With the help of Augustine, Chyrsostom, and Aquinas we exegete how in fact there is no condemnation for those is Christ: they have been chosen by God before they were born and justified apart from any works of their own.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
In previous installments of this commentary, we have seen that not only hedonistic heathens (Rom 1), but also self-righteous gentiles who cannot abide by their own conscience (Rom 2) and Jews the Law (Rom 3) fall short of the glory of God. Because none can be righteous by their works, God has made righteousness possible by faith apart from works. We know this specifically because of the example of Abraham (Rom 4).
The way this occurs is that by faith in Christ we are one with Him, just as we were one with Adam in our sin previously (Rom 5). God preordained this so that when the “Law came in” the result would be that “transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:21)
Many respond to the news that salvation from immense sin glorifies God by simply retorting, “If we do not need works, why not sin all the more?” Paul’s answer is that those who have faith in Christ have died to sin, and thereby will not sin (Rom 6). Paul then addresses the reality that he like every other Christian yet still struggles with sin (Rom 7). He explains how Rom 7 can be true in light of Rom 6 and Rom 8, which is where our commentary continues:
8:1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
There is no condemnation because Jesus Christ has saved believers from their bodies of death, a body that lives on (Rom 8:10) but no longer has total control over one’s members.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
Why is there no condemnation? The law of the Spirit of life has set us free from the law of nature/Law. How so? The Law demands that we live by it, while the law of the Spirit of life has been fulfilled by Christ who as an offering for sin made it possible that the requirement of the Law be fulfilled. How does what is theoretically possible become true for us? By living by faith, according to the Spirit’s inclination.
3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,
Apart from faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). “[W]hat the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son.” The Law is perfectly righteous, but the flesh is too weak to follow the whole Law. Our lack of condemnation therefore is not predicated upon an ounce of our effort, but the efforts of Christ that literally become ours when we have the Holy Spirit. When we have faith, we have the Spirit. When we have the Spirit, we live by Him and produce His fruit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).
The law of the Spirit of life in verse two therefore can only pertain to what God has done for man and through man by the Holy Spirit. To again summarize Augustine’s view of the law of the Spirit of life, he says that the righteous man “becomes righteous…by the law of faith, which led him to believe” (On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 16).
The “law of faith,” Augustine’s euphemism for the law of the Spirit of life, cannot lead anyone to believe if it is simply a new set of rules (i.e. “the New Law”) as Aquinas theorizes. However, a law that is in fact a promise pertaining to what God does for those in Christ can lead to belief, because the promise gives us hope. The hope is that by faith in Christ there is a full remission of sins for all whole believe that He has accomplished this for us. So, we believe because belief offers us a real promise, unlike the old Law which condemns us for our inability to make ourselves right with God by our own works.
4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
The requirement of the Law is fulfilled by “walking according to the Spirit.” How so when “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law” (Gal 5:18)? We should be under no obligation to fulfill any law, right? Wrong. Christians both understand the Law and fulfill it by virtue of being indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Chrysostom observes: “For what was its [the Law’s] design, and what did it enjoin? To be without sin. This then is made good to us now through Christ.” As Chrysostom does in his commentary, he points us to the Law’s true purpose, and so we do the same here.
Christians fulfill the Law that they are not under, because the Law testifies to two things: the righteous shall live by faith and that those under the Law must live by all the precepts of the Law, which no one can. This leads us to conclude that there is no one who is righteous and never sins. Therefore, we look not to ourselves but to our savior.
In so doing, Christians fulfill the Law because if they are led by the Spirit to confess Christ’s name (1 Cor 12:3), they are indwelt by the Spirit (Eph 1:13-14).
However, just because we do nothing to fulfill the Law and the Spirit has already done everything, we must not forget that a Christian must not walk according to the flesh.
Why? If we have the Holy Spirit, isn’t He more powerful than us? Isn’t what we do therefore irrelevant?
Chrysostom writes, “For when we have once become obedient to Christ, we must use all ways and plans so that its righteousness, which Christ fulfilled, may abide in us, and not come to naught.” Righteousness fulfilled by Christ does not abide in the disobedient. Why? The Holy Spirit does not abide in those who walk according to the flesh, because we know by a man’s walk who he belongs to.
As Paul writes, “[T]he deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Gal 5:19-21). Is it not evident such a man does not have the Spirit of God?
“Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24). If it is apparent that one is governed by passions, then it is equally apparent he does not belong to Jesus.
Aquinas concurs in his commentary on Galatians:
Now the works of the spirit are called fruits, not as something earned or acquired, but as produced. Furthermore, fruit which is acquired has the character of an ultimate end; not, however, fruit which is produced…For the Holy Spirit is in us through grace, through which we acquire the habit of the virtues; these in turn make us capable of working according to virtue.
