Lesson 25: Romans 8:1-13
The Life of the Soul Set Free
One day each of us, every human without exception, will stand before the Judgment Seat of our Creator. It will not be like the courtrooms we are familiar with here on earth. It will not be a time of making decisions, or presenting arguments. It will be a time of revealing eternal determinations. In that day you will stand before the perfectly Holy God who made you.
As we have seen in the first chapters of Romans, the charges if read aloud would be something like this: “You are a descendant of Adam. Along with all others naturally descended from him and represented by him there in Eden, you have inherited inexcusable guilt. This corruption which was yours since conception has produced a sinful life. Perhaps you have not been perceived as wicked in the eyes of other humans. Likely you have not all lived a life of civil crimes, open blasphemy, or blatant immorality. But your life has failed to honor God as you should have. As Romans 3:23 declares, ‘for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ ”
Based upon God’s revealed moral principles you must be condemned forever. Anything less would be injustice.
The gavel is raised. As it falls you know only one verdict would be fair: Guilty as charged! Only one sentence would be consistent with God’s pure character: Death for eternity! That death sentence is not mere annihilation. It will not be some comic book or Hollywood version of hell. It will be an unrelenting torment, and an unending separation from God’s comfort and joy forever.
However — when the judges gavel falls, what an astounding judgment stuns the court! He says, “You are in Christ Jesus, therefore there is now no condemnation!”
This is what Paul tells us clearly in Romans Chapter 8:1-4.
“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
The word “law” is not only used to describe sets of rules in God’s word. Another common way the word is used is to describe a principle at work. We use it this way today for principles we see at work like “the law of gravity” or “the law of supply and demand.” Here in verse 2, it identifies two principles that operate in the hearts of men: the Principle of the Spirit of Life, and the Principle of Sin and Death.
The principle that originally condemns
us is the law of sin and death.
The standard by which we will be judged is God’s Moral law. This law is as a set of moral principles which emerge from the Creator’s nature as it relates to his created world. The Moral law of God is summarized in the 10 Commandments, but is not limited to those representative situations. As Jesus pointed out in Matthew 5:21-30, the sins pointed out here begin in the heart. Even personal hatred and extramarital lust violate the principles of the Sixth and Seventh Commandments. The standard is not only high, it demands absolute perfection. Since we inherit the guilt of Adam and a corrupt nature, no one can measure up.
Galatians 3:10, “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ ”
James 2:10, “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”
Therefore God’s Law justly condemns us. Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death.” This is not just threatening us with physical death. It includes eternal spiritual death, which is separation from God’s blessing forever. The principle that condemns the children of Adam is that sin resides in, infects, and is at work in every heart, and that this offense demands a death sentence that never ends.
How then can we be found innocent when are all equally guilty? Certainly neither the Law of God, nor the principle of sin and death have the power to remove guilt. Paul says the Law is weak according to the flesh. Our depraved nature is unable to obey the law of God. This “fleshly life” of ours is out of touch with God. We are cut off from the flow of spiritual life which comes from our Creator to those who stand innocently before him. The law therefore can never be a way of salvation for the guilty.
Deliverance was never the purpose of the Law. The commandments were not given to redeem anyone. They were given both to expose our sin nature, and to prove our just condemnation. Their continuing benefit is as a guide only for those already redeemed so that they can know how to live in a way that honors God.
The other principle is the one that liberates us:
the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
This is what sets us free from that condemning principle. Jesus Christ laid down his life for his own people, paying the debt of sin in their place. As the “Second Adam” he represented those given to him by the Father. In their place he lived a perfectly holy life, and died an infinitely horrible death. For the believer who stands before God’s bench of justice, Jesus paid his eternal sentence in full, and has given him the benefits of his own righteousness.
This is how those justly accused are judged to be not guilty. There can be no other way. If it was not for this gospel, this good message, no one would escape his deserved and just damnation.
When Jesus satisfied the requirements of the law for you, he set you free. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those redeemed by our Savior.
This is an astounding truth! When the gavel of the divine Judge falls he declares, “Not guilty.” Though we know we deserve nothing but the fires of hell forever, in Christ we are awarded an unending place of residence in God’s glorious city.
