Romans chapter 8
Chapter 7's realistic message that Christians struggle in this world with the sins that so easily beset them is followed by chapter 8's message that Christians do gain victory over sins. That victory is the hallmark of true Christians' lives. Even if, as chapter 7 points out, Christians lose some battles with a particular sin, they always win the war, for that sin cannot determine their eternal destiny and it cannot continue to determine their behavior. The reason that believers are successful in their struggle with sin is that they do not fight the battle themselves, rather God fights for and in them. Their victory is based upon Jesus' personal victory over sin and death in His sacrifice before the law, together with His work in the hearts of His people. That victory is seen at the present time in Christians' ability to walk after the Spirit and will be revealed at the end of time in the renewal of the physical universe, which includes believers' bodies too.
Verse 1, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
We could look at this verse as a conclusion, as if after a look back upon all that has been said in Romans, we can "therefore" make this statement. That is, the fact that they struggle with sins, as described in chapter 7, does not bring them into condemnation. We must always keep in mind is that the gospel is not a salvation plan based upon the works of men. Instead, it depends upon the work of God and nothing else. Men need to trust that Jesus' work is sufficient and complete.
We could also look at this verse as a thesis statement, as if it were looking forward in anticipation of what is going to be said. That is, Romans describes the work of God which resulted in no condemnation for men and the following verses show the value and consequences of that work. According to Romans 8, there are certain patterns of behavior and certain promises that always attend the lives of believers who have escaped God's condemnation.
Perhaps we can combine the ideas of conclusion and thesis statement and come up with the message that although behavior is not part of the mechanism by which God saves men from the His wrath, behavior is still important. Behavior is important in the sense that it is a revelation of whether a particular person has been saved already. It is a witness to himself and to others that God has indeed saved him, and that He will care for him now and in the future in a new universe.
The phrase "in Christ Jesus" is interesting. The Bible clearly teaches both that believers are in God (Psalm 90:1) and that God is in believers (Col. 1:27). But that seems like a contradiction. Which way is it? For one thing, we cannot think of "in" as pointing to a physical location. A believer does not take up residence in a special location in the universe called "Jesus Christ" nor does God rest in a specific spot in a believer's anatomy. In fact, Romans 8:9 mixes the two expressions stating that being not in the flesh means to be "in the Spirit" and at the same time means "the Spirit of God dwell in you."
We can only understand the phrase "in Christ Jesus" from a spiritual point of view, as the Bible explains it. For one thing, the phrase highlights the Sovereignty of God in the program of salvation because He places them in Jesus before the world began (II Tim. 1:9). For another thing, the phrase pictures believers as being sheltered from the condemnation and wrath to come which they deserve. The idea is that Jesus is like a covering which protects believers from the fierce blasts of the wrath of God or the Jesus is like a ship which safely protects believers from rain of the terror of God wrath. The idea is that salvation means God has placed His people where no evil may harm them (Psalm 9:9, 27:5, 32:7). Additionally, the phrase can be thought of the location of the blessings of God. The thought in this case is that when we are "in Christ" we find those blessings. For example, since in Jesus is life (John 14:6, I John 1:4), we find eternal life when we are in Him.
The words "in Christ" are spiritually rich, with a long list of meanings. The phrase means that the Father sees His people in Jesus and recognizes them as His own and so are both objects of His love as well as joint heirs with His Son (Eph. 1:6,7,11). The phrase also means that believers are blessed exclusively in Him, that is, in no other place (John 5:26, I John 5:12). The phrase also means that there is a significant separation between believers and unbelievers, in present behavior and future destiny (I John 2:19, 4:16,17). That is, the population of the world is separated by those who are in Him from those who are not in Him. The phrase also means that believers are dominated by Jesus, that they are His creatures, not independent of Him but belong to Him (II Cor. 5:17). The phrase also means that their salvation is eternally secure, for once a person is in Christ, he can never be out of Him again (Rom. 6:23, Eph. 1:11). Altogether, the phrase is a tremendous testimony to the wonder of God's gospel work and the security of believers in that gospel, an important message for those who are struggling with sin.
The words "who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" do not mean that these are the steps people must take in order to secure release from condemnation. Instead, they are a description of what people are like who have no condemnation. They are an encouraging testimony to believers that they are indeed in Him, as well as a warning to unbelievers that their present sinful life will lead to their destruction.
We ought to add that the words "who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" do not mean that believers always obey the Spirit and never obey the flesh. Rather, the idea is that the heart's desire of every believer is to walk after the Spirit and that, even though they sometimes stumble, the normal pattern of their lives is that they do walk after the Spirit, or in accord with the Spirit's will.
Two extremely important thoughts come out of this and the following verses. One is that a person is either in Christ and therefore not condemned or is not in Christ and therefore still unsaved, subject to the coming wrath of God. That is, there is no middle ground, no such thing as being partially "in." Another companion thought is that those who are in Christ walk after the Spirit, while those who are not in Him walk after the flesh. That is, there is a clear distinction between the behavior of believers and unbelievers. The message of the first part of chapter 8 is that, a person is either in Christ and shows it by how he walks or he is not in Christ and also shows it by how he walks.
Verse 2, "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death."
The word "law," both times that it appears in this verse, refers to the law of God, the Bible. It is called "the law of sin and death" because it declares that the wages of sin is death. It is an instrument that is used to reveal sin and bring death to men. It is called the "law of the Spirit" because it declares how the Spirit offers an escape from the penalty and power of sin and escape from death through faith in Jesus Christ. Together, the two phrases comprise the message of the gospel. The same law that reveals sin and that results in death also promises and gives life (John 12:48, Rom. 3:20, 5:20, 10:17, I Pet.1:23). Incidentally, God could have used the two different references of the law, one being the "law of the Spirit" and the other being the "law of sin and death," to highlight the fact that the Spirit is required to make the gospel promise in the law benefit effective in the lives of God's people but that the Spirit is not a necessary agent to help the neutral law to point out people's sins.
We can think about the words "the law of the Spirit" in a couple of ways. One idea is that there is only one law, the law which the Spirit of God wrote. He was its author (II Sam. 23:2, I Tim. 4:1, Heb. 3:7, 10:15, II Pet. 1:21) and uses it for God's purposes, one of which is salvation of God's people (John 6:63, I Pet. 1:23). Another idea is that the law describes how the Spirit of God applied the blessings of God's work of sacrificial grace to His people through faith. In that sense, it is the same as the phrase "law of faith" in Romans 3:27.
The words "hath set me free" are a translation of the word that refers to salvation, as it is used in different forms in John 8:32 ("shall make free") and 36 ("shall make free" and "free"). The idea is that the gospel has made believers free from the requirement to obey the law in order to be right with God, free from the condemnation of the law for not obeying and free from the power of sin to keep them from obeying the Lord whom they now greatly desire to please (Rom. 6:18,22)
The idea of the verse is that by means of the grace of God offered through the Holy Spirit, as described by the law of God, believers are free from the threat of sin and death, also described by the law of God. Therefore, verse 2 explains why verse 1 is true.
Verse 3, "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh,"
We ought to observe that the leading word "For" connects this verse with the ones before. This is significant because it supports our view that the discussion is about the law of God, rather than a variety of laws labeled "law of the Spirit" or "law of sin and death." The discussion in Romans 8 does not hop around from one kind of law to another, but continues to explain that relief from condemnation comes only from trusting in Christ rather than in works. Trying to obey the law for righteousness leads to death, trusting in the promises of that same law leads to freedom from condemnation.
The words "could not do" are a translation of the negative form of the word translated "power" in Romans 1:16. That is, the law does not have what the gospel does have, namely power, saving power. The weakness of the law is not a defect of the law. The law was not weakened, robbed of a power it formerly had. The words "it was weak through the flesh" is just a factual statement that the law of God cannot do what it was not designed or intended to do. That is, the law could not motivate and empower human flesh to obey its demands. Nor could the law restore sinful men to personal righteousness or a right relation with God. All the law could do was declare what is required of men and what would happen if they did not measure up to those requirements. The law can only point out what must be done to please God. It cannot make someone want to or able to do it. So as it turns out, since in men dwells no good thing, the law condemns them.
"God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:"
The words "condemned sin in the flesh" mean that God condemned Jesus for the sins that were laid upon Him, while He was in the flesh. The reference is to Jesus' suffering in the flesh, especially as He endured the wrath of God in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary.
The idea of the verse, then, can be expressed as follows. The law could not remove men's condemnation. All it could do is reveal men's sinfulness and show that their condemnation was just and mandatory. The law was no friend to sinners. But what the law could not do for sinners, God did for sinners, for He was able to remove their condemnation by means of the sacrifice of His own Son, Jesus the Christ. Jesus became a worthy substitute for sinners and took their condemnation upon Himself.
There are some important truths which are consequences of what we learn from the phrase "condemned sin in the flesh." Because these truths are often misunderstood and because they determine our understanding of the gospel, it is beneficial to try to be sure that we are thinking accurately and clearly about them.
One important truth which comes out of Romans 8:3 is that the cross was Judgment Day for Jesus and, as we saw in Romans 6:3, it was therefore Judgment Day for all of God's people. Sin must be paid for. That payment will be made at Judgment Day. That payment is eternal death under the wrath of God in hell. Romans 8:3 states the amazing truth that Jesus stood for sinners' judgment and made the payment for sin by enduring the wrath of God required for their sin. God condemned sin in the Son's flesh and was satisfied (Isa. 53:11). The problem of sin before the law (Rom. 2:6-10, 14:12, II 5:10) is remedied by Jesus' sacrifice (II Cor. 5:21, Gal. 3:13, I Peter 2:24) once and for all (Rom. 6:10. Heb. 9:26,27, 10:10,26).
Let us make sure that we truly understanding what we mean by the statement that Jesus' condemnation in the flesh was Judgment Day for Him and His people. For one thing, it means that Jesus' payment on the cross was effectual, fully paying for the sin which He bore on the cross. That is, Jesus did not mess up and somehow not pay for one or more of the sins which He carried to the cross. For another thing, it means that Jesus' payment was complete, covering all of His peoples' past sins and fully anticipating their future sins. That is, Jesus does not have to make an additional payment for one or more sins for which He missed paying the first time. The consequence of all of this is that we can be confident that anyone whose sins Jesus carried to the cross has no present or future condemnation before the law. Their liability has been forever eliminated and they are guaranteed eternal life in heaven.
