June 13, 1993
Do you have a favorite chapter of the Bible? That is, do you have a chapter that is so special to you, that if you could only choose one, this would be the one that you would choose? About 40 years ago Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse decided to ask a group of Christian leaders to name their favorite chapter of the Bible. So he wrote 20 Christian leaders and asked them this question: If you were shipwrecked on a desert island, and could not take any book with you except the Bible and you could only take with you one chapter of the Bible, what chapter would you choose?
Of the 20 Christian leaders, five named Romans 8 as the one chapter they would choose. But those leaders are not alone in that estimation. Romans 8 is regarded by many Christians as the greatest chapter of all the Bible. In fact, if you read the commentaries on Romans, Chapter 8 is described as “the mountain peak” of Scripture and “the chapter of chapters for the Christian believer.” Many commentators quote a German author by the name of Spener who many years ago said it this way: “If Holy Scripture was a ring, and the Epistle to the Romans a precious stone, Chapter 8 would be the sparkling point of the jewel.”
I agree with that assessment. I believe that the Book of Romans is the greatest book in the New Testament. It is the one book that every Christian must understand, know and master. I think that, without question, Romans 8 is the greatest chapter in the Book of Romans. I believe that Romans Chapter 8 is the greatest chapter of the greatest book of the Bible, which itself is the greatest book ever written in the history of the world.
From “No Condemnation” to “No Separation”
Now, there are several reasons for making an observation like that. Number one, Romans 8 is uniquely the chapter of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is mentioned in Romans 8 no less than 19 different times. No other chapter in the New Testament contains as many direct references to the Holy Spirit.
Number two, it’s preeminently the chapter of Christian assurance. Godet said Romans 8 begins with “no condemnation” and ends with “no separation.” You start with no condemnation, you end with no separation, and in between you find no defeat. William R. Newell calls Romans 8 “a wondrous comfort to the believer.” I like to think of it this way. It is like a mighty river rushing down toward the ocean. As the river nears the ocean, other streams and other tributaries join into it so that as it nears its mouth where it empties into the ocean, you find that it carries with it everything else that has gone before it.
Romans 8 is the summation of chapters 1 through 7. All that Paul has been saying comes to a grand and glorious climax in this chapter. It is the one chapter in this book that you must know, you must read, and you must understand.
As we begin our studies of Romans 8, may I issue a personal challenge? I would like to challenge you to join me in memorizing Romans Chapter 8. Have you ever memorized a whole chapter of scripture? Oh, you know John 3:16, Romans 6:23, you probably know that Jesus wept (John 11:35). But have you ever memorized a whole chapter of scripture? Let me say to you that it’s a challenge, but it’s also a great blessing. I want to challenge you to begin today to memorize all 39 verses of Romans 8. I can’t think of a chapter that will do you more good than this one. Use your quiet time, during your devotions, write the text on note cards, and as we go through this chapter, hide this word of God in your heart because it will be a tremendous blessing to you.
Let me add a word about the connection between chapters 7 and 8. Although I believe the Word of God is inspired, the chapter divisions are not inspired. Although God inspired the text of Scripture, sometimes I think the Devil inspired the chapter breaks. Sometimes you find chapter breaks in places where they don’t really belong.
I understand why they put a break between chapter 7 and chapter 8—Verse 1 begins with the word therefore. But we make a mistake if we think that Romans 7 teaches one truth and Romans 8 teaches something entirely different or contradictory. The best way to understand Romans 6, 7 and 8 is to see them as one long piece of teaching about what it means to live a new life in Jesus Christ as you struggle against the world of flesh and the Devil. You will gain the most benefit by viewing all three chapters as one unit of truth.
Three Tremendous Truths
What do we discover when we from the last part of Romans 7 to the first part of Romans 8? I would suggest in these verses we discover three great truths about our Christian experience.
