Honestly, as I read this familiar passage again, I wish I could say it is reflective of my distant past rather than all too descriptive of my frustrating present. Again I nod my head, able to relate far more than I want to with Paul’s keen self-awareness that, “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Rom. 7:18b). Again, I shake my head, perplexed along with Paul that “I do not understand my own actions” (Rom. 7:15).
Sure, by God’s grace the “actions” we’re talking about are not the same “actions” of years past. There’s been a measure of progress. Some evidence of the fruit of sanctification. I think there’s a bit more of the reflection of the reality of Christ in me. But man, there’s still stuff — albeit different stuff — that reveals how much sin continues to dwell in me (Rom. 7:20b). Too much stuff, it seems to me, in light of my call to be holy as He is holy (1Pet. 1:15-16). “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).
But there’s something about being gripped afresh with your need that magnifies afresh the remedy. Or, as Paul put it earlier, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20b). That’s why the uncomfortable reality of that Romans 7 dynamic sets me up for the unfathomable reality of this Romans 8 declaration.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
(Romans 8:1-4 ESV)
Something about confessing sin that causes you to cast yourself again before the cross. Something about admitting the reality of your ongoing failure that invokes the eye of faith to focus on the Father’s jaw-dropping provision. Something about acknowledging the reality of the struggle that reminds you of the need to walk in the Spirit.
No condemnation in Christ Jesus. That’s my judicial standing before God. Guilt and shame be nailed to the cross. The righteous requirement of the law has been fulfilled through the finished work of the Son, sent by the Father, to pay in full the wages demanded by my sin.
Set free in Christ Jesus. That’s my experiential state by the Spirit who indwells me. Freedom from sin and death, the underlying dynamic at play as I aspire to increasingly be in reality what I am already fully positionally. As I continue to figure out how to walk according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. As I seek to more fully surrender to the One who has loved me to the fullest extent possible with an everlasting love.
Sure, there’s something frustrating about seeing myself, again, in Romans 7. But there’s also something comforting about walking again the path to the foot of the cross, confessing my sin, and knowing again there is no condemnation. And even something exhilarating in remembering that as I continue to work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Php. 2:12), I do so under the banner of God’s promise that He will complete the work begun in me (Php. 1:6), and through the power of the Spirit He has freely given to me.
All by God’s grace. All for God’s glory.