In this chapter, Paul returns to 1:16; the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile.” He has also shown us that the law weakened by sinful flesh cannot transform us. And he has stated, there is a “new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (7:6). Paul now brings out the full meaning of this “new way of the Spirit.” For Paul, the Spirit's role is foundational to our relationship with God. So powerful is the work of the Spirit, we can put to death sin (v. 13), we have life through the Spirit, and we are sons of God by the Spirit of adoption. And as sons, we become fellow heirs with Christ. The Spirit also gives us faithful spiritual endurance (vv. 23-25). We need to suffer with Christ during our time on earth while we wait for the glory we will have in Christ. This overwhelming witness of the Spirit assures us that we are in the right relationship with God.
Therefore, not surprisingly, the text of chapter 8 has been a source of great comfort to Christians throughout the church age and rightly so. Its magnificence shines even greater when we keep in mind chapters 1 through 7. However, we should not lose the larger purpose of Paul’s teaching in the letter. To this point, Paul has taught, both Jews and Gentiles are under the power and condemnation of sin but are now a single people of God in Christ. Both are redeemed, saved, and justified not by works of the law but by the free gift of grace. Paul continues this theme, explaining, the Spirit of adoption adopts both Jews and Gentiles in the same way. Paul has repeatedly pointed out, the law is powerless – weakened by sin – to transform us into a righteous people. Instead, what the law could not do, Christ has done and is doing through the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Spirit has brought an end to the law; and, therefore, makes it possible to live a transformed life despite the influence of sin. These two themes –there are only one people of God and the grace of God saves them – must be kept in mind as we study this material.
Paul begins this passage with “therefore now.” “Therefore” follows 7:14-25, where Paul describes the emotional trauma of living with the hopelessness the law would transform us into righteous people. Paul made it clear; sin's power was stronger than the law. This was a wretched condition, but in his cry of despair, he also states the answer is “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Sin uses the law to condemn us to death. But “now,” there is “no condemnation.” This “now” is Paul’s way of dividing time (3:20; 5:9; 6:22; 7:6; 11:30). There is the age of the law, and now there is the age of the Spirit.
The phrase “no condemnation” refers to the final end-time judgment. Although believers will give an account for themselves on the last day (14:10-12), it will not be a judgment of condemnation. This statement of fact could never have been made in the time of the Old Testament. It is only because of the life-giving blood of Christ that believers can stand before God without condemnation, being united with him and wearing his righteousness.
It is also worth noting, at the end of this chapter, Paul states there is also no separation “from the love of God” (8:39). Peace with God is not just the absence of judgment but the presence of the love of our heavenly Father (vv. 14-17). There is no condemnation or separation because we are in union with Christ (“in Christ Jesus”). And because we are in Christ Jesus, we have the assurance of Christ’s love, grace, forgiveness and righteousness; even resurrection and glory are ours (v. 30). Chapter 8 is all about his commitment to us.
In verse 2, Paul gives the ground or reason why there is now no condemnation for believers. The reason he gives is a significant theme of the chapter: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” But, what does he mean by “the law of the Spirit of life?” Nowhere else is this phrase used. It must be the case that Paul is taking up the word “law” from the previous passage and contrasting the power of the Spirit with the power of the “law of sin and death.”
It is of the greatest importance to understand that we receive these undeserved benefits through our union with Christ. There is no condemnation for us because we are “in Christ.” And we have been set free from the tyranny of the law and sin, again, by our union “in Christ.” What is so crucial to see is the activity of the Spirit, and our union with Christ is indivisible. Paul never sees these as two separate things. Because we are “in Christ,” we can experience the power of the Spirit in our lives.
In this verse, Paul explains the reason in verse 2: there is no condemnation for those in Christ. Christ Jesus has given us freedom from sin, death, and life through the Holy Spirit.
In verse three, he states this was done by God (“God has done”). The Trinitarian reference here should not be overlooked. God the Father, was able to do “what the law weakened by the flesh,” was unable to do. The phrase “weakened by the flesh” refers to our sinful human nature. So again, the problem is not the law but our sinful state. But, “what” is it the law could not do and God has done? Indeed, he sets us free from sin and death. But, it is more than that. What God did through his incarnate Son is to reverse what sin did through the law. Sin used the law to condemn us to death. So, Christ not only set us free, “he condemned sin in the flesh.” This means God carried out his judgement by sending his Son into the world of sinful human beings to break the power of sin. How was this accomplished? By God “sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” The words “sinful flesh” can only mean sinful human nature. There is a question, though, of the meaning of the word “likeness.” The word “likeness” implies the Son of God did not simply resemble humans; he participated fully in human flesh (Hebrews 2:17). The reason Paul adds the word “likeness” is to highlight, even though he assumed a human nature like ours, his human nature “was never the whole of Him–He never ceased to be the eternal Son of God” (Hebrews 2:14-18). So, while Jesus was like us and was also tempted like us in every respect, he never sinned (Hebrews 4:15; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Commenting on this phrase, Robert Mounce writes, “If Christ had not taken on our nature, he could not have been one of us. On the other hand, had he become completely like us (i.e., had he sinned), he could not have become our Savior.” It is also the case Jesus participated in the effects of sinful human nature. Schreiner writes, “he participated in the old age of the flesh, and that his body was not immune to the powers of the old age: sickness and death.” The phrase “and for sin” means he took upon himself the judgment that was due us and is best understood as a sin offering.
Therefore, we can paraphrase the sentence as follows: God sent his own Son as a human being like us into our sinful world to break the power of sin by offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins. Christ became what we are, so we might become what he is.
Verse 4 gives the divine purpose of this atoning sacrifice of Christ, a purpose that never fails. The intent is, in union with Christ, the “righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” It is not “us” who fulfills its requirements, but the requirements are fulfilled “in us.” This means, Christ has fulfilled the law’s requirement for us. However, what does the “requirement of the law” (note the singular) mean, and how are they fulfilled in us. There are two valid interpretations.
The first is, Christ perfectly kept the law and has entirely met its requirements. When we are in union with Christ, we also participate in Christ’s perfect obedience. The emphasis is on justification or our positional sanctification before God. The “fulfillment” is not for everyone but for “us”; that is, only for those who “walk according to the Spirit.”
The second view places the focus on our obedience to God’s commands. Because we are in union with Christ and have the power of the indwelling Spirit, we are able “to walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” In this view, it is still the Spirit working in us to enable us, but the emphasis is more on the Christian life than legal justification. Paul emphasizes this in 13:10, “love is the fulfillment of the law.” The Spirit enables us to grow in love for God and our neighbour (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:26-27).
Since both interpretations are valid, both should be taken together. If this is the case, it certainly does not imply that Christian behaviour is unimportant. It is still paramount that we do not practice sin (“walk according to the flesh”) but “walk according to the Spirit” (vv. 12-14). Only those whose lives are controlled by the Holy Spirit also have the moral requirement of the law fulfilled in Christ. Although our nature results in sin, making the law powerless to justify and sanctify, the Spirit enables us to obey. This is progressive sanctification. This does not mean perfect obedience to the law. Perfect obedience is only through our union in Christ. Returning to the beginning of verse four, we see that the ultimate purpose of Christ’s atoning sacrifice was not only our legal justification but also our holiness. A holiness which is itself a work of the Holy Spirit.
Verse 5 begins with “for” following from verse 4, meaning those who “live according to the Spirit” are given the power of the Spirit to “walk” according to the Spirit. But those “who set their minds on the things of the flesh” walk (“live”) according to the flesh. These verses (vv. 5-13) emphasize the Christian life of obedience made possible by the Spirit. To walk and live according to the Spirit means to surrender to the control of the Spirit. Paul highlights the contrast between living under the control of “flesh” and living under the power of the “Spirit.” His purpose in repeating this contrast highlights the impossibility of “pleasing God” (v. 8) without the Spirit.
But, what does Paul mean when he uses the word “flesh” in these verses? He does not simply mean our human bodies. Neither is it just referring to sensual sins. Instead, he is referring to who we are as fallen human beings. Martin Luther, in his preface to his commentary on Romans, writes, “Paul, like Christ in John 3, calls ‘flesh’ everything that is born of the flesh’ viz., the whole man, with body and soul, mind and senses, because everything about him longs for the flesh.” In an earlier letter, Paul writes concerning flesh in this way:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21
Jeremiah, years earlier, describes flesh in more general terms:
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
So “flesh” is who we are as sinful human beings. We are born under and in sin’s control. Therefore, to “set the mind” on the desires of the flesh is to make them our deepest concern, driving our actions, ambition, time and energy. Those who do so are unbelievers who are outside the gospel of grace. Therefore, the consequences of their greatest desires do not only affect their earthly lives – which they do (5:12, 15, 21) – but they also have eternal consequences. When Paul says, “death” is the product (“fruit” 7:5) of a mindset on the flesh, he includes eternal death, that is, the result of “condemnation” (8:1). So, the “mind” of a person, expressed by its strongest and greatest desires, reveals whether that person is a Christian or non-Christian. But people are like this, not because they think like this but because they are like this. Our nature determines how we think; if we are by-nature-in-the-flesh, our minds are set on the “things of the flesh,” but if we are by-nature-in-the-Spirit, our minds are set on “the things of the Spirit.”