The idea that there is no condemnation for believers can also be stated as, "believers will never stand for judgment at the end of time." Besides the clear statements in scripture (John 5:24), the fact that Jesus took care of the liability for all of His people's sins means that none of their thoughts or actions will ever be reviewed, evaluated and exposed as deficient. It is true that believers' thoughts and actions are still marred by sin. In themselves, believers daily fall short of what they ought to do in loving response to their Lord. However, ultimately that does not matter, for not only is their heart right and so their thoughts and behavior acceptable to God, but also their heavenly Father have forgiven them and has put away all memory of their sins. His relationship is totally one of acceptance and kindness. Nor may we say that the trials God puts into peoples' lives are a punishment in any way. Rather they are tools in His hands which are designed to correct believers' errant behavior and to strengthen their faith. The trials are for life in this world only, for after they die they are free of their sinful body and they are as pure as God is. In fact, far from being judged believers actually participate in the Judgment Day as the judges (I Cor. 6:2). The conclusion is that Jesus paid for all of the sins of those who are saved.
The idea that there is no condemnation for believers, based upon the fact that their condemnation was carried away by Jesus' sacrifice, also means that Jesus' payment was limited to only those who are saved by grace. We can think about this in the following way. If Jesus paid for sins, as this verses states, then the payment has been made and the people whose sins have been paid are totally and forever free from any condemnation. Since the Bible is clear that hell will not be empty, that it will populated by all of those who must pay for their sins themselves, we must conclude that the people in hell could not be people for whose sins Jesus paid and whose condemnation Jesus endured, otherwise they would not be there. What a great travesty of justice to send someone to hell whose sins were paid by Jesus. That would mean God requires double payment for some men's sins. Not only that, Jesus' payment for those sins would be a tragic pointless sacrifice in as much as the person would still have to answer for his sins.
To the statement, "Well all of his sins are paid but he is in hell for not believing in Jesus," we must answer that unbelief is sin, no more are less evil that all the other sins a men may commit. To sin in one point is to sin in all point so the law, so it does not matter for what sin a man must answer. If he is liable for one sin he is liable for them all. Not believing is Jesus is a sin that simply reveals he is not saved. The conclusion is that Jesus paid for only the sins of those who are saved.
There are many other Biblical reasons for understanding that Jesus paid only for the sins of His people (Matt. 1:21). One is that Jesus has only certain specific people in mind as a Savior (John 17:9, I Pet. 2:9). Another is that although some people are just, many are not, despite Christ's payment on the cross (II Pet. 2:9). Still another is that the work of the cross is a finished work, and no other payment is planned (Heb. 9:27, 10:12). There are more. Altogether these evidences show that there is no biblically honest way around it, Jesus paid for the sins of only His people, for if He had paid for the sins of all men, no one could justly go to hell. Anyone who thinks anything else, lacks a fundamental understanding of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.
Before we leave this verse, we ought to add that the words "condemned sin in the flesh" emphasize the fact that Jesus died on the cross as a true flesh and blood man. Not only did His death show that God means what He says, that the wages of sin is death, but also that He was a true representative of those humans for whom He died. We do not mean to imply that His sacrifice was fundamentally physical, even though Jesus did suffer the physical wounds and abuse of those who hated Him. Rather, we mean that because the eternal souls of men were condemned along with their bodies, His soul was likewise sorrowful unto death (Matt. 26,:38, John 12:27). The greatest agony that He endured in the Garden and on the cross in the flesh was His abandonment by the Father and His wretchedness under the wrath of God. That kind of suffering was needful because His people had a spiritual problem.
Verse 4, "That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."
The word "that" means this verse highlights the purpose for which Jesus was condemned in the flesh on behalf of His people. Verse 4 states that the objective of the gospel is that believers fulfill the law. We can see that they meet that objective by observing how they walk. That is, there is an expected evidence of the victory of God's righteousness in the lives of God's people. The message of Romans 8 is that victory is not only expected, it is assured. The objective is ultimately achieved, not that believers gain victory over every one of their sins the moment they are saved, for they will continue to struggle until they are rid of their sinful body, but that they will continue to gain victories over individual sins as time goes by.
The word "walk" can actually be translated "walk around" as a donkey who is tethered to a stake is led around in a circle. The word refers to a continual pattern or habit of behavior. The idea is that peoples' walk is controlled by either the flesh or the Spirit. The contrast in this verse is sharp. It is important that we notice it. A person is either led by his flesh or by the Spirit, not by both. A person's daily life style is it centered either around his flesh or around the Spirit. A person who has a habitual fleshly walk is not led by the Spirit, is not walking as a saved person walks. According to this verse, believers fulfill the law as they walk according to the Spirit. This can be understood in several ways. It can be understood as a description of what God has judicially done for His people, that Jesus' payment for them fulfilled the laws' demand for their disobedience. It can understood as a description of the fact that believers are now righteous before God and in principle they have fulfilled all of the demands of the law, just as a righteous person who obeyed all of the laws perfectly would have. In that sense, it can be understood as a description of a believer's heart, that they fulfill the law because they obey with the right motive (Deut. 6:5, Rom. 6:17, 13:8). Finally, it can be understood as a description of the fact that believers actually can and do obey the law, serving their Lord more and more faithfully as they grow in their Christian walk.
We must notice that, according to this verse, the law is not abrogated or diminished by the gospel. Instead, the law is vindicated as good and eternal. After all, the goal of the gospel is the fulfillment of the law. In other words, it is always the unchanging intention of God that people be righteous before the law and show it (Rom. 1:17, 3:21, 4:6, 5:1,19-21, 6:13,16-22, 7:4,25).
Verse 5, "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit."
This verse explains why there is victory over individual sins in some peoples' lives and no victory in other peoples' lives, that is, why some people walk after the flesh while some walk after the Spirit. The walk begins in the mind. The outer pattern of behavior simply is a reflection of the inner heart attitude. That is, as a man thinks so is he, and so reveals himself to be in his walk. If a man's life shows that he minds the things of the flesh, then he ought to ask the question "Am I saved?" in as much as Romans 8:6-8 is true.
The mind is not the way to become right before God. People do not think their way into the Kingdom of God. But if people are saved, then they will have a mind to do God's will (Phil. 2:5) and will show it as they pursue after the things of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16,17, Col. 3:1,2).
Verse 6, "For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace."
This verse highlights the seriousness of the difference between a life of victory over sins and a life without victory. It is not that the individual victories are works which merit life and peace, but that they reveal whether the person is spiritually minded, having been saved by grace.
The words "to be carnally minded" could be translated as "the mind of the flesh" and characterize someone who is dominated by his carnal part. Every person has a carnal part, but believers also have a spiritual part which is stronger than the carnal part. Therefore, a person whose thoughts turn regularly to carnal desires is thinking only with his human fleshly abilities, as an unsaved person would.
The words "is death" do not just imply that death is a consequence of being carnally minded, in the sense that people are accountable for thinking sinful thoughts. They also are a statement of the fact that a man whose habit is to be carnally minded shows himself to be a man who is spiritually dead, even as He lives. That it shows he is headed for eternal death in hell.
The words "spiritually minded" can be rendered "the mind of the spirit," in which the Holy Spirit is view. The idea is that believers' minds are controlled by God Himself and so can think with Christ's mind. Believers have the ability to think clearly and wisely about the situations in which they find themselves, including situations which might lead them into sin.
Verses 7,8, "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God."
Verses 7 and 8 explain the first half of verse 6. That is, they provide some more details about the death that is part of a person's life who has no victory over sins in his life. It becomes clearer why such a person has no victory in his life.
The carnal mind and the mind of God have totally opposite and competing desires and objectives. The carnal mind hates God because He is one who can prevent it from fulfilling its sinful desires. There is great fury in the mind of any sinner who is thwarted from pursuing his selfish and lustful passions. Like the man in Mark 5:3,4 who could not be bound, not even with chains, sinners are full of rebellion, unwilling to be fettered by any authority outside of themselves. More than that, sinners' opposition to God is not just a difference of opinion between them and God, sinners have a deep seated fear and hatred of God Himself and resent any rules or laws that come from Him. It is a hatred rooted in the fact that sinners know that they are God's creatures and accountable to Him and that they are devoted to destruction for their insulting disobedience to Him.
The words "Neither indeed can be" and "cannot" explain a lot about the difference between believers and unbelievers. The word translated "can be" is based upon the word translated power found in, for example, Romans 1:16. The word "cannot" is a negative form of the same word. The strong thought here is that unbelievers simply do not have the ability to please God, even if they wanted to and they do not want to at all. This message is an affront to all sinners who believe that they are totally in control of their sinful lives and can choose to follow God when they are good and ready to obey Him. The Bible states that no one who is unsaved can obey God, for the simple fact that they have all the power of a dead man. This fact does not absolve sinners of blame for their sinful lives. They not only commit sins and so are accountable to God for that disobedience, but they also are sinners by nature and deserve to be destroyed as evil venomous snakes who are a threat to all who are in their presence. In sharp contrast, believers a new nature and ability as they can and do please God in their walk.
Romans 8, among many other messages, clarifies an important point which was made at the end of Chapter 7. While we must recognize that believers still have a sinful body and still succumb at times to the lusts of their flesh, we cannot conclude from Romans 7 that Christians are defeated in their continual struggle with the yearnings of their flesh. Do Christians sometimes lose the battle in their war between their mind and their members? Do they sometimes make the wrong choice between a specific desire of their mind and a specific desire of their flesh? Yes, they do. But does that mean they lose the war? No, they do not. That is, they eventually get victory over a specific sinful desire and obey God instead of their flesh.
The many sins that beset people, sins spawned by their fleshly lusts, continue to assault them as long as they are in their bodies. If a person succumbs each time to the repeated appeal of a certain lust, we could call that rebellion a besetting sin. All sins have the potential of being besetting sins in any person's life, even though different people have different sins which they more easily fall prey to than others. However, the question at hand is how do believers and unbelievers deal with these specific lusts that constantly seek to make them disobey God? As believers grow in grace, they become more and more aware of the need to correct their behavior in all areas of their lives and align their thoughts and actions to the word of God. But they can deal with only some sins at a time. The issue for a person who calls himself a believer is "What do I do with the sin that God has brought to my attention for now? Will I continue in it?" If a person cannot seem to gain any victory over a specific sinful desire with which he is struggling, the appropriate question then is "Why can't I turn from that temptation? Don't I have the desire and power of the Spirit of God with in me? Am I really a believer?"
