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C. The believer’s relationship to God ch. 8
"Spener is reported to have said that if holy Scripture was a ring, and the Epistle to the Romans its precious stone, chap. viii would be the sparkling point of the jewel." [Note: Godet, p. 295.]
"It is undoubtedly the chapter of chapters for the life of the believer . . ." [Note: Griffith Thomas, St. Paul’s Epistle . . ., p. 200.]
As the fifth chapter climaxed Paul’s revelation concerning the justification of the sinner, so the eighth culminates the truth concerning the sanctification of the saint. Both chapters end by affirming the eternal security of the believer. In chapter 5 our security depends on the Son’s life and in chapter 8 on the Spirit’s power, both of which rest on the Father’s love. This chapter contains the greatest concentration of references to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, an average of one almost every two verses. Whereas there are about 30 occurrences of "I" in chapter 7, there are 17 references to the Holy Spirit in chapter 8. This chapter explains the benefits of sanctification made available through the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit who indwells every believer. [Note: See Dillow, pp. 358-82.]
"It is altogether too narrow a view to see in this portion simply the antidote to the wretched state pictured in chapter 7. Actually the chapter gathers up various strands of thought from the entire discussion of both justification and sanctification and ties them together with the crowning knot of glorification." [Note: Harrison, p. 85.]
"Therefore" introduces a conclusion based on everything that Paul wrote from chapter 3 on, not just chapter 7, specifically Romans 7:6. He reaffirmed justification as the indispensable basis for sanctification. [Note: For three ways of interpreting the basis of no condemnation, see Chuck Lowe, "’There Is No Condemnation’ (Romans 8:1): But Why Not?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42:2 (June 1999):231-50.] A Christian must believe that he or she has permanent acceptance with God before that one will grow much in grace and godliness.
"Romans 3:20 shows the ’therefore’ of condemnation; but Romans 8:1 gives the ’therefore’ of no condemnation . . ." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:538.]
No condemnation is different from freedom from judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10). No condemnation (Gr. katakrima, penal servitude) means that God will never condemn us to an eternity separate from Himself for our sins. The reason is that the believer is in Christ Jesus. The Savior has suffered the consequences of our sins as our substitute. He will experience no condemnation, and we, as those He represents, will not either. Note the absolute force of this great promise. We are eternally secure!
"The Law condemns; but the believer has a new relationship to the Law, and therefore he cannot be condemned." [Note: Ibid.]
The statement of the believer’s condition 8:1-4
1. Our deliverance from the flesh by the power of the Spirit 8:1-11
The writer proceeded to state the believer’s condition and then to explain it.
Paul used "law" here figuratively for "principle" (Romans 8:23). He was not referring to the Mosaic Law (cf. Romans 7:21). These laws refer to the certainty and regularity that characterize the operations of the Spirit and sin. The Spirit’s work that comes to us because of faith in Jesus Christ leads to fullness of life, and sin leads to death. Ultimate ends are again in view.
"Both the Spirit and sin and death are called the law because of the constancy of their influence and action." [Note: Mickelsen, p. 1205.]
"The subject here is no longer Christ’s work for us, but the Spirit’s work within us. Without the Spirit within as a law of life, there would be nothing but condemnation: for the new creature has no power within himself apart from the blessed Spirit,-as against a life of perpetual bondage to the flesh,-’the end of which things is death’ (6.21)." [Note: Newell, p. 288.]
So far in Romans Paul only referred to the Holy Spirit once (Romans 5:5), but in this chapter he mentions Him 17 times.
The Mosaic Law cannot set us free from sin and death (Romans 8:2; cf. ch. 7) because its only appeal is to the basic nature of man. It urges us intellectually to obey God, but it does not provide sufficient power for obedience. Fortunately God sent His own Son, out of the depths of His love, to deal effectively with sin.
Paul referred to both the person and work of Christ in this verse. Jesus Christ came "in the likeness of sinful flesh" (cf. Philippians 2:7), not "in sinful flesh" or "in the likeness of flesh." He was both sinless and a real person.
"For sin," the literal Greek rendering, has a wider connotation than "as an offering for sin" or "a sin offering" and is the better translation. The Law could not deal with sin. Consequently God sent His own Son to do so. That is the point of the verse.
"The battle was joined and the triumph secured in that same flesh which in us is the seat and agent of sin." [Note: John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans , 1:282.]
"The ’law of double jeopardy’ states that a man cannot be tried twice for the same crime. Since Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins, and since you are ’in Christ,’ God will not condemn you." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:539.]
"The law of double jeopardy" is a universally recognized principle of justice.
Here the purpose of the Incarnation appears in the context of the struggle of chapter 7. God fulfills the Law’s requirements in us by His Spirit who indwells and empowers us. However this is not automatic because He indwells us. He fulfills them if and as we walk by the Spirit rather than walking according to the flesh. Walking by the Spirit means walking in submission to and dependence on the Spirit (cf. Galatians 5:16). Walking according to the flesh means behaving as the flesh dictates and allowing our sinful nature to govern our lives.
