The Reality of Freedom—No Condemnation
There is therefore now no condemnation (8:1a)
By simple definition, therefore introduces a result, consequence, or conclusion based on what has been established previously. It seems unlikely that Paul is referring to the immediately preceding text. He has just finished lamenting the continued problem of sin in a believer’s life, including his own. It is surely not on the basis of that truth that he confidently declares that believers are no longer under divine condemnation. One might expect rather that any further sin would deserve some sort of further judgment. But Paul makes clear that such is not the case with our gracious God. It seems probable that therefore marks a consequent conclusion from the entire first seven chapters, which focus primarily on justification by faith alone, made possible solely on the basis of and by the power of God’s grace.
Accordingly, chapter 8 marks a major change in the focus and flow of the epistle. At this point the apostle begins to delineate the marvelous results of justification in the life of the believer. He begins by explaining, as best as possible to finite minds, some of the cardinal truths of salvation (no condemnation, as well as justification, substitution, and sanctification).
God’s provision of salvation came not through Christ’s perfect teaching or through His perfect life but through His perfect sacrifice on the cross. It is through Christ’s death, not His life, that God provides the way of salvation. For those who place their trust in Christ and in what He has done on their behalf there is therefore now no condemnation.
The Greek word katakrima (condemnation) appears only in the book of Romans, here and in 5:16, 18. Although it relates to the sentencing for a crime, its primary focus is not so much on the verdict as on the penalty that the verdict demands. As Paul has already declared, the penalty, or condemnation, for sin is death (6:23).
Paul here announces the marvelous good news that for Christians there will be no condemnation, neither sentencing nor punishment for the sins that believers have committed or will ever commit.
Ouketi (no) is an emphatic negative adverb of time and carries the idea of complete cessation. In His parable about the king who forgave one of his slaves an overwhelming debt (Matt. 18:23–27), Jesus pictured God’s gracious and total forgiveness of the sins of those who come to Him in humble contrition and faith. That is the heart and soul of the gospel—that Jesus completely and permanently paid the debt of sin and the penalty of the law (which is condemnation to death) for every person who humbly asks for mercy and trusts in Him. Through the apostle John, God assures His children that “if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:1–2).
Jesus not only pays the believer’s debt of sin but cleanses him “from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Still more amazingly, He graciously imputes and imparts to each believer His own perfect righteousness: “For by one offering He [Christ] has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14; cf. Rom. 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9). More even than that, Jesus shares His vast heavenly inheritance with those who come to Him in faith (Eph. 1:3, 11, 14). It is because of such immeasurable divine grace that Paul admonishes Christians to be continually “giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12). Having been qualified by God the Father, we will never, under any circumstance, be subject to divine condemnation. How blessed to be placed beyond the reach of condemnation!
The truth that there can never be the eternal death penalty for believers is the foundation of the eighth chapter of Romans. As Paul asks rhetorically near the end of the chapter, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (v. 31), and again, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies” (v. 33). If the highest tribunal in the universe justifies us, who can declare us guilty?
It is extremely important to realize that deliverance from condemnation is not based in the least measure on any form of perfection achieved by the believer. He does not attain the total eradication of sin during his earthly life. It is that truth that Paul establishes so intensely and poignantly in Romans 7. John declares that truth as unambiguously as possible in his first epistle: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). The Christian’s conflict with sin does not end until he goes to be with the Lord. Nevertheless, there is still no condemnation—because the penalty for all the failures of his life has been paid in Christ and applied by grace.
It is also important to realize that deliverance from divine condemnation does not mean deliverance from divine discipline. “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Heb. 12:6). Nor does deliverance from God’s condemnation mean escape from our accountability to Him: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7).
The Reason for Freedom—Justification
for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. (8:1b–2)
As noted at the beginning of the previous section, the therefore that introduces verse 1 refers back to the major theme of the first seven chapters of the epistle—the believer’s complete justification before God, graciously provided in response to trust in the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son.
The divine condemnation from which believers are exonerated (8:1a) is without exception or qualification. It is bestowed on those who are in Christ Jesus, in other words, on every true Christian. Justification completely and forever releases every believer from sin’s bondage and its penalty of death (6:23) and thereby fits him to stand sinless before a holy God forever. It is that particular aspect of justification on which Paul focuses at the beginning of chapter 8.
Paul’s use of the first person singular pronouns (I and me) in 7:7–25 emphasizes the sad reality that, in this present life, no Christian, not even an apostle, is exempt from struggles with sin. In the opening verses of chapter 8, on the other hand, Paul emphasizes the marvelous reality that every believer, even the weakest and most unproductive, shares in complete and eternal freedom from sin’s condemnation. The holiest of believers are warned that, although they are no longer under sin’s slavish dominion, they will experience conflicts with it in this present life. And the weakest of believers are promised that, although they still stumble and fall into sin’s power in their flesh, they will experience ultimate victory over sin in the life to come.
