Romans 8: An Important Preposition

“For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” – Romans 8:2

As we move from the great declaration of verse 1, that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” we now begin to see in verse 2 the reason, or the grounds, for why Paul can say this. We know Paul is giving us the reason because he begins verse 2 with that little, but very important word, for. It’s a word connecting verse 1 to verse 2 and it indicates to us why verse 1 is true. So, when Paul tells us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, we can ask the question why and see the answer in verse 2: Because the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus.

Reading verse 1 and verse 2 together like this we see immediately an important emphasis in the way Paul repeats (in both verses) the phrase “in Christ Jesus”. Do you see that? Here again is that crucial doctrine so important in Paul’s thinking and so essential to our understanding of the Gospel, namely, that our spiritual union in Christ is alone the grounds for our justification, sanctification, and unending peace with God. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it, “There is nothing more foolish than the notion that you can be ‘in Christ’ at one moment; then when you sin you are ‘out of’ Christ, then when you repent you are ‘in Christ’ again! … The very idea is ludicrous! No, if you are in Him, you are in Him for ever, you are in Him for all eternity. It is God who has put you ‘in Him’, and no one and nothing can take you out – neither hell, nor Satan, nor any other power. If you are in, you are in. It is absolute.”[1]

That is not only very encouraging, friends, but it is ultimately freeing. And that’s exactly the point Paul makes in verse 2. “The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Now, when we read Paul’s use of the word law in this passage it is probably best to understand that word as meaning “power,” or “binding authority” or “motivating principle.”  So, a good reading of this text is how New Testament scholar, Douglas Moo, renders it as “the binding authority (or power) of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the binding power of sin and death.”[2]  In other words, when we are in Christ, and Christ is in us (by His Spirit), there is a new power at work, a power and authority which frees us from that old power of sin, sin which led to death and condemnation.

That power, that binding authority, is described here as the law of the Spirit, and it’s most certainly referring to the Holy Spirit. He’s characterized here as the Spirit of life, or better still, the life-giving Spirit. Leon Morris, in his excellent Romans commentary, notes how “the presence of the Spirit is the distinguishing mark of the Christian, and this presence means the defeat of the power of sin.”[3]  How good a reminder! To be a Christian means to have, without reserve, the Holy Spirit within us and the full divine power of His presence which frees us from the controlling power of sin! To be sure, believers don’t become sinless – as we’ll see in verse 13, we’re still commanded to fight against sin and put to death the deeds of the flesh, and this command, given to Christians, only makes sense if Christians still struggle with sin. Nonetheless, Christians are now freed from the law of sin and death, freed from that binding authority and power which otherwise works unhindered within the life of unbelievers.

Octavius Winslow beautifully captures how crucial this is for us. If you’re a Christian, be reminded that this passage is describing you! Be reminded “of the exulted privilege to which you are raised. A holy, filial, joyful liberty is your birthright. It is the liberty of a pardoned and justified sinner. It is the liberty of a reconciled, adopted child. It is the liberty of one for whom there is ‘now no condemnation’… Oh, sons of God, rise to this your high and heavenly calling! Your freedom was purchased at a high price, undervalue it not. It is most holy – abuse it not. It binds you, by the strongest obligations, to yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead. Be these the breathings of our soul: “Lord, my sweetest liberty is obedience to thee; my highest freedom wearing thy yoke; my greatest rest bearing thy burden. Oh, how love I thy law after the inward man! I delight to do thy will, O my God!’”[4]

Now, there will inevitably come concentrated moments of temptation where Satan will do all he can to get his mangled hooks of temptation within you, leading you to sin. But its precisely in that moment where we ought to consider the truth of Romans 8:2, that in Christ and by the Spirit of Christ, you are in fact free from following your old master’s lead. Satan can whisper, entice, and threat, but Christ has our hearts!

The contrast in verse 2 between sin and death on the one hand, and the Spirit of life and freedom on the other hand, reminds us that there is a radical change that takes place when someone becomes a Christian. In Christ we have been set free by the Spirit from that old, dark realm in which we were enslaved under sin. In that old realm, filled as it was with the air and aroma of death, the flag of “Condemnation” waved as a constant reminder of our guilt. But now, freed by Christ, we sit and serve under his banner of “No Condemnation!”[5] In the Spirit we freely follow Jesus as we await the fullness of life in our final resurrection.

I was struck while reading the comments of the early church pastor, Theodore of Mopsuestia, when he wrote that “Paul calls the Spirit the Spirit of life because the Spirit is the first fruits of the eternal life which we shall then enjoy. The Spirit has been given to us in the hope of immortality, and faith in Christ has permitted us to enjoy him, because he has set us free from death and sin.”[6]  In other words, the freedom from sin which we enjoy now is but a foretaste of what we will more perfectly be like in glory. In heaven we will be finally free from sin and death. But now, even though sin and death surround us and are still a part of our who we are, now in Christ and by His Spirit, we can actually begin living life more and more in step with what heaven will be like! Praise God for such freedom and power.

“There is therefore 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.” – Romans 8:1-2

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.

 



[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: Exposition of Chapter 7:1-8:4, The Law: Its Functions and Limits, (The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001) p. 278

[2] Douglas Moo, Romans: The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary (Moody Press, 1991), p. 507

[3] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans: The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans Publishing, 1988), p. 301

[4] Octavius Winslow, No Condemnation in Christ Jesus, (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), p. 27

[5] Douglas Moo, Romans: The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary (Moody Press, 1991), p. 508

[6] Theodore of Mopsuestia, Pauline Commentary from the Greek Church: Collected and Edited Catena Writings (NT Abhandlungen 15), 133. I found this quote in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament VI, Romans (InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 202

 

Stephen Unthank

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