Romans 8 is one passage of Scripture that seems inescapable for me, of late. Perhaps it’s the wonder and beauty of the apostle’s words that build and build, forming a wonderful crescendo that culminates in verses 35-39. But really, Romans 8 should be inescapable for all of us, seeing as it encompasses the whole of the Christian life. I must reiterate that the foundation and groundwork for the Christian is built upon the pillars of “It is finished” and “No Condemnation.” On these two columns, all of Christianity rests. Likewise, the apostle forms the rationale in Romans 8:1 for everything else that’s to follow, with verses 2-39 being the effects of the liberating declaration: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Paul continues in this first section by delineating that last qualifying phrase, “for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And in verses 5–11, he compares the carnal mind with the spiritual mind.
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. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 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. 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. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 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. (Rom. 8:5–11)
The true emphasis in these verses isn’t merely a contrast between an unsaved person and a saved person — though that application is true and just. The primary application of this contrast is to show the effects of “carnal Christianity,” that is, trying to live “against the law,” or like an Antinomian.
No No-Man’s Land
I’ve quoted before the line from Octavius Winslow, that runs: “You are, my reader, either for Christ, or you are against Christ. In this great controversy between Christ and Satan, you are not an indifferent and unconcerned spectator.” (24) Likewise, we continue with him:
You are for the Lord, or you are against him. You are either Satan’s slave, or Christ’s freeman. (Winslow, 62–63)
The point is that there’s no such thing as middle ground between God and Satan: you’re either for God and the cause of his gospel, or you’re for Satan and the cause of destruction. There’s no “grey area” between the two extremes: you’re either proving his redemptive, transforming grace, or you’re mocking it. (Rom. 8:7) This means that there’s only two true relationships with God: one of enmity, and one of peace.
The Eradication of Enmity
Enmity is “a feeling of hostility or ill will, as between enemies”; and, no doubt, the mind that isn’t yielded to God is the enemy of him. (Rom. 5:8, 10) The unrest and discord has arisen because of sin. Enmity really is everything that’s directly opposed to God and his Word. The mind that’s set on the flesh, on itself, is never mindful of godly things, and can only be remedied by one cause. “Enmity cannot be reconciled. It must be slain,” writes D. G. Barnhouse, “and it has been slain at the cross of Christ.” (40) On the cross, Jesus bore our enmity and eradicated it through his glorious substitution. This slaying of hostility between us and the Father is what has secured peace for our souls, that state of “security, safety, and prosperity.” Blue Letter Bible, when defining “peace” (from Rom. 5:1 KJV), adds that it’s the “tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot.” We, who were once God’s enemies, having nothing in the way of peace, have thus been made his sons and daughters, who now enjoy all the benefits of being a child of the King.
This is the point: you’re either God’s enemy, and suffer nothing but enmity, nothing but friction and turmoil and strife; or, you’re God’s redeemed and beloved child, who now rests in the peace that’s been provided by his Son. These are the only two possibilities: no other way exists. And, in truth, there’s only one way — it’s the road that’s traveled when we’re reminded of the enormity of our sin and the weightiness of Jesus’s forgiveness, and when that takes us over, we can do nothing but surrender all! When the gravity of God’s matchless grace overcomes our sin-ridden souls, we’ll be able to sing with the hymn writer, “Jesus paid it all! All to him I owe!” This is the gospel, and the gospel carries with it an obligation to respond, and the only right response is humility.
Content in Our Neediness
Circling back to the bedrock where we began, this humility is cultivated by preaching, over and over and over again, “It is finished!” “No Condemnation!” Our faith and peace in God is grown the more we surrender to and obey him; and we’ll surrender and obey more willingly and readily the more we remind ourselves of the gospel — that, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1) The more we set our minds on the things of God (Rom. 8:5; Col. 3:1–3), the more we ponder the “fruits of justification” — that is, peace with God, access to God by faith, standing in grace, rejoicing in hope, glorying in trials, abounding in love, the gift of the Holy Spirit — the more we’ll live a life that honors God and that’s deemed “worthy” of his calling. “So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Col. 1:10) This is what God’s after: a people who love righteousness because they love him. He wants people to seek him because they crave him, and pursue him because they’re passionate about him. And this passion and craving is only ignited by humbling ourselves and openly admitting who we are: sinners in desperate need of grace.
