Commentary on Romans 8:1-17

Notes (NET Translation)

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Paul returns to the first and second person plural to speak of the experience of those “in Christ Jesus”. The “therefore” refers back to the rescue of believers from the body of death (7:6, 24-25). The “now” refers to the time in salvation history inaugurated by Christ’s death and resurrection (3:21; 5:9; 6:19, 22; 7:6). Condemnation is the result of Adam’s transgression and each person’s own sins (5:16-18). To be “in Christ Jesus” is to live in the realm where his power and lordship are experienced. There is no condemnation there. Not being condemned means not being under the tyranny of sin (v 2) and not suffering the penalty of sin.

2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.

In this verse, “law” (nomos) may mean a rule, principle, authority, or power instead of the Law of Moses. The power of the Holy Spirit liberates the Christian from the power of sin and death. The Holy Spirit transfers the Christian from the realm of sin and death to the realm of life. The “you” is singular in this verse to emphasize what is true for each individual Christian.

3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The “for” that begins v 3 indicates that vv 3-4 sustain the claim in v 2. The Law of Moses was powerless to set people free from the power of sin (3:19, 28; 4:12-15; 7:7-25). God did what the law was unable to do by “sending his own Son”. This phrase implies the pre-incarnational existence of the Son (Rom 1:3; Phil 2:5-11; Gal 4:4). The phrase “in the likeness of sinful flesh” is used to indicate that Jesus was human but remained sinless (2 Cor 5:21). The Greek phrase behind “concerning sin” is used frequently in the LXX to mean a “sin offering” (44 of its 54 occurrences). God sent his Son to be a sin offering. God “condemned sin in the flesh”, meaning in the flesh of Jesus Christ the atoning sacrifice (3:25). The condemnation that our sins deserve was poured out on Christ.

God’s purpose in sending his Son was so that the righteous requirement (singular) of the law may be fulfilled in us. The “righteous requirement” refers to what the law demands of God’s people. It may refer to the command to love your neighbor as yourself since the other commandments are summed up in this commandment (Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:13-16).

The passive verb (“may be fulfilled”) in v 4 points to something done in and for us. The imperfect obedience of Christians to God’s law also indicates that we do not fulfill the righteous requirement ourselves. Rather, it is Jesus Christ who fulfills the righteous requirement on our behalf. Yet the work of Christ on the cross still provides the basis for human obedience to God’s law.

The final clause of v 4 (“who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”) is descriptive, not instrumental (i.e., walking according to the Spirit is not the means by which the righteous requirement is fulfilled in us).

“To walk according to the flesh,” then, is to have one’s life determined and directed by the values of “this world,” of the world in rebellion against God. It is a lifestyle that is purely “human” in its orientation. To “walk according to the Spirit,” on the other hand, is to live under the control, and according to the values, of the “new age,” created and dominated by God’s Spirit as his eschatological gift.1

It is difficult to believe . . . that the work of the Spirit and the keeping of the law in 8:2 and 8:4 are only forensic. A response is needed to the true dilemma of 7:14-25 in which the “I” is actually in bondage to sin. Paul needs to demonstrate to his Jewish critics that his gospel does not promote sin but rather produces a more profound obedience than was possible under the law. If Paul’s conclusion were simply that believers obeyed the law forensically, he would hardly allay the suspicions of believers in Rome, and thus the possibility of gaining their support for his mission in Spain would be minimized. The forensic work of Christ, Paul argues, is the basis for actual victory over sin. The Son has freed believers from captivity to sin, so that they can now keep the law, which they were previously unable to obey.2

5 For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit.

The “for” at the start of the verse indicates that v 5 provides a basis for the statement in v 4. The reason believers fulfill the law is because they have the Spirit. Verse 5 describes two types of people: those who live according the flesh (non-Christians) and those who live according to the Spirit (Christians). The things of the flesh include sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, and carousing (Gal 5:19-21). The things of the Spirit include love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).

What Paul communicates in verses 5-11 is that those who “walk” by the flesh or the Spirit do so because they “are” of the flesh or the Spirit. In other words, his argument is that behavior stems from the being or nature of a person. Incidentally, this is powerful evidence that “flesh” and “Spirit” involve the “nature” of human beings. These terms should certainly be interpreted in redemptive-historical categories, but redemptive history should not be pitted against ontology.3

6 For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so.

Verse 6 gives the final outcome of those of the flesh and those of the Spirit. Verse 7 explains why the outcome of those of the flesh is death — they are hostile to God. Sin constitutes enmity with God, not merely wrong-doing towards other humans.

Because God values his own glory (cf. 1:21-25) as that which is supreme in the universe, he cannot dismiss as trivial those whose mind-set is directed against the things of God. Because they are his enemies he punishes them with eschatological judgment.4

8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Those in the flesh cannot please God because they are hostile to God (v 7).

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him.

All Christians are “in the Spirit” and not “in the flesh” (even those carnal Corinthian Christians [cf. 1 Cor 3:16]).