In verses seven and eight, Paul explains why a mindset on the things of the flesh results in death. Such a mind is in open rebellion (“hostile”) towards God. There is no neutral position: either we are for God or against him. And so, a person in the flesh “does not submit to God’s law.” Here, “God’s law” means God's righteous demands on unbelievers. It is the basis by which everyone who has rejected God will be judged and condemned. Although believers are not “under the law” (6:14, 15) and there is “no condemnation” for them, unbelievers remain under the judgment of God’s law.
Paul concludes in verse eight, those in the flesh “cannot please God.” This means, everyone who is not in union with Christ is under the power of sin and remains in union with Adam. Note the words, “indeed, it cannot” and “cannot please God.” Those who are in Adam not only sin but are unable to do otherwise. Although they can physically obey God’s laws, they are morally unable. This moral inability does not reduce their accountability or liability to God. And again, this does not only mean sexual sins but an inability to honour and glorify God in their lives by believing in his Son. It is impossible for them to have faith in God’s Son. As the writer of Hebrews notes,
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
So, apart from grace coming through faith (Ephesians 2:8), we all have a moral inability to please God.
The good news of the Gospel of grace is, we are no longer forced to live under the control of the flesh. With the coming of the Spirit, we can now have our minds “set on the Spirit” rather than setting our minds on the desires of the flesh. In this case, we have a new nature; therefore, our minds are set on “the things of the Spirit.” The question comes down to this: Are we in the flesh or in the Spirit? These are the two options, and there is no middle way. In the following verses (vv. 9-17), Paul describes in greater detail what it means to be “in the Spirit.”
So far in these verses (vv. 5-8), Paul has generally been speaking about people in one of two states: the flesh or the Spirit. Now, he speaks directly to the Christian members of the Roman church. He confidently states they are “not in the flesh” but “in the Spirit.” Paul immediately indicates what he means by this. To be “in the Spirit” means, the “Spirit of God dwells in you.” The word “dwell” means to live or to inhabit. Since God is the subject, it implies a permanent dwelling (1 Timothy 6:16).
Verse 9 is significant since it contains a profound definition of a true believer. A Christian has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. The opposite is true; those who do not have the indwelling Spirit do not belong to Christ. Children of Adam have indwelling sin (7:17, 20), but children of God have the indwelling Spirit. Indwelling sin fights against God, but the indwelling Spirit fights against sin. This was the promise of Jesus before returning to the Father.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-18)
The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to everyone who repents and believes in Jesus. Although there may be additional blessings of the Spirit in a Christian’s life, all Christians have the Holy Spirit living in them. In verse nine, it is also worth noting, Paul equates the “Spirit of God” with the “Spirit of Christ” – these are one and the same. Paul now gives two consequences of the indwelling Spirit. The first is “life” (vv. 10-11), and the second is “obligation” (vv. 12-13).
vv. 10-11 First consequence of the indwelling Spirit: life
Paul begins with an “if” statement, but his intent is not to doubt their sincerity. His focus is on the result of the union with Christ (“Christ is in you”). Note as well the parallel between the indwelling Spirit and union with Christ. What did Paul mean when he said, “the body is dead because of sin”? It cannot mean the body has already died since, in verse 13, he states, “by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body,” implying an ongoing process. So, it is better to understand the phrase to mean our “mortal bodies” (v. 11); that is, we are all destined for physical death “because of sin” (6:12; 8:11b). We have mortal bodies due to Adam’s sin, which is also our sin (Genesis 3:19). However, in contrast to our dying bodies, we are alive “because of the righteousness” of Christ (5:15-18, 21). Because of Christ’s righteousness, the Spirit who is life dwells in us, and so is life for us. Our life is not our own but a gift of the Spirit.
Even though the mortal body is destined for death, the ultimate destiny of our body is an eternal glorified body. We do not just die physically and go to heaven. Rather our glorious destination is to live eternally with God in a new heaven and earth with resurrected bodies. Although this is sometime in the future, “we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (v. 23).
In verse 11, there is again a reference to the Trinity: Spirit, Son, and Father (“he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead”). Moreover, it is because of what the Father has done, which guarantees our own bodily resurrection. This new resurrected body will be free of sin and wholly indwelt by the Spirit. We, therefore, “wait eagerly” for this time, for then we will be able to honour, worship, and glorify God for whom we were created. The significance of our bodies is often minimized or overlooked in the church today. However, this is not the case in Scripture (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19-20).
vv. 12-13 Second consequence of indwelling Spirit: Obligation
Paul now brings to a close his discussion (“so then”) of the believer’s liberation from the flesh through the death of Christ. Life is not the only consequence of the indwelling Spirit of Christ. We are also “debtors” or obligated to God. Those who have the Spirit are alive in Christ and have no obligation to “the flesh.” Our sinful condition has no absolute claim on us anymore because we have died to the “old self” (6:6-7). However, we have an obligation, or more directly, are in debt to the Spirit. This obligation is to live a life pleasing to God. And what pleases God is to “put to death the deeds of the flesh” and “set the mind on the Spirit.” So, there are positive and negative aspects.
To please God also means to set our minds on the things of God. The letter to the Hebrews states faith in the Son is what pleases God (Hebrews 11:6). God also spoke through the prophet Jeremiah about what pleases him:
Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:24)
So, knowing God pleases him. This is not just ‘head’ knowledge; it must be knowledge of the heart, motivating us to holy action, reflecting the image of God. This is no different than when God gave the Mosaic law to Israel. Over and over again in Deuteronomy God wants Israel to love him with all their heart (Deuteronomy 4:29; 6:5, 6; 8:14; 10:2, 16; 11:13; 13:3; 26:16, 47; 30:6, 10). The great difference is, in the New Covenant, God has given us his Spirit to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Once again, in verse 13, Paul presents only two options. Either we “live according to the flesh" and “die,” or we “put to death the deeds of the body” and “live.” As John Stott writes, “there is a kind of life that leads to death and a kind of death that leads to life.” This reflects Christ’s own teaching when speaking to the people as recorded in Mark:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)
How is this “putting to death” accomplished? First, it is something we do. We are responsible for putting sin to death in our lives. To “put to death” means Christians are “to engage in a life-long struggle, through faith in Christ and by the power of the Spirit, against the sinful and corrupt tendencies which continue to work in them till the day they die.” Paul also clarifies, we can only do this “by the Spirit.” So again, we have the twin truths of the sovereignty of God and human responsibility. Only by the indwelling power of the Spirit will we have the desire to reject evil and embrace reality. When temptation comes, we are obligated to fight against it, even sacrificing what is near and dear to us. Again, as Jesus taught:
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)
Although this seems to kill pleasure, it is the very opposite. To walk according to the flesh is the road to death, but walking according to the Spirit is eternal life.
So, Paul has answered his Jewish critics who accused him of preaching a gospel of grace which resulted in ignoring and disobeying the law. Paul has stated in these verses the opposite. Those who are not in Christ cannot obey the law, and only those who have the indwelling Spirit receive power to obey. Faithful obedience to the law coming from the heart is now possible through the power of the Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-28; cf. Joel 2:28-29). Once when we were in Adam, we were not able not to sin, but now in union with the Spirit of Christ, we are able not to sin.
Paul now moves from contrasting life in the flesh with life in the Spirit to the joys, security, and benefits of our sonship through adoption. The emphasis is on the family. Each of the four verses refers to “sons” (vv. 14-15) or “children” (vv. 16-17). Moreover, as sons, we are “fellow heirs with Christ.” Paul now describes how the Spirit “bears witness” that God is our “Abba, Father” and we are his adopted sons.
The “for” at the beginning of the verse clarifies what was just stated in verse thirteen. Paul declares, all people “led by the Spirit of God” are also “sons of God.” Paul has used three other metaphors in referring to our relationship to the Spirit. In verse 4, he said we are to “walk” “according to the Spirit,” in verse 5, we are to “live according to the Spirit,” and in verse 6, we are to “set our minds on the things of the Spirit.” Now, he uses a fourth image.
We are to be “led by the Spirit.” The term “led” can have several meanings in Scripture. It can mean being forced to surrender or compelled by the Spirit; some interpreters see this meaning here. However, “led” can also mean “to guide morally or spiritually” and to “encourage” (bdag). I believe this is the meaning Paul has in mind. It explains what he said in verse thirteen about putting to death our sin. There Paul said that life is only given to those who live by the Spirit. In verse fourteen, he is more specific: life in the Spirit means being led by the Spirit, and being led by the Spirit means we are “sons of God.” So, the Spirit’s witness is his leading and guiding us into spiritual maturity. Our assurance that we are “sons of God” is the change the Spirit makes in the heart of a believer. Our desire is now to “please God.”
When Paul uses the term ”sons,” he, of course, means women as well. Many people today claim all human beings are children of God. And to some degree, this is true. When Paul spoke at the Areopagus, he quoted one of the Greek poets who stated, we are all “God’s offspring.” However, here in Romans, “children of God” refers only to those who are “led by the Spirit.” As the apostle, John writes, “all who did receive him, who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
And as “sons,” we did not “receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” In the previous passage (vv. 1-13), Paul contrasted life and death. In the first half of verse fifteen, he contrasts two kinds of human conditions; “slavery” and “adoption.” Slavery means “slaves to sin” (6:12-23). The reference to “spirit of slavery” does not refer to any particular ‘spirit’ (i.e., human spirit); rather Paul uses the word to parallel the phrase “receiving the Spirit of adoption.” Slavery to sin results in “fear” of God’s final judgment. So, those who are adopted are not under the power of sin. As it has been throughout chapter 8 so far, the primary emphasis is on these two opposing conditions: the controlling power of sin and the controlling power of the Spirit.
