N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.
At last, we arrive at Romans 8, a truly revolutionary chapter.
(Rom. 8:1 NET) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
No verse in the Bible has changed my Christian perspective more than this one. Until I read this verse, I believed that there might be saved Christians and damned Christians — as is commonly taught in the Churches of Christ. But “no condemnation” is pretty plain language. For those in King Jesus, there is “no condemnation.” None. Zero.
This worries the Church of Christ mind because it might be read as “once saved, always saved” or, more precisely, the perseverance of the saints (POTS). We don’t believe in POTS, and I think the Churches are right to reject that doctrine. I deal with this issue in great detail in my book the Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace, and it would take us far afield from Rom 8 to provide a complete explanation of my understanding of this question. See HSRG chapter 5 especially. Wright himself seems uncertain on POTS in his writings.
If you are a Christian, you are saved. Once you are in Jesus, you are no longer under the reign of Sin and Death but under the reign of Jesus. It’s just that simple. Yes, you can fall away, but not easily and not for every sin. Again, see the Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace chapter 5 if you wish to pursue the POTS question further.
The most difficult part of the passage to me is the “therefore now.” This would seem to say that “no condemnation” is a result of what’s been argued in chapter 7, but chapter 7 is largely about how difficult it is to be righteous, even if you have God’s will written down in the form of the Torah to follow.
This statement looks back at last to Romans 2:1–11, where Paul had warned about the “condemnation” that would fall on evildoers. He has already said that those “in the Messiah” have the verdict pronounced over them — the verdict, that is, of “righteous” or “in the right.” He has already promised that those who are thus “declared to be in the right by his blood” (5:9) will be rescued from the wrath that is still to come.
Now we see what he means. “There is no condemnation for those in the Messiah . . . because God . . . condemned Sin right there in the flesh.” The punishment has been meted out. But the punishment is on Sin itself, the combined, accumulated, and personified force that has wreaked such havoc in the world and in human lives.
Wright, N. T.. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (Kindle Locations 4612-4617). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
So while Rom 2:1-11 seems to promise (or threaten) a works-based salvation, Paul declares that those who are in King Jesus will not be judged by their works but by their status in Jesus. Why?
(Rom. 8:2 NET) 2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.
The “law of sin and death” is the Torah. More exactly, it’s whatever commandments from God have been revealed — from “Do not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil” to the full Torah, depending on where someone is within God’s salvation story. As Paul argued in chapter 7, because we cannot obey due to our fleshly (unspiritual) natures, the Torah, although holy and good, brings only condemnation.
So this is replaced with the “law of the life-giving Spirit.” What on earth is that? Well, as Paul as previously taught us —
(Rom. 7:5-6 NET) 5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful desires, aroused by the law, were active in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we have been released from the law, because we have died to what controlled us, so that we may serve in the new life of the Spirit and not under the old written code.
(Rom. 2:28-29 NET) 28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, 29 but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit and not by the written code. This person’s praise is not from people but from God.
Paul will say much more about the Spirit in chapter 8, but the real understanding comes not from Romans but from the Law and the Prophets — the Hebrew Testament. We’ve covered the key verses already, and Paul assumes that his readers have read their Old Testaments. Until recently, these verses were read without the benefit of the OT parallels on which they’re based — assuming that Paul was repealing the OT and replacing it with a new “law.” But Paul is telling us that the OT prophecies regarding the Spirit have come true.
Thus, Deu 30:6 promises that God will circumcise our hearts so that we may “live.” The promise of life in Rom 8:2 is taken straight from Deuteronomy! This is the blessed life of Israel in right relationship (shalom) with God, freed from Exile and enjoying the Kingdom promises of the prophets.
Just so, it’s also the Valley of Dry Bones described by Ezekiel, where God’s Spirit takes dead bones makes them alive. It’s the “new covenant” of Jer 31:31 ff in which God promises to write his laws on our hearts and forgive our sins.
So why aren’t those with faith in Jesus condemned? Because God has taken our hearts of stone and made them into hearts of flesh, filled with the outpoured Spirit, as promised in Ezekiel — and in so doing, he has made us both alive and obedient.
The promises of the Spirit in Deu, Jer, and Eze are tied to obedience.
(Jer. 31:33 ESV) 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
(Jer. 32:40 ESV) 40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.
(Ezek. 36:27 ESV) 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
The rules that matter — by which we’ll be judged — are the rules that God will write on our hearts by his Spirit. The Spirit, therefore, will defeat our fleshly natures and bring us to obedience.
But, of course, we’ll still sin. We won’t be made perfect, just obedient. But since our sins will not be rebellious (as Paul demonstrated in chapter 7), they will be covered by sacrifice — being the sin offering of Jesus on the cross.
And if we stick with our contexts, we’ll remember —
(Deut. 30:6 ESV) 6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
The promise is life. What is the law to which we must be obedient? “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”
What does the Spirit pour into our hearts, according to Rom 5:5? Our love for God — of course. What else could it be?
(Rom. 5:5 ESV) 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
So the Torah is fulfilled. We meet the highest of all the commands by loving God — because the Spirit has given us this love, circumcising our hearts, removing our stubbornness, so we can love God with all of our beings.
And because we love God, we love our neighbors. They are made in the image of God, and so we can feel no other way (cf. James 3:9).
This may be very unfamiliar, but it’s not complicated.