The Letter to the Romans



25. Free From the Law of Sin and Death


Romans 8:1-8


Paul ends chapter 7-in which he defines the ongoing struggle between a Christ-follower's new desire to honor God and his flesh which still is unredeemed and pulls him back toward sin-by saying, "So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin," (v. 25) He begins chapter 8 with these words of hope and reassurance: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." (verses 1-2)

These words reveal the truth about our position in Christ: the Spirit is in charge of our growth and security, not we ourselves in our mortal flesh. The question arises, however: if the battle between the desire to sin and the desire to serve God continues to rage in a born-again person, how can there be no condemnation for us? We are still tainted with sinfulness.

The answer lies in the reality that as born again Christ-followers, we are no longer natural humans. We have been restored to intimacy with the Father, and the God of the universe lives in us in the person of the Holy Spirit. The mystery is that God, the sinless, perfect, omniscient, omnipotent One, chooses to dwell in our unredeemed bodies. As God's children, adopted into His family, we are defined by His identity instead of by our natural identities. The imperfection of our flesh is no longer the power in us; God Himself claims and changes us.

Verse 34 of chapter 8 asks, "Who is he that condemns?" Paul answers his own question by asserting that Jesus Christ, the one who died and rose again, stands by the Father interceding for us. Before our new birth into Christ, we did not have His advocacy before the Father. We were still struggling alone, trying to make our lives good by trying harder. After we accept Jesus, however, nothing can separate us from the love of God which we have through Christ Jesus. Life ore death cannot separate us; neither can angels or demons, the present or the future, any power in the universe, height or depth-nothing in all creation can separate us from God's love. (Romans 8:38-39) Because we are in Christ, our natural pull toward sin no longer defines us. In Jesus we are free from condemnation. He has given us His identity. We are new people in Christ.

Although we, like everyone else, have sinned, in Christ we are "justified freely" by God's grace through the redemption that comes to us by Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26) Now we rejoice in Jesus through whom we have reconciliation with God instead of condemnation. (Romans 5:11) We-the true essence of ourselves which is brought to life by Jesus Christ-are dead to sin even though our bodies, the mortal parts of ourselves which are yet unredeemed, are still sinful. When we are in Christ, that sinful flesh is not our master. Our flesh is overpowered and transformed by the Holy Spirit within us. (see Romans 6:11, 14)

The amazing part of this transformation is that God rescued us while we were completely dead in our sins. He saved us while we were sinners; he brought us to life when we were in our mortal state. He cancelled the "written code", the law whose demands condemned us and nailed it to the cross. Even more, he disarmed the powers and authorities in the spiritual realm and made a public spectacle of them by triumphing over them at the cross. He asserted the sovereign, omnipotent power of God at the cross and condemned all other powers. (Colossians 2:13-15)

There is no condemnation for us when we are in Christ because our natural state of sin is gone. Although we still inhabit our mortal, flawed "tents", we ourselves are alive and one with God. As God's own adopted children, heirs of Him and co-heirs with Christ, we are free from the curse of sin even though our bodies are not yet redeemed. We need only to embrace our new identities and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit whom God has given us.


Law Weakened by Sinful Flesh

Our new birth by the Holy Spirit is the answer to the problem of our sinful flesh. Paul says in verse 3 that the law had been powerless to bring about righteousness in him because "it [the law] was weakened by the sinful flesh."(v. 3) This statement is a bit enigmatic; it seems illogical that the law (external) could be weakened by a person's natural flesh (internal). Our flesh seems to be the destructive force that had to be corralled before the completion of Jesus' atonement and must be overruled by the Holy Spirit now that our salvation is secure.

The writer of Hebrews says of the law that the "former regulation" had to be set aside because it was "weak and useless" and could make "nothing perfect". (Hebrews 7:18) Later, in Hebrews 10:1-4, he states that the law was only a shadow of the good things to come. The reality behind the shadow is Jesus. The sacrifices could not make anything perfect, because they were merely a shadow of Christ, not HIM. If they had had any power in themselves, they would certainly have accomplished the perfecting of the Israelites. If the law-appointed sacrifices had really been able to cleanse the Israelites from their sins, they would have no longer felt guilty for their sins. As it was, however, the Israelites had to offer those sacrifices again and again, year after year, always reminded that their sin was intractable, and they were perpetually flawed.

The law could not cleanse people. The reason it could not change them was that people's sinful natures are intrinsically, intractably evil. No external regulation, however noble, righteous, or meaningful, could accomplish a change in a human heart. Only a Power greater than the heart Whose love exceeds a human's could effect a change that would override sinful flesh.