When Paul refers to “adoption,” did he mean an adoption similar to God adopting Israel (9:4) or to the practice of adoption in Roman society? Both are possible. However, because the term ‘adoption’ is not in the Old Testament, most interpreters think Paul refers to Greco-Roman adoption. In this verse, Paul refers to our adoption as a present condition all believers receive at conversion. Later in the chapter, he will refer to adoption in a future sense (8:23). This highlights Paul’s understanding of our present age to be inaugurated with the first coming of Christ but not yet consummated at his second coming – an ‘already but not-yet’ age.
What was adoption like in Roman times? John Barclay gives us a detailed description. The legal process of adoption was a lengthy impressive procedure. The ceremony for adoption was done before seven witnesses. So, if the adopting father died and one of his biological sons disputed the adoption, the adopted son, together with the witnesses, would guarantee his inheritance. Barclay states that the consequence of the adoption is what is most significant for Paul. These are:
1. The adopted son loses all rights to his old family and gains all rights to this new family. His biological father is no longer his father. He now has only one new father.
2. The adopted son is treated identically to biological sons. This was true even if sons were born later to the adoptive father.
3. All debts that the adopted son might have had in his old life are paid. It is as if he was reborn.
We can see from this description that each aspect has meaning in our spiritual adoption as sons of God. Our old life has no claim on us any longer. All our past debts have been paid. And our co-inheritance in union with Christ is guaranteed as permanently adopted sons by the witness of the Spirit and our spirit (v. 16).
However, it is not only a legal relationship. Because we are adopted sons, we can, by the Spirit, “cry, Abba! Father.” This is the cry of the adopted son who calls to God his Father. It is similar to the cry of a child who, when seeing his father coming home from work or a trip, calls out, “Daddy!” or “Papa!” in a confident and delighted acknowledgement of seeing his beloved father, also knowing, his father feels the same way. This is a cry filled with personal and intimate emotion.
Paul, in verse 16, explains how it is we can cry out with such confidence and happiness. Both our human spirit and God’s Holy Spirit together “bear witness” to our relationship with the Father. This witness must include a strong emotional aspect as does the cry, “Abba! Father.” Sometimes, fearing we are overemphasizing subjective sentimentality, we tend to shy away from any emotional response. This would certainly not have been the case for Paul as a Jew, and it has not been the case for Christians throughout history. However, we should not view this as a special experience of the Spirit, only received by some believers. This witness is for all believers.
After confirming our adoption, Paul describes the benefit of sonship. Because we are now God’s adopted “children,” we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Elsewhere, Paul proclaimed, we had inherited the promise of Abraham (Galatians 3:14, 29). In this letter, he described that promise as inheriting the whole world (4:13). But now he says something even more astonishing. Believers–Jews and Gentiles–are not only heirs of the world but heirs of God himself. The ultimate benefit of the fulfillment of the covenant to Abraham is having God be our God (Genesis 17:7; Revelation 21:3). Paul helps us understand what this means when he adds, “and fellow heirs with Christ.” We can cry to God as our loving Father with confidence and joy because we are in union with Christ. This is what Christ has gained for us because of his birth, death, resurrection, and ascension to the Father's right hand. The Son and the Father are One, and we, who are in Christ, are also one with the Father. Not as the only begotten Son of God, but as adopted sons in Christ Jesus.
Paul, in verses 14 through 16, has given us three reasons to be assured of our union in Christ: first, we are “led by the Spirit” (v. 14) meaning our conduct honours God; second, we have received “the Spirit of adoption” meaning we are now in a special family relationship with God; and third, “the Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit” meaning we experience God’s fatherly love. Surprisingly, now Paul adds a fourth reason. It is only “provided we suffer with him.” If we do, we will also be “glorified with him.” We would not expect suffering to be a ‘proof’ we are God’s children. In fact, we would likely think the opposite. When we experience a special blessing of God we feel more like his child. We think of suffering more as a problem when we think of the sovereignty and love of God. Douglas Moo commenting on this verse writes, “Participation in Christ’s glory can come only through participation in his suffering.” This condition is not a condition for salvation, but the result of salvation; that is, further ‘proof’ we are in union with Christ. So once again, we are given a greater understanding of our union with Christ. We now know that in union with him we receive his righteousness, but now we are told that we also “suffer” in union with him and in order that we are “glorified” in union with him.
Adopted children are heirs of the parents who adopted them. This is something the Rome citizens in the church would have known very well because of the adoptions that occurred within the imperial family. If we are “children of God,” we are “heirs.” Heirs of what? We are heirs to all the promises to Abraham, who is heir of the world (4:13-16; Galatians 3:14-29). Paul now says something even more amazing: we are “heirs of God.” This is not only the promises of God but God himself (Genesis 17:7-8; Revelation 21:7). Paul goes on to say we are also “fellow heirs with Christ.” In Colossians, Paul tells us, “all things were created by him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). The Father makes the Son the inheritor of all created things (Hebrews 1:2; Psalm 2:8). This includes the present creation and the new heavens and earth. And we, as adopted children, are included. As Michael Reeves writes, “It is a physical expression of the marvelous truth that the Father shares his love of the Son with us: the meek shall inherit the earth!”
Paul now states we are “fellow heirs with Christ provided we suffer with him.” We often hear messages and teaching on suffering, yet we do not often hear teaching on sharing in Christ’s suffering. Paul, however, refers to suffering for Christ repeatedly in his letters. For instance, in his letter to the Galatian church, Paul writes:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)
Paul boldly states, he wants to share Christ’s suffering and even become like him in Christ’s death. So, what does Paul mean by sharing in the suffering of Christ? Some interpreters believe this suffering includes all suffering believers experience, particularly the spiritual struggle against sin. These interpreters understand that even though our struggle is faint in comparison, it reflects Christ’s struggle in Gethsemane. They base this on the letter to the Hebrews where the writer states, “because he himself [Christ] has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18; see also Hebrews 5:7). It is because of Christ’s suffering in temptation that he understands and can help us (Hebrews 4:15).
Although this is true, in verse 17, it seems Paul is referring to the suffering Christ experienced on the cross when he took upon himself the sins of the world. Christ’s suffering on the cross concerned the redemption of sinners to gather together a people for his kingdom. In this sense, it relates to the Christian mission. It is because of Christ’s completed work that he instructs his disciples:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Paul’s missionary work always resulted in suffering for Christ (Acts 13:50; 14:19; 2 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Timothy 3:10-11). Missions, therefore, is the Christian extension of Christ’s work on the cross. To be in mission for Christ also means our willingness to sacrifice all for him. When we are in union with him, we are in union with his work to redeem a people for himself. Paul understands that the suffering he experienced as a result of his missionary work is because of his union with Christ, both Christ’s death and Christ’s life. So, union with Christ includes both the life and death of Christ. For Paul, this was experienced daily. As Paul himself will later say in this letter, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (12:1). Many believers have suffered and even faced death for their faith throughout church history. This is still the case in many parts of the world.
However, as well, we will see in the following passage (vv. 18-25) “suffering at this present time” (v. 18) does not only include the direct trials of persecution because of confessing Christ. It also consists of all types of human suffering and how a believer responds to such trials. There are in the world around us many non-Christian responses to suffering. One of the most common is anger against God, blaming him for allowing specific suffering. But Jesus never promised an easy life here on earth, only future glory.
Although this letter contains much doctrine, Paul is also a pastor. And so, his concern is not only to teach but to encourage and comfort the church in Rome in their suffering.
The outcome or result (“in order that”) of suffering with Christ is we will also be “glorified with him.” Paul has already spoken about the beginning of salvation when we first receive Christ’s righteousness and the Holy Spirit. He has also taught in the present earthly life of a Christian how we are to “put to death” sin and be “led by the Spirit.” He has told us that this includes “life … through the Spirit who dwells in you.” And he has also told us life in Christ means to “suffer with him.” But now, Paul tells us what will happen to the believer at the end of our physical life–we will be “glorified with him.” This is the ultimate goal of our salvation. So everything we have, everything we are, and everything we will have is “in Christ.”
When Paul uses the word “glorified,” what does he mean? Lloyd-Jones, commenting on this word, writes, “Glorification means full and entire deliverance from sin and evil in all their effects and in every respect – body, soul, and spirit. The whole man will be completely and entirely delivered from every harmful effect of sin; every tarnishing, polluting effect of sin. Not only so, but we shall also become like the Lord Jesus Christ”. This is the doctrine of glorification. It is the positive side of our salvation. On that great day, we will be transformed, not just like Adam was before he sinned but even better:
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
John the apostle also says this in his first letter:
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2)
So, we shall be transformed into his image. And so, when we are glorified, it will be impossible for us to sin, not because of who we are, but because of who he is. The fall will not be repeated, for all evil will be destroyed (Revelation 20:10, 13-14). What Christ offers in his salvation is not just escape from hell (as wonderful as that is) but also glorification; that is, to be completely and entirely restored in our union with Christ Jesus. As Paul said elsewhere:
[Christ] will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:21)
This is the glorious future of all who are adopted sons of God.
