In chapter 6 Paul emphasized that because we have a union with Jesus Christ we should therefore walk in the newness of life; in chapter 7 he stressed that by death and resurrection we have a relationship with the risen Christ, and therefore we should bring forth fruit to God. Then, after a parenthetical discussion in which some related questions were answered, in chapter 8 Paul deals with the power of the Spirit that is available to enable us to meet these two requirements. Romans 8, next to the Upper Room Discourse, is foremost in Scripture on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.
Summary: The child of God has a new standing, a position “in Christ Jesus.” Because of the Savior’s incarnation (“in the likeness of sinful flesh”) and atoning death on the cross (“and for sin” [8:3]), the believer has been saved and has entered a new position in Christ. Now, in Christ, and by the Spirit, the believer can expect victory over the assaults of evil.
The passage begins with “Therefore.” In all probability the reference goes back to 7:6. In Romans 7:1-6 Paul traced the analogy of marriage to show death to the Law and marriage to Christ. Verses 7-25 are an excursus, probing whether the Law was sinful or good. Even though it was good, it has become the messenger of death because it pointed out sin. So then 8:1 picks up the discussion prior to that.1
Paul announces in verse 1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The term “condemnation” in Paul means ultimate condemnation for sin, and not merely defeat in the spiritual life. This is why the reference must go back beyond the discussion of the spiritual struggle. The point, then, is salvific. If people are “in Christ,” that is, true believers, identified with Christ by faith, there is no condemnation for them. God cannot condemn and will not condemn those who are “in Christ,” because He condemned Christ on their behalf.
The reason for our freedom from condemnation is expressed in verse 2—”the law of the Spirit of life” set us free. This is not a reference to the Law, but to the new principle which operates with the fixedness of a law (a fixed principle). By coming to faith in Christ, we have received the Holy Spirit; and that Spirit produces life, whereas the Law produced death. So we have been set free—it has been accomplished—we do not have to strive to get freedom, but rather stand in the freedom that has been given to us. It is like getting on an elevator—you do not have to push your way upward.
In verse 3 he elaborates that it was impossible for the Law to do this because it was weak. It was weak because of that with which it had to deal—sinfulness and the punishment for sin. The anchor of the Law was strong, but could not hold in the mud bottom of the human heart. What did set us free was God’s sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh (some theologians say in sinful flesh, but that is bad theology) to be a sin offering. Thus, He condemned sin in sinful man.
The purpose of this act was that the righteous requirements of the Law be fully met in us (v. 4). This verse is the balance, otherwise some might overly stress the doing away of the Law (the verse guards against anti-nomianism [Greek nomos is “law”]). For what the Law revealed, “the righteousness of God,” is the standard to be met. To say we are no longer under the Law is true, but that is not a license to avoid the righteousness that the Law revealed. But what Paul is saying is that the only way to meet the requirements of the Law is to be in Christ by faith (therefore there is no condemnation because our sins are paid for) and to be enabled by the Holy Spirit (to produce the righteousness that God required). Those who are in Christ do not continue to live according to the sinful nature, but according to the Spirit. They might try for a while, but the Spirit will begin to deal with them and convict them. Note also in the verse that the idea of “might be fully met” is passive—someone does it in us. The power for the Christian walk is the Holy Spirit—even though it is still our walk.
So Paul begins the chapter with this restatement of the positional truth that Christ has set us free from condemnation and empowered us by the Spirit to walk in the newness of life.
a. The mind controlled by the Spirit. Verses 5-8 provide a contrast between the sinful mind and the mind controlled by the Spirit of God. Paul’s words here are descriptive and not hortatory (not an exhortation to do this); that is, being “in the flesh” is not a possibility for the Christians—they are “in the Spirit.” By having the Spirit of God in our lives, we can see that life and peace result; for those who live in the flesh, that is, sinful minds, death results because they are hostile to God’s laws.
