More Than Conquerors: The Believer’s Liberty

Read Romans 8:1-4

In the last article we saw that Paul portrayed a believer who, though he desired to please God, was living a defeated life. He became so discouraged and disgusted with himself that he cried out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom 7:24).1  He had discovered that “in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing” (v18). This realization caused him to look for a solution apart from himself, as a result of which he cried, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v25). This leads us to the solution found in chapter 8.

Paul’s opening statement is, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). “In Christ Jesus” is a term that Paul commonly uses to describe those who have trusted Christ. The first lesson that a believer must learn, before he can know victory in his life, is that there is nothing that we have to do to make our salvation more secure. “Salvation is of the LORD” (Jon 2:9). The work of redemption was Christ’s alone. There is nothing that we can add to it, and nothing we can take away from it. Failure on our part cannot annul the effectiveness of the work of the cross.

The words “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” that appear at the end of verse 1 don’t appear in what are supposed to be the most reliable Greek texts. However, they do appear in verse 4, so we will see their significance when we come to verse 4. Paul continues, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (v2). In this statement we have two opposing laws or principles, the law of the Spirit and the law of sin. “The law of sin” governed our lives before we trusted Christ, the ultimate result of which would have been death, especially “the second death” (Rev 20:14,15). But the moment we trusted Christ a new law came into play, “the law of the Spirit,” the result of which was “life in Christ Jesus.” This law released us from the law of sin. The word translated “life” is mostly used in relation to eternal life in the New Testament. This is the life of God, which He also imparts to those who trust Christ. It expresses life of the highest quality. In John 10:10 we read the words of Christ, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Now we have the potential to live life as God would have us live it.

In verse 3, we see a contrast between the Law of Moses and what God has accomplished through the death of Christ. First, Paul exposes the impotence of the Law to help the transgressor: “For what the law could not do …” Then he shows why the Law was impotent: “… in that it was weak through the flesh.” The problem was not with the Law itself but with the material it was working with. “The flesh” refers to the sinful nature that we inherited from Adam. The Law declares God’s righteous requirements from men. But, because of the flesh, we are unable to attain to that standard, since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23 NKJV). However, what the Law could not accomplish, God has accomplished. “God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (8:3). This statement infers that Christ was always the Son. How could God send the Son into the world if He was not already the Son? But the statement also implies the incarnation of Christ – “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” By all outward appearance Christ was like one of us (apart from sin). He shared with us everything that was essential to make us human.

Sin is not an essential part of manhood. Adam was as much man before he sinned as he was after he sinned. It is possible that this also implies that by this means Christ acquired a capacity to voluntarily lay down His life. This was essential in order that, by His death, he might “condemn sin in the flesh.” Implied in the word “condemned” in this context is not only the passing of a sentence but the execution of that sentence. “Christ died for our sins” (1Co 15:3).

In verse 4, we learn that what the Law could not accomplish, Christ, by His substitutionary death, has accomplished, “[in order] that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us.” The Greek word for “righteousness” in this verse is not the usual word for righteousness in the NT. Other translations have it as “the righteous requirement of the law.” The Law teaches us what God’s requirements are but does not give us the ability to fulfill those requirements. Such is the value of the work of Christ upon the cross that it not only produces salvation for those who believe but also enables us to live lives that are pleasing to God. Notice that the statement is not “fulfilled by us” but “fulfilled in us.” It is the Lord Himself who brings about the change.

In the last clause of verse 4, we have a definition of true believers: “who walk not after [according to] the flesh, but after [according to] the Spirit.” Later, in verse 9, Paul will inform us that the moment we trusted Christ as our Saviour we were permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is what distinguishes us from the natural man. As believers, we have two opposing influences in our lives: we have the flesh and the Holy Spirit. When we allow the Holy Spirit to control our actions, we are walking according to the Spirit. Paul is teaching here that the believer is characterized by a life that is lived by walking according to the Spirit. However, this does not mean that we don’t have occasions when we allow the flesh to influence our decisions. But it does mean that the general tenor of the believer’s life is that he walks according to the Spirit.

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.