Paul’s Letter to the Romans | Chapter 8 Verse 1
Verses taken out of context can cause considerable discussion and to try to understand the verse in isolation can open up pathways to mis-interpretation. Verse one of Romans chapter eight is such a verse. Bro John Carter acknowledges this in his book ‘The Letter to the Romans’: “In coming to this chapter, we come to a variety of difficulties. ‘There is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’”
Do we understand, then, that those in Christ are no longer condemned? Those in Christ are those who have been baptized into his saving Name. So have these people been relieved of the condemnation given to Adam because of his sin and are free from the sentence of death which was imposed on Adam which we have all inherited? Such thoughts should set alarm bells ringing in the minds of Bible students who claim to have the Truth. Why? Because those who desire to be “IN CHRIST” do so to separate themselves from the sinful nature of Adam and become related to Jesus in baptism and the hope that is extended to us by such action.
What is that hope? It is a place in the Kingdom of God and to live there in the strength of immortality. But if the reason for being in Christ is to have this hope, then we cannot have immortality now, otherwise we could not hope for it. “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then shall he reward every man according to his works” (Matthew 16:27). “And, behold, I come quickly and my reward is with me, to give to every man according as his works shall be” (Revelation 22:12). Immediately we see how difficulties can arise when a verse is taken out of context.
Looking again at the verse, Romans 8:1, the word “therefore” suggests that Paul is continuing his thoughts from chapter 7. What has he been saying there? He is dealing with the law of sin and death. We are all mortal sinful creatures, descendants from Adam, inheriting the sentence of death. Adam was given the choice of obeying God, but he was disobedient and he received the sentence: “As in Adam all die”. Bro John Carter writes on page 92 of his book: “That is the truth of the matter. Assured prospect of eternal life, not a possession through being in Christ”. An assured prospect! We apply for a job, but it is up to us if we get it. If we can present ourselves in the right way, it is an Assured Prospect, but it may not materialize. So it is with baptism into Jesus. The fact is that he is our mediator: we can receive forgiveness of our sins if they are confessed through Jesus. The fact that we are baptized into Jesus gives us an assured prospect of eternal life if we remain faithful and do our best. Being in Christ, with the result of our sins being forgiven, there is acquittal. Man is reckoned not guilty. There is no condemnation. Bro Carter says “We create difficulties when we try to read into the words of scripture the particular meaning which the same words may have acquired through religious controversy.”
So what does Paul mean when he says there is now for us in Christ no condemnation? There is a present freedom, certainly, but not from the death inherited from Adam, which will certainly send us to the grave. The freedom that we have is freedom from our sins as obstacles to a future life. One commentary puts it like this: “We believe that in baptism there is a transition from a state of alienation in Adam to a citizenship in Christ and through it we shall ultimately be free from Adam’s sin, mortality. We are not personally responsible for Adam’s sin, but we are all under the result of that sin and are baptized to remove the condemnation which came thereby and to place us in Christ, reconciled to God.”
The apostle Paul in Romans chapter seven struggles with the fact that while he makes every effort to do that which is right, he still does those things that are wrong, “For the good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do” (verse 19). This is because of mortality. Paul is fighting the law of sin: “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin” (verse 24-25). Paul, although in Christ, was well aware that he was mortal, thus his struggle. But he looked forward to the time that he had preached about for so long, when his Lord would return to change his body from mortal to immortal. That was to come!
Adamic condemnation brings a physical disability inherited from Adam. We are freed from this condemnation and reconciled to God at baptism. But, we are not freed from the physical disability until the change of the body. Who are in Christ? Being ‘in Christ’ means much more than being dependent upon Christ or being a follower of Christ. We should be ‘in Christ’. Salvation is not assured. It is conditional. Ellicott’s commentary says this: “A result is thus attained which the Law of Moses could not accomplish, but which is accomplished in the Gospel. The Christian is entirely freed from the law of sin and death and from the condemnation it entails. But he is so upon the condition that this freedom is for him a reality, that it really proceeds from the indwelling spirit of Christ”.
We pray that our Lord will soon return to establish his Father’s Kingdom and, in His mercy, allow us to worship Him in the strength of immortality.
Bro Roy Soffe (Portsmouth, UK)