Sunday, September 18, 2005

Romans 8: Part One [on Romans 8:1-11]

Romans 8 appears to represent the completion of the first half of the Roman Epistle. Chapters 1-4 delineated the main theme of the epistle, namely, that the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel [and from this revelation the gospel has its saving power], and that the righteousness of God is a free conferral of a righteous status for all who look to the God who justifies the ungodly. That is, Romans 1-4 deals with justification by faith. Chapters 5-7 dealt with some implications for the life of the man who has been justified by faith. Chapter 5 states in brief that we have peace with God and are reconciled to Him; our state is not a mere non-enemy state, but we are reconciled to Him, and are his friends. Chapter 6 states in brief that, having been justified by faith, we may begin [at long last] a meaningful insurrection against the tyranny of sin in our lifes. At the same time, our insurrection on behalf of freedom from sin only comes when we are servants of righteousness, for there are but two masters: sin and righteousness, and we serve one or the other. Chapter 7 corrects some possible misunderstandings, and, if we have interpreted its main thoughts correctly, presents the Christian as a man at war with himself as a sort-of split personality: the fleshly, sinful man whose pervasive egotism stains all actions, thoughts, and desires, and the inner man who delights in God's law, but finds that he, in the process of the revolt against sin described in Romans 6, often loses many a skirmish with sin.

This brings us to Romans 8, which after the bleak picture of Romans 7 [again, provided we've understood Romans 7 correctly], presents to us a powerful Co-belligerent against sin. This Co-belligerent not only helps us in our struggle with sin, but, as will be described below, does much more. This Co-belligerent is none other than the Holy Spirit.

The general structure of Romans 8 seems, for the most part, reasonably clear. 8:1-11 introduces the Holy Spirit properly. 8:12-16 is a sort-of consequence to the thoughts in 8:1-11. 8:17-30 is a statement about the great hope, a hope that is further bolstered by what the Holy Spirit does on our behalf. 8:31-39 takes up the triumphalistic statement in 8:1 and, in a display of great confidence, described the ideal outlook of the Christian.

We'll begin the discussion of Romans 8 by looking at the first of the four sections of Romans 8, namely, 8:1-11; this subsection shall occupy this entire post.

Romans 8:1-11

Verse 1 begins with: "Therefore [ara], there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus." The use of ara, "therefore," indicates that Paul is drawing the statement that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus from some past material, or the indication is that [and this is less likely] verse 1 is a summary of an argument that will follow in vv 1-11. It seems to this reader [as well as Cranfield, pp 372-3] that the statement of there being no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus is meant as a conclusion to 7:6. ["But now we have been freed from the law, having died to that which suppressed us, so that as a conseqeunce we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter."] (Recall that 7:7-25 were primarily attempts to prevent misunderstandings.) This seems quite reasonable and natural. And 7:6 was a conclusion to an argument used to illustrate that the Christians have died to sin and now have God [and righteousness] as their master, which fact of having a new master goes back to 6:14 ["You are not under law but under grace."]

On the other hand, a most excellent commentator like Schreiner [pp 398-9] sees the ara linking back to 7:24-25a. ["Wretched man, I! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!"] At this point, Schreiner then seems to link 7:24-25a back to 7:6. One argument that Schreiner cites is that 7:24-25a are so much closer contextually to 8:1 than the statement in 7:6. Schreiner also justifies the linkage of 8:1 to 7:24-25a by appealing to "the genius of Pauline eschatology," in which eschatology "the future has invaded the present, the age to come has intruded into the present evil age." Continuing further, Schreiner writes:

Thus there is no condemnation for those in Christ because the future deliverance from death has invaded the present world. This does not mean that physical death no longer obtains for believers (8:10,23), nor does it mean that they are completely free from sin now; they still face death and yet they have already conquered it by virtue of being in Christ. Via union with Christ Jesus ["for those in Christ Jesus"] they have already died with Christ and been raised with him (6:1-11), and thus sin and death no longer have dominion over believers. Nor should we conclude that it is incoherent to see a link to both 7:6 and 7:24-25a, for the latter verses are interjected into the flow of the argument in verses 14-25 and state in new terms the content of 7:6, in which the new age of the Spirit brings victory over sin. In sum, the "therefore" in 8:1 is based on the exclamation of victory in 7:24-25, which in turn is linked to 7:6, which proclaims the new age inaugurated by the Spirit.