Special Topic: God as Father
The most astonishing teaching about God in this letter is not God being the Creator or Ruler of the universe, but being our Father.,, Paul opened this letter to the Romans by calling God the Father, our Father (1:7). We are able to call and relate to God as our Father because he has adopted us as his children (8:15; Galatians 4:6-7). However, before God was our Father, he was the Father of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (15:6). God did not become Father at the birth of Jesus. It is helpful to think about what God was doing before creating the world and universe to understand this better. At first, we might say, we have no idea. However, Jesus tells us precisely in John 17:24: ”Father,” Jesus says, “you loved me before the foundation of the world.” Before God created the world and everything in it God was loving and delighting in his Son and the Son loves the Father (John 14:31).
Throughout Scripture, God and Father are used interchangeably. In Exodus, Israel is called “my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22; see also Isaiah 1:2; Jeremiah 31:9; Hosea 11:1). God carries Israel “as a father carries his son” (Deuteronomy 1:31 niv). David says in the Psalms, “As a father shows compassion on his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). There are many more such examples in the Old Testament. The same is true in the New Testament. Jesus often refers to God as “Father.” He tells his disciples to pray, “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9). Both Paul and Peter refer to God as Father. And the writer of the letter to the Hebrews states, “God is treating you as sons. For what Son is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7). So common is the reference to Father that when the word “God” is used by itself in the New Testament, we can often substitute the word “Father.”
God uniquely loves his only Son. We are given the privilege to know this by the baptism of Jesus. “As soon a Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment, heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘this is my Son, whom I love; with him, I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17 niv). And so, he pours forth his love through his Spirit (Romans 5:5; Titus 3:4-7; Acts 2:17-18), not only to his Son but also to us. In Romans 5:5, Paul tells us that God (the Father) pours his love into our hearts “by the Holy Spirit.” What a privilege we have, in union with Jesus, to share the Father’s love with his Son through the Holy Spirit (5:5; 15:30). It is this profound understanding that God is first and foremost a kind and loving Father to whom we respond not just in obedience or even gratitude but in deepest love. To know God as Father is to love him, for a Father gives life to his Son and us, his adopted children. That is who he is, his most profound identity. Love is not just another attribute of God or something he has. As John states again, “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16).
In the passage 8:1-17, Paul described how Christ Jesus freed us from the law of sin and death. Because of our freedom from the law, we are no longer under condemnation when we come before God’s throne (vv. 1-2). Paul has also stated through the Holy Spirit, we have life and peace (vv. 6, 11). He reminds us all believers receive the Spirit of Christ (v. 9). And those who have the Spirit are also led by the Spirit (v. 14). We eagerly await our adoption as sons of God (v. 23). These are all glorious promises and blessings for those who suffer with Christ. And here lies the tension: as Paul indicated in chapter 7, although we have ‘already’ all these things as current blessings, we still live in the ‘not-yet’ era. During this not-yet time, we live in the hope of these promises, a hope guaranteed by the Spirit (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14). As Jesus told his disciples just before he returned to his Father:
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. (John 14:26-27)
It is through the “Helper” that we have hope in our future glory with Christ, while now, in this present time, we “groan inwardly” (v. 23). Although we have already been adopted (v. 15), we “wait eagerly” (v. 23) for the consummation of our adoption. The phrase “wait eagerly” perfectly defines a believer's hope. Any promise given by one person to another implies a hope that the promise will be kept. The certainty of the hope is based on the ability and integrity of the person making the promise. Christian hope is a guaranteed, assured certainty because our sovereign God gives it. God has not only given us a contract but a surety the promise would be kept. This surety is the Holy Spirit (v. 9).
[God] who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:22)
He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 5:5)
In him, you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
Our hope, guaranteed by the Spirit, is a joyful, eager – can hardly wait – expectation of the fulfilment of his promises. And it is through reading, studying, meditating, and most importantly, praying the Scriptures that the Spirit increases our hope in Christ (15:4). The passage may be outlined as follows:
Main hope: Our present suffering is nothing compared to our future glory. (v. 18)
Reason 1: Creation’s hope for freedom from bondage to corruption (vv. 19-21)
Reason 2: Believer’s hope for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (vv. 22-25)
Reason 3: The Holy Spirit helps us in this hope of future glory (vv. 26-27)
Reason 4: Hope for glory is based on the sovereignty of God (vv. 28-30)
Paul, following from verse 17 (“for”), compares the suffering he experienced in the “present time,” to the future time when “the glory” is “revealed.” This current paragraph (vv. 18-25) explains what Paul meant by the relationship between suffering and glory mentioned in verse 17b. Paul sees Christ's return in all its immense, eternal glory. And his own glorification in Christ’s glory. Paul suffered for Christ more than most and eventually was martyred for his faith. Still, he viewed all earthly suffering as light compared to what he saw as his guaranteed glorious future. In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul writes how he has been imprisoned, beaten, received lashes, stoned and more (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). But he also says, in the same letter:
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the unseen things are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Despite the terrible suffering in this world, Paul (and other New Testament writers such as Peter, John, James, and the writer to the Hebrews) wants us to keep our ‘eye on the prize.’ So, these “sufferings” do not only relate to sufferings with Christ as a result of persecution. There is also a sense in which they include all human suffering, such as sickness, loss of a loved one, financial ruin, or facing death. Since Jesus came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (v. 3), he experienced many sufferings common to human experience. All such suffering results from sin entering the world because of Adam. Even though believers suffer similarly as unbelievers, the response to suffering differentiates Christians. This difference should be visible to everyone. This is a significant theme of this passage. Because Christians have the hope of glory, which far exceeds any suffering, they do not grieve their loss as those without hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13; Ephesians 2:12; 1:18).
Although our present time is full of pain and sorrow, all suffering will be left behind (Revelation 21:4) when Christ’s glory is revealed (Philippians 2:9-11). Then, we in union with him will also “be glorified with him” (v. 17). This glory is not just something we will see but something “revealed in us” (niv),. We will not just be watching from the outside, but the glory is something in us; we will be glorified (v. 30). This will be when all disease and death disappear, along with all personality disorders and mental illness, making life very difficult for people today. God will turn our sinful, broken, damaged lives and bodies and make them as glorious as Jesus' risen body (Philippians 3:21). Sadly, it is often the case, as Christians, we do not meditate on our future glory with Christ. For Paul, it gave him the strength to endure great hardship. And, it is vital for us as well, as C.S. Lewis once said, to keep one foot on earth and one foot in heaven; that is, to continually remind ourselves that our eternal home is with Christ. This is what the apostle John meant when he wrote:
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
However, the question remains: what does Paul exactly mean by “glory”? Although it includes, as already mentioned, a glorified body like Christ’s glorified body, there is more to being glorified. We notice from verses 17, 18, and 30 that we are glorified with him, this glory will be revealed in us, and it is God who glorifies us. We see from this, our glorification is based on the glory of Christ. Because we will be in perfect union with Christ, Christ’s glory becomes our glory. Christ’s glory is his holiness made visible. In short, it is his beauty. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). When God the Father looks upon us, he will see the beauty of his Son. This is why today, we can “rejoice in our hope of the glory of God” (5:2). When God glorifies his children, he gives us the privilege of not only beholding his infinite beauty but partaking in it. “When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:4). To fully partake in Christ’s holiness is the believer’s greatest privilege.
Paul now reminds believers, specifically, what we hope for; what is to be “revealed”: it is a new creation (earth) and a new physical life on the new earth.
Paul first mentions the hope of a new creation. As he did with sin, Paul personifies creation, saying, it “waits with eager longing for the revealing for the sons of God.” The phrase “eager longing,” means to look while standing on your tiptoes, or to strain the neck to see better. Surprisingly, creation itself has this same longing as Christians have (v. 23), which is the consummation of “adoption as sons” (v. 23).
What is the meaning of “creation”? Throughout church history, interpreters have referred to it as believers, or non-believers or even angels. But none of these fit the context. I agree with most interpreters that here “creation” refers to God’s physical creation excluding humans, that is, the universe and specifically our earth (Isaiah 24:4; Jeremiah 4:28; 12:4). But why does creation eagerly await the revelation of believers? Paul tells us in verses 20 to 22.
vv. 20-21 The groaning and hope of creation
Creation eagerly awaits its consummation of adoption because it has been “subjected to futility” by God. This is likely a reference to God’s curse on the earth because of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:17-19). “Futility” is the result of the curse; that is, it is not able to fulfil its original God-created purpose (Isaiah 11:6-9; 25:6-8; 35:1-10; 49:8-13). Creation itself was not at fault, so Paul adds “not willingly” to clarify this. Now, in this present time, creation’s “hope” is that it will be “set free” from this “subjection,” resulting in “its bondage to corruption.” This last phrase describes the meaning of “futility”: decay and death, which is part of our world. It also includes earthquakes, hurricanes, famines and other natural disasters. This is creation’s current reality, but its hope is to be “set free” and again “obtain freedom.” This hope will only be experienced when God’s children are glorified. So, creation’s hope depends on the fulfilment of Christians’ hope. It is worth noting that the reference to “freedom” strongly suggests that this earth will be transformed into a new heavens and earth (Revelation 21:1-7).