Eiper here can be translated “if indeed,” but since Paul is talking about a fulfilled condition, the conditional clause does not indicate a bare possibility. Paul is not talking merely about a mindset which Christians ought not to have but about a state of being which is no longer the case for a Christian and should never be returned to.5

That Paul in the same verse can speak of the believer as “in the Spirit” and the Spirit as being “in” the believer reveals the metaphorical nature of his language. In the one case, the Spirit is pictured as entering into and taking control of the person’s life; in the other, the believer is pictured as living in that realm in which the Spirit rules, guides, and determines one’s destiny.6

10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is your life because of righteousness.

Christ dwells in the believer too. “The indwelling Spirit and the indwelling Christ are distinguishable but inseparable.”7 The physical body is subject to death because of sin. Since pneuma (“spirit”) refers to the Holy Spirit in v 11 and v 11 explains v 10b, we should take pneuma in v 10b to refer to the Holy Spirit instead of the beliver’s spirit.

Paul is teaching that the believer, although still bound to an earthly, mortal body, has residing within him or her the Spirit, the power of new spiritual life, which conveys both that “life,” in the sense of deliverance from condemnation enjoyed now and the future resurrection life that will bring transformation to the body itself. All this takes place “because of righteousness,” this “righteousness” being that “imputed righteousness” which leads to life (see 5:21).8

The eschatological tension of Pauline theology manifests itself here. The Spirit indwells believers and they are no longer slaves of sin, yet they still die because of sin. Sin is no longer the master over believers, but this does not mean that sin is nonexistent. The physical body of believers (which includes the whole person) indicates that Christians are still part of the old age, even though they possess the new-age gift of the Spirit. Full redemption will come at the day of resurrection when all sin and weakness will be left behind.9

11 Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you.

Since reference to resurrection is so plain in the first part of the sentence, “will make alive” must also refer to future bodily transformation–through resurrection for dead believers–rather than, for instance, to spiritual vivification in justification, or to the “mortification” of sin in the Christian life. Paul certainly stresses the certainty and unbrokenness of life, a theme that is prominent in the rest of the chapter, but the future is genuinely temporal. The cause-and-effect relationship between Christ’s resurrection and the believer’s, made so plain in Rom. 6:5 (cf. 8:17), lies behind Paul’s affirmation that God will give life to “our mortal bodies” just as he raised Christ from the dead. And in keeping with Paul’s focus throughout this part of Rom. 8, it is the Spirit who is the instrument by whom God raises the body of the Christian. As in v. 9, the indwelling of the Spirit suggests that the Spirit has “made his home” in the believer; and since the Spirit is “life” (v. 10b; cf. v. 2: “the Spirit of life”), his presence cannot but result in life for that body which he inhabits. The Spirit’s life-giving power is not circumscribed by the mortality of the body but overcomes and transforms that mortality into the immortality of eternal life in a resurrected body.10

12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh 13 (for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.

Paul is speaking of a fact that is true of believers, not a way of life they are exhorted to attain. The believer is no longer obligated to live according to the flesh.

“Flesh” sums up what we often call “the world”: all that is characteristic of this life in its rebellion against God. It is to this “power” of the old age that we are no longer “obliged” to render obedience.11

Living according to the flesh results in eschatological death, not merely physical death, for even believers physically die. Likewise the life in v 13 is eschatological life, not just a more satisfying earthly existence.

Victory is by means of the Spirit (πνεύματι), which means that believers conquer sinful passions by relying on and trusting in the Spirit to provide the strength to resist the passions that wage war within us. Paul probably has in mind the trust in God’s promises that enables believers to wage war against the “delights” offered through following the dictates of the “deeds of the body.”12

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.

In Gal 5:13-23 Paul connects being led by the Spirit to not gratifying the desires of the flesh.

The “leading” (ἄγονται, agontai) of the Spirit does not refer to guidance for everyday decisions in determining the will of God. It refers to being “controlled by” or “determined by” or “governed by” the Spirit. The passive form of the verb is significant, in that it suggests that the Spirit is the primary agent in Christian obedience, that it is his work in believers that accounts for their obedience.13

To be “led by the Spirit” probably means not to be guided by the Holy Spirit but, as in Gal. 5:18, to have the direction of one’s life as a whole determined by the Spirit. The phrase is thus a way of summarizing the various descriptions of the life of the Spirit that Paul has used in vv. 4-9. Paul may well want to include in this “being led” an “inner compulsion” and the involvement of the emotions, but the context and the parallel in Gal. 5:18 make it unlikely that the idea is specifically “ecstatic” or “charismatic.” The active “you put to death through the Spirit” of v. 13 is one aspect of the passive “being led by the Spirit,” pointing again to the inextricable relationship between “indicative” and “imperative” in Paul’s teaching about the Christian life.14

Being “sons/children of God” means being part of the people of God.