I. There is a struggle in the Christian life.
That sentence summarizes Romans 7:14-25. Remember what Paul said? He said, “In my mind I want to please God. But there is something in me that makes me want to do the opposite.” Over and over again he says, “That which I would do, I do not do. That which I hate, I do.” We all understand that, don’t we? Every single day we get up and say, “Lord, this is your day and I’m going to be your servant and do your will today.” So we set our goal to accomplish a certain number of things that we know will be pleasing to God. Then as we go through the day, we don’t do number one, we halfway do number two, we skip number three, we get most of number four, and we don’t do number five at all. Then we say, “Lord, with your help, I’m not going to lose my temper.” We lose it by 9:00 A.M. “Lord, help me with my critical spirit.” At 10:30 A.M. we’re slicing and dicing. “Lord, help me not to gossip.” By the time we get to 1:30 P.M. we’ve blown that one too. The very thing we said we were going to do, we don’t do. The thing we said we’d never do, we do. Some of us have lived that experience this week.
I just want to make a couple of points about that. Number one, Romans 7 is Paul’s autobiography of his experience as a Christian believer. I don’t agree with those who see Romans 7 as either a defeated or subnormal Christian or as a non-Christian or as a person under conviction. I believe that Romans 7 is simply one stage, one part of the normal Christian experience. I do not believe that Romans 7 is the total story of the Christian life. However, I do not believe that we should throw it out and say it has no bearing on us today. Let’s be honest. You can be a very great Christian as the apostle Paul was and you can at the same time struggle a great deal in your walk with God. Paul is just being honest. He’s saying that even though he was an apostle, he felt a struggle between his desire to please God and the pull of his flesh.
Romans 7 describes a struggle which is part of your walk with God. Thank God, it is not the whole story, but it is only one part of the story. That’s why when Paul says in verse 24, “Oh wretched man that I am,” I understand him. He’s not just talking about himself. He’s talking about me and he’s talking about you.
We struggle in many different ways. For instance, we struggle between what we know and what we actually do. We also struggle between our better desires and our lesser desires. We struggle between what we know God wants us to do and what we would rather do if God would just leave us alone. We struggle all the time, torn this way and that way. That’s part of what it means to live in this sin-cursed world.
Some people don’t want to hear that truth. They wish I would say that struggle should not be a part of the Christian life. I can’t do that. It wouldn’t be true to what I believe the Word of God says. Anyone who tells you that struggle does not belong in the Christian life actually has a non-Biblical view of what it means to live the Christian life. I think that if Paul struggled, we will struggle too. If Paul felt he was being pulled this way and that, the same thing will happen to us.
I don’t believe that Romans 7 is the full explanation for Paul’s dynamic spiritual life. I’m simply pointing out that the truth of Romans 7 is part and parcel of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. There is a time to struggle. Sometimes people come to Christ and then they get upset because things don’t go well for them. They get upset because they have relationship difficulties, financial difficulties, personal difficulties, emotional difficulties, marital difficulties, problems in different areas in life. They get discouraged, they get disillusioned, they get angry with God and wonder what’s wrong with them. Usually, there’s nothing deeply wrong with you if you’re going through a period of struggle. It’s just “part and parcel” of what it means to live on this earth. So, that’s point number one from Romans 7. There is a struggle in the Christian life.
II. That struggle is without condemnation. 8:1
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That verse should be understood as the topic verse for all of Romans 8. Everything he says—all the way through verse 39—is simply a restatement of “No condemnation” all the way down to the end of the chapter.
It’s interesting to read this verse in Greek. When Paul wrote it, he used a different word order. When the New Testament writers wanted to emphasize a particular word, they would put it at the first part of the sentence. That was their way of saying, “This is important. Notice this. Pay attention to it.”
In the Greek the first word is not “therefore.” The first word is not “there.” The first word is not “is.” The first word is not “now.” The first word in this verse in the Greek is the word “no.” The fifth word in our translation is first in the original because Paul wants to emphasize in the strongest possible way that there is no condemnation. That’s why he took the word “no” and moved it to the front. And it’s not ou, but oude, which is an even stronger negation in the Greek language. There is therefore, no condemnation. You might translate it this way: “There is no condemnation—none whatsoever—for the believer in Christ Jesus.”