Too often the sinful behavior of a person who made a public profession of his faith, who was baptized, who joined a church and who calls himself a Christian is dismissed by saying "Well, his salvation is not an issue, he is a backslidden Christian and will simply miss the blessing of not following the Lord as closely as he ought to. He just is not the kind of Christian that our church's faithful missionary is, but not many people are." In support of this notion, some people have compared Christian life to an airplane ride in which mature faithful Christians are compared to passengers in seated in the first class section, most Christians who struggle somewhat with their sins are compared to the majority of passengers who ride in the coach section, those who are often unfaithful are compared to the inexpensive tourist class, while some who are hardly faithful are compared to those who ride in the baggage compartment or are hanging on to the wing. The idea is that all the passengers will eventually get to the same destination, even though they are very different in their maturity and faithfulness. This perspective of Christianity is wrong and spiritually harmful, for it promotes the false security that a person can be quite unfaithful and but not worry about his salvation, in as much as he has outwardly joined the group who are on their way to heaven.
It is a terrible to teach that a person who is living as he pleases does not have to face the question of whether he is saved or not. For if a person is living as an unbeliever in an area of his life than he is doing that for a reason. Is the reason that his rebellion and faithlessness is a true reflection of his heart? After all, according to Hebrews 11:6, without faith it is impossible to please God. By comparing this verse with Romans 8:8, we can conclude that anyone who demonstrates a life dominated by the flesh does not have the faith that pleases God, is not saved at all and ought to seek the mercy of God rather continue to live in the delusion that all is well between him and God.
Incidentally, sometimes the word "disciple" is used as a label to identify people who are particularly dedicated to the Lord, as if a disciple were a step above the average Christian in commitment and devotion. That is a poor understanding of the word "disciple." The word simply refers to anyone who seeks to learn from Jesus. In fact, as the word disciple is used in John 6:66 and 8:31, it can refer to someone who has only a superficial interest in the gospel, someone who is not even saved. The word disciple only tells us something about a persons outward identification, which may or may not match the true intent of his heart.
Certainly believers do differ in their faithfulness and each is dealt with individually by God, as Father deals differently with each of His child. However, we must not get the idea that a person can be quite unfaithful and not worry about whether he is going to heaven because he has identified with a group of people who are on their way to heaven too. Even though believers can and do sin, as Romans 7 so carefully explained, Romans 8 adds that we must never think that a person can continue to live unfaithfully and still assume that he is saved, for the gospel does enable a person to do the will of his Lord. People ought to examine their minds and compare their attitudes and patterns of behavior with the will of God in their desire and effort of be more obedient to the Lord who they profess to love (John 14:23, I Cor. 9:27, II Cor. 13:5).
Believers still live in their sinful corrupt bodies and must deal with its lusts all the time. We can compare the problem of sins in Christians' lives to a vineyard that is attacked by foxes (Song. of Sol. 2:15). A farmer cannot exterminate all the foxes in the surrounding country side, but he can build good fences which keep them out of his vineyard. Similarly, believers can keep specific sins at bay by building fences, more fences, stronger fences and fences that keep the foxes of sin farther and farther away from their vineyard. That is, they can build habits of thinking, speaking and behaving which are based upon the word of God (Psalm 119:11, Rom. 13:14). The sin tendency will always be there because the body is still there, but a believer has the power of the Holy Spirit that enables him to use God's word and prayer to contain and control the tendencies of his flesh.
Verse 9, "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his."
Having discussed the situation of people who have no victory over sins in their lives, who walk after the flesh, Romans 8 now focuses upon a those who are victorious over sins, who walk after the Spirit. There is a great difference between the lives of believers and unbelievers. From verse 9 on, we begin to understand why. The switch in emphasis from unbelievers to believers is seen in the change from the use of "they" in verses 5 through 8 to the use of "ye" and "we" from verses 9 on. That is, it is as if Paul was preventing those who act like unbelievers from identifying and fellowshipping with believers, that a difference in behavior means that there is a difference in where they belong, either in out of the congregation. Of course Paul cannot see into the hearts of men nor do we necessarily always exclude people from the church because of their behavior. However, as the word of God, Romans is looking at things from God's point of view in order to teach a spiritual idea, namely, that there is an inside and an outside to the true church and how a person's deals with his sins reveals a lot about where he belongs, even if it reveals it only to himself.
The words "But ye are not in the flesh" do not imply that believers are disembodied souls. Rather the idea is, as we learned in Romans 6:6, that believers have been delivered from the dominion of the flesh. However, that is only true if "the Spirit of God dwell in you," a statement which, incidentally, supports our view that verse 6 is referring to the Holy Spirit. The word "dwell" conveys the idea of living in a house because that house is home. So the Holy Spirit is found in believers because that is where He belongs. It is not that the Holy Spirit is physically localized in a part of believers' anatomy, but that believers are His house and so He is their Lord as a man is the lord of his own home. What a man does with his body is important to God because it is the Spirit's and His reputation is a stake (I Cor. 6:19).
Christianity is an "either/or" proposition. People either have the Holy Spirit and are saved or do not have the Spirit and are not saved. People do not have a part of the Spirit or a measure of the Spirit, as if the Spirit were some kind of liquid. People are not exhorted to seek more of the Spirit in order to be a better Christian. People get either all of the Spirit when they are saved or they get nothing because they are not saved, for the Spirit is a person, God Himself (John 3:34, 14:26, Acts 5:3,4). As the verse states, "he (the man) is none of his (God's)," meaning that a person, in whom the Spirit of God does not dwell, does not belong to Jesus, is not one of His sheep and so is not saved.
This view of Christianity is very helpful. It promotes a person's honest understanding of himself and guides him in effectively counseling others. Whether a person is examining himself or counseling others, the first step in resolving a problem is to address the issue of salvation. If a person has a big problem dealing with specific sins in his life, the question is "why?" Could it be that the reason he cannot stop from serving the flesh and turn to serve God is that he has neither the desire or power to do so? Could it be that Jesus is not his Lord, the one who he wants to please? Only after these kinds of questions are faced, and the spiritual situation of a person's heart is clearly understood, can real progress be made in shaping his behavior to conform to the will of God.
Verse 10, "And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness."
We are struck by the use of the phrase, "if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you" (verse 9) together with the phrase, "if Christ be in you" (verse 10). This is not an example of sloppy use of language or confusion that exposes a lack of understanding. Rather, the idea is that the word Spirit and Christ are pretty much interchangeable. They are both God Himself, who empowers believers to live the life which displays righteousness.
The words "the body is dead because of sin" are sort of an insertion in the verse. It is as if they were an acknowledgment of a preexistent condition, and could be rendered, "even though sin has resulted in the corruption of your body so that your body cannot obey." From that point of view verse 10 can be understood to read, "If Christ be in you, no matter how uncooperative and contrary your body is, the Spirit of God dwells in you, empowering you to obey God."
The curiously worded phrase "because of righteousness" can only make sense if we notice that it give the reason why that a believer can obey despite the hindrance of his body. That reason is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who endured the wrath of God on behalf of His people. In support of this understanding we can add the fact that Jesus is made righteousness for His people (I Cor. 1:30).
Verse 10 focuses upon the power of the gospel to make a significant positive spiritual change in the lives of God's people, even as they continue to live in their sinful bodies. The idea is that while the redemption story has not yet been applied to believers' physical bodies, (and the physical universe awaits its redemption from the curse of sin as we see in verses 21 through 23), they nevertheless have and manifest the righteous life of the Spirit. The reason is that Christ the righteous has made the payment for sin that allowed God to free them from condemnation as well as give them life in their souls.
Verse 11, "But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you."
According to verses 9 and 10, believers, in contrast to unbelievers, are not dominated by the desires of their flesh, even though they still live in their corrupt sinful bodies. Verse 11 explains that the contrast is based upon the fact that believers have the power of God within them which enables them to fulfill the righteous purposes of God as verse 4 states.
We cannot deduce from the words "shall also quicken your mortal bodies" that believers will be given a restored physical body after the resurrection in which they will dwell forever in heaven. "Mortal bodies" are believers' physical bodies that are subject to death. They are now full of the decay that is part of the curse of death and they in time will go to the grave. Those bodies will indeed be raised again. However, other verses in the Bible explain what kind of bodies they will be, namely spiritual bodies (I Cor. 15:44-54). That is, the verse does not say that believers bodies will be raised as mortal bodies, rather that their mortal bodies will be quickened or given life.
The application of verse 11 is, in fact, not first of all for the end of time. Even though the verb "shall quicken" is assigned a future tense, the idea of future in this verse is that a present condition will continue on and on. Believers shall indeed be quickened in the future, but the reason is that every day in which believers wake up to start the day they are still quickened, from one day to the next. There is a present experience of the life of the Spirit revealed through the attitudes, words and actions of believers. There is resurrection power in believers now. The point to keep in mind is that, for now, that resurrection power is not revealed in a change in believers' bodies but in that they are able to dominate and override the sinful desires of their bodies. This necessarily leads to the conclusion that the resurrection power resides not in their bodies but in their souls. Verse 11 is saying, in a different way, the same message of Ephesians 2::5, that salvation brings immediate life to believers, that is, life to their souls.
Verse 11 applies only to true believers, people who belong to God, for they alone have the Spirit of God (verse 9). The idea of the verse is that the same resurrection power that was demonstrated when Christ was released from the grip of eternal death in hell and was personally bodily resurrected, is also demonstrated in the lives of God's people while they live in their mortal bodies. The Spirit will cause believers' bodies to obey God now, even as He promises a righteous future for their bodies too.
Verse 12, "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh."
If we stop and think about it, no one, even unbelievers, owe the flesh anything. The desire of the flesh is like a demanding voice, as if it were a spoiled child insisting that it get what it wants. But no one has to give his flesh what it wants. The sin of men is that they give in to those demands, and as we learned, that they actually cater to and enjoy fulfilling those demands. As we have also learned, unbelievers do not have the competing voice of the Spirit to help them understand the folly of their carnal desires nor the power of the Spirit to help them resist the call of their flesh. Therefore, unbelievers will naturally obey the dictates of their flesh and in that sense are debtors to their flesh.
