Paul continues his thought of the two battle fields in which believers wage war: on the one hand there’s the flesh/sin/evil that resides causing Paul to not obey God and somehow partake of death. On the other hand there’s the spirit/the regenerated self that loves to obey God and partake of life. The struggle is thus real and can be utterly disheartening, which may cause despair in life. But, because Jesus delivered us from the body of death—sin, we are not under condemnation, for to be in Christ, even though sin beckons, guarantees our right standing before God.
Now to be “set free from the law of sin and death” (v.2) can’t mean we don’t sin because in chapter 7 Paul deals with our struggle with sin. Instead, it seems to point to the fact that this law within “sin” is not our master, Christ is, and as such we are free to obey God, not unrighteousness. That is, the freedom Christ secured for us was never intended for acts of wickedness, but for humble submission to the Father’s will.
But wait a minute. If I’m freed from the mastery of sin to obey God and still find myself obeying the law of sin and death, then in some sense am I free also to disobey God’s law? And, from where comes this freedom? Paul comments:
“2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”
This principle of life in Christ comes from the Spirit of life who brings resurrection to our dead souls and that’s why we are free (i.e., God’s power of life is the source for the power to obey God) to obey God. He argues that Christ did what the Law could never do because of human weakness (sin) and thus through his sacrifice condemned sin on the Cross. Death really died (v.3).
Now, this condemnation of sin was done in order that the “requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (v.4) Paul seems to be arguing that only in Christ, because of his work on Calvary, is the Law’s fulfillment accomplished in us. Thus, obedience can only occur because one is in the Spirit—belonging to Christ. That’s Paul’s argument in verses 5-9:
“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. 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 now turns his attention on what it means for one to be “in Christ”:
“10 If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.”
I take this to mean that even though sin remains and the body is dead, nevertheless righteousness reigns and is real because “the spirit” the principle of life abides within. Now Paul seems to further explain the effects of the Spirit’s life on our mortal bodies and assures us that as Christ was raised from the grave, we too will rise by the power of the indwelling Spirit (v.11). He thus concludes this subordinate thought:
“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.”
Notice our obligation is not disobedience but rather obedience to God displayed through the mortification of our sinful acts (Jesus does call disciples to take up the cross and follow). If we live according to the former, Paul says the Spirit is not in us. But if in step with the latter, then we are in Christ. Note his theme of calling for an “obedience of faith”.
What I see Paul saying is that to not fight within is a sign that Christ is not our Shepherd and we are thus in peril of damnation. However, if we are fighting sin it’s a sign that we belong to God. He continues in verses 14-17:
“14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 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, 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.”
Here Paul argues that that the evidence of Sonship is being led by the Spirit of God which is submitted to God’s will; to God’s law. This is astounding for in Christ we can now keep the Law because of our new hearts. Before Christ, the Law only produced death. But wait a minute: didn’t we already die to the Law so that we might be in Christ? Isn’t the Law our old husband? Then in what sense do we keep the Law? I think we keep it as secure children, not as indentured slaves. The former are heirs of the Father’s house, the latter have no such privilege because of sin, because of unrighteousness.
Now, the fact of being heirs is evidenced in us who partake of Christ’s sufferings (v.17). To be in Christ requires us to take up our cross and follow Him. Those hardships evidence the veracity of our profession, they never merit our justification—nothing can but God’s mercy.
Paul now shifts from assuring us of our Sonship by the Spirit if in Christ’s sufferings we are partakers to how the whole created order is suffering. But hold on for Paul says something of great worth we need to consider before continuing:
“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.”
What’s this glory to be revealed? Besides a new heaven and a new earth and a new resurrected body it has to be beholding Christ behind the veil of sin. It’s this glory I think was exchanged by the creature (Rom.1), which brought our ruin through God’s wrath. What we formerly rejected in the 1st Adam (God Himself), we have embraced in the 2nd Adam and have been restored because of mercy alone—that’s truly awesome!