Read this passage here.
As a continuation of the previous 8 verses, Romans 8:9-11 has a special perspective on the life in the Spirit. This section in particular focuses not only the choice made by humanity, but the consequences that are a part of that choice that had been made. This section also has incredible points of theological merit regarding the Trinity, and Free Will.
Main Thrust of Text
In line with the two previous sections of chapter 8 of Romans, verses 9 to 11 also discuss the belonging or banishment of humanity. Those in the Spirit are given life, while those who do not participate in the will of God find only death as their reward. In this way, the passage is a perfect continuation of what was previously said in the passage written by Paul.
This section does have a few unique aspects, despite the great number of similarities in content with the previous two sections. One major difference in the focus on the work of God in the salvific and redeeming acts, rather than the response of man. While previously, there was a great focus on the culpability of man for which of the two choices that they would make, there now is a focus primarily on the response of God to the choice of the believer or unbeliever.
Thomas Westwood makes this idea of reaction clear by pointing out the similarity of Paul’s word choice to that of a legal document. “In legal parlance of our courts today the word that is used is ‘whereas.’” By this, he is referring to the great number of uses of the words “since” and “if” (Rom.8:9-11, NRSV). While the word may have been translated differently, he is of the mindset that it could easily be exchanged and have no new bearing on the meaning.
Douglas Moo would challenge this idea and offer two other possibilities to the usage of the word “if” (Rom. 8:9-11, NRSV). He claims that it could be the indication that it is a mixed group of readership: believers and unbelievers, or that it could mean that he is “assuming the reality of his readers’ Christian experience.” While both of these are also viable options, the context would seem to lend itself more so to the definition as explained by Westwood.
John Stott proposes and idea that is something of a combination of Moo’s second idea, and that of Westwood. He explains that the two uses in verses 10-11 in particular “do not express any doubt about the fact of the indwelling…, but they point to results.” If is thus both an indication of the party involved, and the consequences that befall their involvement.
Points of Interest within the Text
As a point of particular interest, this is the first point in which Paul makes the outright claim that those who are listening are “not in the flesh” (Rom. 8:9, NRSV). Prior to this verse, it is only a vague assumption that he is indeed speak to those who live in the Spirit. It is possible before this statement that he is either speaking to convince unbelievers, or possibly a mixed group of persons.
This opinion may be challenged as Paul does make the statement that “Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death” in Romans 8:2 (NRSV). While this does seem to indicate the listeners to be the redeemed, in the context of what follows, this sentiment become muddled. However, utmost clarity is given in the later statement, so it can be seen either as the first outright indication or at least the clearer of two possible claims.
It is also a point of interest that the actions that take place in this passage focus on God dwelling, raising and giving life to those who “are in the Spirit” (Rom. 8:9, NRSV). There are terms of possession and existence, but the express actions are all on the part of God. Theologically here, there is a caution that must be made: Scripture, if not taken holistically, might here lead us to believe that God is the sole participant in salvation.
Admittedly, it would appear that this section denies free-will theology, but even placing it in the greater context of verses one through eight amends this. This is amended through the term phronoma, in Romans 8:6-7, which means “way of thinking, mind (-set)…aim, aspiration, striving.” This term outside of Scripture is used to describe the personal aspirations for “control…freedom… [and] independence.” In each of these cases, it was the will of the person that instigated their desires. While this is in the greater Hellenistic use, and not specifically in other Scriptures that this is witnessed, it is unlikely that Paul would have used them in isolation to this context. Romans 8:6-7 are the only occurrences of this form of the word, but even the apocryphal uses are in agreement to those in Hellenistic literature. Thus, it would be inappropriate to distance the human element of free will in the redeeming efforts that are seen in this passage.
Another interesting feature of this section of the text is that it is the most Trinitarian portion of the first eleven verses of chapter eight. While it does not explicit say the terms ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,’ each part of the Trinity is included in the section. The Spirit is the most frequently mentioned, with six occurrences in verses 9-11. Christ Jesus is mentioned a total of four times, and the Father is indicated three times. The first time in verse 9 while explaining to whom Christians belong, and the other two time are both found in verse 11 while explaining who was responsible for the raising of Christ Jesus posthumously (Rom. 8:9-11).
Looking to the previous verses, it is clear that Paul is simply continuing a prior train of thought. However, this section cannot be reduced to the mere end of a thought, but also as a deep wealth of theological understanding. Paul addresses two major ideas that shape the modern church in a tasteful ad tactful way that is both unexpected and unparalleled.
. Tom Westwood, Romans: A Courtroom Drama, (New York, NY: Loizeaux Brothers Inc., 1949), 152.
. Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,1996), 490.
. John Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 225.
. Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 866.
Read this passage here.
The book of Romans is simply a small part of the larger works of Paul as a teacher and theologian. However, this passage in particular exposes one of the staple aspects of Paul’s theological framework: Old Covenant versus New Covenant. While this is not the only place in which this theology is made known, it is in the book of Romans that it fits into the greater context of the legal position of humanity before the righteous God and Judge.
Main Aspects of the Text
In this section of text, Romans 8:1-4, there are many surface level aspects which the reader can easily identify. This being said, there are also several other layers which are at work. This is not to say that there is hidden wisdom or such foolishness at work, but rather to say that at first glance, the main interaction and outcome of the text can be overlooked. While ultimately both levels will be components of the greater event that is taking place in this pericope of Scripture.