The freedom which believers have from the obligation to live after the flesh refers to the fact that they do successfully ignore the call of the flesh and leave the sinful desires of their flesh frustrated and unfulfilled. Because they have the Spirit within them, they are able to do what God wants rather than what their flesh wants. So in final analysis, the victory people have over individual sins is really God's victory, for it is His Spirit which makes their souls alive and able to seek God's will.
One practical consequence of this verse is that the blame and shame for believers' sins must be put totally upon themselves. There is no fleshly desire that is so alluring that it is irresistible. Believers have all the spiritual resources necessary to refuse any call of their flesh. The proper counsel for a person who claims to be a believer and who is unsuccessfully struggling with sin begins by being honest and helping them understand that they do not have to sin anymore. Real kindness is the counsel, "Stop crying and talking about your dilemma. Start doing what you know to be right and stop doing what you know to be wrong. Otherwise, that is all that your Christian experience is, namely talk." Christian counseling should be the moment of truth. That is, anyone who complains, "I have to surrender to my sinful desires. I can't do anything else" should be faced with the question "Why can't I? I ought to if I'm I saved." That is a question that anyone who is struggling with sin must first resolve before they can expect any victory over sin in their lives. Christians are not perfect and do succumb to the temptations as Romans 7 states. However, they recognize their sin weaknesses and cry unto God for help which He always gives who ask from their heart.
Verse 13, "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live."
The first phrase in this verse is not a cause and effect statement. It is an observation that those who are about to die as condemned people live after the flesh. That is, people who are unsaved, people who are reserved for eternal death, reveal their spiritual peril by the fact that they live after the flesh.
The words "mortify the deeds of the body" form a curious phrase. After all, it does not really make sense to mortify deeds. Deeds are not living things which can be killed. So we cannot kill a deed. In fact the object of the word "mortify" everywhere else in the Bible is a person, as in the phrase, "we are killed (mortified)," found in Romans 8:32. Therefore, we must understand the words to mean "mortify or kill the body which seeks its sinful desires" (Matt. 10:38,39, Col. 3:5,8).
The bodies of Christians are mortified when Christians refuse to obey its desires anymore, an action that is called repentance. By ruthlessly doing what is necessary to flee temptation and disobey the demands of the flesh, it is as if Christians are cutting off their flesh. So the call to mortification is a call to repentance, a call to change their behavior. We should add that repentance is not the same as salvation. There are many people who turn from a sin habit but who are not saved. They do it for the wrong reason and the change in behavior has no lasting value. Also we should keep in mind that repentance is not a cause but an evidence of salvation. The proper idea of this verse is that when people becomes saved, their sin weaknesses and therefore temptations do not automatically disappear. However, they can react as Christians, people who have the Spirit of God dwelling in him. They can take deliberate steps to mortify the flesh and live as their Lord wants them to.
Like the first half, the second half of the verse is not a cause and effect statement. When believers turn away from sin and serve God, they have the promise that "ye shall live," not as consequence of the fact that they mortify the deeds of the body but because they are saved and show it by mortifying the deeds of the body. The life in view is life eternal, not only in the sense that it is life that is forever, but also in the sense that it is the righteous life which is empower by and which imitates God, who is the Eternal One.
Continuing the thought of verse 12, verse 13 states that, no matter what a person might say about his love and devotion toward God, if he continues as if his flesh were his boss, it means that he is not saved but is subject to the eternal death in hell under the wrath of God. All people live under the relentless appeal of their flesh, and all people succumb to that appeal sometimes. The mark of believers is that, when they are aware of it, they do not continue in sin on and on. They can and do take steps that reveal the work and power of God within them.
Verse 14, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God."
Beginning with this verse, the discussion seems to change focus a little. Previously, the emphasis was upon action. The message in the first verses of Romans 8 was that Christians, who struggle with the lust of their flesh, nevertheless do gain victory over that sinful appeal. As time goes by, believers are able more and more to walk after the Spirit, serving God by refusing to obey their sinful bodily desires and fulfilling the righteous purposes of God. This pattern of victory reveals the big difference between believers who can serve God and unbelievers who cannot serve God. Beginning with verse 14, the emphasis shifts more upon identity. The message now is that Christians reveal themselves to be the sons of God by the fact that they are led by the Spirit. Believers not only behave differently, they are different, being the sons of God.
What does it mean that they are the sons of God? It means many things. One thing is that, as sons, believers receive life from their Father. Although, as we shall see in the next verse, believers are adopted and not natural sons, the fact is that God gives them eternal life, as their Creator and as Redeemer. Another thing is that, as sons, they resemble their Father. They have the character traits that are peculiar to the family of God. Another thing is that, as sons, the are the objects of their Father's affection and care. They are "led by the Spirit of God" as a father would lead a child who knows his child needs to be led or would soon be lost. One final thing is that, as sons, believers are heirs of their Father, being joint heirs with the Son, Jesus Christ Himself.
That believers are sons of God is a message of confidence. They know that God the Father is for them and not against them. Therefore, they can boldly ask His help in their struggle with their flesh, knowing that even though they will not always do the right thing, they are still His sons and He loves them as sons. The heavenly Father is pleased with them because they have the heart to do their best as they try to honor and obey Him, even though their performance may not be perfect before the law.
That believers are sons of God is also a message of division. The Father cares for His own like He cares for none others. All that He has planned to do and sacrificed in His Son, is for the benefit of His children alone. A person must be a child of God through the grace of God in order to be protected from the condemnation of the law and be given the power to obey it from the heart.
Verse 15, "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father."
The words "For ye have not received the spirit of bondage" are an echo of verse 12. That is, verse 15 first reminds us of the sad situation in which God found believers. After that it gives us the reason why believers are called sons and describes what that means to them. The whole verse together highlights the contrast between their former and present fortunes.
The words "spirit of bondage" form an odd phrase. There is not such a thing as a "spirit of bondage" in the sense of a person, in contrast to the Spirit of God. One possible way to look at the phrase may be to think of the words "spirit of bondage" as a reference to the Holy Spirit, as if the verse were saying, "The Spirit which you received is not a spirit that brought you once more into bondage to the law and its condemnation." Support for that idea is the way in which the word Spirit is used in the phrase "Spirit of adoption." The focus is not so much on the Spirit Himself but upon the value He has for believers and the results of His work in their hearts. That is, verse 15 displays a contrast, for the Spirit instead of keeping believers in fear, adopts them as sons.
Another possible way to think of the phrase "spirit of bondage" would be in a vague way that could be expressed by, "We have not received an attitude, disposition of mind, or irrational feeling that we are in bondage to the law and our sins." That does not seem to be a very clear or helpful understanding of the verse. There is a third alternative. But it is not good choice. That is, the phrase certainly does not refer to an evil spirit of some kind, a subject that is not discussed at all in Romans 8.
The "fear" mentioned in this verse clearly means the fear of condemnation, for the chapter opens with a statement that, to the great relief of believers, they no longer need to fear condemnation and then proceeds to describe why. The great contrast to that fear is the peace and confidence that believers have knowing that they are sons of God.
As a corollary to that, we could say that if a person is haunted by a fear, he ought to consider perhaps there is good reason for him to fear. Maybe he has an unresolved controversy with God. Fear and doubt are good checks in a person's life and they ought to cause a man to not only to spiritually examine his life, but also to seek to correct anything that, by the grace of God, he sees amiss.
The fact that believers are sons by "adoption" does not weaken their confidence in God's care for them. Adoption does not imply that, although they are legally part of the family, they must be on their best behavior and not presume to much on God's good graces, as if the warning is, "After all, hasn't He already done a lot to call us sons who are not His sons by nature? Can we really be so audacious or ungrateful to presume that we have any privileges in the family of God? If we have just a little corner of heaven to live in, shouldn't that be more than we adopted people should expect?" No, no, no! The word "adopted" greatly strengthens believers' confidence in the fact that, far from being condemned, they are cared for by God (II Tim. 1:7).
Human adoption is a poor but serviceable illustration of adoption by the Father. That a child is the natural born son or daughter of a human parent normally means that he or she is joyfully received into the family, even though sin often distorts or destroys the affection that parents ought to have for their children. Normally the parents quickly grow to love and desire to care for that child above the children of other families they know. In fact, the adoption process highlights the love the parents have for that child since it shows that the natural or biological origin is unimportant to them and that the child is wanted for his own sake, that the origin of the love the parents have for the child comes from their own heart and will not be extinguished by any external circumstances. Of course, there are stories of human adoption that end sadly for the child. The reason is that human parents in their sinfulness can desire a child for the wrong reasons, such as for some self satisfaction rather than a concern for the welfare of the child. With that motivation, parents can make a difference in their minds between their natural and adopted children or problems can cause them to lose interest in their adopted child, even to the point of sending that child away.
But that is not the way of the heavenly Father. Adoption for the Father means that He loves His children with an eternal unconditional love, with a sacrificial love, with a love that makes Him sing and rejoice in being with His children forever. There is, of course, the fact that God is not adopting cute little babies or winsome children but rather sinners who are in rebellion against Him. We would understand if the Bible would explain adoption as a condescension. But instead, the Bible declares that adoption reveals the loving initiative of God. Think of it. What a wonder toward sinners that God would call them sons! This is a gracious decision of God. Because it is a decision, it reveals the attitude of His heart for those whom He adopts and is a decision as secure as His will. Therefore, adoption is the basis for great confidence by believers. Believers can be bold as they come to God, a boldness shown in that they cry unto God "Abba Father!" They know that adoption is a not a transitory whim or a reversible legal transaction. Their attachment to the family of God is not superficial, bizarre or precarious, like a piece of clay pushed on to the surface of an already beautiful polished vase. Rather, they fit into the family just like a healthy branch, which has been grafted on to a tree and which becomes a part of that tree. Adoption is a word that sums up all that God has done for His people in grace. It recalls all that God has done for them and all that He has done to them in order for them to be sons.
Why do the sons "cry, Abba Father?" What would make them want to cry? Keeping the context of the chapter in mind, or in fact the context of the whole book of Romans in mind, we can say that they cry to the Father for help to turn away from their sins and to trust more and more in Him, like the man who cried "I believe. Help my unbelief!" The cry of their hearts is to serve God as He wills, for their hearts' desires has been shaped to match His own (Rom. 7:24,25, 8:23). They cry unto the Father, their Father, because they know that once they are adopted as sons they will always be sons and He is ever willing to hear them. They do not draw back in "fear," but approach Him in faith and so please Him (Heb. 11:6). Essentially, it is a cry that shows the Spirit dwells within them.
