It is with great humility and a bit of regret that we leave the eighth chapter of the letter to the Romans. We leave it humbly knowing that it is considered by many to be the greatest chapter of the greatest letter ever written and knowing also that it has been a wellspring of life and comfort to the saints of God for centuries. We also leave it with a bit of regret knowing that the treasures of this chapter are boundless (for its Author is boundless) and that the shortness of our stint in mining its treasures is sure to have left many unturned. But before we progress and move onto the ninth chapter, I would like to take some time to review what we have studied in the eighth.
Complete Freedom in Christ
The contrast between the end of Romans seven and the beginning of Romans eight is quite jolting literarily and theologically. Chapter seven ends with a narrative of a desperate man—a man who characterizes himself as a man of the flesh, a slave of sin, a slave to the law, and a condemned man in need of deliverance. In the context of Romans 6:1-7:6 (the didactic section that precedes the narrative), we know clearly that this man’s character is the polar opposite of the one who is in Christ. We know that the Apostle has said in the preceding context that those who have been crucified with Christ have had their body of sin brought to nothing so that they would no longer be slaves of sin. We know also that those who are in Christ have been freed from the law, for the Apostle writes, “You are not under law but under grace.” And we know from our study in Romans eight that, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Though this man is utterly without Christ, we somehow find ourselves identifying with him. We read his narrative and look at our own lives before Christ, and we sympathize with his condition. We are drawn into his story and are drawn into his desperate condition, and we vicariously experience his hopelessness through it. And we, at the apex of his desperation, feel our hearts plummet with his when he cries out, “Who will deliver me from this body of death!” And we, at the end of the chapter, find ourselves shackled beside the narrator—enslaved to the law and to sin and without hope for deliverance.
And then through the blinding fog of desperation, Romans eight bursts forth like the spotlight of a lighthouse: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death!” All the feelings of condemnation and inadequacy in law keeping that we experienced through the speaker of the narrative are brought to nothing in the light of Christ.
The Apostle writes:
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, 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 (Romans 8:3, 4).
The reason for the great contrast between chapters seven and eight becomes most clear in these verses, namely “God has done what the law weakened by the flesh could not do.” Without Christ and the imputation of his righteousness to our account, our stories would be exactly like the narrator’s of Romans seven. We would find in ourselves the desire to keep the law so that we might live on the one hand, but we would find our absolute inability to keep the law on the other. How desperate and impotent we are apart from Christ!
But Christ did not merely impute his righteousness to us so that we might live after this life, but he has freed us through the Spirit from the bondage of sin and death so that we might live like the Apostle commands in vv. 6:1-7:6. On this, the Apostle elaborates further in his contrast between living in the flesh and living in the Spirit in the following verses, which we will look at in depth next time.
The great point of the narrative of Romans seven and the introduction of Romans eight is to demonstrate our inability against Christ’s ability. Apart from Christ, we are powerless against sin and our flesh. In our natural state, we might by some grace find in ourselves the desire to keep the law so that we might attain the life that the law promises, but apart from Christ we would continually practice evil all the same. For this reason, we, like the narrator in chapter seven, need an Emancipator, a Law Keeper, and a Redeemer. Thus the great contrast between these sections is designed by the Apostle to bring our hearts to the deepest depth of desperation and then exhilarate them with the power and truth that is in Christ so that our weaks hearts might feel a fraction of the joy that this great truth is due. Rejoice today that Christ has fulfilled the law on our behalf, and give to him the praise that he is due!