A Survey of Romans, Part 6

Romans 8: The Triumph of Grace, Part One

There are two views of Romans 8. Everett Harrison, late of Fuller Theological Seminary states one view so articulately, to change a word of paragraph would be criminal; he writes—

[Chapter 8] gathers up various strands of thought from the entire discussion of both justification and sanctification and ties them together with the crowning knot of glorification.

Harrison views this chapter as far more than just a remedy to the pitiful state of human beings as seen in chapter 7.

Others see chapter 8 and a continuation of chapter 7, providing exactly what Harrison wrote: the solution to the believer’s struggle against the flesh. That solution is walking in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. A. Skevington Wood calls this chapter “the Pentecost of Romans.” Previously Paul had indicated that the love of God had been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit in 5:5. Perhaps Paul had in mind something he knew from the words of Isaiah—

For I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants. (Isaiah 44:3)

The word “Spirit” in reference to the Holy Spirit occurs 20 times in this chapter. This fact had led Scottish Reformer John Knox to write:

The Spirit is the theme of this culminating argument which began at 6:1 with the question “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?

So, is it “glorification” or is it the Holy Spirit that is at the heart of Romans 8? Perhaps it is both, for the Holy Spirit not only sanctifies our human lives (1:17), but He is also the Pledge of our ultimate redemption (8:18—25). While we as Spirit-filled and Spirit-led believers may be delivered from the grasp of the flesh in this life, our bodies bear the scars of sin; we age, our health breaks down, and eventually we die. However, when Jesus Christ returns to consummate His New Age by the resurrection, our bodies will also be redeemed. Perhaps that is the theme of this whole chapter.

1. Link with chapter 7, 8:1—4

Properly, the first four verses of chapter 8 belong in chapter 7, linking the expression of hope as stated in 7:25—

Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

In fact, it might be said that the first four verses of chapter 8 not only continue Paul’s declaration of hope, but also serve to sum up all the truth of the first half of Romans beginning with 5:12—

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.

And so we have the astounding conclusion Paul comes to because of what Christ did for sinful man and continues to do through the ministry of the Holy Spirit—

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

Such a magnificent statement as verse 1 requires no qualifying clause; it does not depend on our feelings or even the steadiness of our walk. Not one single person in Christ stands condemned for God condemned sin in sinful man. If we are in Christ, God could no more condemn us that He could His own Son! Graphically, these points emerge from chapters 7 and 8:

  • While we were in the flesh, the law condemned us as sinners and we produced the fruit of that: death.
  • As believers, we have been delivered from the law because we are dead to the law as Christ died. We are now free to serve the Lord just as Christ rose to a His new resurrection life.
  • This new life in the Spirit is described in chapter 8, and the word NOW is the tie that binds 8:1 to 7:6:

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (7:6)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (8:1)

This “condemnation” (katakrima) from which we have been freed is more of a “judicial acquittal.” In fact, those of us “in Christ” are not only no longer under the law, we are no longer “in the flesh.” Barth observed—

They do not have the disposition, the structure and the inclination of the flesh but of the Spirit.

That is not to say believers don’t struggle against their carnal natures, it means that believers have no business giving into their carnal natures. But when we do, there is no condemnation if we are truly in Christ; there is forgiveness and nothing else. Such a thought provides us with unspeakable relief. We may feel condemned, but we must objectively realize that Christians don’t live by our feelings but on the facts of the Word of God. God’s Word declares that God sees us in Christ risen, forever beyond the reach of condemnation. John Murray comments:

Jesus not only blotted out sin’s guilt and brought us nigh to God, He also vanquished sin as power and set us free from its enslaving dominion. And this could not have been done in the “flesh.” The battle was joined and the triumph secured in that same flesh which in us is the seat and agent of sin.

If you are given to doubt because of feelings of unworthiness, and if Romans 8:1 fails to ignite your spirit, then look again to the risen Christ, who is no longer on the Cross where your sins put Him, and see yourself in Him, where God sees you. Christ is exalted at God’s right Hand in the glories of Heaven, where no sin can exist. If you are in Christ, and Christ is in Heaven, then there can no sin attached to you. Cecil’s majestic lyrics capture this thought—

Oh, the peace forever flowing

From God’s thoughts of His own Son,

Oh, the peace of simply knowing

On the cross that was all done.

Peace with God is Christ in glory,

God is light and God is love,

Jesus died to tell the story,

Foes to bring to God above.

Because of our new position of being “in Christ” before God, we are no longer “in the flesh” away from God. We are now free to devote ourselves to living for and pleasing God, not to appease Him in order to avoid judgment, but out of love and gratitude to Him who brought us out of our hopeless state and into a relationship of peace with Him. What the law, with all its admonitions and warnings could not accomplish, is made possible in the power of the new life by the Spirit, namely, a life of holiness. This new life is given to each believer and in the power of this new life they are called to walk. Paul would also write these words to help us understand how this new life possible:

For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13)

The weakness of the law was the weakness of man; it demanded that which man, without Christ, could not possibly deliver for his nature is utterly perverted and corrupt. But the Holy Spirit has created a new nature in man and linked with this new nature and new life are new desires and affections that find fulfillment in the will of God, to which this new man responds in glad obedience.

2. Life in the Spirit, 8:5—11

5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

9You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 10But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

The sentiments of verse 5 are echoed in Galatians 5:17—

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.

