Romans (Part 25) – No Condemnation (8:1–4)
To recap the post-marriage illustration of chapter 7, we find Paul ask a question in verse 7: is the Law sinful? He immediately answers, “No!” and follows in the next five verses with an explanation. His explanation is basically that rather than being sinful itself, the Law points out sin. And then for us to fail the law by sinning is what brings about death. But Paul says this in such a way as to emphasize how we are predisposed to fail the Law. He hints at our corrupted essence (our flesh) that seeks for self as soon as we are presented with the Law. And because of sin, we then die.
Therefore, a second question arises in verse 13. Because with knowledge of the Law we immediately turn against the Law, is this Law (something supposedly good) actually the cause of our death (something bad)? Again Paul answers, “No!” His explanation emphasizes that it is sin that causes death. Yes, the Law does point out sin, but it does so to identify that which is true, good, and beautiful. However, when presented with this TGB, our already corrupted flesh influences us to choose against that TGB. Our embrace of that sin (our marriage to sin, so to speak) is governed by the Law. And the law of sin is that it yields death. In other words, if you sin, you die.
Now, all of that is Christianity 101. We all know that sin is bad and causes death (separation from God). So what is the focus here inclining Paul to spend so much time with these rather simple concepts? While we do understand these ideas, sometimes we fail to relate them properly to the overall picture. And the overall picture is Paul’s point in this whole Romans discussion. So let’s take a step back in order to view the whole. We have been exploring among Romans’ trees, but without keeping the whole of the forest in view, we may lose our way. We must remember that the whole discussion from beginning to end is Paul’s explanation of the gospel. And, therefore, we must remember his definition of the gospel; it is the good news that God has accomplished, through Jesus, the faithful restoration of his creation to his original intended purpose. And his purpose for creation (as we followers of Kinship Theology recognize) is the enjoyment of everlasting love relationship with his creation.
As surely as we humans are dependent on our shared essence (our physical reality—material cells, water, air, etc.) in order to be alive and survive as humans, so God in his Persons is thoroughly dependent on his own shared essence (his truth, goodness, and beauty [TGB]) to be alive and survive as God. Thus, in creating for relationship, God had to create image bearers—those who could and would recognize, accept, and then operate according to the basis of his own TGB—because only on that common basis could God fulfill his purpose of everlasting love relationship.
We, then, were made to know God. Knowledge of God was no accident of creation or murky revelation so that God could ultimately demand slavish obedience from us as our overlord. Knowledge of God was given so that we could have this love relationship with God on the basis of God’s essence—his TGB. Now, in parallel to this statement, we need to make sure we understand something—and it may indeed be the clearest demarcation between the Kinship Theology view and the Reformed Theology view. Kinship Theology does not deny that God is our king and master and that we owe him allegiance—the submission of our wills and our absolute obedience. The important point (or viewpoint) for Kinship followers is that the master-servant relationship is necessary not simply because God is our Creator or more powerful, able to squash us like bugs if we stray, but rather because obedience to his TGB is necessary for love relationship to exist. Therefore, the end-all by which we judge, act, think, believe, and have our being is not to understand God as supreme commander but rather to understand God as the supreme lover of our souls.
The Reformed do not argue that God does not love us or that we do not have a love relationship with God. But the difference is in the priority positioning of the master-servant relationship relative to the love relationship (imaged in the Bible by the husband-wife relationship). The Reformed champion the master-servant relationship as the pinnacle of our relationship with God—something to which the husband-wife relationship (love) points. In Kinship Theology, the reverse is the correct order. We do have a master-servant relationship with God, but it exists to point to our husband-wife (love) relationship with God—the very purpose for creation, and subsequently the very purpose for redemption. This priority positioning is the reason for the difference of perspective. If the primary, pinnacle purpose is our love relationship with God, all activities must find their way to this purpose. And some of those activities may not pass through the lower master-servant relationship scenario. In Reformed Theology, all activities must find their way to the master-servant relational purpose, while only some must pass through the love relationship scenario. That reasoning is why someone like R.C. Sproul can be comfortable with saying he does not understand why God would limit his love by not saving all. He does not understand it, but he is fine with it because it ultimately satisfies what he considers the supreme priority of purpose that ends in the master-servant relationship (often spoken of in terms of sovereignty).
