“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” Romans 8:1.
So opens the eighth chapter of Romans – one of the most glorious and assuring passages of scripture for the believer. Here faith’s victory over all its foes is assured because of Him in whom God’s people dwell, He in whom they are “more than conquerors” – the Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice that this deliverance from condemnation is to those who are in Christ Jesus – and none other. Having first shown in chapter three that those whom God saves are those who believe (see 3:22), Paul now begins to show just who believe – they are those who are in Christ – those who are called the sons of God.
But how is one in Christ? And when does that person come to faith in Christ? And how does faith conquer its enemies?
To answer such questions we must first recognise that the salvation of a sinner begins long before he looks to Christ by faith, long before he hears of God’s work in Christ in the Gospel, long before he is convicted of sin or brought to hear the alarm of God sounding in his heart warning him to flee the wrath to come. And it owes nothing to his decision to ‘accept Jesus’ or to make himself acceptable before God by something he does – for what can men who are “dead in trespasses and sins” do to make themselves acceptable to God? And what decision or act of the will can a corpse make to bring himself out of the grave? Absolutely none!
Then if a sinner be saved – and sinners are saved – it will begin not with their will, but with God’s, and not in their time, but in God’s. And God’s work of salvation in saving sinners begins long before they come to faith, long before they are even born, and long before even the Son of God came into the world to lay down His life for others.
As we read through Romans it becomes clear that before a dead sinner is ever given faith to believe in Christ and to know Him as his Saviour, that there is a prior work of God which can be traced back to long before the word of the Gospel is made known unto a man, long before that man is born, long before the world was even created. Long before time even came into existence!
For that work begins in eternity when God purposed to save a people, and purposed to save them in His Son. That’s where salvation lies – in the eternal purpose of God, in the eternal covenant of God between Father and Son, by which God chose a people in Christ “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4), a people whom He predestinated “unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:5-6). It is this people whom Christ, in time, redeemed through His blood, to bring forgiveness of sins, to whom God then makes known “the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself”.
It is this eternal purpose, this divine election which Paul opens up in the ninth chapter of Romans. It is this which led to the work of Christ in laying down His life for the sheep (John 10:15) in order that their sin might be judged in righteousness that God might be “just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus”, as demonstrated in the earlier chapters of Romans. And it is this which leads to the experimental work of God in bringing a sinner to Christ by which they are convicted of sin, quickened unto life, converted, brought to repentance and finally lay hold upon Christ with God-given faith.
So we see an order here, in the work of God in saving sinners, beginning with God’s eternal decree, magnified in the work of God in offering up His Son as a substitutionary sacrifice for sinners, and culminating in the experimental work of God the Spirit in the lifetime of a believer as he is brought from darkness unto light, from death into everlasting life.
In Romans Paul presents these truths by somewhat reversing their order so as to trace the light, as it were, back to its source. Beginning with faith and faith’s object in the earlier chapters he traces back to faith’s origin – the divine election and decree of God in chapter 9. Having presented the objective work of God in the Gospel from chapters 3 to 5, Paul demonstrates the effects in chapters 6 to 8. Here, in the eighth chapter we see the effects of those essential elements of the work of God in all those ultimately brought to faith in Christ – conversion and repentance which spring forth from son-ship.
The entire context of Romans 8 is son-ship – of being in Christ, and born of God. All the assurance, all the comfort, all the blessings, all the victory, is assured to those, and only those, who are in Christ – the sons of God. Once again, as we see throughout Romans the contrast is set before us between those in Christ – both Jew and Gentile, made of twain into one new man (Ephesians 2:15) – and those outside, those of the Last Adam, and those of the first, those loved like Jacob, and those hated like Esau, those in the Spirit, and those in the flesh. Two Men, Two Seeds, Two Pathways…. One unto death… but one unto eternal life.
Yes… eternal life. Eternal life to all in Christ, all who are delivered from death by Him, all delivered from sin and the law, all delivered from all condemnation, all those upon whom God’s love is set, all those who are made “more the conquerors” in Him – and all who can never be separated from God’s love!
But what marks these out? What distinguishes them? Here in chapter 8 Pauls tells us that….
They have a new life
They have turned from darkness unto light
They have a new mind (having previously been given over to a reprobate mind – Romans 1:28)
And they walk by faith, in the Spirit, being heavenly minded.
Given these things it may be asked – from whence does it all spring? Answer – From heaven! By revelation! They all spring from the same source, and that source is the light of God… and that light is conveyed by the Gospel!
So let us briefly consider these things, these essential things, which take place in the salvation of every one of God’s people and by which they are marked out as God’s children.
