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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Romans 8

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-39

Bur now DOES this deliverance work? How is it accomplished? We find an answer to these questions when we commence to read chapter 8. At the end of chapter 7 the law of sin and death proved itself far more powerful than the law of the renewed mind. In the opening of chapter 8 the law of the Spirit, who is now given to the believer, proves itself far more powerful than the law of sin and death. The Apostle can exultingly say, It has “made me free.”

Not only have we life in Christ Jesus but the Spirit of that life has been given to us. Thereby a new force enters our lives. Coming under the controlling power of the Spirit of God we are released from the controlling power of sin and death. The greater law overrides the lesser.

The point may be illustrated by many happenings in the natural world which surrounds us. Here, for instance, is a piece of iron. It lies motionless upon the ground, held to the spot by the law of gravitation. An electric magnet is placed above it and the current is switched on. Instantly it flies upward, as though suddenly possessed of wings. A new controlling power has come on the scene which, under certain conditions and in a limited sphere, has proved itself stronger than the power of gravitation.

The Holy Spirit has been given to us that He may control us, not that we may control Him. How does He exert His influence? He works within the believer, but it is in connection with an attractive Object without—Christ Jesus our Lord. He is here not to speak of Himself or to glorify Himself, but to glorify Christ. He indwells us, not that He may foster the old life, the life of the first Adam; the life of which He is the Spirit is the life of Christ, the last Adam. We are “in Christ Jesus,” as the first verse shows, and we are that without any qualification whatever, for the words which close the verse in our Authorized Version should not be there having evidently crept in from verse Romans 8:4, where they rightly occur.

There is nothing to condemn in Christ Jesus, and nothing to condemn for those in Christ Jesus. The reason for this is two-fold. Verses Romans 8:2-3 each supply a reason, both beginning with “for.” Verse Romans 8:2 gives the practical or experimental reason. The believer under the control of the Spirit is set free from the control of that which formerly brought the condemnation in. Being a statement of a liberty which has to be experimentally realized the Apostle speaks still in a personal and individual way— “hath made me free.”

Verse Romans 8:3, on the contrary, is a statement of what has been accomplished by God in a judicial way at the cross of Christ. The law had been proved to be weak through the flesh, though in itself holy and just and good. It was like a skilful sculptor set to the task of carving an enduring monument—some thing of beauty intended to be a joy for ever—out of a great heap of dirty mud. A heart-breaking, a hopeless task, not because of any defect in the sculptor but because of the utterly defective material with which he had to deal. The law could condemn the sinner, but it could not so condemn sin in the flesh that men might be delivered from servitude to sin and, walking after the Spirit, be found fulfilling what the law had righteously required.

But what the law could not do God has done. He sent forth His own Son, who came in the likeness of sinful flesh—only in the likeness of it, be it noted, for though perfectly a Man He was a perfect Man, without the slightest taint of sin. God sent Him “for sin,” that is, as a sacrifice for sin; so that in His death sin in the flesh might be condemned. Sin is the root principle of all that is wrong with man; and the flesh is that in man which furnishes sin with a vehicle in which to act, just as the electricity generated in a power station finds a vehicle for its transmission and action in the wires that are carried aloft.

We know that sin had its primary origin in the heavens. It began with Satan and the fallen angels, yet Christ did not come to die for angels and consequently it was not sin in the nature of angels which was condemned. He died for men, and it was sin in the flesh that was condemned. It was condemned, you notice, not forgiven. God does indeed forgive sins, which spring forth as the fruits of sin in the flesh; but sin—the root principle—and the flesh—the nature in which sin works—are not forgiven but unsparingly condemned. God has condemned it in the cross of Christ. We must learn to condemn it in our experience.

We are to judge as God judges. We are to see things as He sees them. If sin and the flesh lie under His condemnation then they are to lie under our condemnation. Sin and the flesh being judged in the cross, the Holy Spirit has been given to us that He may energize the new life that is ours. If we walk in the Spirit then all our activities, both mental and bodily, will be under His control, and as a consequence we shall be found doing what the law requires.

Herein, of course, is a marvellous thing. When under the law and in the flesh we were struggling to fulfil the law’s demands and continually failing. Now that we are delivered from the law, now that we are in Christ Jesus and indwelt by the Spirit of God, there is a power which can enable us to fulfil it. And as we do walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh, and according to the measure in which we so walk, we do actually fulfil what the law has so rightly demanded of us. This is a great triumph of the grace of God. As a matter of fact though, the triumph may be even greater, for it is possible for the Christian “so to walk even as He [Christ] walked” (1 John 2:6). And the “walk” of Christ went far beyond anything that the law demanded.

We may sum up these things by saying that the Christian—according to the thoughts of God—is not only forgiven, justified, reconciled, with the Spirit shedding abroad in his heart the love of God; but also he sees the divine condemnation of sin and the flesh in the Cross, he finds that his own vital links before God are not with Adam fallen but with Christ risen. Consequently he is in Christ Jesus, with the Spirit indwelling him, in order that, controlling him and filling him with Christ, as an Object bright and fair before his eyes, he may walk in happy deliverance from the power of sin and be gladly fulfilling the will of God.

