N.T Wright observes that Romans’ basic shape is four sections: Chapters 1-4, 5-8, 9- 11, and 12-16. With the main theme of the letter being God’s Righteousness. “Romans 8 has been called the ‘inner sanctuary within the cathedral of Christian faith.’ It sets the stage before us some of the most wonderful blessings we enjoy as believers.” While the immediate context has Paul tying up what he has started in 7:6, he also reaches back to chapter 6. It could safely be argued that in chapter 8 he reaches back to chapter one and this is a conclusion to what he has written before. In Romans 1:16 Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Romans 8:2 seems to reach back to this verse and explains what this ‘good news’ is: For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. N.T. Wright comments, “the ‘condemnation[8:1]‘ in question is the Adamic condemnation spoken of in 5:12-21, which in turn looks back to the condemnation of sin 1:18-3:20.” Romans 8 then can be seen as a conclusion to what Paul has written up to this point and a compass that points forward to rest of the epistle.
In this pericope Paul speaks of two laws: The ‘Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ and the ‘Law of sin and of death.’ The problem is what are the two different laws? Most evangelicals have taken the ‘Law of sin and of death’ to be the Torah, the Law of Moses and the freedom from that Law to be the ‘Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ to be the believers new life that is found in Christ which has nothing to do with Torah. Is the ‘law of sin and of death” Torah? Could the ‘Law of the Spirit of life in Christ’ be the Spirit filled life of believers? Or, could it be that somehow these two Laws are not two different laws at all, but the same law looked at through two different lenses? Paul’s argument is not against Torah, but it is arguing against those who are not ‘in Christ.’ After all, those, as will be seen, are the ones who cannot please God. Wright suggests, his critique of Judaism was not that Judaism was a bad thing, but that it had – apart from its Messiah – failed in the task for which it had been created. He developed, in short, what he saw as a truly Jewish theology and mission, which was precisely the means of bringing to the pagan world the truth, and the true way of life, for which it dimly groped but which it could not attain.” So, is the law different, or is there a difference in the lives of the people? The ‘Law of the Spirit of life in Christ’ and the ‘Law of sin and of death’ are the same Law lived in two very different ways.
1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,
4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,
7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,
8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Paul begins chapter 8 with There is therefore (???) which points us back to the preceding argument, more specifically to 7:6 which says, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” In 8:1-4 Paul is going to delve into the differences between the Law and the Spirit. He is going to tie up what he began in 7, possibly even chapter 6. The New American Standard Bible renders it this way, “The conclusion of the matter is this.”
He continues verse 1, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Wright asserts that” the ‘condemnation’ spoken of here is the final judgment that God, the righteous judge, will meet out at the last.” Schreiner adds, believers are not under condemnation, because they have died with Christ, and thus the condemnation they deserved as children of Adam have been removed by the second Adam, Jesus Christ.”
While the pericope is going to conclude the argument started in 7:6, it seems here that Paul reaches back to 6:3-4: “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (emphasis added). While Moo writes that “we are justified by faith in conjunction with our union with Christ,” he stops short of saying how one gets into this union with Christ. Cottrell, however, does take the verse back to Romans 6 writing, “In Christ Jesus” identifies those to whom this wonderful blessing applies, namely, those who have entered into the saving union with Christ described in 6:1-11.” For those who have faith and have been baptized ‘into’ Christ there is no condemnation. “Into Christ” also looks at Galatians 3:27; not only does it stay with the continuity of the Romans epistle; it also looks at Paul’s other letters and keeps the Pauline theology intact and tight. Baptism is the way “into Christ.”
In verse 2 Paul talks about two different Spirits. He writes, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Gorman says that “Paul declares that the purpose of and effects of Christ’s death were apocalyptic, effecting the change in eons or ages that meant the inauguration of the new age, and liberating those who respond from the power of the old.” While this should not be argued, it still does not address the question of what are these two seemingly opposing ‘laws’ of which Paul is writing?