The contextual argument given by Schreiner doesn't carry much weight with me, for Paul certainly has a track record for going off in multiple directions at once. On the other hand, Schreiner's words above seem reasonable, and they present a possibility that I had overlooked regarding the role of the "therefore" in 8:1. [Note that, p 373, Cranfield merely states that 8:1 makes perfectly good sense if it refers back to 7:6.] I still have a slight preference for Cranfield's solution, whatever be the reason. If my preference is in accord with reality, then we can summarize the structure leading up to 8:1:

6:1-14: Don't remain in sin, you've died to sin, sin will have no more lordship over you, for you are not under the law [in the sense of "the law as condeming you"] but under grace.

[6:15-23: Paul tries to prevent a misunderstanding of "not under law but under grace"]

7:1-6 [Illustration via marriage analogy of the words "not under law but under grace."] Conclusion: we were freed from the law [as condemning us], having died to that which suppressed us, so that as a consequence we serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

[7:7-12: Paul tries to prevent a misunderstanding that could arise from 7:5.]

[7:13-25: Paul tries to prevent a misunderstanding that could arise from 7:7-12]

8:1: THEREFORE, that is, moving from 6:14 to 7:6 to here, there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.

With the question of just what 8:1 connects with now answered [whether we go with Schreiner's view or Cranfield's view], we can now try to extract the essence or core of 8:1-11.

On the basis of 7:6 [which in turn was the conclusion of 6:14], there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus?

But why is there now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus?

Answer [v2]: The law of the Spirit of life has [in Christ Jesus] set me/you [textual variant!] free from the law of sin and death.

I take "the law of the Spirit of life" to mean the control, influence, and authority of the Holy Spirit over the man who is justified by faith and hence is righteous in God's eyes.

Cranfield, p 377: "Verse 2, then, as we understand it, states that God's gift ot His Spirit to believers, by which His (i.e. the Spirit's) authority and constraint have been brought to bear on their lives, has freed them from the authority and control of sin."

Given my interpretation of 7:13-25 as referring to a regenerate man, this interpretation of 8:2 seems to produce a high degree of tension. Cranfield, pp 377-8:

But who is this confident affirmation to be understood alongside 7:14b ("I am fleshly, sold under sin"), 7:23 ("I see a different [or another] law en my members waging war against the law of my mind and taking me captive in connection with the law of sin which is in my members"), and 25b ("...with my flesh I serve the law of sin")? We have excluded the solution according to which 7:14ff refers to the pre-conversion state. How then can the same man be at the same time both a prisoner of 'the law of sin' and also one who has been freed from 'the law of sin and of death'? In this connexion there are several things which must be said:

(i) Both 7:14b, etc, and 8:2 are indeed true of the Christian life, and neither is to be watered down or explained away.

(ii) While the Christian in this life never completely escapes from the hold of egotism, that is, of sin, so that even the best things he does are always marred by its corruption, and any impression of having attained a perfect freedom is but an illusion, itself the expression of that same egotism, there is a vast difference between the ways in which the believer and the unbeliever are prisoners of the law of sin --- a difference which full warrants, we believe, the terminology 'has set me/your free' in 8:2. The believer is no longer an unresisting, or only ineffectually resisting, slave, nor is he one who fondly imagines that his bondage is emancipation. In him a constraint even stronger than that of sin is already at work, which both gives him an inner freedom (with his mind he serves the law of God, Rom 7:22, 25b) and also enables him to revolt against the usurper sin with a real measure of effectiveness. He has received the gift of the freedom to fight back manfully.

(iii) The present effectiveness of the authority of the Spirit in those who are in Christ is the pledge of their future complete freedom from the authority of sin. Between the pressure still exerted on their lives by sin, to which 7:14b, etc, bear witness, and the pressure exerted already by the Holy Spirit, to which 8.1ff testifies, there is no equilibrium: the former is destined to pass away, the latter is to be fully realized hereafter.

[Note that Schreiner, pp 399-402, has a different opinion of just what the "law of the Spirit of life means." I haven't studied his exegesis carefully enough to do anything [at this stage] other than note this fact.]

I have a predisposition to Cranfield's explanation --- it fits in nicely with the text, it recognizes the reality that, though justified, we are still miserable sinners, and it is rather economical, but not too much so in that it treats the text reductionistically.


Returning back to the main flow: there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus [8:1] because the law of the Spirit of life has in Christ Jesus set the believer free from the law of sin and death [8:2]. The gar in 8:3 indicates that 8:3 now follows in some fashion from what precedes it. What is the fashion, exactly?