The reference “groan together in the pains of childbirth” most likely refers to the time of distress–often referred to as the ‘messianic woes’–Jesus predicted would come before the day of the Lord (Mark 13:8-14; John 16:20b-22; 1 John 2:18). The word “together” means creation is groaning together with believers. Although distress will increase as the day of the Lord approaches, such distress has always been present throughout human history (Mark 13:7-8).
v. 23 The groaning and hope of believers
What are “the firstfruits of the Spirit” believers have and why do they “groan inwardly”? Both phrases point to Paul’s already but not-yet understanding of the present time. The “firstfruits” is the guarantee of the Spirit. In this sense, it refers to the Holy Spirit himself as the guarantee (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14); that is, the “firstfruits” which is “the Spirit.” It is also likely, Paul had in mind the “feast of the firstfruits” which took place during the week of the Pentecost (Exodus 23:16; Numbers 28:26). The feast of firstfruits marked the beginning of the harvest and was a thanksgiving festival for the promise of the actual harvest to come. As such, it was very much a celebration of hope for the coming harvest and an acknowledgment that the whole harvest depended on God. In the New Testament, it marked the coming of the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).
This guarantee has already been given to us and is the basis of our waiting eagerly for our “adoption as sons.” Still, it is because we have the indwelling Spirit, we have the surety of this hope, and it is because we hope that we “groan inwardly.” The “groan” is not of abject despair but the pain of childbirth anticipating new life.
Paul is now using adoption in the future when he just used it in the present (v. 15). This fits Paul’s understanding of the present time. Those who are “in Christ” are already adopted, but they also “wait eagerly” and patiently for the consummation of their adoption. It is also very important to see that the consummation of our adoption is directly connected to our bodily resurrection. Although our bodies now share in creation’s “futility,” our bodies will be transformed to be like Jesus’ resurrected body (Philippians 3:21). For this is what the phrase “the redemption of our bodies” means (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 53-54). This all points forward to that great day of the Lord. But the fact remains, believers also suffer with the rest of creation. The Spirit does not always rescue believers in this present age from the consequences of a sinful world. This includes the evil actions of humans and sin’s effect on creation (2 Corinthians 5:2-4; Mark 13:5-8). But the believer's response is one of hope in the Spirit to “be on guard“ and to “keep awake” (Mark 13:133).
vv. 24-25 The patience of hope in believers
Our salvation (“were saved”) has brought us this hope for our future. Paul provides in these verses the Christian definition of “hope.” Clearly, it is what we are experiencing now in the present time. We do not now “see” the final consummation of all things, but we hope for it. Again, Paul emphasizes the not-yet aspect of this present age. Hope is built on our faith in the trustworthiness of God. We believe in God’s lovingkindness (steadfast love), his mercy and compassion, and his sovereignty; that is, his absolute ability to accomplish all he says. Therefore, because of our faith in God, we have hope in his promises. With faith, there is hope, a faith that pleases God, and without faith there is no hope (Hebrews 11:6).
This hope is characterized by eagerness, confidence, and “patience.“ It is a joyful waiting that must be endured with patience. Patient endurance, in the face of all suffering, results from Christian hope. And the emphasis is on patience and not just endurance. Patience means that we are satisfied and at peace and that God is entirely in control of whatever situation we find ourselves in. We know in our hearts that God will work everything out for his glory (v. 28), our greatest desire. For believers, this is only possible through our union with Christ. Peter sums up this teaching perfectly (1 Peter 1:3-9).
We should not forget that Paul began this section with the suffering of faithful believers. It would be foolish for Christians to think, this glory that will be revealed in them is now, that is, everything will be perfect in their lives. Some preachers preach such a gospel of prosperity. But Paul does not. He preaches a gospel which includes suffering in this world and that God is preparing his children to glory through and by means of this suffering. But there is no comparison between the suffering of this world and the glory of the world to come. Paul wants the Roman Christians to know that the amazing future awaiting them greatly exceeds any present trouble. Because of this knowledge, they can wait eagerly and patiently for its fulfillment. In this passage, he specifically mentioned their hope for their future adoption. It is, therefore, a passage of encouragement and assurance. Now, (vv. 26-30), he mentions the other aspects of their assurance in hope: the prayer of the Spirit and God’s sovereignty.
Paul begins verse twenty-six with “likewise, " connecting it with the preceding verses. The connection is that the hope of believers in this present age is helped by the interceding prayer of the Holy Spirit. The word “helps” does not mean simply encouraging us in our prayer but the Holy Spirit (“intercedes”) himself prays for us. We need help because, so often, we experience “weakness” in our prayer-life. Still, the question remains: what specific weakness is Paul referring to, and how does the Spirit intercede? Paul refers to “what” specifically we are to pray about; that is, the content of our prayers. We have trouble knowing what is appropriate to pray for, “as we ought”. In this present age, while we wait eagerly and patiently for God’s glory and our glory in him to be revealed, we need the help of the Spirit in praying “according to the will of God” (v. 27). Therefore, weakness in prayer results from an unclear understanding of the will of God for a particular situation. We lack wisdom in our prayers. We are fallen human beings and cannot comprehend God’s ultimate will. All Christian prayer, therefore, is qualified, as Jesus’ own prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, with “not as I will but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). This is why we close our prayers with “in the name of Jesus.” This does not mean we do not strive to understand God's will for our lives, but we also must recognize our weakness in doing so.
Because of this weakness, the Spirit “intercedes” (both v. 26 and v. 27). Although we do not always know God’s will, the Spirit does (v. 27a) and so prays on our behalf. Surprisingly, Paul tells us, the Spirit does this “with groaning too deep for words.” Interpreters have wondered what is meant by this phrase. Some believe this “groaning” refers to the believer praying in tongues. They base this understanding on Paul’s other teaching about praying in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:2, 14-15; Ephesians 6:18). As well, in this context, creation groans (v. 22) and believers groan (v. 23). Also, Paul has just described this inter-mingling of our spirit with the Holy Spirit (vv. 15-16). Although this is possible, others have pointed out that these verses apply to all believers, while speaking in tongues seems to be a gift given to only some Christians (1 Corinthians 12:30). If the Spirit’s groaning does not mean speaking in tongues, to what might it refer? I believe the groaning is the believer’s groaning in his deep longing to do God’s will, although at times is confused, perplexed and even discouraged (2 Corinthians 4:8). But God assures the believer that their prayer is never wrong. God takes our prayers and shapes them into his will when we cry out for God in a difficult situation to heal an illness or remove a financial or physical threat. We know God always hears his child's cries.
God the Father “searches hearts” – that is, our hearts – and who knows “the mind of the Spirit.” The role of the Spirit in prayer is the same as the role of Christ as our great High Priest.
Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)
The Spirit of Christ, like Jesus, is interceding for us according to God’s will. He takes our prayers as our great High Priest and sanctifies them, making them holy and pure and then presents them to the Father. And since we know God’s purpose and will for us will be accomplished, we know these “intercessions” on our behalf, will always be accomplished (see v. 28). Lois Berkhof, one of the leading theologians of the 20th century, commenting on Hebrews 7:25:
It is a consoling thought that Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent in our prayer life; that He is presenting to the Father those spiritual needs which were not present to our minds and which we often neglect to include in our prayers; and that He prays for our protection against the dangers of which we are are not even conscious, and against the enemies which threaten us, though we do not notice it. He is praying that our faith may not cease, and that we may come out victoriously in the end.
What a glorious truth to know that right now – in our weakness in prayer – the Spirit of Christ is speaking to the Father on our behalf; to contemplate such a wonderful fact, we can only respond in deepest humble gratitude.
The goal of the prayer of the Spirit of Christ for us is to grow in the image of the Son of God. And we can be confident the Spirit’s prayers will be answered. This is our hope for future glory when we will be like him.
Paul begins by saying, “we know.” This knowledge is not a faint wish or a guess. We know it with absolute certainty, like Paul, because the Spirit gives us understanding. It is spiritual knowledge given only to “those who love God.” These two things are equal; to be “in Christ” means to love as Christ loves. This is not a condition but a simple statement of fact.
We know God causes “all things [to] work together for good.” The reference to “all things” implies there is nothing outside God’s control and will. However, the emphasis of the phrase must also be the suffering and troubles Paul referred to in verses 17 and 18. This means that even tribulations are worked out in God’s will for the “good.” This is sometimes difficult for us to comprehend. But when we reflect on the cross and the good resulting from it, we can understand it for our own lives. The implication is that suffering will occur, but the suffering of his children will be turned into something beautiful. Suffering itself is not good, but God turns it into good. This may well be the greatest miracle of all. The term “good” refers to what God has done. And so, it is a perfect good based entirely on his sovereign will.
Paul ends the verse by giving additional detail concerning the believer who loves God. In fact, he provides the foundation of the cause of this love of God. He states, they are also “called according to his purpose.” The cause is God himself. And the purpose of God is to call people to love him. God’s calling and purpose are the reason believers will be “conformed to the image of his Son” (v. 29). The calling is not just an invitation to be accepted or rejected. Rather, it is a summons which must be obeyed. The following two verses make this understanding of calling and purpose even more evident (vv. 29-30).
Once again, these verses begin with “for” which means they contain the reason “all things work together for good” in verse 28. God’s work will occur because he is sovereign and is able to do what he wills. Paul now underlines this thought. He makes sure his readers understand God can and will accomplish all of his purposes. Paul does this by creating a “golden chain” defining specifically what “good” meant in the previous verse.
