes us co-heirs with Christ, the text turns to the question of suffering in the present eschatological age, the "already" phase of the kingdom is not a "bed of roses" (v. 18-27), but it will lead inexorably to glory (v. 28-39). This will be the subject of our next posting.