The key to every aspect of salvation is in the simple but infinitely profound phrase in Christ Jesus. A Christian is a person who is in Christ Jesus. Paul has already declared that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death,” and that “therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:3–5).
Being a Christian is not simply being outwardly identified with Christ but being part of Christ, not simply of being united with Him but united in Him. Our being in Christ is one of the profoundest of mysteries, which we will not fully understand until we meet Him face-to-face in heaven. But Scripture does shed light on that marvelous truth. We know that we are in Christ spiritually, in a divine and permanent union. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive,” Paul explains (1 Cor. 15:22). Believers are also in Christ in a living, participatory sense. “Now you are Christ’s body,” Paul declares in that same epistle, “and individually members of it” (12:27). We are actually a part of Him and, in ways that are unfathomable to us now, we work when He works, grieve when He grieves, and rejoice when He rejoices. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,” Paul assures us, “whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). Christ’s own divine life pulses through us.
Many people are concerned about their family heritage, about who their ancestors were, where they lived, and what they did. For better or worse, we are all life-linked physically, intellectually, and culturally to our ancestors. In a similar, but infinitely more important way, we are linked to the family of God because of our relationship to His Son, Jesus Christ. It is for that reason that every Christian can say, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
God’s Word makes clear that every human being is a descendant of Adam and has inherited Adam’s fallen nature. It makes just as clear that every true believer becomes a spiritual descendant of Jesus Christ, God’s true Son, and is thereby adopted into the heavenly Father’s own divine household as a beloved child. More than just being adopted, we inherit the very life of God in Christ.
Martin Luther said,
It is impossible for a man to be a Christian without having Christ, and if he has Christ, he has at the same time all that is in Christ. What gives peace to the conscience is that by faith our sins are no more ours, but Christ’s, upon whom God hath laid them all; and that, on the other hand, all Christ’s righteousness is ours, to whom God hath given it. Christ lays His hand upon us, and we are healed. He casts His mantle upon us, and we are clothed; for He is the glorious Savior, blessed for ever. (Cited in Robert Haldane, An Exposition of Romans; [reprint, McLean, Va.: McDonald, 1958], p. 312)
The relationship between God and His chosen people Israel was beautifully illustrated in the garment of the high priest. Over his magnificent robes he wore a breastplate in which twelve different precious stones were embedded, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Each stone was engraved with the name of the tribe it represented. When the high priest entered the Holy of Holies once each year on the Day of Atonement, he stood before God with those visual representations of all His people.
That breastplate was a rich symbolism of Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest, standing before the Father making intercession on behalf of all those the Father has given Him (Heb. 7:24–25). In what is commonly called His high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed on behalf of those who belong to Him “that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me” (John 17:21).
Luther also wrote,
Faith unites the soul with Christ as a spouse with her husband. Everything which Christ has becomes the property of the believing soul; everything which the soul has, becomes the property of Christ. Christ possesses all blessings and eternal life: they are thenceforward the property of the soul. The soul has all its iniquities and sins: they become thenceforward the property of Christ. It is then that a blessed exchange commences: Christ who is both God and man, Christ who has never sinned, and whose holiness is perfect, Christ the Almighty and Eternal, taking to Himself, by His nuptial ring of faith, all the sins of the believer, those sins are lost and abolished in Him; for no sins dwell before His infinite righteousness. Thus by faith the believer’s soul is delivered from sins and clothed with the eternal righteousness of her bridegroom Christ. (Cited in Haldane, Exposition of Romans, p. 313)
The phrase “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” appears at the end of verse 1 in the King James, but it is not found in the earliest manuscripts of Romans or in most modern translations. It is probable that a copyist inadvertently picked up the phrase from verse 4. Because the identical wording appears there, the meaning of the passage is not affected.
The conjunction for, which here carries the meaning of because, leads into the reason there is no condemnation for believers: the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
Paul does not here use the term law in reference to the Mosaic law or to other divine commandments or requirements. He uses it rather in the sense of a principle of operation, as he has done earlier in the letter, where he speaks of “a law of faith” (3:27) and as he does in Galatians, where he speaks of “the law of Christ” (6:2). Those who believe in Jesus Christ are delivered from the condemnation of a lower divine law, as it were, by submitting themselves to a higher divine law. The lower law is the divine principle in regard to sin, the penalty for which is death, and the higher law is the law of the Spirit, which bestows life in Christ Jesus.
