ROMANS CHAPTER 8
There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for a sin offering, condemned sin, in the flesh. 4 That the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.
5 For they that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind of the flesh is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be. 8 And they that are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies- through His Spirit that dwells in you.
12 So then brothers, we are debtors- but not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 13 For if you live after the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you shall live.
The wonder of being God’s children
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit, that we are children of God. 17 And if children, then heirs- heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. If so be that we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.
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. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation awaits the revealing of the God’s children. 20 For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as children and the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope were we saved; but hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, then we with patience wait for it.
26 And in like manner the Spirit also helps our infirmity. For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 And he that searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose- all things work together for good. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many other children. 30 And whom He foreordained, those He also called, and whom He called, these He also justified, and who He justified, these He also glorified.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He that spared not His own Son but delivered him up for us all, how shall He not also with him freely give us all things? 33 Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's chosen ones? It is God that justifies. 34 Who is he that condemns? It is Christ Jesus that died, yes rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God; who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Even as it is written: For your sake we are killed all the day long, we were deemed sheep for the slaughter. 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.
8:1 No condemnation – referring back to the idea of Rom. 5:16,18, which are the only other places in the NT where the word occurs. We have been declared right before God’s judgment; there is now no condemnation any more. Even though in Rom. 7:24 Paul has been saying he feels the wretchedness of condemnation as a sinner (see note there).
Who walk not after the flesh- too easily the wonderful promise that there is no condemnation for those in Christ can become muted by this apparent rider, that we must walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh. Yet Paul has been lamenting throughout the preceding chapter 7 that he walks after the flesh. His argument throughout the letter so far has been that although we continue committing sin, by status we are in Christ. The condemnation, the adverse verdict, has been removed. We are justified, declared righteous. And this is because we are located “in Christ”. Paul is surely aware of the apparent contradictions and tensions within his argument- so he’s surely foreseeing our objection, that we still walk after the flesh. And he states that we who are in Christ Jesus do not walk after the flesh. It’s not a condition- as if to say ‘There is no condemnation for us who are in Christ if we walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh’. For this would make salvation contingent upon our ‘walking’, our works- and his whole argument has been that salvation is by grace and not works. Those who walk after the Spirit and not after the flesh is therefore a description of, rather than an exhortation to, those who are in Christ. His Spirituality is counted to them. By status we are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, and this is confirmed by the Spirit dwelling in us (Rom. 8:9). Rom. 7:5 likewise speaks of our being “in the flesh” as something in the past, our previous status. Another possibility is that “walk after” here describes not to a total way of life, but rather a following after, an inclination towards, rather than a final arriving at the destination. And that again fits in so precisely with our position as believers in Christ today- as Paul has been saying in Romans 7, we incline after, follow after, dearly aspire to, the things of the Spirit; even if we don’t attain them as we would wish.
8:2 Paul starts to speak here in chapter 8 about the Spirit. He has explained that we are declared right by God, even as we stand in the dock condemned; he has said that we must believe this, and that faith in this rather than any works is what makes it true for us. He has then started to explore the mechanics of how it all works out- that we believe “into Christ” by baptism into Him, whereby we are counted as Him; and so we have changed spheres, positions, identities, from “sin” to “Christ”. He has observed that this doesn’t mean that we don’t sin, and he laments the power of sin within him, always eager to point out the Law has strengthened sin rather than helped us overcome it, and that therefore grace is the all important basis of our salvation. He characterizes the two positions or spheres in various terms, and in chapter 7 he starts speaking of them as “flesh” and “spirit”. He observes that there is in himself a struggle between the two, but his real self definitely identifies himself with the Spirit rather than the flesh. Being in the Spirit is the same as being “in Christ”, and “the Spirit” is a title of Christ in Rom. 8:26,27. Romans 8 now proceeds to explore the function of “the Spirit” in more depth.
The spirit of life in Christ has set me free- The spirit of life in Christ sets us free from sin (Rom. 8:2); but Gal. 5:1 simply says that “Christ” has set us free [the same Greek phrase] from sin. The Man Christ Jesus is His “spirit of life”; the man and His way of life were in perfect congruence. They always were; for in Him the word was made flesh. Rom. 6:18,22 explain simply that we are “made free from sin” by baptism into Christ. Here we are given more detail; we were made free from the principle of sin and death, the law which Paul had observed at work within him in chapter 7, that our sinful desires are stronger than our spiritual intentions, and therefore “in the flesh” we are condemned to death. Our slavery to this principle has been overcome by “the spirit of life in Christ”. Rom. 6:18,22 says that we were simply freed from sin by becoming “in Christ” by baptism and belief into Him. Rom. 8:2 is saying that this operates, is effectual, by “the spirit of life in Christ”. This could mean that the spirit of life which was in the Lord Jesus Christ as a person- the perfection of spirit or character which was His, which was like God- is counted to us by our status “in Christ”. It could also, or alternatively, mean that this status we have is as it were mechanically made effective by the work of the Spirit, which sanctifies us before God. It’s not so much that the Spirit enters our hearts and makes us righteous, for in chapter 7 Paul has been lamenting how we still sin and are in one sense still enslaved to sin. Rather it could be that “the Spirit” works in our lives to make us sanctified before God, rather than in the realities of daily life. The “sanctification of the Spirit” which we read of elsewhere in the NT (e.g. 1 Thess. 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 10:29; 1 Pet. 1:2) would therefore refer to how God counts us as righteous, as in Christ, with a spirit like His. In this sense Christ is made unto us sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). It’s by the working of the Spirit. We can on one hand simply accept that God counts us as righteous, as Christ, because we are “in Him”. But probing further as to how, mechanically as it were, this is the case- the answer is, ‘Through the work of the Spirit sanctifying us, making us holy in His sight’.
Paul’s writings are packed with allusions to the Jewish ideas about the “ages” ending in the Messianic Kingdom and the destruction of Satan. Paul was correcting their interpretations – by saying that the “ages” had ended in Christ’s death, and the things the Jewish writings claimed for the future Messianic Kingdom were in fact already possible for those in Christ. Thus when 1 Enoch 5:7,8 speaks of ‘freedom from sin’ coming then, Paul applies that phrase to the experience of the Christian believer now (Rom. 6:18–22; 8:2).
Law of sin- as lamented in Rom. 7:23,25.The law of sin there refers to the principle of sin within us that keeps on beating us, winning the struggle against our weak spirituality. But even this has been overcome because of the status we have “in Christ” and by the work of the Spirit this involves.
The New Testament develops the theme of ‘living in the spirit’. We can often understand ‘spirit’ in the NT to mean the dominant desire, the way of life, the essential intention, the ambience of a man’s life. The idea of life in the Spirit is often placed in opposition to that of living under a legal code. We are asked to live a way of life, rather than mere obedience to a certain number of specific propositions. And yet whilst we are free from legal codes, we aren’t free to do as we like. We are under “the law of the spirit” (Rom. 8:2), “the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21). The law of Christ isn’t only His specific teaching, but the person of the real, historical Jesus. This is the standard of appeal which should mould the spirit of our lives. We must live “according to Christ” (Rom. 15:5; Col. 2:8), and the character of Jesus is the basis of Paul’s appeals to us to live a spiritual life (Rom. 15:3,7,8; 1 Cor. 11:1; Eph. 5:2,25; Phil. 2:5-11; 1 Thess. 1:6).
8:3 The law- i.e. obedience to the Law.
Could not do- s.w. in Romans only at Rom. 15:1: “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak”, those who ‘can not’. The connections between the doctrinal and practical sections of Romans are so frequent that this link too is surely intended. The “weak” Paul had in mind were therefore the Jewish believers who still trusted in the Law; patience with the legalistic, acceptance of those whose faith in Christ’s grace is weak, bearing with the ungracious, is really the test of our Christ-likeness. For He does this with us so very often.
Weak- s.w. Mt. 25:36 “sick”. Our attitude to the weak / spiritually sick is our attitude to Christ personally- because amazingly, they especially represent Him. “Weak through the flesh” is surely alluding to the essence of what Paul has been writing in Romans 7- that our flesh is so weak. The implication is that our weakness is related to an attitude that keeping the Law would lead to justification. And this in turn confirms my suggestion that Romans 7 is a section specifically written to first century Jewish converts who had once been under the Law of Moses. The same word occurs in Rom. 5:6- when we were “without strength”, weak, Christ died for us. Our weakness, our spiritual weakness, is therefore no barrier to God’s love and Christ’s devotion to us. Amazing, but true.
God sending- the connection with Phil. 2:7,8 suggests this ‘sending’ was specifically in the crucifixion. Likewise God so loved the world that He gave His Son to die on the cross (Jn. 3:16).
In the likeness of sinful flesh seems to be parallel with “in the likeness of men” and “in fashion as a man” (Phil. 2:7,8). “Sinful flesh” refers therefore to ‘sinful humanity’, rather than implying that we are sinful and offensive to God simply by reason of being human beings. The spotless lamb of God had full human nature, He looked like a man because He was a man, and therefore He looked just like the same men who regularly perform sinful actions. Whatever we say about ‘human nature’, we say about the Lord Jesus- for He bore our ‘nature’ and yet was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. It’s actually very hard to Biblically define what we mean by ‘human nature’; it’s not some intrinsic piece of ‘sin’ that somehow is metaphysically ingrained into us, upon which the wrath of God abides. So I prefer to speak rather of ‘the human condition’ to avoid this impression. In passing, let’s get it clear that Rom. 8:3 doesn’t speak of something called ‘sin-in-the-flesh’. Students as varied as John Carter and Harry Whittaker [in The Very Devil] have faithfully pointed out that this is neither grammatically nor contextually correct. The Lord Jesus condemned sin; and where and how did He condemn it? In “the flesh”, in that He too lived within the nexus of pressures and influences of this sinful world. He appeared just another man, so much so that when He stood up and indirectly proclaimed Himself Messiah, those who knew Him were amazed; because He had appeared so very ordinary. Truly He was in “the likeness of sinful flesh”, yet without personal sin. See on 2 Cor. 7:1.
It could even be argued from Rom. 8:3 ("in the likeness of sinful flesh") that the Lord Jesus appeared to be a normal sinful human being, although He was not a sinner (see on Jn. 2:5,10). This would explain the amazement of the townspeople who knew Him, when He indirectly declared Himself to be Messiah. Grammatically, "it is not the noun "flesh" but the adjective "sinful" that demands the addition of "likeness"" (1). He appeared as a sinner, without being one. Of course we can conveniently misunderstand this, to justify our involvement with sinful things and appearing just like the surrounding world, in order to convert them. But all the same, it was exactly because the Lord Jesus appeared so normal, so closely part of sinful humanity, that He was and is our Saviour and compelling example. I have elsewhere argued that Rom. 8:3 is alluding specifically to the Lord's death, where He was treated as a sinner, strung up upon a tree like all those cursed by sinful behaviour, although in His case He was innocent.
Rom. 8:3 speaks of the Lord Jesus as being “in the likeness of sinful flesh” in order to achieve our redemption. The Greek word translated “likeness” elsewhere is used to express identity and correspondence- not mere external ‘appearance’ (consider its usage in Rom. 1:23; 5:14; 6:5; Phil. 2:7). Scholars, even Trinitarian ones, are generally in agreement on this point. Two examples, both from Trinitarian writers commenting upon this word in Rom. 8:3: “Paul consistently used “likeness” to denote appropriate correspondence or congruity. Thus Paul affirmed Jesus’ radical conformity to and solidarity with our sinful flesh (sarx)” (2). “The sense of the word (likeness) in Rom. 8:3 by no means marks a distinction or a difference between Christ and sinful flesh. If Christ comes en homoiomati of sinful flesh, he comes as the full expression of that sinful flesh. He manifests it for what it is” (3). The total identity of the Lord with our sinfulness is brought out in passages like Rom. 8:3, describing Jesus as being “in the likeness of sinful flesh" when He was made a sin offering; and 1 Pet. 2:24, which speaks of how He “his own self… in his own body" bore our sins “upon the tree". Note that it was at the time of His death that He was especially like this. I believe that these passages speak more of the Lord’s moral association with sinners, which reached a climax in His death, than they do of His ‘nature’.
“For what the Law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin” (Rom. 8:3) – cp. Gal. 4:4–5, “Made of a woman, made under the Law (cp. “sinful flesh”) to redeem them that were under the Law”. The drive of Paul’s argument in its primary context was that having been baptized, they should leave the Law, as that was connected with the sin from which baptism saved them – it introduced them to salvation by pure grace in Jesus. The Hebrew writer had the connection in mind when he wrote of “carnal ordinances” (Heb. 9:10; 7:16). To be justified by the Law was to be “made perfect by the flesh”, so close is the connection between Law and flesh (Gal. 3:2,3). “We (who have left the Law)... have no confidence in the flesh (i.e. the Law). Though I might also have confidence in the flesh...” (Phil. 3:3–4), and then Paul goes on to list all the things which gave him high standing in the eyes of the Law and the Jewish system. These things he associates with “the flesh”. See on Col. 2:14.
Likeness- s.w. Rom. 6:5, we are planted together in the “likeness” of Christ’s death. His being made like us is to be responded to by our being made like Him, starting in a baptism into His likeness.
Sinful flesh- these two words have just been used together by Paul in Rom. 7:25 [also Rom. 7:5], in lamenting how in our ‘flesh’ status, we seem to so easily serve sin as our master. The Lord Jesus had our nature, the same struggle against a tendency to unspirituality, egged on by living in a social environment where sin is everywhere and ever present.
For sin- The Greek peri hamartias “is the Septuagint’s technical term for the sin offering” (4). It should be better rendered as “for a sin offering”.
Condemned sin- as a judicial action, the passing of sentence, s.w. Mk. 14:64 “they all condemned Him to be worthy of death”. This is how and why there is no condemnation for those in Christ (8:1). In the earlier chapters of Romans, Paul likened us as standing ashamed and condemned in the dock before the judgment seat of God; but then declared right, justified, by grace. And if we believe in that grace, it shall be true for us at the final judgment. But here the image changes slightly- for it is “sin”, not just ourselves personally, which was condemned on the cross by the fact that Christ died there as a human who never yielded to sin. Remember that someone or something can be “condemned” by someone else in the sense that that person shows the condemned party to be in the wrong in comparison with their behavior, e.g. Noah condemning the world around him (Mt. 12:41,42; Lk. 11:31,32; Heb. 11:7). It was perhaps in this sense that the Lord condemned sin by His sinlessness and obedience unto death. The context of this phrase “condemned sin” in 8:3 is to be found in 8:1- there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ”, and Paul is explaining why- because not only have they been declared right, but as “in Christ”, all that is true of Him becomes true of us. He was not only uncondemned by sin, but He went onto the offensive- and condemned sin.
8:4 Righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us- Paul explores how in fact we have been declared righteous, justified in a legal sense. All that is true of Christ becomes true of those who are in Him. He perfectly fulfilled the Law, and I have suggested earlier that this in a sense entitled Him not to have to die. No longer was Adam literally everyman; there was one Man, the Lord Jesus, who did not sin like Adam did. The righteousness or “requirement” of the Law was ultimately love, love unto death, even the death of the cross. Both “love” and Christ’s death on the cross are elsewhere stated to be the fulfillment of the Law (Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14). We who have broken the Law are counted as in Christ, and therefore we are counted as having fulfilled it to its’ ultimate term- love unto the death of the cross. The passive verb form of “might be fulfilled” suggests that we are reading here about something being done for or in us; the fact it is fulfilled “in us” rather than by us confirms that we aren’t reading here some exhortation to do the righteousness of the Law, but rather a statement about what has been fulfilled in us- by the representative death of Christ for us and our identification with it. Thus we are changed by status from being condemned lawbreakers to being counted as having ultimately fulfilled it. In a clearly parallel passage in terms of thought, 2 Cor. 5:21 says that God made Christ “sin” for us “that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him”. The Law was fulfilled in the perfect character of the Lord Jesus and finally in His death. Baptism into death means that we are counted as having died with Him- and therefore we too fulfilled the Law to perfection.
Who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit- cannot mean, given the context, that our righteous ‘walk’ fulfills the Law- for we stand condemned by it. Rather is this again a reference to the two spheres of life- flesh and Spirit, Adam or Christ, out of Christ or in Christ, condemned or justified. We are to “walk”, to practically live, in the sphere of the Spirit. I am inclined to interpret the idea of “walk after” as meaning ‘to be occupied with’, as the Greek is indeed elsewhere translated in the AV. If our orientation is around the Spirit and not the flesh, then we are demonstrating that indeed our change of status has been for real. Because we are “in Christ”, the righteousness of the Law is fulfilled in us insofar as it was fulfilled in Christ and has been counted to us.
Paul states that because of the Lord's death "as an offering for sin", thereby the 'commandment ["requirement" RVmg.] of the Law is fulfilled in us' (Rom. 8:3,4). But in the practical part of that same letter, Paul defines the requirement / commandment of the Law to be one thing- simply "love" (Rom. 13:10). Love as God understands it is that we keep or fulfill His commandments (1 Jn. 5:3). What, then, is the connection? How could the Lord's death on the cross lead to the fulfillment in us of the Law's commandment / requirement of love? Quite simply, because it is now impossible for a man to be passive before the cross, and not to be inspired by Him there towards a life of genuine love. Paul isn't simply making some mechanistic, theological statement- that the cross fulfilled the Law, because it fulfilled all the types etc. It fulfilled the Law in that the Law intended to teach love; and the cross and dying of the Lord Jesus is now the means by which we can powerfully be inspired to the life of love which fulfils the entire Law.
8:5 Do mind- this is the crucial definition of whether we are in the Spirit status or that of the flesh. The definition of ‘minding’ the things of God or of the flesh is therefore important. The Lord Jesus rebuked Peter for ‘savouring’ the things of men rather than God (Mt. 16:23); Phil. 4:10 translates the word as ‘to care for’, Col. 3:2 as ‘affection’. Being spiritually minded isn’t therefore a question of not sinning- for Romans 7 has made it clear enough that believers do continue sinning after baptism and yet can still confidently rejoice in hope of the final redemption. It’s rather a question of wanting spiritual things, loving them, savouring them, having them in our heart, just as Paul could say that in his heart he loved and rejoiced in God’s law, although in practice he continued sinning. This I believe is where most believers stand. So loving, admiring and delighting in spiritual things, but feeling bad because their flesh still so easily gives way to temptation. That failure isn’t excusable, for Paul began Romans by pointing out that the perfect, sinless Lord Jesus all the same lived in our flesh.
After the Spirit- as in “after the flesh”, the Greek word kata is used. This really means in this kind of context ‘to be concerned with, to be around, in the sphere of’. This is exactly the idea we have been trying to express- we are to be concerned with, have in our hearts, the Spirit rather than the flesh.