Hence, we don’t strive for the fruits of the Spirit in the sense we need to earn something by them. Rather, the Holy Spirit in believers puts to death deeds of the flesh and does good works through the believer. If these things are not evident within someone, then neither is the Holy Spirit.
Being that none can confess Christ as Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3), that even if such a man claims Christ is his savior such faith without works is dead. A true confession from faith only comes from a man with the Holy Spirit. Such a man, truly with the Holy Spirit, will by default produce fruits of the Spirit. It is a bygone conclusion.
5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
We can see that our preceding interpretation is correct from what Paul sets forth here. Those who have the Holy Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. We can see that Paul does not say, “In order to have the Holy Spirit, set your minds on things of the Spirit.” No! He says that those with the Holy Spirit will so set their minds one way, and those without the other.
In fact, if it could not get any clearer, Paul says that the mind set on the flesh (those without the Holy Spirit) “does not subject itself to the law of God.” This includes both the law of nature/Mosaic Law AND the Law of Faith. Why? “It is not even able to do so.” Therefore, it is an impossibility that those without the Holy Spirit can please God, let alone beckon God to give them the Holy Spirit by their works.
As Peter says, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). So, the Holy Spirit is given after repentance and faith (which in of itself is a gift of the Spirit). Therefore, the righteous one who lives by faith sets his mind on things of the Spirit, because he has the Holy Spirit.
9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
Paul makes clear that he is writing to supposed believers. So, they supposedly have the Holy Spirit. That being said, he presumes the best of his audience and assumes that they are not living in accordance with the flesh.
10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But 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.
Paul here recapitulates the same thought here that we can surmise from verse nine. Of special note is that Paul is aware that those with the Holy Spirit can still dwell within a dead, sinful body of flesh. Because of this, a Christian is tugged by two inclinations, both his flesh and his spirit.
This is why Paul speaks of setting one’s mind on things of the Spirit. The mind is not of flesh in this dual view, and the mind fights against the flesh. The flesh has a sort of power, but it does not rule over the Spirit in the believer (at least on a permanent basis.)
This sort of dualism is confusing and sounds almost gnostic, but clearly it is what Paul is teaching here. Paul is not saying that matter in of itself is evil, like the gnostics. However, what he calls “the flesh” in a real sense opposes the work of the Spirit.
This is why our old flesh does not resurrect. “It is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44) and “ flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 15:50). So, the body is not evil, but in effect the flesh inherited from Adam, stained by original sin, is. Hence, we get new bodies (which we may presume are perfected from the matter of the old ones) come the resurrection.
12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
We are under an obligation, but fulfilling such an obligation is not said to justify a man before God. Rather, we should set our minds on the very thing which, if we indeed have the Holy Spirit, we would heartily concur with: “putting to death the deeds of the body.” If we do so, then we really do have the Holy Spirit, because putting to death the deeds of the body is evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work. Those who have the Holy Spirit “will live”, because from verse 11 we already know that Christ will “give[s] life” through “His Spirit.”
14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
Again, it is not those who do something that are the sons of God, but specifically those who are being led by the Holy Spirit.
15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,
Those with the Holy Spirit have “not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again.” That means no set of ordinances, sacraments, or whatever else for wanting of their lack of fulfillment should put fear in the heart of a Christian. Why? We who trust in Christ, finding ourselves producing the fruits of the Spirit, have already been adopted by God.
Augustine did not make the interpretative leap that we did to include the sacraments amongst the list of things we should not fear to fall short in, but he did understand that those who have fear do so because they are seeking to fulfill the Law:
But there is yet another distinction to be observed—since they who are under the law both attempt to work their own righteousness through fear of punishment, and fail to do God’s righteousness, because this is accomplished by the love to which only what is lawful is pleasing, and never by the fear which is forced to have in its work the thing which is lawful, although it has something else in its will which would prefer, if it were only possible, that to be lawful which is not lawful. These persons also believe in God; for if they had no faith in Him at all, neither would they of course have any dread of the penalty of His law. This, however, is not the faith which the apostle commends…The fear, then, of which we speak is slavish; and therefore, even though there be in it a belief in the Lord, yet righteousness is not loved by it, but condemnation is feared. God’s children, however, exclaim, Abba, Father (On the Spirit and the Letter, Chapter 56).
With good reason, we cry out to God that he is our Father. The Spirit Himself testifies, by virtue of producing good works in us, that we have really been adopted. Doing these good works is not a matter of duty divorced from desire, but chiefly of desire as Augustine notes. So, we are not trying to denounce sacramentalism when done with a faithful attitude, but we with Augustine denounce the idea that the believer is compelled to work righteousness slavishly.
