March 10 (Reading for March 7-13: Romans 8:1-23. I will comment on verses 1-11 today and on verses 12-23 tomorrow). After Paul’s desperate plea, “Who will set me free from the body of this death?” and his cry of victory, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25), he nails it down in 8:1, “Therefore there is now no condemnation at all for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He had been building to this moment in the entire letter. He had given the spiritual history, detailing the human plight of both Jew and Gentile because of sin. In chapters 5 and 6, you could hear the crescendo of his message. He dealt with a potential setback in chapter 7, but swept it all away with an affirmation, which could be screamed from the highest pinnacle or whispered into the ear of a soul who is seeking peace: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
In chapter 8, Paul expounds eloquently on the case of one who is in Christ. Using an online concordance, I read every reference in the New Testament to the phrase, “in Christ,” all 87 of them in the NASB, 83 of which were written by Paul. He began with a summary statement of the conflicting laws (that he had described in chapter 7). “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (v. 2). The words “set you free” join with “no condemnation” to describe our joyful relationship with the One who came “in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin” (v. 3). By His offering, it is sin and not the sinner that is condemned.
Paul used the term “in the flesh” to describe those who are not “in Christ.” The NIV renders “in the flesh” as “controlled by the sinful nature.” These conflicting lifestyles describe a walk: “according to the flesh” or “according to the Spirit” (v. 4). They describe a mindset: “The mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (v. 6). In the end, “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (v. 8). You have a choice in what your walk and mindset will be. If you want to please God, you know what your choice will be!
What does Paul say about those who are “in Christ”? Please allow me to paraphrase verses 9-11. If you are in Christ, you are led by the Holy Spirit and not by your human sinful nature. You submit to the control of the Holy Spirit. You belong to Christ, and He lives in you. Christ’s resurrection is the promise of your resurrection because God, who raised Jesus from death, lives in you. He who—by His power—raised Jesus from death will also—by the same power—give you life through the presence of His Spirit in you. The only possibility of a victorious Christian life is through the presence of the Holy Spirit in us!
– Al Gary