James (Steve) Clay, MABC, LPC
Author: James (Steve) Clay, MABC, LPC

Life is war. On many levels, each day is a struggle at worst to survive or at best to thrive. The struggle can become so intense that we seek just to “make it” another day. For the Christian, who at some level understands that he is living in a fallen world, gains a degree of clarity that things are, in a sense, as should be expected. We get no further in the Bible than chapter three of Genesis but that we are confronted with the source of the world’s brokenness (namely, sin) and the consequences of it. Things are painful, messed up, perverted, corrupt, poisoned because of the foolish rebellion of man. Ironically, that same foolish rebellion which gave rise to fallenness is also the expressive fruit of it. The result is chaos, disintegration, sickness and disease, wars, fighting, strife, animosity, addiction, loneliness and more. One can easily become discouraged and even depressed, or turn to pseudo means of escape in order to avoid the painful realities of living in a fallen world. Our own sin—both as a condition of our hearts and also as the sins it produces— compounds our suffering and pain, making worse our experience of living in a fallen world. We just are in a huge mess with no means to extricate ourselves apart from divine intervention. We desperately need help if we are to battle well in life.

Romans 8 is a chapter in the Bible well-known and beloved by many. In no other place in the Bible is the war of life better elaborated than here. In this chapter we find the fallen condition affecting all of creation; we find Christ setting us free from bondage to sin and death; we find the Spirit’s work enabling us to live without fear, empowered in heart and mind to fulfill the intentions of God; we find God’s eternal purpose to redeem all things and especially those He calls to be His children, conforming His elect to the very image of His Son, as a demonstration of His massive grace and unending love. Wow! That will charge your battery for the war each day! Let’s look at some of this in detail, perhaps in a way that makes for deeper thought and appreciation of all that we have in Christ, leading us to deeper faith and worship of Him. We need to know solid truths and daily remind ourselves of them if we are to be effective in challenging the lies of the enemy, the allurements of the world, and the cravings of the sinful flesh. The first of these truths is that we have been set free in Christ—free from condemnation and free to trust, obey, and love.

To many people the greatest verse in the Bible is Romans 8:1. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” What makes this verse great is not just that it declares our freedom, but connects us to the source of our freedom, namely Christ Jesus. The fact that Paul uses the word “now” makes the reality of our freedom in Christ all the more poignant. Our salvation is not something that is earned by us, but rather it is now ours in Christ. God, in Christ, has given it to us, along with all the attendant blessings accompanying such a great salvation. Our salvation is secure in what God has done and continues to do for us through Jesus Christ. What great news!! Romans 8 indicates that great blessings result from our identification with Christ Jesus.

One of these blessing is that we are free from condemnation. Without that freedom, condemnation leaves us without hope, both living in fallen world now and also in an eternity that is far worse. The condemnation that is rightfully ours due to sin, fell on Jesus, so that it no longer falls on us (v.3). God’s wrath against us has been removed, having been absorbed in the death of Christ. Therefore, there can be no accusation against us (v.33). No one can condemn us, for Christ died, was raised, and now intercedes in our behalf at God’s right hand (v. 34; cp. 1 John 2:1; Hebrews 7:25). I find that in my own life, as well as in the lives of those I counsel, condemnation—both from others and also toward self—is a common theme. And rightly so we should feel condemnation apart from Christ, regardless of how moral and upright we are. Even in our very best efforts, we all fall short. Condemnation sets us at odds with God and with one another. It seals our fate, so to speak, and leaves us guilty, dirty, and hopeless. The removal of condemnation is the door for relationship with God and others. We are reconciled to God in the removal of our sin and condemnation, all of which Christ did for us. The removal of condemnation gives us hope, knowing that the one to Whom we owe righteousness and to Whom we are unable to pay, has paid the debt Himself. In Christ’s death on our behalf, we are simultaneously reminded of His holiness and love. What measure of grace! What reason to rejoice! We are free from condemnation and ultimate destruction because God took the initiative in our behalf.  In Christ we are free from condemnation.

