“If Holy Scripture were a ring and the Epistle to the Romans its precious stone, then Chapter 8 would be the sparkling point of the jewel.” (1)
“We enter [Romans 8] with no condemnation, we close with no separation and in between all things work together for good to those that love God.” (2)
“If the Epistle to the Romans may be likened to a great cathedral of Christian truth, then ch. 8 is the highest of the towering spires of that divine revelation. The grandeur of the theme is shown in the largeness of its references to God; the sweep of its revelation which includes past, present, and future – from creation to eternity; the good news of its message about God’s answer to sin’s tyranny; its lovely and soul-sustaining homily on suffering; and its closing triumphant note on the security of the believer” (3)
Perhaps no other chapter in the entire Bible is so richly filled with such profound doctrinal truth, seamlessly interwoven with reassuring practical comfort. The entire spectrum of Divine revelation is explored in these brief 39 verses: from the simplicity of the Apostle’s logical exposition of the Law of the Spirit versus the law of sin and death, found in the chapter’s opening passage, to the mind-boggling implications of predestination and election touched upon in the 29th and 30th verses.
The opening word of each verse is frequently a conjunction neatly tying the verse with those preceding it. For, and, because, likewise, but, and therefore appear often at the beginning of each sentence, reminding us of the fact that each revelation from the the mouth of God rests firmly upon those He has previously given, and how each new one will eventually serve as a platform for truths yet to come. Isaiah declared that the knowledge and doctrines of the Lord are to be given “precept upon precept and line upon line” (Is. 28:10), and the unfolding of spiritual truth found in Romans 8 certainly follows that pattern.
In my mind, no chapter of Scripture surpasses the Eighth of Romans in its ability to so succinctly summarize all that the believer has in Christ and to bring such unparalleled joy and assurance. Great doctrinal truths, some hotly debated amongst different Christian denominations, are unequivocally expounded with a certainty that carries the power and authority to assuage the forlorn and silence the discordant. It was no accident that some two-and-a half years ago, when I began “Answers From The Book”, I opened my own Bible to Romans 8, snapped a photo of it, and used that picture as the header for this website’s homepage. I have wanted to write about this wonderful chapter of God’s Word for a very long time and am overjoyed to be getting into it.
If any chapter of the Bible deserves a thorough, line-by-line, in-depth examination, it is this one. With that said, I would like to look now at the first verse:
“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)
An old axiom of Bible study says, “Whenever you see the word therefore in the Bible, look up at the previous few verses to see what it’s there for.” Therefore connects what is about to be said with what has already been said. It shows us how what we have been considering brought about or made possible what we will consider next. But how far back does this particular therefore in Verse 1 look? Are we only considering the Christian’s inward struggle with sin discussed in Chapter 7 when we say that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus? Or does this one little word, therefore, look back much further? Since Chapter 8 effectively concludes this entire section of Romans, going all the way back to at least the Third Chapter, it seems that this therefore is looking clear back to 3:21 and all that has followed. This therefore speaks of the finality of Christ’s work on our behalf and the efficacy of His shed Blood for the complete remission of the believer’s sin. The Apostle Paul’s woeful lament in Romans 7:24 is resoundingly answered in Verse 25. Jesus Christ our Lord is the One Who not only justifies the believer but also sanctifies, His Holy Spirit strengthening the Christian to overcome the power of sin’s abiding lure.
All of the pending judgment hanging over the head of the sinner who trusts in Jesus Christ is wiped away the instant they put their faith in Him and the strength to live a life pleasing to God is immediately present. Though not always manifest at once, the power is there nonetheless. As the one who finds himself able to overcome the fears that have kept him shackled in a prison of his own insecurity, the believer who resolves to stand firmly against the temptation that beguiles him suddenly realizes that the Power to do so has indwelt him all along.
“Therefore there is now no condemnation…”, a declaration that rests firmly on the entirety of God’s grace: from the first manifestation of a righteousness apart from the Law of Moses in Romans 3:21 to the putting down of the power of the flesh introduced in Romans 7. All of the guilt, all of the failure, all of the unrighteousness of which the spiritually discerning reader has been justly convicted throughout the first seven chapters of Romans is thoroughly swept away, no remnant of it remaining, by that one simple word: therefore.
No Condemnation For Whom?
The notion of a universal salvation automatically bestowed upon all mankind is refuted by the qualifier, “to them which are in Christ Jesus.” The Good News that those trusting in Christ face no condemnation is only significant when considered in light of the fact that those not trusting in Christ do face condemnation. Salvation is not really salvation apart from the implication that there exists something from which the believer is being saved. Those rejecting Christ will face judgment and are under the condemnation of God. The Lord Jesus declared to Nicodemus:
“He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)
Back in Romans 5:18, we were told that all men are under condemnation apart from Christ. The wrath of God remains on those who deny His Son (John 3:36) and no one rejecting Jesus will inherit eternal life.