In his letter to the Colossians Paul addresses this problem of the law being powerless to effect change by stating that the law is not opposed to God's promises. It is righteous and just. In fact, if it had been possible for it to impart life to people, it would have done so, because it was in itself good. But it could not change humans; instead, it held them prisoners until faith was revealed with the coming of Jesus. (Colossians 3:21-23) Furthermore, he pointed out in chapter 2: 16-17 and 20-23, the law was not really powerful in itself because it is merely a shadow of Christ. Even though its regulations appear to be wise, they have no power to "restrain sensual indulgence".

The law "was weakened by the sinful nature" in that it had no intrinsic power of its own. The law is merely a reflection of the attributes God's righteousness effects in people. It states a standard of behavior God desires, and it states the consequences of disobedience. It cannot, however, make sinners obedient. It cannot stop sinful desires. No law can control our natural sinful flesh. The law is as weak as we are.


Jesus Condemned Sin In the Flesh

Sin the law was "weakened by the sinful nature [flesh]", God did what the law couldn't do. He condemned sin in the flesh "in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be met in us." (verse 4) Hebrews 2:14-15 explains that Jesus shared our flesh and blood so that by His death he could destroy the devil who holds the power of death and free us from our slavery to fear. Jesus took on flesh and blood so he could be "like his brothers in every way", and so He could be a merciful and faithful high priest for us. He can intercede for us because He has experienced our temptations and sorrows.

Farther on in Hebrews the author explains that with his torn body, Jesus opened a "new and living way" for us to enter the presence of the Father. That way is his eternal blood of the covenant, and with it washing and covering us, we can be in the presence of God. Jesus has destroyed the power of sin in us and its claim on us. His body and blood have redeemed us and have restored us to a relationship with the Father. (10:19-22)

Paul tells us in Galatians 3:13 that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming "a curse for us." He echoes this phenomenon in 2 Corinthians 5:21 where he says, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." God reconciled us to Him through Christ, and in the process of our being reconciled, God gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

By taking the physical suffering and death and the spiritual separation from God that was rightfully ours, Jesus broke the power of sin. In His own flesh, he defeated sin and condemned it to ultimate annihilation. He also condemned its sovereignty in us. Although our flesh is still sinful, because of Christ's taking our penalty and breaking the finality of death, sin is no longer our master. Its power over us is broken, and we are free in Christ from sin's condemnation.

The consequence of Jesus' condemning sin in the flesh by taking the curse upon himself is that the "righteous requirements of the law" are "fully met in us". The paradox that Jesus, the sinless one, became sin for us and thus condemned it, while we, the innately sinful, find the righteous requirements of the law fulfilled in us defies human explanation, yet it is a miracle to which Scripture attests repeatedly.

In other words, it is not that our sinful flesh literally becomes righteous and holy; rather, when we are hidden in Christ, He is our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. He literally places his attributes in our "account" before God, and because of our faith in Him, we are counted righteous and holy. As Paul says further in 2 Corinthians 5:21, God made Jesus, who had no sin, to "be sin for us," so we might "become the righteousness of God".

Our righteousness is the plan and the gift of God the Father who gave His Son to accomplish this redemption, and Who also gives us His Spirit to mediate His power, protection, and peace in our lives.


Sinful Mind Hostile to God

In verse 5 Paul makes clear the fact that we can choose to live one of two ways: according to the flesh, or in accordance with the Spirit. The phrase "the mind of sinful man" in verse 6 can also be translated, "the mind set on the flesh." This translation is the way the NASB version of the Bible renders this text. Since this translation is the more literal, it is the one we will use. The mind set on the flesh "is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace." (v. 6) Paul goes on, however to delineate the characteristics of a mind controlled by the flesh. It is "hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God." (v. 7-8)

Paul is describing the natural condition of each one of us; even if we claim Christianity but have not truly surrendered to Christ and accepted the new birth, this description fits us. Ezekiel spoke for God around 591 B.C. and explained that each person is held accountable for his own sins. "Every living soul belongs to me," God said, but only "the soul who sins will die." (Ezekiel 18:4) In context, Ezekiel was relating God's teaching that sons are not punished for their fathers' sins. The underlying truth, however, is that all souls sin, and in the natural course of events, all souls would die without divine intervention.

James personifies the mind controlled by the flesh. When people are temped, he writes, that temptation does not nor cannot come from God; rather, it comes from a person's own evil desires. That desire drags the person away and entices him. When desire conceives, it gives birth to sin. When sin matures, it gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)

When we live by the flesh instead of by the Spirit, our minds are death. The things we do are in opposition to God, and those behaviors enslave us to self-destruction and also to destruction of others. We have minds of death.