Sons of God
Firstly, we will never come to see the truth of God’s work in saving sinners, we will never experience the consequence of Christ’s work upon the cross in dying for the ungodly, those without strength (Romans 5:6), until the Spirit of God quickens us unto life.
We must be born again.
It is this new birth and this new life in which Paul rejoices around the start of Romans 8 where he “thanks God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25) for delivering him from the body of death, from the corruption of indwelling sin in his flesh (7:18), from “the law of sin and death” (8:2), by the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”.
That was that in which Paul found deliverance – the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. God, having condemned Paul’s sin in the flesh of His own Son (8:3), Christ having died for sin, and having risen again from the grave with newness of life, Paul too rose again in Him, and, as a result, was born again of the Spirit, quickened unto eternal life, and given “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus”. But until then, until the Spirit applied the effects of Christ’s work to Paul in his own experience, he was just as others – he was dead in sin.
By nature we are dead. Dead spiritually. Dead “in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). Dead to all true awareness of God – of His existence, of His power, of His majesty, of His grace, of His love, of His long-suffering. We’re dead.
Fallen in Adam, shapen in iniquity, conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5), we have from the womb gone astray, speaking lies. We are, by nature, born blind to the truth. We don’t see it, we can’t hear it, we don’t understand it, we don’t love it and we won’t have it. We love sin, we love ourselves, we love this present evil age. To the things of God and the things of eternity we are entirely oblivious and wilfully unaware. We are dead.
But does religion make things better? Did Paul’s religion make him better? Had he not been brought up a Jew, a Pharisee, “of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5)? Was he not zealous, did he not know the scriptures, was he not careful to keep the letter of God’s law? Did this religion lead him into truth – did it lead him to God?
It did not! Though a Jew, though a Hebrew, though a Pharisee, though of the tribe of Benjamin, Paul, Saul as he was then, was utterly blind to the truth concerning Jesus Christ. All his learning in the scriptures, all his zeal in his religion, all his natural intellect and efforts, left him as blind as ever, as dead as ever. In his zeal he opposed the truth, he opposed God’s Son… In his zeal he persecuted the church…
That’s where religion in the letter, in the flesh, gets you. Nowhere. Full of knowledge, full of pride, full of zeal… but still full of death and corruption. Blind to the truth, deaf to the word of life, and dead in trespasses and sins. As Paul later wrote, “what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7). For when God revealed the truth to Paul he was brought to write, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”
Religion, or no religion, by nature we are dead. Completely dead. And can the dead hear? Can they see? Can they believe? Can they stand up and ‘follow Jesus’?
Not at all. Not unless, and not until, they should first rise from the dead. Not until they should be given life again. Not until there should be a resurrection of life from the dead. Not until God in His mercy, should quicken them unto eternal life by the mighty in-working power of His Holy Spirit, by whom He breathes into them heavenly life, eternal life, through the word of His power. Not until, by such a work, they be baptised with the Spirit of God, by which He makes His abode in man and comes to dwell in him, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you… And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Romans 8:9,10). No, not until God quickens their “mortal bodies by his Spirit” (Romans 8:11). And no, not until that hour comes when “the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live” John 6:25.
But should that hour come, should the Son of God be pleased to speak to us by His Spirit, through the Gospel, then we will be born again, and having life – Christ’s life in us – we will see and believe on the Son of God who saved us. For “he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” John 6:24.
Have you heard the word of the Son of God? Have you who were once in the grave, bound by sin, death and corruption, heard Christ’s voice in the Gospel (John 6:28), being “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever”? (1 Peter 1:23)
For unless you have heard, and until you are born again, you cannot “see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
And for that reason, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).
The immediate consequence of this new birth is conversion. Conversion means to be turned – turned from one way to another way, turned from walking one direction, to walking in another direction altogether.
That is the effect of the Gospel upon those whom God quickens unto life, those whose eyes are opened – “to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Acts 26:18).
Those born of God, the sons of God, are turned from darkness unto the light. They are turned from that pathway they once walked in the flesh, to a new pathway in which they follow after the Son of God, as led by the Spirit (Romans 8:4). The change is dramatic – it is a 180-degree turn. Once they went this way…. But now they are led this way. Once they loved darkness, but now they love the light of truth. Once they hated God, but now they are brought to love Him whose love overwhelms them. Once they walked after every desire and every lust of their sinful flesh, but now they hate the deeds of the flesh and that corruption which lies therein, and they long for the things of God. Once they were oblivious to their inability in the flesh to keep the demands of God’s holy law, but now, the commandment having come by the application of the Spirit they find that it condemns them utterly, and they find themselves crying out for deliverance! (Romans 7:9-11, 24). And having cried out, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” they find their answer in Christ and His Gospel, who has delivered them from the law of sin and death, causing them to “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:4).