8:6 Carnally minded… spiritually minded- the definition of ‘walking after’ the flesh or spirit spoken of in 8:5. If we are in the sphere or realm of the Spirit, of Christ, then we will think about those things in our hearts. If we have believed, known to be true and felt the truth of those things which Paul has so far explained- we will have these things uttermost in our hearts, be enveloped by them. I take what Paul writes here to be a description of our status, rather than a command to be spiritually minded rather than carnally minded. For by status we are no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit (8:9). This fits the context of the argument so far in Romans- which has always been about a change of status, and our living in ever growing appreciation of that status change that has occurred. The mind of the flesh “is death”, here and now; whereas the mind or phronema of the Spirit “is life” here and now. Phronema means the inclination, the purpose, the intention. It doesn’t mean that we will consciously think of spiritual things all the time (not that this is any bad aim or desire). Rather our intentions, inclinations, should be to the Spirit and not the flesh.
8:7 The mind of the flesh- this is defined in 8:5,6 as the mindset which inclines to flesh rather than Spirit; that reads novels rather than God’s word; than thinks of money and cars and holidays and restaurants and fine clothes and expensive jewellery... rather than the things of God’s people and His service. That willingly thinks about banality rather than the things of Jesus and the Spirit. That doesn’t really think much about the things of God’s Kingdom but rather the things of this world. This kind of mindset is hatred towards God. So says Paul. This is the mindset of those who are in the flesh status, who mind the things of the flesh (8:5). Note that Paul is here talking mindsets, not total sin nor total righteousness. This kind of mindset of the flesh can never be “subject” to God’s law, His principles, His Spirit. It is self-centered rather than God centered. Yet the same Greek word for “subject to” occurs in Rom. 8:20, where we read that we have been subjected beneath the state of vanity which there is in this fallen world, and yet we in Christ have been subjected to this in hope. The point is, whatever sense we have of being ‘subjected under’ the things of the flesh and indeed this present world, this is involuntary. It’s not what our real self would wish for. We have subjected ourselves under the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:3), become servants to that wonderful concept that His righteousness has been imputed to us. We find ourselves therefore in subjection to this righteousness and yet involuntarily living in subjection to the sinful state we find ourselves in.
8:8 In the flesh- not so much in status, for we are all still “in the flesh” in the sense Paul describes in Romans 7. Paul is surely speaking of being fleshly minded, having a mindset which is of the flesh not the Spirit. This simply cannot please God.
Please God- the Greek definitely suggests that God Himself has emotions which can be excited. And this is an amazing idea- that we here on earth, so very far from Him in so many ways, can touch the heart of God. Notice that the other references to ‘pleasing’ in Romans are to pleasing our neighbour (Rom. 15:1-3)- our attitude to God, and His pleasure in us, is related to our attitude to our neighbour and our pleasure in him or her.
8:9- see on Rom. 6:12.
Not in the flesh but in the Spirit- by status, by position. Note from 1 Cor. 3:16 that believers, even those who have the gifts of the Spirit, can still be “carnal” or fleshly in some aspects of their actual behaviour. Hence Paul must be talking here in positional terms.
If so be- could imply that Paul doubted whether some of his readership really were in the sphere of the Spirit. However, this would contradict the entire tone of this section and the argument so far- that all those baptized into Christ must be considered by us as unquestioningly “in the Spirit”. It would also jar with the otherwise positive tone Paul takes towards the Roman believers, speaking in 8:12 as if “we”, he and his readership, are all in the same status. “If so be” can be read quite comfortably as meaning ‘Seeing that’. This is how it is translated in 2 Thess. 1:6, “Seeing that it is…”. We can be assured that our status is “in the Spirit” rather than “in the flesh” by the fact that the Spirit dwells in us. If we don’t have the Spirit of Christ, then we are not “his”- and the Greek for “his” would I suggest better be translated “Him”, or even “He himself”. We are reckoned as Christ Himself because we are in Him by faith and baptism into Him. His Spirit is counted as our spirit, in the sense that His character, His personality, His totally obedient mind, are counted as ours. So we aren’t so much as reading that we had better ensure we are spiritually minded and have the mind of Christ; we are being assured that we can be sure we are “in Him” because we are counted as Him, His perfect mind and character, His spirit, are counted as ours. Hence Paul can write with such confidence that “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). We do not in fact think like Him, at least, our mind and spirit are not of themselves like His were and are. But His mind / spirit is counted to us, because of our status in Him. And “the spirit of God” is paralleled with the spirit of Christ in the sense that Jesus was perfectly like God in the way He thought, felt and acted. And this is counted to us. We thereby have also the mind of God counted to us- the family spirit is counted to us as we have been adopted into that family of Father and Son (Rom. 8:15).
8:10 Christ in you- parallel with the spirit of God and the spirit of Christ (8:9) and “the spirit” later here in 8:10. Paul is now exploring what it means to be “in Christ”. It’s not just that we opted into Him through baptism; He is in us as much as we are in Him. “Christ in you” is an idea Paul elsewhere uses (2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 2:20; 4:19; Eph. 3:17; Col. 1:27). The exposition of the Spirit which follows in Romans 8 is further insight into what it means to be “in Christ”, to be declared right by God, and to believe it insofar as believe into Christ by baptism. The words “in” and “Christ” have been frequently used already by Paul in describing us as “in Christ”. But there’s a mutuality in our position- we are in Him, but He is also in us. Whilst we need exhortation to live as “in Him”, Paul here isn’t exhorting us- rather is he rejoicing in our status, and seeking to persuade us of it. “If Christ be in you” shouldn’t be read as something uncertain- the idea is clearly “Seeing that Christ is in you”.
The body is dead because of sin- because we are in Christ and He is in us, our body is counted as His dead body. The idea has been common throughout Romans 6- because of our baptism into Him, we are “dead to sin” (6:2), “he that is dead is freed from sin” (6:7), “truly we are dead to sin” (6:11). It’s as if the day of judgment has come already for us- it was the day of our baptism into Christ. We have sinned and so were counted as if we had already died. How did we die? In that we symbolically connected ourselves with the death of Christ. In going under the water, therefore, we not only align ourselves with Christ’s death; we also state our recognition that we have sinned, and that sin brings death. Through doing so, we are enabled to rise again with Christ- as if our final, literal justification in resurrection to eternal life will just as surely take place. In this sense, it can be said that baptism is related to salvation. Not that dipping in water as a ritual can itself save anyone, but because that association with the death and resurrection of Christ really does save- involving as it does a willing recognition of our sinfulness and just condemnation, and only thereby resulting in a part in the resurrection. All this indicates the importance of repentance before baptism; it outlaws any kind of infant baptism, and likewise any attempt to claim a consciously performed baptism into the Lord’s death and resurrection, after repentance, is in any sense invalid and requires rebaptism by other hands.
But the Spirit is life because of righteousness- surely uses “righteousness” in the way it has been earlier used in the letter, with reference to the righteousness of Christ which is reckoned to all those in Him. It is from the Spirit that we shall reap life eternal when Christ returns (Gal. 6:8), but through association with the death and resurrection of Jesus in baptism, His righteousness really is counted to us. But as His spirit is counted to us, so in a sense it does actually become our spirit- as Paul has been saying in Romans 7, although in the flesh we sadly do sin, yet in our spirit, which is the spirit / mind of Christ, we delight in God’s law.
We feel at home with Paul's matchless confession of his innate tendency to sin, so strong that "When I would do good, evil is present with me... how to perform that which is good I find not". Yet it is no accident that this dire recognition of the seriousness of our spiritual position in Romans 7 should lead straight on to Romans 8, one of the most positive passages in all Scripture. It is instructive to trace the parallels between these two chapters. For example, Paul's lament "I am carnal" (Rom. 7:14) is matched by "To be carnally minded is death" (8:6). His argument in Romans 6-8 runs along these lines: 'We are all carnally minded by nature; but Christ had our nature, yet achieved perfection. If we are in Christ by baptism and by His spirit/disposition being seen in us, then God will count us as Christ, and will therefore raise up our bodies to immortality, as His was'. The fact we still retain the old nature in this life means that we will be aware of the tremendous conflict within us between flesh and spirit. "If Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin" (Rom. 8:10). Paul obviously didn't mean that we would not have the power of sin active in our natures any more- the preceding chapter 7 makes that crystal clear. The obvious connection with Rom. 6:11 explains the point: "Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin". The apostle recognized his own innate sinfulness and spiritual failures which were solely his own fault ("When I would do good...”, Rom. 7), yet he was confident of salvation (Rom. 8). This was because he intensely believed in Christ's perfection, and that he was in Christ, and that at baptism he had received the condemnation of death which he deserved. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). There is the certainty of salvation.
8:11 But if the Spirit- seeing Paul is talking about positions, status, and rejoicing so positively about it all, it seems appropriate to chose the equally valid translation “Seeing that the Spirit…”.
The Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus dwells in you- as often in the NT, the Spirit of God is paralleled with the spirit of Christ which was mentioned in v. 10 and previously. Interpretation becomes difficult largely because of the very wide range of meaning in the word “spirit”. I don’t mean so much that the same word has many different meanings, but rather that within that one word is a range of meaning. God’s “spirit” refers to both His power and His mind, His thinking, His attitude, His character, personality. All He does is a reflection of His mind, just as human actions, the use of human ‘power’, is a reflection of the spirit within the person. Hence to think thoughts is judged by God as if the action has been done. The spirit of God and the spirit of Jesus are therefore parallel- because Jesus was at one with the Father. Yet as His prayer of John 17 demonstrates, that unity of spirit between the Father and Son is now shared with us who are in Him. It was the Spirit of God which raised up Jesus from the dead, and that same spirit / disposition of mind is counted to us, and is indeed in us- Paul has said this in Romans 7, where he rejoices that despite his lamentable practical failures, in his heart, in his spirit, in his deepest person, he is without doubt with God and delights in His ways. Paul, and all true believers, have a heart [or, a spirit] for God- despite the failures of the flesh. So the spirit / personality of Jesus- which is and was the very essence of righteousness- is counted to us, as if we are Him; and yet in our deepest selves, as believers, His spirit is in fact our spirit. Because this spirit within us is the spirit of Jesus and God, we can be assured of a resurrection like Christ’s- for the spirit of God raised up Christ from the dead, and we have identified with that hope through baptism into His death and resurrection. The spirit / mind of God is also His power; not naked power, like electricity, but a power which is at one with His mind, which acts in congruence with what He really thinks and is, without posturing or hypocrisy. It’s therefore the case that since that spirit dwells in us- because we are in Christ and His spirit is counted as ours, and because we have a spirit / heart for God as outlined in Romans 7- therefore we shall surely be raised from the dead as Christ was. This is what Paul has said in Romans 6; but he explains here on what basis that happens. It happens on the basis of the spirit of God, or the spirit of Christ, which is counted as ours, and which is in fact actually ours within our deepest heart, the weakness of the flesh notwithstanding. The spirit of God is not just a mental attitude, it is also His power, and it was that same spirit which raised the dead body of Christ from the dead. And it shall do the same for us at the last day. The Spirit of Jesus, His disposition, His mindset, His way of thinking and being, is paralleled with His words and His person. They both ‘quicken’ or give eternal life, right now. “It is the Spirit that quickeneth [present tense]… the words that I speak unto you, they are [right now] spirit, and they are life… thou hast [right now] the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:63,68). Yet at the last day, God will quicken the dead and physically give them eternal life (Rom. 4:17; 1 Cor. 15:22,36). But this will be because in this life we had the ‘Spirit’ of the eternal life in us: “He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by [on account of] his spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom. 8:11). The NT describes our final redemption as our "soul" and "spirit" being "saved"; our innermost being, our essential spiritual personality, who we really are in spiritual terms, will as it were be immortalized (1 Pet. 1:9; 1 Cor. 5:5). This means that our spiritual development in this life is directly proportional to the type of person we will be for evermore. If, for example, we develop a generous spirit now, this is "a good foundation" for our future spiritual experience (1 Tim. 6:19). This is a stupendous conception, and the ultimate fillip to getting serious about our very personal spiritual development. Our mortal bodies will be changed to immortal, Spirit nature bodies according to the Spirit which now dwells in us (Rom. 8:11 Gk.). The attitude which we have to the Lord Jesus now will be the attitude we have to Him at the day of judgment (Mt. 7:23 cp. Lk. 6:46).
Quicken your mortal bodies- Paul’s expectation and assumption seems to have been that Christ would return in the lifetime of his readership, and that instead of dying and being resurrected, they would come before the judgment seat of Christ in their current mortal bodies, and then be changed. He hints at the same when he speaks of how mortality shall be swallowed up of life, and our present “vile body” shall be “clothed upon” but not, he hopes, dissolved in death (2 Cor. 5:4). How could Paul, writing under inspiration, make an apparent mistake like this? I suggest that he was writing as if the return of Christ was imminent, because that is how we should live; part of the Christian life is to live as if we expect His return imminently. Another option is that perhaps the second coming was indeed scheduled for the first century; but the failure of various human preconditions resulted in this not happening and it being deferred [perhaps issues like the repentance of Israel, the spiritual maturity and unity of the body of Christ, or their spreading of the Gospel and making converts from all nations].
8:12 We are debtors- note the positive tone Paul takes towards the Roman believers, speaking here as if “we”, he and his readership, are all in the same status. Given the wonderful certainty of our salvation, we can’t be passive. The Greek translated “debtor” is usually translated ‘sinner’ in the sense of having a debt to God. Paul has said that his debt is to preach the Gospel to others [1:14 s.w.]. The fact we truly shall be raised to eternal life, have been counted right, as having the spirit of Christ Himself- cannot be merely passively accepted. We have a debt to live appropriately, and one aspect of that debt is to share the great hope with others. And in our personal lives we likewise cannot be passive to this great salvation. We must make some realistic effort to bring our life spirit into conformity with the spirit and works of the Father and Son. We cannot go on living for the flesh, just indulging ourselves.
Not to the flesh, to live after the flesh - This verse is really saying the same as Rom. 6:1- we cannot continue living fleshly lives on the basis that we shall be saved by grace anyway. This is a repeated concern of Paul’s- that his bold, positive message that we who are in Christ shall be saved by grace regardless of our works could so easily be misunderstood, leading to passivity and sin rather than the vigorous, joyful practical response which is really the only thing we can do if we really ‘get it’. The practical section of Romans uses the same word in saying that Gentile believers have a debt to help their poorer Jewish brethren (Rom. 15:27). Be it in preaching the Gospel or in practical care for others, we are paying back our debt to God through paying to others- as if the debt to Him has been transmuted, and we are to pay Him back through giving to others, both spiritually and practically.
8:13 For if you live after the flesh, you shall die- Paul happens to use this same phrase ‘to live after’ in describing his life ‘living after’ Judaism (Acts 26:5). As he has implied elsewhere in his argument, to live according to law, hoping for justification by works, is in fact not spiritual but fleshly. Again, the point is made that legalism doesn’t defend the law and curb sin, rather does it encourage unrighteousness and spiritual failure.
you shall die- note the change from the otherwise positive spirit earlier in this section [“we”]. As all believers have the “mortal body” of which Paul spoke in Rom. 6:12, it would seem that Paul is here threatening some kind of spiritual death; or, ‘you shall die eternally at the coming day of judgment’. He starts to balance out all his positive talk with this warning that we cannot just continue in sin, unaffected by the change in status and justification we have received by grace. Perhaps Paul here is alluding to the serpent’s lie: “You shall not surely die”, and putting the record straight again.
Mortify- see on Rom. 8:14 led by the Spirit.
You shall live- yet the whole tenor of Paul’s argument has been that it is not by steel willed battle against the flesh that we shall attain the life eternal. He laments in Romans 7 that we simply don’t have that strength of ourselves, but rather are we saved by our status in Christ. We “shall live” only because of the life of Christ being given to us at our resurrection, because we are in Him. The deeds of the body are therefore ‘mortified’ not in our own strength- as Paul makes clear in Romans 7, we simply lack the power to do this- but on account of the Spirit. We are made dead to the law by our participation in the body of Christ (Rom. 7:4 s.w.). Here in 8:13 we learn that we mortify the flesh by “the Spirit”. The spirit of Christ in this sense is Christ personally. Hence “the spirit” is used as a title of Christ later in this chapter (Rom. 8:26,27). “The spirit” isn’t defined, i.e. as to whose spirit it is- because the spirit / mind of God is that of Christ and is that which is to be found in the believers. So I suggest the idea is that we shall live “if”, or ‘because of the fact that’, the Spirit- the Lord Jesus- puts to death the deeds of the flesh in that we are in Him, and in Him was no sin, no deed of the flesh. His death on the cross is counted as our death- several usages of the Greek verb “mortify” used here are actually speaking of the death of Christ on the cross (Mt. 26:59; 27:1; Mk. 14:55; 1 Pet. 3:18). And significantly, the word occurs a little later in Romans 8- “For [Christ’s] sake we are killed [‘mortified’] all day long, we are counted [s.w. imputed, reckoned as] the sheep for the slaughter [i.e. Christ on the cross]” (Rom. 8:36). So we are counted all day long as mortified, put to death, with Christ; for we are counted, 24/7, as being in Him, counted as the sacrificial lamb. His dead body becomes ours. It is in this way that through / on account of our being in “the Spirit”, “the Lord the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18), we have the deeds of our flesh put to death. As Romans 7 labours, this doesn’t mean that we will not commit the deeds of the flesh. But we have identified ourselves with Christ, with His body, and in this sense those deeds of the flesh are rendered meaningless.
8:14 Led by the Spirit- the Greek may not imply mere guidance but something stronger- the Spirit leading us where it chooses. The same word is used about animals being led. It is the Spirit which mortifies the deeds of the body (8:13) more than us doing so. We want to know, of course, whether we really are “in Christ”, whether we really have His spirit. The phrase “led by the spirit” is found only in Lk. 4:1, where the Lord Jesus was led by the spirit into the place of testing. Perhaps the connection is intentional. As Jesus the son of God, the prototypical child of God, was led by God, into testing, to the cross, and to resurrection- so it will operate in our lives and lead us, who are also the sons of God. The overall impression may be of allowing the Spirit, which operates in the lives of all in the sphere of the Spirit, to lead us and do things in our lives. We who have a heart for God have surely sensed God leading us, over and above our own will; and as Paul goes on to develop, this may involve elements of predestination and Divine calling which were over and above our own will to control. Sensing these things, this Divine leading, is an encouragement that truly we are God’s sons, as Jesus was supremely- for the spirit of the Father works in us His children. In the context, Paul has been arguing that for those in Christ, His death becomes theirs. The Greek word for “led” is repeatedly used about the ‘leading’ of God’s Son to His death (Lk. 22:54; 23:1,32; Jn. 18:28; 19:4,13), “led as a sheep to the slaughter” (Acts 8:32). We have commented under 8:13 that 8:36 speaks of all those in Christ as likewise being “the sheep for the slaughter”. Every detail of the Lord’s death and sufferings becomes ours. “Led by” could just as well be rendered “led in the Spirit”, with reference to Christ as “the Lord the Spirit”. This would suggest that our status “in Christ” means that we are going to be treated like Him- led as He was, to testing, to the death of the cross, to resurrection. Paul many times during his trials was “led”, just as Christ was. This same Greek word occurs many times in the Acts record regarding Paul. He wrote here from personal experience.