If our minds are sinful, they are hostile to God, even if we claim to be Christians. If we have not surrendered our desires, dreams, hearts, and minds to Jesus, our profession of faith is a sham. Intellectual assent to Christ is not the same as surrender and trust. If a person has a mind hostile to Christ, certain characteristics mark him. First, he is separated from God. He is not living under the blood of Jesus, and God will not draw near to him. Isaiah, speaking for God, said in chapter 59:2 that Israel's sins had separated them from God and had caused God to hide his face from them and not to hear their prayers.

James describes the behavior of people hostile to God. They have envy and self-ambition in their hearts. He warns his readers not to boast if they find those traits driving them, because they are from the devil. Where there is envy and self-ambition, he says, there is also "disorder and every evil practice." (James 3:14-16) Our own goals to create success and name recognition for ourselves are not goals from God. They betray a mind that is in opposition to God and to His glory and purpose. James further says that friendship with the world equals hatred toward God. If one chooses to be a friend of the world, he simultaneously chooses to be an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

John echoed James's words in 1 John 2:15-17. Don't love the world or anything in it, he warned. If a person loves the world and indulges or fantasizes sinful cravings, lusts, and boasting, the love of the Father is not in him. A person whose mind is hostile to God is filled with worldly dreams and ambitions. He boasts, and he works to indulge his ambitions and lusts. He understands and participates in worldly "games" such as political maneuvering, manipulation, and half-truths. He is self-deceived and deceiving, and the love of the Father is not in him.

The mind hostile to God does not submit to Him. Such a person is insubordinate toward his Creator, arrogantly assuming autonomy. The Israelites exemplified insubordination to God. When Moses went to meet God on Mt. Sinai, the Israelites waited at the base of the mountain. As the days passed, they rushed to the assumption that he was not coming back, and they constructed an idol for themselves. After they had melted their gold and fashioned the golden calf, they had the nerve to sacrifice to it and to honor it for their miraculous delivery from Egypt. An insubordinate mind refuses to acknowledge God's sovereign power, justice, and mercy. Instead, such a mindset rationalizes whatever self-indulgence a person wishes to adopt at the center of his attention. Jesus denounced the Pharisees, days before His death, for their hypocrisy, greed, murderous impulses, dishonesty, cruelty, and their lack of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. (See Matthew 23:13-32) They replaced reverence and worship of God with lust for their own power and pleasure. They abused their authority over the Jews and accepted for themselves the honor and obedience the people owed only to God. (See also Romans 1:18-21; Epheisans 4:17-18; Galatians 6:7-10)

Insubordination to God causes people to place themselves in the center of their own lives. We, however, are not powerful or good or discerning enough to give ourselves meaning and freedom. An insubordinate person will be arrogant about his own ideas and rationalizations. He feels no shame at dismissing the warnings in God's word and living instead by his own understanding and his own drives.


Judgment for the Hostile

Those who are hostile and insubordinate toward God, those whose minds are death, will come under God's judgment. People who are controlled by their sinful natures cannot submit to God's law, and they cannot please God. The Bible describes the future of such people. Proverbs 16:4 reveals God's sovereignty over the final end of people: the Lord, the writer says, works everything out to their own ends, "even the wicked for the day of disaster." Ezekiel was even more specific. Sent to Israel with a warning and a plea for their repentance, he revealed God's words to them in 22:29-31. God looked for someone who would stand in the gap for Israel so He wouldn't have to destroy the land, but He could find no one who would stand for truth. Instead, he saw the people practicing greed, extortion, oppression of the poor and the aliens, and injustice, so God said He would pour out His wrath on them and consume them. He would bring on their own heads everything they have done.

In his letter to the immature, petulant Corinthians Paul also addresses the issue of the wicked reaping judgment. "Do not be deceived," he wrote in 6:9-10; the wicked will not inherit the kingdom. In Ephesians 2:1-3 Paul explains that all of us were dead in our sins and wickedness when we followed the "ruler of the kingdom of the air," which is "the spirit which is now at work" in the disobedient. The disobedient, those who live by the ruler of the kingdom of the air, are perishing. Paul further explains the final outcome of the wicked in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. The lawless one-the person we refer to as the antichrist-will deceive those who are perishing. They are perishing because they refuse to believe the truth and be saved, so God sends them "a powerful delusion" so they will believe the lie and perish. In other words, the wicked are stubborn and unrepentant. They are hostile and insubordinate toward God, and they refuse to believe truth. This stubborn refusal results in their rejecting Jesus and His forgiveness, they will perish eternally in the wrath of God.


