“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
-The Apostle Paul
Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed more and more a theme in Romans 7 and 8 that people don’t seem to pick up on. They place a hard division between the latter half of Romans 7 (the woe-is-me, “I do what I do not want to do” passage) and Romans 8 (the “no condemnation” passage). However, this reading misses a word key to understanding the whole passage—the “therefore” of Romans 8:1. Reading Romans 8 in light of Romans 7 (and vice versa) allows us to see several important points.
1. Before we were in Christ, the Law was binding on us. However, the Law is only binding as long as someone is alive, and we have “died through the body of Christ,” so that the Law (and, as an aside from Revelation 12, Satan) can no longer condemn us.
2. While we are in Christ but in the body, we are still tempted to sin, and our bodies wage war against our spirits—our bodies want desperately to sin, but our spirits want desperately to stay holy. “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. … For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”
Note the distinction—we are no longer our sin. Before Christ, we had no choice but to sin, but in Christ, our sin has become our enemy.
3. THEREFORE, even though we are still unable to live perfectly the way our spirits want, we are no longer condemned. We have been made alive where we were once dead, and at the last day we will be made alive where we are still dead. “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Therefore, “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies,” and while we wait to be redeemed fully, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.”
4. AND THUS, we are able to persevere in the faith, so that Paul can make bold assertions like “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” And “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” And most astonishingly of all, given how desperately our flesh wants to fall away when things get tough, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Augustine said that, before the Fall, Adam was “able not to sin” (posse non peccare), but that after the Fall, humankind is “not able not to sin” (non posse non peccare). But there’s a partial reversal when someone receives the Spirit—we are still very much “not able not to sin,” but we have also received the ability not to sin. It’s sort of a taste of what life will be like in the New Creation, where, like Augustine said, we will “not be able to sin” (non posse peccare).
And so, through the work of Christ, both at his crucifixion/resurrection and at his return, we are made new.