They are the sons of God- not in the sense that the Spirit makes us sons of God, but that the children of God are characterized (among other things) by the Spirit leading them. “Sons of God” would’ve been understood by the Jewish readers and hearers as a phrase referring specifically to Israel (Ex. 4:22; Jer. Jer. 3:19; 31:9; Hos. 11:1); Paul’s emphasis is that now all in Christ and within the sphere of the Spirit are now God’s children, regardless of their ethnicity. But above all, all who are “in” the Son of God (Rom. 8:3), in Christ by baptism, are likewise therefore “sons of God”. The spirit that was in Christ must therefore be in us, or rather, be allowed to work in and with us. This phrase is preparing the way for the appeal to be conformed to the image of God’s Son which is coming up in Rom. 8:29.
Jesus was led of the Spirit at His time of testing (Lk. 4:1); and Paul uses just those words of us in our present experience of trial (Rom. 8:14). His victory in the wilderness therefore becomes a living inspiration for us, who are tempted as He was (Heb. 4:15,16).
8:15 Not received the spirit of bondage- “bondage” is associated with the Mosaic law in Gal. 4:24; 5:1; Heb. 2:15.
To fear- the contrast is between bondage [slavery] and adoption; and therefore between fear and ‘crying Abba, Father’. The fear Paul has in view must surely be the fear of not being good enough, the phobia about rejection at the day of final judgment. This fear of rejection is associated with bondage to a legalistic system, of obeying rules in order to seek acceptance with God. Such a system is itself bondage, slavery. And the image of slavery has been used by Paul with reference to slavery to sin. Once again, he associates sin with legalism and attempted justification through obedience to the Law- for this is where that mindset leads in practice. The implication seems to be that although Paul’s readership had received the “spirit of adoption”, yet they still feared. Paul is seeking to convince them of their high status in Christ, and to perceive, to the point of it affecting their feelings [e.g. of fear or otherwise], that really- it’s all true. The good news that seems too good to believe is really as good as it sounds.
Spirit of adoption- the fact we have become sons of God [see on Rom. 8:14] by means of being in Christ, the Son of God, means that God will send His Spirit into our hearts, to make us more natural members of the family we have now joined by status. Gal. 4:6 thus speaks of how “God sent forth the spirit of His Son into our hearts”. Thus our hearts have to become transformed to be like that of His Son. This can be so successful that we even call to God as Abba, daddy. Note that the Spirit and our hearts are connected- this Spirit works on the human heart, miraculous gifts aren’t in view here. The NRSV renders: “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’, it is that very spirit bearing witness” (8:15,16). The feeling we have toward God as Abba is proof enough that He has sent His Son into our hearts. The obvious question is begged: Is that how we feel? God wants us to feel like that towards Him. We can and should be able to! This is one of the most bottom line questions for us as believers; not what theological position we have on this or that point, not what precise statement of faith we follow with what clarifications or caveats, addendums or ammendments; not whom we fellowship; not how smartly we have lived our lives even. But whether we really feel to God as Abba, Father. If it takes a woman three divorces or another man 10 years in prison or another a lifetime’s battle with alcohol- this is the end point to which we are being brought. This is the “witness” that we really are God’s dear children, if we feel like that toward Him, if we can call Him “Abba, daddy” just as the Son of God did in prayer. If we do, then “the Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God” (8:16). And Gal. 4:6 becomes so true of us: “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, whereby we cry, Abba, Father”. Roman law legislated that the adopted child took over the full identity of the adoptive father; what was true of that family became legally true of the adopted person- a concept which was apparently foreign to Greek and Jewish culture, but the concept would’ve been appreciated specifically by the Romans. The idea is similar to the concept of righteousness being “imputed”.
There is only one Spirit- the spirit of God, of Christ, of the true believer, of adoption- is all the same. The statement here that those in Christ received “the spirit of adoption” must therefore surely be paralleled with the frequent comments elsewhere in the NT that the believer has “received” [s.w.] the Spirit at conversion, just as the apostles “received the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 7:39; 14:17; 20:22; Acts 1:8; 2:33,38; 8:15,17; 10:47; 19:2; 1 Cor. 2:12; 2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 3:2,14). Whilst the apostles had their receipt of this gift confirmed by miraculous displays of Holy Spirit gifts which have now been withdrawn, the assumption is clear from that list of verses that after “the hearing of faith” and baptism into Christ, the Spirit was “received” (Gal. 3:2 etc.). Baptism was seen as bringing about the receipt of this gift (Acts 19:2; Gal. 3:14 cp. 27-29). When we became “in Christ” at baptism, we were counted as Christ. Just as He called God “Abba”, so we can. The way Jesus addressed God in this way is wonderful, indeed beautiful. It almost seems inappropriate that this personal relationship of the Son to the Father, calling Him “Daddy”, should be observed by us even; and yet now Paul says that it has been applied to us, seeing we are truly “in Him”. We have received such an extraordinarily realistic “spirit of adoption” that really, as Jesus was God’s Son, so are we. Through the work of the Spirit, even the virgin conception and birth of the Lord Jesus is now no barrier between Him and us; for in essence, our spiritual rebirth and adoption as God’s children is such that we too are God’s very own children just as He was. Our excuse for not fully following Him is that ‘Well He was a bit different to us, you know… virgin birth and all that’. If we grasp what Paul is saying, this now has far less validity. For the same Spirit which caused the virgin conception is what has birthed each believer, and through the spirit of adoption we too can feel towards God as “Abba”, just as His Son did. The unity between Father and Son has now been realized between the Father and all His children; the prayer of John 17 to this effect has now been answered. At least, potentially, and if we will accept the answer. And yet, it has to be said that we do not feel to God as Jesus did. The Lord Jesus could not have written the bitter lament about spiritual failure which we find in Romans 7. As we have often concluded, the answer is that we are asked to believe that really we are indeed “in Christ”, and seen, counted and felt towards by God as if we really are His beloved Son.
Whereby we cry- “whereby” can be rendered “in whom”. Because we are in Christ, we have His spirit, God’s Spirit. We “cry”- in allusion to how in Gethsemane, the Son of God “cried” to God as “Abba”. He there really can be our pattern. The Greek for “cry” really means to scream or croak- the idea is very much of a baby or young child crying out to “daddy”.
Abba - In prayer, we address God as Abba, Father- precisely because “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). I take these passages to refer to the way successful prayer involves the spirit / will of a believer becoming united with the Spirit / will of the Father and Son. Gal. 4:6 says that it is the Spirit of Jesus who prays to God “Abba, Father”; but Rom. 8:15 says that it is us of course who pray to God “Abba, Father”. We are not slaves but God’s very own dear children. The spirit / will / mind of the Lord Jesus is therefore seen as the mind of the believer. And thus Paul could write that it was no longer he who lived, but Christ who lived in him (Gal. 2:20). The whole of the new creation groans or sighs in our spirit; and Jesus, the Lord the Spirit groans in prayer for us too. God’s Spirit is to dwell in us, right in the core of our hearts (Rom. 8:11; Gal. 4:6)."We cry Abba, Father" (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6), as our Lord did then (Mk. 14:36). We can, we really can, it is possible, to enter into our Lord's intensity then. Paul saw his beloved brother Epaphroditus as "heavy" in spirit (Phil. 2:26), using a word only used elsewhere about Christ in Gethsemane (Mt. 26:37; Mk. 14:33). Luke and other early brethren seemed to have had the Gethsemane record in mind in their sufferings, as we can also do (Acts 21:14 = Mk. 14:36). I have wondered, and it’s no more than me wondering, whether it could be that Rom. 10:9,13; Acts 22:16 and the other references to calling on the name of the Lord at baptism imply that the candidate for baptism made the statement “Jesus is Lord!” after their confession of faith or just before their immersion, and then they shouted the word “Abba! Father!” as they came out of the water, indicating their adoption as a child of God (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Biblical prayers rarely request things; if we ask according to God's will, we will receive (1 Jn. 5:14); and yet if God's word dwells in us, we will ask what we will, and receive it (Jn. 15:7). Thus if our will is purely God's will, we will receive answers to every prayer. That our will can be God's will is another way of saying that our spirit can be His Spirit. This is why several passages speak of how God's Spirit witnesses with our spirit (Rom. 8:15,16,26; 1 Jn. 3:24; 4:13). It's why the early church sensed that not only were they witnessing to things, but the Holy Spirit of God also (Acts 5:32; 15:28). His Spirit becomes our spirit. Who we are as persons is effectively our prayer and plea to God. This conception of prayer explains why often weeping, crying, waiting, meditating etc. are spoken of as "prayer" , although there was no specific verbalizing of requests (Ps. 5:1,2; 6:8; 18:1,2,3,6; 40:1; 42:8; 64:1 Heb.; 65:1,2; 66:17-20; Zech. 8:22). The association between prayer and weeping is especially common: 1 Sam. 1:10; Ps. 39:12; 55:1,2; Jn. 11:41,42; Heb. 5:7, especially in the Lord's life and the Messianic Psalms. "The Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer" (Ps. 6:8,9) crystallizes the point. Desire is also seen as effectively praying for something (Rom. 10:1; Col. 1:9; 2 Cor. 9:14). Weeping, desiring, waiting, meditating etc. are all acts of the mind, or 'spirit' in Biblical terminology. There is therefore a big association between our spirit or state of mind, and prayer. The spirit (disposition) of Christ which we have received leads us to pray "Abba, Father" (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). "Praying in the holy spirit" (Jude 20) is to be seen in this context. Prayer is part of the atmosphere of spiritual life, not something hived off and separate- it is an expression of our spirit. Thus there are verses which speak of many daily prayers as being just one prayer (Ps. 86:3,6; 88:1,2); prayer is a way / spirit of life, not something specific which occurs for a matter of minutes each day. The commands to "pray without ceasing" simply can't be literally obeyed (1 Thess. 5:17). "Watch and pray always" in the last days likewise connects prayer with watchfulness, which is an attitude of mind rather than something done on specific occasions. This is not to say that prayer in no sense refers to formal, specific prayer. Evidently it does, but it is only a verbal crystallization of our general spirit of life.
8:16 The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God- see on 8:15 spirit of adoption. The Greek can be read as “The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit, that we are the children of God”. But the idea seems to be of a joint witness- our spirit is in fact the Spirit, and bear witness [in a legal sense] that we are really God’s children. As we have observed several times, there is only essentially one Spirit- God’s, Christ’s, the believer’s, are all the same spirit. Paul uses the same idea in Rom. 9:1, where he asserts that his conscience [and he may as well have said his spirit, for the idea of essential, inner personality is the same] bears joint witness [s.w. 8:16] with the Holy Spirit. God’s personality, His Spirit, is congruent with the person who has a spirit / heart for God. This meeting of minds between God and the believer is what confirms to us that we really are His children. Being His beloved children isn’t dependent upon our moral perfection- we must keep remembering that we are reading the words here in their context as the extension of what Paul was saying throughout Romans 7:15-25.
Paul here reverts to the image he used in chapter 3, of us for a moment acting as the judge (3:4), deciding whether God’s promises and claims about us are in fact true, or lies. Our own spirit and God’s Spirit bear legal witness- to whom? To us as the judges. They both testify, that really we are the children of God. Not only is the spirit of Christ, His righteousness, counted as ours; but God’s spirit / mind really is ours in experienced reality. Thus we are joint witnesses in the box together, and v. 17 will develop this theme- joint heirs, joint sufferers, and thus jointly glorified together. All because of our connection with Him, we are counted as Him. Note how Paul seems to be aware of the huge doubt there would be about these things in the hearts of the baptized believers to whom he writes; and such doubt is with us today. Hence the enormous relevance and power of what he writes, and the need he felt to appeal to detailed intellectual argument in order to prove his point time and again.
Imputed righteousness is given us on the basis of our faith. This means that insofar as we can believe all this is true, so it will be. In this sense “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom 8:16). We are His dear children (Eph. 5:1), the pride and joy of Almighty God, counted as wonderful and righteous by Him. Personal Bible reading and reflection are so important; for there the individual finds the essence of God’s will and strives to make it his or her very own. This is how we can come to understand Rom. 8:16, which says that in prayer, God’s Spirit bears witness with our spirit that is within us. Thus even although “we do not know how to pray for as we ought, the Spirit himself intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:26). The Spirit of the Father and Son speaks in us when we pray (Rom. 8:15), if our will / spirit is theirs. To put this in more technical but I think very telling terms: “The subject-object scheme of ‘talking to somebody’ is transcended; He who speaks through us is he who is spoken to”. It’s perhaps the thought behind Mt. 10:20: “It is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you”. This is why Paul can thank God that he finds himself praying constantly for Timothy (2 Tim. 1:3)- because he recognizes that not only can we influence God by our prayers, bur He influences us in what we pray for.
8:17 Children… joint heirs- very much the ideas of Gal. 3:27-29, where Paul taught that baptism makes us the children of God and join-heirs with Christ of what God promised Abraham. For all that is true of Christ becomes true of us. If He was the seed of Abraham, then so are we; and what was promised to the seed personally thus becomes true for us all. Again, Paul is seeking to explain to the Romans the significance of their baptisms.
The law taught that the firstborn was to have a double portion above his brethren. But we are made joint-heirs with Christ, the firstborn (Rom. 8:17). This is yet another paradox of grace. Likewise in the parable of the prodigal son, both sons receive equal inheritance, rather than the elder son getting more.
If so be that we suffer with Him- again, “if so be” is a misleading translation. This phrase is common in this part of Romans. It an indeed mean “if so be”, but the idea is equally of “seeing that…”, “although…”- and this is how it is commonly translated elsewhere. The good news Paul is teaching is almost unbelievable, too good news- and it was for the translators too, who for the most part have chosen to give a ‘conditional’ feel to the message by inserting all these “if…” statements as if they are conditions. But this impression contradicts the colossal positivism which Paul has, positivism expressed in the face of his own admission of failure in Romans 7; and such translation also fails to give due weight to the idea of positions, status “in Christ” as opposed to in Adam, which is so fundamental to Paul’s argument. Because we are in Christ, we are joint heirs with Him; and seeing that we suffer with Him, we shall be also glorified with Him in that we will share in His resurrection. This is the very teaching of Romans 6:3-5; baptism into His death and resurrection means that for sure we will be resurrected as He was. Note that we co-suffer with Christ right now- which suggests that He also in some sense suffers in this life, the essence of His cross is lived out in His experience even now, as He suffers with our sufferings, and we with His. The only other time this Greek word for co-suffering occurs is in 1 Cor. 12:26- we co-suffer with the sufferings of other members of the body of Christ. This is one way in which “we suffer with Him”- to have an empathetic mind. Whilst we must strive for this, Paul’s point is more that we do suffer with Him, because we are in Him; just as in Romans 6 he has demonstrated that we suffered, died, were buried and rose again with Christ, because we are “in Him”. The suffering and groaning of which Paul speaks in Rom. 8:17, 22-26 could have specific reference to the ‘groaning’ he has just been making about his inability to keep the Mosaic Law. Our helplessness to be obedient, our frustration with ourselves, is a groaning against sin which is actually a groaning in harmony with that of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, who makes intercession for us with the same groanings right now (Rom. 8:26). Indeed, those groanings are those spoken of in Heb. 5:7 as the groanings of strong crying and tears which the Lord made in His final passion. In this sense, the Spirit, the Lord the Spirit, bears witness with our spirit / mind, that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16). This clinches all I am trying to say. Our inability to keep the Law of God leads to a groaning against sin and because of sin, which puts us into a unity with the Lord Jesus as our Heavenly intercessor in the court of Heaven. But that wondrous realization of grace which is expressed so finely in Romans 8 would just be impossible were it not for the conviction of sin which there is through our experience of our inability to keep the Law of God. Our failure and groaning because of it becomes in the end the very witness that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16). God thereby makes sin His servant, in that the experience of it glorifies Him.
8:18 I reckon- s.w. to count, impute. As God counts us as in Christ, imputing us as having suffered and died with Him, we too in our turn must impute this to ourselves; and if we do, then we will realize that if our present sufferings are in fact seen by God and imputed by Him as being a part in the sufferings of Christ- then we can truly rejoice in the certainty that we will surely share in His resurrection life. If God counts us as He does, we should count ourselves that way too, and have feelings and emotions which are appropriate to such an exalted position.
The sufferings- elsewhere Paul emphasizes that if we are “in Christ”, then His sufferings become ours in the same way as His glory and victory become ours too. The tribulations of Rom. 8:35 could therefore be understood specifically as aspects of Christ’s sufferings, with Rom. 8:36 likening us in our sufferings to the sheep for the slaughter, which spoke of Christ facing the cross. See on Rom. 7:5. The only other time in Romans that Paul uses the word here translated “sufferings” is in Rom. 7:5, where he speaks of “the motions [s.w. sufferings] of sin”. He may be implying that even the sufferings caused by our sins are part of the sufferings which connect us to Christ- for His sufferings were directly because of His bearing of our sins. This is a very profound thought- that even the sufferings of our sins serve only to connect us to the sufferings of Christ, in a mutual bond; for He suffered because of our sins. And for those in Him, our connection with His sufferings is the guarantee of our resurrection to glory with Him.
Glory which shall be revealed- the contrast between present suffering and future glory is common in Jewish texts. But they all tended to emphasize that the individual who does righteousness will receive personal glory (e.g. Apocalypse of Baruch, 2, 15:8). Paul is saying that the glory to which we look forward is a sharing in the glory of Christ in a material way. This glory exists now in that Christ exists glorified, but that glory must yet be revealed in us literally (1 Pet. 5:1).
Revealed in us- the “glory” is something internal, rather than referring to some unusually Divine light or cloud of shekinah glory, as imagined by 1st century Judaism and many others today. The Greek for “revealed” carries the idea of revealing, taking the lid off something to expose it. We are in Christ and He is thereby in us- the whole thing has a mutual quality to it. He dwells in us not only in that His righteous character, His spirit, is counted to us- but in actual fact, it is placed within us. This is the “spirit” which Paul will go on to claim is in fact within us. It doesn’t mean we are thereby made righteous in our actual thoughts and actions- for he has bitterly lamented in Romans 7 that this isn’t actually the case. At the day of judgment, when we share in the Lord’s resurrection just as surely as we have in this life shared in His sufferings, that glory, that spirit, that personality within us shall be revealed openly. Perhaps Peter uses flesh and spirit in the same way that Paul does, when he says that believers are “judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (1 Pet. 4:6), just as Jesus was likewise judged (1 Pet. 3:18). We are considered by our peers as mere human beings, they may even judge us for the kind of failures in the flesh which Paul admits to in Rom. 7:15-25. But God judges us according to the “spirit”, the fact that the spirit / character of Christ is counted to us, and in some hard-to-define sense is in fact latently placed within us. And this of course is how we should seek to perceive our weak fellow believers.