Much has been said about the intimacy which God and His children share, as if that closeness is implied by the words "Abba, Father." The Bible does discuss the wonderful love which God and His children share now and on into eternity, but the expression seems to be more of an explanation of God as a Savior and sinners as the redeemed. That is, after using the Aramaic word "Abba," Paul used the word "Father," which is its equivalent in the language the Roman readers would understand. God has guided the writing of the phrase in order to highlight the fact that the promises of fatherhood in the Old Testament can be claimed by those who are saved through Jesus Christ during New Testament times (Gal.4:1-6). So verses such as Isaiah 43:6, Jeremiah 31:1,9 and Hosea 1:10 are fulfilled in the gospel of righteousness by grace apart from works.
Verse 16, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:"
This verse adds to the confidence that believers have in the fact that they are not condemned, that they are saved. This verse continues the idea of verse 15. Believers cry unto the Father and, as they cry, the Spirit bears witness to the Father that they are His children. Believers have the Spirit as their advocate before the throne of God who identifies them as the redeemed and who continually rehearses God's promises to His children before Him.
In addition to a witness to the Father, there is a witness to the other people. How does the Spirit bear "witness with our spirit" to the world. The message of Romans 8 has something to do with the answer. So far in this chapter, we have learned that one important witness is believers can walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh (Rom. 8:11). Submission to God's will is a striking witness to the world that believers are the children of God. A vocal witness is important but obedience is evidence which is especially clear and effective.
The phrase "children of God" is a phrase that expresses ownership, that believers belong to God as children. It highlights the fact that their adoption is more than the human transaction of adoption. Humans adopt another person's child and make it their own. Legally and emotionally the adoptive parents are the parents for they love him and care for him. However, they did not give him birth. The adoption discussed in Romans is a little different. Like the human analogy, God adds sinners to His family, making those people sons and daughters who were not his people before. Spiritually speaking, adoption means that at one point in time God's children were not saved but at a later time they were. However, unlike the case of human adoption, God also gives his adopted children life, physical life because He is the Creator, and spiritual life because He is the life giving Redeemer.
Verse 17, "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and jointheirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."
The word "heir" points to one of the most important testimonies that believers are sons of God. Perhaps a human illustration will help us understand the connect between children and heirs, although since people are sinners, the illustration may not be perfect.
A will or testament is a set of instructions which carefully carry out a person's desires after they have died. One of the most important parts of a will is the set of instructions that determine the distribution of those things which were most valuable and precious to the deceased person. The implication is that those who are named in the will to receive an inheritance are people for whom the deceased cared. The heirs are those people whom the deceased wished to continue to bless, even in his death. Normally inheritors include the children of the deceased, and the will is a document which shows in a tangible way the love which the deceased had for his children. God's care for His children is similarly reflected in the will He made for His children, in which He named them all as heirs. However, God's will reveals a far more glorious and loving concern of the heavenly Father to His children, far more wonderful than any human will.
We could spend a lot of time exploring the concept of God's will. It is not only an important idea in the Bible, but also an assist in clarifying many things about the gospel of salvation by grace apart from works. However, I think that a prolonged interruption in our study of Romans will harm our analysis of this book. So, we shall limit our look at God's will to a brief outline of the main ideas. The will or testament of God is His promise to give His children eternal life. That will was made before the foundation of the world. Because His will is really His word, it is unchangeable and as good as fulfilled the moment He made it. It is unchangeable because He never makes mistakes or needs to adjust His plans to unforeseen circumstances. It is fulfilled the moment He spoke it because He is as good as His word.
The will not only describes the things which will be inherited, it also names all those who will be the heirs. Because the will was fixed before the foundation of the world, we know that the inheritance is totally a sovereign decision of God and people cannot through their efforts decide to be an heir. That is, eternal life is a gracious gift to those whom God chooses to call as His children and is given to no one else.
The will becomes effective only after the one who made the will, called a testator, has died. Until then the blessings are an unfulfilled promise. The will of God becomes effective when He, in the person of Jesus Christ, died and paid for the sins of His children. The need for atonement, or payment for sins, is a dimension to the idea of God's will that is not analogous to the idea of a human will. That is, the will of God is similar to but far more glorious than the idea of a human will. The idea of atonement enters into the picture because God cannot be just and give eternal life to sinners who really deserve His wrath instead. That is, He calls them His children and includes them in His will by making the correct provision for that. Only by making them right before the law through the death of His Son can He embrace them eternally in His holy heaven and endow them with His holy gifts.
The words "with Christ" can be more accurately read "of Christ" because they are a translation of one word which is in the same grammatical case as the one word translated "of God." This observation leads us to understand the verse differently than the normally accepted way. It is common to think of this verse as supporting the idea that believers together with Jesus are all heirs of the things which are named in the will of God. It is true that Jesus is the chief heir of all things (Heb. 1:2) and it true that God will give believers all things too (Rom. 8:32), so by implication Jesus and believers are join theirs with each other of the things of God. But that is not the message of Romans 8:17.
Verse 17 is saying that believers inherit God, that they inherit Jesus Himself. The point is that they share in all of His experiences. As Jesus suffers, believers can expect no less in their lives. As Jesus is glorified so are they. Or to turn it around, Jesus and His people share in the similar experiences of suffering and glory so that we can say Jesus is truly human as well as divine. Verse 17 is really a statement that refutes any doctrine which separates Jesus Christ from His humanity.
The importance of correctly understanding the message of verse 17 is that the basis for believers' salvation from condemnation and their present ability for serving God rather than the flesh rests upon the fact that Jesus became fully human and took their condemnation upon Himself (Rom. 8:2,3). If it is true that Jesus really became flesh and suffered the condemnation believers merited, if therefore all of God's children were condemned in Jesus' experience, then it is also true that they will share in the glory that Jesus experienced, for they share in His life. One important experience of glory now is that God's children are able to gain victory over temptation, just as Jesus did, the reason being that they have His very own Spirit within themselves motivating and empowering them. Another shared experience concerns the glory to come, to which the following verses allude.
The fact that Jesus is eternal God and is now the great King of the universe is attractive. That He also became flesh and suffered miserably at the hand of God and men is not such a nice idea to think about, especially if we consider why He had to leave heaven, join the human race by taking on a body like all humans and die as a cursed man would. It is much happier and more comfortable to think of a spiritual Jesus untouched by the filth of this world. However, one message of verse 17 is believers receive the gospel of Jesus in one whole package. Believers cannot choose among those attributes and experiences of Jesus that most appeal to them and focus upon those alone. They must understand that He is truly God and truly man with all of the attendant consequences. Only if people believe the Bible's whole message about Jesus, can He help them gain victory in their struggle with sin now and its terrifying penalty later. Only then can they become heirs of the riches of God.
Verse 18, "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us."
The "sufferings of this present time" are those associated with this corrupted physical creation, especially our bodies which are full of sin. Are there sufferings that come upon believers because they are in their bodies? Yes indeed! Notice the anguish that is expressed in Romans 7:24. The new heart that loves and seeks God's will struggles against the flesh which cannot do God's will and in fact seeks to fulfill its own lustful desires. Until the Lord returns at the end of time, this struggle continues until believers die. While there are victories over the flesh, believers become more and more disgusted with their lustful desires and long for the end of their tiresome conflict with their bodies. A question that they might ask is, "Is the suffering due to the struggle with their bodies worth it?" The testimony of Romans 8:11 and following is "Yes!" There is a future glory for believers that will include their bodies. That means the war between their souls and bodies will cease because their bodies will also share in the glory that their souls now have.
The words "For I reckon" mean that when Paul adds up all the bad things that he experiences while he is in sin cursed body and compares that total with the list of all the good things that he will experience when his body will share in the glory that fills his soul, the logical conclusion is that the future is so much more glorious that there is no meaningful comparison (II Cor. 4:16-18). Although believers do not become Christians because they some better gain than that which they have on earth but seek to escape the condemnation of God, the generosity of God is a fact in which they greatly rejoice.
The sufferings of this present time are par for the course. It is what believers must expect simply because they continue to live in a sin cursed universe which is full of conflict and disintegration. It is also normal because believers' heart felt desire to do the will of God is opposed by their own flesh as well as the overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of this universe. The consolation which believers have is that the sin induced suffering is only for "this present time."
The gospel, which includes the promise of the future restoration of the rest of the universe to righteousness, including the believers' bodies, only has value if it is true. The message of Romans 8:18 and the following verses is that the promise is true and will come to pass. We have God's word on it. Many people think that the spiritual ideas of the present resurrection of a person's soul and the promise of the future restoration of his body are imaginations and have no real counterparts in the universe. But the conflict believers have in this world is a testimony to the reality of God's present work in their hearts now and so strengthens their confidence in His promise to restore their bodies in the future.
It is a joy and comfort for believers to experience victories over their sinful flesh, to see how God guides and empowers their lives. Nevertheless, as time goes on they get weary of the struggle with the sins that so easily beset them. Not only that, they long for the time when they will be able to honor their Lord as He deserves to be, without the sadness of hurting Him by their sometimes foolish attitude and behavior. We might wonder why God allows His children to continue to struggle when it might seem so much better to free them of their sinful flesh. The struggle accomplishes many purposes, some of which we can list below. God uses the struggle to reduce His children's pride and to learn, really learn, to trust in the word of their heavenly Father. God also uses the struggle as a witness of the resurrection power in His children as they gain victories that are unattainable by unbelievers. Not only that, God uses the struggle to teach His children the enormous lesson of thankfulness, that they should be thankful they are saved and so have the struggle, that they should be thankful they hate sin and have the power to resist its appeal and so have victory over it, and that they should have a hope in spiritual things rather than a confidence and delight in the flesh which soon perishes.
Verse 19, "For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God."
The word "creature" is a translation of a form of the word ktisis. It refers most of the time to the whole physical creation, the universe with all of its parts and inhabitants (Mark 10:6, "creation"). Sometimes it seems to refer to only the part of creation which we call the human race (Mark 16:15 "creation"). What does it mean here? We can answer that question by a process of elimination. Does it include good angels? No, because they were never "made subject to vanity" as the creation in this context was (verse 20). Does it include Satan, the bad angels and the non elect part of the human race? No, because they neither share in the hope which the creation in this context has, nor will they ever be delivered from the bondage of corruption, as the creation in this context will be (verses 20 and 21). The conclusion to which we are forced is that the word "creature" refers to the non rational creation, that is, the animals, plants and physical elements, the subhuman part of creation we sometimes call "nature."