Controlled By the Spirit

If the Spirit lives in us, however, we are no longer controlled by the sinful nature with minds of death, hostile and insubordinate toward God. We are controlled by the Holy Spirit. (verse 9) The Spirit lives in us if we have surrendered to Jesus' death and resurrection and accepted the new birth. Jesus was very clear in his discussion with Nicodemus that in order to enter the kingdom of heaven a person must be born again. "Flesh gives birth to flesh," he told the Jewish teacher, "but Spirit gives birth to spirit." (John 3:5-6) The new birth is not a metaphor for a change of mind and a new commitment. It is a real event when the Holy Spirit indwells us after our acceptance of Christ as our Savior. He literally brings our spirits to life and connects us to God; our spirits enter eternity with Jesus at that moment.

This reality of a new birth provides the power and potential for us to cease living by our sinful natures-which still are at work in our unredeemed bodies. We can choose to respond to the Holy Spirit instead, and we can lean on His power and courage to live as God is calling us to live. (see verses 13-15; Galatians 5:16, 18) Further, we will not merely be able to live by the Spirit and not for the flesh, but God will produce the "fruit of the Spirit" in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we are in Christ, we are a completely new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Jesus promised that if we remain in Him, we will flourish and bear fruit. Remaining in His love means we will obey His commands-which He identified. "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." (John 15:12) Further, Jesus said that we are not His servants but His friends because He has revealed to us everything He has learned from the Father. (see John 15:5-15) Living by the Spirit means rooting ourselves deeply in Jesus, growing in His love, and surrendering to the discipline and truth of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Being controlled by the Spirit results in our discovering our true identities as sons and daughters of God. It removes us from the kingdom of death and establishes us in eternal life. It brings the Bible to life, and God's will becomes increasingly our will. Instead of being consumed, we become more fully alive than we had thought it possible to be. Being controlled by the Spirit is a paradox: on the one hand, we are slaves to God; on the other, we are free from our previous slavery to fear and death. The natural state of man is spiritual slavery. We are either slaves to evil, or we are slaves to God and are His adopted sons and daughters, brought to life and freedom in Jesus.



If you have never surrendered your identity to Jesus, he is asking you to do that now. Without Him, you are lost in consuming sin, even if your life is marked by good works. Unless you admit you are a hopeless sinner, unable to attain salvation on your own, and surrender to the redemption Jesus secured for you His death and resurrection, you cannot please God. Unless you are born by the Spirit, you are hostile to God, insubordinate to Him, and a prisoner of death.

If you have given yourself to Jesus, He is asking you to release to him your grip on the negative, self-protective or self-indulgent behaviors that keep you from experiencing freedom and joy. He is calling you to live by the Spirit instead of by your flesh. When you find yourself stressed, overloaded, shamed, overwhelmed, disappointed, or isolated, God's call to you is to release your resistance or control to Him about the issues at hand, and surrender to His will and strength.

Surrender is not a passive giving up or disengaging from the situations at hand, Rather, it is releasing to God the outcomes you think you desire.

God wants you to know the ways you are hostile and insubordinate to Him. He also wants you to acknowledge the people and circumstances which trigger hostility, disrespect, and insubordination between you and other people, because those reactions frequently represent a deep lack of surrender of certain parts of yourself to Jesus. God is asking you to come into submission to His Spirit.

If you refuse to submit to Him, on the other hand, God will continue to allow situations to arise in your life that bring you face-to-face with your weakness and failure. Until you become willing to know and own the brokenness in yourself, God will allow that brokenness to cripple you and to keep you from experiencing the joy and victory and satisfaction for which you yearn.

Go before Jesus now. Ask Him to help you hold the things you cherish loosely in your hands. Ask Him to be more real to you than are the dreams and fears and shame you hold in your heart. Ask Him to be your all-in-all and to teach you to trust Him. Ask Him to be your strength in weakness and to help you to know the truth about yourself. Ask Him to heal your heart and to make you willing to surrender to Him and to act with integrity instead of with self-protection.

Praise the Father for giving you salvation by sending His Son. Praise Jesus for being obedient to His Father and for taking on your humanity and for dying your death. Praise the Holy Spirit for living in you and for mediating the forgiveness and strength of Jesus in your life.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for giving you new life and a new identity in Christ.

Copyright (c) 2004 Graphics Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Posted September 18, 2004.
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