There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1)
This is a verse most of us are familiar with, and which we have heard innumerable times. But how often do we hear the entire verse quoted? Usually, it’s just the first half of the verse, which is misleading – not only in the context of the verse itself, but also in the context of the book of Romans. I encourage everyone to study the book of Romans. It is an immensely rewarding study, and clarifies so many questions that many of don’t even think to ask, let alone look for answers.
It’s not possible in this devotional to consider the entire book in a nutshell, but it is important to understand that Romans deals with the law of sin and death and the saving grace of God. That’s a very simplistic overview, but does create a picture for the context of this verse. Having looked in depth at the way the Law results in death and condemnation, Paul defines how Christ has set us free from that, which brings us to the ‘therefore’ that is contained in this verse.
It’s really important that we look at the verse as a whole, because the second half qualifies the first. It’s not accurate to simply claim that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. We need to grasp what being in Christ Jesus really means, and to understand it without misunderstanding and misusing the concept of grace, or somehow suggesting that anything we do affects the nature of mercy and salvation.
Firstly, Christ is the only means whereby we can be set free from the law of sin and death. It is only through His death on the cross, through His assuming our guilt and our punishment, that we can be spared the wages of sin. Without that, we would be guilty as charged, and nothing we do or say affects the truth that salvation is a gift of grace, freely available to those who call upon Christ as Lord and saviour.
Secondly, we need to understand that ‘being set free’ involves not only forgiveness for sins already committed, and the the punishment they should have earned us, but it also defines a fundamental truth. We are no longer slaves to sin. This means that we now can choose, and can rely on the victory that Jesus has already obtained, to resist sin and to overcome it. Being set free means that we don’t have to sin any more. We are no longer victims but victors – if we choose to resist.
This leads us to the third aspect, which is where the second half of the verse is so important. It tells us very clearly that being ‘in Christ Jesus’ means walking according to the Spirit and and not according to the flesh. This should not be misinterpreted as saying that we need to do this or that to earn salvation. But it does mean that, once forgiven, saved and set free, we need to exercise our free will, our freedom of choice, to make Christ-like choices.
Persistent, habitual sins can be spiritually debilitating. Paul spoke freely about his own struggles, so it’s something we all have to wrestle with. But there is a way and that way is Christ. Remember that on the cross He said: ‘It is finished.’ We cannot add to that, but we do need to learn to walk in it. And walking is a step by step process. It’s a matter of making a single choice and trusting Him to empower us, through the Spirit, to resist the things of the flesh that remain in our lives. Tomorrow, we may need to make a different choice, and the day after that something else. Or we may have to wrestle daily with something ingrained into our lifestyles – the habits that bring us down.
Walking isn’t one giant leap. It’s a slow but steady progress towards an end goal. Walking according to the Spirit does not mean being perfect and never sinning again. That’s simply not possible. It defines a state of heart – a genuine desire to seek God and His righteousness, to overcome the sins and weaknesses and temptations that undermine us, to stand in faith and, through Him, to gain the victory. Walking does not mean we’ve arrived. It means we’re moving and on the way to the required destination.
It’s only when we start the walk that the full truth comes into play. If we are walking according to the Spirit, if our heart is genuinely seeking after righteousness and we are quick to repent and earnest in our prayers, then there is no condemnation. God has made provision for the weak and sinful nature within us – providing we rely only on Him, and providing our hearts are honestly repentant. It’s not a licence to simply carry on as we have all our lives.
The walking is perhaps the hardest part. As human beings, we prefer the easy way to anything. But walking involves a daily commitment and surrender to His will in all things. It is by grace that we have the assurance of forgiveness and justification through the blood of Christ. We cannot just lay hold of part of the promise and ignore the rest. If we do our part – walk as He has commanded us to do – He will do His part and bring us through.
We need to grasp that we have a responsibility as well. Being free means making right choices. Freedom involves accountability, and it involves willing obedience. It means understanding what God requires and being willing to walk according to His ways, not ours. This verse is the most wonderful gift of encouragement and upliftment, but includes the whole of it. We cannot afford to compromise on the Word of God, especially not on something so vital to our lives in Him.