"’To walk according to the flesh,’ then, is to have one’s life determined and directed by the values of ’this world,’ of the world in rebellion against God. It is a lifestyle that is purely ’human’ in its orientation. To ’walk according to the Spirit,’ on the other hand, is to live under the control, and according to the values, of the ’new age,’ created and dominated by God’s Spirit as his eschatological gift." [Note: Moo, p. 485. Cf. Kevin W. McFadden, "The Fulfillment of the Law’s Dikaioma: Another Look at Romans 8:1-4," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52:3 (September 2009):483-97.]
"The law’s requirement will be fulfilled by the determination of the direction, the set, of our lives by the Spirit, by our being enabled again and again to decide for the Spirit and against the flesh, to turn our backs more and more upon our own insatiable egotism and to turn our faces more and more toward the freedom which the Spirit of God has given us." [Note: Cranfield, 1:385.]
"To run and work the law commands,
Yet gives me neither feet nor hands;
But better news the gospel brings:
It bids me fly, and gives me wings." [Note: Writer unknown. Quoted in Bruce, p. 154.]
"The importance of these verses [1-4] lies in the fact that they provide a summary of chs. v. to viii., and indicate in brief but sufficient form the secrets of Christian holiness." [Note: Griffith Thomas, St. Paul’s Epistle . . ., p. 205.]
Here Paul began to elaborate the difference between "flesh" and "Spirit." This distinction is difficult to grasp because both terms have more than one meaning. To "walk according to the flesh" (Romans 8:4) means to carry out in conduct what the human nature desires. To "be according to the flesh" (Romans 8:5) means to allow the human nature to dominate one’s life. To "be in the flesh" (Romans 8:8) is to be unregenerate, to be devoid of the Spirit.
The "Spirit" seems from the context to refer to the Holy Spirit rather than to the regenerated spirit of man. Those who prefer the second view tend to describe man as having two natures, an old sinful one and a new one that would be the same as this regenerated human spirit (cf. Galatians 5:16-17). In favor of the former view, the chapter began with a clear reference to the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:2). Other following references to "spirit" (Gr. pneuma) would therefore normally be to the same Spirit. Furthermore, it is reasonable that in identifying the basis for Christian victory Paul would point to the ultimate source, the Holy Spirit, rather than to a secondary agent, our human spirit.
The explanation of the believer’s condition 8:5-11
A mind set on following the flesh concentrates on and desires the things of the flesh (cf. Philippians 2:5; Colossians 3:2). The end of that attitude is ultimately death. However a mind set on yielding to the Spirit will experience life and peace. Peace with God seems to be in view here. Still whenever there is peace with God, peace with other people normally follows.
A mind set on the flesh is essentially hostile toward God. To set one’s mind on the flesh is contrary to God’s law.
From the end of Romans 8:7 it seems clear that Paul was thinking of an unsaved person (cf. Romans 8:8-9). Evidently he wanted "to expose the flesh in its stark reality as being totally alien to God and his purpose." [Note: Harrison, p. 89.] What interests a person reveals his or her essential being. It is possible to walk according to the flesh (Romans 8:4-5) and not to be in the flesh, however. In other words, it is possible to live as an unregenerate person even though one has experienced regeneration.
"However" marks a contrast. Paul’s readers were not those who only had a sinful human nature. They also had the indwelling Holy Spirit. We could translate the first "if" as "since" (first class condition in Greek) because here it represents a condition that Paul assumed was true to reality. Everyone who trusts in Jesus Christ in the age in which we live possesses the indwelling Holy Spirit (cf. Ephesians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 12:13).
"Here the great mark of a true Christian is, that the Spirit of God dwells in him." [Note: Newell, p. 299.]
This is one of the clearest statements in Scripture that corrects the false notion that baptism with the Spirit is a second work of grace for the Christian.
"Nowhere in Scripture do we find a clearer indication that the Spirit enters a person’s life at the moment of conversion (cf. also 1 Corinthians 12:13). If the Spirit needed to wait for some subsequent commitment to holiness, it follows that he would be absent between conversion and that later point in time. But that cannot be because Paul clearly indicated that a person without the Spirit does not belong to Christ." [Note: Mounce, pp. 178-79.]
Note the close affinity between the Spirit and the Son in this verse and the last. "If" is again "since." The Spirit’s indwelling means that God indwells (cf. Romans 8:9; Romans 8:11; Ephesians 3:16-17).
"Spirit" in this verse also probably refers to the Holy Spirit. The context favors this interpretation, as does the sense of the verse. "Alive" is literally "life" (cf. Romans 8:2). The meaning of the clause seems to be this. The Holy Spirit is the source of spiritual life for the redeemed person who now possesses Jesus Christ’s imputed righteousness.