Now, let me see if I can explain what it doesn’t mean. Then I’ll try to tell you what I think it does mean. He is not saying there is therefore now no cause for condemnation. That wouldn’t be true. You fail and I fail. You stumble and I stumble. You fall and I fall. You get off the path and so do I. Let’s be honest. Most of the time, we’re just barely making it through life. Most of the time, we’ve barely got our fingers on the edge and we’re just hanging on for dear life. Paul is not saying there is no cause for condemnation in us because if God were to look down from heaven and were to judge you moment by moment, he’d find plenty of cause for condemnation in you. So that’s not what he’s saying.
Let me read it again. Is Paul saying, “There is, therefore now, no failure for those who are in Christ Jesus?” No. Is he saying, “There is, therefore now, no struggle for those who are in Christ Jesus?” No. Is he saying, “There is, therefore now, no stumbling for those who are in Christ Jesus?” No. He is saying there is, therefore now, no condemnation, no punishment, no coming into judgment, no penal servitude for the follower of Jesus Christ.
Do you know what that means? We may stumble, we may fall, we may trip, we may make a thousand mistakes, we may sin and we do, we may get off the path, we may go astray, we may have a thousand problems, but for the believer in Jesus Christ, there is, therefore now, no condemnation because God has said it is so. You can struggle, but you’re not condemned. You can fall, but you’re not condemned. You can trip, but you’re not condemned. You can stray off the path, but you are not condemned because God has said He will not condemn those who are in Christ Jesus.
When Jesus saved you, he didn’t say he would take away all your problems. No, but he did say this. In your problems, there is no condemnation. In your struggles, there is no condemnation, in your failure, there is no condemnation. In your going astray, there is no condemnation.
Good News For Prodigal Sons
What does it mean, then? It means, number one, there is no rejection for the believer. God is not going to reject you just because you struggle. You’re not a bad person just because you’re having a hard time. Most of us know the lovely story of the Prodigal Son. He was in his father’s house and went off to the far country. There he gave himself to riotous living, spent all his inheritance, and ended up in the pig pen. He hit the very bottom. The son who had it all went from top to bottom. Left his family, squandered his inheritance and is now living with the pigs. Dr. J. Vernon McGee said, “What is the difference between a pig and a man in a pig pen? The pig just keeps on eating the husks. After a while, the man says ’I will arise and go to my father.’”
Where was the father when the son returned home? Not in the house. He was out on the road coming to meet him. It’s a picture of our experience as believers. There is no rejection for those who are in Christ Jesus. Even those who wander, even those who stray, even those who have been living for a long time in the far country, are embarrassed because they have squandered the spiritual inheritance of God’s kingdom. You are scared to death to turn back because you think God’s going to condemn you. Remember, God already knows everything you’ve done and everything you’ve dreamed of doing. He loves you anyway. You’re still in his family. The moment you say, “I will arise and go to my father,” in that very moment, he will say, “Kill the fatted calf. Let’s have a party. My son who was lost, has been found. He was away, but now he’s come home.” There is, therefore now, no condemnation which means first of all, there is no rejection for those who believe in Jesus.
Number two, that means that God is not angry with you when you struggle. It’s not just that we fail, but we condemn ourselves when we fail. It’s not just that we struggle, but we get angry at ourselves because we’re not perfect. We heap this huge load of guilt on ourselves and we transfer it all to God and we think God must hate us because we hate ourselves so much because of what we’ve done. It’s not true at all.
If you’ve got children, you understand this. What do you do when your children are trying to learn to walk and fall down? You know how it is when kids are learning how to walk. They grab the side of the couch and try to stand up. They get about halfway there and … PLOP. They crawl back up again and … PLOP. They crawl back up again and … PLOP. Finally the day comes when they can stand, and then … PLOP. Then they take a step and … PLOP. Then they take two more steps and … PLOP. Then they’ll take seven steps and … PLOP.
