New Life in the Spirit (Part 1) – Romans 8:1-17

YouTube video sermon

Romans 8:1-17

Let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Romans 8.  We use degrees of intensity, every day, when we talk and yet we probably don’t give any thought to their official labels.  For example, we say that we’re “happy.”  That’s the absolute degree.  Then we say that we’re “happier” than the next fellow.  That’s the comparative degree.  Finally, we say that we’re the “happiest.”  That’s the superlative degree.

Now, with some things, it’s easy to assign one of these three labels.  Take buildings for instance.  When it was completed in 1931, the Empire State Building was the world’s tallest building at 1,250 feet.  It was tall, taller, and tallest (all at the same time).  But today, it’s only tall.  In fact, the Empire State Building barely cracks the top 50 (at 49) of the world’s tallest buildings.  Presently, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates is the tallest at 2,717 feet (more than ½ mile).

When we’re talking about concrete and steel it’s fairly easy to slap a label on it.  But let’s adjust the terms a little bit and talk about good, better, and best.  Ah, now we’ve moved from the objective to the subjective.  Which of the world’s tallest buildings is the “best” building?  In that case, you should probably bring your lunch and prepare to stay a while.

What if we move the discussion from buildings to books?  Which of the books of the Bible would you say is the greatest?  Which chapter?  Which verse?  Which word or phrase?  Sure, we can look at the Bible using objective measurements (longest/shortest books, chapters, and verses), but applying subjective measures in more difficult.

I’m reminded of a story told by American theologian and Bible teacher, James Montgomery Boice.  Dr. Boice had more degrees than a thermometer, and he recalled an occasion where he anointed Romans 8 as the greatest chapter of the Bible during a sermon, only to have one of his parishioners catch him at the door and tell him that he’d already given that distinction to Hosea 3 in a sermon a few years earlier.  Dr. Boice, thinking quickly, fell back on a sentiment offered by renowned British minister, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, said, “Ah, yes, but the greatest book of the Bible should always be the one studied or taught at the moment.”

The reason I mention all of this gradation of degrees and the subjectivity of determining great, greater, and greatest is because we’ve arrived at the chapter of Scripture that many call the greatest, which is part of the book that many call the greatest, and which contains the verse that many call the greatest.

Philipp Jakob Spener was a German Lutheran theologian of the late 1600’s who said, “if the Bible was a ring and the Book of Romans its precious stone, chapter 8 would be the sparkling point of the jewel.”  Dr. Charles Trumbull, long-time editor of The Sunday School Times perhaps said it best, “The eighth of Romans has become peculiarly precious to me, beginning with ‘no condemnation,’ ending with ‘no separation’ and in between, ‘no defeat.’” 

With that, we come to what may be called the inspirational highlight of the Book of Romans.  In this chapter we find Paul swept along in a wave of spiritual exaltation that begins with God’s provision of the Holy Spirit for victory over the old nature.  He then breaks through the sufferings that mark our present existence, and he ends with a doxology of praise to the unfathomable love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.  And I believe that’s one of the reasons that so many people love this portion of Scripture – because it addresses our greatest need: protection, security and safety.

Paul has just succeeded, in Romans 6-7 of stripping away two appealing sources of security for us: sin and legalism.  Many people go in one direction and define themselves by their sin.  Others go in the opposite direction and define themselves by their attempts at perfection.  But the majority of us are somewhere in the middle.  And Paul has told us that we can, by dying to sin (Romans 6) and to the law (Romans 7), have a new identity in Jesus Christ.  Now, that sounds good in theory but it needs to be fleshed out for practice, and that’s the purpose of Romans 8.

Follow along with me as I read Romans 8:1-17.

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  3 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, 4 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.  5 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 set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  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.  8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.  10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  11 If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

 12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  13 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.  14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.  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!”  16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

These first 17 verses of Romans 8 detail three freedoms that believers, who have died to sin and the law, have by way of the Spirit, and the first is…

Freedom From Condemnation

Romans 1–7 lays it all out: holy God, sinful man, coming wrath, perfect Savior, Jesus Christ crucified and risen, justification by faith, and sanctification by faith.  And now Paul sums up the message of Christianity in the great conclusion of Romans 8:1: “Therefore [in view of all that, in light of chapters 1-7] there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

That’s the essence of Christianity.  That’s the central, foundational message of God to the world.  This is what we announce.  This is what we plead.  This is what we lay down our lives to communicate to the nations, to our neighbors, and to ourselves: no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

In keeping with our grammar lesson for today, did you know that the word “now” can have two different connotations?  The first is the way that most of us read this passage – finally, everything is in place, everything has been done, finally, now I can receive what I was promised.