The evidence of the Holy Spirit, seen in our works, is our assurance. Hence, we do good works, but we are not compelled to do so in order to be adopted. Because we were adopted, the Spirit within us compels us to do good. This is the plain meaning of verses 15 and 16. We have received God’s Holy Spirit by grace, not by doing something. There is no slavish fear in serving God, there is a willing service. A slavish fear is satanic.
17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
If we have the Holy Spirit, as seen in our works and attitude, then we are children of God. As God resurrected His Son, so He will resurrect us. We can be assured that this is true if we willingly suffer for His name’s sake. If so, we will share His glory. This is not a health and wealth Gospel.
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Paul gives us encouragement that though we suffer now, that what awaits us makes it worth it.
19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
Even inanimate creation, in a sense, longs for its perfected state that it had lost from the Fall. Aquinas observes:
[I]t can be understood of the visible creature, as are the elements of this world: “From the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (Wis 13:5). This sort of creature waits for something in two ways, for the eager longing of a sensible creature, according as it has its origin in God, is ordered to some end. And this happens in two ways. In one way, inasmuch as God endows this creature with a natural form and powers that incline it to some natural end. Thus we might say that a tree waits for its fruit to be produced or that fire waits for its higher natural place. In another way the visible is ordained by God to an end which transcends its natural form. For just as the human body will be clothed with the form of supernatural glory, so all visible creation in that glory of the children of God will itself obtain a new glory: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1). In this way the visible creature waits for the revealing of the sons of God.
23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
What are the first fruits of the Spirit? These first fruits are the faith, good deeds, and Godly attitude springing up from the Holy Spirit in the believer. The Spirit testifies in these things that we are indeed His children.
Yet, we have not yet received the fullness of the Holy Spirit, because we are not yet perfected. We merely have the first fruits.
How do we know this? Just like the creation which groans waiting for the time it is perfected, Christians groan waiting for the fullness of their adoption. This is why Paul can say, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). In a way, the death of our human bodies is something we anticipate because we look forward to being in the presence of God. Even more so, we look forward to the resurrection of our spiritual, yet physical, bodies which are uncorrupted.
Augustine comments on the ramifications of this verse in On the Merit and Forgiveness of Sins, and the Baptism of Infants:
Our full adoption, then, as children, is to happen at the redemption of our body. It is therefore the first-fruits of the Spirit which we now possess, whence we are already really become the children of God; for the rest, indeed, as it is by hope that we are saved and renewed, so are we the children of God. But inasmuch as we are not yet actually saved, we are also not yet fully renewed, nor yet also fully sons of God, but children of the world (Book II, Chapter 10).
When our salvation is complete at the time of judgement, when Christ’s work avails us, we will be given additional grace to know God like never before: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). It is in this way we are adopted now, but more fully adopted later, have the Holy Spirit now, but experience even more of His fullness later.
24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
Here, faith is called hope, because “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). For now our faith is hope, because we are awaiting something that is not fully actualized. We are spiritually resurrected now, but our physical resurrection did not occur. The gift of perseverance, something that God gives to us through tribulation (Rom 5:3), keeps our hope alive. No wonder the Scripture says:
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).
God uses tribulation to prune sin out of our lives and make us endure in the faith. The perfect result of perseverance is having kept the faith, we enter into paradise upon death.
26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;
“In the same way” is in reference to the perseverance (which comes through tribulation) that we read about in verse 25.
How so? Just as the first fruits of the Spirit cause us to groan waiting for His fullness, the Spirit leads our prayers even when dealing with “our weakness.” He brings us into stages of our lives that we would not pray for with words (for who prays for trials?), for we do not know how to pray as we should. Yet, in spite of that, He intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words so that He leads and helps us through suffering. This produces perseverance in the faith.
27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
God can intercede for us with such profound groanings because He knows the hearts of men who set their mind on the Spirit. He knows what what men need and He intercedes in accordance with His own will, and to His own glory. We need to remember this. In a different situation, God said through the prophet Isaiah that “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake” (Is 43:25). So, He works all things for our good and His glory. But, our good is His glory, that we may be found in Him and He be exalted above all else.
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Now we can see what these groanings too deep for words are: God intercedes for us, having us experience weakness, producing perseverance, and all of that giving us hope. Now we do indeed know that God works all things, even evil things, for our good.
This should not be confused with the idea that God works all things for the good of everyone. Certainly, when Satan entered Judas and God did not prevent this (in fact, He ordained it for He called him the son of perdition, John 17:12), this did not work out for his good. Yet, when God removed the hedge around Job and Satan brought the saintly Job close to death itself, this did ultimately work out for his good. So, God works all things for good to those who love God.
God just does not sit around wondering who are the ones who love Him, so He can work out some good for them. We already discussed that no one seeks after God (Rom 3:11), so no one loves God apart from the Holy Spirit changing the inclinations of a man’s heart.