The sincerest desire of God’s heart is for us to realize how needy we are — and yet how wonderfully he met and exceeded that need through his Son. Believers must all come to the prayerful realization that all they have and are stems from the imparting of grace by the Son and indwelling work of the Spirit. Nothing of ourselves can afford the peace we crave and the peace Jesus provides. It’s only when we come to a humble recognition of our true estate. “The great secret of a holy and of a happy life is contained in a small compass,” Winslow states, “walking humbly with God.” (63)
Humility, the awareness of indwelling sin, is the force that drives us daily to the cross. Dr. Winslow continues to say, “There can be no progress in holiness apart from a habit of frequent laying open of the heart in the acknowledgment of sin to Christ.” (Winslow, 78) The unsaved and unregenerate person, will never readily own up to his sin apart from the convicting presence of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 8:7–8) Therefore, he can never revel in true peace. As was said before, the enmity of souls before the Spirit’s indwelling only conjures hostility and conflict. But, not so for the Christ-follower. “The best of men have been always the readiest to confess their depravity,” Charles Spurgeon says. “The holiest men, the most free from impurity, have always felt it most. He whose garments are the whitest, will best perceive the spots upon them. He whose crown shineth the brightest, will know when he hath lost a jewel. He who giveth the most light to the world, will always be able to discover his own darkness.” Those who’ve been ransomed, and redeemed, and pardoned, and liberated by the Holy Spirit of God will see their sin and humbly seek forgiveness.
Our passion for and pursuit of Jesus is deeply tied to our amazement of grace. The more we’re convinced and amazed and shocked at the free forgiveness and full pardon and infinite love of the gospel of Christ, the more we’ll surrender and yield everything to him. We’ll pursue holiness and righteousness the more we see our sin and readily confess it; and we’ll willingly confess our sin the more we remind ourselves how marvelous God’s forgiveness and grace is; and the more we remind ourselves of God’s forgiveness and grace, the more we’ll pursue holiness. A “spiritually-minded” person is one whose thoughts and words invoke and impart grace. his actions are loving and his spirit is humble, knowing that he’s been fully and finally forgiven by Christ, and that his infinite debt of sin has been washed away by the infinite pardon of the cross. A “spiritually-minded” Christ-follower is defined by humility, a humility that springs from the confession and admission of sin (1 John 4:15), derived by a remembrance of “No Condemnation.”
I trust you see, now, how Romans 8:1 really does form the basis of our Christian life. And, what’s more, we’re able to openly confess our faults and failures to God because we can know that Jesus has already paid for them! (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10) The price of our shortcomings and rebellings against God has been purchased and covered by Jesus. We’re able to come boldly before the throne of grace because Jesus has bought us and the Spirit is in us. (Rom. 8:10; Heb. 4:14–16; 10:19) And this boldness and confidence isn’t a show of what you’ve done, but is only because of what Jesus has done. He makes a way for boldness and peace because the wrath we’re due and enmity we’ve borne, he’s taken on himself. Now that’s liberating! And it’s also why we’re urged elsewhere to “look unto Jesus” (Heb. 12:2), regardless of what swirls around us. Let not the tempest disrupt your gaze, but ever let Christ Jesus — the Lord, the Savior, the Redeemer, the Person — be your life, your all.
The triumph of the Christ-follower is to be “spiritually-minded,” that is, to live, moment by moment, in the shadow of redemptive grace and the resurrection-life of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. “We live a life of justification by Christ — a life of holiness from Christ — a life of faith in Christ — and a life of immortality with Christ. Thus, in all its phases, ‘Christ is our life.’” (Winslow, 127) This is what it means to be “spiritually-minded.” (Rom. 8:6) Again, I exhort you: respond to grace in humility; receive the freedom of the gospel in humble recognition of who you are. The enormity of our sin and the vastness of God’s grace obligates absolute surrender and “unreserved obedience.”
I leave you with the petition of Mr. Winslow:
Oh, let there be no reserves in our obedience! Let us withhold from Christ no part of his purchased inheritance; but surrender all at his feet, whose heart’s blood was the purchase-price of all. (110)
Donald G. Barnhouse, Expositions of Bible Doctrines Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure, Vol. 3, Part 3 (Philadelphia: The Evangelical Foundation, 1963).
Octavius Winslow, No Condemnation in Christ Jesus: As Unfolded in the Eighth Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1991).