". . . whenever you see a Christian living the Christian life, you are witnessing a resurrection miracle!" [Note: Zane Hodges, "The Death/Life Option," Grace Evangelical Society News 6:11 (November 1991):3.]
The "body" represents the whole person, not just his or her physical shell. This was Paul’s normal meaning when he used this word. [Note: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s. v. "soma," by Eduard Schweizer, 7 (1971):1064.] Here he meant that the body is mortal, it remains subject to death because of sin.
The Spirit in view is again God’s Spirit. The point is that the same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus will also raise believers.
"The Spirit is both the instrumental cause of the resurrection-act and the permanent substratum of the resurrection-life." [Note: Gerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, p. 169.]
This verse constitutes a powerful argument for the physical resurrection of believers.
Because of what God has done for us (Romans 8:1-11), believers have an obligation to respond appropriately. However we can only do so with the Spirit’s help. Paul stated only the negative side of our responsibility here. He could have gone on to say ". . . but to God, to live according to the Spirit." He planned to stress that in the verses that follow.
This verse teaches clearly that the believer still has a sinful human nature within him even though he has died with Christ. God does not eradicate the believer’s flesh at conversion. Therefore we must not "live [walk] according to" it. Progressive sanctification is not something the Christian may take or leave. God commanded us to pursue it (cf. Titus 2:12; 2 Peter 1:3-11; 2 Peter 3:18).
The application of the believer’s condition 8:12-13
2. Our new relationship to God 8:12-17
Paul proceeded to apply this truth and then to point out evidence of the believer’s new relationship to God.
Christians who consistently follow the dictates of the flesh can look forward to death. This cannot be eternal death, separation from God forever, in view of specific promises to the contrary (e.g., Romans 8:1; Romans 8:31-39). Therefore it must mean temporal death. Sin produces death in many forms, for example, separation of the body from the soul (physical death that may be premature for those who follow the flesh; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:30; 1 John 5:16). It may be separation of the person from others (death in social relationships) or separation of the person from himself (psychological alienation and disorders).
Conversely believers who follow God’s will with the enablement of the Holy Spirit and put the deeds of the body (i.e., the flesh; cf. Romans 6:6) to death will experience abundant life. It is possible to possess eternal life and yet not experience it fully (John 10:10). Only Christians who follow God faithfully will experience their eternal life to its fullest potential. This fullness of life involves psychological and social wholeness and well as physical wholeness, under normal circumstances.
The present tense of the verbs is significant. This tense stresses the necessity of continually putting to death the deeds of the flesh. Paul viewed the presentation of ourselves to God as an initial act of commitment (Romans 6:13; Romans 12:1), but He wrote that we must daily and hourly choose to mortify our flesh (cf. Romans 13:14).
"Here is a terrible warning: . . . It is one of the great red lights by which God keeps His elect out of fatal paths. . . .
"For we must note most carefully that a holy life is to be lived by us. It is not that we have any power,-we have none. But God’s Spirit dwells in us for the express object of being called ’upon by us to put to death the doings of the body.’ Self-control is one of that sweet cluster called ’the fruit of the Spirit,’ in Galatians 5:22." [Note: Newell, pp. 307, 309.]
Paul wrote to the Galatians that the law leads people to Christ (Galatians 3:24). The Holy Spirit does this too (John 16:8-11). Having come to Christ the Holy Spirit continues to lead us in the moral will of God. The Holy Spirit leads every true child of God (Galatians 5:18). He goes before us and expects us to follow Him, as a shepherd does his sheep. However we can choose to follow or not follow Him, to walk according to the Spirit or to walk according to the flesh (Romans 8:13). The Spirit leads us objectively through the Scriptures and subjectively by His internal promptings (John 20:31; Romans 8:16; Galatians 4:6; 1 John 3:24; 1 John 5:13). [Note: See Bernard Ramm, The Witness of the Spirit.] Another view is that to be "led by the Spirit" here, and in Galatians 5:18, means that the Spirit determines the direction of one’s life as a whole rather than that He guides us. [Note: E.g., Moo, p. 498.]
"There is deep mystery, no doubt, in the great double fact of [sic] God is working in us to will, and on the other hand, of our choosing His will, moment by moment. We can only affirm that both are taught in Scripture . . ." [Note: Newell, p. 310.]
The attestation of the believer’s condition 8:14-17
Acts 8:14-17 explain the Spirit’s ministry of confirming the reality of the believer’s position as a son of God to him or her. [Note: On the link between this section and chapter 9 see George C. Gianoulis, "Is Sonship in Romans 8:14-17 a Link with Romans 9?" Bibliotheca Sacra 166:661 (January-March 2009):70-83.] Paul believed that the believer who is aware of his or her secure position will be more effective in mortifying his or her flesh (cf. Romans 6:1-11).