8:19 Manifestation of the sons of God- could imply that the believers aren’t really revealed for who they are in this life. This shouldn’t encourage our hypocrisy nor the idea that we can be a believer whose faith is invisible to the world; but it’s some comfort too. Because we look, smell, speak and act identically, for the most part, to the unbelievers around us. The huge difference in status and position has to be perceived by faith alone in this life. This “manifestation” is the same word as used in 8:18, “revealed”- see notes on 8:18.
Earnest expectation of the creation- the whole of creation is somehow looking forward to the revelation of the Christ that is within us. Christ, the spirit of Christ, is concealed deep within our flesh and will be manifested at the last day, even though we as it were feel the baby kicking, as Paul describes in Rom. 7:15-25 when he speaks of the two persons struggling within him. On a different scale, we are as it were concealed deep within the creation, as the seed, the germ, which will sprout forth into the full Kingdom of God when Christ returns. All that is material and fleshly, this present system, will no longer conceal the Christ within us personally, and on a global scale it will no longer conceal us, who we really are. This element of hiddeness explains why we simply cannot judge others. Here in this closing section of Romans 1-8 there also seems a connection of thought with the opening section of Romans 1-8, where Paul wrote of how the invisible things of God which were as it were hidden within creation are in some sense declared to those who know God (Rom. 1:20)
8:20- see on Rom. 8:7.
The creation- given the way Paul writes of “they” as opposed to “ourselves” in 8:23, the creation here perhaps refers to all peoples (or maybe even, all created things) apart from the believers.
Subject to vanity- the connection with the opening of the entire section in Romans 1 continues. There Paul used the same word to describe how sinners ‘become vain’ (Rom. 1:21). They willingly glory in the fallen state of creation, seeking out every opportunity to gratify sinful desires. Although we are indeed “subject to vanity”, we don’t need to in our own turn ‘become vain’. If we can be made free from the daily grind in order to serve God, let us chose it. Let’s not fill our minds and lives with the things of basic human existence, gathering food, reproducing, indulging sexual desire. In one sense, as part of God’s creation, we are subject to vanity- and perhaps that’s why Paul uses the same word in the practical section of Romans to say that we “must needs be subject” to worldly powers (Rom. 13:1,5). By doing so we accept how things are in creation at this time. The idea of submission is quite a theme in Romans. Our natural mind, the status / person “in Adam”, isn’t submissive to God’s law and never can be (Rom. 8:7); the natural creation, of which our fleshly, human side is a part, is subject, in submission to, vanity. Yet we are to submit ourselves- our real selves- to God’s righteousness (Rom. 10:3).
Not willingly- continues the parallel between the believer in Christ’s fallen and weak state, and the state of the entire creation. Again, this is a development of the theme of Rom. 7:15-25- that we sin because of our weakness in dealing with the state we find ourselves in, but our sin isn’t willful- it is in fact committed not willingly, “that which I would / will not” (Rom. 7:19).
Him who has subjected the same in hope- a reference to God. This is a major deconstruction of the popular idea of ‘Satan’, who was and is supposed by many to be the one who has tied the world down under the consequences of sin. But it is God who has done the subjecting, and therefore He has done it “in hope”, which He will be the One to bring to realization.
8:21 The creation itself also- Ultimately, the creation will share the deliverance which we personally experience now and shall experience in its final term at the Lord’s return. The whole of creation earnestly looks forward to the manifestation of the sons of God. The whole of creation was made "subject to vanity, not willingly" - it was not their fault that the curse came upon them. "The whole of creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together", longing to share in the manifestation in glory of God's spiritual creation. The sadness and bitterness of the animal creation is due to their longing for that day of "the glorious liberty of the children of God" in which they will share.
Shall be delivered- the same word has been used by Paul in speaking of how even now, we have been delivered from slavery to sin and death by becoming “in Christ” (Rom. 6:18,22; 8:2). The same word is also used about our having been made free from slavery to the Mosaic Law (Gal. 5:1), which connection could suggest that the “creation” here has some specific reference to the entire Jewish system.
From the bondage- Gk. ‘slavery’. The idea of being in slavery to sin and the Law has been common in Paul’s argument so far. The believer in Christ is saved from such slavery- and God’s long term plan is that the entire creation will share in this redemption too.
Corruption- used by Paul in Col. 2:22 with special reference to the Law of Moses. But he also uses the word in explaining how our present corruptible body shall be changed to incorruption when Christ returns (1 Cor. 15:42,50). The whole creation will be changed and redeemed as we personally will be. In this sense the work of the Lord Jesus will bring about the creation, or re-creation, of a new earth without the results of Adam’s sin. His achievement on the cross in this sense saved the world and not just the believers.
Into the glorious liberty of the children of God- The redemption and freedom from corruption which the believers shall experience will be experienced by all of creation. When at the end of Romans 11 Paul appears to rejoice in the totality and universality of Divine redemption in Christ, he may well have this in mind. Not that all human beings who have ever lived will be saved, but rather that the whole of creation, in a physical sense, will be saved / delivered just as the believers will have been. Our freedom is ‘of glory’ in the sense touched upon in Rom. 8:18- the glory of the character of Christ which is latent within us but which is yet to be revealed openly. Paul always uses the Greek word used here for “liberty” to exalt how believers in Christ have been set free from the Jewish law (1 Cor. 10:29; 2 Cor. 3:17; Gal. 2:4; 5:1,13). He clearly has this at least as a subtext in his argument here, encouraging us to wonder whether by ‘all of creation’ he has in view “all Israel”. In this case, his argument would be brought to its full term in Rom. 11:26, when he exalts that finally “all Israel shall be saved”. When Paul speaks of “all [AV “the whole”] creation” in Rom. 8:22, this is the same word translated “all” in Rom. 11:26. They will finally share in the blessed redemption made possible by the Messiah whom they crucified, they will also experience the glorious liberty from sin and the Law which was the strength of sin, which was exalted in by those like Paul whom they persecuted and reviled. For it is those who received Jesus as Christ rather than rejected Him as did the Jews, whom the NT styles “the children of God” (Jn. 1:12).In this sense, Paul in this very context notes that the Jews under the Law are not the true “children of God”- but the believers in Christ are (Rom. 9:8).
This “liberty” in which the NT so frequently exults (Lk. 4:18; 1 Cor. 10:29; Gal. 2:4; 5:13; James 1:25; 2:12; 1 Pet. 2:16) will be fully revealed in the freedom of the Kingdom: “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). As it will be then, so now: we will not be free to do what we like morally, but within the context of God’s covenant, we are free, totally and utterly free, in our service of Him.
8:22 The whole creation – Gk. “all” creation, s.w. Rom. 11:26 “all Israel”. See on Rom. 8:21.
Groans together- Groans together with whom? Perhaps the idea is that creation together, all parts of it, groan together. But I suggest the groaning is together with us and the Lord Jesus. The Greek for “groan” is used about the groaning of the Lord Jesus in intercessory prayer in Mk. 7:34. The believers in Him likewise groan in awaiting the change of our nature which shall come at Christ’s return (2 Cor. 5:2,4). This is the groaning we have heard throughout Romans 7:15-24, groaning at the hopelessness of our position as sinners. Paul perceived [“for we know”, Gk. ‘perceive’] that he wasn’t alone in his groaning, but there is even within the natural creation some premonition that a redemption is yet to come, and a groaning in discontent at the present situation. Thus he didn’t perceive nature as at peace with itself, as many today naively imagine. Rather is it groaning with us. And if we follow up Paul’s hints that “all creation” has some reference to “all Israel”, their groaning which he perceived would have been in terms of ‘not having found that which they sought after’, as he put it in Rom. 11:7; they sought righteousness but didn’t find it (Rom. 9:31). They were looking for the right thing in the wrong places and by the wrong way. And yet their groaning, our groaning, the groaning perceived in the natural creation, are in fact but birth pangs- we groan and travail in pain together. The birth which this leads to is the new day of God’s Kingdom, the final birth of the Spirit which believers in Christ have experienced in prospect through baptism. And again, Paul’s subtextual reference to the bankruptcy of the Law to save is still there, for the only other time he uses this word for “travail” is in his allegorical comment that Judaism is barren and doesn’t travail, and yet the true Zion is in travail, groaning to bring forth many children (Gal. 4:19,27). And yet he is perhaps hinting that just as the Jews subconsciously knew that Jesus was Messiah [“this is the heir, let us kill him”], so the Jewish system was in fact groaning and travailing towards the bringing forth of faith in Christ. The same idea of travailing in birth pangs is to be found in the descriptions of the situation just before the return of Christ (e.g. 1 Thess. 5:3). The significance of Paul’s emphasis that this is happening ‘right up until now’ might then be a hint that he expected the return of Christ imminently. However, as previously touched upon in this exposition, it could be that Paul believed we should live as if the return of Christ is imminent; he therefore interpreted prophecy, Scripture and contemporary situations in that manner, just as we should. The groaning of creation and of ourselves also is therefore but the prelude to something far better- the actual birth at the second coming of Christ. My own interpretation of the radical changes in natural phenomena on earth at this time is that it’s all an indication that creation is indeed groaning, now as never before, in a subconscious pleading for the Lord’s return.
Groans and travails- a reference to natural disasters and the animal violence which there is within this fallen world? Our groanings, our struggling in prayer, is transferred to God by the Lord Jesus groaning also, but with groanings far deeper and more fervently powerful than ours (Rom. 8:22,23 cp. 26). See on Rom. 8:17; Col. 2:1. Romans 8 teaches that there is in fact just one Spirit; the Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of God, and is "the Spirit" in the believer (Rom. 8:9-11). There is "one Spirit" (Eph. 4:4). If the will of God is in us, if His will is embedded in our conscience, we will ask what we will, what our spirit desires, and it will be granted. This is because if our Spirit is attune with the Spirit of God and of Christ, our desires, our wish, is transferred automatically to Him. Whatever we ask being in the name of Christ, being in His character and the essence of His spirit, will therefore be done (Jn. 15:16). It doesn't mean that saying the words "I ask in the name of Christ" gives our request some kind of magical power with God. It must surely mean that if we are in Him, if His words abide in us, then we will surely be heard, for our will is His will. We are guaranteed answers if we ask in His name, if we ask what we will, if the word dwells in us, if we ask according to God's will... all these are essentially the same thing. If we are truly in Him, if the word really dwells in us, if our will has become merged with God's will, then we will only request things which are in accordance with His will, and therefore we will receive them. Thus the experience of answered prayer will become part of the atmosphere of spiritual life for the successful believer. The Lord knew that the Father heard Him always (Jn. 11:42). It is for this reason that the prayers of faithful men rarely make explicit requests; their prayers are an expression of the spirit of their lives and their relationship with God, not a list of requests. It explains why God sees our needs, He sees our situations, as if these are requests for help, and acts accordingly. The request doesn't have to be baldly stated; God sees and knows and responds. This is why Romans 8 appears to confuse the spirit of God, the spirit of Christ in the believer, and Christ himself as "the Lord the Spirit". Yet what Paul is showing is that in fact if we are spiritually minded, if our thinking is in harmony with the Father and Son, prayer is simply a merger of our Spirit with theirs; the idea of prayer as a means of requesting things doesn't figure, because God knows our need and will provide. The whole creation groans; we ourselves groan inwardly; and the Spirit makes intercession with groans that can't be uttered. Clearly enough, our groans are His groans. He expresses them more powerfully and articulately than we can. It has been observed: "As I read Paul's words, an image comes to mind of a mother tuning in to her child's wordless cry. I know mothers who can distinguish a cry for food from a cry for attention, an earache cry from a stomachache cry. To me, the sounds are identical, but the mother instinctively perceives the meaning of the child's nonverbal groan. It is the inarticulateness, the very helplessness, of the child that gives her compassion such intensity". In deep sickness or depression it can simply be that we find formal, verbalized prayer impossible. Ps. 77:4 speaks of this: "I am so troubled that I cannot speak" (formally, to God). It's in those moments that comfort can be taken from the fact that it is our spirit which is mediated as it were to God. Tribulation is read as prayer- hence even the Lord's suffering on the cross, "the affliction of the afflicted", was read by the Father as the Lord Jesus 'crying unto' the Father (Ps. 22:24). This is sure comfort to those so beset by illness and physical pain that they lack the clarity of mind to formally pray- their very affliction is read by the Father as their prayer.
8:23 Not only they but ourselves also... even we ourselves- A fair emphasis by Paul on the fact that our groaning are in some sort of harmony with the groaning of all creation. If we understand ‘all creation’ as “all Israel”, Paul’s emphasis on the commonality of our groaning together would be as if to say ‘Jews and Christians aren’t that far apart really; we are united by our groanings’. And he argued the same at the opening of his argument in Romans 1-3; that Jew and Gentile are united by the desperation of their sinfulness, their common need for redemption.
Which have the firstfruits of the Spirit- I have explained earlier that Paul is teaching that the spirit or personality / mind of Christ is counted to us by imputed righteousness; but more than that, the Spirit of Christ is actually placed within us, although that spirit of Christ which dwells within us is latent, hidden beneath the flesh and failures of which Paul speaks in Romans 7. As we are in Christ, so He is in us, indwelling us by His Spirit. Clearly enough, the resurrected Christ is the firstfruit (1 Cor. 15:20,23), and we shall only be the firstfruits “afterward... at his coming”. Yet because all that is true of Christ is true of we who are counted in Him, we too are the firstfruits. “The Spirit” could refer to Christ personally, “the Lord the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18 RVmg.).
Groan within ourselves- Paul writes this in explanation of his groaning within himself which is outlined in Rom. 7:15-24.
Waiting for- The Greek rather carries the idea of expecting. For if we are in Christ, His sufferings counted as ours and ours as His, then our ultimate salvation is assured. We are therefore expecting it, rather than waiting to see what shall happen at His return.
The adoption, the redemption of our body- Continuing the image of adoption which was introduced in 8:15. We have already received the spirit of adoption. We are adopted unto God for the sake of our being in Christ, the supreme Son of God (Eph. 1:5). We are God’s adopted children in that we are in Christ, the ultimate child of God. But as has been lamented in Romans 7, our body, our flesh, is still as it is, unredeemed, and in practice unable to be subject to God’s law. We with Paul and with all creation, groan for redemption from this situation. Gal. 4:5 speaks of the death of Christ as being required “to redeem that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons”. The ideas of redemption, adoption and “sons” are repeated. So although we have attained such adoption as God’s sons in that we are in His Son by status, we long for the physical manifestation of that redemption which we have received- and we groan for it. Note that “the adoption of sons” isn’t sexist language; it is as sons that we are adopted rather than as daughters or androids because we are counted as in God’s Son, Jesus, who happened to be male. We are counted as Him. The status we have received in Him is one of redemption, we are labelled as it were “redeemed”. We in Christ have already received this redemption by grace (Rom. 3:24). He is “redemption” and we are in Him (1 Cor. 1:30). Consistently Paul speaks of ‘redemption’ as being “in Christ” (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14), and we have been baptized into Him and are counted in Him, as Paul has laboured throughout Romans so far. But our bodies still need that redemption, and we await / expect it at the Lord’s return. Eph. 1:14; 4:30 likewise speak of “the day of redemption” as the second coming of Christ, and yet urge us to believe that we “sealed” by our receipt of the Spirit, as a guarantee, that this day will really come for us. The “spirit” referred to is the same as here in Romans 8- the indwelling of Jesus personally within all them who are “in Him”, and the counting of His spirit to them by imputed righteousness.
Adoption… redemption- just as our minds have received the spirit of adoption, so our bodies will be transformed at the final judgment into a body like that of Jesus (Phil. 3:20,21).
8:24,25 Saved by hope- Better translated as “saved in hope”. God’s grace and the blood of Christ, believed in by faith, are what saves, rather than hope of itself. We have been saved, but in hope- for the fullness of salvation will only be revealed when Christ returns. As commented under 8:23, we have been redeemed, but the redemption of the body is our expectation at the second coming. Note that the Greek for “hope” means a confident expectation- the English ‘hope’ tends to carry a somewhat less confident flavour of meaning, the implication being that we ‘hope for the best’ rather than confidently await. But because we are saved in Christ, our hope is certain. Likewise the Greek translated in this section as “wait” better translates as ‘confidently await’. We’re not waiting to see what happens, but rather awaiting with confidence what must surely come for us- the redemption of our body. Anything less than this approach wouldn’t have left Paul pulling out of his groaning within himself of Romans 7 with the confident cry of rejoicing, the scream in the night, of Rom. 7:25- that he has indeed found the way of escape and deliverance through Christ. Jesus personally is “our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1). And we are in Him. But we don’t physically see Him yet, nor physically have we seen the redemption of our bodies. We therefore wait, or await confidently, the fulfillment of the hope which is now reserved for us (Col. 1:5).
Patiently wait for it- Why does Paul labour his point here- that we don’t have [“see”] what we know is coming for us, therefore we must patiently wait for it? Maybe to encourage patience in the waiting- perhaps the crux of his argument in these verses is on the word “patience”. But maybe he is back to addressing the old worry which he know lurks in every reader: Why, then, am I still such a sinner right now, today? Given that reality, how then can I so confidently await the future redemption? And Paul’s answer is that yes we have been redeemed, but no we don’t see that redemption physically, no, we don’t yet see it, but we are patiently awaiting it in confidence. Despite all our weakness and failure in the flesh. Our waiting is paralleled with the awaiting of all creation for the manifestation of God’s children [the same word is used in Rom. 8:19,23,25]. The New Testament associates this ‘waiting’ with the faithful awaiting of Christ’s return (s.w. 1 Cor. 1:7; Gal. 5:5; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 9:28). Yet here in Romans we are awaiting the manifestation of ourselves as the sons of God (Rom. 8:19). Christ is us and we are Him, if we are in Him and He in us. His manifestation or ‘coming’ (s.w. 1 Cor. 1:7, we wait for the manifestation / coming of Christ) will be the same as the manifestation of the sons of God, all those who are in Him. His manifestation will therefore be ours; His glory shall be manifested in us in that day [s.w. Rom. 8:18] just as He personally shall be manifested. And thus we read that in a sense, Christ shall return with all those who are in Him with Him; for the faithful shall be snatched away to meet Him in the air, as clouds (1 Thess. 4:17), and then He shall come to earth with clouds, of the faithful believers (Rev. 1:7). In this sense the second coming of Christ is likened to the new Jerusalem, the spotless bride of Christ, coming down from Heaven to earth (Rev. 21:2). His manifestation is ours, for all that is true of Him is true of us. Our hupomone [‘joyful endurance’, AV “patience”] in awaiting the return of Christ is therefore possible because we are awaiting our redemption. We can only joyfully await His coming [and hupomone can carry an element of ‘joy’ within the wide flavour of its meaning] if we are confident that His coming means our redemption rather than our judgment to condemnation. If our attitude to the return of Christ is that we shall only then find out, only then will our destiny be sorted out- then we are of all men most fearful and uncertain. But clearly enough for those in Christ, His revealing physically to the world shall be our revealing. His coming is going to be ours. “For thee he comes, His might to impart, to the trembling heart and the feeble knee”.
8:26 Likewise also- A phrase hard to interpret in this context. The sense may be more of “And even moreover”, “even so”; “And now guess what, even more...” might be the dynamic sense. That apart from us having a wonderful hope which we confidently await, it’s not all jam tomorrow. The spirit, both as the Lord the spirit, i.e. Jesus personally, and also as His spirit which indwells us, is actively at work even now.
The Spirit- a title for Christ personally. See on Rom. 7:14.
Helps our infirmities- “helps” occurs in the LXX of Ex. 18:22 and Num. 11:17, where Moses is the one helped. Paul is suggesting that each believer can rise up to the pattern of Moses; he was no longer to be seen by Jewish believers as some distant, untouchable, stellar example of devotion. He was a pattern that through the Spirit could be realistically attained; although the point is being cleverly made that he too had weakness that needed Divine help. Paul made it a credo of his own life, and urged other believers to follow his example in this, that he would labour to support [s.w. help, Rom. 8:26] the weak (Acts 20:35). For we are all weak, and helped only by grace. But the Greek word Paul uses for ‘helps’ also carries the meaning of ‘to participate it’. It clearly has this sense in 1 Tim. 6:2, “partakers [participators in] the benefit”. The Spirit participates in our infirmities and thus helps us; just as we should seek to empathize as far as we can in the infirmities of others, both practical and moral. The “infirmities” Paul has in mind would seem to be the infirmity of spirit he laments in Rom. 7:15-24; our moral weakness. The same word is used of how the Lord Jesus in His ministry fulfilled the prophecy of Is. 53:4 that on the cross He would ‘take our infirmities’ (Mt. 8:17). These “infirmities” according to Is. 53:4 were our sins, but sin’s effect is manifested through sickness. The moral dimension to these “infirmities” has already been established by Paul in Romans, for in Rom. 5:6 he uses the word to describe how “when we were yet weak [s.w. ‘infirm’], Christ died for the ungodly; and he explains his sense here as being that “when we were yet sinners” (Rom. 5:8). Jesus as the Lord the Spirit engages with our infirmities, on the plane of the spirit, the deep human mind and psyche. What He did on the cross in engaging with our moral infirmity He did in His life, and He continues to do for us in essence. He does not turn away in disgust at our infirmities, rather through His Spirit within us He engages with them, perhaps deep within our subconscious, beneath our conscious will. The allusion to Mt. 8:17 seems certain- for there we read the same word for “infirmities” and “took” is lambano, a form of which is used by Paul in saying that the Spirit “helps” our infirmities. We are therefore led to understand “the Spirit” as a title of Christ personally. That title is used, however, because of the fact that in this context, His Spirit, His personality, is within us, He personally indwells us within our spirit; as we are in Christ so He is in us. His strength is perfected through our weakness (s.w. “infirmities”; 2 Cor. 12:9). He knows even now the feeling of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15; 5:2). If the Lord Jesus so engages with our weaknesses, we therefore ought to unhesitatingly “support the weak” [s.w., 1 Thess. 5:14].
What to pray for- Mt. 20:22 = Rom. 8:26. This is an example of where appreciating the links with the Gospels opens our understanding of Paul's letters. Paul is implying that we are like the mother of Zebedee's children, in that when we pray, we know not what we ask for in the sense that we don't appreciate what we ask for. I know what to pray for: my redemption, and that of others. Read wrongly, Rom. 8:26 implies we haven't the foggiest what on earth to ask God for. But we do know what to ask for; the point is, we don't appreciate what we are asking for, just as that woman didn't appreciate what she was praying for when she asked that her two boys would be in the Kingdom.
Pray for- a related word is used in this same context by Paul in Rom. 9:3, where he says that he “could wish”, s.w. “pray”, that he himself were condemned by God so that Israel might be saved. His allusion is to Moses’ prayer that he would be excluded from God’s book rather than Israel be excluded from the Kingdom. But Paul learnt the lesson from how God responded to Moses- that He doesn’t accept substitutionary sacrifice. Paul is admitting he too doesn’t know how to pray for Israel as he ought, but he leaves their salvation in the hands of their Saviour, whilst so earnestly desiring it in his own spirit.
As we ought- We don’t seem to have within us to pray as we ought, i.e. as we [s.w.] ‘must’. It’s not that we just don’t know what to pray about; we don’t pray as we ought to / must, and yet our gracious Mediator makes intercession with unutterable groans. And the older Paul can lament his failures to preach as he “ought", as he must, and therefore he appeals for prayer that he will witness to the Gospel as every believer of it must (Eph. 6:20; Col. 4:4).
The Spirit Himself- a clear reference to Christ, whose spirit indwells us and is in dialogue with our spirit on some unconscious level. Our innermost spiritual desires are thereby transferred to God by our Heavenly mediator. And our innermost desire is to be right with God, to obtain salvation, deliverance from this body of death and life of spiritual failure. Now we can better understand why all we are reading here flows on naturally from his groaning of spirit in Romans 7. The Lord Jesus indwells us, His spirit perceives the spiritual groaning of our spirit, and transfers it as it were to Himself; for if we are in Christ, then He is in us. And His intercession for us is in that sense successful; our salvation was obtained on the cross thanks to His own groaning in spirit there, and this guarantees that He will obtain it for us [the idea of ‘intercession’, we have noted, includes that of ‘obtaining’].
Makes intercession- A return to the legal metaphors. The Lord Jesus is our interceder, the counsel for the defence, and also an emotional witness, pleading with groanings to the judge in support of our case. The Greek for “intercession” cannot be taken too far, but it is derived from the verb ‘to obtain’. The obtaining of our salvation, the winning of our case, was achieved on the cross, in the groanings of Jesus in Gethsemane and on the stake; but in essence, He groans for us still in intercession, and in doing so, His groaning are in sympathy with our groaning for salvation. The type of groanings of spirit of Rom. 7:15-24 become the groanings of our Heavenly intercessor. He is not separate from our frustrations at our failures; He takes them fully on board. The crucial thing is that we have them; that we can read Rom. 7:15-24 with empathy and know that ‘That’s me’. Which I believe most readers of these words can indeed say.
Groanings - Heb. 5:7 comments that Christ prayed "with strong crying and tears". These words are certainly to be connected with Rom. 8:26, which speaks of Christ making intercession for us now with "groanings which cannot be uttered". One might think from Heb. 5:7 that the Lord Jesus made quite a noise whilst hanging on the cross. But Rom. 8:26 says that his groaning is so intense that it cannot be audibly uttered; the physicality of sound would not do justice to the intensity of mental striving. No doubt the Lord Jesus was praying silently, or at best quietly, as he hung there. The point is that the same agonizing depth of prayer which the Lord achieved on the cross for us is what he now goes through as he intercedes for us with the Father. Heb. 5:7 describes Christ on the cross as a priest offering up a guilt offering for our sins of ignorance. He did this, we are told, through "prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears". This must surely be a reference to "Father forgive them". Those were said with a real passion, with strong crying, with tears as He appreciated the extent of our sinfulness and offence of God. There is a connection between these words and those of Rom. 8:26,27, which describes Christ as our High Priest making intercession for us "with groanings". "Groanings" is surely the language of suffering and crucifixion. It is as if our Lord goes through it all again when He prays for our forgiveness, He has the same passion for us now as He did then. Think of how on the cross He had that overwhelming desire for our forgiveness despite His own physical pain. That same level of desire is with Him now. Surely we can respond by confessing our sins, by getting down to realistic self-examination, by rallying our faith to truly appreciate His mediation and the forgiveness that has been achieved, to believe that all our sins, past and future, have been conquered, and to therefore rise up to the challenge of doing all we can to live a life which is appropriate to such great salvation. The suffering and groaning of which Paul speaks in Rom. 8:17, 22-26 is in my view a reference to the ‘groaning’ he has just been making about his inability to keep the Mosaic Law [see on Rom. 7:18]. Our helplessness to be obedient, our frustration with ourselves, is a groaning against sin which is actually a groaning in harmony with that of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, who makes intercession for us with the same groanings right now (Rom. 8:26). Indeed, those groanings are those spoken of in Heb. 5:7 as the groanings of strong crying and tears which the Lord made in His final passion. In this sense, the Spirit, the Lord the Spirit, bears witness with our spirit / mind, that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16). This clinches all I am trying to say. Our inability to keep the Law of God leads to a groaning against sin and because of sin, which puts us into a unity with the Lord Jesus as our Heavenly intercessor in the court of Heaven. Because of this, we are declared justified, there are no credible accusers, and the passionate intercessor / advocate turns out to be the judge Himself. Thus through our frustration at our own failure, we are led not only to Christ but to the certainty of an assured salvation. But that wondrous realization of grace which is expressed so finely in Romans 8 would just be impossible were it not for the conviction of sin which there is through our experience of our inability to keep the Law of God. Our failure and groaning because of it becomes in the end the very witness that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16). God thereby makes sin His servant, in that the experience of it glorifies Him. How God works through sin is revealed in the way that although God always provided food for Israel in the wilderness, He ‘suffered them to hunger’ for 40 years, in order to try to teach them that man lives not by bread alone, but by God’s word (Dt. 8:2,3). The Jews in the wilderness despised the food God gave them as worthless (Num. 21:3); they went hungry not literally, but in the sense that they despised the manna of God’s provision. And He allowed them to have that hunger, in order that He might [try to] teach them about the value of His word. He didn’t simply punish them for their ingratitude. He sought to work through it in order to teach them something. Even the process of rejection results in the victims coming to ‘know the Lord’.
Cannot be uttered- In the same way as our inner groanings for salvation, for deliverance from how we are, are unspoken, rarely verbalized (although Rom. 7:15-24 is a fine exception), so His intercession for us isn’t in human words, it’s a dialogue of the Spirit with God, a meeting of innermost minds. Our sinfulness and desire to be free from it is articulated through the spirit of God’s perfect Son, to the mind or spirit of God Himself. Intercession, therefore, isn’t a question of translating words which we say in prayer into some Heavenly language which is somehow understandable to God, rather like a translator may interpret from one language to another. It is our spirit which is perceived for what it is and articulated before God. This explains why both in Biblical example and in our own experience, our unspoken, unformulated desires of the spirit are read by God as prayers and responded to. I devote a whole chapter in my analysis of “Prayer” to exemplifying this Biblically, but we should also know it from our own experience. Desires which we had, above all we asked or thought, are read by God as prayers and responded to. Paul gives an example of this in saying that Elijah made intercession to God against Israel (Rom. 11:2,3), when clearly it was his thoughts in this context which were being interpreted as prayer. Perhaps the statement that the Lord Jesus intercedes for us without human words, in terms which “cannot be uttered”, is intended as a comfort to those who feel they’re ‘not good at praying’ because they don’t know how to put it all in words. Verbalization skills are hardly a prerequisite for powerful prayer- because some people are more verbal, better with words, than others. Rom. 8 speaks of the importance of being spiritually minded, and then goes on to say that our spirit, our deep inner mind, is transferred to God by Christ, called by His title "the Lord the spirit" , without specifically spoken words. This is surely proof enough that the Lord does not mediate our prayers as an interpreter would, from one language to another, matching lexical items from one language with those from another. "We know not what to pray for", so the Lord Jesus reads our inner spirit, and transfers this on a deep mental level, without words, to the Father. The whole process of mediation takes place within the Lord's mind, with the sort of groanings He had as He begged the Father to raise Lazarus (Rom. 8:26 cp. Jn. 11:38), and as on the cross He prayed with strong crying and tears for our redemption (Heb. 5:5 cp. Is. 53:12). The Lord Jesus is the same yesterday and today. That same passion and intensity of pleading really is there. This is why the state of our mind, our spirit, is so vitally important; because it is this which the Lord Jesus interprets to the Father. The Lord's Spirit struggles in mediation with crying and groaning (Rom. 8:26), as He did for the raising of Lazarus. There is a further connection with Heb. 5:5, where we learn that the Lord prayed on the cross with a like intensity. And this Lord is our Lord today. He can be crucified afresh, therefore He has the capacity for struggle and mental effort. The Greek for "groanings" in Rom. 8:26 also occurs in Mk. 7:34: "Looking up to heaven, he sighed and saith unto him, Ephthatha". The sighing of intense prayer by the Lord was His more spiritually cultured reflection of the number one desire of that man's spirit, as was His groaning and tears for Martha's desire to be granted, and Lazarus to be raised. It has been wisely observed that the language of Christ's mediation can be quite misunderstood. The picture we should have "is not that of an orante, standing ever before the Father with out-stretched arms... pleading our cause in the presence of a reluctant God... but that of a throned Priest-King, asking what He will from a Father who always hears and grants His request”. The description of Christ groaning in spirit to transfer our spirit to God (Rom. 8:26) is a reflection of the fact that we groan for redemption and the coming of the day of the liberty of God's children (Rom. 8:22,23), when what is guaranteed by "the firstfruits of the Spirit" which we have, will at last be realized. "All things work together for good" to this end, of forgiveness and salvation. It certainly doesn't mean that every story ends up happily-ever-after in this life. "We know not what we should pray for as we ought" (Rom. 8:26) seems to be some kind of allusion back to the mother of Zebedee's children asking Christ to get her two sons the best places in the Kingdom (Mt. 20:22). He basically replied 'You know not what you pray for', in the sense of 'you don't appreciate'. It may be that Paul in Rom. 8 is saying that in our desire for the Kingdom, in our groaning for it, we don't appreciate what we ask for as we ought, yet Christ nonetheless makes powerful intercession for us to this end. Because there is only "one Spirit", even the terms "Spirit of God" and "Spirit of Christ" can be paralleled because they are manifestations of that same one Spirit: "Ye are... 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. And if Christ be in you... the Spirit is life... if the Spirit of (God) that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you... the Spirit (Christ, 1 Tim.2:5; 2 Cor.3:18 R.V.) maketh intercession for us" (Rom.8:9-11,26). See on Jn. 7:39.
8:27 He that searches the hearts- A clear reference to God, whom many Bible passages present as the One who searches human hearts. God knows and recognizes what the Lord Jesus is ‘saying’ because He Himself anyway knows the true state of our hearts, searching our motives and the inner thoughts which lay behind the external actions and words which are judged by men. Hence we can be judged [harshly] by men according to the flesh, but justified by the God who knows our spirit (1 Pet. 4:6). The ‘searching’ of human hearts is also done by the Lord Jesus (s.w. Rev. 2:23), as well as by God. And their findings are of course congruent. In this sense, the intercession of the Lord Jesus is “according to God” [Gk.], or “the will of God” [AV], or to fill out the ellipsis another way, ‘according to the searching of God too’.
Knows what is the mind of the Spirit [Jesus]- God who knows our minds knows the mind of Christ too. Because His mind is our mind, His Spirit is intertwined with, in dialogue with, reflective of, our deepest spirit in our inner, spiritual person. The hearts / minds of the believers are in this sense the mind of Christ; for due to our status in Him, “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). Thus the mind of Christ as He comes before the Father in intercession for us is at one with God’s mind, as well as at one with our mind. In this we begin to see the profound depths, or something of them, of what it means to be “in Christ”, and how, mechanically, if you wish, reconciliation is achieved between God and man through Christ. The Lord Jesus does not just transfer our words to God as pieces of language. Seeing that we do not know how to properly express ourselves to God, He transfers the thoughts of our spirit to God (Rom. 8:26,27). It is in this context that Paul encourages us to have a spiritual mind in our daily life; because that is relayed to the presence of God by the Lord Jesus, "the Lord the Spirit”. Therefore our whole lives can be a life of prayer, lived out in the presence of the Lord God. However, we are encouraged to pray with our human words as well; indeed, Scripture is full of examples of men doing just this.
8:28 For good- a reference to the eternal “good” of the Kingdom age, i.e., ‘so that we might enter the Kingdom’? The future Kingdom is called “good things” in Is. 52:7 (quoted in Rom. 10:15) and Jer. 8:15. All things work together for good doesn’t mean that somehow everything will work out OK for us in this life- for so often they don’t. We are asked to carry the Lord’s cross, to suffer now and be redeemed in glory later at His return. “All things” may refer to “all creation” in Rom. 8:22, as if to say that everything in the whole of creation works together for our ultimate “good”. But that “good” must be defined within Paul’s usage of the term in Romans; and he doesn’t ever use it in the sense of material good in this life. Consider how he uses the word: “Doing good”, righteous behaviour (Rom. 2:7,10); “a good man”, a righteous man, maybe in reference to the moral purity of the Lord Jesus (Rom. 5:7); “no good thing dwells within me... the good that I would do, I do not” (Rom. 7:18,19). Remember that Paul is writing Romans 8 in commentary upon and extension to his lament in Romans 7 that he cannot do the good that he would. Now he is taking comfort that in the bigger picture, man is not alone in creation; all things in this world are somehow working together within God’s master plan so that we shall in fact do good, be righteous; both in our lives in Christ today and ultimately for eternity in God’s Kingdom. For those who “love God”, who in their innermost beings delight in God’s law, somehow life works out, albeit in a very complex way, so that we may do that which is good, and have the goodness of Christ’s righteousness eternally counted to us. Despite having lamented that he himself fails to “do good” as he would wish (Rom. 7:19), Paul urges us all to “do good” in the practical section of Romans. We are to cleave to the good, overcome evil with good, do good, be wise to that which is good and simple concerning evil (Rom. 12:2,9,21; 13:3; 16:19). Clearly Paul doesn’t wish us to understand his frustration with his human condition as any excuse for giving up the effort. And the indwelling spirit of Christ seeks to orchestrate all things in the whole of creation to work together so that we may succeed in that doing of good. Snow in Latvia or flash floods in Australia may be brought about by cosmic forces which operate exactly so that we may... help up that old man who has slipped on the ice, take in that family who lost their home. And of course it all works out far more subtly than this, hour by hour. God has begun a “good work [s.w.] in us” and will bring it to completion in the day of Christ’s return (Phil. 1:6). And all things in the whole of creation are somehow orchestrated to that end. Thus at baptism we were created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Eph. 2:10). And He gives us “all sufficiency to abound to every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8), we are sanctified and prepared [Gk. ‘provided for’] to perform every good work God intends for us (2 Tim 2:21); fully equipped by God to do every good work in His purpose for us (2 Tim. 3:17). Each time in these verses, the Greek word for “good” is the same as in Rom. 8:28. All this puts paid once and for all to the idea that we can do no good work because we don’t have the money, the life situation, the resources. We have every sufficiency to do those good works intended for us; but we must “be ready to every good work” (Tit. 3:1), prepared to grasp the moment, living in the spirit of carpe diem. And thus we shall be ‘established’ in every good work we put our hands to (2 Thess. 2:17), none shall ultimately harm us if we follow after performing these good works (1 Pet. 3:13), we shall be made perfect or completed “in every good work in the doing of His will” (Heb. 13:21).
All things work together for good especially when the “good works” are in the context of assisting others towards the Kingdom. Paul’s concise summary of us in this verse as those who “love God” recalls 1 Jn. 4:20,21; 5:2- we only love God when we love others. The uncommon Greek word translated ‘work together’ is to be found in the great preaching commission in Mk. 16:20, where it is observed that the Lord Jesus ‘worked together with’ those who sought to preach the Gospel in all the world. This appears to be a comment upon the Lord’s promise that in this work of preaching the Gospel, He would be with His preachers unto the end of the world (Mt. 28:20). Whilst this can be understood as the end of the age, it seems to me that the Lord is saying that in taking the Gospel to the whole world, He will be with them in it, right to the ends of the world- be it in witnessing to Amazonian Indians or to your unbelieving family in a run down apartment block in Moscow or London or New York. We are workers together with Him in the work of saving others (2 Cor. 6:1); yet all things in all creation are also working together to this end. By becoming part of that huge operating system, dynamized as it is by God’s Spirit, we will experience God working with us. Somehow, resources become available; somehow we meet the right people. But all this happens if we are those who “love God”. If our love for Him and the furtherance of His glory in human lives is paramount, then we will naturally find ourselves part of this positive, triumphant system which always is lead in triumph in Christ. Paul uses the same Greek word translated ‘work together’ in the practical section of Romans, where he three time speaks of his brethren as his ‘workers together’, or co-workers (Rom. 16:3,9,21). I suggest that Paul has in view here that he was co-working with those brethren as co-workers with God. The co-working he refers to doesn’t simply mean that these brethren worked together with Paul. They were co-workers in the sense of being like Paul, co-workers- with God.
All this isn’t only encouragement to those faced with decision making on a large scale- e.g. a mission organization wondering if they have the resources to open a new front of work, or provide significant care to a needy group. More personally, it applies to each of us. We each have good works before ordained that we should walk in them, live a way of life which achieves them (Eph. 2:10). We need to ask the Lord to reveal what they are, to review our station and place within life’s network and perceive them, remembering that “the unexamined life isn’t worth living”, and seek to go for them. The idea is commonly expressed that for now, I shall work in my career, in my business, and then I shall have the resources to serve God as I vaguely imagine I could in some specific way. Manic capitalism has succeeded in commodifying everything, turning everything into a price tag. But the good works God has in mind for us aren’t usually of that nature. Kindness, acceptance, comfort, forgiveness, interest in others’ needs and sufferings... these are the essence of being as Christ in this world. This is Christianity, Christ-ness, being like Christ. For He achieved all He did “with a minimum of miracle” as Robert Roberts put it, and with hardly any cash behind Him. And so all this working together towards ultimate “good” shall be possible and is possible, for those who in the core of their hearts truly “love God”. This is another allusion, surely, to Romans 7:15-24, where Paul is saying that in his heart he loves God, but is frustrated by his flesh. I have no doubt that most of you my readers are in this category- of loving God. The Jewish mind would’ve been jogged by the reference to ‘loving God’ to the classic definition of loving God- to love Him with our heart and mind (Mt. 22:37). And this is exactly what Paul is saying he does in Romans 7, delighting in God’s law in his mind, despite serving sin in his flesh.
Them who are the called according to His purpose- Here Paul starts to introduce the concept of calling, election according to God’s purpose. He doesn’t just start talking of Divine calling and predestination without a context. His whole message in Romans 1-8 is that we are saved by grace; and the fact there is some element of predestination and calling over and above our will and works is solid proof that salvation is by grace- and that we who know we have been called, in that we have heard the call of the Gospel which contains that call, really are those who have been chosen to live eternally. Again and again, the message Paul preaches here is too good news. We struggle to qualify what he is saying, to allow our works and obedience a greater factor in the final algorithm of Divine salvation. But time and again we return to the question- why do I know all this, why am I reading these words, hearing this call, when so many others have lived and died without it? Why is it that I ‘get it’ about God, but my brother or my sister was never interested from babyhood? Why me, why her, why you, and not the guy next door? For all our philosophy, wise cracks and clever words, there is no abidingly satisfactory answer. It is of God’s grace and not of ourselves. Paul specifically connects our calling with God’s grace in 2 Tim. 1:9: “Who has saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His purpose and grace”. Note how the ideas of calling, grace and God’s purpose all run together here as they do in Rom. 8:28. The “purpose of God” is further defined in Rom. 9:11 as not depending upon human works. We were called because we were called, by grace, quite independent of what works we would or would not do. Eph. 1:11 says that we are “predestinated according to the purpose of [God]”. The whole idea of calling according to a predetermined Divine purpose means we are predestinated. We need not struggle over whether we have been called or not. The call, the invitation to the Kingdom, is in the Gospel. Any who hear it have been called. If I invite you to an event, you are invited, you are called to it. Lest there be any doubt, Paul began Romans by assuring us that we are called just as surely as he was (Rom. 1:1,6,7). He opens 1 Corinthians the same way- speaking of his calling and then using the same word to describe how his readers are likewise the called (1 Cor. 1:1,2,24). The calling of God is “without repentance” in the sense that we can never be disinvited, become ‘uncalled’ (Rom. 11:29). And if we are called, then we are predestinated (Eph. 1:11). Whilst calling doesn’t mean final acceptance with God- for we must make our calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10), to not be saved at the last day would require us to have willfully fought against the predestined desire of God to save us, to have reasoned against destiny. Paul’s great theme in Romans 1-8 is that we are “in Christ” by status through having believed into Him by baptism. This connects with this theme of calling according to the Divine purpose, because God ‘purposed His eternal purpose in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Eph. 3:11). If we are in Him, then we are in God’s eternal purpose, we will continue eternally because God’s purpose for us is eternal. We would have to willfully reject that status if we are to somehow come out of that eternal purpose. Being “in” God’s purpose means that His purpose, His will, His Spirit, is to become ours- hence Paul can use the same word to speak of his “purpose” in life (2 Tim. 3:10).
According to His purpose- can be applied to the first clause of the verse, “all things work together for good” within the overall purpose of God to save us. It doesn’t have to modify the idea of our calling.
Joseph stands as a pattern for us all. When Paul wrote that all things work together for our good (Rom. 8:28), he was echoing how in all the grief of Joseph's life, the rejection by his brethren, the cruel twists of fate [as they seemed at the time]... God meant it for good (Gen. 50:20). This same wonderful process will come true in our lives- for they too are equally directed by a loving Father. God's whole purpose, according to Paul, is that we should become like His Son-and to this end all things are directed in God's plan for us (Rom. 8:28,29). To achieve the "measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" is the 'perfection' or maturity towards which God works in our lives. As we read of Him day by day, slowly His words and ways will become ours. The men who lived with Jesus in the flesh are our pattern in this; for the wonder of the inspired record means that His realness comes through to us too. Time and again, their spoken and written words are reflective of His words, both consciously and unconsciously.
8:29- see on Rom. 6:5.
For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate- We are called for sure, therefore we were predestinated for sure, and therefore we personally were foreknown. To the Jewish mind, it was the prophets and Messiah who were personally foreknown. And Paul uses this shockingly exalted language about each of us, reasoning back from the basis that we know we have been called. His logical path is irresistible, at least intellectually. But in practice it amounts to an almost too good news. We were predestinated to be saved, to be part of God’s eternal purpose, a plan for us which shall last for ever. It would require a battle of wills against God, a conscious, willful desire not to be in that purpose any more, to make us no longer a part of that purpose. No wonder we should strive to spread the invitations to that Kingdom far and wide, to call people to the Kingdom. We who have heard and accepted that call are even now part of a plan, a purpose, which shall last eternally- this is the significance of God’s purpose with us being an “eternal purpose” (Eph. 3:11). This may explain why often we feel that God is indeed working with us, that we are part of some far bigger cosmic plan, but we’re not sure exactly where it’s going to end. All we can do is to play our part in that purpose as enthusiastically as possible, knowing that we are playing a part in some unseen purpose, which shall have eternal consequences. Why was the train cancelled, the airport closed by snow? So that for those who wish to be part of God’s purpose, who “love God”, we had time to make a phone call to brother X or pay a visit to sister Y or stay the night with family Z, so that we might play some part in encouraging them towards God’s Kingdom? We cannot see it clearly, but we sense something of God in these things, even in death itself. The situation gets the more complex, the waters muddied, in that both we and others can at times and in some ways not respond as God intends, or not as far as He intended. And so the eternal purpose is in a sense thwarted, God’s intentions delayed or forced by human failure to be rescheduled, reinterpreted, fulfilled in other ways or at other times. But all the same, we continue to play our part as best we can, as far as we can, loving God with our whole heart, soul and mind, not on a hobbyist, part-time level; and so we shall eternally continue.
To be conformed to the image of His Son- This is parallel to our being fully born into the family of God, of which the Lord Jesus is the firstborn. Whilst the process of being formed after the image of Christ is ongoing in this life, it will come to full term only at our final birth of the Spirit when we enter God’s Kingdom (Jn. 3:3-5). The Greek for “conformed” is used only in one other place, in Phil. 3:21, where we read that at Christ’s return, our vile body shall be “fashioned like unto” [s.w. ‘conformed’] the now glorious body of Christ. The conforming is therefore referring to our final change of nature at Christ’s return, even though the conforming process begins in this life (Rom. 12:2). The end point, therefore, isn’t so much eternal life, but to be like Christ, the Son of God. Paul has been arguing that we are counted as Christ now, His character, personality and spirit are counted to us. But finally we shall be changed into persons like unto Christ Himself. But the form of Jesus to which we shall be con-formed in that day is the “form” which He had on earth- for Phil. 2:6 speaks of the Lord Jesus as having “the form of God” at the time of His final spiritual climax in the death of the cross. This morphe or “form” refers not to His ‘very nature’, as Trinitarians willfully misinterpret this passage, but rather to the image of God mentally. Who Jesus was in His time of dying was in fact “God”; not that He ‘was God’ then, but in that His character and spirit finally matured to an exact replica of who God is in essence. And this is who or what we are counted as today- for all in Christ are counted as Him. And this is who we shall be conformed to in the final triumph at the day of His coming. Our calling is to be like Him; not simply to have eternal life in God’s Kingdom. More essentially, the call of the Gospel is a call to be like Him in this life, and to then be finally made like Him. The parables which explain the good news of the Kingdom therefore speak of how life can be lived now, in forgiveness, service, kindness etc. This is the good news of the Kingdom life; the good news isn’t simply an invitation to live eternally in a future Kingdom on earth; rather is it the good news of a form of life that can be lived now and shall eternally be lived to its intended fullness. When Paul writes of our being transformed into “the image of Christ” (Rom. 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49) he seems to have in mind Ez. 1:28 LXX: “The appearance of the image of the glory of the Lord”. “The glory” in Ezekiel is personified- it refers to a person, and I submit that person was a prophetic image of Jesus Christ. But Paul’s big point is that we each with unveiled face have beheld the Lord’s glory (2 Cor. 3:16- 4:6); just as he did on the Damascus road, and just as Ezekiel did. It follows, therefore, that not only is Paul our example, but our beholding of the Lord’s glory propels us on our personal commission in the Lord’s service, whatever it may be. See on Acts 9:3.
Martial described a crucifixion victim [in Liber Spectaculorum]: “In all his body was nowhere a body’s shape". We are to be “conformed to the image of [God’s] son" (Rom. 8:29)- to share His morphe, which was so marred beyond recognition that men turned away in disgust (Is. 52:14 cp. Phil. 2:7). The mind that was in Him then must be in us now (Phil. 2:5).
That He might be the firstborn among many brothers- Because we shall be made like Him morally, we will have the essential family characteristic: moral perfection. We will thereby become God’s children also, as He was and is. We shall become His “brothers” in that we have been counted as Him now, and then shall be made like Him. So the language isn’t thoughtlessly sexist, rather is it reflective of how we shall be made like Him. Through the resurrection, Christ became “the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15,18; Rev. 1:5); the same Greek phrase for “all creation” is to be found in Rom. 8:22. The idea may be that ultimately all creation somehow will follow this same path to glory, to ultimate reconciliation with God. And yet Col. 1:23 uses the same phrase in this context to speak of how the Gospel has been preached to “all creation”, in fulfillment of the great commission to take the Gospel to “all creation” (Mk. 16:15 same phrase). “Firstborn among many brothers” here in Rom. 8:29 therefore becomes parallel to being the firstborn of “all creation” in Colossians 1. In the end, “all creation” will be God’s redeemed children. And we will only be there because someone went out into our world and preached the Gospel to the “all creation”. In this lies the eternal significance of calling others to that Kingdom by obeying the great commission.
8:30 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 is partially a recapitulation of the argument of Rom. 8:29; a repeating for emphasis of something which is almost too good news to believe. We were called because we were predestinated; and Paul has earlier outlined in his argument that we who are in Christ have been “justified”, declared right, at the judgment seat of God. We haven’t yet been glorified, in that our bodies haven’t yet been changed, the final day of judgment hasn’t yet come. But Paul uses the past tense as if it has already happened. This ‘prophetic perfect’ was a Hebrew style which was quite grammatically acceptable, even if it may seem strange when translated into other languages such as Greek or English. Paul’s point is that if we are in Christ, declared right before God’s judgment right now, then we can be assured of final salvation, the glorification of the body- should Christ return at this moment, or if we should die at this moment. For tomorrow of course we might throw it all away. But we are not to worry about tomorrow in that sense; we can rejoice here and now that we are saved and are as good as ultimately saved and in the Kingdom. We have already been predestinated, already called, already justified- and therefore in prospect, already glorified. Yet again, Paul succeeds in making us gasp for breath, struggling as we do with the too good news of the Gospel. It is the Lord Jesus who has now been “glorified” (s.w. Jn. 12:16; Acts 3:13); and seeing that all that is true of Him is now true of us who by status are now “in Him”, it can be also said that we have been in this sense already glorified. Perhaps the practical section of Romans connects to this verse when we read in Rom. 15:6,9 that the Gentiles shall glorify God for His mercy; because He has glorified us, we are to glorify Him.
Also glorified- from God’s standpoint, outside of our kind of time. For that glory has yet to be revealed in us (1 Pet. 5:1).
8:31 What shall we then say to these things? – Paul returns to the rhetorical, legal style which he used earlier in Romans. The phrase could be an allusion to a legal one; as if to say to the accused or to the jury: ‘What then do you say to these things?’. We are invited to be the jury at our own trial. The evidence that we shall be saved is devastating; nothing can be said against it. Or it could be that Paul is in the place of the defence, going on the attack against the prosecutor. What can be argued against all this evidence? And there would have to be silence. The case is set in concrete. The arguments simply cannot be answered. Paul has previously thrown down the challenge after some of his previous depositions of evidence in this very public case of God’s Gracious, Certain Salvation vs. All Human Doubts And Fears. Four times he has challenged: What then shall we say to this (Rom. 3:5; 4:1; 6:1; 7:7)? And there can only be silence. But Paul’s rhetorical style is almost aggressive; he is the counsel for the defence who is on the offensive rather than the apologetic and defensive. But it seems Paul isn’t satisfied with winning the case. He drives it home now in the final verses of this chapter in a kind of tour de triumph, a victory lap before all of creation. He is exalting, both intellectually and emotionally, in God’s grace and the certainty of our salvation. But he’s not exalting just for the sake of it; he is aware of his own cries of frustration with his own failure which he voiced in Romans 7, and he is aware of how cautious and weak in faith are we his readers, who struggle to believe the goodness of this good news, this Gospel of grace. And so he has to hammer it home. "What shall we then say to these things?"- i.e. 'what form of words, of 'saying', is adequate response to them?' (Rom. 8:31; Paul uses that phrase seven times in Romans, so beyond words did he find the atonement wrought in Christ). Words aren't symbols sufficient for our experience of God's grace and love; all commentary is bathos, like trying to explain a symphony in words; we experience a collapse of language. What remains, I suppose, is to live, to exist, in the sober knowledge of this grace, to never lose sight of them in our hearts; and all the rest, the rest of life and living and all the decisions and responses we are supposed to make, will somehow come naturally.
If God is for us, who can be against us?- The songs of the suffering Servant are applied to us in Rom. 8:31, where Paul exalts that "if God be for us, who is against us?"- alluding to Is. 50:8 "The Lord God is helping me- who is he that would convict me?". If we are in Christ, we like Him cannot be condemned. In the legal context, if the judge of all is legally “for us”, then there effectively is no accuser, nothing and nobody standing against us. It’s as if Paul has rightly guessed his readers’ response: ‘OK Paul, I have nothing to say against your argument, but all the same you don’t know what a sinner I am, what a line of sins I have waiting there to condemn me’. And Paul’s exultant answer is that if God is “for us”- and he has demonstrated this time and again, that God quite simply wants to save us- then nothing and nobody, not even our own sins, can ultimately stand against us. The idea of God being “for us” is repeated twice elsewhere in Romans. In Rom. 5:8 we read that God commended His love toward us in that Christ, His Son, died “for us”. This is the extent to which God is “for us”. And in Rom. 8:34, Christ makes intercession “for us” to God the judge; and yet God the judge is also “for us”. All this legal language is only metaphor, and all metaphors break down at some point if pushed too far. If in this case we push it too far, we would end up saying that God is somehow unjust, His sense of legal justice lacks integrity and so is worthless in an ethical, moral sense. However, the broad brush impression is that in the highest, ultimate court analysis of our case, both the judge and the counsel for the defence are passionately “for us” on a personal level. In God’s case, He was “for us” to the extent of giving His Son to die “for us”, for the sake of our sins and failures for which we are in the dock. Col. 2:14 uses the same phrase to describe how the Mosaic Law which was “against us” has been taken out of the way through Christ’s death; and Paul has argued that the strength of sin is in the Law. If that is taken away, then sin will not have power in the lives of those who are “in Christ”, in whom such law and legality is now no more.
As an aside, it should be noted that when the Lord told John to “Forbid not; for he that is not against us is for us” (Lk. 9:50 Gk.), He could have been referring to God; as if to say that we don’t need to as it were defend Him against possible impostors, because God Himself is the One who is not against us but for us. In this case, here in Rom. 8:31 we would have yet another of Paul’s allusions to the Gospels; his point would be that if God is for us and not against us, then nothing at all nor anybody, not even ourselves and our sins, can be against us.