Our sentence is served. The capitol punishment of our guilt was carried out at Calvary. Now, nothing can be alleged against us that is not already paid for in Christ. There is no sin that can condemn those set free in the Savior.
A redeemed soul is also a changed soul.
Far from this assurance of grace leaving us to become casual about sin, it has exactly the opposite effect. Christ not only set us free from condemnation, he also delivers us from our inability to do good. A redeemed soul will be a converted soul. The new life will show up in its manner of living.
Some have wondered why Paul tells us to “put to death” (“mortify” in some translations) the the deeds of the body (“the flesh” in some translations) if we have been crucified with Christ. The “old man” is dead as he said in Romans 6:6, yet in Ephesians 4:22 Paul tells us to put off this “old man.” Is he not already dead? Then in Colossians 3:9 Paul tells them not to lie since they have put off the “old man.”
There are two senses in which our relationship with sin being addressed. On the one hand we are judicially declared innocent and holy in Jesus Christ. Our guilt is credited to him who paid its penalty. The perfect Righteousness of our Savior is credited to us who do not deserve it. The “old man”, our old relationship with sin as our master, is declared to be dead. Paul has been showing us in this section of Romans that this does not mean that we never sin again. The ways of the old relationship continue to need eradication. Notice that in Ephesians 4:22 Paul qualifies his comment about putting off the old man by saying, “concerning your former conduct”. The old relationship is gone. We are set free. The habits and former influences of that old relationship now need to be brought into conformity with our new relationship. The “new man” is to be conforming his life, not just his thinking or legal standing, to the ways God has revealed for his children to live.
Not all fallen humans will be declared innocent on the basis of the work of Christ. The promise is for those not walking according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. This does not mean that forgiveness is earned by the way we live. That is contrary to everything Paul had said so far. There is no justification by our works.
What it does mean is this: the defendant standing before the bar of God’s justice does not plead his own merits. He pleads only the merits of Christ. In this life on earth, he finds assurance and confidence when he sees his life changed by Christ. Those who walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh can know that the Savior has set them free. As we will see, Chapter 8 of this Epistle to the Romans is centered upon how we can be assured that we belong to Christ.
So then, how do we know when we are redeemed? Paul clears up what it means to be walking according to the Spirit and not the flesh. The person’s true mind set is exposed by specific attitudes and behaviors. The mind includes the whole disposition of the person: his thoughts, intentions, and choices. He is either inclined to evil or to good.
In the language Paul used in the last chapter (Romans 7), either a person remains under the mastery of law which condemns him, or he is set free from that condemnation to become a servant of righteousness in Christ.
Now, here in Chapter 8, Paul continues in verses 5-13.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors — not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
The lost person’s mind is inclined to the flesh alone. That is, he honors the body as a thing with no spiritual dimensions. Those not declared innocent in Christ are identified by these things:
- The mind set on the flesh is death. (8:6)
Such a person remains unredeemed and under the just condemnation of God’s law. His moral offense causes him to be forever separated from God’s blessing and forgiveness. Without this flow of spiritual life, his attitudes and behaviors are those of a dead soul.
- The mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. (8:7a)
Instead of living for the glory of his Creator, he measures all things by how it will benefit himself. He is the enemy of God, though he may claim to be godly and good.
- The mind set on the flesh is not subject to Law. It cannot be. (8:7b)
Paul has already supported the fact that the lost soul is depraved. Not one of us honors the commandments God has revealed as he intended them. The nature of the fallen heart redefines morality to meet its own self-centered standards. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” The whole concept of moral inability is confirmed here. As Olshausen said, “No man can free himself from himself.”
