The Gospel-Marked Life (Romans 8:1-4)
I. During-life, Not Just Afterlife
There are some who believe that, what we might call, the 'gospel-marked life' is one ultimately defined by an assurance that when you die, you will go to heaven. That's it. But is that how the New Testament would characterize such a life? We certainly find passages that speak about the hope of heaven. The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, 23b... “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.... My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”
But the biblical view of how the gospel changes a life is far bigger than simply what happens when that life is finished... in terms of your earthly existence, that is. The Good News about Jesus also marks and shapes our lives today... in light of today! During-life, not just afterlife!
If you have embraced this Good News, the very gospel we unpacked last Sunday in light of Romans 1-4, then your life will be deeply impacted. It can't not. This is the very thing Paul goes on to explain in Romans 5-8. Let's think about those chapters this morning by 'pitching our tent' in Romans 8:1-4.
II. The Passage: “The Spirit of Life Has Set You Free” (8:1-4)
Before we look at these verses, it's important to think about how this passage fits into Paul's unfolding argument or thoughts in chapters 1-7. Last time, we talked about how the topic of faith, or more specifically, justification by faith, was central to everything Paul was emphasizing in chapters 1-4. Justification is about obtaining a right-standing before God. But in chapter 5, Paul shifts gears to a new, but related theme: grace. Listen to what he writes in 5:1–2
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand...
Notice what that justification by faith has made possible: “access by faith into this grace in which we stand”. We now stand before God in grace because, in grace, God the Son stood in our place. Does that stir you? If the main theme of chapters 1-4 was faith, then undoubtedly, grace is the main theme of chapters 5-8. But there's something else we need to understand about the context here; about the first half of this letter. Though it isn't always talked about, the first half of Paul's letter to the Roman church is deeply concerned with the OT law or Law of Moses.
When thinking about Christians and the OT law, some may go straight to a book like Galatians. And that would make sense. Galatians has a lot to say on that subject. But Romans has almost twice as many references to the Law of Moses, more than any other book in the NT. Why are there so many references to the Law in Romans? Because it appears that the Jewish Christians in this church were concerned that the Old Testament law was now being dismissed as irrelevant. For these Jews, neglect of the Law by some the non-Jewish believers (and maybe some Jews) would undoubtedly result in moral confusion and carelessness in the church.
You see, there was confusion about the relationship between Law and grace. Paul anticipated some of their questions in Romans 6:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?... What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (6:1-2, 15)
The unhealthy thinking of some of these Jewish Christians is also evident in chapters 2 and 3 of this letter. In 2:17-21, Paul asks some of his readers this revealing question:
But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God  and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law;  and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,  an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? [Jesus addressed this hypocrisy as well]
Paul will go on in that same context to address the supposed value of circumcision as well. But in the next chapter, in 3:9, he asks this important question: “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin...” So clearly Paul is addressing some wrong-headed views about the Law and circumcision, views that led some of his readers to boast about themselves and look down on others. So one of things Paul is doing in Romans 1-8 is helping his readers, especially his Jewish Christian readers understand the truth about the Law... and faith... and grace... and righteousness.
So with all that in mind, let's look at our main verses, 8:1-4. This is what Paul writes...
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 the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
So I hope you noticed that Paul is continuing to talk about the Law of Moses here. But he's also talking about two others laws, or we could say, axioms or principles. The first he calls “the law of the Spirit of life” (v. 2). The second he calls “the law of sin and death”. In thinking about all three of these laws, what I hope you will see is how this passage speaks directly to the life that has, through faith, been deeply impacted by the gospel of Jesus. To be more specific, what this passage teaches us is that the gospel-marked life is marked by both the emancipating absence of God's condemnation and the empowering presence of God's Spirit. Let's see how this passage speaks to both of those ideas.
1. The Emancipating Absence of God's Condemnation
In light of verse 1, we might first ask, “Why were we condemned before?” For his Jewish Christian readers, Paul wants them to understand that they were condemned... by the Law!
As Paul wrote in 2:12-13... “...all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.” But for those seeking such justification, Paul is clear in 3:20: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” Paul explains this just before our main passage. Look back at Romans 7:7–13. Paul asks...
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness...  The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.  For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me...  Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure (i.e., as offense against God).