Unlike sin, the Spirit does not enslave us. He does not compel or force us to do God’s will as slaves of God. Rather He appeals to us to do so as sons of God. The "spirit" in view is probably the Holy Spirit who has made us God’s sons by regeneration and adoption.
"Abba" and "Father" are equivalent terms, the first being a transliteration of the Aramaic word and the second a translation of the Greek pater (cf. Galatians 4:6). Probably Paul used the Aramaic as well as the Greek term to highlight the intimate relationship the Christian disciple enjoys with God. The Lord Jesus revealed this intimate relationship during His training of the Twelve (Mark 14:36). [Note: See Joachim Jeremias, The Central Message of the New Testament, p. 28.] In their translations, J. B. Phillips paraphrased "Abba! Father!" as "Father, my Father," and Arthur S. Way rendered it, "My Father, my own dear Father."
Adoption is another legal term (cf. justification). It indicates the legal bestowal of a legal standing. Both adoption and justification result in a permanent condition, and both rest on the love and grace of God. [Note: See Francis Lyall, "Roman Law in the Writings of Paul-Adoption," Journal of Biblical Literature 88 (December 1969):458-66.]
"Paul could hardly have chosen a better term than ’adoption’ to characterize this peace and security. The word denoted the Greek, and particularly Roman, legal institution whereby one can ’adopt’ a child and confer on that child all the legal rights and privileges that would ordinarily accrue to a natural child. However, while the institution is a Greco-Roman one, the underlying concept is rooted in the OT and Judaism [i.e., God’s adoption of Israel]." [Note: Moo, p. 501. Cf. Bruce, p. 157; Ryrie, Basic Theology, pp. 306-7.]
God has provided the believer with two witnesses to his or her salvation, the Holy Spirit and our human spirit (cf. Deuteronomy 17:6; Matthew 18:16). The former witness is objective in Scripture and subjective (cf. Romans 8:14), while the latter is only subjective. Another view is that the Holy Spirit bears witness to God when we pray (Romans 8:15). [Note: See Griffith Thomas, St. Paul’s Epistle . . ., pp. 216; and Robert N. Wilkin, "Assurance by Inner Witness?" Grace Evangelical Society News 8:2 (March-April 1993):2-3. ] Incidentally, this second reference to "spirit" is probably the only one in Romans 8 that is not a reference to the Holy Spirit.
The term "children" identifies our family relationship based on regeneration whereas "sons" stresses our legal standing based on adoption. We are both God’s children, by new birth, and His sons, by adoption.
Being an adopted child of God makes us His heirs (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-4). We inherit with Jesus Christ our brother (Romans 8:29). We inherit both sufferings, as His disciples now, and glory, most of which lies in the future (cf. 1 Peter 4:13). The phrase "if indeed" seeks to render the first class condition in the Greek that in this case we could translate "since." Just as surely as we share His sufferings (Gr. sumpaschomen, any sufferings we may experience because we live for Him, not just those connected with our bearing verbal witness for Christ) now, we will share His glory in the future. This is a reference to the glorification that every believer will experience at the end of his or her life (Romans 8:18-25). Our glory then will be somewhat proportionate to our suffering for His sake as His disciples now (cf. 1 Peter 4:12-19).
The New Testament teaches that the amount of inheritance the children of God receive will vary depending on our faithfulness to God (Luke 19:11-27). However, there is no doubt that all Christians are the heirs of God and will inherit glorification as well as many other blessings (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-12). [Note: For a study of the variable factors involved in inheriting, see Zane C. Hodges, The Hungry Inherit.]
"All regenerate men have God as their inheritance, or as Paul puts it, are ’heirs of God’ (Romans 8:17; Galatians 4:7). That heirship is received on the basis of only one work, the work of believing. But there is another inheritance in the New Testament, an inheritance which, like that of the Israelites, is merited. They are also heirs of the kingdom and joint-heirs with the Messiah (2 Timothy 2:12; Romans 8:17)." [Note: Dillow, p. 55.]
This verse is not teaching that experiencing glorification, the third stage of every believer’s salvation, depends on our suffering for Jesus’ sake. God will eventually glorify every Christian, those who take a stand for the Lord and those who do not (Romans 8:29-39).
"Such passages leave no room at all for a ’partial rapture!’ All the saints will share Christ’s glory." [Note: Newell, p. 317.]
In the light of eternity we should view the cost of suffering with Jesus Christ now as insignificant in view of the glory that lies ahead for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:17). Paul again used a word, pathemata, which means sufferings for any reason and in any form because we are His sons. By glory Paul meant the glory that we will experience at our glorification (Romans 8:17). Our glorification is the third and final aspect of our salvation in which God will deliver us from the presence of sin forever. The Greek preposition eis can mean either "to" (NASB) or "in" (NIV) and probably includes both ideas here in view of the vastness of this glory.
