Gordon E. Johnson


From Defeat to Victory, From Brokenness to Fullness through the Holy Spirit

Romans 7:25-8:1-4

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute

A Quick Survey of Paul’s Journey of Faith

Paul has been tracing the role of Truth, Faith and Grace since he asked that pertinent question in Romans. 6:1: What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” His answer rang out: “Certainly not.” Paul first affirms our identification with Christ in death to the sin principle 6:1-10. He follows that great Truth with the role of Faith. He had earlier said: “It is of Faith that it might be according to Grace” (Rom. 4:16).

The four step act and attitude of faith follows: 1.) count yourself dead to sin and alive to God (6:11); 2.) do not let sin reign (6:12); 3.) don’t be presenting your members (6:13 a); 4.) but present yourselves as being alive from the dead (6:13b). Now comes the logical conclusion: “for sin shall not have dominion over you for you are not under law but under grace”. (6:14).

The Christian walk continues: Grace is the new relationship establishing a “marriage to Another, even to Him who was raised from the dead that we should bear fruit to God”. (7:3) In that new love relationship of marriage to the Crucified, we died to the law and its impossible demands. It must be of faith—not striving--that it might be by grace and from that truth of God’s grace in Christ issues the wholly new dynamic, the newness of the Spirit. (7:6)

But Paul’s great dilemma was that at that moment his experience of the Christian walk did not quite work out that way! He tried not to covet, he strove, he imitated as best he could, but it led to the “exceeding sinfulness” of this inward desire (7:13) which in turn forced him to confess “in me dwells no good thing. Finally, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (7:24) Abject failure. We can admire his honesty and effort, but he failed nonetheless. And so it is with every effort of our best endeavor.

Surprised by Grace in Paul’s Darkest Moment of Failure Romans 7:25

There is no quicker turn around in all of Scripture than what Paul now recalls. From the nadir of despair he exalts: “I thank God - through Jesus Christ our Lord” (7:25) How can this be? He offers no theological explanation; he only affirms a deliverance such that gratitude and praise are the spontaneous responses. Something must have occurred. No doubt -- the illumination of the Holy Spirit. The light broke through: “I have been trying to do what Christ alone did for me at the cross.” Those truths were the truths he «thought he knew» so well and had stated so clearly in Romans 6: 1-14. But doctrine, as sound as it is, does not itself deliver but only with the illumination of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit responds to that deep heart repentance that grasps in faith the humbling, the breaking of the self life, that prerequisite for any of the Spirit’s deeper working.

The above explanation may be considered by some as only an interpretation. But there is a hint of a deeper relationship to Romans 6:6, the Magna Carta of Christian liberty. (This is the famous document signed in 1215 by King John giving the English nobles for the first time a measure of democracy) In Paul’s woeful plea he said: who will deliver me from this body of death? Paul had affirmed in Romans 6:6—my life verse—“Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him that the body of sin might be done away with (rendered null, cancelled) that we should no longer be slaves to sin”. In Rom. 6:6 it is the body of sin and in 7:5 this body of death. Paul simply substitutes the cause for the effect, sin toward death. Paul now knew the moment of his victory and the same for us when we grasp the truth of our union with Christ by simple faith, even in our weakness.

I must make a passing comment to explain the rest of Rom 7:25. It could appear to some that Paul summarizes the rest of his life as an ongoing battle with the flesh—“So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin”. Such a conclusion flies in the face of Romans 8, a chapter not of a divided heart but of the fullness of the Spirit. With some forty references to «I», «my» and «me» to zero references to the Holy Spirit in Rom. 7:7-24 to some 21 references to the Holy Spirit in Romans 8; such a conclusion surely does not stand.

Secondly so sudden was the illumination of the Spirit that Paul had to exult in that burst of gratitude. He did not want to take time to summarize the double mindedness evident in his failure by placing himself under the law to which he had died. There may be also an indirect allusion to the rapidity with which one can turn back to the law and the flesh—see Peter in Matthew 16:13-23. But with the Spirit’s enablement may it never be.

The Triumph of Righteousness through the ‘Newness of the Holy Spirit’ Rom. 8:1

There is therefore no-- no kind of legal or moral--condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus”. Rom. 8:1 In the oldest and best manuscripts the rest of the verse does not appear here but does appear correctly in 8:4 where the same phrase has its rightful place. This liberating statement is the result of one who in every sense of the word is abiding in Christ, dead to sin and the law and trusting in the love relationship with the Risen Christ. Now the Holy Spirit is in full control and we can be assured of the fullness of forgiveness and abundance of the risen life of Christ. Paul had groaned under the moral self condemnation of Romans 7:7-24 but now is freed from all kinds of self condemnation.

Within the context of Romans this statement truly applies to the obedient believer. The verse is often quoted to the recent believer-- which is surely true in the justification of the believer. But the context places it clearly in the believer’s daily walk of faith.

The Ground of Such ‘Newness’ The Filling of the Holy Spirit Rom. 8: 2-4

Paul returns to the Message of the Cross as the ground of the Spirit’s freedom in enabling us to walk in newness of life, in true victory over sin and self. Paul gives us the reason for the freedom. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made (better as in the original--first aorist active indicative-- made) me (in some versions-you) free from the law of sin and death.” Paul returns to the cross, the historical fact and the ultimate intervention of the Triune God. Victory is not something to achieve in the future, or soon to be attained or when we understand it all. The work was done at the cross and remains done. It is ours to believe and appropriate. The blessed truths of Romans 8 indeed return us to Romans 6:1-10. Nothing can be added to the work already done. Self effort is futile and useless. Paul had learned that the hard way in the preceding chapter.

In line with that thought Paul continues: “for what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh” Rom. 8:30. I break it off right here, although Paul continues with the intended result; the righteous requirements of the law of God’s character are fully ours by the Holy Spirit. This verse (8:3) establishes beyond question that he did not die just to forgive our sins and take us to heaven but rather to make available to us the reign of righteousness through the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Such a gift of grace is grounded totally on the work of the Cross. His condemnation of the flesh involves his final condemnation of my flesh in whatever form it may appear.

Righteousness or Holiness the Ultimate End of the Fullness of the Holy Spirit

Now Romans 8:4 sets out the divine design of his death and resurrection.“That the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”. According to Ephesians 1:4: “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” so He died to justify us and to do even more -- to sanctify us by condemning sin in the flesh. The Holy Spirit now becomes the new law in our members to produce in us nothing more or less than the righteous requirements of God’s character. This puts in true perspective the fullness of the Spirit—not just to bless us but to produce fruit, the ultimate fruit of Christ likeness. He died not to make us happy but holy.

A Word of Spiritual Balance

Sadly the doctrine of the Filling of the Holy Spirit or the Fullness of the Spirit, a truth so very important for the believer, is seldom taught from this passage that specifically deals with the truths of sanctification. Appeal is so often made to Acts and the phenomena in the early church. On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit did indeed inaugurate the church with credible signs and wonders. But here Paul deals with the Holy Spirit as indispensable to the walk of the believer. You will notice in this seminal and primary passage no mention is made of «waiting on the Spirit», «seeking the baptism of the Spirit», no reference to gifts or varieties of experiences but simply to our walk with a crucified Christ. Unfortunately so much is lost in the externals and so little emphasis given to the internal working of the Spirit. Allow me to say I have no problem with the genuine work of the Spirit and how he may choose to reveal himself biblically. The real test of the fullness of the Holy Spirit is that and experience must glorify the Crucified and Risen Christ, producing in us the holiness and humility that becomes a follower of the Crucified.

Yours in the Message of the Cross,
Dr. Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute
Edinburg, TX 78539