The words "earnest expectation" are a translation of a word that is used only here and in Philippians 1:20. It is composed of three parts that mean "away," "head" and "think." Altogether we could render it as "with head stretched away and thinking." The word "waiteth" is used in the Bible to mean to look away, hoping for some appearance, as in Philippians 3:20, ("look for") or Hebrews 9:28, ("that look for"). How does the non rational part of creation do that? We cannot explain in a mechanical way. However, creation has a promise of renewal (II Peter 3:13), in which it hopes. Although they are figures of the gospel promise and fulfilled in the lives of God's people, we read verses in the Bible that state trees (Psalm 96:12), floods (Psalm 98:8), wilderness (Isaiah 35:1), mountains and hills (Isaiah 55:12) rejoice in the expectation of the completion of God's salvation plan. According to Romans 8:19, all of nature is craning its neck, as if it cannot wait for the finish of God's gospel plan to arrive.
The words "manifestation of the sons of God" refer to the time when it will be unambiguously clear who the believers are. Sometimes, because they are beset by the sins of their flesh, it is not clear who has the Spirit of God, even though in time believers' victories reveal their redeemed nature. There will come a time, however, when they will no longer be encumbered with their sinful flesh and will show themselves as they really are, God's sons (Phil. 3:21, I John 3:20). That time will be at the end of history of this universe, at Judgment Day.
According to this verse, the pace of history is indexed by what God does for and to His people. The Bible elsewhere teaches that the political events of the world are incidental to and in fact serve the spiritual drama of God's gospel fulfillment in the lives of His children (Matt. 24:14,22, Rom. 11:25). This verse teaches that the destiny of the physical world is also directly related to the destiny of believers. The fulfillment of whatever blessings the physical universe can expect must await the fulfillment of the blessings which are promised to God's children.
Verse 20, "For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,"
The vanity in view is the corruption and death which came upon the creation because of the curse of God. According to this verse, creation was not subjected to vanity willingly, but constrained or forced to be under God's curse. That is a very odd statement. For one thing, why say it? Would anyone ever think that creation would ever be willingly under the curse? For another thing, it was man who sinned, not the creation, so why would God curse the creation?
The key to understanding this verse is found in the words "in hope." The hope in view is the hope which is given to sinners through the gospel. Therefore, God had a gospel purpose in cursing His creation. Who deserved to be cursed? Man alone. But who was cursed? Man and everything else. Jesus was cursed and creation was cursed. Jesus did not deserve to be cursed, but He willingly submitted Himself to the curse of God for the redemption of His people. Creation did not deserve to be cursed, but God cursed it for the same purpose. The difference between Jesus and the creation is that creation was not consulted, so to speak, but endured the curse because it was part of God's plan. That is, the words "not willingly" highlight the fact that Jesus is sovereign and that the curse was imposed upon creation according to Jesus' will and not according to its own will.
It is sufficient for believers to know that God, in His wisdom chose to curse the creation. After all, God is the Creator and can do what He wants with what He has made. However, we must keep in mind that the creation did not participate in the sin of Adam. God made it and pronounced it "good," but sin entered the universe through Adam's sin. So we might wonder why God cursed the creation. Does that seem fair? Is it just?
Although, the word "willingly" in this verse seems to endow creation with a personality, we must remember that it has no soul or eternal life. When a tree or a horse dies it is not accountable for anything. It simply ceases to exist. There is nothing fair or unfair about a cursed creation. It is a tool in God's hands to accomplish His purposes. In God's estimation, creation is secondary to the welfare of His people. God cares for all that He has made (Psalm 145:9), if only because He made it and so is important to Him. But He knows why He made it and we must listen to Him when He sets its value as less than men whom He created in His own image. In God's economy, creation serves men, especially His elect. The bottom line is that God cursed the inanimate and animal world for man's sake, that His people could be saved.
That men have more value than the inanimate world and the creatures in it is an obnoxious idea to unsaved men. Unsaved men honor and serve the creature more than the Creator. They are attached to this physical creation, intellectually and emotionally. They cannot transfer their affections to any other reality, nor do they think that there is anything of value beyond the universe in which they live. More than that, they do not want to see God or recognize His purposes in creation, for they resent as well as bitterly opposes any notion that He is their creator and holds them, as human beings, accountable for their sins. That the physical creation is a temporary tool to further God's gospel plan is a ridiculous and hateful idea to unsaved men.
How does a cursed creation serve God's purposes? We cannot answer that question in every detail because some of the things that God does are known only to Him and because creation is very complex. However the following idea might help us to understand it a little. The implication of this verse is that unless creation were cursed, men would have no hope. Why? One reason is that sinful men could not live in a perfect world. They would have to be banished somewhere. And yet God had to work out His gospel plan in time so, until the gospel could be fulfilled, God cursed creation so that men could "stick around" long enough to receive the benefit.
Another reason God cursed creation is that He did not want men to enlist a perfect creation to help them solve their spiritual problems. He did not want sinful men to appropriate what they found in the perfect creation to help them design and fabricate their own righteousness.
Still one more reason God cursed creation is that Adam was originally appointed king over creation, but in his sinful abdication, he served Satan. Satan usurped leadership over men and therefore men's dominion, which was this creation (Luke 4:6, John 12:31). Creation became part of the dominion of darkness. Satan held creation in His grip until Jesus overcame him on the cross and redeemed all of creation. However, we ought to add that even as Satan had some command of creation, his influence was always limited by Gods' will. The reason is that since the gospel was promised from before the foundation of the world, God could legitimately manipulate the creation as He wished in as much as, in Jesus, it was His by right of conquest (Eph. 1:20,21, Col. 2:15, Heb.2:14,15).
Interestingly, we can think of creation as a mirror that reflects the condition men's hearts. That is what we read in Leviticus 26:19-22, Psalm 107:33,34, Ecclesiastes 3:19-21, Isaiah 24:6 Jeremiah 4:19-28 and Hosea 4:3. The brokenness and distress of the physical creation teaches men that all is not well in the universe, that they ought to examine their own heart and that they depend totally upon their Creator for life and salvation.
We must add that the preeminence of men over creation should not be a matter of pride to men. Rather it means that they are accountable to Him for all that they think and do. Also the use of creation for the spiritual benefit of men does not mean that creation is worthless in God's eyes. It is just that God knows the worth of a souls and created the inanimate world and the creatures in it for the expressed purpose of working out His gospel plan in history.
Verse 21, "Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God."
It is a sad thing that creation is cursed, even though it serves God's eternal gospel purpose to have it so. The good news is that creation has a share in the future glory promised by that gospel. What is the nature of creation's redemption? We cannot know that completely for God does not disclose all that is to be. We cannot say what the environment will be like or what creatures He will create to populate it. We do know that it will not be this physical universe nor will it contain the kind of flesh and blood creatures that we see now (I Cor. 15:51).
The creation, of which the believers' bodies are a part, will be delivered from this corruption of the curse and begin a new existence. It will be a righteous universe created after this one is burned up (II Pet. 3:10-13). We cannot imagine what that is like. But we know that whatever it is, it is "delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." That is, like believers, creation will be free from the curse (verse 1) and like believers, creation will be free to obey its creator (verse 4).
Verse 22, "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now."
The words "we know" are a translation of a form of the word that means knowledge gained through observation. It is sometimes translated "see." If we tie this verse to verse 19 we arrive at the idea that it is clear the creation is waiting for the completion of the gospel program, the reason is that we can observe the creation groan and travail. How can the creation groan? Although it does not have a mouth, the evidence of its travail is easy to see. Weeds is our gardens choke out the good plants. Carnivores attack and kill other animals. Storms, earthquakes and other major disasters destroy human and animal lives. All things are subject to the decay that dominates all life processes.
The words "in pain" were added to the phrase "travaileth together." They are not a very helpful addition. If any words ought to be added, a better choice would be either "in birth" or "in pain of birth," for that is the emphasis of the root word which is found in only three places in the Bible (Gal. 4:19, "travail in birth," Gal. 4:27, "that travailest," and Rev. 12:2, "travailing in birth"). The idea of the verse, in that light, is that out from this present creation is to come another one. The present creation desires and waits for the promised deliverance from the bondage of corruption like a woman waits for the deliverance of her child. It is no joy to be pregnant and not deliver. The joy is in fulfillment of the expected birth and the arrival of a new life.
Verse 23, "And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body."
Although believers have mouths and can articulate their distress, their groans are in many ways like the groans of the creation, for they groan "within" themselves. That is, it is in the struggles believers have with the desires of their sinful flesh that we see the groans. True believers grow more and more disgusted with themselves whenever they serve their flesh rather their Lord. It is not that they wonder if they are saved, but that they are weary of the incessant harangue of their flesh and saddened by the trouble their sins cause themselves and others as well as the dishonor their sins bring to God. Believers have no joy in their present sinful bodies but desire and wait for the redemption of their bodies, which is the completion of their "adoption."
The words "first fruits of the Spirit" do not mean, first of all, fruits which the Spirit gives, but rather mean that the Spirit is the first fruits Himself. Therefore, the idea of the verse is that believers who have received the first part of the gospel promise, namely the Spirit dwelling within themselves (Rom. 8:9,15), can expect to also receive the rest of the gospel promise, namely the change of their bodies too. The salvation of believers' souls is like a guarantee that the whole gospel plan of God is secure (Ezek. 36:26, John 14:16-18, II Cor. 1:10,22, Eph. 1:13,14). If God keeps one part of the gospel promise we can be sure that He will keep all the rest of the promise.
Verses 24,25, "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it."
The complete victory of God's righteousness, of His Spirit over the flesh, is sure. However, it is a complete victory that is yet to come. Nevertheless, as there is a complete victory in men's souls, so we can sure that God will eventually add to that a complete victory in their bodies, no matter what their struggles might be in this present world. That is the message of the remaining verses of Romans 8.
In light of the context of the immediate verses, the words "we are saved" refer to the fact that believers are saved soul and body. The problem for now is that, in God's wisdom, He has assigned the fulfillment of the gospel promise for their bodies to the future. Why did God arrange things so? We do not know all the reasons. But we do know that believers can display the righteousness of God as they forsake the call of their flesh and seek after the will of their Lord Jesus. Also, believers are able to strengthen their trust in God's word as they wait, amid hard times, for the fulfillment of His promises.