Who Walk Not After The Flesh…
Finally, we come to the last phrase of the first verse: “Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Those unfamiliar with the King James Version are possibly unaware of this controversial segment of the verse because it does not appear in most modern translations; though some mention the phrase in the footnotes. One fascinating aspect of this phrase is the attention that it has received from so many commentators. Nearly every commentary I have seen referring to this verse focuses in detail on the phrase and offers up the commentator’s personal opinion as to whether or not it truly belongs in the verse at all.
Labeled an interpolation, or later, uninspired addition by a scribe or scribes copying or translating the text, by many scholars noting it’s verbatim repetition at the conclusion of Verse 4, it has been suggested that its inclusion in the first verse was a copying error, an ancient typo, so to speak, where someone seems to have become careless with the task at hand and has somehow added an entire phrase where it did not belong. Given the meticulous nature of copying and transcribing that has historically been employed with respect to the Word of God, this seems, to me, an improbable explanation. For such an oversight to go undetected for so long seems highly unlikely. Additionally, the phrase does appear in a great many of the ancient Greek manuscripts which would imply that the oversight would have occurred very early on in the process of producing copies.
Others have suggested that the interpolation was intentional; a scribe adding his own theological bias into Holy Scripture. Though there are certain verses in the Bible where it is debated whether or not the text was tampered with after-the-fact, my personal opinion is that the Holy Bible we possess today reads exactly as God intended it to read. If the Lord Jesus declared that not one jot or tittle would be altered from the Law until all things are fulfilled (Matt. 5:18), how much more would the Lord preserve the integrity of His entire Holy Word? It seems to me that we begin to travel down a murky road when we suggest that Scripture has been compromised in any way and that we may or may not have the authentic, Holy Spirit-breathed Message from God to man. If one portion “doesn’t really belong”, then what others might not? Entire doctrines of Scripture can be called into question, perhaps those that we personally find most disagreeable. The cultists and skeptics have practiced this exact exegetical strategy for years as a convenient way to avoid responsibility for responding to the inspired Word. There is no limit to the amount of “questionable” verses that might exist if one is so inclined to “find them.”
Perhaps the most intriguing thing about this controversial phrase is our knee-jerk reaction to it. Here we feel, right in the middle of such a profound section of Scripture describing so eloquently the unmerited grace of God towards the depraved sinner, the need to explicate such an otherwise straightforward statement. For we perceive within our frail human nature the implication that, if it be only the Christian who “walks not after the flesh” who is freed from God’s condemnation, what of the rest of us? And if we are so bold as to entertain, for even a minute, the notion that we ourselves might qualify as those who “walk after the Spirit”, at what point does one cease to be spiritual and become fleshly?
We are all keenly aware that we do not live up to God’s holy standards nor do we invariably “walk after the Holy Spirit.” So keenly aware are we that it seems necessary to go to great lengths to perish any thought that suggests otherwise. Yet, even so, isn’t such a refutation of man’s ability to please God through our own efforts really at the heart of this entire section of Romans, in fact, at the heart of the entire Book of Romans? How is it, amidst all of this talk of God’s gracious provision of a righteousness for those unable to produce their own, that we would for a second believe that the Word would contradict itself at such a key point? Or are we so foolish as those Galatians whom Paul chastised for thinking it possible or even compulsory to finish that in the flesh which God has begun in the Spirit (Gal. 3:3)?
Rather than serving as a legalistic qualifier, a demand for a perfect conduct to be displayed in order to be counted as worthy of deserving no condemnation, does not this phrase carry with it more of a description of those trusting in Christ rather than a condition? Verses 5-13 will go on to define what it means exactly to walk after the flesh in contrast with walking after the Spirit. It is no more nor less than the distinction between those who belong to Christ and those who do not. As has been the overriding theme throughout Romans thus far: Christianity is a matter of faith and trust, of relationship and position rather than success in conduct. It is not, therefore, an elite sub-category within the Body of Christ who have transcended any and all possibility of transgressing God’s Commandments who walk after the Spirit, but it is all who have come to genuine faith in Jesus Christ who, though not perfectly, desire to live a life pleasing the One Who gave Himself for them rather than living for their own selfish interests. Verse 9 states that it is all of those who belong to Christ who are in the Spirit, regardless of how successful they might currently be in their own inward struggle with sin’s pull.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,
(1) This quotation has been variously attributed to a theologian named “Spenner”, “Spencer”, or simply an anonymous, unnamed commentator from the past. I have been unable to find a source of the quote that definitively identifies the original author of these words.
(2) Taken from Dr. J. Vernon McGee’s “Through the Bible” commentary on the Book of Romans © Thru The Bible Radio, for copyright information, please Click Here.
(3) The New Scofield Reference Bible notes on Romans 8, © 1967 Oxford University Press, inc.