Verse 3 seems to be a fuller description of the words "in Christ Jesus" found in 8:2. That is, 8:2 says that the law of the Spirit of life has IN CHRIST JESUS set the believer free from the law of sin and death, but the question at this stage might be something like "Just how in Christ Jesus did the law of the Spirit of Life free us from the law of sin and death?" Verse 3 then provides a direct answer to this question: "God sent His own son in the likeness of sinful flesh and, concerning sin, condemend sin in the flesh." In other words, if we ask just how in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has freed us from the law of sin and death, the answer is that the law of the Spirit of life emanicpated us through the condemning of sin in the flesh of Jesus Christ --- this is what "in Christ Jesus" means in 8:2.

But again, as is often the case, Paul's wording is pregnant with deeper meanings.


8:3 contains two rather deep questions. The first question is just what it means to say that God sent his Son "in the likeness [or form or resemblance] of sinful flesh," and the second question is just what it means to say that God "condemned sin in the flesh."

The first question will be answered now. We refer to Cranfield, pp 379-381, and Schreiner pp 402-3. There are at least four exegetical options in play for what it means to say that the Son is "in the likeness of sinful flesh" :

(i) Paul mentions "likeness" so as to avoid the implication that Christ actually had a human nature. [Reply: this is Docetism! Heresy!]

(ii) Paul mentions "likeness" in the following sense: "like our fallen flesh, because really flesh, but only like, and not identical with, it, because unfallen." [Reply: Cranfield lists Ambrosiaster, Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Aquinas, Calvin, JA Bengel, Sanday and Headlam, and Dodd as giving this "traditional solution" to the question. But --- and here I'm not sure if I personally ascribe to the strength of this objection --- "this is open to the general theological objection that it was not unfallen, but fallen human nautre which needed redeeming."]

(iii) Paul mentions "likeness" in the following sense: "like our fallen nature, because really fallen human nature, and yet only like ours, because not guilty of actual sin by which everywhere else our fallen nature is characterized." [Reply: this is quite reasonable, if you ask me. However, Cranfield argues otherwise on p381. His argument is that "the effect of the use of 'likeness' is to indicate a difference between Christ's human nature and ours (that His human nature was like, but only like, ours), but the difference between Christs's freedom from actual sin and our sinfulness is not a matter of the character of His human nature (of its being not quite the same as ours), but of what He did with His human nature."]

(iv) Paul mentions "likeness" in the sense that he, in stating that Christ assumed a fully human nature, did not want people to think that the Son of God --- who fully shares in the divine essence --- forsook His full deity and became human-and-nothing-more, but, even in assuming our fallen human nature, remained Himself. That is, the Word Who became flesh did in fact become flesh [John 1:14], but Paul wants there to be no confusion that the Word was still, and is still, and will yet continue to be, fully God.

Cranfield goes with (iv), understanding Paul's thought to be "that the Son of God assumed the selfsame fallen human nature that is ours, but that in His case that fallen human nautre was never the whole of Him --- He never ceased to be the eternal Son of God."

As for myself, while I agree with the content of interpretation (iv), it still is not clear to me that this is what Paul himself intended here in this passage. While (iv) is true --- the Word became flesh without ceasing to be the eternal Son of God --- I can't help but wonder if Cranfield has perhaps snuck in some theology under the guise of exegesis here, a weakness that pervades all attempts at exegesis [myself included of course]. The truth of (iv) seems too subtle relative to what Paul actually wrote, so, while I hold to the truth of (iv) --- that Paul believed that the Son of God did not lose any Son-of-God-ness in assuming fallen human nature, it seems that what Paul is saying here in 8:3 is either (ii) or (iii). I cannot decide between (ii) or (iii).

Schreiner has a much simpler interpretation of "likeness" on pp 402-3: "The word 'likeness' was inserted to stress the identity between Jesus and sinful flesh, yet at the same time it also suggtests that He is unique. That is, His body was subject to the disease, death, and weakness of the old order, yet the Son Himself was not sinful, nor did He ever sin." Also: "The word for 'likeness,' then, denotes the full identity of the Son with sinful humanity." To be fair to Schreiner, he says a lot more about the word for "likeness" in his discussion of Rom 6:1-14 as well, but I haven't studied his most excellent commentary hard enough to do anything more than make some passing quotes of him. [That is my post-Cranfield study goal!]