15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Believers relate to God as graciously adopted children instead of slaves afraid of a harsh master (the power of sin). In the OT, Israel is viewed as being adopted by God (Hos 11:1; cf. Rom 9:4). Paul equates adoption with the redemption of our bodies (8:23). The Spirit creates a sense of intimacy with God so that we can call him Father. Abba was the term of address used by Jesus himself (Mk 14:36).

16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children.

Verse 16 follows on the heels of verse 15, explaining how it is that believers can confidently cry out that God is their Father. The Holy Spirit confirms that we are God’s children by bearing witness with our spirit. Some construe the verb συμμαρτυρεῖ (symmartyrei, bears witness together) to mean simply “testify” or “assure,” and the prefix σύν- loses its force. More likely, however, the prepositional prefix retains its meaning, as it does in Rom. 2:15 and 9:1, and the intention is to say that the witness derives both from the Holy Spirit and from our human spirit. Some scholars contend that the second use of πνεῦμα does not refer to the human spirit, since virtually every other usage of πνεῦμα in the chapter denotes the Holy Spirit. But a reference to the human spirit should not be denied, for the text says specifically “our spirit” (τῷ πνεύματι ἡμῶν, tō pneumati hēmōn), and “our spirit” cannot be identified as the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the OT requirement of at least two witnesses (Deut. 19:15) is adumbrated here in order to convey the certainty believers have in knowing they are children of God. Ultimately the text describes a religious experience that is ineffable, for the witness of the Holy Spirit with the human spirit that one is a child of God is mystical in the best sense of the word. Some veer away from this idea because of its subjectivity, but the abuse of the subjective in some circles cannot exclude the “mystical” and emotional dimensions of Christian experience. Fee rightly observes that the witness of the Spirit cannot be separated from the Abba cry, but he seems to underemphasize the emotional ground of the cry, for the confident articulation that God is one’s Father stems from a certainty in the heart that transcends human comprehension. We should not conclude from this, however, that the witness of the Spirit is subsequent to conversion and granted only to some believers. Paul refers here to a witness that is given to all believers without exception at conversion.15

17 And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ) — if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him.

To be adopted as God’s children means to become God’s heirs. To be ‘heirs of God’ means to be those to whom God will give an inheritance. To be ‘co-heirs with Christ’ means to be those who share the inheritance God gives to Christ. The inheritance was first promised to Abraham and his seed (Gal 3:16, 18). Those who belong to Christ are now Abraham’s seed (cf. Gal 3:29) because Christ himself is the true and ultimate seed of Abraham (Gal 3:16). The inheritance promised to Abraham, Paul says, consists of ‘the world’ (4:13). When the apostle speaks specifically of the inheritance promised to believers and forfeited by the ungodly, it consists of ‘the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor 6:9-10; 15:50; Gal 5:21; Eph 5:5; cf. Jas 2:5) and ‘eternal life’ (Tit 3:7; cf. 1 Pet 3:7).16

Here [Paul] says something even more stunning: believers are “heirs of God” himself. The wording suggests not merely that believers are heirs of what God has promised but of God himself. The supreme benefit of the covenant with Abraham is not inheriting the land but having God as one’s God (Gen. 17:7). To say that believers are heirs of God, however, leaves out a major motif in Paul’s thinking, for believers are also “fellow heirs with Christ” (συγκληρονόμοι δὲ Χριστοῦ, synklēronomoi de Christou). This statement does not function as a corrective to the previous one but elucidates the means by which believers are heirs of God. The inheritance becomes a reality through union with Christ, the true seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16). Those who are united with Christ share in the inheritance that he has gained for them.17

Both the present tense of the verb and the continuation of the thought in v. 18 show that this suffering is not identical to that “dying with Christ” which takes place at conversion. Rather, the suffering Paul speaks of here refers to the daily anxieties, tensions, and persecutions that are the lot of those who follow the one who was “reckoned with the transgressors” (Luke 22:37). Paul makes clear that this suffering is the condition for the inheritance; we will be “glorified with” Christ (only) if we “suffer with him.” Participation in Christ’s glory can come only through participation in his suffering.18

Verse 17 stands as a transition verse preparing the reader for the treatment of suffering and the Spirit in 8:18-27.

Bibliography

Kruse, Colin G. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

Metzger, Bruce M., ed. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. Hendrickson Pub, 2005.

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 1998.

Witherington III, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.


  1. Moo 1996, 485 
  2. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 8139-8144 
  3. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 8236-8239 
  4. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 8274-8276 
  5. Witherington III 2004, 215 
  6. Moo 1996, 490 
  7. Moo 1996, 491 
  8. Moo 1996, 492 
  9. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 8315-8318 
  10. Moo 1996, 493 
  11. Moo 1996, 494 
  12. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 8457-8460 
  13. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 8467-8471 
  14. Moo 1996, 498-499 
  15. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 8545-8562 
  16. Kruse 2012, 340 
  17. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 8568-8574 
  18. Moo 1996, 505-506 
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