In the first link in the chain, God (and God is the subject of all the verbs in these two verses) “predestined” those who he “foreknew.” There are two ways this phrase can be understood. Each result in a substantially different understanding of salvation. One way is to state that God only predestines those he already knows will choose him out of their own free will. God knew before creation who would and who would not freely choose him. So, God does not foreordain the choice but, in a sense, observes the choice. Based on this knowledge, God predestines those who choose him. In this understanding, the Holy Spirit convicts each person and makes a choice possible by overcoming their depravity. This is an attractive interpretation since it removes the difficulty of what appears to be God’s arbitrary choice rather than man’s choice.
However, when God is the subject of “foreknew,” it refers to his covenantal love and personal knowledge of Israel and his prophets (Exodus 33:17; Jeremiah 1:5). Similarly, Paul also uses the term when referring to Israel in 11:2 “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” (see also 1 Peter 1:2, 20; Acts 2:23; Ephesians 1:4). God does not simply know about us (i.e., what we will do), but he knows and loves his children personally. “Foreknew” describes God’s special knowledge of a person (Genesis 18:19; Jeremiah 1:5; Amos 3:2) rather than prior knowledge of how a person will respond to God’s call in the future. As well, only some individuals have been “foreknown.” The term “foreknew,” therefore, refers to God's preordained plan and “predestined” outcome of that plan. In both terms the prefix “fore” and “pre” refers to what took place before the world was created.
Amazingly, every Christian is known and loved by God before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4-10). This understanding of predestination should give hope and comfort to believers. All who come to Christ will be accepted, and all who are accepted are eternally secure. Of course, this also raises the difficult question of why God would call some but not others. We can be assured that God is perfectly just, loving, and sovereign in all his ways. And so, we can with confidence, leave this all in his hands. As Paul says later, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (11:33). Keep in mind, Paul’s main point is not to argue about predestination, but to strengthen the hope of believers who are struggling in their earthly life by encouraging and comforting them.
The purpose of God’s foreknowledge and accomplishment in his children is so we “will be conformed to the image of his Son.” This is the primary meaning of the word “good” of the previous verse. It is not earthly wealth or comfort in this present age, but conformity to Jesus Christ. God uses all things, including suffering, to bring about this transformation. There is no higher purpose than this. As such, it should be the goal of every believer. This transformation which begins in this present age (2 Corinthians 3:18; Colossians 3:10), will finally be accomplished on the great day of our resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:49; Philippians 3:21). The purpose (“in order that”) of this final transformation is for God’s Son to be “the firstborn among many brothers.” In the Old Testament, Israel was God’s firstborn (Exodus 4:22), but now Jesus Christ is God’s firstborn (Colossians 1:15, 18). And, we who “love God,” who are “called according to his purpose,” are Christ’s “brothers.”
Paul now continues the “golden chain” by stating, God “called” those whom “he predestined.” Based on our understanding, “predestined” implies the outcome of God’s “foreknowledge,” God’s call is the means by which he creates a people for himself. God calls his people through the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Spirit (10:14). The call is effective, for all who are “called” by God are also “justified”; that is, we are given the righteousness of God. Paul completes the chain in stating those who are justified will also be “glorified.”; that is, we become like him. This is the ultimate goal of salvation (John 6:37-40; 10:27-29). This sequence from foreknowledge to glorification is the golden chain of the order of salvation.
Paul begins and ends this passage with the hope of glory (v. 18 and v. 30; see also v. 21). It is a hope based ultimately on God, whose promises are secure. Christian hope in this already but not-yet age includes enduring suffering (v. 18), waiting eagerly (v. 23), expecting things not yet seen (v. 24), persevering (v. 25), being led by the Spirit who intercedes (v. 27), and relying on God’s faithfulness (vv. 28-30).
We can outline this passage as follows: Paul begins with a rhetorical question (v. 31a) which he answers emphatically in verses 37 to 39. Between the question and the answer, Paul states five truths about God by using questions containing the answer within them. The first of these questions begins, “if God is for us” (v. 31a). This is not so much a question but a statement of fact. It is Paul’s main topic for this passage. The result of God being for us is, we are “more than conquerors” (v. 37). The rest of the passage explains what it means for God to be for us.
v. 31a Reflection on all of 5:1 to 8:30
v. 31b Main truth: God is for us
v. 32 Basis for main truth: The justice and love of God
vv. 33-34 Justice: Christ died for us and now intercedes for us
vv. 35-36 Love: God’s love ensures that no earthly suffering will separate us
v. 37 Result of main truth:
We are more than conquerors
vv. 37-38 Conviction of main truth:
Union in Christ ensures our victory
Although the primary emphasis is on God’s love, his love and justice are evident in this passage. We mustn't view these as two independent attributes of God. There is no love without justice or justice without love.
v. 31 God is for us
Paul begins this passage with the same question he used three times earlier (6:1, 15; 7:7). Given all he has already said from 5:1 to 8:30, what more is there to say? So, he asks the question: “What then shall we say to these things?” Surprisingly, he answers the question by asking more questions. However, each question describes who God is and what he has done in his love for us. In fact, the summary answer to this first question is given in the next question, “if God is for us.” This phrase summarizes what “these things” means. That God is for us is the foundation of our hope. Like 5:1-11, these verses express confidence in the believer's hope. Despite suffering, a believer does not lose heart because of the indwelling Spirit who testifies, leads, and prays for the believer.
When Paul asks, “who can be against us,” he does not mean believers do not have any enemies. Clearly, they do, and Paul had many himself. What he means by this statement is no enemy will be victorious in their opposition. This is an amazing statement of confidence. Many times, believers have wondered if their ministry and lives would be successful. They may even doubt. However, Paul is unequivocal. No one can stand against them. This does not mean success is judged by human standards but by God’s standards. The cross would have appeared as an absolute failure from a human perspective, but instead, it was just the opposite. The basis for Paul’s confidence is that “God is for us.” He now explains how God is for us.
v. 32 Proof that God is for us: God’s justice and God’s love
How do we know for certain God is for us? Because God “did not spare his own Son” but “gave him up” to be condemned to death for our sins. The triune God’s sacrifice for us proves his justice and his love. This sacrifice is so great that it is beyond our imagination and complete understanding. Paul could have had the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac in mind. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son, and Isaac was willing to be sacrificed. Following this story, many Bible students have also noted the relationship of these phrases (“did not spare” and “gave him up”) to Isaiah 53:6-11, where Scripture makes it clear it was the will of the Father to “crush him” and to make “his soul an offering for guilt” (Isaiah 53:10). The cross demonstrates both the love and the justice of the Father. Earlier, Paul described the need for the cross to satisfy God’s justice. For God to pass over sin and not condemn sin would have made him unrighteous. Instead,
God put forward [his Son] as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness because he had passed over former sins in his divine forbearance. It was to show his righteousness at the present time so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (3:25-26)
Amazingly, God sacrificed his own Son while we were still rebelling against him. This demonstrated the justice of God and the love of God. As Paul said:
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (5:8)
So, if God the Father willed this, we know he is for us and he “will give us all things.” This is an argument from the greater to the lessor. It follows from the unimaginable great sacrifice of the cross that he will also give everything needed for his children. The phrase “all things,” does not just mean our rewards in heaven, but everything required to live a life pleasing to God in the present time. The greatest of these earthly gifts is the Holy Spirit. Indeed, as Jesus said to his disciples at the end of his ministry on earth:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:16-18)
Christ has not left us orphans but has given us the indwelling Spirit of adoption (v. 15). This union with Christ is our guarantee of a future with him. For elsewhere, Paul says:
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)
In the remaining portion of the passage, Paul gives two explanations for this truth. “God is for us” because we have received the righteousness of his Son, demonstrating God’s justice (vv. 33-34). However, there is more. “God is for us” because he loves us. Moreover, because he loves us, nothing can cause him not to love us (vv. 35-39). Again, we must not separate these two attributes of God as two opposing ideas. The cross is both the justice and love of God. This is why the cross is the glory of God.
Paul states, through a question, on the day of judgment no one can accuse a believer and make the charge stick. Paul uses the term “elect” to refer to all who have been called, justified and glorified (v. 30). The emphasis is on justification which is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness on those he calls. This is what the statement “God who justifies” means. There is no condemnation of the elect, and they can face the day of judgment with confidence even though they are sinners.
Verse 34 restates in greater detail what Paul said in the previous verse. Because the elect have received the righteousness of Christ, no one can “condemn” them on the day of judgment. Although Christians sin during this present age, no sins will condemn them. Although many may come forward to condemn, no accusation or charge will be accepted. So, believers may now look forward to the day of judgment with confidence, knowing they would be found innocent of all charges in Christ Jesus.
The reason believers can have this confidence is given in the second half of verse 34, “Christ Jesus is the one who died” for the guilt and punishment for our sins. This is a summary of what Paul has already stated in 3:21-26. God has put forward his Son as a “propitiation by his blood” for our sin. All our sins must be condemned and punished. God would not have been a just God if he had simply ignored our sin. However, God is just, and his “wrath” (1:18) against sin has been satisfied by the saving death of his Son. He did not just die but “was raised” to life, indicating the punishment for our sins is complete (4:25).