It’s like a grandfather who sends a package to his granddaughter and says, “Do not open until your birthday.”  Every day the little girl says, “Now?  Can I open it now?”  “No, not now.  Only on your birthday.”  When it comes then she says, “Finally, now!”  The “now” in that case comes after waiting.

But the other nuance for “now” is the now that comes before you thought it would.  Let’s take that same grandfather.  This time he writes to his son and sends him a $5,000 check and says, “Son, you know that someday you will inherit my estate.  But I know that now is when you need it the most, so I am sending you this in advance.”  In this case the “now” is not “finally now,” but, “already now.”

Both of these meanings are found in Romans 8.  Look at verse 3, “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned [there’s the word!] sin in the flesh.”

So, here’s the “finally now” version.  All those many years the law commanded, and the law condemned law-breakers, and the law pointed to a righteousness and a sacrifice that would someday come, but the law wasn’t able to remove condemnation from sinners.  If there was to come a time when sinners could experience “no condemnation!” – when the ungodly could be justified by faith – then God would have to do something besides give a law.  And what He did was send His Son in human nature, as our representative and substitute and there on the cross in the suffering of His Son, God condemned sin!

That’s the gospel.  That’s Christianity.  All of us were under God’s condemnation because of our sin.  But, as Romans 5:6 says, “While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”  In Romans 8:3 we see what it means that Christ died for the ungodly.  It means that God poured out on His Son the condemnation that we deserved.  He condemned sin (my sin!) in the flesh (Christ’s flesh!).  Therefore… finally… now… there is no condemnation.  Now, everything has been done in order to absorb the wrath of God.  Now, finally, there is no condemnation.  That’s the “finally now” version.

But what about the “already now” version?  Look at Romans 8:33–34.  Paul looks to the future.  He considers the fact that the final judgment is yet to come.  And on the way to it, there are many days when our adversary, the devil, will try to deceive us and blind us and accuse us and swallow us up in feelings of guilt.  So, Paul uses the “already now” version of no condemnation: “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?  God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns [there’s the word!]?  Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”

So, here, we not only have the backward look to remind us that Christ has died and become our condemnation, but the forward look to remind us that, even though there’s a judgment coming, and we will sometimes tremble at the thought of it, nevertheless, already now there is no condemnation.

We don’t have to wait for the final inheritance to know what our portion will be.  “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?”  In that last day when your whole life, when my whole life – with all its Romans 7 imperfections is spread before us – this alone will be our hope: “It is God who justifies . . . it is Christ Jesus who died . . . who was raised . . . who intercedes.”

The verdict of the last judgment was given at Calvary: Not guilty!  No condemnation!  Finally, now, yes!  Already, now, yes!  This is the heart of Christianity.  This is the gift of God.

But notice, it’s only for those “who are in Christ Jesus.”  Some are in Him and some are not.  Paul assumes this everywhere in his writings.  There are those “in Christ” and there are those “outside.”  Make no mistake, Paul is not a universalist.  He says explicitly in Romans 9:3, with grief, that there are those who are “accursed, separated from Christ.”  Where are you?  In Christ?  Or separated from Christ?

Only by being in Christ does Christ’s condemnation become your condemnation.  If you want to be able to say now and at the last judgment, “There is no condemnation for me, because Jesus endured it for me,” then you must be “in Jesus.”  If you’re in Him, what happened to Him, happened to you.  If you’re not in Him, if you’re separated from Him, then you have no warrant for saying that what happened to Him happened to you.

There are some that say, “Ah, yes, but He died for the whole world.  He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  Yes, indeed.  And what that means is that there is infinite room in Jesus.  As John Piper says “Christ is not a small hotel.”  There’s room for everyone.  And everyone is invited and commanded, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden. . . . Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost. . . . The one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out” (Matthew 11:28; Revelation 22:17; John 6:37).

But what if you don’t come?  What if you don’t believe?  What if you don’t receive the free gift?  Jesus tells us in John 3:36, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”  The wrath of God – the condemnation of God is taken away in Christ.  Not outside Christ.

So, where are you?  In Christ?  Or outside Christ?  Free from condemnation?  Or under condemnation?  You don’t have to stay under condemnation.  There’s room in Christ.  There’s always room in Christ.  And Christ’s word to every sinner is, “Come!  Trust me!  Enter!  I will be your life, your righteousness, your pardon, because I have been your condemnation.”

The second freedom that the Christian has access to by way of the Spirit is…

Freedom From The Sinful Nature

There’s a lot that could be said about verses 5-11, but the main point today is the impact that our minds have on our freedom from the sinful nature (the flesh, as some translations have it).  Beginning with verse 5, Paul mentions the “mind” (phroneó) five times.  The Greek word is not exactly equivalent to our English word because the Greek word includes a visceral, an instinctual, and intuitive aspect, as well as a cognitive aspect.  So, the mind that Paul is speaking about here is not just factual knowledge.  It’s not just an educated mind, or an intellectual mind.  It’s also a mind that is instinctually informed.  It’s connected in a deep and significant way to the Spirit.

