One of the difficult things to do when we study the Bible in detail is to keep in front of us the context surrounding our passage. In the literary sense, we need to work at comprehending how our text fits within the book and the whole of Scripture, as well as who the audience was and how they fit into the historical, redemptive context. If lose sight of these things we will be vulnerable to wretched misuse and wrong application of the Word of God. On social media this week, lots of people showing support for police. Some of them putting Matt 5:9 over a police badge. Whether one considers the police force to be peace keepers or law enforcement, is there any way imaginable to reasonably conclude our Lord was speaking about them when He said Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”? It’s clear from the context that He is talking about those who proclaim His gospel, as ambassadors of reconciliation to bring peace between warring sinners and Holy God. Do police officers become, categorically, sons of God? No! Yet many people who support the police and profess Christ argue that this verse rightly applies to the police. This is a cavalier attitude towards the Scriptures our God has given us and ought not to be so!
All of that because this part of Paul’s letter to the Roman church relies heavily on parts we’ve already studied. In chapter 5 we saw how being “in Christ” means we have eternal life rather than eternal death that is our default. Doug Moo points out 18 or so strong references to content in chapters 3, 5, 6, and 7 in this opening passage from chapter 8, as the apostle moves to describing the benefits of having the Holy Spirit in our lives. Moo observes, “Thus Paul weaves together various threads from chaps 6-7 in a new argument for the assurance of eternal life that the believer may have in Christ.”
Verses 1-4: The transfer from death to life is grounded in the work of the Holy Spirit. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The focus on this verse is to put a stake in the ground, declaring to all the saints that being in Christ means peace with the Father, rather than condemnation. The KJV and few other newer manuscripts include a gloss that is not in the older manuscripts, but is in verse 4: who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Theologically, this gloss is not problematic, but it tends to draw attention away from the victory Paul wants us to know, onto our efforts to perform well. When we became children of God we were translated from the realm of sin and death into the glorious presence and security of the kingdom of God. It’s a different realm, a different kingdom than what people of this present age belong to. We will get to the imperatives but we must first rightly grasp the indicatives: we have been freed from the pending wrath of God by the two-fold imputation of the cross of Christ. For our sake, He made Him who knew no sin to become sin so that we would become His righteousness. Our redemption is a monergistic work of God, without cause or condition in us playing any part. If we think our attitude or action inclines God to save us or make our salvation possible, we are sliding down to the pit of works-righteousness, away from the grace that saves.