Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Until this point in Romans, Paul has taken his hearers through the “shadowlands” of the faith.

Sower went out to sow
Sower went out to sow, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, Tenn.

July 13, 2014

Second Reading
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Commentary on Romans 8:1-11

Until this point in Romans, Paul has taken his hearers through the “shadowlands” of the faith.

He has described the context in which the righteousness of God has been revealed (Romans 1:16-32). That context is that all people, whether Jew or Gentile have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Paul claims that in such a context the revelation of God’s righteousness is available from faith for faith (Romans 1:17). Paul has said this has always been the case. Even Abraham was reckoned righteous not by following Law, but by faith (Romans 4:3).

The righteousness of God that is revealed in the Gospel allows for liberation from sin and death, and from sin’s destructive use of the Torah. Unfortunately, this does not mean, as Paul made clear in chapter 6 and 7, that sin is obliterated for those who have faith in Jesus Christ. Paul sees that in the life of the Christian, sin still has an influence. His direction to believers is to not give sin any power, but to consider themselves dead to sin (6:11). [Note that Paul does not claim that sin itself is dead].

By the time Paul gets to chapter 8 of Romans, he has described in graphic and dramatic detail the “shadowlands” of the Gospel; the darkness into which the light of the Gospel has shone and the challenge that that light has to stay bright.

At the beginning of chapter 8, Paul focuses on the Gospel apart from the shadowy edges that it must contend with. With a ringing and positive and strong voice Paul says, with conviction, “so it is, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He is saying what he has said before, but he is saying it one more time with feeling. And he is saying it without qualification.

Humanity’s problem, which he has described so poignantly and powerfully — the problem that there is condemnation for all humanity because of Adam’s trespass (Romans 5:16); this problem is solved by being “in Christ Jesus.” The solution to humanity’s problem is being “in Christ Jesus.” Paul has said earlier that the solution is faith. Here he describes what faith means. Faith means being “in Christ Jesus.” It is not simply putting faith in Christ, it is being in Christ.

Paul said something similar in earlier passages. In chapter 6, Paul talked about being buried with Christ in baptism; in chapter 7, Paul talked about belonging to Christ (7:4). Here Paul uses the phrase being “in Christ Jesus.”

The faith about which Paul is talking is much more than intellectual assent to propositions about Jesus Christ; it is more than loyalty to Christ; it is more than following Jesus. Just as the Spirit is an eco-system — a location — in which Paul believes we can live (Romans 8:9), so is Christ

Christ is a being in whom believers are. And in that being — in Christ — there is no condemnation.

The problem that began with Adam is resolved for those who “in Christ Jesus.” Paul tries to explain the mechanics of this remarkable solution. The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has liberated believers from the law of sin and death (8:2).

In the reading we had last week, Paul talked about the war of the laws. There is, Paul says, a battle between the law of God and the law of sin (Romans 7:22-23). Here in chapter 8, Paul says something similar. The law of the Spirit of life is opposed to the law of sin and death. 

Law here is almost certainly not simply Torah, although it may include the Jewish Law in a certain sort of way. Law rather refers to the structures of reality. Paul thinks there are two realities, two worlds to which humanity can belong. There is the reality, the cosmos of sin and death in which the Torah is unable to control sin and to bring life — because sin is stronger than Torah’s commands.

And there is the reality, the cosmos of the Spirit and Christ. The reality of the Spirit/Christ is structured by the law of the Spirit of life — it is all about life. The reality of sin and death is structured by sin and death, and is all about those two entities.

Paul believes that only in the alternative reality created by Christ’s death and resurrection — the reality of “in Christ” — can the Torah be fulfilled (8:4). Paul is giving his hearers eyes to see where they are living. They are those who are “in Christ Jesus.”

Paul is seeking to help his hearers leave behind their old identities which were shaped by the structures of sin and death. He wants them to open their eyes and to see the beautiful reality created by Christ’s death and resurrection. They are living in this alternative cosmos because they have believed and so been brought into Christ.

Being “in Christ” means that believers are not ruled by sin, not ruled by death. Believers have been transported to a new place where life and not death is in charge and where there is no condemnation because sin is not the master.

The challenge for believers is to open their eyes, to see and live the gift of being in this new place.