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Lecture 6 - Romans Chapter 8
The Triumph of Grace
It has always seemed to me a great pity that in editing our Bibles and dividing the text into chapters and verses the break was permitted to come where it does between chapters seven and eight. I am persuaded that many souls have failed to see the connection just because of this. We get in the habit of reading by chapters, instead of by subjects. Properly, the first four verses of chapter 8 should be joined right on to chapter 7, thus linking with the expression of hope, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
These opening verses form a summing up of all the truth previously unfolded in this part of the epistle beginning with chap. Romans 5:12. It is, of course, hardly necessary for me to point out and emphasize what is now familiar to every careful student of the original text: that the last part of verse one is an interpolation (which properly belongs to verse Romans 8:4), obscuring the sense of the great truth enunciated in the opening words: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” This magnificent statement requires no qualifying clause. It does not depend on our walk. It is true of all who are in Christ, and to be in Him means to be of the new creation. A glance at the R.V. or any critical translation will show that what I am pointing out is sustained by all the editors. It was man’s innate aversion to sovereign grace, I am certain, that brought these qualifying words into the text of the common version. It seemed too much to believe that freedom from condemnation depended on being in Christ Jesus and not upon our walking after the Spirit. So it was easy to lift the words from verse four into verse one. But in verse four they have their proper place for there the question of state is to the fore. In verse one it is the question of standing that is under consideration.
What unspeakable relief it is to the bewildered, troubled soul, oppressed with a sense of his own unworthiness, and distressed because of frequent failures to live up to his own highest resolves, when he learns that God sees him in Christ Jesus, and as thus seen he is free from all condemnation. He may exclaim, “But I feel so condemned.” This however is not the question. It is not how I feel but it is what God says. He sees me in Christ risen, forever beyond the reach of condemnation.
A prisoner before the bar, hard of hearing and dull of sight, might imagine his doom was being pronounced at the very moment that the judge was giving a verdict of full acquittal. Neither blindness nor deafness would alter this fact. And though we are often slow to hear, and our spiritual vision is most defective, the blessed fact remains that God has pronounced the believer free from condemnation whether he fully rises to the glorious fact or not.
Oh, doubting one, look away then altogether from self and state, look away from frames and feelings to Christ risen, now forever beyond the cross where your sins once put Him, and see yourself in Him, exalted there at God’s right hand. He would not be there if the sin question was not settled to the divine satisfaction. The fact that He is there and that you are seen by God in Him is the fullest possible testimony to your freedom from all condemnation.
“Oh, the peace forever flowing
From God’s thoughts of His own Son,
Oh, the peace of simply knowing
On the cross that was all done.
Peace with God is Christ in glory,
God is light and God is love,
Jesus died to tell the story,
Foes to bring to God above.”
We are brought to God “in Christ Jesus,” and so all question of judgment is forever settled. It can never be raised again.
This leaves the soul at liberty to be occupied with pleasing God, not as a means of escaping the divine displeasure, but out of love to Him who has brought us to Himself in peace. What the law, with all its stern and solemn warnings and threatenings could not accomplish (that is, produce a life of holiness, because of the weakness and unreliability of the flesh), is now realized in the power of the new life by the Spirit. A clearer reading of verse two would probably be, “The Spirit’s law (which is life in Christ Jesus) hath delivered me from the law of sin and death.” That is, the Spirit’s law of life in Christ Jesus received at new birth is put in contrast to the Law of sin and death against which the believer struggles in vain, as long as he wrestles in his own strength. Victory comes through turning from self to Christ risen. The Spirit’s law brings blessing because it gives power to him who had it not before. It is an altogether new principle: life (not in or of ourselves, but) in Christ Jesus. This new life is imparted to the believer, and in the power of this new life he is called to walk. “It is God who worketh in us both the willing and the doing of His good pleasure.” The law demanded righteousness from a man whose nature was utterly corrupt and perverted, and which could only bring forth corrupt fruit. The Holy Spirit has produced a new nature in the man in Christ, and linked with this new life are new affections and desires so that he gladly responds to the will of the Lord as revealed in His Word. Thus the righteousness of the law, the good in practice that the law required, is actually produced in the man who walks not after the flesh, not as under the power of the old nature, but after the Spirit, or in subjection to the Spirit, who has come to take possession of us for Christ.
In verses Romans 8:5-27 he proceeds to unfold a wide and soul-uplifting range of truth in connection with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who is the only true Vicar of Christ on earth. And first we are reminded that there are two exactly opposite principles to be considered, or two utterly opposed standards of life. They who are after the flesh, that is, the unsaved, are dominated by the fleshly nature-they “mind the things of the flesh.” In these terse words the entire life of the natural man is summed up. In blessed contrast to this they who are after the Spirit, that is those who are born of the Word and the Spirit of God, saved men and women, characteristically mind the things of the Spirit. Parenthetically he explains “the minding of the flesh is death,” that is its only legitimate result; but “the minding of the Spirit is life and peace.” He who is thus Spirit-controlled is lifted onto a new plain where death has no place and conflict is not known.