What would you say about a father who spanked his child because he plopped? You’d say he’s not much of a father if he does that. Because if you’re a father and you see your children try and stumble, you don’t spank them for falling. You cheer them because they got back up. That’s what “no condemnation” means. God is not angry with you because you struggle. He sees you when you fall and reaches out the arm of grace to pick you back up. He doesn’t condemn you. He cheers you as you pick yourself off the mat as you try to walk again. That’s point number two. It means he’s not angry at you because you struggle.
Right Between His Legs
Number three, there’s no punishment. There’s discipline and there’s correction but there’s not harsh, abusive punishment. Yesterday I spent most of the day watching boys’ baseball. Mark had a game and then Nicholas had a game. It is amazing to go watch little kids play ball. You will see baseball played as you have never seen it before. You see baseball played that has no bearing to what you see on TV. You see kids at bat and the ball comes six feet over their head and they’re swinging at it. Then a ball comes right down the middle and they just stand there. The coach says “Stay!” and they start running. The coach says “Run!” and they stay put.
In Nicholas’ game the coach told one of the outfielders, “Move up, come on, move up.” The kid didn’t want to. So the coach moved him up. You could just see the terror on his face. And Babe Ruth is at the plate. He takes this mighty swing and BOOM! there goes the ball. The outfielder is petrified! He can’t move and the ball goes right through his legs. The tears well in his eyes and he’s trying to blink them back. The coach who moved him up said, “That’s all right! That’s OK! Nice try!” What do you mean nice try? He didn’t even move a muscle! But at least it didn’t hit him in the face, I guess. “Nice try. You’ll catch it next time!” A shy, half-grin spreads across his face, as if to say, “Yeah, I did pretty good, didn’t I?”
That’s what God does when we fail. He helps us back up, he tells us where we went wrong, and he puts us back in the game. That’s what Paul means when he says there is no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ. Some Christians struggle through life with a heavy load of guilt not just because they struggle but because they feel condemned by God. They feel like God hates them. But he doesn’t. His thoughts toward us are thoughts of love. Even when he must discipline us severely, he does it for our own good. Even his chastising is for our ultimate benefit.
By the way, since there is no condemnation, you don’t need to get saved over and over and over again. You only need to come to Christ once. Once you are saved, you are saved forever. Once you are saved, you are not condemned. Once you’ve come to Christ, you’re saved forever.
I don’t know of any truth which is more important, more satisfying, or more liberating than the great truth that for those who know Jesus Christ, there is no condemnation. Why? Because Jesus has paid it all. Why? Because your sins are gone. Why? Because Jesus condemned sin by his death on the cross. If he condemned sin by his death on the cross, God will never condemn you.
Dr. Donald Gray Barnhouse has a great statement in one of his sermons about the practical effect this truth ought to have in your life:
A soul that comes to the full realization that he ought to be in hell but that in reality the Lord Jesus took his hell, and that there is therefore, now, now, NOW, no condemnation for him because he is in Christ Jesus, is likely to be quite moved by the truth. If the members of the human race are permitted to yell because their team won a football team, because their candidate won an election, because they have won fifty dollars on a horse race, because their drilling has produced a gusher, let us shout for joy because we are in Christ Jesus, there is, therefore, no condemnation for us NOW. (God’s Heirs, p. 4-5)
I can’t think of a better, more encouraging spiritual truth that I could share with you. For those who are in Christ Jesus, now, today, not tomorrow, not next week, not next year, but NOW, there is no condemnation for those who know Jesus Christ.