Paul is simply showing the influence of the Holy Spirit on our minds—our choices and desires. Some folks do not even realize the Spirit is at work in their lives—they think they need some spectacular experience, but most of the Spirit’s work is not that way. Thus, while we might struggle with sin and guilt versus righteousness and a clear conscience, the Spirit of God is moving inexorably toward peace and life. The results may be incomplete, but they are nonetheless the fruit of the Spirit. On the other hand, without the Spirit’s mindset, found only through union with Christ, people can only order their lives in a way that is hostile to God and that will incur His wrath. No neutrality is possible.
The Greek proposition kata here represents the standard, “according to the standard of”—flesh or Spirit. To walk “after” the flesh would mean to respond throughout life to those forces of human nature apart from God. To walk “after” the Spirit means to live in accordance with the guidance, dictates and desires of the Spirit. The old illustration of dog training makes the contrast clear: if you are walking a dog down a path with bones on it, or other dogs around, something in the dog will draw it away to the bones or to the other dogs, but a stern No from the master will make it through—as long as the dog listens and looks up to follow the master. If the dog has never been trained to live according to this other directive, it will be, well, a dog, and chase after the others. It needs training in the new discipline to curb its nature, its natural bent. The Spirit says “No” to sin, and calls for us to look up and live. People who refuse to live by this new discipline often complain that their nature is this way, or that way, and they are therefore not responsible for their sin. But that is spiritual blindness. They need to learn to walk in the Spirit (I am talking here about professing believers).
b. The Spirit of God lives within. In the next few verses Paul reminds his readers that if they are in Christ then the Holy Spirit lives within them (vv. 9-11). Here the Spirit is called the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, showing he carries out the purpose of God by producing the fruit of Christ’s redemptive work. The body has been put to death in Christ, but the Holy Spirit within brings this new life.2 The presence of the Spirit is the evidence of justification, proof of the salvation that has come through Jesus Christ; but the presence of the Spirit is also the pledge of that final phase of salvation through resurrection to life (v. 11). The life that God will give in that future day is beyond the power of any to destroy—it is the very life of God, blessedly spiritual and indestructibly eternal.
c. The Spirit enables mortification. Here now we have the exhortation of Paul (vv. 12,13) along the same lines as is found in 6:11-14 to put to death the misdeeds of the body. What is different here, however, is the inclusion of the Spirit. No one can deal effectively with sinful nature by mere determination; the Holy Spirit is needed, and He is the Spirit of power.
Verse 12 is critical in this section. We have an obligation to live by the Spirit and not by sinful nature. The verse shows that we still have this nature; it has not been eradicated. The solicitations of the flesh are constant; therefore we have a duty not to live according to them, but to put them to death. If the believer is so preoccupied with putting on the Lord Jesus, of doing His will, there will be no provision made for the flesh.
d. The Spirit’s attestation. In verses 14-17 we read how the Holy Spirit confirms for the believers their position as children of God based on adoption into the heavenly family. The placing of this here after the call to mortify the flesh is basic, for to do that successfully we must be convinced that we have been claimed by God and equipped with infinite resources.
The relationship first is portrayed in shepherding terms: those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God. Galatians 3:24 presented the Law as leading people to Christ; here the leading is now turned over to the Spirit, who guides into the truth (John 16:13) and righteousness.
Paul then goes into some detail to show that this is not an enslavement to fear at all; rather, it is an adoption, because we have received the “Spirit of adoption” or literally the Spirit who makes us sons (not slaves). By this Spirit, then, believers can cry “Abba”—Father. The cry refers to calling on the LORD in prayer, following the teaching of Jesus to use the term “Our Father.”
The term “adoption” works much like the term “justification” in these writings. They are both declarative and forensic. Adoption, like justification, bestows an objective standing; it is a pronouncement that is not repeated. It has permanent validity. Paul is probably drawing upon Roman law of adoption both here and in Galatians 4:5. So the believers are called both “sons” and “children” without any appreciable distinctions, other than that sons refers to legal standing and children to family relationship.