With the idea of "likeness" now discussed in this ever-growing excursis, just what exactly does Paul mean when he says that God, having sent is Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, condemned sin in the flesh?

Cranfield says that this question is "easily answered" [!!]: "It tells us where God's condemnation of sin took place. It took place in the flesh, i.e. in Christ's flesh, Christ's human nature." Cranfield also states, pp 382-3, that

That Paul had in mind Christ's death as the event in which the full weight of God's wrath against sin was, in the flesh of Christ, that is, in His human nature, so effectively brought to bear upon all the sin of all mankind, as to rule out its ever having to be brought to bear upon it in any other flesh --- this is scarecely to be doubted. But, if we recognize that Paul believed it was fallen human nature which the Son of God assumed, we shall probably be inclined to see here also a reference to the unintermittent warfare of His whole earthly life by which He forced our rebellious nature to render a perfect obedience to God.

Schreiner, pp 403-4, would seem to agree here with Cranfield's interpretation: "The 'flesh of Christ' does not refer to His incarnation but to the condemnation of sin in the flesh of Jesus as he hung on the cross. Since Jesus fully identified with sinful human beings as the true Israel in taking upon Himself sinful flesh --- without sinning Himself --- God condemned sin in the sacrificial work of His son upon the cross. Verse 3, then, correlates with v1 in that it explains howw no condemnation exists for those who are united with Christ: they have had the power of sin broken in their lives because Christ bore on the cross God's condemnation against sin."


Let's refresh where we are now in this densely packed section of Romans. 6:14 states that we're under grace, not law. From this, 7:6 derives its impetus, stating that we were freed from the law [in the sense of the law condemning us], having died to that suppressing thing, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit as compared to having served in oldness of the letter. From this, 8:1 concludes that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. But why is there no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus? 8:2 answers this by stating that the law of the Spirit of life [discussed above] has in Christ Jesus set us free from the law of sin and death. But exactly what does Paul mean by the words "in Christ Jesus" ? The answer is contained in 8:3b: "in Christ Jesus" means that the Son of God assumed fallen human nature while remaining fully Himself [see Excursis 2], and that, in the incarnate body of the Son of God [again see Excursis 2], God condemned sin.

We now turn to 8:4, which expresses either the consequence and the purpose of God's condemning sin in the incarnate body of the Son of God, namely, God condemned sin in the incarnate body of the Son of God who always remained Himself "so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in we who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." Cranfield in Romans 8:1-11 is so exceptionally in line with my sympathies, and he states my sympathies so well, that it is prudent to mention his words here in connection with 8:4 [p 384]:

God's purpose in condemning sin was that His law's requirement might be fulfilled in us, that is, that His law might be established in the sense of at last being truly and sincerely obeyed --- the fulfillment of the promises of Jer 31:33 and Ezek 36:26f. But "fulfilled" is not to be taken to imply that the faithful fulfil the law's requirement perfectly. Chapter 7 must not be forgotten. They fulfill it in the sense that they do have a real faith in God (which is the law's basic demand), in the sense that their lives are definitely turned in the direction of obedience, that they do sincerely desire to obey and are earnestly striving to advance ever nearer to perfection. But, so long as they remain in this present life, their faith is always in some measure mixed with unbelief, their obedience is always imperfect and incomplete. And this means of course that there can never be any question of their being able to make their new obedience a claim on God. Grace was indeed given, in order that the law might be fulfilled, as Augustine says, but not in order that by their fulfiillment of the law the faithful might justify themselves. The gospel was certainly not given in order that a new legalism might be established more securely than the old.

We so far have the following chain of argumentation and consequences, if we've understood Paul correctly:

6:14 you are not under law but under grace


7:6 freed from the law, having died to that which suppresses us, so that we serve in the newness of the Spirit


8:1 there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus


8:2 the law of the Spirit of live has in Christ Jesus set us free from the law of sin and death


8:3 The Son of God was sent by God Himself, and, while adopting fallen human nature yet remaining Himself --- fully divine --- God in the physical flesh of Christ condemned sin.


8:4 the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us --- those of us in the "us" walk according to the Spirit [as compared to walking according to the dictates of our own sinful nature].

The rest of 8:1-11 is fairly easy to understand [or so I'd claim, at least relatively so].

Verses 5-8 discuss the absolute disparity between being guided by the flesh and guided by the Holy Spirit.