And now… as led by the Spirit of God, as separated – sanctified – unto God, they “by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality” Romans 2:7.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” Romans 8:14.
The granting of repentance
From verse 5 of Romans 8 through to verse 17 Paul deals with the realities of the new life which believers have in Christ as being born of God. Through the preaching of the Gospel, being born again by the Spirit of God through the truth, soundly converted, being turned from darkness unto light, God’s people are given an entirely new mentality. Once they were carnally minded, but now they are spiritually minded. Once they minded the things of the flesh which brought death, but now they mind the things of the Spirit which are “life and peace” (Romans 8:6).
Such a dramatic change, such a change of the mentality, of our whole way of thinking, is known as repentance, and without repentance, without such a change, we will never think rightly of God, and never know God as our Saviour. But just as surely as all who are born of God will be converted, so too they will be brought to repentance, turning from the things of the flesh to mind the things of the Spirit.
To this end Paul preached the Gospel – “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). And to this end, to grant such repentance, such a change in the understanding, Christ Himself opened up the scriptures to His disciples in Luke 24:44-48, “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.”
Many think of repentance in terms of its effect upon the heart, in terms of that contrite spirit which is wrought within, the mourning over our sins and the turning away from them. But whilst all that might be an effect, the reality is that repentance is essentially to do with the mentality. The Greek is metanoia and its meaning regards the mind and a complete change of that mind and its thinking. Except our whole mentality be changed, our whole understanding and comprehension of the things of God, then we will remain opposed to the truth, “because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8). Likewise, because fallen men and women “did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness…” (Romans 1:28-29).
But thank God that those whom he quickens unto life are no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit (8:9), having a new mentality, having repented of their dead works before God and, reckoning their flesh to be dead, come to rest in the righteousness of God in Christ for justification, as indwelt by the Spirit of God who is “life because of righteousness” (8:10).
Oh what a transformation does such repentance bring! What a passing from death unto life, from darkness unto light, from the flesh to the Spirit – and to what end? That we might be called the “sons of God” who have “not received the spirit of bondage again to fear” but “the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father”! Yes, whereby we cry “Abba, Father”! What communion, what nearness to God the Father the sons of God are brought into! How astounding this is, what a reconciliation there is here between those who were once so far apart, and yet are now brought to be so near.
And how shall we know that we are sons of the Father? By this means – “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:17).
The faith which conquers
The conclusion of Romans 8 from verse 18 through to verse 39 represents one of the most encouraging and glorious passages of scripture for the believer in Jesus Christ. Having set before us the work of God in Christ in saving His people, the consequences of that work in bringing that people to newness of life in Christ Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit, in turning them from darkness unto light, from walking after the flesh to being led by the Spirit, in granting to them repentance to bring them to a new way of thinking, being turned from the carnal mind to be spiritually minded, Paul now brings before our gaze the fruit of that work in the gift of saving faith by which all God’s people see and believe the Gospel, by which they are united to and trust in Jesus Christ their Saviour, and by which they walk in hope before God, as assured of victory over all their foes. It is faith and the certain hope which is presented to that faith which lies behind the rest of chapter 8.
This passage presents to us the assurance which faiths finds in the work of God for His people, not because of anything they do or can do, but entirely because of the work of God on their behalf. Here faith finds its comfort, finds its hope, and finds its victory, in the sure and certain work of God in the predestination, calling, justifying and glorifying (Romans 8:30) of all those whom God chose in Christ before the foundation of the world.
Here faith finds that whatever its tribulations may be in this earthly realm, whatever the “sufferings of this present time” (8:18) might entail, whatever the groaning and travailing in pain (8:22) as we wait for the “adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body”, nevertheless we are “saved by hope”, patiently waiting for that which we can’t now see with the natural eye (8:25) but which we look to by the eye of faith, yearning for the promise of the inheritance to come as we pray by the Spirit, who by Christ intercedes for us, the saints, “according to the will of God” (8:27).
It is by such faith that “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
And on what ground does that faith trust in such knowledge? On the ground that those “whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30).
What a ground for hope to rest in! What a sure and certain salvation God has wrought for all His people. How sure the end is, given the beginning – “whom he did foreknow… them he also glorified”. Who did this? God did! It is all of God, from start to finish. Not one step depends on man, on his frail strength, his fickle will, nor his depraved desire, nor even his faith, for it is not faith which saves man, but the One in whom faith rests. All is of God, all is by grace, all is sure and certain, for when Christ cried out “It is finished!” it was finished! Everything necessary to justify His people was done. Salvation is of the Lord! And what a salvation!
But with what effect? What is the confident cry of faith in which it finds its hope?
What shall we say to these things?
“If God be for us, who can be against us?
He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.
Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31-39
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