Nothing less than this is what the Gospel proposes. What do we think of it? We pronounce it magnificent. We declare the whole scheme to be a conception worthy of the mind and heart of God. Then our consciences begin to prick us, reminding us how little these wonderful possibilities have been translated into actualities in our daily experience.

The Apostle Paul, you notice, did not lay down his pen nor turn aside to another theme when he had written verse Romans 8:4. There is more to be said that may help us to gain a real and experimental entrance into this blessed deliverance so that we may be living out the life of Christ in the energy of the Spirit of God. Verses Romans 8:5-13 continue taking things up from a very practical standpoint.

Two classes are considered. Those “after” or “according to” the flesh and those according to the Spirit. The former mind the things of the flesh: the latter the things of the Spirit. The mind of the flesh is death: the mind of the Spirit life and peace. The two classes are in complete contrast, whether as to nature, character or end. They move in two totally disconnected spheres. The Apostle is of course speaking abstractly. He is viewing the whole position according to the inward nature of things, and not thinking of particular individuals or their varying experiences.

We may very rightly raise the question of our own experiences. If we do, what have we to say? We have to confess that though we are not after the flesh yet we have the flesh still in us. Hence it is possible for us to turn aside from that minding the things of the Spirit, to mind the things of the flesh. And, in so far as we do, we come into contact with death rather than life and peace. But let us make no mistake about it; if we go in for the things of the flesh, we are not seeking things which are properly characteristic of the Christian, but rather wholly abnormal and improper.

The things of the flesh appeal to the mind of the flesh, and that is simple enmity against God. This saying which occurs in verse Romans 8:7 may seem hard, but it is true, for the flesh is essentially lawless. Not only is it not subject but it cannot be. Do we believe that? Let the flesh be educated, refined, religionized; let it be starved, flogged, restrained; it is just the old flesh still. The only thing to do with it is to condemn it and set it aside, and this is just what God has done, as stated in verse Romans 8:3. May we have wisdom and grace to do likewise.

It is clear that since the mind of the flesh is simply enmity against God, those “in the flesh” cannot please Him. If we would see a complete contrast with this we must turn to 1 John 3:9. There we find that the one born of God “cannot sin.” All who are not born of God are in the flesh; that is, their state is characterized by the flesh and nothing else. There is no new nature with them, and hence the flesh is the source of all their thinkings and doings, and all is displeasing to God. The one who is born of God partakes of the nature of Him of whom he is born.

But not only is the believer born of God, he is also indwelt by the Spirit of God, who seals him as Christ’s. This great reality entirely alters his state. Now he is no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit; that is, his state is characterized by the presence and power of the Spirit of God, who is also called in verse Romans 8:9 the Spirit of Christ. There is but one and the self-same Spirit yet the change in the descriptive title is significant. Christ is He from whom we derive our origin spiritually, the One to whom we belong. If indeed we are His, we are possessed of His Spirit, and consequently should be Christ-like in our spirits, so really so that all may see that Christ is in us.

According to verse Romans 8:10 He is in us if His Spirit indwells us, and hence we are not to be ruled by our bodies. They are to be held as dead, for acting they only lead to sin. The Spirit is to be the Energizer of our lives and then the outcome will be righteousness. To do the will of God is practical righteousness.

Our bodies are spoken of as “mortal bodies” in verse Romans 8:11. They are subject to death, indeed the seeds of death are in them from the outset. At the coming of the Lord they are to be quickened. The God who raised up Christ from the dead will accomplish this by His Spirit. In this connection we have a further description of the Holy Spirit. He is “the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead.” Indwelling us in this character, He is the pledge of the coming quickening, whether it reach us in resurrection of the body or in the change to be wrought in the bodies of saints who are alive and remain to the Lord’s coming.

The conclusion to be drawn from all that we have just been considering is that the flesh has no claim upon us whatever. It has been judged in the Cross. It is antagonistic to God, irreconcilably so, and we are not “in the flesh.” We are indwelt by the Spirit, and “in the Spirit.” We are therefore in no way debtors to the flesh that we should live after it, for life according to the flesh has but one end—death. The Spirit is in us that we may live according to Him. That means putting to death the deeds of the body, refusing practically its promptings and desires. That is the way to what is really life according to God.

What great importance all this gives to the indwelling of the Spirit of God. He produces an altogether new state or condition in the believer, and He gives character to the state that He produces. He is the power of Christian life in the believer, the Energy that breaks the power of sin and sets us free. But He is more than this for He is an actual Person indwelling us, and so taking charge of us.

In the bygone dispensation the Jew was under the law as a schoolmaster or tutor. It took him by the hand as though he were a child under age, and led him until such time as Christ came. Now Christ having come we are no longer under the schoolmaster but like sons of full age in our father’s house. Not only are we sons but we possess the Spirit of God’s Son. All this we find in Galatians 3:1-29; Galatians 4:1-31. Verse Romans 8:14 of our chapter refers to this truth.