8:5 Those who live according to their sinful nature set their minds on the aspirations of their sinful nature, whereas those who live according to the guiding and authority of the Holy Spirit set their minds on the aspiration of the Holy Spirit. [But of course, we are (in our fallen state as described in Rom 7) not completely successful in letting the Spirit totally guide us!]

8:6 The aspirations of our sinful nature, no matter how innocuous they might be, no matter how tangible the possibility of freedom and fulfillment, lead to spiritual death --- a life without hope in God. On the other hand, the aspirations of the man who is justified by faith and under the authority of the Holy Spirit, in the end lead to life and peace. The term "life" is to be taken eschatologically: eternal life with God, and it seems best to understand "peace" as that peace described in Rom 5:1 --- peace with God, a ceasing of the enmity that exists between our pervasive egotism and Him.

8:7 Why are the aspirations of our sinful nature mentioned in 8:6 concomitant to death? Answer: the aspiration of our sinful nature is to maintain and increase the enmity that we as sinners have between ourselves and God. But from whence is this enmity? Answer: The enmity comes from the fact that our sinful natures, not only failing to be subject to God's law, cannot in any way be subject to God's law. 8:7 provides the death blow to all moralizing and self-help strategies towards "being a better person"!

8:8 Those who are controlled by their sinful nature are not able to please God. When we say "controlled by their sinful nature" we are not talking about believers, who, if we understand Rom 7:7-25 correctly, are "controlled" by their sinful nature in that, despite their efforts to the contrary, end up failing to do the good they want to do while doing that which they hate. What we are talking about is being fully controlled by the sinful nature --- a state that exists in every man who is not justified by faith.

If I've understood Paul's thought-flow correctly, 8:5-8:8 is a further exposition to the statement that we walk according to the Spirit in 8:4, and Paul presents the notion that those who walk according to the flesh are in a completely separate class from those who walk according to the Spirit's authority, giving some reasons [mentioned just above] for the exclusivity of these two classes.

In verses 9-11, Paul addresses the Roman Christians directly. Having talked about the differences and attributes of those who walk according to the flesh [or the Spirit], Paul states the following things:

(i) You [the Roman Christians, but also you and me by extension] are not of the flesh but of the Spirit. [v9]

But on what basis can Paul state this? Answer: "since the Spirit of God dwells in you."

That is, those who are justified by faith have not only peace with God and reconciliation [Rom 5], not only freedom [in a certain sense] from the mastery of sin and a transferral to being under the servitude of grace [Rom 6], but those who are justified by faith are also given the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. By "indwelling of the Holy Spirit" we mean a meaningful influence of the Holy Spirit on a person's thoughts, words, and deeds [among other things]. Therefore, those who are justified by faith have the Holy Spirit assisting and guiding them in their lives. [But we must also simultaneously keep in mind that we often fail and ignore the Holy Spirit --- Rom 7:7-25.]

(ii) [v10] Christ indwells in those who are justified by faith through the indwelling Holy Spirit: "If Christ is in you, the body, though dead on account of sin, the Spirit is life because of your justification." Cranfield explains, p 390, what this means: "...they [the Roman Christians], though they still have to die because they are sinners, have the presence of the SPirit (who is essentially life-giving) as the assurance that they will finally be raised up from death. The significance of "because of your justification" is that, just as their being indwelt by the life-giving Spirit as the pledge of their future resurrection (that is, the Spirit's being life for them, not, of course, His being life-in-itself) is due to the fact of their justification."

(iii) [v11] Because the Spirit "of the one who raised Jesus from the dead" dwells in us, the-one-who-raised-Christ-from-the-dead will resurrect our dead mortal bodies on Judgement Day. Paul mentions that this will be done through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

Ultimate Summary of 8:1-11

We have 6:14 ---> 7:6 ---> 8:1, where the arrows represent implication [i.e. the flow of Paul's thought].

[1] There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.

[2] This lack of condemnation is because the Holy Spirit's authority has through Christ Jesus set us free from sin and death.

[3] And "in Christ Jesus" means that God condemned sin in the flesh of Christ, who truly had human nature, but was still the divine Son of God all the while.

[4] All this was done so that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk according to the Spirit [not the flesh].

[5]-[8] insert descriptions of walking in the Spirit versus walking in the flesh.

[9-11] Paul asserts that we have the Holy Spirit indwelling within us, who holds out the sure guarantee of resurrection on Judgement Day.

This then, seems to be the structure of 8:1-11.


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