Thankfully our English translators have helped us out a little bit here, because they’ve translated “spirit” with a capital S – meaning the Holy Spirit.  See, in the Greek New Testament, the word for “spirit” is pneuma and it’s not capitalized when speaking about the Holy Spirit.  The spirit is the spirit, and only the context can help you determine whether the writer was speaking about our human spirit or the Holy Spirit.

So what Paul is saying here is that if we’ve been “righteousized,” if we’ve been justified, if we’ve been made right with God by grace through faith in Jesus, then our minds will be set on the things of the Holy Spirit.

You may not recognize the name John Owen.  He was a contemporary of Oliver Cromwell in England during the mid-1600’s and was Vice Chancellor of Oxford University.  In volume 7 of his multi-volume treatise on the Holy Spirit he writes about the duty of being spiritually minded, and he poses this weighty question: What does your mind default to when it’s not thinking about anything in particular?  When you’re relaxed, when you’re just taking a break from all the other stuff going on in the world, when you’re not doing anything in particular – you’re just taking it easy – where does your mind go?  Where does it revert to?  And John Owen said that is a sign of the degree to which you’re growing towards a spiritual mindset.

It’s a convicting question, isn’t it?  You might find, as you think more fully on it, that you’re troubled by what you find.  A great deal of growing in our sanctification is about habits.  Breaking old habits and starting new ones.  And there are so many things about us and our daily living that are so habitual that we don’t even think about it.  Take, for instance, this whole COVID situation.  How many times have you touched your face today and you didn’t even realize it?

I was talking with several of you this week about Major League Baseball’s return to the field and some of the steps they’re taking to protect themselves.  One of the restrictions that they’ve implemented is that pitchers aren’t allowed to lick their fingers.  Now, for some you, that’s a horrible thing anyway, but if you’re a guy it’s natural (to some extent).  And I was thinking about this.  These professional players have been playing this sport for so long that doing these things is hardwired into who they are.  Paul says that the person who has been regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit ought to be thinking about the things that the Spirit is thinking about.  That’s profound.  And humbling.

Listen to how much emphasis the Apostle Paul gives to our minds, when it comes to living the Christian life.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:2)

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Now, I’m not suggesting that you can never think about things of this world, or material things, or things of the flesh.  Indeed, our daily lives are lived out in this world.  Rather, we ought to understand it as Corrie ten Boom did.  She writes, “I have a glove here in my hand.  The glove cannot do anything by itself, but when my hand is in it, it can do many things.  True, it is not the glove, but my hand in the glove that acts.  We are gloves.  It is the Holy Spirit in us who is the hand, who does the job.  We have to make room for the hand so that every finger is filled.”

Freedom from condemnation.  Freedom from the Sinful Nature (the flesh) and finally…

Freedom From Abandonment

I have to give Melissa all the credit for our adoption of Jordan.  At the time, adoption was the last thing on my mind.  But I wouldn’t trade him for all the money in the world.  He’s as much my son as Parker is.  Those of you that have adopted know what I’m talking about.  Of course, I’m not saying that biological children are less favored.  But there’s a major difference between biological children and adoptive children and that difference is: choice.  Every adoption is a conscious choice of the parents to choose the child, especially young and infant children.  And that’s the way it is with God.  This reality of adoption is a massive, firm, legal reality.  And it’s a deep, strong, full-hearted emotional reality, too.

When the Holy Spirit is called, in verse 15, the “Spirit of adoption,” the meaning is that the Spirit confirms and makes real to you this great legal transaction of adoption.  If you’ve trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior and Treasure, then you’re adopted.  John 1:12 says, “To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”  If you receive Christ, you are adopted.

Now to seal this and confirm it and make it experientially real to you, God sends the Spirit into our hearts.  Here’s the way Paul says it in Galatians 4:5-6, “[Christ] redeemed those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.  Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”  The Spirit is poured out into our hearts to confirm and make real our adoption.

How does he do that according to verse 15?  He does it by replacing the fear of a slave toward a master with the love of a son toward a father.  “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!’”  We’re free from the fear of abandonment to slavery and loneliness.  The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to change our slavish fears toward God into confident, happy, peaceful affection for God as our father.

If you want to know that you’re a child of God, you don’t put your ear to the Holy Spirit and wait for a whisper; put your ear to the gospel and your eye to the cross of Christ and you pray that the Holy Spirit would enable you to see it and savor it for what it really is.  Romans 5:8 says, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The testimony of the Spirit is that when we look at cross we cry, “Jesus, you are my Lord!” (1 Corinthians 12:3), and “God, you are my Father!”  So, look to Christ!  Look to Christ!