III. God has made a provision for your continuing victory amid your continuing struggle. 8:2-4
The key here is the word “amid.” So many of us think that victory and struggle are opposites. We think that if we struggle, we can’t have victory. We think if we’re going to live in victory, we’ll never struggle at all. No, I think that God is most often honored when, in the midst of difficulty, we walk in victory. When in the midst of hardship, tribulation, depression, discouragement, oppression, in the midst of all of that—including our stumbling and our falling—I think that God is greatly honored when, in the midst of all of that, we live in victory. God has made provision for that to happen.
Paul says there is no condemnation. Why is there no condemnation? Verse 2 gives us one reason, verses 3 and 4 give us another reason. It’s a little obscure in the NIV version. However, in the Greek it’s very clear. Verse 2 begins with a word that makes it clear he is giving one reason. The same word is repeated in verse 3 meaning that he is giving a second reason.
Reason # 1: Because of the work of the Holy Spirit in giving us freedom. 2
“Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life, has set me free from the law of sin and death.” Notice there are two things set up as opposites in this verse. On one side there is the law of sin and death. On the other side there is the law of the spirit of life in Jesus Christ. One “law” cancels the other “law.”
What does that mean? Go back to the Red Sea experience. The Children of Israel come up to the Red Sea facing a crisis. There’s Egypt behind them, the Promised Land in front of them. Somehow they’ve got to cross the Red Sea. Here comes Pharaoh and his armies. Here are Moses and the Children of Israel backed up against the Red Sea. No place to go. They are in terrible trouble. Why? Because the law of gravity is keeping the waters in the sea. As long as the law of gravity is working, there’s no way to cross the Red Sea. They don’t have any ships, boats, canoes, anything. The law of gravity is going to cause their destruction.
But wait. What does the Bible say? The Bible says that God sent an east wind that blew across the Red Sea. When the east wind blew across the Red Sea, it blew the waters apart, blew across the bottom so it became firm, and held back the water so that the Children of Israel could get across. When they got across, the wind stopped blowing and the waters came back together. The Egyptians tried to follow and they drowned in the Red Sea.
What happened? The law of gravity was still there. It was superseded by the law of the east wind of the Almighty God. The law of the east wind set the people of God free from the law of gravity holding the people back. As long as the law of the east wind was in force, they could walk across to freedom. One law was greater than the other. What he’s saying is that the Holy Spirit will set you free from the law of sin and death. Not only will it, but it has. The moment you come to Jesus Christ, you are set free because the Holy Spirit lives inside you.
You Don’t Have to Sin Any More
Do you know what that means? You don’t have to sin any more. You don’t have to live in defeat any more. You don’t have to be down any more. You don’t have to go years and years and years committing the same old dumb sins over and over again. Why? Because the law of the spirit of life of Jesus Christ has set you free. Therefore, if you choose to dwell in sin, if you choose to be defeated, it’s because you’ve chosen to live that way, not because you must live that way.
That brings us to the second reason why there is no condemnation for the believer.
Reason # 2: Because the death of Jesus Christ has condemned the very thing that would have condemned us. 3-4
“For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” The law is powerless, Paul says, because of the weakness of the flesh. It means that the law can only reveal sin, it can never redeem from sin. It could condemn, it could never save. It could say, do this, do this, do this. It couldn’t change you on the inside so that you would want to live like that. It couldn’t change the “want to”, because the “want to” is not an exterior matter, it’s a matter of the heart. Somebody said it this way. The law is like a ten foot pole. You could never say to a ten foot pole, “I want you to make this man to be ten feet tall.” A ten foot pole can’t do that. All it can do is measure a man’s height and reveal how far short he is from reaching the ideal height. In the same way the law could never save, it could only reveal how far short we fall.
But, what the law could not do, God did. Wait a minute, you don’t understand. What the law could not do, we did? NO! What the law could not do, you did? NO! What the law could not do, God did. God understood that what he wanted we could never accomplish so he did it for us. He said, “I want you to live like this.” But he realized we could never live like that on our own. So he did for us what he demanded from us because he knew we could never do it on our own. What the law could not do God did. How? By sending his own son in the likeness of sinful man to be an offering, or a sacrifice for sin. So he condemned sin in sinful man. The word “condemned” in verse 3 is the same word that is used for no condemnation in verse 1.