Often Christians will doubt their salvation because their sanctification has proceeded so slowly and lamely. The Spirit does not base His testimony on the progress of growth, but on the fact of position—He leads people to call upon God as Father, to look away from ourselves to the One who established the relationship.
The final truth about adoption is that of inheritance (v. 17). In current law even a slave who was adopted could inherit. So Paul follows the course of thinking—a slave becomes a child and then an heir. And not just heirs, joint-heirs with Christ. We are indeed called to share in His sufferings, which we shall do if we are indeed in Christ; but that is only a prelude to partaking with Him of the coming glory. How absolutely marvelous is the gracious provision of God for us in Christ Jesus.
So Paul has stressed the marvelous provision of the Holy Spirit for our spiritual victory in this life and our guarantee of the life to come. This great assurance through His presence not only enables success, but inspires us to yield to His power as we seek to walk in righteousness. Thus, the primary work of the Holy Spirit is to make us just like Jesus Christ.
With the introduction of the aspect of sharing in the suffering of Christ, the apostle now turns his attention to the glorious provisions for the future. He will first deal with the assured hope of the future glory (18-25), then the confidence that one has a strong advocate in prayer (26,27), then the certainty that all is well because it is in the Father’s will and plan (28-34), and finally the confidence that nothing can separate us from the Love of God which is in Christ Jesus (35-39).
Compared to the glorious future that lies ahead for us who believe, the sufferings of this life are light indeed. This theme Paul has written about in 2 Corinthians 4:17. Scripture does not detail much of what that future glory will be like, but it guarantees that it will be.
Paul enlarges the discussion to the whole of creation, which he personifies to be groaning for the great day of redemption. Until that time there is only frustration, a perfect term for the effects of the curse, because nothing has been able to fulfill its capabilities or achieve perfection under sin. So the creation longs to share the glorious freedom of the children of God, a freedom that liberates them also from the bondage of decay. According to verse 22, the suffering of creation is both a result and a prophecy; a result of the curse of sin, but a prophecy of a new age that is coming (hence the idea of birth). Christ Himself spoke of the renewing of the world as a rebirth (Mt. 19:28).
Paul then parallels the creation and the saints in two ways: they both groan and they both wait eagerly for the new era. And, in answer to the idea of the transforming of the earth, Paul looks forward to the “redemption of our bodies.” Only the people of God have the “first fruits” of the Spirit, the seal or pledge or down payment toward that complete renewal. In 1 Corinthians 15:44 Paul describes that finished product of redemption as a spiritual body. The future resurrection will be the full harvest. Our bodies will be something like that of the glorified Christ (Phil. 3:20,21). So what Paul is dealing with here is the anticipation of glorification, the final process of salvation when adoption and redemption and sanctification will be complete.
Here, then, is the emphasis on hope, especially since we are still in these bodies and facing suffering and death. The hope does not call into question our salvation; rather, Paul affirms that in this hope we were saved. The point is that since an element of our redemption is held in reserve—the redemption of the body—we have a legitimate exercise of hope. If hardships and sufferings come, then patient endurance will be the aspect of hope that we have in the faith. But the pilgrimage is inspired by the sure hope of glory.
This is the final work of the Holy Spirit mentioned in this chapter—intercession. The section is introduced with “in the same way” which seems to link the theme with the hope just discussed. This also will bring great comfort in times of distress.
Paul’s mention of “weakness” or “infirmity” probably has a broad reference to the many aspects of human weakness that he has been discussing in previous chapters. So when it comes to prayer, he affirms that we do not even know what we should pray (that is, the content of the prayers). Do we know the real needs of our own hearts? of others? And do we know the will of God in these matters?