3. Our present sufferings and future glory 8:18-25
Paul proceeded to expound on the thought that he introduced at the end of Romans 8:17. This passage gives a very wide perspective of God’s great plan of redemption, which is the heart of Paul’s theology. [Note: See Don N. Howell Jr., "The Center of Pauline Theology," Bibliotheca Sacra 151:601 (January-March 1994):50-70.]
Paul broadened his view of glorification to include all of creation. He personified it as leaning forward eagerly in anticipation of the great day when God will fully redeem it too (cf. Galatians 5:5; Philippians 3:20; Hebrews 9:28). Then God will reveal His sons as such, whereas now we appear simply as Adam’s sons.
". . . the word here translated ’revealing’ is apokalupsis, a removal of a covering,-as when some wonderful statue has been completed and a veil thrown over it, people assemble for the ’unveiling’ of this work of art. It will be as when sky rockets are sent up on a festival night: rockets which, covered with brown paper, seem quite common and unattractive, but up they are sent into the air and then they are revealed in all colors of beauty, and the multitude waiting below shout in admiration. Now the saints are wrapped up in the common brown paper of flesh, looking outwardly like other folks. But the whole creation is waiting for their unveiling at Christ’s coming, for they are connected with Christ, one with Him, and are to be glorified with Him at His coming." [Note: Newell, p. 320.]
Because of the Fall God subjected the whole creation to "futility" or "frustration." Consequently it never reaches the perfection that He originally intended it to achieve. Probably God is in view as the one who subjected it, though Satan and Adam were instrumental in that action.
In view of prophecies concerning creation’s restoration during Messiah’s earthly reign, that time was probably in Paul’s mind (e.g., Jeremiah 31:12-14; Jeremiah 33). Paul did not have the annihilation of the present earth in view, which will happen at the end of Messiah’s earthly reign (cf. 2 Peter 3:11-13). He was writing of its transformation at the beginning of that reign.
The creation (excluding man, Romans 8:23) acts as though it is going through birth pains in that it is straining to produce its fruit. Its sufferings are both a result of past events and a portent of future deliverance (cf. Romans 8:20; Matthew 19:28).
The saints share the sense of groaning and anticipation that Paul described the whole creation feeling. God will fully redeem both it and us finally. However only the saints have the firstfruits of the Spirit.
God commanded the Israelites to present a portion of their harvest that ripened first as an offering to Him (Exodus 23:19; Nehemiah 10:35). This offering acknowledged that the whole harvest was from Him and was really His. It was an offering that the Israelites made in faith, confident that the rest of the harvest would follow.
Similarly God’s gift of the Spirit at the commencement of the believer’s Christian life is His pledge that He will complete the process of salvation. Even though He has redeemed and adopted us, there is more of redemption and adoption for us to experience in the future (Ephesians 1:13-14; Ephesians 4:30; 1 John 3:2). When will that take place? It will happen at the Rapture, when He glorifies our bodies by making them immortal (Philippians 3:20-21; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:44; John 14:1-2). The judgment seat of Christ will follow, when we will receive more of our glorious inheritance (1 Peter 1:3-4; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
"The ’adoption’ here is the full manifestation of the status of believers when they are invested as sons and daughters of God (cf. Romans 8:14-17) and enter on the inheritance which is theirs by virtue of that status. ’The redemption of our bodies’ is the resurrection, a theme on which Paul had recently enlarged in 2 Corinthians 4:7 to 2 Corinthians 5:10." [Note: Bruce, pp. 164-65.]
In the meantime we should look forward with hope to what God has promised and patiently endure present sufferings (cf. Romans 5:4).
"The point of these two verses is that the attitude of hope, so distinctive of the Christian, implies that there is more in store for him than anything that is his already." [Note: Sanday and Headlam, p. 210.]
Hope helps us in our sufferings (Romans 8:24-25) and so does the Holy Spirit. The context suggests that our "weakness" probably refers to all our limitations as creatures (cf. Romans 8:23; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
The NASB translators understood Paul to be saying, "We do not know how to pray as we should," which implies ignorance concerning the proper method and procedure in prayer. The NIV translators thought he meant, "We do not know what we ought to pray for," implying ignorance regarding the content and subjects of our praying. The Greek text permits either interpretation, though it favors the former one. Jesus gave instruction to His disciples about both content and method (Matthew 6:9-15; Luke 11:2-4).