Does this mean non-Jews, those without the law, are not condemned? No. Paul wrote in chp. 2:
For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law...  For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires [often written in their own codes], they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law [the Law of Moses].  They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them...
The point is, all of us stand condemned. In chapter 6, Paul describes our 'pre-grace' condition in these terms: we “who were once slaves of sin” (6:17). And a few verses later, he is crystal clear about the final outcome of that condition: “the wages of sin is death” (6:23). Paul summarizes this in Romans 7:5: “For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.” Brother and sisters, that destructive relationship between the law, sin, and death, is what Paul called, “the law of sin and death”.
But there is Good News, isn't there!? Because of Jesus, we can be (8:2) “set free” from this law. We can be emancipated! How? Through Christ Jesus! Look at 8:3 again... “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...” There is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Why? Because Jesus, our sinless Savior, condemned sin itself in his own flesh when he died on the cross. Thus, in Him, that law no longer applies to us.
2. The Empowering Presence of God's Spirit
But a new law does now apply: “the law of the Spirit of life”. That principle ensures that all who have received the Spirit, by grace through faith, will receive new life in Jesus. They are “set free” by the ransom He paid with his own blood.
But even if the law cannot save us, don't we need it to guide us for a righteous life? Notice how Paul also addresses that question in Romans 8:4. Jesus died in our place... “in order that the righteous requirement [or ordinance, or righteousness] of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” What Paul's Jewish Christian readers needed to understand is how the Spirit of God now works within us to produce the very life of holiness to which the Law pointed. Though all of us once failed under the law (and were condemned), everyone who is now under grace actually fulfills the law. Isn't that astounding?
And it's the Spirit's work within us that Paul will go on to describe in Romans 8, where we find nineteen (!) references to the Holy Spirit. Look at how Paul goes on to explain this. 8:7...
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God...  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.
What's helpful is how a few chapters later, Paul will talk more about the fulfilling of the Law:
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8–10)
It's no wonder that near the end of this letter, the Apostle appeals to them in this way: “by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit”. (15:30) Does the gospel change us? Absolutely. It sets us free for a life of love, a life empowered by God the Holy Spirit. Since it is Black History Month this month, I think it's especially fitting to think about the words of Harriet Tubman as she reflected on her own escape from the horrible reality of her earthly slavery:
“When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”
III. Absence and Presence
Brothers and sisters, in a profound way, you are not the same person you once were. As Harriet Tubman recognized, when you gain your freedom, it radically changes things. You see things differently. Have you been “set free”? What have we seen this morning from God's word? We've seen that the gospel-marked life is marked by both the emancipating absence of God's condemnation and the empowering presence of God's Spirit. Is your life marked in that way?
Do you live in light of that absence, the absence of God's just condemnation? Sadly, there are many Christians who continue to wrestle with a view of God that is too frequently characterized by his disappointment, or anger, or impatience, or even his rejection. Or we find that we are regularly condemning ourselves, or clinging to the condemning words of others. But please hear this (and please remind each other of this): the gospel has set us free. Because of Jesus, we live in the glorious “now” of Romans 8:1. And the absence of his condemnation is absolutely emancipating! We're not talking about a life free from sin, or free from the need for repentance. No. But Jesus Christ took that condemnation upon himself, so you could be free in him.
But it's also important to ask, “Am I living in light of that presence, the empowering presence of God's Spirit?” Some may think a life free of heavenly condemnation is therefore a life of earthly indulgence. It's actually the opposite. It's a life of holy love. Why? Because the absence of God's condemnation means reconciliation with that same God. It means now knowing him, and loving him. As Paul will go on to write in Romans 8:15... “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'” There is so much more we could say about the gospel-marked life, but these two points represent a strong foundation. My prayer is that Romans 8:1-4 would shape your daily prayers, your daily praise, and your daily perspective. What does it means to stand in His grace? It means forgiveness and freedom. It means pardon and power. May your life be marked by the gospel this week, for you encouragement, and a witness to others of this good, Good News.
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)
October 2, 2022Visions of Jesus (Revelation 19:9-10)
September 25, 2022Why Justice is Worth Singing About (Revelation 15)
September 18, 2022How to Conquer the Dragon (Revelation 12:11)