But in contrast to this frustration is the joyful news that “the Spirit helps us.” The only other place where this New Testament word occurs is when Martha wanted her sister to help her (Luke 10:40). The implication of the word help is that we still will be doing our part—praying; this needs to be stated since everything else in these verses will be talking about the Spirit. But as we pray, in the background and often unknown to us, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. The groaning of the Spirit might seem to us to be unintelligible prayers; but God is no stranger to the intent of the Spirit, especially since the groanings are in complete harmony with the divine will. By these groanings the Lord hears what we ourselves could not have told Him, so that He will accept what He Himself has to offer.3
This passage is not to be confused with glossolalia (tongues), for it includes the Spirit’s intercession through groaning on behalf of all Christians, not just a few with a special gift. Some folks argue that true prayer needs a special language that cannot be understood, your “in the Spirit” language.4 That is a teaching that is without foundation; and it certainly does not come from this passage. Tongues are not mentioned in conjunction with intercession, especially this heavenly intercession which is beyond our understanding.
These verses provide great comfort for the saints as they face the difficulties and challenges of this life. The referent of “all things” is probably in Paul’s mind those things that are adverse but are turned around for good by the sovereign operation of God. The idea of “good” is left general, but must be taken to mean in conformity to the Son. The beneficiaries are those who love God and are called according to His (electing) purpose. When we say, “all things work together for good … ,” we must remember that the key in here is “together.” Often we are faced with an adverse isolated event, and we cannot see how it works for good; it has to be seen in related to all that God is doing in our lives. In the final analysis, it will be good. When Joseph was in the pit crying out for help, it did not seem good. But later, when he was in power and could look back to see how God worked in his life, then he could say, “you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”
This calling is then explained in terms of foreknowledge and predestination. “Foreknowledge” does not mean advance awareness or knowledge, but refers to God’s choice, his electing decision. This is clear in 1 Peter 1:20. But God’s calling is not haphazard, or cold or formal; rather, it is filled with the warmth of God’s love, as the Hebrew word for “know” makes clear. The emphasis on God’s calling precludes any possibility of human merit as entering the decision (cf. Eph. 1:4). We are called according to purpose, not foreknowledge; foreknowledge must be included in the purpose.
The idea of predestination goes way beyond choosing one for salvation. The background is adoption, which was introduced earlier. But now the point of the choice is conformity to His Son. The two ways in which we are conformed to the likeness of the Son are first through sufferings, through which we are gradually made like Jesus Christ, and second, through the resurrection by which we shall be conformed to the risen Lord. That will be the culmination of the process of sanctification, the completion of the Spirit’s work.
The process of God’s working out His purpose for us is laid out in verse 30: predestined—called—justified—glorified. They are all written in the past tense to stress the certainty of fulfillment, because He who has begun a good work will complete it. The use of tense is borrowed from Hebrew prophecy, which often writes in the past tense—it is as good as done because in the mind of God it has been done. The verse may be troubling at first to people who are not strong in their knowledge of God, but who still think everything should be in their control (they will learn that that is not sufficient). But the verse reveals how glorious and majestic God is, and how our destiny is in His hands, from beginning to end. In Christ Jesus we stand; but we stand because God has a purpose for us, and that purpose will carry us through to glorification.
Paul’s conclusion of this discussion (vv. 31-34) is that if God is for us, who can be against us? God has not made empty promises. He has not started something He is unable to finish. He is fully aware of our sins and our failures. He has acted, and what He has done in Christ and through the Spirit constitutes all the proof we need that the glorification will be ours one day.
This is the point of verse 32—it cost God dearly to act. He did not spare His own Son. The background is Genesis 22, where Abraham did not spare his son, but sacrificed him to God—in the form of a substitute that was provided. But in the fullness of God’s plan, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was the substitute; He had to endure the cross to take away the sins of the world. Abraham knew that the LORD would provide when the sacrifice was made; and so Paul draws on that theme of Genesis 22 to show that if God did not spare His only Son, then how shall He not freely give us all things—the LORD will provide. The same gracious spirit follows throughout all God’s dealings with us (see 2 Peter 1:3).