But it should not be concluded that the law Paul is speaking of in this passage has no relationship to obedience. Obedience to God cannot save a person, because no person in his unredeemed sinfulness wants to obey God and could not obey perfectly even if he had the desire. But true salvation will always produce true obedience—never perfect in this life but nonetheless genuine and always present to some extent. When truly believed and received, the gospel of Jesus Christ always leads to the “obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:25–26). The coming kingdom age of Christ that Jeremiah predicted and of which the writer of Hebrews refers is far from lawless. “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them upon their hearts” (Heb. 8:10; cf. Jer. 31:33). Release from the law’s bondage and condemnation does not mean release from the law’s requirements and standards. The higher law of the Spirit produces obedience to the lower law of duties.
The freedom that Christ gives is complete and permanent deliverance from sin’s power and penalty (and ultimately from its presence). It also gives the ability to obey God. The very notion of a Christian who is free to do as he pleases is self-contradictory. A person who believes that salvation leads from law to license does not have the least understanding of the gospel of grace and can make no claim on Christ’s saviorhood and certainly no claim on His lordship.
In speaking of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, Paul makes unambiguous later in this chapter that he is referring to the Holy Spirit. The Christian’s mind is set on the things of the Spirit (v. 6) and is indwelt and given life by the Holy Spirit (vv. 9–11). Paul summarized the working of those two laws earlier in the epistle: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
When Jesus explained the way of salvation to Nicodemus, He said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). God “saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness,” Paul explains, “but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5–6). It is the Holy Spirit who bestows and energizes spiritual life in the person who places his trust in Christ Jesus. Paul could not be talking of any spirit but the Holy Spirit, because only God’s Holy Spirit can bring spiritual life to a heart that is spiritually dead.
The truths of Romans 7 are among the most depressing and heart-rending in all of Scripture, and it is largely for that reason that many interpreters believe they cannot describe a Christian. But Paul was simply being honest and candid about the frustrating and discouraging spiritual battles that every believer faces. It is, in fact, the most faithful and obedient Christian who faces the greatest spiritual struggles. Just as in physical warfare, it is those on the front lines who encounter the enemy’s most fierce attacks. But just as frontline battle can reveal courage, it can also reveal weaknesses and vulnerability. Even the most valiant soldier is subject to injury and discouragement.
During his earthly life, the Christian will always have residual weaknesses from his old humanness, the old fleshly person he used to be. No matter how closely he walks with the Lord, he is not yet completely free from sin’s power. That is the discomfiting reality of Romans 7.
But the Christian is no longer a slave to sin as he once was, no longer under sin’s total domination and control. Now he is free from sin’s bondage and its ultimate penalty. Satan, the world, and his own humanness still can cause him to stumble and falter, but they can no longer control or destroy him, because his new life in Christ is the very divine life of God’s own Spirit. That is the comforting truth of Romans 8.
The story is told of a man who operated a drawbridge. At a certain time each afternoon, he had to raise the bridge for a ferry boat and then lower it quickly for a passenger train that crossed at high speed a few minutes later. One day the man’s young son was visiting his father at work and decided to go down below to get a better look at the ferry as it passed. Fascinated by the sight, he did not watch carefully where he was going and fell into the giant gears. One foot became caught and the boy was helpless to free himself. The father saw what happened but knew that if he took time to extricate his son, the train would plunge into to the river before the bridge could be lowered. But if he lowered the bridge to save the hundreds of passengers and crew members on the train, his son would be crushed to death. When he heard the trains whistle, indicating it would soon reach the river, he knew what he had to do. His son was very dear to him, whereas all the people on the train were total strangers. The sacrifice of his son for the sake of the other people was an act of pure grace and mercy.
That story portrays something of the infinitely greater sacrifice God the Father made when He sent His only beloved Son to earth to die for the sins of mankind—to whom He owed nothing but condemnation.
1 The reader is hardly prepared by the contents of ch. 7 for the glorious pronouncement that there is “no condemnation” at all for those who are in Christ Jesus. Here is the statement of the gospel in just a few words. Here is the answer to the condemnation mentioned in 5:18. It is not easy to associate the “therefore” with anything in the immediately preceding context. The connection must be sought in the entire sweep of the thought as developed from ch. 3 on. The natural antithesis to the sentence of condemnation is justification. It can be replied, of course, that Paul has already covered this truth and would not be likely to revert to it here. However, this is such a basic truth that Paul brings it even into his discussion of the Christian life (vv. 33–34; cf. v. 10). Justification is the basis and starting point for sanctification. One must be assured of acceptance with God before one can grow in grace and conformity to Christ.
At the same time, it is clear that the construction of vv. 2–4 carries us beyond the thought of freedom from condemnation in the sense of guilt. What is developed is the application of the redeeming work of Christ by the Spirit to the believer’s life in such a way that the dominion of sin is broken and the reign of godliness assured. In Christ we have entered a new aeon, and those “in Christ Jesus,” i.e., Christians, participate in the freedom of this new aeon. The noun “condemnation” (katakrima, GK 2890) has its counterpart in the verb “condemned” (v. 3), which is followed immediately, not by a statement about the standing of the believer, but by one concerning the believer’s manner of life (v. 4). Consequently, there is both a forensic and a practical force in “no condemnation.”