Perhaps what Paul meant was this. We know how to approach God in prayer and the general subjects that we should pray about. Still we struggle with exactly how to pray most effectively and with exactly what to pray about. The basic principle of effective praying is that it must be in harmony with the will of God to be effective (1 John 5:14-15; John 14:13; John 15:16; John 16:23-24). [Note: See Thomas L. Constable, Talking to God: What the Bible Teaches about Prayer, pp. 175-76.] However what the will of God is is often hard for us to ascertain. The Holy Spirit comes to our aid by interceding for us. "Intercede" means to pray for someone else. "Groanings" or "groans" expresses feelings of compassion for our weak condition. The Holy Spirit requests the Father’s help for us with deep compassion (cf. Ephesians 6:18).
We should not confuse these "groanings" with praying in tongues. This passage promises all Christians God’s help, not just those who had the gift of tongues. Furthermore the Scriptures never connect the gift of tongues with intercessory prayer. This verse seems to be saying that the Holy Spirit prays for us, not that He prays through us to the Father. [Note: See Cranfield, 1:423.]
"I take it that Paul is saying, then, that our failure to know God’s will and consequent inability to petition God specifically and assuredly is met by God’s Spirit, who himself expresses to God those intercessory petitions that perfectly match the will of God. When we do not know what to pray for-yes, even when we pray for things that are not best for us-we need not despair, for we can depend on the Spirit’s ministry of perfect intercession ’on our behalf.’" [Note: Moo, p. 526.]
4. Our place in God’s sovereign plan 8:26-30
In the foregoing verses Paul spoke of God’s plan for creation and the believer. In these verses he showed how central a place His children occupy in the plan He is bringing to completion in history.
The Father understands the Spirit’s intercession for the saints even though we do not hear it. We can know that His intercession is effective in securing God’s help for us because the Spirit prays in harmony with God’s will.
Thus God Himself by the Spirit comes to our aid whenever we need help. He also assures us in His Word that we will get assistance from the Father. The consequence of this promise should be that when we feel frustrated about our inability to pray about a particular need we can relax. We can have confidence that our compassionate God understands just how we feel and what we want, and He will respond according to His will. [Note: See Curtis C. Mitchell, "The Holy Spirit’s Intercessory Ministry," Bibliotheca Sacra 139:555 (July-September 1982):230-42.]
"We have been dealing in the first part of the chapter with the human will and its consent to walk by the Spirit. Not so from the 28th verse to the chapter’s end. It will be all God from now on!" [Note: Newell, p. 330.]
Different translators have interpreted this verse in different ways too. Some saw "God" as the subject and have translated it "God causes . . ." (NASB). Others believed that "all things" is the subject and rendered it "all things God works . . ." (NIV). However the differences are not significant. The whole chapter, even all of Scripture, presents God as sovereign over all the affairs of life. Consequently we know what Paul meant. God orders all the events of life, not just the intercession of the indwelling Spirit, so they culminate in the blessing of His children (cf. Romans 8:26-27).
"All things" means just that: all things. In the context these things include the adversities the believer experiences. The "good" is what is good from God’s perspective, and, in view of Romans 8:18-27, conformity to the Son of God is particularly prominent (Romans 8:29). Those who love God could be a group of believers who love God more than others. However since Paul described them from the divine side as the elect of God, those who love God must refer to all Christians (cf. 1 John 4:19). This is the only place in Romans where Paul wrote of the believer’s love for God; everywhere else he referred to God’s love for the believer.
This verse does not say that God causes all things, period. Nowhere in Scripture do we read that God causes sin or evil. He permits these things, but that is much different than causing them. Therefore when tragedy touches a believer we should not conclude that this is one of the "all things" that God causes. Rather this verse says that God brings good out of all things, even tragedies, for the Christian. The causes of tragedy are Satan, the sinful choices of people, and the consequences of living in a sinful world (cf. James 1:13-14): Satan, sin, and sinners. Even though God permits or allows bad things to happen, Scripture never lays the blame for these things on God, and neither should we.
Paul next explained God’s calling in terms of His foreknowledge and predestination. It is a mistake to conclude that God knew beforehand who would believe on His Son and then predestined those individuals for salvation. Foreknowledge is a term that specifically describes God’s decision to elect, to choose to bless someone (cf. ch. 9; 1 Peter 1:20). Notice that it is only those whom He foreknows that He predestines, not everyone. This indicates that a "limited" foreknowledge is in view, not just general knowledge of everyone and everything, which God possesses. Foreknowledge here does not mean simply knowledge that precedes an event. If God knows that something will happen before it does, He is in some sense responsible for making it happen since He is sovereign (cf. Romans 11:2; Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:2). Yet, as mentioned above, the Bible does not regard Him as the direct cause of all that happens or blameworthy because bad things happen. The reason for God’s choice of the elect was not human merit (Ephesians 1:4), or even the faith of the elect, but God’s love and purpose (Romans 8:28; cf. Deuteronomy 7:6-8).
"Theologians rightly point out that prior to knowledge must be the divine decree. Unless God determines in some sense that something will happen, he cannot ’know’ that it will. For God to foreknow requires an earlier decree." [Note: Mounce, pp. 188-89.]
