Romans 8:1-4 follows on the anguished dilemma of Romans 7: Who can deliver from the body of death? Not the law, as Paul has shown. Torah intensifies the predicament, dividing even the faithful Israelite into a schizophrenic who inwardly delights in the law but cannot get his body to comply.
Only one can deliver: God Himself, who condemns Sin in the flesh of the Son, who offers Himself as a sin offering. Perhaps this means that Jesus, bearing sin, receives the condemnation that Sin deserves. Sin has been indicted as utterly sinful (7:13) and Sin receives its sentence at the cross.
As a result, there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). This is the negative form of “those who are in Christ Jesus are justified.”
But the basis for the declaration of “no condemnation” isn’t what Protestant readers might be expecting. Paul does not say “there’s no condemnation because the active obedience of Christ has been imputed to us.” Nor does he say, “there’s no condemnation because Christ has borne our sins on the cross.”
Instead, “no condemnation” is grounded pneumatologically. There’s no condemnation because “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
The phrasing is unusual, but the import is clear: There’s no condemnation because of something the Spirit has done, for or even in us. Those in Christ have the standing of no condemnation/justification because we’ve been delivered from Sin and Death.
As in Romans 6:7, justification isn’t merely a declaration of legal status. It’s the condition we find ourselves in as a result of a liberating act of the Spirit of Jesus.
That release from Sin and Death initiates an ongoing battle with the flesh. Through the Spirit of King Jesus, the justice of God triumphs (8:8-11), and life triumphs over death. This realizes the promise of the gospel, which manifests the justice of God, and brings it into reality in a broken world.
The Spirit operates not only in believers or the church, but extends to all creation. Through the Spirit, old creation labors to give birth to new creation, as we who share the firstfruits of the Spirit groan, sharing the labor pangs of creation. The justice of God is already unleashed, but it will one day be consummated in a creation freed from corruption and the redemption of the son of God.
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