Main Interaction in Passage
Looking at the text, there is a very clear interaction between God and the Law that takes place. It is the work of God the Father through Christ Jesus that gives the freedom from the condemnation of the Law. This is especially clear in verse 2 which states, “Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:2, NRSV).
John Stott supports this as a primary interaction which takes place in this passage. He describes this instance saying that “to be liberated from the law of sin and death through Christ is to be no longer ‘under the law.’” This law that God Himself had instituted, a law now seen as death, is to be replaced by the work of Christ in the life of those who live “not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4, NRSV).
This verse brings up a rather interesting occurrence in this passage that should not be overlooked. This is the alternative main interaction in this passage: the law of the Spirit and the law of sin and death. While it still bears the idea that God is interacting with the law, there is more of an indication of Covenantal Theology in the second possibility of the main interaction in this text. Given the Jewish origin of Paul’s faith, and other Jewish references in the book of Romans, this interaction may be seen as a more prominent interaction.
In the passage of Scripture itself, this makes little difference as God is still the active force involved, and the act still takes place on behalf of humanity. Going back to verse 2, which was mentioned earlier in this section, the text says more than Christ alone setting a person free as Stott supported initially. In fact, the text boldly claims that it was the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2, NRSV) which has set free those who would live according to the Spirit.
This interpretation fits better in terms of other passage of Scripture which speak about the law. Matthew 5:17 is a prime example of this, for several reasons. Jesus warns the listeners, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17, NRSV). If it were God directly interacting with the law, it would be easy to omit this verse. However, when the law of the Spirit interacts with the law of sin and death, then it is hard to say that the law has been abolished. Rather, this seems to indicate a replacement, or renewal of the law as the law of the Spirit is a continuation of the plan of God to redeem humanity rather than condemn.
Main Outcome of Romans 8:1-4
The first line of this section of text has a fairly clear description of what the outcome of the work of Christ and the law of the Spirit. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1, NRSV). As a main outcome of this text, this certainly fits the criteria. Especially given the conversation that takes place throughout the book of Romans as a whole.
The drama of the book of Romans speaks to a legal investigation and defense of the guilty party before the offended party and judge. Tom Westwood, who favours the idea of a courtroom drama, points out that this section is the beginning of a new identity process. While the offender began the process as a person of the law of sin and death, this passage is the moment in which they truly are seen as forgiven under the law of the Spirit.
Yet, the question must be asked, was this the outcome that was meant to be highlighted as a thesis statement in this text? Admittedly, this is likely the main outcome that was intended within the passage. It could be said, however, that this passage is also meant to show the depth of the fulfilment of the law that took place in Christ’s death and resurrection. “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (Rom.8:3, NRSV).
In terms of the salvific effort, it is clearly the work of God that brings about the changes in this passage. This is true both in terms of the restoration of humanity, and in terms of the restoration of the law. There was weakness and inability to escape condemnation, and God provided a way for humanity to seek life. The law was likewise weak and incapable of giving life to humanity because of sin, but God found a way to fulfill the law and give hope and life through the law of the Spirit.
While it is clear that there is an action on the part of man, it is also clear that there is a definitive and much greater act on the part of God. Man must “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4, NRSV). However, it is through the incredible actions of God that this is even possible, for man was bound to the law, and the law was “weakened by the flesh [and] could not do” (Rom.8:3, NRSV) what it had set out to do.
Pauline Logic and Theology
William M. Greathouse and George Lyons agree that “Romans 8:1-17 is the climax of a section that began at 5:12, as well as the conclusion of Paul’s argument up to this point.” Up until this point, Paul has been drawing parallels between the flesh and the Spirit, but here he shows the potential of humanity to truly live according to the ways of the Spirit in Christ. The claim that sin had over men and women has no power over those who live in Christ Jesus.
This theology of Paul, is also seen elsewhere in his writings, and helps to expound upon what he is saying on this particular occasion. Fred O. Francis and J. Paul Sampley indicate that this passage ties into at least four other works of Paul. Of these, Galatians 5:16-26 seems to further his thoughts the most. Here, Paul is seen to describe what he means by living according to the law of the Spirit as opposed to the old law of sin and death. He begins the passage in very similar terms to what is written in Romans 8, and then adds in a practical living section before returning once again to the language of Romans.
Romans 8:1-4 offers a wonderful view of the Pauline theology of the Covenant between God and His people. While this is only one occasion in which this theology is expressed, it is still a place of rich theological depth. Here, Paul shows that life is offered, and possible for humanity, and that it is the work of God to restore the law that has made this possible.
. John Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 218.
. Tom Westwood, Romans: A Courtroom Drama, (New York, NY: Loizeaux Brothers Inc., 1949), 144-146.
. William M. Greathouse and George Lyons, Romans 1-8: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition, (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 2008) 225.
. Fred O. Francis and J. Paul Sampley, Pauline Parallels, 2nd ed., (USA: Fortress Press, 1984), 29.
As a quick note to this citation, there was no location given for Fortress Press’ printing location aside from USA.
Rev. Olivia Phillips