It is not that the flesh is, or ever will be, in any sense improved. The flesh in the oldest and godliest Christian is as incorrigibly evil as the flesh in the vilest sinner. “The carnal mind (or, mind of the flesh) is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (ver. Romans 8:7). All efforts to reform or purify it are in vain. The law only demonstrates its incurable wickedness. And this explains why the natural man is so utterly unprofitable. “They that are in the flesh cannot please God.” It is not of course, that man, as such, does not know right from wrong, or, knowing it, is powerless to do right. To say so would be to declare that man is not a responsible creature but is simply the victim of a hard cruel fatalism. But knowing the evil and approving the good the natural man inclines toward the wrong and fails to do the right, because he is dominated by sin in the flesh, to which he yields his members as instruments of unrighteousness, as we have seen in chapter six, As he is powerless to change his nature he therefore cannot really please God.
But it is otherwise with the believer. He is no longer in the flesh since born of God. He is now in the Spirit, and the Spirit of God dwells in him. “If so be” does not imply that there are Christians who are not indwelt by the Spirit, but has the force of “since,” i.e., Since the Spirit of God dwells in you, you are no longer in the flesh; that is characteristically, as being of the family of the first man, and under the dominion of the old nature. If anyone whether professing to be a believer or not, is devoid of the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His, or “not of Him.” It is not merely the disposition of Christ that is in view but the Spirit of Christ is the Holy Spirit whom Christ has sent into the world and who indwells all His redeemed ones in this dispensation of grace. But this, of course, produces a Christlike disposition in the one so indwelt.
But if Christ (by the Spirit) be thus in us He alone is the source of our power for holiness. We shall get no help from the body. “The body is dead because of sin.” It is to be considered as though lifeless and inert so far as ability to produce fruit for God is concerned. All must be of the Spirit. “The Spirit is life because of righteousness.”
This is not to ignore or undervalue the body. It too has been purchased by the blood of Christ, and we have the promise that “if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you.” (ver. Romans 8:11.) It is idle to say, as some have done, that this is a present quickening, when the previous verse has told us the very opposite. “The body is dead because of sin”-not actually, of course, but judicially. Therefore we are not to expect anything of it. A strong body does not necessarily mean a strong saint, nor a feeble body a feeble believer. Natural strength may even seem to be a hindrance to spiritual progress if the truth we have been considering be unknown, while feebleness of nature’s power may seem to make holiness easier in practice. So monks and ascetics of various kinds have sought to grow in grace by punishing and starving the body. But we are told in Col. Chapter 2 that all this is vain and futile so far as checking fleshly indulgence is concerned.
But the body is for the Lord, and the same Holy Spirit who raised up Jesus from the dead will eventually raise us up, by giving resurrection life to these mortal bodies. He is speaking of the body of the living believer who has the new life now, in a body subject to death. It shall put on immortality at the Lord’s return. Since God has claimed us for this we owe nothing to the flesh. We are not its debtors to do its service. To do so would only mean to die (it is the great fact to which he calls attention that “sin when it is finished brings forth death”). But, if through the power of the indwelling Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body we shall truly live. The body is viewed as the vehicle through which the flesh acts. It incites the natural appetite to lawless indulgence. The Spirit-led man must be on his guard against this. He has to put to death these unlawful desires. In Colossians 3:5 we read, “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth, fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and coveteousness which is idolatry.” Having been crucified with Christ we are now in faith to mortify by self-judgment the deeds of the body. “We which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake.” To walk in the flesh is to do contrary to the whole principle of Christianity, for “as many as are led (controlled) by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” It is by this life in the Spirit’s power we mortify the deeds of the body and manifest our new life and relationship. This is not a Spirit of bondage, of legality, filling us with fear and dread, but the Spirit of adoption, of son-acknowledgment, whereby we instinctively lift our hearts to God in the cry of the conscious child, “Abba, Father.” Adoption is to be distinguished from new birth. We are children by birth but sons by adoption. In the full sense we have not yet received the adoption. It will all be consummated, as verse Romans 8:23 shows, at the Lord’s return. When a Roman father publicly acknowledged his child as his son and heir, legally in the forum, this ceremony was called “the adoption!” All born in his family were children. Only those adopted were recognized as sons. So we have been born again by the word of God and thus are children, as were all believers from Abel down. But as indwelt by the Spirit we are adopted sons, and this will be fully manifested in the most public way when we are changed into our Saviour’s image at His coming again.
The child-cry, “Abba, Father,” is most suggestive. The one term is Hebrew in the text, the other Greek. For those who are in Christ, the middle wall is broken down. All are one in Him. Together we cry, “Abba, Father.” Our Lord Himself used the double term in Gethsemane (see Mark 14:36). Some one has aptly suggested that “Abba” is a word for baby lips, whereas the Greek pateer, or the English equivalent, Father, is a word for the more mature. But young and old join together in approaching the Father by the Spirit.
He Himself bears testimony with our human spirit that we are God’s children. We received His Witness to us as given in His Word (Hebrews 10:15); thus we have the Witness in us, the Word hidden in our hearts (1 John 5:10), and now the Spirit Himself takes up His abode within and leads us into the enjoyment of heavenly things. In the text it is “the Spirit itself.” The Greek demands this because the word “Spirit” is a neuter noun. But according to English idiom it is correct to use the personal pronoun. He communes with our spirits; He illumines, instructs and guides through the Word.