Why is it that we are not condemned? Because on the cross, when Jesus hung there, he condemned sin. What that means is this. You can never be condemned as a believer for your sin. God condemned the very thing that Satan would like to use to condemn you. Let me say that again. It’s not complicated. You can never be condemned for your sin because God condemned the very thing that could condemn you, that is, your sin. The price was paid 2000 years ago. There is no condemnation for believers because God condemned sin in the death of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That is amazing.
What God Demanded, He Provided
Notice the purpose for it in verse 4. God did all this so that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us. All that God demanded was met or fulfilled in us. What do you mean? The Ten Commandments. Fulfilled in us? How? Not by us. But by virtue of the death of his Son, Jesus Christ. God looked at the obedience of his son and declared that everyone who believes in him gets credit for what he did. Jesus obeyed perfectly. Therefore, when I trust him, Jesus’ merit is credited to my account.
There’s another side to this truth. The moment you come to Christ the Holy Spirit goes to work in your life. He begins to change you from the inside out so that the things that used to knock you down won’t knock you down any more. Where you used to fail, you now succeed. That’s what the Holy Spirit is all about. As you walk with the Lord and as you rely upon the Holy Spirit, the demands of the law—that is, the kind of life that God wants—is fulfilled in you.
This is a “win-win” situation for us. On the one hand, the perfection of Christ is credited to us. And day by day as you rely on the Holy Spirit, a new kind of life begins to emerge. Wow! That is amazing! What God demands, we couldn’t do. Therefore, what God demands, he supplies. Got it? He demands it, we can’t do it so he gives it to us. What God demands he gives because we didn’t have it in us.
To run and walk the law commands
But gives me neither feet nor hands.
A better word, the gospel brings,
Bids me fly and gives me wings.
What God demands he supplies, which means that in the midst of your struggle, victory is possible.
Take these last three verses and see what God has given us. Verse 2, he has given us new freedom. Verse 3 says he’s given us new power. Verse 4, he’s given us new righteousness. New freedom, new power, new righteousness all available to you and to me. That’s why Paul says there is no condemnation. There can’t be any condemnation because what God has demanded, he has supplied.
Three Things That Remain True
I. Because there is no condemnation, you are eternally secure.
You are eternally secure. You can never lose your salvation if you are a believer in Jesus Christ. Why? Because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Once you are saved, you are saved forever. Why? Because what God demands, he supplies. Listen to me carefully. If a child of God ever goes to Hell, God will be a liar because God has said there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ.
II. You are internally free.
You’re not bound any more. God doesn’t have you on a performance standard in order to earn his grace. He’s not checking the list every day to make sure you’re living up to everything you’re supposed to. He loves you completely and unconditionally.
III. You are positionally perfect.
When God looks at you, he sees Jesus Christ and he credits you with all that is said about his Son. Who is it that is not condemned? Those who are “in” Christ Jesus. When it comes to salvation, there are only two places you can be. You’re either outside of Christ or you’re in Christ. You are either outside of Jesus Christ and on your own, or you are inside and you are saved.
If you are outside of Christ, you are condemned already. If you are in Christ, you are not condemned. If you are outside of Christ, judgment is still in front of you in the future. But if you are in Christ, your judgment is behind you, in the past. That’s why there can be no condemnation if you’re in Christ. You’ve already been judged. You trusted Christ by his death on the cross.
Either you are condemned and you are waiting to be judged or you’re not condemned because your sins were judged on the cross of Christ. Where are you right now? Are you outside of Christ and lost or are you in Christ and safe? I urge you with all of my heart, with every fiber of my being, if you are not sure, if you do not know, run to Jesus Christ and embrace the cross. If you are outside the cross, come by faith to Jesus. When you come to Christ, you will discover the most liberating truth in the world—that in Christ there is no condemnation.