By Fred O. Blakely
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit,” declares Paul in Romans 8:1. In the commonly accepted view, this is taken to mean that God does not condemn the ones who are united with, or have been baptized into, His beloved Son. This is certainly so, but is that what is primarily intended here?
The truth of the believer’s freedom from condemnation by God is surely made emphatically clear elsewhere. Jesus Himself said that those who received Him should not “come into condemnation” (Jn. 5:24; cf. ch. 3:18). This is because, as Paul goes on in the Romans text (v. 3) to point out, Christ bore their condemnation in His vicarious death (cf. I Pet. 2:24). Later in the same chapter, he stresses the complete justification before God of all who are in Jesus. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (vv. 33-34). In another place, the Apostle unqualifiedly declares that those who believe in Christ are “justified from all things,” a glorious benefit peculiar to the gospel era (Acts 13:38-39; cf. Rom. 3:19-26; 4:2-8). There, thus, are those “to whom the Lord will not impute sin” (Rom. 4:8), seeing God has justified them from it.
The More Fitting Sense. All this—that there is no condemnation by God of those in Christ—being freely and gladly conceded, and wholeheartedly and joyously embraced, it appears to us that this is not specifically what Paul is saying in Romans 8:1. Another sense in which that declaration can be taken fits the context of Romans 7 and the verses immediately following in chapter 8 far better, and seems to us to be the primary meaning intended. This judgment is predicated on the understanding that the adverb “therefore” of verse 1 (rendered “thus” by Moffatt) expressly connects it with chapter 7. There, the Apostle gives an account of his experience, after some twenty-five years of life in Christ, with the struggles and frustrations produced by the clash of “the law of God,” which was written in his mind, with “the law of sin” operating in his fleshly members, to which he was brought into captivity.
The Situation with Paul. In this state of wretchedness (v. 26), Paul comforted and encouraged himself by claiming for himself the full justification in Christ which he so forcefully proclaimed to others. He rightly dissociated himself from “the law of sin” residing in his physical members, saying confidently, “It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” (v. 17). He knew that within himself, that is within his flesh, dwelled “no good thing” (v. 18; cf. Rom. 1:9; Phil. 3:3)—a circumstance which constitutes a resounding refutation of religious leaders who insist that the unregenerated flesh is not so bad as Scripture represents it to be.
Hence, with his mind the Apostle served “the law of God,” but with his flesh “the law of sin” (v. 25), as he confessed. He found a “law,” he said, which shut him up to this frustrating state (v. 21)—the law of “the captivating power of indwelling sin,” he might well have called it. This “law,” it should be recognized, is operative in all who are partakers of new creatureship in Christ, “the old man” yet exerting its ensnaring force; and those who seek to deny that fact, or disregard it, are in gross error. Their attempts to justify their false notions result in their fostering of expectations from the present reign by grace which simply will not be realized by those who are yet contending with “the body of this death”.
The Assertion of Justification. In all his strivings against sin, and his backsettings experienced therein, however, Paul refused to relinquish his sense of justification in Christ. By his union with Jesus, he had put off “the body of the flesh” by “the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11, ASV) and so refused to allow its misdeeds to drive him from God’s Presence. In other words, he had what he would probably call the spirit of “no condemnation,” or of personal consciousness of justification in the Savior.
In that blessed awareness, he triumphed in the conflict between the dual natures with which he was possessed. That is to say, seeing he was “not under the law, but under grace,” he did not permit sin to “have dominion” over himself, to the defilement of his purged conscience (ch. 6:14). This is certainly not to say that the holy Apostle winked at sin in himself, or lightly regarded it, and neither should we. It is but to point out that he asserted his complete dominion over it in Christ in the only way such absolute rule can be experienced in this life.
The Meaning of “No Condemnation.” It appears to us that it is against this background that the “no condemnation” clause of Romans 8:1 is to be understood. It is to be noted that the Apostle says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, not “of” them, although, as we have said, that also is true. We can rearrange the sentence without changing its meaning and make its relation to the context more apparent. Thus, it can be said, “To them that are in Christ Jesus there is therefore now no condemnation. That is the intended sense of the verse, in our judgment. It simply means that there is in the heart of the believer no consciousness of condemnation by God that would prevent him from drawing near to Him for cleansing from sin, though, of course, there is full awareness that God’s fatherly displeasure is kindled by his sin.
It should be observed that the term, “no condemnation,” expresses precisely the state with reference to his sins of which the Apostle had just revealed that he was aware. Hence, he is saying that is the portion of all who are in Christ, whether they are cognizant of it or not, and that they should have this “spirit of adoption.” or of “sonship” (v. 15), or, more exactly, of justification, or “no condemnation.” It is only in that con-sciousness that we can have the “dominion” over sin which grace is designed to give us.