“Whoso hath felt the Spirit of the Highest,
Cannot confound, nor doubt Him, nor deny;
Nay, with one voice, O World, though thou deniest,
Stand then on that side, for on this am I.”
“The fellowship of the Spirit” is a wonderfully real thing, known and enjoyed by those who live and walk in Him.
If children of God it naturally follows that we are his heirs, and thus we are joint-heirs with Christ. We share in all His acquired glories, and so we shall eventually be “glorified together.”
In verses Romans 8:18-27 the apostle contrasts our present state with the coming glory. Even though thus indwelt by the Spirit we are called to a path of suffering and sorrow as we follow the steps of Him who was, on earth, the Man of Sorrows. But all we can possibly suffer here is as nothing compared to the glory soon to be manifested.
All creation is expectantly waiting for the full revelation of the true estate of the sons of God, when it too shall share in that glorious liberty. It was made subject to vanity, not of its own will but through the failure of its federal head, yet subjected not forever, but in hope of final restoration, and in that day it shall be delivered from the “bondage of corruption” and made to share in “the liberty of the glory of the sons of God.” Creation does not share in the liberty of grace. It shall have its part in the liberty of glory, the kingdom age of millennial blessing. Till then the minor note is heard in all creation’s sounds; groaning and travailing in birth-pangs through all the present age, waiting for the regeneration; and we ourselves, though we have received the salvation of our souls and have the first-fruits of the Spirit (enjoying a foretaste now of what shall soon be ours in all its fulness), we groan in unison with the groaning creation as we wait expectantly for our acknowledged adoption when we shall receive the redemption of our bodies and be fully like Himself.
In this hope we have been saved and in its power we live. We walk by faith, not by sight. If already seen, hope would fade away, but in this hope we patiently wait for the Lord.
Meantime, often tried to the utmost, we do not know even what we should pray for as we ought, but the indwelling Spirit, knowing the mind of God fully, makes intercession within us according to the will of God, though not in audible words, but with unutterable groanings. “Once we groaned in bondage, now we groan in grace,” as another has well said, and this very groaning is in itself a testimony to the changed conditions brought about by our union with Christ. The Spirit’s groanings are in harmony with our own sighs and tears, and the great Heart-Searcher hears and answers in wisdom infinite and love unchanging.
And so we go on in peace amid tribulation, assured in our hearts that, “All things work together for good to them who love God, who are the called according to His purpose” (ver. Romans 8:28). This introduces the closing part of the chapter, and of this great doctrinal division of our epistle, which is a summing up of all we have gone over, and a masterly conclusion to the opening up of “the righteousness of God as revealed in the gospel”. It breaks into two sub-sections.
In verses Romans 8:28-34 we have “God for us.” In verses Romans 8:35-39, “No separation.”
We have a glorious chain of five links in verses Romans 8:29-30 reaching from Eternity in the past to Eternity in the future-foreknown, predestinated, called, justified, glorified! Every link was forged in heaven, and not one can ever be broken. This blessed portion is not for theologians to wrangle over but for saints to rejoice in. Foreknown ere we ever trod this globe, we have been predestinated to become fully like our blessed Lord-“conformed to the image of God’s Son,” that He, who was from all Eternity the “only Begotten,” might be “the Firstborn among many brethren.” So we have been called by grace divine, justified by faith on the basis of accomplished redemption, and our glorification is as certain as the foreknowledge of God.
What shall we say to all of this? If God is thus so manifestly for us-not against us as once our troubled hearts and guilty consciences made us believe-what power can be against us? Who can successfully combat the divine will?
In giving Christ God showed us that (as a brother beloved has said), “He loved us better than we loved our sins,” and if He did not spare “His Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”
The next two verses should probably all be thrown into question-form, as in several critical translations: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Shall God, who justifieth? Who shall condemn? Shall Christ who died, yea, rather, who is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us?”
There is no answer possible. Every voice is silenced. Every accusation is hushed. Our standing in Christ is complete and our justification unchangeable.
And so in the closing verses, Romans 8:35-39, the apostle triumphantly challenges any possible circumstance, or personal being in this life or the next, to attempt to separate the believer from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. No experience however hard or difficult can do it. Even though exposed as sheep to the slaughter, yet death but ushers us into the presence of the Lord. In all circumstances we more than conquer, we triumph in Christ.
And so, as he began with this portion with “no condemnation,” he ends with “no separation.” “I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come (and what is there that is neither present nor to come?), nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!”
Blessed, wondrous consummation of the most marvellous theme it was ever given to man to make known to his fellows! May our souls enter ever more deeply into it, and find increasing joy and spiritual strength as we contemplate it.
“No condemnation; blessed is the word!
No separation; forever with the Lord,
By His blood He bought us, cleansed our every stain;
With rapture now we’ll praise Him.
The Lamb for sinners slain.”
-J. Denham Smith.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Romans 8". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11