If God couldn’t change the inclinations of our hearts, the Psalmist’s prayer in Ps 119:36 would not make sense: “Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to dishonest gain.” Nor would the prayer, “Lead me not into temptation.” As a further proof that God does not love us, because we loved Him, the Scripture says plainly, “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Consistent with this is how Rom 8:28 ends: “to those who have been called according to His purpose.” So, God works all things for good specifically for those He loved first, consistent with His calling of these men from a life of bondage to sin to that of walking according to the Spirit.
The word “called” has a special import in Rom 8 and 9. When Paul uses the word “called” it takes for granted that God’s call relates to His foreknowledge and predestination. Proof of this in Rom 8:30, Rom 9:11, Rom 9:24-26. Aquinas disagrees with this and views the call as something general:
The purpose he here mentions, however, that he might not ascribe everything to the calling; since in this way both Greeks and Jews would be sure to cavil. For if the calling alone were sufficient, how came it that all were not saved? Hence he says, that it is not the calling alone, but the purpose of those called too, that works the salvation.
There is a couple of problems with this. First, in Rom 8:28, Paul conflates those who are called with those that love God. So, this is not a general call that one may infer the universalism that Aquinas is writing against. Only those who love God have been called. Aquinas, therefore, is wrong in inferring that the call goes out to all Jews and Greeks and only some are obedient. In the context of Romans, the call goes out specifically to those who love God, and in the related verses the call has real power.
The next two verses are not a coincidence:
29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
While justification is always referred to as a past event in the Scripture (it occurs upon belief in Christ), here Paul speaks of glorification anachronistically. We are glorified upon our physical resurrection to new life. Perhaps, the glorification Paul is speaking of here is the resurrection from spiritual death to spiritual life, so in this sense glorification already occurred.
In fact, all of these events already occurred because they pertain to God’s foreknowledge of all events before creation. He has already chosen His elect before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4-5), so the call is preordained.
Augustine concurs with this: “All those things are already done: He foreknew, He predestinated, He called, He justified; because both all are already foreknown and predestinated, and many are already called and justified” (On Rebuke and Grace, Chapter 23).
It is also of note that what Calvinists call the “sanctification process” is here being called “conformed to the image of Christ.” So, those who have faith in Christ may know that this is so, because the Holy Spirit makes them increasingly Christlike.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
This question only makes sense with a tacit understanding of predestination. “What then shall we say to these things,” these things being God’s foreknowledge, predestination, calling, and justification. Aquinas says, “If God is for us by predestining, calling, justifying and glorifying, who is against us, i.e., successfully?” So, if we have been predestinated, how can anything be successful in undoing our fate? What we say then is if God has already done all of these things for us, they will not be revoked because the decision has already been made in ages past. Nothing can possibly intimidate us. Who is stronger than God? No one can undo what He has decided.
32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.
Paul here meditates on what he said in verse 31: “If God is for us…” God’s predestination of the saints is one way He is for us, and another way is that He delivered Jesus Christ to die for us. If He gave up His most precious Son to redeem us, then why would He withhold any good thing? “Who will bring a charge?,” he asks. Who will condemn? Who can possibly be against us?
God predestinated us, He gave His Son for us, and now Paul adds another thing: on top of all of this, Jesus Christ Himself intercedes for us in heaven in the present! “Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25).
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us
Paul knew persecution. It appears the Roman Church knew persecution, as both the historical record and Scripture (Acts 18:2) affirm. Does that make Rom 8:28 untrue? Far from it! God works all things for good. What can be more good than overwhelmingly conquering through Christ?
So, if God uses trials, tribulation, distress, famine, and peril, well bring it on if it brings God glory and we know Him evermore. “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8).
We should not be surprised if trials and tribulations come our way. Christ warned us about carrying our own cross and following Him. The Scripture itself says, as Paul points out, for God’s sake we are put to death all the day long. Yet, if we be found in Christ, the loss of the body means nothing. To live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil 1:21).
38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul is stating here plainly: Christians will not lose their salvation, because nothing is able to separate us from the love of God. No created thing can…so that only leaves that in which is uncreated–that being God. If God is for us, who can be against us then?
Christ promises elsewhere:
This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day (John 6:39-40).
Augustine understood the connection between these things:
Whosoever, therefore, in God’s most providential ordering, are foreknown, predestinated, called, justified, glorified—I say not, even although not yet born again, but even although not yet born at all, are already children of God, and absolutely cannot perish. These truly come to Christ, because they come in such wise as He Himself says, All that the Father gives me shall come to me, and him that comes to me I will not cast out; and a little after He says, This is the will of the Father who has sent me, that of all that He has given me I shall lose nothing. From Him, therefore, is given also perseverance in good even to the end; for it is not given save to those who shall not perish, since they who do not persevere shall perish (Chapter 23, On Rebuke and Grace).