While many commentators through years have asserted that Romans 8 is an argument against the Law, E.P. Sanders takes another stance. He writes, “Romans 8 is not simply polemic against the Law; it is an argument that Christians are ‘alive’ and will be saved at the end.” Cottrell argues that “it is difficult to decide exactly what the two uses of ‘law’ (nomos) mean here. In this verse they cannot mean ‘commandment;’ thus I conclude that here ‘nomos’ has the general sense of ‘order, rule, pattern, system,’ as applied on a cosmic scale.” It seems that Cottrell goes to some lengths to distance the use of ‘law’ from the Torah. But, as Sanders writes that “[the Law's] requirement is just, in itself it aims aright” If the Torah’s requirement is just could it be that Paul is arguing in favor of Torah and not against it? N.T. Wright thinks so.
Wright writes, “The Torah, then – why after all, should we be surprised at being surprised by Paul? – is the hidden agent of what God has achieved, which is the life of which the Spirit is the personal Giver. This as we saw, is the main thrust of the paragraph.” Schreiner seems to concur with Wright stating, “those free from the curse of the law are now liberated to keep the law’s commands.” Christians are not free to do anything, but are free to do what is right. And, God’s law, Torah, is right.
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, was give life. The NASB’s translation seems to carry more force than the ESV’s, “weakened by the flesh.” “The demands could not be met because the people to whom the law was given were in the realm of ‘flesh’ (sarx; NIV ‘sinful nature’).” God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Schreiner writes, “The inadequacy of the law is not due to its content; the weakness of the law is located in the flesh, the unregenerate nature of human beings.” Dunn adds, “Once again, Paul attacks the Jewish view that Torah alone is sufficient for righteousness.” Cottrell writes, “God cannot disregard his own righteousness in dealing with men; he must always be true to himself and to the requirements of his law. But once sinners have broken the law’s commandments, the only way God can be righteous is to satisfy his law’s requirement for punishment. And this is exactly what Jesus came to do – in our place.” Sanders put it this way, “The requirement is fulfilled only in Christ (Rom. 8:4), and the aim, life is accomplished only in Christ.” Here the Trinity is together: Because of Christ work on the cross Christians can now fulfill God’s law as they live according to the Spirit.
Paul moves on in verses 5-7 with groups of contrasting ideas about the life in the flesh and life in the Spirit. Wright says that here “Paul uses language replete with the overtones of covenant renewal to speak of God’s people as being redefined by ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Messiah Jesus.’” For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh. For those who apart from Christ their goal is selfish. Their aim is not to do what is good and right but to do whatever pleases their selves. [B]ut those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. Bruce writes, “Since, then believers are no longer ‘in the flesh’ but ‘in the Spirit,’ they should no longer live ‘according to the flesh’ but ‘according to the Spirit.’”
For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. Both of these verses (5 and 6) build on the mental process, the ‘mind set.’ As Paul has looked back to what he has written earlier to the Romans this could be seen as a look at what lies ahead. In Romans 12:2 Paul writes, ” And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Wright suggests, “it is the Christian mind that must become the initial, and transformative, locus of renewal.” He continues, “As frequently in his thinking about how human beings operate, Paul here envisages thought as the key to action; not, however, just the process of ideas through the brain, but in the stronger sense of the settled and focused activity and concentration that characterizes the one state or the other.” Basically as a man thinks so a man does. If a minds man is set on the things of God he will do those things. This is made possible again by the trinity that is throughout this passage: God’s will can be done through the Spirit because of the sacrifice of Christ.
Verse seven interestingly points to the fact that Torah is what Paul has in mind: because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so. Paul says that it is the ‘law of God’ that the mind of the flesh cannot keep. Cottrell writes, “‘Law’ in this context is the general law of God in any and all of its applicable forms. That peace with God and enmity against God are measured by one’s attitude toward his law are significant. It shows that God and law cannot be separated. To reject God’s law is to reject God himself.” Cottrell continues, “To submit to the law of God means to acknowledge its authority and make a conscious effort to obey it. This is precisely what the mind of the flesh does not do. More significantly, it cannot do so.” The mind that is in the flesh does not care about the things of God.