And even more, he ascended into heaven and now sits “at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 1:3). Paul uses the imagery of the authority of God’s right hand, where Christ now sits, as the guarantee that no power in all the world can separate us from the love of God. But there is still more; Christ now, as our great High Priest, is “interceding for us.” This intercession includes but is not limited to his atoning death (See notes on v. 26).
I am so glad that our Father in Heav’n
Tells of His love in the Book He has giv’n;
Wonderful things in the Bible I see,
This is the dearest, that Jesus loves me.
(Philip P. Bliss, 1870)
Paul now switches from speaking about the judicial aspects of God being for us to the relational. He states, as a question, nothing can "separate us from the love of Christ?" The question implies that some things might separate us from Christ's love for us. Paul lists seven things these might be: "tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword." He even quotes the Psalms (v. 36) to underscore the troubles Christians have in their lives. But then, in verse 37, he concludes, "No," none of these will separate us from God's love.
He then gives the reason he can be so sure of this: God's love is based on God's covenant faithfulness to us and not on our loveliness. It is based on "him who loved us" and not the other way around. Here, Paul refers to Jesus simply as the one “who loved us.” And so, we love him only because he first loved us (1 John 4:10, 19). Because of God's everlasting guaranteed perfect love, we can be "more than conquerors" of all these afflictions which could easily undo our love for him. So, instead of causing believers to despair, these afflictions are how our faith grows in maturity (5:3-5). We would surely fail if we relied on our own will, strength, and effort to overcome such afflictions. But it is God, whose love never fails, carrying us through to the day of the Lord (Philippians 1:6).
Many interpreters have seen, in these troubles, a reference to the messianic woes. However, they should not be restricted to these alone. Paul’s emphasis is that many things would cause us to lose hope, but we can overcome any distress or despair they bring because of God's unfailing love.
Although the list of seven troubles in verse 35 is comprehensive, some Christians might worry that other things might cause God not to love them. So, Paul lists another ten things ending with “nor anything else in all creation.” These two lists leave nothing out. The intent, again, is to assure the believer, although they may suffer greatly, or are under attack by spiritual powers, or “anything else” including the sins of the believer himself, can separate him from God’s love. With confidence, we can be assured that once God has called us as his child, nothing can be done to cause God to stop loving us. Most clearly, Paul is teaching the eternal security of believers (5:1; 8:30; 11:28; John 1:12-13; Jude 24; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Once God has adopted you, he will never disown you.
The final phrase in this passage ends in a similar way it began. This love is the “love of Christ” (v. 35) and the “love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39).: Only in our union with Christ will we experience this love. Astonishingly, the Father loves us as he loves his Son. Jesus himself tells us this twice in his high priestly prayer (John 17:23, 26).
Karl Barth, an important theologian of the twentieth century. He had written millions of words over his lifetime describing the doctrine of God. Once, when he was in the USA in 1962, he was asked how he would summarize a life’s worth of thought and writing. He simply replied, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Not much more can be added to that simple children’s song. As someone else said: the gospel is shallow enough for the smallest child to wade in, but deep enough for the most skilled theologian. Paul has been encouraging his Roman friends by expressing the goodness of God in his love for them, so they could be “more than conquerors.” The poem by William Rees (1802-1883) captures this well.
Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Lovingkindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life, our ransom,
Shed for us His precious blood.
Who His love will not remember?
Who can cease to sing His praise?
He can never be forgotten,
Throughout Heaven’s eternal days.
On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And Heaven's peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.
Special Topic: Union with Christ
Scriptures teaching on our union with Christ affects every aspect of our relationship with God. It is so broad and deep; it is concerned with eternity past, before creation, to eternity future after Christ’s return. It includes every aspect of our present relationship with God on this earth. Union with Christ refers to all the benefits of our salvation in Christ.
There are two ways Scripture speaks of our union with Christ. Sometimes, it states, we are in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 2 Corinthians 12:2; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 1:4, 2:10; Philippians 3:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; John 15:4, 5, 7 1 John 4:13). For example, in Philippians 3:8b-9a, Paul writes, “For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” At other times, Scripture speaks of our union as Christ in us (Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:27; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Ephesians 3:17). In this letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “Christ is in you” (8:10). He states a Christian is one in which “his Spirit dwells in you” (8:11). In John’s gospel and letters these two concepts are combined. In John 15:4, Jesus himself states, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” And John writes in his first letter, “We know that we live in him and he in us because he has given us of his Spirit” (1 John 4:13). So, union with Christ means both that we are in him and he in us.
The blessing of our union with Christ is so important, Scripture has given us several different pictures for our understanding. These are:
1. Clothed with Christ: We are clothed with Christ at our conversion, “So in Christ Jesus, you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26–27 niv). And, now during our present life, we are to be clothed with Christ, “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” (13:14). And again, in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12 niv). And although we are already clothed, there is a future sense of when we will be fully clothed. “For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4 niv).
2. Vine and branches: In John’s gospel, Jesus uses the picture of a vine and branches. “ “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5 niv).
3. Marriage: Paul, in this letter, uses a metaphor of marriage to describe our union with Christ. In this picture, we have died to sin, so we can now be united with Christ. “So, my brother and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (7:4 niv).
4. Love: One of the most astonishing and beautiful verses in Scripture comes from Jesus’ prayer for us. Jesus prays that the perfect love the Father and Son share, might also be in us. “I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:26 niv).
Our union with Christ began in eternity past, before creation. In Ephesians, Paul writes, "he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:3-4). This means God the Father decided, in eternity past, there would be a people of God who belonged to his Son. To achieve this, Christ came to redeem a people for himself (Matthew 1:21). Then, again, in John’s gospel, Jesus states, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). The Father, in his infinite loving-kindness, determined, his only Son would redeem a people (“sheep”) for himself (John 3:16). So, from the beginning of time to the end of time, we are only saved in Christ.
1. We are first united with Christ in new birth (Ephesians 2:4-5, 10).
2. We live out our union with Christ through faith (Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:16-17).
3. We are justified in our union with Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Philippians 3:8-9).
4. We are sanctified through union with Christ (John 15:4-5; Ephesians 4:15; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
5. We persevere in faith in our union with Christ (John 10:27-28; Romans 8:38-39).
6. We died in our union with Christ (6:3-5; 7:4; 14:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 14:13).
7. We are raised to life in our union with Christ (6:5; 7:4; Colossians 3:1).
8. We shall be glorified in our union with Christ (8:30; John 17:22; Colossians 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Anthony Hoekema summarizes our union in
Christ as follows: “union with Christ has its source in our election in Christ
before the creation of the world and its goal in our glorification with Christ
throughout eternity. Union with Christ was planned for eternity, and is
destined to continue eternally. This union, therefore, is what makes our life
as Christians significant, happy, and victorious. We are pilgrims and strangers
on this earth, but
Christ lives in us forever.”
Fifty blessings from Chapter 8
There is much suffering in this world, causing us to be discouraged, resulting in lost joy and confidence. We must fully abide in our union in Christ to battle these discouragements. As we have already seen in Romans, being in Christ results in our justification (forgiveness of sins and being declared righteous in Christ), new life, adoption as a son, help in maturing in Christ (sanctification), and hope in our ultimate glorification in Christ. Romans 8 lists at least 50 blessings we have in our union with Christ. Each one is worth praying over and meditating on.
1. We are no longer under any condemnation - the wrath of God (v. 1).
2. The Holy Spirit has set us free in Christ Jesus from sin and death (v. 2).
3. Christ did for us what we could not do by offering himself for us on the cross (v. 3).
4. We can fulfill the law by our walk according to the Spirit (v. 4).
5. We are now able to set our minds on the things of the Spirit (v. 5).
6. And so rather than death, we have life and peace (v. 6).
7. Also, we are no longer hostile toward God (v. 7).
8. We can please God (v. 8).
9. Because the Spirit dwells in us, we belong to him (v. 9).
10. We have life in the Spirit because of the righteousness of Christ given to us (v. 10).
11. The Father, who raised his Son, will give us physical resurrection life (v. 11).
12. We have no obligation to our old sinful condition but to Christ (v. 12).
13. We are able not to sin by the sanctifying work of the Spirit who gives life (v. 13)
14. We are led (walk v. 4; live v. 5; minds v. 6) by the Spirit into God’s will (v. 14).
15. We are adopted sons of God (v. 14).
16. We no longer live in fear (v. 15).
17. We are adopted sons, even able to call God our Father “Abba!” (v. 15).
18. The Spirit of adoption encourages us as children of God (v. 16).
19. Because we are children, we are heirs of God and share in Christ’s glory (v. 17)!
20. Worldly suffering is bad, but nothing compared to the glory kept for us (v. 18).
21. Creation itself waits for our redemption first, for its curse to be removed (v. 19)
22. When we are glorified, there will be a new creation free of natural disasters (v. 20)
23. The new creation will join God’s children in glory, free of death and decay (v. 21)
24. For that Day, we eagerly wait for our resurrected bodies (vv. 22-23)
25. Patient eager waiting is our hope which is guaranteed by the promises of God (v. 24)
26. Although we often do not know how to pray in God’s will, the Spirit himself prays for us to do his will (vv. 26-27).
27. God makes all things work for his good purpose for us who love him (v. 28).
28. God’s purpose is to restore us into the perfect image of His Son (v. 29).
29. He knew about us before creation and has, in the present time, called us to glorify his name and one day, we will share in his glory (v. 30).