"Predestined" means that God determined the destiny of the elect previously, specifically, before Creation (Ephesians 1:3-4). That destiny is conformity to Jesus Christ’s image, much more than just deliverance from sin and death. God accomplished this goal partially through believers’ justification. He is presently accomplishing it partially through our progressive sanctification, and He will accomplish it completely through our glorification.
"This blessed hope-that believers will be conformed to the image of His own Son-explains God’s dealings with them as His chosen sons in this present age. He is ever at work to reproduce the moral image of Christ in them. All that now comes into their lives He uses for their good to further that glorious goal. His aim for them now is not to make them happy, materially prosperous, or famous, but to make them Christlike. He now uses ’all things,’ the sad as well as the glad, the painful as well as the pleasant, the things that perplex and disappoint as well as the things they eagerly strive and pray for, to further His eternal purpose for them. In His infinite wisdom He knows what is needed to bring about that transformation. For some of His own He may need to use hotter fire and strike with harder blows than in His dealings with others to effect the formation of Christ’s image in them. This may be because some believers may be more resistant to His moulding activities or are more prone to insist on their own efforts." [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, "Romans 8:28-29 and the Assurance of the Believer," Bibliotheca Sacra 148:590 (April-June 1991):182.]
The Son became as we are (Romans 8:3) so that we could become as He is. In this respect we are brothers of Jesus Christ. "First-born" refers to Jesus Christ’s relation to resurrection (cf. Colossians 1:15), the event that inaugurated His entrance into the glorified state that we will share with Him eventually.
"This distinctive designation of Jesus Christ expresses His position of priority to and preeminence over all the other members of the family." [Note: Ibid., p. 183.]
Paul summarized the steps involved in our realization of God’s purpose: calling, justification, and glorification. Though glorification is yet future, the apostle spoke of it here as past. He could do so, not because it has already happened, but because it is so certain to take place that it is as good as having happened already (cf. Isaiah 53). Bruce suggested that perhaps Paul was imitating the Hebrew prophetic past tense in which a future event is spoken of as past because of the certainty of its coming (cf. Judges 1:14). [Note: Bruce, p. 168.] Probably Paul left sanctification out of this list because it is the one stage of our salvation in which human cooperation is essential. Paul listed only those things that God does by Himself to stress His sovereign working to bring the believer to His goal. [Note: On the apparent conflict between God’s sovereignty and human freedom, see Lewis, pp. 52-53.]
"The argument, when condensed, comes to this: that the very ones He foreknew, these, without the loss of one, He glorified." [Note: Stifler, p. 149.]
"Bridging the gap between predestination and justification by faith, God’s effectual call brings the elect to salvation. This effectual call consists of a divine summons to salvation along with illumination, through which the elect rightly perceive the gospel and inevitably trust in Jesus Christ." [Note: Robert A. Pyne, "The Role of the Holy Spirit in Conversion," Bibliotheca Sacra 150:598 (April-June 1993):218.]
"God’s intention, Paul emphasizes, is to bring to glory every person who has been justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Our assurance of ultimate victory rests on this promise of God to us." [Note: Moo, p. 536.]
The key to the believer’s security is that, "God is for us." What He has done for us through His Son in the past and what He is doing for us through the Spirit in the present should give us confidence. He will certainly complete His work of salvation by glorifying us in the future (cf. Philippians 1:6). Nobody and nothing can stand in His way.
5. Our eternal security 8:31-39
The apostle developed the fact that God will not lose one whom He has foreknown in this climactic section, and he gloried in this great truth. He asked and answered seven questions to drive home this truth.
"Nowhere in the annals of sacred literature do we find anything to match the power and beauty of this remarkable paean of praise." [Note: Mounce, p. 173.]
"This whole passage . . . strikes all thoughtful interpreters and readers, as transcending almost every thing in language . . ." [Note: R. Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and D. Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 1163.]
". . . God’s, or Christ’s, love is the motif of this paragraph, mentioned three times (Romans 8:35; Romans 8:37; Romans 8:39; cf. Romans 5:5-8)." [Note: Moo, p. 539.]
God’s plan for us cost Him dearly. He did not spare His own Son (cf. Genesis 22). Having made the greatest possible sacrifice for us already, we can know that He will also do whatever else may be necessary to conform us to the image of His Son (cf. 2 Peter 1:3).
"If you buy a costly watch at the jeweller’s, he sends it to you in a lovely case which he gives you freely-with your purchase. . . . For ’all things’ of this created universe,-yea, even all gifts or blessings God may give us, here or hereafter, are but nothing, compared with Christ!" [Note: Newell, p. 337.]