8:32 He that spared not His own son- Perhaps alluding to how God commended Abraham for not having spared his son (Gen. 22:16). As noted on Rom. 8:31, God our judge is “for us” in that He gave His own Son to die “for us”, for our sins. The idea of God not sparing people is usually used in the sense of ‘not sparing them from condemnation’, and it is used like this twice elsewhere in Romans (Rom. 11:21 [twice]; 2 Cor. 13:2; 2 Pet. 2:4,5). The Lord Jesus bore our sins in that He identified with them; and the Old Testament idea of sin bearing meant to bear condemnation for sin. As the representative of we who are sinners, He in some sense died the death of a condemned man; His final cry “Why have You forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46) was surely rooted in the Old Testament theme that God will forsake sinners but never forsake the righteous. He felt as a sinner, although He was not one. The language of God not sparing His own Son could be read as meaning that God treated Him as condemned, in the sense that the Lord Jesus was to such an extent our representative. If this is the correct line of interpretation, then Paul would again be tackling our objection that we are such awful sinners that perhaps his fantastic news of grace still doesn’t apply to us personally. And he would be answering it by saying that because we are in Christ and Christ in us, Christ died as our representative, deeply identifying with us as characters and persons and thereby with the sinfulness and failure which is such a significant part of us. And therefore as our representative He died and rose again, so that we might be able to believe ‘into Him’ and thereby share in His resurrection and glorification.
Spared not - God ‘spared not’ His own son (Rom. 8:32)- alluding to the LXX of Gen. 22:16, where Abraham spares not his son. The Greek phrase is elsewhere used about God not sparing people when He assigns them to condemnation (Rom. 11:21; 2 Cor. 13:2; 2 Pet. 2:4,5). The Lord Jesus knows how not only sinners feel but how the rejected will feel- for He ‘bore condemnation’ in this sense. We should be condemned. But He as our representative was condemned, although not personally guilty. He so empathized with us through the experience of the cross that He came to feel like a sinner, although He was not one. And thus He has freed us from condemnation. When Paul asks in Rom. 8:33,34 ‘Who can accuse us? Where are those people? Who can condemn us, if God justifies us?’, he is alluding to the woman taken in adultery. For the Lord asked the very same rhetorical questions on that occasion. Paul’s point is that we each one are that woman. We are under accusations which we can’t refute. The Lord never denied her guilt; but He took it away. The Lord comforted her that no man has condemned her nor can condemn her, and He who alone could do so, instead pronounces her free from condemnation.
Delivered Him- the Greek is three times used in Is. 53 LXX about the handing over to Jesus to His death. The moment of the Lord being delivered over by Pilate is so emphasized. There are few details in the record which are recorded verbatim by all the writers (Mt. 27:26; Mk. 15:15; Lk. 23:25; Jn. 19:16). The Lord had prophesied this moment of handing over, as if this was something which He dreaded (Mk. 9:31; 10:33); that point when He was outside the legal process, and must now face His destruction. The Angels reminded the disciples: "Remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men" (Lk. 24:6,7). The emphasis is on "How", with what passion and emphasis. Rom. 4:25 makes this moment of handing over equivalent to His actual death: " Who was delivered (s.w.) for our offences, and raised again for our justification". So much stress is put on this moment of being delivered over to crucifixion. The Gospel records stress that Pilate delivered Him up; but in fact God did (Rom. 8:32); indeed, the Lord delivered Himself up (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:2,25). Always the same word is used. These passages also stress that He delivered Himself up, and was delivered up, for us. It was our salvation which motivated Him at the moment of being delivered up. Perhaps it was at that moment that He had the greatest temptation to walk through the midst of them and back to Galilee. As the crowd surged forward and cheered, knowing they'd won the battle of wills with Pilate..."take ye him and crucify him" ringing in His mind... this was it. This was the end. How He must have been tempted to pray again His prayer: "Let this cup pass from me...". Jerusalem was a small town by modern standards, with no more than 10,000 inhabitants. There must have been faces in that crowd which, through swollen eyes, He recognized; some whose children had benefited from His miracles, whose ears had heard His discourses with wonderment. The emphasis on this moment of delivering up is so great that there must have been an especial sacrifice on the Lord's part. But He "gave himself up" to God not men (1 Pet. 2:23); He knew He was giving Himself as an offering to God as the crowd came forward and the soldiers once again led Him. The almost terrifying thing is that we, for the sake of our identity with Christ, are also "delivered up to death" (2 Cor. 4:11). We are asked to share, in principle, the height of devotion that He reached in that moment.
How shall He not with Him freely give us all things- If so much was given to us by the death of Christ, if God gave His Son for us, then how much ‘easier’ is it for Him to give us absolutely anything. For nothing compares to the gift of God’s Son to die; this is the ultimate gift from God to man. To give us eternity and forgiveness for our sins is in far less than the gift of the blood of His Son. And further, if God gave us His Son in order to save us, in order to “give us all things”- is it really feasible that having given us His Son so that He might “give us all things”, He would then not “give us all things”? Again, Paul’s logic is intrusive and powerful. We may shut the book, stop reading or listening, but the force of the argument silently echoes within our narrow and fearful minds. God did “not spare” His Son- by contrast, He “freely gave” Him [Gk. ‘to grace with’], His Son was indeed “all things” to God, His only and beloved Son. Seeing God gave us Him, it’s obvious that He is going to give us the things which that gift was given in order to make possible. “Shall He not with Him also” could be a reference to the resurrection- if God gave us so much in the death of His Son, think how much more was achieved and given to us through His resurrection. “With him” could be read another way, however- as referring to how Christ will meet the believers “in the air”, and they shall come “with him” to judgment (1 Thess. 4:14), with Him their judge clearly “for them”. However we must remember Paul is driving here at our fears that our sins are too great for the good news, however good it is, to be true for us personally. The Greek translated “freely give” is a form of the word charis, grace, and is often translated “forgive”. It’s the same word used in Lk. 7:42, where God ‘frankly forgives’ all the sins / debts of His servants. Perhaps Paul has this in mind. If God gave up His Son to die for us, in order to achieve forgiveness for our sins, then rather obviously, surely, He will “frankly forgive” or “freely give” us forgiveness for all things, all and any sin. We shouldn’t think that this is somehow harder for God than to give us His Son to die for our sins. He has already done that. And so giving us the forgiveness which Christ died to attain isn’t therefore so difficult. If we are in Christ, then God has “quickened us together with Him, having forgiven us [s.w. “freely give” in Rom. 8:32] all trespasses”. The “all things” of Rom. 8:32 can thus be understood as “all our trespasses”. And so Paul goes on to triumph in Rom. 8:37 that we are conquerors in “all things”, over all our sins, because we are in Him that loved us.
8:33 Who shall lay anything to the charge – Again, legal language. Where is our accuser? Can anyone accuse us of anything? No, insofar as we are “in Christ”. The allusion is to the Gospels, to the way the Lord Jesus could calmly challenge: “Which of you can convict me of sin?” (Jn. 8:46). If He could not be seriously accused of sin, neither can we. The records of the Lord’s trials are perhaps also in view here- for the accusers failed to produce any case which held together (Mk. 14:59). All this takes on striking relevance to us, as we stand in the dock before the righteous judgment of God- and are declared right, without any credible accusers. This of course is only possible because we are “in Christ”. The only other time the Greek for ‘lay to the charge’ occurs is in the records of Paul’s own trials, where again no credible accusation was found against him (Acts 19:38,40; 23:28,29; 26:2,7). As so often, Paul is reasoning from his own personal experience. He knew what it felt like to stand in court and see your accusers’ case just crumble before your eyes. He makes the point in his own defence that there is no proof of anything of which he is accused, and that significantly the witnesses against him aren’t even present in the courtroom (Acts 24:13,19)- all very much the scene of Rom. 8:33. And he says this is true for each one who is in Christ.
God is the prosecutor- yet He is the one who shall search for Israel's sin, and admit that it cannot be found (Jer. 50:20). God is both judge, advocate for the defence, and prosecutor- and this is God is for us, the guilty! Rom. 8:33,34 develops the figure at length. The person bringing the complaint of sin against us is God alone- for there is no personal devil to do so. And the judge who can alone condemn us is the Lord Jesus alone. And yet we find the one ‘brings the charge’ instead being the very one who justifies us, or as the Greek means, renders us guiltless. The one who brings the charge becomes this strange judge who is so eager to declare us guiltless. And the judge who can alone condemn, or render guilty, is the very one who makes intercession to the judge for us- and moreover, the One who died for us, so passionate is His love. The logic is breathtaking, literally so. The figures are taken from an earthly courtroom, but the roles are mixed. Truly “if God be for us [another courtroom analogy], who can be against us” (Rom. 8:31). This advocate / intercessor is matchless. With Him on our side, ‘for us’, we cannot possibly be condemned. Whatever is ‘against us’- our sins- cannot now be against us, in the face of this mighty advocate. Let’s face it, the thing we fear more than death is our sin which is ‘against us’. But the assurance is clear, for those who will believe it. With an attorney for the defence such as we have, who is also our passionate judge so desperate to justify us- even they cannot stand ‘against us’. Rom. 8:33 states that there is now nobody who can accuse us, because none less than God Himself, the judge of all, is our justifier in Christ! And so whatever is said about us, don’t let this register with us as if it is God accusing us. Not for us the addiction of internet chat groups, wanting to know what is said about us or feeling defensive under accusation. For all our sins, truly or falsely accused of, God is our justifier, and not ourselves. And thus our consciences can still blossom when under man’s false accusation, genuinely aware of our failures for what they are, not being made to feel more guilty than we should, or to take false guilt. This is all a wonderful and awesome outworking of God’s plan of salvation by grace. If God is our justifier, where is he that condemns us, or lays any guilt to our charge (Rom. 8:33,34)? And yet in family life, in ecclesial relationships... we are so so quick to feel and hurt from the possible insinuations of others against us. We seek to justify ourselves, to correct gossip and misrepresentation, to “take up" an issue to clear our name. We all tend to be far too sensitive about what others may be implying about us. All this reflects a sad lack of appreciation of the wonder of the fact that we are justified by God, and in His eyes- which is surely the ultimately important perspective- we are without fault before the throne of grace, covered in the imputed and peerless righteousness of the Lord. Paul, misrepresented and slandered more than most brethren, came to conclude: “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me [right now] is the Lord" (1 Cor. 4:3-4). The judge is the justifier, according to this argument. Paul is not justified by himself or by other men, because they are not his judge. The fact that God alone is judge through Christ [another first principle] means that nobody can ultimately justify us or condemn us. The false claims of others can do nothing to ultimately damage us, and our own efforts at self-justification are in effect a denial of the fact that the Lord is the judge, not us, and therefore He alone can and will justify. When a man is under accusation, his conscience usually dies. He is so bent on self-defence and seeking his own innocence and liberation from accusation. And we see this in so many around us. But for us, we have been delivered from accusation, judged innocent, granted the all powerful and all authoritative heavenly advocate. Rom. 8:33 states that there is now nobody who can accuse us, because none less than God Himself, the judge of all, is our justifier in Christ! And so whatever is said about us, don’t let this register with us as if it is God accusing us. Not for us the addiction of internet chat groups, wanting to know what is said about us or feeling defensive under accusation. For all our sins, truly or falsely accused of, God is our justifier, and not ourselves. And thus our consciences can still blossom when under man’s false accusation, genuinely aware of our failures for what they are, not being made to feel more guilty than we should, or to take false guilt. This is all a wonderful and awesome outworking of God’s plan of salvation by grace.
Of God’s elect- The reason why there are no accusers against us, not even our own sins, is because we are “God’s elect”. The supreme chosen one of God was of course the Lord Jesus, “mine elect, in whom my soul delights” (Is. 42:1). And yet later on in the servant songs of Isaiah, “mine elect” clearly refers to the people of Israel (Is. 45:4; 65:9,22). The true Israel of God are therefore those counted as somehow “in” the elect one, the singular servant of God, Messiah Jesus. Those baptized into Him are therefore His elect. And how do we know we are “God’s elect”? If we are baptized into Christ, “mine elect”, then for sure we are. And further, we have heard the call of the Gospel, we have been called- so, we are God’s elect, His chosen ones. Of course the objection can be raised that the whole idea of calling or election may appear unfair. Indeed, the Greek word for “elect” can carry the idea of ‘the favoured / favourite one’. There is no ultimate injustice here. The chosen One is the Lord Jesus, beloved for the sake of His righteousness, His spirit of life. Those who respond to the call to be “in Him” are counted likewise. And all this is the way, the method used, in order for God to be the one who counts us as right in the ultimate judgment- for “It is God that justifies”.
8:34 Who is he that condemns?- There are many links between Romans and John's Gospel; when Paul asks where is anyone to condemn us (Rom. 8:34), we are surely intended to make the connection to Jn. 8:10, where the Lord asks the condemned woman the very same question. It's as if she, there, alone with the Lord, face down, is the dead ringer of every one of us. The legal allusion is definitely to the judge, the one who will pass sentence. The question is “Who is?” rather than “Where is?”. It’s not that God, the judge of all, abdicates His judgment throne and ceases to tell right from wrong. There is an integrity in His judgment. The answer of course is that it is God who is the One who passes sentence. The rest of the verse goes on to speak of the Lord Jesus as our intercessor at His right hand. The point is, that God the righteous judge is going to take notice of the pleadings of His Son, whom He gave to die for our forgiveness and redemption. The idea of condemning must be seen in the context of Rom. 8:3, where we have just read that it is sin which is condemned by God, and He has already condemned it, in the crucified flesh of the Lord Jesus. “Sin” is condemned; we are not condemned. The point clearly is that it is our status “in Christ” and our disassociation from “sin”, as strongly as Paul disassociated himself from “sin” in Rom. 7:15-23, which is the means by which we are saved, and not only saved but declared right.
Christ died, and moreover, is risen again- This is said in the context of the comment that it is God who judges. It’s not that the death and resurrection of a person of itself can change the mind of God or lead Him to not condemn us, in some mystical way. We are saved by the Lord’s death and resurrection in that we can identify with it by baptism into His death and resurrection, and be counted as Christ, the Son of God. It is this which affects how God judges us.
There seems to be a link made between the Lord’s death and the judgment in Rom. 8:34: “Who is he that judgeth / condemneth? It is Christ that died…", as if He and His death are the ultimate judgment. The Old Testament idea of judgment was that in it, the Lord speaks, roars and cries, and there is an earthquake and eclipse of the sun (Joel 3:16; Am. 1:2; Jer. 25:30; Ps. 46:7; Rev. 10:3). Yet all these things are associated with the Lord’s death.
Who is moreover at the right hand of God- Note the double use of the idea of “moreover”. Paul is building up his logic towards the final crescendo- that we are in fact saved from condemnation in Christ. This is classic Paul. The death of God’s Son for us would be enough to persuade God the Judge of all. But further, He rose again; and we who are in Him are counted likewise to have died and risen again, as Paul has laboured in Romans 6. So, for sure we are saved. But yet further, God’s risen Son is now at His right hand, pleading for us! I suggest that the sequence here of “Died, rose again, alive at God’s right hand interceding for us” is somehow repeated in Rom. 14:9: “Christ both died and rose and revived”. In this case the “revived” would be a reference to the fact that He not only resurrected but is alive and active for us in mediation. In this sense, perhaps, “we are saved by His life” (Rom. 5:10). Being at the right hand was the position of favour, of honour. The point in this context is that if God so deeply respects His Son- and the theme of the Father’s genuine respect of His Son is a beautiful theme in Scripture- then surely He will be very open to the Son’s work for us. The suggestion has been made that the Greek for “right hand” is from the root word “to receive”, and in this verse the idea that Christ stands to receive is balanced with the comment that from that position He makes intercession or request for us His people. He is in the supreme place to receive- and He asks from there for us to be counted as in Him.
Makes intercessionsee on Rom. 8:27. We should not think that whenever we sin, we have an intercessor in Heaven who can gain forgiveness for us and set us back right with God. The whole argument in Romans is that we are “in Christ” by status and are counted as Him; all that is true of Him becomes true for us. It is not that we are in Christ one moment and then out of Him the next, to be brought back into our “in Christ” status by His intercession. For if this were the case, the implication would be that we were perfect when we were ‘being good’; and if one happened to die at a point of weakness, then we would be eternally damned. God’s way is more profound. We are counted permanently as “in Christ” by status, and in this sense we have already been redeemed, and are simply awaiting the physical articulation of that redemption at the Lord’s return. The imagery of the Lord Jesus as a priest offering Heavenly sacrifices is metaphor, and as such is limited. The position between Him today, His work for us, and the work of the Mosaic priests is not completely analogous. We do not need a Levitical priesthood because the Lord Jesus has replaced that, but this is not to say that He is exactly for us what the Levitical priests were for sinful Israel. For what, then, does the Lord Jesus make intercession? I suggested under Rom. 8:27 that the intercession involves a transference of our mind, our spirit, to that of the Lord Jesus as He sits before God. In this sense the intercession of the Lord Jesus for us personally has an eternal quality to it (Heb. 7:25) in that our spirit, the essence of who we are, continues in the mind of the Lord Jesus even after we die; just as the memory or spirit of those we love lives on within us after their falling asleep. We are eternally positioned before God, thanks to the intercession of the Lord Jesus. However, it cannot be denied that the Greek for “intercession” does indeed carry the idea of obtaining something. It is used here in the very context of stating that the intercession is made at the “right hand” of God, the place of receiving (see commentary above). Paul uses a related word to that translated “intercession” in saying at another judgment seat that he has “obtained help from God” (Acts 26:22). Perhaps he said that fully aware that he in fact had a Heavenly intercessor, a true counsel for the defence. The same word for “obtain” which is part of that translated “intercessor” occurs in the context of our obtaining salvation and resurrection to life (2 Tim. 2:10; Heb. 11:35). It is this which has been interceded for and obtained for us by the Lord Jesus, seated as He is at the right hand, the place of receiving, of the Judge of all. In this sense His intercession has that eternal quality to it which we earlier observed (Heb. 7:25). And yet even this idea, that the intercession is for our salvation, still seems to be a too simplistic summary of what Paul really has in mind here. The Lord’s intercession for Stephen in his time of dying was surely not simply for Stephen’s salvation. Rather it seems to involve a representation of our spirit, our deepest essence of thought, feeling, personality and life situation, before the Father; intercession for our salvation; and also for other things which are on the Lord’s agenda for us, and which we in this life may always be ignorant of.
For us- This pregnant phrase huper hemon may mean simply “for us”, but huper could suggest the idea of over and above, beyond us, more than us. In this case, there would be connection with the thought recently expressed by Paul that although we know not how to pray for as we ought, the Lord Jesus as “the Lord the Spirit” makes intercession for us, beyond what we can verbalize. And of course the idea would freely connect with Eph. 3:20, where Paul exalts that the Lord Jesus can do “exceeding [Gk. huper] abundantly above [Gk. huper again- the sense of ‘beyond’ is very strong here in the Greek] all we ask or think, through the power that works in us”. The wonder of it all will literally take us eternity to appreciate. Our innermost desire is for salvation, to serve God, to be as the Lord Jesus, to achieve His glory, both in our own characters and in all of creation. This, yet again, is the significance of Rom. 7:15-23, that despite our failings and weakness, these are indeed our core desires. And it is this spirit of ours which is transferred to the Lord Jesus and understood by the Father and Judge of all. And in response to those desires, even now, there is a power working within us to do and be for us, to work in and for us, things beyond our wildest dreams and spiritual fantasies.