30. The all-powerful sovereign God is for you, so no opposition can be successful (v. 31).
31. God, our Father, gave his only Son to die on our behalf while we were sinners (v. 32).
32. Now that we are adopted sons, he will withhold no good thing (v. 32).
33. No charge against us will work because we have already been justified by the ultimate Judge (v. 33).
34. Jesus died, was raised, and even now intercedes for us (v. 34).
35. We cannot and never will be separated from Christ’s love(v. 35).
36. No earthly troubles will separate us from Christ’s love (v. 35).
37. No earthly hardship will separate us from Christ’s love (v. 35).
38. No earthly persecution will separate us from Christ’s love(v. 35).
39. Even if we are hungry and destitute, we will not be separated from his love (v. 35).
40. Physical danger or threats of violence will not separate us (v. 35).
41. Because Christ has conquered, we conquer in union with him who loves us (v. 37).
42. Physical death or life will not separate us from his love (v. 38).
43. Neither good angels nor evil angels will separate us from his love (v. 38).
44. Things present will not separate us from his love (v. 38).
45. Things to come will not separate us from his love (v. 38).
46. Even the powers of hell will not separate us (v. 38).
47. No power in the sky above will separate us (v. 39).
48. No power in the earth below will separate us (v. 39).
49. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God.
50. Nothing can separate us from God because we are in union with Christ Jesus, our Lord (v. 39).
Ultimately, the greatest gift of the gospel is God Himself (5:11). So, all these benefits are received in Him, in Christ Jesus – in union with Him.
The Romans Road to Salvation
The Romans Road to Salvation is a simple way of explaining the gospel by using Romans as a guide. It first explains why we need salvation (the gospel is good news because it is the answer to bad news), how God provides this salvation, how we can receive it, and what the results are for us. As we study Romans, we will highlight the specific verses used. However, it may be helpful to review this “Road.” There are five waypoints on the Road.
1. We are all sinners: The Road of salvation begins with verse 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We have not only been born into the sin of Adam (5:12), we also have sinned ourselves. No one has not sinned; every Jew has, every Gentile has. If someone asks, “in what way have I sinned?” The answer is given in 1:18-3:18.
2. The punishment for sin is death: The second waypoint teaches about the consequences of our sin. In 6:23, Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death.” The punishment for sin is death, not just physical death but eternal spiritual death.
3. God’s answer to the sin problem: “But now” (3:21), the righteousness of God – both his judicial/ethical and saving righteousness – has been revealed. In 5:8, Paul writes, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus died for us, taking upon himself the punishment of death we deserved. In 3:25, Paul tells us, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith” (niv). Jesus offers this gift of grace if we believe in his Son as 6:23b states, “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
4. How we receive this Salvation: The fourth stop on the Road is given in 10:9, “if we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (See also 10:13). All we need to do is accept this gift of salvation by putting our hope and trust in Jesus, that he paid the penalty for our sins and rescued us from death, giving us eternal life. Deliverance from this death is available to anyone who trusts in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.
5. What are the results of this Salvation: If we trust Jesus and follow him, we have peace with God. Paul tells us in 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And 8:1 teaches, “there is, therefore, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The broken relationship with God has now been restored. And this precious salvation that came at such a high price is guaranteed, for Paul tells us “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height or depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38-39).
Verses 1:16 and 17 are a summary of all five points. There is, of course, more to salvation than these five steps. Paul speaks much in this letter about the Christian life and how we are to live in our union with Christ.
1. [8:1] How does Paul divide the ages? What is the clue for understanding this division? How will Christians be judged on the day of judgment?
1. [8:2] On what ground is there “no condemnation”? Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” in verses 1 and 2. What does this mean to you?
2. [8:2] What is the meaning of the phrase, “the law of the Spirit of life”?
3. [8:3-4] What did God, the Father, do? What did his Son do? What does the phrase “and for sin” mean? What does the phrase “condemned sin in the flesh” mean?
4. [8:4] What is the purpose (“in order that”) of Christ’s atoning sacrifice? How do you understand the phrase “the righteous requirements of the law”?
5. [8:5-8] What does “flesh” mean in these verses? How does Paul explain it is possible to live a Christian life of obedience? What do “walk” (v. 4), “live” (v. 5), and “led” (v. 14) mean?
6. [8:9-10] How does Paul define who a Christian is in verse 9? How are being “in the Spirit” and “in Christ” (union with Christ) the same?
7. [8:11] Who raised Jesus from the dead? Who will raise your body from death? How does this verse describe the Trinity?
8. [8:12] What does Paul mean by the phrase “we are debtors” (v. 12)? How is “put to death the deeds of the body” accomplished?
9. [8:14-17] What is the primary emphasis in these verses describing our relationship to God? What benefits do we receive from this relationship? What does it mean to be “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ”?
10. [8:17b-18] What does Paul mean by sharing in Christ’s suffering? What does Paul mean by “glorified”? What suffering did Paul experience that he considered not worth comparing? (See 2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
11. [8:19-21] In what sense does “creation wait”? And what is the ultimate occasion for which it waits? When will “the sons of God” will be revealed? What will happen then to creation?
12. [8:22-25] What does “the whole creation has been groaning” mean? Does this creation include people?
13. [8:27] Identify the Trinity in verse 27.
14. [8:28-30] What are the “all things” in verse 28? Does this include ‘bad’ things happening as well as good?
15. [8:29] What does “conformed to the image of his Son” mean?
16. [8:29–30] Identify seven things God does for Christians.
17. [8:28-39] How many reasons does Paul give for the Christian to rejoice despite the trials and tribulations of this world?
1. Do you view the activity of the Spirit as central to your Christian life? In what way?
2. What does “set the mind on the Spirit” mean in your life?
3. Do you think of yourself as an adopted son of God? How would you describe your relationship with God?
4. Define Christian hope in your own words.
5. How encouraging is it that the Spirit is praying intercessory prayers for you?
6. How often do you think about your glorification? Do you view your present suffering as light in comparison? How much do you look forward to that day? That is, do you “wait eagerly”?
It is interesting to reflect on who the “you” (singular) is when Paul says, “has set you free.” It may be, he simply means anyone who has put their hope and trust in Christ Jesus. But it is also possible that he is directly addressing the Jewish objector with whom he has had a running discussion throughout the letter. This person has constantly been raising questions Paul has been answering. Paul now addresses this questioner directly, telling him, ‘Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death’ (Fee, 527). This should be a source of great rejoicing for him.
There have been many attempts to minimize the impact of the word “likeness” to imply not identical to sinful flesh. Care must be taken here not to interpret “likeness” to mean Jesus only appeared to be fully human. This was an early church heresy called Docetism. It was unequivocally rejected at the First Council of Nicaea in 325 ad.
Although those who have not been born-again by the Spirit are physical and mentally able to believe in Jesus, they cannot because they are morally unable. It is only when God has regenerated us by making us alive in the Spirit, we are able to put our hope and trust in him. There is a sense, however, in which he can come to faith because no one is forcing him not to, yet he does not want to come. Therefore, he is responsible for his own condemnation.
However, concept of adoption is in the Old Testament. God is the Father of Israel, whom he loves as his child (Isaiah 1:2 ; Hosea 11:1 ). God also tells Pharaoh that, "Israel is my firstborn son" (Exodus 4:22 ).
This is why those who understand “God” only through nature most often end with a wrong understanding of who God is. Nature teaches them, a god exists (1:17-20), but their sinful condition distorts this knowledge as Paul describes in the very next verses (1:21-23). The only way to understand God as Father is through special revelation given by the Spirit.
God as Father is unique, compared with other religions. For example, some people believe, the God Christians and Muslims worship is the same God. However, this cannot possibly be so. Christians worship God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit while Islam states, “He is Allah, the One. Allah the eternal. He begets not, nor was He begotten. And there is none comparable to Him” (Surah 112).
The term “surety” or “earnest” means in human transaction a down payment or pledge in advance to guarantee the whole future payment. In this passage, Paul uses the term “firstfruits” (v. 23) rather than “guarantee”.
Elsewhere Paul also uses this already-but-not-yet understanding for our righteousness in Christ. In 5:1, he states, “since we have been justified by faith” but in Galatians 5:5, he wrote “we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” The consummation of our righteousness is our glorification (8:30) when we will live with Christ in perfect obedience; reflecting his glory as Adam was created to do.
Although the verb “glorified” is in the past tense, this does not imply that glorification occurs during this present age. Rather, it is certain God will finish what he began (Schreiner, Romans, 454). Stating a future event in the past tense is called a divine or prophetic perfect.
Except for “powers,” Paul uses couplets in this list. “Death” means physical death, while “life” means the anxieties, sufferings and cares of life. “Angels” likely means good angels, while “rulers” means earthly authorities and so together, they imply all earthly and spiritual powers. But then “powers” are on its own and may refer to supernatural events that could undermine a believer's faith. “Height” and “depth” likely refer to the universe as in heaven and earth (Moo, Romans, 545).
Paul uses two phrases for the love of God: “love of Christ” and “love of God in Christ Jesus”. These refer to Father’s love in sending his Son and the Son’s love in obedience to the Father; they, therefore, include both the Father’s and the Son’s love for us.