The words "we are saved by hope" do not teach that people avoid God's wrath and become righteous by means of hoping. People are never saved by what they do, but because of what God does. We can properly understand this phrase by recognizing that the word "hope" refers first of all to Jesus Himself (I Tim. 1:1). So why doesn't God instruct Paul to use Jesus' name in this verse? One reason is that, according to this verse, "hope that is seen is not hope." In other words, hope is a real object with the added dimension that the object is not yet seen. That is, hope is a deferred object, one that is still expected. The idea in these verses is that believers do not now see their Lord Jesus as they will (I Pet. 1:7,8). Although Jesus secured complete victory over the grip of sin and the condemnation of the law when He died on the cross and rose again from the dead, the final application of that victory is yet to be realized until the time of His return (I Cor. 15:51-54).
The final appearance of Jesus and the simultaneous change of believers' bodies is a future reality for which they "with patience wait" (Heb. 10:36,37). Believers do not wait for something that never comes. Rather, they hope for something that is promised and real, even though it is not yet realized. Believers know that the present situation is not the end of the story, not matter how dismal things might look like for the present.
Verse 26, "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."
We groan because, although we have a soul which desires to please God, we are still encumbered by a body which does not. We long for the time when we will be relieved of our sinful flesh and put on immortality (I Cor. 5:1-9, Phil. 1:21-23). For that reason "the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities."
The idea of the words "we know not what we should pray for as we ought" is not that we are not smart enough or that the troubles of our lives are so great that we can not think of the right words to pray and so the Spirit makes up the difference. Rather, the verse says that "we know not what we should pray for." That is, we lack the proper information to pray exactly as we ought to. Remember, prayers should be according to God's will (I John 5:14,15). So matter how wise we are, there are things we can never pray for "as we ought" because we do not know all that God knows. Therefore, it takes God to pray perfectly according to His own will. It is not just that we do not pray in the right way (although that is a problem), but that we do not know what only God knows. Therefore, "the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" by men because men do not know what God knows.
For example, a believer could pray and pray for the relief of some great stress in his life, and yet that stress could lead to his death. After all, no one is saved with a promise to lead a life of comfort in this world. In another example, a believer could pray and pray for the salvation of someone, and yet that person may die an unbeliever. The reason is that someone is not saved because of the amount or the kind of prayers that have been offered to God on his behalf. Nor is someone lost because the prayers for his salvation were too few or not offered properly. Only God knows how a stressful situation will further His plan, only God knows who the elect are. Although believers may not always know what God's will is, they do know that "all things work together" for the spiritual benefit of the elect (Rom. 8:28). The tremendous comfort of this verse is that God does know all things, and when His Spirit prays, His will always comes to pass. God knows what His will is in every situation. When the Spirit prays for something, it is a certainty that it will be done because the Spirit knows all things, especially who will be saved. Verse 26 emphasizes the sovereignty of God, that He is wise and able to fulfill His loving plans for his elect.
The word "as" seems to imply that verse 28 teaches the idea that we are ignorant about the manner of prayer. However, our ignorance is not about the right liturgical form or physical posture as we pray, but about the right spiritual content. We know that we must reverently honor God, lovingly thank God, humbly ask for forgiveness and patiently beseech God for the benefit of others, including our enemies. The Bible tells us much about prayer. Nevertheless, there is much about the fulfillment of Gods' gospel in history that we do not know and cannot know because we do not perfectly know the mind of God. Because of that ignorance, we are not always able to pray exactly according to the will of God. Our desire is that God's will is done, but we do not always know what it is and so cannot pray as we ought. It is the testimony of Romans 8 that the Spirit, who does know the mind of God, prays for us that God's will be done.
Verse 27, "And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God."
The Spirit knows that believers are encumbered by a sinful body. He knows that they sin and need help. This is true for salvation itself (Isaiah 65:24) and for their continued life as a Christian (Rom. 7:24,25, Col. 2:10, Phil 2:13). As they struggle in this world, they rejoice that God is sovereign, knowing all things and able to do all that is necessary to help them (Psalm 94:17-19, 103:10-17, 124). They want to do God's will and sometimes do not. They want to cry out to God in prayer and sometimes cannot because there are things they do not know.
The wonder of the gospel is that believers' problems become God's problems. He changes their hearts to desire His will even though they may not always know exactly what His will is. God understands their deficiency in prayer. Their imperfect prayers do not harm their relationship as children of God. God is ready to help. In grace His prayers mingle with their prayers (Rev. 5:8, 8:3,4), for His Spirit also prays perfectly according God's will on their behalf. The reason that the Spirit intercedes perfectly is that God knows His own mind (I Cor. 2:10,11). The confidence and joy is that the prayers which the Spirit makes "for the saints" are always answered exactly as He utters it, for He prays "according to" what God wills.
Verse 28, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."
It is important to understand this verse as it fits into the logic that flows from the verses just before it to the verses that follow it. By comparing verse 28 with verse 26 we notice that although "we know (oida) not what we should pray for as we ought," nevertheless "we know (oida) that all things work together for good to them that love God." Our assurance is based upon the fact that although we live in a broken world that groans under the curse of sin (verse 22) and we groan too, suffering under the burden of our flesh (verse 23), we nevertheless have the comfort that the Spirit also groans as He calls upon God to fulfill His eternal will for His people, His will which He carefully designed before the foundation of the world. Therefore, Paul can write in verse 28, "we know" that our present struggles will end in a future total victory because, according to verses 29 and 30, the eternal plan of God, of which the Spirit groans in prayer to God, will be fulfilled for His saints.
Believers' present struggle is no hindrance to the complete fulfillment of God's will for their lives or His plan for the ages. The victory of God's righteousness is dependent not upon the faithfulness of His people nor upon their prayers, neither of which are perfect. Rather, it depends upon His wisdom and ability, for He is in control of all things.
Believers may not know exactly what God's will is, but they know that it is "for good," that is, for their good. This knowledge is the comfort of those who struggle now in the flesh. They know that "all things work together for good." That is, all the good things, now and in the future, for which the Spirit pray on their behalf, will always come to pass exactly as He prays, for the Spirit knows the mind of God, being God Himself.
The good things are only for "them who love God," that is, for those "who are called" to be saved. The blessings God has planned are only for those in whom God has placed His love and who now live with the right heart. The words "according to his purpose" refer to the salvation purpose or objective of God, as the following verses (verses 29-30) emphasize.
Verse 29, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren."
The next two verses speak of God's total control over the destiny of His people, the control which is the power of the gospel and the strength of their assurance. They know that God is wise and able to save whom He wills.
The gospel begins with the foreknowledge of God. We must sure that we correctly understand what that means, especially in relationship to the word "predestinate." The verse does not mean that God foreknows something about people and therefore knows whom to predestinate. The word "foreknow" does not mean that God has a crystal ball and can see into the future and thereby knows who will eventually turn from their sins and trust in Him. It does not mean that, based upon what God sees in the future, He knows whom to save. For one thing, God is beyond time. All times are present for Him. But more importantly, the logic is that God foreknows people because He previously predestinated them. God does not have to look down the corridors of time and observe them in order to know them. Rather, He knows people whom He has chosen to salvation before creation existed. We must understand the word "know," which is part of the word "foreknow," as that special recognition which God has reserved for His own (John 10:17, Gal. 4:9, II Tim. 2:19), whose lives He is committed to preserve through the gospel.
"Predestination" is a translation of a word from whose root we get the English word "horizon," which is the line separating the earth from the sky. The predestination of God means that before anything existed, motivated only of His own will, He drew a line which separated or marked some people off from the rest of the population of the world (Eph. 1:4,5). He did that in order that His people could be "conformed to the image of His Son." The Son is the image of God (II Cor. 4:4), so the objective of the gospel is that His children be restored to the image of God, the image being the attributes of God which are visibly manifested in the lives of His people, attributes such as a love for truth and a joy in serving others. The image of God in men was greatly marred after Adam sinned, but the visible manifestation of God's righteousness is seen in the lives of those who have received grace. They display in their thoughts words and deeds an imitation of Jesus the Righteous.
The word "that" is not so much a word that introduces a purpose or goal but a word that introduces a description of what is. It is really the word eis or "into." The word "firstborn" refers to Jesus' resurrection from the dead (Col. 1:18 "firstborn," Rev. 1:5 "first begotten"). The idea is that God had predestinated His people to be images of His Son. But that would not happen unless Jesus entered into the resurrection, implying that he had died first for the resurrection proves, among other things, that Jesus had completed the payment for the sins of His people. That Jesus was resurrected means that all of His people would be resurrected too, resurrected in their souls at the moment they were saved and resurrected in their bodies the moment that Jesus returns on the last day.
Verse 30, "Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified."
This chain of phrases reminds us of the irresistible grace of God. Once God has sent in motion the events that are designed to meet His objective, nothing can prevent the completion of the events or frustrate the fulfillment of the objective. It is as if the gospel had an inertia that make it unstoppable. In terms of the power of the gospel, this is an accurate way of looking at it. But it is an incomplete view of the gospel which can lead to a distorted understanding of God's ways. As relentless as the gospel is in its march in history, we must also recognize that its progress is guided by God's love for His people and His desire to glorify them with the glory that belongs to Jesus Christ His Son.
The words "called" and "justified" add to the message of God's sovereignty that is prominent in this verse. The first word reminds us that God does it all. That is, men are deaf to the call of God (Psalm 58:4), but He opens their ears to hear (Isaiah 50:5, Isaiah 29:18,19, Mark 7:32-37) and changes their hearts to want to obey His gospel (Ezek. 36:26,27). The second word reminds us that men are righteous based upon God has said about them. That is, justification means that they are declared by the judge to be just or righteous based upon lawful payment of their debt.
The bottom line is that the death that once gripped the souls of God's people as well as the sin and rebellion that still resides in their flesh is no barrier to the fulfillment of the gospel promise in their lives. The victory of the gospel is based upon the work of a sovereign almighty God through Jesus Christ His Son.
Verse 31, "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?"