Rom. 8:34,35 suggest that the love of Christ, from which we cannot be separated, is manifested to us through His intercessions for us. He doesn't offer our prayers to God all the time; He is our intercessor in the sense that He is always there as our representative, and on this basis we have acceptability with God, as we are in Him. This is proof enough that intercession is not equal to merely translating our prayers into a language God understands. We offer our prayers ourselves to God, as men have ever done. We are, in this sense, our own priesthood. We offer ourselves to God (Rom. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:5). He Himself made only one offering of Himself; He does not offer Himself again. If He were on earth, He would not be a priest. It is the fact we are in Him that makes our offerings acceptable. Many passages concerning mediation refer to the Lord's mediation of the new covenant through the atonement God achieved through Him. None of them associate His mediation with the offering of our prayers to God. Indeed, several passages suggest that the actual fact of the exalted Lord now being in heavenly places, and we being in Him, is in fact the intercession necessary to bring about our redemption- rather than His translating, as it were, of our actual words (Rom. 7:25; 8:34; 1 Jn. 2:1). The references to intercession likewise never suggest that Christ intercedes in the sense of offering our prayers to God. "Intercession" can be read as another way of describing prayer; this is how the term is invariably used (Jer. 7:16; 27:18; Rom. 11:2; 1 Tim. 2:1). Thus when Jeremiah is told not to intercede for Israel, this meant he was not to pray for them; it does not imply that he was acting as a priest to offer Israel's prayers to God. Nowhere in the Bible is the idea floated that a man can offer another man's prayers to God and thereby make them acceptable. The Greek for "intercession" essentially means to meet a person; prayer / intercession is a meeting with God. There is evidently nothing morally impossible about a man having direct contact with God in prayer without any priest or 'mediator'; the Old Testament abounds with such examples. The fact we are called upon to make intercession for others is surely conclusive proof that "intercession" means prayer, not relaying the words of another to God (1 Tim. 2:1). This meaning of intercession needs to be borne in mind when we consider its occurrences in Rom. 8. There we are taught that we know not what to pray for as we ought; the Lord Jesus makes intercession for us- i.e. He prays for us- not with words, i.e. not transferring our human words into God's language, not shuttling to and from between us and God as it were, but with His own groanings of the spirit. We don't know how to pray, so Christ prays (intercedes, in the language of Rom. 8) for us.
8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?- The “who?” may be a reference to God, because the “who?” of Rom. 8:33,34 was God. But the point there as here was that seeing God is the only One who can do such things, then we can rest assured that they will not happen. Because God, for the sake of His Son, will not do these things. We are “in Christ” by status, and what happened at baptism is not breakable by anything human. We cannot be separated from Him by all the calamities listed in this verse, an 8:36 goes on to remind us that this cannot happen because we are counted as the slaughtered Lamb, the Lord Jesus. The Greek for “separate” is usually used about divorce (1 Cor. 7:10,11,15; Mt. 19:6; Mk. 10:9). Only if we chose to as it were divorce from Christ can we be separated from Him. Only we can make that choice- no human situation in our lives is to be interpreted as meaning that Christ has withdrawn His love from us. Reading the list of awful tribulations which follows, we are to understand that the love of Christ does not, therefore, guarantee that we will not suffer in this life. Indeed, as Rom. 8:36 will go on to show, we as “in Christ” must be prepared to be slain with Him all the day long, so as to live with Him. “The love of Christ” frequently refers to His death for us. The fact He died for us should be enough to persuade us that having loved us so much, no human tribulation could possibly be interpreted to mean that He in fact doesn’t love us. And yet people stumble from their faith in Christ because of tribulation, as the parable of the sower makes clear. Why this happens is partly because they have failed to be focused daily upon the cross- that He there, then, did that for me today. This, then, is our challenge- to view all of life’s tragedies, pain and unfairness through the lens of the simple fact that the Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me, and I as a man or woman in Him shall therefore live eternally.
Tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword- This list is to be understood in the context of Rom. 8:36, that we are counted as in Christ, the slaughtered lamb, and therefore all His sufferings we expect to be somehow articulated in our own lives, just as His resurrection life also shall be. In the first century context, this list was the kind of ‘par for the course’ which anyone could expect who had signed up to be counted as “in Christ”. Twenty centuries later, the list may be more subtle, but nonetheless as painful. For the cross of Christ is the cross of Christ. The forms in which we share it may vary over history and geography, but the essence shall remain. Shall divorce, betrayal, cancer, false accusation- separate us from His love? They should not, but rather be seen as a very real sharing in His death and sufferings, from which we shall just as surely arise into new and eternal life. There are many connections between Romans the visions of Revelation. The whole court scene presented here in Romans 8, whereby the accuser of Christ’s brethren is now no longer in court, he and his case ‘thrown out of court’, is naturally reminiscent of the scene in Revelation 12. There, the accusers of Christ’s brethren are likened to the great Satan, the personified power of sin in its political manifestation, and this is also thrown out of ‘heaven’, out of the Heavenly court / throne room. The fact that sin has been conquered by Christ and ‘thrown out’ is therefore the guarantee that whatever oppressive sinful powers are now in authority, they in their turn will likewise be cast out. It’s only a matter of time now- because sin in its essence has been cast out already. This explains the seamless way in which Paul now moves on from speaking of how the power sin has been nullified to talking of how therefore and thereby, all human opposition to God’s people is now ultimately powerless.
Tribulation- - see on Rom. 5:3; 8:18. The word used in the parable of the sower and also about the tribulations of the last days before Christ returns (Mt. 13:21; 24:9,21). Only through such tribulations shall we enter the Kingdom (Acts 14:22). Significantly, Paul uses the word earlier in Romans, in speaking of the tribulation which shall come upon the rejected at the last day (Rom. 2:9). It’s either tribulation then, or now. In this sense we can glory in tribulation, knowing it is the guarantee that we are really in Christ (Rom. 5:3). Hence in the practical part of Romans we are exhorted to patiently endure tribulation (Rom. 12:12).
Distress- Again, the same word used in Rom. 2:9 [“anguish”] about the distress of the rejected in the last day. We must experience it now, or then. Paul uses this word again in 2 Cor. 12:10, along with words similar in meaning to the list here in Rom. 8:35, in saying that we experience distresses “for Christ’s sake”, for the sake of the fact we are in Him and must have a part in His sufferings.
Persecution – The same word is used in the parable of the sower (Mt. 13:21), to which Paul seems to be making allusion in Rom. 8:35. Many of the words in this list are appropriate to Paul’s personal sufferings for the sake of His being “in Christ”. He too was persecuted (Acts 13:50; 2 Tim. 3:11), distressed etc. The list of his sufferings in 2 Cor. 12:10 includes this word and others in the list here. Again and again, Paul writes as if talking to himself, and as such sets himself up as the parade example of what he means.
Famine- Lack of food. Again, this word is in the list of Paul’s own sufferings in 2 Cor. 11:27. Perhaps Paul has specific reference to the famine which there was in the first century which affected the believers (Acts 11:28). And again, famine is to be one of the latter day tribulations (Mt. 24:7).
Nakedness- Lack of clothing. Again, this word is in the list of Paul’s own sufferings in 2 Cor. 11:27.
Peril - This word is only used elsewhere in the list of Paul’s own sufferings in 2 Cor. 11:26.
Sword- Note that Paul envisaged his readership as likely to suffer from the sword. And yet in Rom. 13:4 he speaks of the first century authorities as using the sword to execute God’s will against those who do wrong. This would lead us to interpret Rom. 13:4 as having specific and limited reference in time and space, perhaps only to the Rome ecclesia at a certain point in time and in some aspects of justice.
Nothing, whatever, can separate us from the love of Christ towards us in His death (Rom. 8:35). His cross is therefore the constant rallying point of our faith, in whatever difficulty we live through. The resolve and strength we so need in our spiritual path can come only through a personal contemplation of the cross.
8:36 – see on Rom. 8:13. The key word in this verse is “accounted”. Because we are counted as Christ, the lamb slain (and the allusion here is definitely to Isaiah 53), then we should not be phased by our experience of His cross in this life. Indeed we should expect it. We cannot look passively at the cross. It must change how we see ourselves. It must radically affect our self-perception and self understanding. For we are in Him. It was us who hung with Him there, and who hang with Him still in the tribulations of life. For we are to account / impute ourselves as the sheep for the slaughter, i.e. the Lord Jesus, for whose sake we are killed all the day long in the sharing of His sufferings (Rom. 8:36); with Paul, we “die daily”, because we are in Christ. And if we suffer with Him, we will also reign with Him (Rom. 8:17; 2 Tim. 2:12). To see ourselves as in Christ, to have such a positive view of ourselves, that the essential ‘me’ is actually the sinless Son of God, is almost asking too much of men and women living with all the dysfunction and low self-worth that seems part of the human condition.
8:37 No- Paul seems again to be interpreting his readers’ response. ‘Surely it can’t be right that if we are in Christ, then we will suffer so much? Aren’t all these terrible tribulations the sign that we are rejected by God rather than accepted by Him?’. And Paul answers that “No!”- in fact the way that we lose in this life is a sign that we have won, and more than won- we have become “more than conquerors”. Truly “I feel like I win when I lose” can become our credo in spiritual life.
In all these things- Every time they happen to us, they are the proof that we have therefore already won, in the very thing wherein it seems we have ‘lost’. The sense here is very much what we meet in the sermon on the mount- that we are to rejoice when we are persecuted, attacked and abused, because in that moment our reward is very great in Heaven.
More than conquerors- See on Rom. 8:34 “for us”. Again the word huper is used; there is the idea of being over and above conquerors. There is something superlative about the great salvation which there is in Christ. We don’t just scrape in to God’s Kingdom and sit there in humble gratitude for eternity thinking how blessed / lucky we were. Not at all. We are in Christ, and all that is true of Him is now and shall eternally be true of us. We are crowned as conquerors- and “more than [huper] conquerors”. There’s something ‘hyper’ about the nature and quality of our salvation. It is all so hyper abundantly above all we ask or think. And it begins now, and in this sense we have some sense, at least a gasp from a great distance, of the ‘hyper’ nature of it all. Paul surely has in mind how the Lord had comforted His people that “I have overcome [s.w. ‘conquer’] the world” (Jn. 16:33). We are counted not only as overcomers just as Jesus was; but hyper-conquerors, hyper-overcomers. John alludes to this passage in his Gospel record when he comments in his letters that we have overcome the world because of our belief into Jesus (1 Jn. 2:13,14; 4:4; 5:4,5). Clearly John like Paul perceived the believer into Christ [involving baptism into Him] as having the same status as Christ; if He has overcome, so have we. There is also a legal connotation to the word translated “conquerors”. The same word has been used in Rom. 3:4 to describe how God ‘overcomes’ when He is put in the dock and judged by human disbeliefs in His declared plan of salvation. Paul is now drawing his treatise to a conclusion. He began with us as sinners in the dock, accused by our own sins. He has argued that we have been declared right because we are in Christ; not simply ‘let off’, but declared right. We have won the case; the whole thing has been turned round. We the condemned are now the justified, we leave the courtroom as conquerors, as having legally overcome when we were judged; all, of course, because we are in Christ. We are right now more than conquerors through Christ (Rom. 8:37); and yet to he who overcomes [s.w. conquers] the Kingdom shall be given (Rev. 3:21). This doesn’t mean we can sit back and do nothing. And so Paul goes on to exhort us not to be overcome [s.w. conquered] of evil, but to overcome evil with good (Rom. 13:21). “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who (or what) can be against us?". Paul caught the gloriously positive spirit of all this, and reflected it in his fondness for words with the hyper- prefix (Rom. 8:37; 1 Cor. 10:13; 2 Cor. 7:4; Phil. 2:9; 4:7; 1 Thess. 3:10; 4:6; 5:13; 2 Thess. 1:3). God is not passively waiting for us to act, indifferently offering us the possible futures of salvation or condemnation according to our deeds. He earnestly desires our salvation, He wills and wishes us into the upward spiral of relationship with Him; He has given us spiritual potential and strength.
Through Him that loved us- The love of Christ is often specifically related to His death for us on the cross. We can only become “in Him” because He was so fully our representative, including in death itself. All this wonderful schema of salvation and justification of sinners, counting them as if they are Christ, could only come true because of His death. This was and is the central point of all things; it is not simply so that Christ as a person is the central means by which all was made possible, but more specifically it was His love unto death which was and is that central point.
8:38 For I am persuaded- Just as we also need lengthy persuasion as to the ultimate truth that we are saved in Christ, so Paul too had gone through this process of persuasion. The same word is often used to describe how Paul “persuaded” people to continue trusting in God’s grace rather than in their own works (Acts 13:43; 18:4; 19:26; 26:28; 28:23; 2 Cor. 5:11; Gal. 1:10)- indeed, persuading people seems to have been a hallmark of Paul’s preaching. Yet Paul persuaded others on the basis of how he himself had come to be persuaded; and this will be the characteristic of any truly effective preacher of the Gospel.
That neither death nor life- In Rom. 8:35 Paul has argued that no suffering nor disaster in our lives can separate us from “the love of Christ”. Now he starts to talk in more cosmic terms, leading up to the same conclusion- that we cannot be separated or divorced from God’s love for us which is “in Christ”. For those “in Christ”, nothing can stand in the way or change that status; only we can decide to file for divorce / separation. If we die- we shall be raised again. More tellingly, however, we may fear that “life” can separate us from God’s love; Paul may refer to ‘the tribulations of life’, but he may also have in view the way we can mess up in our lives. But not even that can separate us from God’s love for those who are “in Christ”. In what sense could life separate us from God's love? Surely only in the sense of sins committed in human life. Yet even these cannot separate us from the love of God which is so ready and eager to forgive us. This is the extent of grace; that not even sin, which on one hand separate from God, can actually separate us from the love of God in Christ. We are often plagued by a desire to separate out the things for which we are justly suffering, and things in which we are innocent victims. We struggle over whether our cancer or her depression is our fault, or whether we only got into unhealthy behaviours as a result of others' stressing us... etc. This struggle to understand the balance between personal guilt and being a victim of circumstance or other people makes it hard for some people to free themselves from guilt. Seeking to understand is especially acute when we face death, suffering, tragedy, or experience broken relationships. How much was I to blame? In how much was I merely a victim? My determined conclusion is that it is impossible, at least by any intellectual process, to separate out that suffering for which we are personally guilty, and that suffering which we are merely victims of. The cross of Jesus was not only to remove personal guilt through forgiveness; all our human sufferings and sicknesses were laid upon Him there. Our burdens, both of our own guilt and those which are laid upon us by life or other people, are and were carried by Him who is our total saviour.
Angels, principalities, powers- I have argued elsewhere that Paul and the New Testament do not support the Jewish ideas of sinful Angels operating in various hierarchies and dimensions. Indeed, I have argued in The Real Devil that Paul consciously deconstructs these ideas. But for now Paul is prepared to allude to them, as if to say ‘Whatever you fear, whatever you believe is out there, however you believe it is in the cosmos- the wildest fears of your worst nightmares about the spirit world are not going to get in the way of God’s love for those in Christ’.
Things present nor things to come- Whatever present crises you face, and whatever you may yet face. Knowing we are secured in Christ enables us not to fear the future. For even death itself, and all that may lead up to it, emotionally or physically, are unable to affect our “in Christ” status. “Things to come” may refer to the expected latter day tribulation.
8:39 Nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ, as revealed in the cross (Rom. 8:39). The idea of the love of Christ nearly always refers to the cross. And yet the same word occurs in Heb. 7:26, to remind us that the Son of God is “separate from sinners”. Here again is the paradox. We are sinners. And yet we cannot be separated from He who is personally separate from sinners. Again, the conviction of guilt is required so that we can know His saving grace. But it’s possible to understand this contradiction as just that- a contradiction. The Lord Jesus is separate from sinners; but nothing shall separate us from Him, although we are sinners. This can be seen as yet another of the many irreconcilable paradoxes which express the purity of God’s grace. We have elsewhere commented upon the way that God angrily speaks of permanently rejecting His people, and yet says in the same breath almost that He has not and will never reject them, because of His tender love for them.
Nor height nor depth nor any other creation- “Height” and “depth” may refer to creations supposed to exist beneath the earth or above the heavens. But no created thing can obstruct God’s feelings for us in Christ. Because we are human we tend to view life in a materialistic way; what is visible and concrete assumes huge importance for us. But no created thing can get in the way of God’s love for us- perhaps, the implication being, because this God who so loves us is Himself the creator of all things. Therefore no created thing, in any dimension, in this world nor any other world or dimension, can affect His feelings for us.
In exalting about the wonderful power of God in human life through Christ, Paul exalts that “neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,
nor things present nor things to come: nor height (Gk. hypsoma – the highest point a star reaches) nor depth (Gk. bathos – the abyss from which a star rises), nor any other creature, are able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:38,39). “The position of the stars was supposed to affect human destinies. ‘Whatever the stars may be supposed to do’, Paul says, ‘they cannot separate us from God’s love’” (5). Likewise by referring to “any other creature”, Paul seems to be saying that there is no reality, nor even any supposed reality in heaven and earth, that can separate us from God’s loving power. It seems to me, given the facts that Paul doesn’t teach the existence of a personal Satan / demons and so often deconstructs the common ideas about them, that Paul is effectively saying here: ‘Even if you think these things exist, well they are of utterly no power and consequence given the extraordinary and ultimate nature of God’s power’. And so the argument is wrapped up. God’s love for us who are “in Christ” is part and parcel of His love for Christ Himself, His dearly beloved Son. We will be saved, because we are in Christ. And totally nothing and nobody, not even our own humanity and failure, can separate us from Him and His love.
(1) F.F. Bruce, Paul And Jesus (London: S.P.C.K., 1977) p. 78.
(2) Thomas Weinandy, In the Likeness of Sinful Flesh (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1993) p. 79.
(3) Vincent Branick, “The Sinful Flesh of the Son of God”, The Catholic Bible Quarterly 47 (1985) p. 250.
(4) Stephen Finlan, The Background and Content of Paul's Cultic Atonement Metaphors (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004).
(5) A.M. Hunter, Romans (London: S.C.M., 1981) p. 87.
Other books by Duncan Heaster include:
The Real Christ
The Real Devil
From Milk to Meat
The Last Days
James and Other Studies
Judgment to Come
A World Waiting to be Won
“The death of the cross”
Speaking About Jesus
The Power of Basics
Debating Bible Basics
New Testament: New European Version with Commentary
More information about these books and other Duncan Heaster media can be found at
The Case For Grace: A Commentary On Romans 1-8
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