A second blessing in Romans 8 is the freedom of the Spirit (vv. 2-4). Paul connects verses 1 and 2 with the word “for,” indicating the basis of our freedom from condemnation. Our liberation is based on our justification, that is, that God has declared us righteous. We have been set free from the law of sin and death and set free to live in the law of the Spirit of life. Why? Because our justification in Christ fulfills the righteous requirements of the law, thus setting us free from condemnation and gaining us access to grace by which we live lives of joy and gladness.

Therefore, we no longer look to the law as a means of attaining required righteousness. To do so brings us back under bondage, for the law is weak toward salvation because of our inability to keep it. God’s initiative on our behalf was to justify us in Christ, freeing us from condemnation, and to sanctify us by His Spirit, who enables us to walk in faith toward holiness. Our freedom from the law is not a freedom to disobey it or to ignore it, but a freedom from its condemnation for not fulfilling it on our own. Obedience to the law is important to God; enough that He sent His son to die for us and give His Spirit to live in us in order to secure it for us. The freedom of the Spirit gives us freedom from bondage again to slavery, both from condemnation and unrighteous living.

When people I counsel struggle in bondage, one of two things is generally true. One pertains to people who understand the Christian life as an attempt to attain righteousness on their own. Though these people believe they are saved by grace, they believe they grow by self-effort. The Holy Spirit is relegated to an impersonal force they cognitively know they need, but non-essential in fighting unbelief and sin. Sin is reduced to moral behavioral standards that require white-knuckle effort and self-discipline. These people either become spiritually smug or they burn out in attempts to feel good about themselves apart from God’s intervening grace. The other group is those who see the demands of the law as impossible and give up. They give in to sin, believing that growth is impossible due to the demands of God. Sin is preferable and far easier. Therefore, giving in to sin is the norm. Why try when you know you are going to fail? But Romans 8 gives hope to both groups of people. Let’s ask a few clarifying questions and succinctly answer them.

What does it mean to fulfill the requirement of the Law in our experience beyond that of being declared righteous? What are the results of justification, showing forth in the life of the growing believer? How does the Spirit enable us to fulfill the requirement of the Law in the here and now?

1.       The requirement of the Law is accomplished in us by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (v. 4; Galatians 5:13-16, 22)

2.       Our fulfilling the law is accomplished by faith, as it is by faith in justification and the promises of God attached to our justification (Galatians 3:5: 5:6; 1 Timothy 1:5).

3.       Our fulfilling the law is the fruit and evidence of being justified by faith (Romans 3:20-25, 28; 5:19; 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

4.       Our fulfilling the law means to live a life of authentic love for other people, growing out of faith in God’s grace for the future (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13-18; Matthew 7:12; 22:37-40)

5.       This love will not be perfected in our lifetime (Romans 7; Philippians 3:12), but will be perfected when we live in perfection forever (when remaining corruption is completely removed)—Romans 8:30; Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 12:22-23).

How do we battle using these truths? We rehearse them daily, like we eat food, drink water, and breath air. We ask the Lord to open our eyes to see the wonder of His grace in Christ Jesus. We ask that He enliven our sultry hearts with passion for Himself. We ask for greater faith in the declared truths of justification and promised sanctification. We then act on the faith He has given us. We seek to obey Him out of faith, not self-justification, being eager to see Him glorified. We are patient with the process, knowing that our growth in Christ takes time, but yet is a finished product. We look confidently to the day when we will see Him in glory, enjoying His presence forevermore. We remind ourselves of the promises of God (several which we will look at in Romans 8 later).

There is hope in the gospel. We are free from condemnation, free to live in the freedom of the Spirit. Enabled to live toward that which gives us experiential freedom, we no longer have to meet God’s requirements for salvation, but enjoy the freedom of Christ having met them for us. We now live by faith, and that faith enables us to trust His on-going work in us, changing us toward those who live the heart of the law, but enjoy doing it.