It is the reason that Paul concludes the pericope with, “and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Moo writes, “Romans 7-8 explain why ‘the mind of the flesh’ brings death. The orientation of the will reflects the value of this world as ‘hostile to God,’ revealed in the fact that people who have that will cannot obey God’s law (v.7). Thus, people who are ‘in the flesh [NIV controlled by the sinful nature] cannot please God’ (v.8).” Schreiner adds, “Because they ‘are of the flesh,’ those in the flesh, no matter how familiar they are with the commandments of the law, can never put them into practice. The only hope for keeping the commandments is to be united with the new Adam (Rom. 8:1-4), Jesus Christ. Those who are in Christ have received his Spirit and thereby are enabled to keep his law.” It should be pointed out, and Cottrell does a nice job of bringing it out, that “The context shows that ‘cannot please God’ refers only to an inability to be subject to the law, and does not imply an inability to respond to the gospel. The failure to make this distinction is the main error of Calvinists’ interpretation of these verses. In other passages it is clear that the sinner is able and expected to respond to the gospel in faith and repentance (John 3:16; Romans 1:17; Rev. 22:17; see Matt. 23:37).” “It is, in other words, not simply a matter of ‘now you are saved, this is how you behave;’ it is a matter of genuine humanness envisaged as God’s will for Israel being attained through the Spirit by God’s renewed people.”
Paul begins Romans 8 by reaching back to the beginnings of the book. It is here the ties all things together from earlier passages and points the book forward to the ending chapters. For those who are ‘in Christ,’ the Christians (which includes Jews and Gentile converts), there is no condemnation as the ‘law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ has set them free from the ‘law of sin and of death.’ Both of these laws are the same law, Torah, looked at through different perspectives. For those who are not ‘in Christ’ it is the ‘law of sin and of death.’ Yet, the same law, when lived by those who have the Spirit, becomes the ‘law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. It should be noted that we are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), this is not negated in the passage. That faith coupled with baptism puts one ‘in Christ.’ Paul reaches back to Romans 6 with this point as well as reaching to his letter to the Galatians, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
The mindset of the one ‘in Christ’ is going to be set on doing the will of God, while those who are not united with Christ will find it impossible to please God. The passage reaches forward to Romans 12 with the renewal of the mind. It reaches to Romans 13:14, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Which reaches back to Romans 6 as well as out to Galatians 3:27. This tightly woven passage concludes what has come before it as well as looking at what will come next, all the while reaching out to and staying faithful to Pauline theology. Those apart from Christ cannot please God, they cannot fulfill the law; those ‘in Christ’ have the ability through the Spirit to fulfill God’s law. “It is clear that a person in whom the Spirit dwells will begin to be at peace with God; they will submit to God’s will; they will begin to live in a way that is actually pleasing to God.
Until next time May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You: All Y’all!
Pastor, Belvidere-Ryland Church of Christ
North Carolina, USA
 N.T. Wright, “Romans,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 397.
 Douglas J. Moo, Romans: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 247.
 N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 255.
 N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), Kindle Locations 1712-1714.
 All verses New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.
 N.T. Wright, “Romans,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 575.
 Schreiner, 399.
 Moo, 248.
 Cottrell, 261.
 Michael J. Gorman, Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 276.
 E.P. Sanders, Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Minneapolis; Fortress Press, 1977), 460.
 Cottrell, 261.
 Sanders, 497.
 N.T. Wright, “Romans,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 577.
 Schreiner, 399.
 Moo, 249.
 Schreiner, 401.
 James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8 (Dallas; Word, 1998), 419.
 Cottrell, 262.
 Sanders, 407.
 N.T. Wright, Paul In Fresh Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 124.
 F.F. Bruce, Paul: An Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 206.
 N.T. Wright, “Romans,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 582.
 Wright, 582.
 Cottrell, 267.
 Cottrell, 267.
 Moo, 251.
 Schreiner, 413.
 Cottrell, 268.
 N.T. Wright, Paul In Fresh Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 124.
 N.T. Wright, “Romans,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 589.