8:1 / Chapter 8 begins with the triumphant crash of Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto”—Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Greek behind Therefore (ara nyn) signals an emphatic break from the preceding train of thought. To be in Christ Jesus is to experience something not offered by the law of Moses. Paul’s tireless labors have shown that the law reveals sin (3:20), aggravates sin (7:8–9), and condemns both sin and sinner (7:11); and the burden of this awareness causes him to cry out, “What a wretched man I am!” (7:24). His only recourse is to cry for help outside himself, and help he finds in Jesus Christ.
Without diminishing the force of verse 1, we must not mistake its message. Paul does not say that those in Christ Jesus no longer sin or that they are exempt from the struggle against sin so dramatically portrayed in 7:7–25. Romans 8 is not an apology for Christian perfectionism. What he does say is that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. The antecedent idea is found in 5:16 where, in speaking of Adam’s sin, Paul said, “The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation” (also 5:18). It is that condemnation which is revoked in Jesus Christ. Verse 1 is therefore a victorious summary of 5:12–6:11. The ongoing skirmishes with sin do not defeat believers, but the thought of being cursed or abandoned by God does. Believers need to know that they do not stand condemned by God. Christ has cancelled the bond of indebtedness against humanity (Col. 2:14). The accent throughout falls on Christ’s victory, not on human merits.
When Paul says, there is now no condemnation, he means that the sentence of death and judgment on the Last Day has been commuted. Verse 11 will repeat the idea of 7:24: believers remain in “mortal bodies” (see also 2 Cor. 4:7–11). But the consequences of sin are annulled through Christ’s death, and even now the Spirit begins in believers a work of regeneration that will be completed in the world to come. Grace is knowing that God is for us and with us even in our “body of death” (7:24).
1. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
The statement, “There is therefore now no condemnation” is closely connected with the main thrust of Paul’s previous reasoning, taken as a unit. See especially verses 1:16, 17; 3:21, 24; 5:1, 2, 6–8, 15–21; 7:6. In these passages the apostle has been setting forth the fact that, through Christ’s debt-removing and sanctifying self-sacrifice, believers have been released from the curse of the law. Because of the entrance of sin (cf. 8:3) the law cannot now be regarded as a means of obtaining salvation, nor does it have the power to condemn believers. Rather, the law is the means for the expression of their gratitude. As such it is the object of their delight, even though, as 7:14f. has shown, in the present life complete obedience is impossible.
This does not mean that there is no connection between 8:1 f. and the immediately preceding context. As has been indicated—see pp. 238, 239—there is a close connection between “Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord” (7:25a) and “There is therefore now no condemnation, etc.” (8:1). But even what Paul says in 7:25b—and more generally in 6:1–7:25—about the enslaving power of sin, is not absent from his mind in 8:1, as the sequel (8:1 f.) indicates. For Paul “no condemnation” means freedom not only from sin’s guilt but also from its enslaving power.
To be sure, a distinction must be drawn between justification and sanctification. But this distinction must never become a separation. Calvin has made this clear by stating, “As Christ cannot be divided, so also these two blessings which we receive together in him are also inseparable” (Institutes III, xi, 6).
In line with this twofold reference of the words “no condemnation” is the phrase “in Christ Jesus.” What Paul is saying is that for those who not only forensically are in Christ Jesus—the guilt of their sins having been removed by his death—but also spiritually—the sanctifying influences of his Spirit dominating their lives, there is now (=consequently) no condemnation. For them there is justification and therefore salvation full and free (see 8:29, 30). For more on the phrase “in Christ Jesus” see above on 3:24, p. 131, and on 6:3 f., p. 196. See also N.T.C. on Ephesians, pp. 70, 71.
Justification and sanctification always go together. The fact that the expression “no condemnation” implies both pardon and purification is also clear from verse
8:1 From the valley of despair and defeat, the apostle now climbs the heights with the triumphant shout, There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus! This may be understood in two ways.
First, there is no divine condemnation as far as our sin is concerned, because we are in Christ. There was condemnation as long as we were in our first federal head, Adam. But now we are in Christ and therefore are as free from condemnation as He is. So we can hurl out the challenge:
Reach my blest Savior first,
Take Him from God’s esteem;
Prove Jesus bears one spot of sin,
Then tell me I’m unclean.
—W. N. Tomkins
But it may also mean that there is no need for the kind of self-condemnation which Paul described in chapter 7. We may pass through a Romans 7 experience, unable to fulfill the law’s requirements by our own effort, but we don’t have to stay there. Verse 2 explains why there is no condemnation.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (Vol. 1, pp. 398–405). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 128). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Edwards, J. R. (2011). Romans (pp. 198–199). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Vol. 12–13, pp. 244–245). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1708). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.