- The mind set on the flesh cannot please God. (8:8)
God is not pleased with any actions or thoughts which come from a creature-serving heart. Instead of acting with respect to what God has revealed as good, it acts upon what promotes his own interest. Hebrews 11:6 says, “without faith it is impossible to please (God)…”
Upon those minded toward the flesh, the Judge’s gavel falls with a guilty verdict. But those graciously declared innocent in Christ have a different set of mind:
- The mind set upon the Spirit is life and peace. (8:6)
Where once we were dead, Christ has made us alive, reunited with God. As those whose offense is removed, they have peace instead of turmoil. Instead of being the enemies of God, they are his allies, they are citizens of his own Kingdom, his dear children. They are guided and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. The mortal puts on immortality in Christ — he has hope in the resurrection of the body, as well as in the benefits of regeneration in this life.
- The mind set upon the Spirit is empowered by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. (8:9,11)
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is an astounding promise that goes beyond the scope of this study. The basic benefit is that the believer has a special enablement in living for God’s glory. The presence of that Spirit will be seen in his life.
- The mind set on the Spirit is alive because of righteousness. (8:10)
Righteousness is innocence before the law. It is not our own righteousness that makes us alive, but the gift of Christ’s righteousness.
Those declared holy in Christ by grace are not only justified, they also begin to grow in personal holiness. That is what we call subjective sanctification. The life implanted progresses as it more and more makes us conform to the ways of our Savior, and die more and more to the false pleasures of sin. While this holiness is a process never completed in this life, is for now imperfect, and there are sad lapses at times, nevertheless it is always moving forward — if the person is truly reborn in Christ.
This leaves us with some serious work to do in our lives.
This is not a burdensome obligation to which we must resign ourselves. It is our joyful privilege and benefit to do. Though we are set free from the law’s condemnation and are enabled to truly love God, the remains of sin in our lives gives us a constant duty. We are to be putting off the ways of mere flesh-mindedness, and to be abandoning the things that offend God. We are to put on the ways of the Spirit, to dress ourselves in honorable living.
As Paul wrote to the believers in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
Our great privilege as those who are promised to be judged “innocent” through Christ, is that we are forgiven and made to be sons of God. Our great duty is to be mortifying the ways of the flesh as those who are truly members of the family of God.
How serious are you about this? Imagine that you were struggling with a horrible degeneration of your body. Medical test revealed that your body was strangely allergic to a specific type of food. The doctor said that if you just stopped your intake of that particular substance you will recover fully. That would be good news! You would go home, and clear out your house of the things that were harming you. You would make sure you provided yourself with a supply of safe foods. When hunger cravings come along, you would have planned to have no supply of the harmful foods available in your cupboard. Instead, you would stock up on the good nourishments that would not harm your body
God is telling us through his law that believers are still infected by the presence of sin. It will not condemn them to hell. They are set free from guilt, and declared righteous in Christ. However, sin will continue to put up a battle in their lives. If they have no concern for waging war with continuing sin, they have cause for alarm. Since no one is justified who is not also being sanctified, an apathy for holiness brings to question that person’s true salvation in Christ.
Is your mind set upon the things of the flesh? Or are you at war with sin in your life? Are you compelled to becoming more Christ-like?
Get rid of all those things that injure your soul, things that tempt you to sin. Clear away the opportunities for them from your schedule. Cut off the bridges to things that dishonor God. Remove them as if they were poisons destroying your real enjoyment of life. Mortify the deeds of the flesh and make no room for them. Show that you are a child of God. Get busy setting your plans and efforts to encouraging what will promote life. Put off the old man and put on the new. Stock up on those things which will promote godliness. Replace the things that tend toward sin. Build up your Christian friendships and work in the church. Attend all its worship services. Strive to obey with all the resources God has given you.
Only as evidence is shown that you belong to Christ, can you be confident of acquittal before the Judgment seat of Christ in that last day.
The Apostle John warns us in this same way. In 1 John 2:15-17 he wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
If you are not sure of your how you stand, if you fear that you might still love your sin too much, then make it right today. Come to Christ in humble confession. This is always appropriate for all of us. Call out to him who alone makes you alive by his death. As Peter warns us in 2 Peter 1:10, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;”
As those resting in Christ there is this continuing duty: search out and strip away all the opportunities of sin. Show the evidence of a soul set free. When that day comes, when that gavel comes down with an unappealable verdict, you can know that you will hear the words, “Not guilty by reason of the finished work of Jesus Christ.”
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)