If we have read "these things," that is, the "things" in Romans 8:18-30, or all of the "things" in the book Romans up to this verse, "then" what shall we say? We have learned much about what God has done through His gospel of salvation from the wrath to come by grace through faith. We have learned much about what God did to bestow His righteousness upon His people. And yet we know that believers still live in a world that is full of sin. We know that believers still struggle with rebellion in their own flesh and their sin which is so hateful and tiresome. We know that believers are frightened, repulsed and sometimes hurt by the rebellion of the unsaved people of the world. We know that believers are saddened by the decay and death they see in their environment. How can we put all of this together? Is there any doubt about the competency of God and the effectiveness of His gospel?
The word "If" in this verse does not imply uncertainty. We could understand it as "If God be for us, as He is" or "In as much as God is for us." The words "who can be against us" do not imply that believers lack enemies, as if to say, "I can't think of anyone who would be against us. Can you?" Rather the words are more like, "Who is the enemy? What is the identity and size of the enemy? What is the strength of the enemy? What are his resources and abilities?"
Thus, the second question in this verse means, "In light of the fact that God is our refuge and strength and a very present help in time of trouble, who can be effectively against us?" The question can be thought of as rhetorical, as if to say, "What could the enemy possibly do to me if God is for me? Is he wiser and stronger than God?" The idea of the verse is, "Who other than God can come against us and hurt us?" The answer, found in the next verse, is "No one of consequence is against us." There may be many enemies, but the gospel is the power of God, power that is strong enough to take care of anything or anybody that is against His peoples' souls.
Verse 32, "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"
What God did in Jesus Christ shows how much He is "for us." Notice that He "spared not" Jesus. That means, in God's pursuit of the spiritual redemption of His children, He did not withhold or protect His most precious thing, namely His beloved Son. That God went to the limit for the sake of His people shows that all of the resources of the almighty Creator of the universe were marshaled to insure their redemption. That commitment of God would overwhelm any one who would try to come against His people.
We must never get the idea that, since the Father knew the ability of His Son and knew the ultimate victory Jesus would have over death, the act of "sparing not his own Son" was no big deal. It was such a big deal that it will take eternity for His people appreciate it. For example, no one but Jesus will ever know the full extent of hell. The believers will not because they will never be judged. The unsaved will not because they will never see the end of their just punishment. Only Jesus endured it all. He was not spared the smallest amount of the required suffering under the wrath of God, in order that the payment for sin would be complete.
The words "delivered up," are a translation of the same word that we find in Romans 1:24,26 and 28. The idea is that God took a personal hand to be sure that Jesus did indeed endured the full wrath required by the law for the payment of the sins "for us all." Nothing was going to stop God from the fulfillment of His gospel plan, which He swore He would complete.
The word "us" can be thought of as referring to all those whom are mentioned in the previous verses, those whom "he did foreknow ... predestinate ... called ... justified ... and glorified." We can also think of the word "us" to mean "us Jews as well as Gentiles" are the targets of God's gospel effort. As men of all nations are under the curse of sin and in need of mercy, so men of all nations are included in God's evangelistic concern.
In support of the previous verse, this verse asks in confidence rather than in ignorance, "how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" As an argument of the greater to the lesser, this verse teaches that the extent of God's effort of save His people gives them assurance that He will see to it that He will keep all of His promises to bless them, promises for the soul and the body.
Incidentally, the words "all things" helps to dispel the notion that different Christians will receive different rewards in heaven based upon their faithful work on earth now. John the apostle who labored for decades and the thief on the cross whose life on earth ended hours after he was saved are both given "all things." That is, all believers receive the same, eternal life (Luke 18:29,30). To put it in other words, what more can God give if He is already promised "all things?" Can anyone expect more than all things? Can anyone who is really a believer want more? Additionally, the word "freely," which is elsewhere translated "grace," emphasizes that what is received is not related to works but is given as a sovereign bestowal by God. Finally, if it is true that all believers are given "all things" and that Jesus is heir of "all things," then we can ask, "What more can God give to them that what is given to His own Son?" No matter how we look at it, the idea of rewards in heaven based upon performance on earth is alien to the Bible and the opposite of the gospel which it portrays.
Verses 33,34, "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us."
The logic of these verses is straight forward. The idea is that the only one who has the authority to condemn the elect is God Himself. If He, rather than condemn, justifies the elect, who is left to condemn them? The answer is "No one at all!" The judge of all men is Jesus Christ (John 5:26,27, Acts 17:30,31, Rom. 2:16). Amazingly, the one who could judge the elect, died and rose again for them. In fact, He also makes intercession for them (I John 2:1). The gospel teaches believers to look past the disappointments and misery of this world to the promises that are as certain as Gods' word of grace. They know that there is no revenge in the heart of God, despite the awful rebellion that they practiced and still struggle with while they are in the flesh. It is God's character that leads Him, not to despise sinners, but to save them. What a great motivation to love God in return (Luke 7:47,48, I John 4:19)!
The words "right hand of God" particularly highlight the supreme authority of Jesus (Eph. 1:19-22, Heb. 1:3, 10:11-14). That authority includes the right to condemn. However, He uses the same authority to declare that the elect are forgiven (e.g. John 8:10,11). The word intercession does not mean that Jesus must constantly beg on behalf of the elect so that He might though His persuasive appeal or the prestige of His position on the court influence the course of the law and thus secure mercy. Rather, the intercession means that, in as much as Jesus offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice, His plea is based upon His finished work, as if the intercession were a reminder to God that the demands of the law are satisfied. That is, God tells Himself what He has done. The work of Jesus is so essential to the salvation of the elect and the work is such a gloriously beautiful display of His love that it needs to be announced from the highest position of authority.
Verses 35,36, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter."
How wonderful to be the objects of God's great love and be the beneficiary of His great effort. But the next question is, "Can these wonderful things be undone?" As we have seen, our sins cannot separate us from Christ, for He redeems and forgives us. What about external circumstances, such as those listed in verse 35? These verses ask, "Is there anything situation or force that could keep us from serving God? If not actually separate us from God, can anything cause us to lose our heavenly focus and our confidence in His care over us?"
From its close logical connection to verse 35, the quote of Psalm 44:22 in verse 36 must refer to the tribulation believers experience in this world which seeks to separate them from the love of God. The quote is probably added to show that tribulation should not be a surprise nor is it something strange, as if something has gone wrong with God's plan. That is, God's word declares, "it is written (by God)," that God's people, because of Jesus, "are killed all the day long."
A man can only be killed once. After that, he is dead and cannot be killed again. Therefore the quote must refer to the continual persecution which believers experience at the hands of their enemies. This view of "killed" is supported by the context of Psalm 44, as we see in verse 10,13,14 and 19 (c.f. "dragons" with Deut. 32:33). The word translated "slaughter" is used in only two other places in the New Testament. In Acts 8:32 we learn that the world treats believers as it would treat Christ. Believers and Jesus are persecuted "all the day long." Therefore, we can say that the message of verses 35 and 36 is the same as John 15:18 through 16:3. Sometimes God deals hard with people, allowing trouble to come their way (Job 33:19-22, Psalm 119:67), but always with a purpose (Job. 33:28-30, Psalm 119:71). How God's people handle trouble in their lives is the testimony that He wants them to display to the world (Matt. 5:10-12,14-16).
Verse 37, "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us."
From first hand experience, Paul knew that the answer to the question in verse 35 was "No!" God's grace was sufficient for him in all of his difficulties (II Cor. 12:9).
The words "we are more than conquerors" are a translation of one word that means "above overcomer" or "above victor." How can anything exceed victory? One clue is in the fact that believers are more than conquerors "in all these things." That is, all the things mentioned in verses 35 and 36. Believers' enemies seem to have free course to mock and persecute both believers and the gospel they bring. And yet, believers not only are strengthen in their walk with the Lord, but also their witness shines brighter in the darkness of sin around them. In other words, more than just defeating the enemy, in the sense that the enemy has no influence upon their spiritual destiny, as well as defeating the enemy in the sense that the gospel still goes out and saves people, the enemies' machinations are often used by God to further His gospel work through His people to the world. What the unsaved people of the world mean for evil, as they persecute believers, God can mean for good, as He strengthens believers to react in a way that glorifies Himself and leads to the salvation of others..
Verses 38,39, "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The word "For" means that verses 38 and 39 support or explain verse 37. That is, we conclude that "we are more than conquerors" because none of the things listed in verses 38 and 39 are not separated believers from the love of God
If, as verse 34 states, believers' sins cannot separate them from the love of God, and if, as verses 35 and 36 state, believers' enemies cannot separate them from the love of God, then neither will any of the external things listed in verses 38 and 39, things which have far less influence upon believers. Let us briefly examine this list. While the following are only partial explanations of what each word means, they do give us an idea of what is in view.
The "death" in view is physical death. If a believer dies, he is still victorious. What a strange victory in the eyes of the world. Only a believers understands it (Phil. 1:21). The word "life" refers to the life rooted in this sin cursed world, life which seeks to attract believers away from the real life in Christ. Believers are victorious because they reject the appeal of this world. Unlike their unsaved peers, getting ahead in this life is not their ambition (Matt. 6:31-34). "Angels" refers to messengers, false prophets who come with their own twisted version of the gospel. Believers do not heed their message, for they know only the voice of their Shepherd (John 10:4,5). "Principalities" refers to Satan and his host, while "powers" refers to the might and philosophies of men who use all their resources to silence and destroy the gospel (Eph. 6:12, Rev. 11:10). Believers have nothing to fear of them either (I John 4:4). "Things present" refers to the evil things of this present human society that is corrosive to a faithful witness. "Things to come" can refer to either evil things in the future or to another great thing which threatens to separate men from the love of God, but which is powerless to separate believers, namely Judgment Day. The words "height, nor depth" in all likelihood refer to things in heaven or hell, meaning that no matter where a person might go he will not find anything which could separate believers from the love of God. Finally, the word "creature" refers particularly to the created world in which men dwell (Rom. 8:20-22). The idea of the two verses is that nothing that God created, not the physical universe itself nor anything that He placed in it, can separate believers from the love of God in Christ.
The Jesus Christ of the Bible is the Lord. He is the Lord over creation and so can control its influence over His people. He is Lord over His people and so can guide them out of tribulation and temptation until they die or He returns for them at the last day. He is Lord of the gospel of righteousness. He designed it, fulfilled it and applied it to whom He wills. He presides over its completion to its ultimate fulfillment at the end of time, no matter what the opposition may be. Therefore, He receives all the glory for being the Sovereign Lord of the universe and for doing all things well.