No one can bring charges against the elect. Satan is very busy accusing the saints in heaven (compare the drama in Zechariah 3), pointing out the discrepancy between their professions and their lives (Rev. 12:10). But he gets nowhere in his self-righteous efforts. Since all sin is against God, only God can bring charges. And God has already paid for those sins in Christ Jesus. And no one will condemn. Christ Jesus is the only one who can condemn—but He died and secured the removal of sin and guilt, He arose from the dead to give life to those who trust in Him, He is exalted to heaven where He is our advocate, and He intercedes for us at the throne of grace. So there is indeed no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Finally, Paul raises the question of any conceivable contradiction between Christ’s love for us and our suffering. His point is that suffering cannot separate us from the love of God. Separation through suffering is no more thinkable than the idea that the Father ceased loving the Son through the agony on the cross. It all has a purpose; our suffering is a part of our identification with Christ.
The use of Psalm 44 in this passage reminds the reader that suffering has always been the lot of the righteous. In Psalm 44, what we call a national lament, the nation is pouring out its complaint to God—they are losing a war, being slaughtered all over the hills, and they do not know why, because they have not abandoned the faith or been unfaithful. Paul does not just quote a verse from the psalm, but rather weaves the whole argument of the psalm into this discussion. There are four main motifs in that psalm that he has picked up here in Romans 8: (l) there is intense suffering and groaning, waiting for divine deliverance (the whole psalm is a lament); (2) they are troubled by the suffering because no prophet has laid any charge against them; (3) they cry out to God in frustration, “Wake up, O LORD”; but (4) they are convinced of the love of God. These motifs appear in Romans 8 as the groaning in suffering, the frustration of not knowing how to pray, the clear assurance that no charge can be laid against us, and the final confidence that suffering does not separate us from the love of God.
So Paul closes this glorious chapter with a note of triumph—we are more than conquerors, or more specifically, “We win the supreme victory through Him who loved us.” Basing it on Christ’s love for us (“he loved us”) in no way limits it to the past event, for that love is an everlasting love. Death cannot separate us from that love; neither can life and all that it brings. Not even demons, who would delight in coming between Christ and His beloved, can make the break. Nor powers—the hostile spiritual forces that are allowed to carry on spiritual warfare, but under the restraining power of the Spirit who is greater (see Eph. 1:21; 6:12; and Job 1,2). Not even time, or height or depth—possibly these form an allusion to Roman fatalism in the astral religions. Nothing at all, nothing imaginable, can separate us from the love that has redeemed us.
1. Think for a while about the statement that there is no condemnation now for those who believe in Christ. Join the beginning of the chapter where the statement is made, and the end of the chapter where it is explained that no one can condemn us, to get the full picture. What effect should that have on our guilty fears that always rise up to haunt us?
2. What are some very practical ways for us to be sure that our minds are being controlled by the Holy Spirit? Can this work without a knowledge of the Scripture?
3. Think back through this chapter and see how many ministries of the Holy Spirit you can find. You will note that this chapter does not give the spectacular works, the signs and wonders; but the miraculous and supernatural works listed here are those upon which our spiritual lives depend every day.
4. The chapter is filled with expressions of confidence that we may have of our position in Christ. Can you list the major doctrines mentioned and discussed in this chapter that guarantee our salvation through to glory?
5. While people, especially new Christians, are often troubled by the mention of predestination, what comfort does it bring to know that God Almighty lovingly has planned for our lives and prepared for our glorification?
6. On the basis of this chapter, or of Romans so far, what thoughts come to your mind about the love of God? People often leave that concept very general; but what specifically does the love of God mean to you, now and forever?
1 Another view is that the reference in 8:1 is to all of 7:13-25. Paul would then be saying, Consequently, there is no defeat necessary from indwelling sin. But this view has the difficulty of redefining "condemnation" to mean "defeat."
2 The NIV translation of verse 10 has "your spirit is alive because of righteousness." A number of commentators would take this also as a reference to the Spirit.
3 Barth, A Shorter Commentary on Romans, p. 102.
4 The fallout of such a teaching is to create guilt and confusion on the part of those who do not have their “Spirit” language, even though they have prayed all their lives and have seen the Lord work in many ways.