As we have indicated, this blessed situation of freedom from condemnation does not confer license to sin, as some suppose (Rom. 6:1-2). Rather, it provides for the maintenance of fellowship with God, through which fellowship alone we shall, in the love and fear of Him, make any progress at all toward the perfection of experiential holiness. Our sins should break our heart, seeing they are against the holy and gracious Father who so loved us as to give His dear Son for our sins, and against the blessed Savior who purged us from them by His unutterable sufferings and death. In godly sorrow and deep contrition of heart, we should acknowledge our sins to God and hasten to recover ourselves from their snare. All the while, however, we should like Paul, refuse to permit them to experientially separate us from communion with God by defiling our conscience and so driving us out from His Presence, much the same as Cain was driven out.
The Walk after the Spirit. The proviso attached to Romans 8:1 is stated as follows: the particular clause of reference reads, “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit,” or, as expressed in verse 5, who “mind” not “the things of the flesh,” but mind “the things of the Spirit.”
In chapter 7, the Apostle had spelled out what it means to “mind the things of the flesh” and “of the Spirit”, or to “walk after the flesh” as well as “after the Spirit.” When he renounced what he did that he “allowed not,” and what he did not do that he “would” (vv. 14-21), insisting that it was not he who as thus involved in sin (since he himself “served the law of God” [v. 25]), he was spiritually minded and walking after the Spirit. That is to say, he was regarding the situation as God regarded it—the way it veritably is—which attitude constitutes the essence of spirituality.
The Harmony with First John 1:7. It is in this view of the matter that First John 1:6-7 is to be understood. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” To “walk in darkness”, thus, is be “carnally minded” (Rom. 8:6)—that is, to regard the case as though Christ had not propitiated our sins and that we were not accepted by God in Him. That is just what Paul refused to do. He walked in “the light,” which is, by faith, to walk in full recognition of the truth of one’s complete acceptance in the Son. The truth is that our entire fleshly nature was crucified with Christ, “that the body of sin might be destroyed” from God’s presence (Rom. 6:6), and we are to confidently “reckon” on that situation (v. 11). That, as we have said, is how Paul walked—fully reckoning on the truth—and so “in the light.”
Those today who do likewise, so living as “children of light” and of “the day,” not as those “of the night nor of darkness” (I Thess. 5:5), “have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth” them from all sin. It is, thus, evident that walking “in the light” does not entail sinlessness—as Paul found the case to be. Rather, the text of First John 1:7 recognizes the continual need of cleansing from sin by those walking in the light. And this is abundantly provided by “the blood of Jesus Christ,” as those who are in Christ go on cleaving to Him and reckoning upon their justification before God in Him, while pressing toward the mark for the prize of their high calling in the Son.
The Intolerable Alternative. For those who take issue with this exposition of the “no condemnation” clause of our text, we have a hard reminder. The only alternative to the view tends to thrust us right back under a system of law in order to life before God—do it and live; do it not and die—with the additionally frustrating circumstance that what the gospel requires is far more exacting morally than the demands of the law. The claim that the power available to us in Christ makes possible our complete realized mastery over “the law of sin” dwelling within our natural selves belies Paul’s experience and doctrine, since he found a “law” to the contrary. It also contradicts John in his declaration that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (I Jn. 1:8).
Moreover, such a view of the case reduces the whole situation with the person in Christ to one of great jeopardy and uncertainty. He must consciously recognize and secure forgiveness for every sin—both of commission and omission—or he is in danger of hell fire. But, no doubt, we are guilty of many sins of which we are not aware. How, then, are we to have the becoming assurance before God, or the required confidence to “come boldly” into the heavenly sanctuary (Heb. 4:14-16; 10:19-23)? This mistaken idea of the divine economy, obviously, puts the brethren on an in-and-out, now I’m accepted, and now I’m not basis of relationship to God, which is both antiscriptural and intolerable. Such a restricted view of justification in Christ, or of our participation in “the circumcision of Christ,” is so contrary to both the letter and spirit of new-covenant writings that it cannot be valid. It is, therefore, rejected out of hand in favor of “the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2), by which we are liberated, as to our relationship with the holy Father, from the opposing “law of sin and death”, which operates within our fleshly nature, which nature, for the purpose of acceptance by God, has been “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:16-21).
The Law’s Righteousness Fulfilled. Under this “perfect law of liberty (Jas. 1:25), “the righteousness of the law” is thus “fulfilled in us,” while we “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3). This is because God, through Christ, has done for us “what the law” given at Sinai “could not do.” That is, He has given His Son as a Sin Offering and so “condemned”, or executed—put an end to—”sin in the flesh,” as to its alienating efficacy for those who are in Christ. Hence, we now have no sense of condemnation by God (or should not have), inasmuch as we have been justified by Him. Rather, our dominant consciousness in this connection is (or ought to be) of the glorious fact of the condemnation of sin by God in the atoning work of the Savior.