This idea of priority of relationship is not some made-up straw man that Kinship Theology uses to attack Reformed Theology. Take, for example, the statement by noted reformed author John Murray in his book, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Eerdmans 1955). In discussing why God would limit his love and not save everyone, he says, on page 10, “It is necessary to underline this concept of sovereign love. Truly God is love. Love is not something adventitious; it is not something that God may choose to be or choose not to be. He is love, and that necessarily, inherently, and eternally.” Well, good so far; I agree. But listen as he continues: “Yet it belongs to the very essence of electing love to recognize that it is not inherently necessary to that love which God necessarily and eternally is that he should set such love as issues in redemption and adoption upon utterly undesirable and hell-deserving objects.” I find his statement here totally baffling and at odds with what he stated previously. If God “is love, and that necessarily, inherently, and eternally,” love would compel God to act in love if love were an available option. We know it is an available option because God does so love in restoring many to fellowship through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Murray cannot simply and cavalierly then say that God doesn’t have to love when the way of love is plainly possible and available. A God who necessarily IS love, WILL love. The only satisfaction for Murray’s position is if the love relationship is not God’s chief relationship. That idea is brought out in the writing of others (e.g., Sam Storms, John Piper, Jonathan Edwards). Sam Storms puts it this way: “Thus, to say that love is sovereign is to say it is distinguishing. . . . Of this we may be certain: God was under no obligation to choose any. Were he to have chosen none, he would have remained perfectly just in doing so” (www.samstorms.com/enjoying-god-blog/post/why-didn’t-god-choose-everyone, August 15, 2013). Here again, we see the Reformed thinking that the love relationship is not necessary. A higher relationship (master-slave) may limit the love relationship, pointing to God’s justice above the need for love.
In what I consider the most shocking statement of all, Jonathan Edwards excuses God’s withholding of love by arguing that the existence of evil is necessary in order for God to be fully God: “It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. . . . If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s justice in hatred of sin or in punishing it, . . . or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. . . . So evil is necessary if the glory of God is to be perfectly and completely displayed” (emphasis added; Miscellanies, edited by Thomas A. Schafer; Yale University Press, 1994). Evil is necessary? This philosophy is blatant eastern mysticism, calling for a yin-yang balance in all existence. John Piper writes of the same thing in defense of his notion that God limits his love (Does God Desire All to Be Saved? Crossway, 2013).
Opposed to this convolution, Kinship Theology argues that the supreme relationship imagery for God’s interaction with his creation rests in the purpose for creation: everlasting love relationship among God and his image bearers. (Note that some proponents of the Reformed view have argued that non-Reformed thinking has a similar view on this matter by saying that unless you are a universalist, you must believe that God limits his love for some reason since not everyone is saved. Their comparison, however, is of the apples-to-oranges kind. While I will not comment for others, followers of Kinship Theology argue that if love is possible, God will act in love. But because of the nature of love—that true love cannot be coerced—God cannot enter into love relationship with someone who will not love. The basis for fellowship with God is God’s truth, goodness, and beauty. God would cease to be God (of course, an impossible situation) if he were not to operate according to his very essence in TGB. Therefore, it is not a choice for God to love some and limit his love to others. His choice is to love; however, if the unloving turn aside from embrace of God’s TGB and do not love, it is not God limiting his love; rather, it is the unbelieving, unloving who have turned aside from it. Therefore, in the Kinship Theology view, God (who is love) will always act in love when love is possible. In the Reformed view, God chooses to love or not love based either on caprice or some other undisclosed basis—a notion foreign to the Bible’s presentation of love.)
Returning now to Romans, we see that Paul has brought his audience along in the gospel discussion first by showing the wrong trajectory of his contemporary Jewish leaders. They misunderstood Israel, believing the nation as God’s redemptive purpose rather than only as the picture (regarding the whole world) of what God was intent on accomplishing. Paul had shown that death (separation from God) for sin could not simply be overlooked or cast aside based on choice (such as the choice of Abraham and the Hebrews). Yet, with death provided (through Jesus, our representative sinless one), we can be chosen, and we are chosen on the basis of faith. Why faith? Well, that discussion is still to come.
In the beginning chapters of Romans we were shown that death is required for sin. In chapter 6, we were shown that Jesus, the guiltless, offered his death for us. In chapter 7, Paul summed up the human experience showing a realization of (our agreement with) the TGB requirements for relationship with God, yet our own fleshly (essential) corruption leading us away. But, Paul concludes in verses 24 and 25, that Jesus, in his triumph over humanity’s essence (physical influence toward evil), putting to death that influence, our spirits no longer are required to bear the burden of that corrupted influence: “therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, because the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (8:1–2).
Paul’s declaration in the first four verses of chapter 8 are his clearest presentation of salvation in any of his writings. There is no condemnation first because the Spirit’s law of life (relationship with God) has freed us from the law of sin and death (separation from God). And it came about because the Law (although good) could not overcome the corruption of our essence—our flesh. But, Paul says, God could overcome it. He did so (verse 3) by sending his own son (a son is one like God—living in TGB). That son came in flesh like ours under sin’s domain. (In other words, Jesus was born into corrupted flesh like ours.) He came as a sin offering. (He came not as sin—he was sinless. He didn’t take on sin—he was sinless. He didn’t die with the guilt of our sin on him—his death was efficacious precisely because he was sinless.) And he died so that the law’s requirement for sin (death) would be accomplished (or satisfied) in us. (In other words, his sinless death of the flesh could be given to us who had sin. But (verse 4) it was given to those who walk “according to the Spirit,” meaning to those who have embraced the Spirit and his essence (God’s TGB) rather than the leaning of their own corrupted essence (the flesh). This is salvation. It is all of God—accomplished and applied. We accept it in faith as we embrace in love God’s TGB.