The “sinful nature,” or kata sarka, “according to the flesh,” way of life completely inconsistent with “the Spirit,” or kata pneuma, “according to the Spirit.” So much so, that one who claims to be walking “in the Spirit” should be unable, on account of his new nature, to do anything according to his “sinful nature.” However, does our experience teach us something different? There is a very important distinction that must be noted. The life in the “sinful nature” (lived “according to the flesh) is a life of bondage. The new life “in the Spirit” (lived “according to the Spirit”) is one of freedom. And so, a person living in their “sinful nature” cannot please God (verse 8) and one “in the Spirit” still possess the freedom to sin (Galatians 5:1, 13).

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (Galatians 5:13)

This makes the warning of Romans 8:13 so relevant:

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

What our experience teaches us is that a life in the Spirit does not eliminate the possibility of sin, but instead gives the believer the ability to not sin. It is a choice we must make every day of our lives.

The reason our sinful natures had to be destroyed is made obvious in verses 7 and 8—

The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

The “flesh,” our old selves, can never be improved; the sinful nature in even the oldest, dearest saint in the church is evil. The carnal mind can never be reformed; this is something the law made clear. Those who are without Christ, no matter how wonderful and beneficent they seem, are carnal and they live according to their sinful natures, are wicked, evil and are enemies of God. But the believer, who is no longer “in the flesh,” is now able to please God. It is not just that believers are given the “disposition of Christ,” that is, all of a sudden they want only good and Godly things, for we know that isn’t necessarily true. It is that the Holy Spirit, sent from Christ to indwell every single member of His Church, produces a sense of conviction when a believer lapses into their old ways, and then draws them back into a desire to live according to the Spirit.

Let it be clear: it is the Holy Spirit alone who is the Source of our power for holiness. Our bodies give us no help in living a holy life whatsoever. In fact—

…your body is dead because of sin… (verse 10)

The body, that is, your carnal nature, is useless when it comes to producing any kind of holiness. It is dead. That does not mean your body is worthless, Paul makes the opposite clear in verse 11—

And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Right now, our bodies are dead; not literally but judicially. In the court of Heaven, the Judge has declared our bodies dead; therefore we can’t expect any good from our bodies at all. Strength of character, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with the Judge’s decision. He has declared the believer’s body dead. Eventually, it will be quickened, but it is not now. When Christ comes back, our bodies will be clothed with immortality—

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. (1 Corinthians 15:52—54).

The body, in Pauline theology, is viewed as the vehicle through which the flesh acts. It is the responsibility of each believer to guard against from happening. Colossians 3:5 teaches—

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Having been crucified with Christ we are now in faith to live as though our bodies are dead to our former natures.

3. Obligations and privileges in the Spirit, 8:12—17

Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

The fact that we have “an obligation” to live according to the Spirit tells us that we have freedom in Christ. This is the great privilege of all believers. We are not robots that mindlessly serve the Lord. We have a choice. In Christ, there is no spirit of bondage; He does not force His children to do anything. Far from being a spirit of bondage that fills us with fear and uncertainty, we are filled with a Spirit of Adoption or Sonship, verses 15 and 16. Hendriksen gives us an excellent summary of this passage, which he calles “Blessed Assurance.” In part, his summary is—

You who are being led by the Spirit are not slaves by children. Having been adopted as children, you, of course, are no longer filled with the spirit of slaves, that of dread. No longer are you oppressed with fear as you were when you were still living in paganism or in Judaism, with their emphasis on all the rules one has to keep in order to be saved. On the contrary, you have received the Holy Spirit, who transforms you into children, Who frees us with a sense of freedom and confidence, so that, in approaching God, we utter the cry of joyful recognition, sweet response, overwhelming gratitude and filial trust, “Abba!”

In regards to our adoption, the most widely held opinion is that Paul has in mind the practices of Roman adoption. This view is held because the Jews did not have a formal, legal adoption procedure. According to Roman law, adoption was not philanthropic but egocentric (Hendriksen). It was primarily practiced for the purpose of keeping property and financial/business concerns within the family. Legal adoption did not apply to females, only to males.

However, while in Jewish law and in the Old Testament in general, there was no legal adoption, there was practiced a kind of informal or “essential” adoption. Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses. Modecai brought up his cousin, Esther. 2 Corinthians 6:17—18 speaks of a common Old Testament teaching, God’s adoption of His people:

“Therefore come out from them
and be separate, says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

That beautiful passage is reflected in numerous OT passages, 2 Samuel 7:8, 14; Ps. 27:10; Isa. 43:6; Hs. 1:10; etc.

It seems clear that when Paul uses the term “adoption” or “sonship” here, he is borrowing the word and the legal standing from Roman law, but the essence comes from God’s revelation of His adoption of His people taught throughout the Old Testament.

Those who are in Christ, who have become His sons and daughters, are now able to cry out “Abba, Father.” Jesus Himself used that double term made up of two languages, while He was in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36). This phrase is made up of words from two languages showing that all are one in Christ. “Abba” is an expression a child might use in reference to their father, and “Father” is a more mature term showing that young and old may approach God together; that there is no difference in God’s sight.

He Himself bears witness with our human spirit that we are God’s children. This is, in fact, one of two witness of this great spiritual reality. We received His witness to us as expressed in His Word—

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.” (Hebrews 10:15—16)

And we receive His witness in us, as His Holy Spirit convinces us of our new state. He communes with our spirits; He illumines, instructs, and guides us through the Word.

What a marvelous privilege believers have in Christ! Assurance of salvation and an awareness of God’s constant presence and continual lovingkindness belong to us as we walk in the Spirit.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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