"Romans 5:8-10; Romans 8:32 appear to me to be unanswerable texts for those who deny the scriptural teaching of Christ’s substitutionary atonement. These passages state plainly that, if Jesus gave Himself for us in atonement, everything else must follow because, having done the most that He could do in dying as our substitute, the lesser things-such as conviction of sin, repentance, effectual grace, faith-must inevitably follow. God’s great eternal purpose, expressed so beautifully in Romans 8:28-30, must reach its fruition in glorification for all those for whom He died." [Note: S. Lewis Johnson Jr., "Behold the Lamb: The Gospel and Substitutionary Atonement," in The Coming Evangelical Crisis, p. 134.]
The question that opens this verse, along with the two others that follow in Romans 8:34-35, brings out the implications of "If God is for us, who is against us?" (Romans 8:31).
Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10; cf. Job 1-2). He charges the elect with sin. However, when he does this he gets nowhere with God because all sin is against God ultimately (Psalms 51:4). Therefore God is the only one in the position to charge the believer with guilt. He will not do so because He is for us. He has provided His Son to pay the penalty for our sins, Christ has done that, and God has already declared us righteous.
Jesus Christ is God’s appointed judge who will condemn the unrighteous (Acts 17:31), but He will not condemn the elect. Paul cited four reasons. First, He died for us and thereby removed our guilt. Second, He arose from the dead and is therefore able to give life to those who trust Him (cf. John 11:25; John 14:19). Third, He has ascended to the position of supreme authority in heaven where He represents us (Romans 8:29). Fourth, He presently intercedes to the Father for our welfare (Hebrews 4:14-16; Hebrews 7:25; cf. Romans 8:26).
The fact that Jesus Christ now rules over the church does not mean that He is ruling on the throne of David over the kingdom of David. [Note: See Cleon L. Rogers Jr., "The Davidic Covenant in Acts-Revelation," Bibliotheca Sacra 151:601 (January-March 1994):81-82.]
Present trials and sufferings are no indication that God has withdrawn His love from us. Even though the Father allowed His Son to suffer, He did not stop loving Him. The Father deals with His adopted sons as He dealt with His unique Son (cf. John 16:33). Paul suggested seven things, in increasing intensity, that a believer might experience-and he experienced them all (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)-that some might think could come between a believer and Christ’s love. [Note: Witmer, p. 475.]
Suffering has always been the portion of the righteous (Psalms 44:22). The sufferings in view are the consequence of our identification with Christ (cf. Acts 5:41; 1 Peter 2:21-25; 1 Peter 4:14-19).
Romans 8:37-39 express very eloquently the impregnability of our position as believers. "In all these things" is possibly the translation of a Hebraism meaning "despite all these things." [Note: Bruce, p. 171.] The Greek word hypernikomen suggests "hyper-conquerors." Our victory is sure! The Cross is the great proof of God’s love for us, and it is the basis for our victory. It proves that God is for us (Romans 8:31).
God will continue to love us when we die, and He will continue to love us whatever may befall us now. He loves us on both sides of the grave. Helpful or hostile angelic beings cannot change God’s commitment to us. Nothing that the present or future may hold can do so either. No force of any kind can remove us from His loving care. Paul listed the extremities of existence in this verse and the next. [Note: Witmer, p. 475.]
Space cannot separate us from His loving care either. Finally nothing in all creation can drive a wedge between the loving God and His redeemed people. That must include the behavior and belief of His own children as well. Not even the redeemed can remove themselves from God’s love, which Christ Jesus has secured for them! [Note: See Robert G. Gromacki, Salvation Is Forever, p. 72.]
Someone might contend that even though God will never stop loving us He may withdraw salvation from us if we do not keep loving and obeying Him (cf. Judges 1:21). However such a statement reflects failure to appreciate the full significance of God’s love for the believer. His love involves a commitment to finish the good work that He has begun in us. God has revealed all of Romans 6-8 to help us appreciate this fact. Furthermore the nature of our salvation argues against this view. Salvation is a gracious work of God for us. Our good works did not earn us salvation, and our bad works cannot take it from us. The fact that we have responsibilities in our progressive sanctification does not mean we have to keep ourselves saved. Our sanctification is only a small part of our total salvation. Sinful behavior cannot separate a believer from his salvation any more than sinful conduct can separate a beloved child from his relationship to his loving father.
Paul’s paean of praise concludes this section of the epistle that expounds God’s present work of salvation in and for those He has redeemed (chs. 6-8).
"Nowhere has the feeling of St. Paul been displayed in such overflowing measure, and yet the thread of logical deduction is not broken for an instant. This passage sums up, as we have seen, all that Paul has hitherto expounded in this Epistle." [Note: Godet, p. 335.]
"The results of justification are thus fully presented (chapters 5 to 8). No one has ever set them forth so compactly and so profoundly, in a way that is so stimulating, effective, and uplifting." [Note: Lenski, p. 578.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Romans 8". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent