NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson II)
Bible teacher Charles Hodge sees a little of both the moral and judicial inference in this word “condemnation.” He offers that those who are in Christ are not liable to be condemned to die in their sins. This is not to be understood as a description of their present state, but of their permanent position. For Hodge, true believers have been placed beyond the reach of such eternal damnation. It is something they will never have to experience. Hodge knows that he has opened a subject that is often highly debated. But for him, the meaning of any proposition is best understood by the arguments given to sustain it. It is the same in this case. For Hodge, this whole chapter provides proof of the safety of believers, of their security not only from present condemnation but from future punishment. He quotes verse 38 of this chapter as proof: “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.” Now, for those whose eternal separation from God has been commuted, they are best described by referring to their relationship with Christ. If we maintain the second part of the verse as it is rendered in the KJV, then it also relates to their character. That would eliminate condemnation in the moral sense. The first assigns the reason of their security as being in Christ, the second helps us to determine why such security is theirs.1
The great orator Charles Spurgeon looks at the whole chapter and sees it beginning with no condemnation, and ending with no separation. All in between is full of grace, mercy, and truth. This is like a spiritual banquet for those who hunger for more of God and His Word. Every believer may still have doubts and insecurities, but there is no condemnation. There may be many instances of chastisement and discipline, but no condemnation. Perhaps there may even be a frown on our heavenly Father’s face at times, but no condemnation. This is not an assumption or supposition, it is the bare truth backed by a powerful argument based on inexcusable evidence.2
John Stott notes that the opening statements of Romans 5 and Romans 8 complement each other. Chapter 5 begins with the positive declaration: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Chapter 8 begins with the negative counterpart: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Stott sees Paul then going on to explain that our not being condemned is due to God’s action of condemning our sin in Christ.3 Later on, Paul will argue that nobody can accuse us because God has justified us.4 Also, nobody can condemn us because Christ died for us, was raised to life for us, and is at God’s right hand interceding for us.5 When put together, we have justification with no condemnation. Furthermore, they are both securely grounded in what God has done for us in and through Christ Jesus. Something He will never change or ever deny.6
Then Douglas Moo makes the distinction between moral condemnation and criminal condemnation that was pointed out earlier. He says that the opening lines of this chapter take us back to Romans 5:12–21, where Paul showed how those who belong to Christ will escape the “condemnation” (katakrima) that came to all people through Adam’s sin. In Moo’s mind, Paul continues to use the forensic imagery that is so important to his concept of the Gospel. Now, because we are justified by faith in our union with Christ, the horrible sentence of spiritual death that our sins justly earned is canceled. We are thus transferred into a new regime of living. We no longer fear that our sins will ever enslave us and put us back on death-row.7
Jewish writer David Stern sees this chapter as a crown on the first half of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. I would rather refer to it as an anchor. But in any case, it is meant to resolve the issue raised in Chapter 7 of whether or not Christians should be under Mosaic Law as a way solving humanity’s overriding problem with sin. Stern feels that the answer is the Ruach HaKodesh (Spirit the Holy or Holy Spirit), who is operating in us if we are living in union with the Messiah Yeshua. Stern then states that he believes that the structure of Paul’s argument making Chapters 7 and 8 relate to each other is reflected best if Romans 7:25 and here in Romans 8:28 because they are joined with the words “although” and “nevertheless.” Stern believes that it should read this way: “Although with my mind I am a slave of God’s Torah, but with my old nature a slave to sin’s ‘torah,’ nevertheless, there is no longer any condemnation awaiting those who are in union with the Messiah Yeshua.‘”8
Another Jewish writer shares his understanding that there is no condemnation as seen from the judgment aspect of Torah for those who have been “baptized” into Yeshua’s death and resurrection, and who trust in God for their salvation. He tells us that just as the annual Jewish Feast of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) required a sacrifice which had to be “accepted in faith” by each individual Jew in order for their sins to be forgiven. The same applies to accepting God’s salvation through His sacrificed Messiah – the perfect and final Yom Kippur sacrifice. Therefore, for this writer the term “No condemnation” means having the freedom to serve God while still living in the flesh without the Law condemning anyone and sentencing them to death. The person who is baptized into Yeshua’s death and resurrection has been “freed” from serving what the Jews call Yetzer Hara (evil inclination, aka sinful tendency) by God’s gift of justification in Yeshua. While the believer is still confronted with this evil inclination, they are no longer under condemnation because of the selfless sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah. They don’t have to keep going back to the altar with a sacrifice, they now go to the fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins,9 that will cleanse away their sins.10
Verse 2: That is because in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit that brings life made you free. It rescued you from the law that brings sin and death.
Now Paul points out that this acquittal from the death sentence does not need to be seen as something in the future but is present in the believer while living on earth. That’s why Jesus was able to tell the Samaritan woman He met at Jacob’s well: “You don’t know what God can give you. And you don’t know who I am, the one who asked you for a drink. If you knew, you would have asked me, and I would have given you living water… The water I give people will be like a spring flowing inside them. It will bring them eternal life.”11 Later on, Jesus would tell those who followed Him: “It is the Spirit that gives life. The body is of no value for that. But the things I have told you are from the Spirit, so they give life.”12
This freedom brought by the Spirit was an essential part of Christ’s teaching. Jesus talked about the freedom from sin He came to offer those who believed in Him. At first, His words were met with doubt and suspicion, but this is what He told those who followed Him: “If you continue to accept and obey my teaching, you are really my followers. You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free… So if the Son sets you free, you are really free.”13 But that freedom is not given to make the person independent and on their own so they must provide a way to escape the penalty of sin, which is death. Rather, to give them the liberty to yield to God and His Word so that He is the one who will guarantee their eternal life. That’s why Paul could tell the Corinthians: “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”14
Early church scholar Theodore of Mopsuestia believes that the Apostle Paul is saying here that the resurrection takes place by the working of the Holy Spirit. That’s because Paul calls the Spirit the “Spirit of life,” signifying that the Spirit is the firstfruits of the eternal life which all believers will enjoy. For Bishop Theodore, God gave His Spirit to us as a token of our immortality, and our faith in Christ has permitted us to enjoy tokens of that life with Him while we live here on earth because He has set us free from death’s sentence and sin’s control. Clearly, Paul is using the things which are to come as evidence of what has been promised to us in Christ during the present age.15
When speaking of the law of the Spirit of life, as Paul defines it, John Calvin says the meaning can be found in this: the Law of God condemns men, but His Spirit sets them free. This happens because as long as people remain enslaved under the Law, they are burdened with the chains of sin. Consequently, they are exposed to death. However, the Spirit of Christ abolishes the sovereignty that sin once possessed in them. This then allows Him to harness the prevailing sinful desires of the flesh. At the same time, He delivers them from the peril of death. Paul clearly states that keeping the law with external acts of good works will not save anyone. On the other hand, he makes known the fact that when we are renewed by the Spirit of God, we are at the same time justified by grace. This, in turn, removes the curse of sin which is death. As Calvin sees it, the verse now has the meaning that the grace of regeneration is never unconnected from the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.16
Revivalist theologian Adam Clarke has a similar view. He writes that the Gospel of the grace of Christ, which is not only a law or rule of life but affords that sovereign energy by which guilt is removed from the conscience. As a result, the power of sin is broken, and its polluting influence removed from the heart. This is what Paul means by the term, “law of the Spirit of life.” In Clarke’s view, the law was empowered by a spirit of certain death hanging over those under its control. That’s why sin was the reason for their feeling condemned. Clarke notes that the Gospel proclaims Jesus Christ as Savior for those who believe, but at the same time, declares those who remain bound by the law as headed toward spiritual death. Jesus came to set them free to enjoy eternal life, but they must accept Him and His death as the key to such freedom.
So the Apostle Paul is able to say that whether it’s his new I, or his old I, still be trying to impersonate the real him, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set him free from the law of sin and death. That’s why he can have confidence that with the help of the Holy Spirit the new I will side with the real him to win the victory. It is necessary to understand that no sinner controlled by their fleshly ambitions, and having been sold under sin and as a captive to the law of sin and death can claim to be freed from the death sentence of sin. Either the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set them free, or they are still bound. No one can be a captive of sin and freeman in Christ at the same time. God has already made His choice, now what is yours?17
1 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 385
2 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 See Romans 8:3
4 See Romans 8:33
5 See Romans 8:34
6 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
7 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 From the Poem: There is a Fountain, written by William Cowper in 1772 and published as a Hymn in 1874.
10 Messianic Bible, On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 John 4:10, 14
12 Ibid. 6:63
13 Ibid. 8:32, 36
14 2 Corinthians 3:17
15 Theodore of Mopsuestia: Pauline Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.
16 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
17 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.