Those who were in the position of minors were put under law as a schoolmaster, and were led by it. We who have received the Spirit of God and are led by Him are the sons of God. Christ is the Captain of our salvation, gone on high. The Spirit indwells us on earth, as our Leader in the way that goes up to glory. Praise be unto our God! Our hearts should indeed be filled with everlasting praise.

We have in our chapter a wonderful unfolding of truth concerning the Spirit of God. We have seen Him, in verse Romans 8:2, as the new law of the believer’s life. In verse Romans 8:10, He is presented to us as life, in an experimental sense. In verse Romans 8:14 He is the Leader, under whose guardianship we have been placed while on our way to glory.

Further He sustains the character of a Witness, as we find in verse Romans 8:16. Being made sons of God we have received the Spirit of adoption, and two results flow out of this. First, we are able to respond to the relationship which has been established, turning to God with the cry of, “Abba Father.” Second, the Spirit gives us the conscious enjoyment of the relationship. We know in our own spirits that something has happened, which has brought us out of darkness into light. The Spirit corroborates this, bearing witness to what has happened, even that we are now children of God.

The witness goes even beyond this, for if we are children then are we heirs, and that jointly with Christ; for by the Spirit we are united to Christ though that truth is not developed in this Epistle. What amazing truth is this! How often does our very familiarity with the words blind us to the import of them! Let us meditate on these things so that there may be time for the truth to sink unto our hearts.

The chapter opened with the fact that we are in Christ, if true believers. Then we found that having the Spirit of Christ, Christ is in us. Now we come to the fact that we are identified with Him, both in present suffering and in future glory. The point here is not that we suffer for Christ in the way of testimony and that glory is to be our reward hereafter: that we find elsewhere. The point rather is that being in Him and He in us we share in His life and circumstances, whether here in sufferings or there in glory.

This leads the Apostle to consider the contrast between present sufferings and future glory, which contrast is worked out in the paragraph comprised in verses Romans 8:18-30, though it is at once stated in very forcible words that the sufferings are not worthy of any comparison with the glory.

The same contrast is drawn in 2 Corinthians 4:17, and even more graphic language is employed; “A far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” In our passage the matter is considered with greater wealth of detail. The paragraph seems to fall into three sections. First, the character of the coming glory. Second, the believer’s comfort and encouragement in the midst of the sufferings. Third, the purpose of God which secures the glory.

First, then, the glory is connected with the manifestation of the sons of God. The sons will be manifested when the Son, who is the Firstborn and Heir, is revealed in His glory. Then the creature (that is, the creation) will be delivered from the bondage of corruption and share in “the liberty of the glory of the sons of God.” (N.Tr.) It has well been remarked that the creation does not share in the liberty of grace which we enjoy even amidst the sufferings, but it will share in the liberty of the glory. The creation was not made subject to vanity by its own will but rather as the result of the sin of the one to whom it was subject; that is, of Adam. And creation is represented as anxiously looking out in hope of the deliverance which will arrive with the manifestation of the glory. When the sons are publicly glorified the year of release and jubilee will have come for the whole creation. What glory that will be! How do present sufferings look in the light of it?

Still there are these sufferings, whether for the creation as a whole or for ourselves in particular. Verse Romans 8:22 speaks of the former. Verses Romans 8:23; Romans 8:26 of the latter. We have infirmities, as well as the groans which are the fruit of pain, whether physical or mental. What then, in the second place, have we to sustain us in the midst of it all?

The answer is again that we have the Spirit, and He is presented to us in three further capacities which He fills. He is the Firstfruits (v. Romans 8:23), the Helper and the Intercessor (v. Romans 8:26).

We are already sons of God. Yet we wait for “the adoption,” that is, for the full state and glory of the position, which will be reached when our bodies are redeemed at the coming of the Lord. We have been saved in hope (not, by hope) and are consequently put in the position of patient waiting for the promised glory. Saved are we in expectancy of glorious things to come, yet we have the Firstfruits in the Spirit who has been given to us. The firstfruits were offered up in Israel as the pledge and foretaste of the coming harvest (see, Leviticus 23:10, Leviticus 23:17, Leviticus 23:20), so in the Firstfruits of the Spirit we have the pledge and foretaste of the redeemed body and the glory that is ahead.

Also the Spirit helps our infirmities. This word helps us to see that a clear distinction exists between infirmities and sins, for the Spirit never helps our sins. Infirmity is weakness and limitation, both mental and physical, and therefore if unassisted we may very easily fall victims, ensnared by sin. The help of the Spirit is that we may be strengthened and delivered.

Then again, such is our weakness and limitation that very frequently we find ourselves in circumstances where we simply do not know what to pray for. Then the Spirit indwelling us takes up the role of Intercessor, and utters His voice even in our groanings which baffle utterance. God who searches all hearts, knows what is the mind and desire of the Spirit, for all His desires and intercessions are perfectly according to the mind of God, whatever our desires might be. God hears according to the Spirit’s desires, and not according to ours, and we may well be very thankful that this is so.

We must not miss the connection between verses Romans 8:26; Romans 8:28, though it is not very clear in our version. It is, “We do not know what we should pray for as we ought... but we do know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” This thing and that thing may appear to work evil, but together they work for our spiritual good. This must be so, inasmuch as the Spirit indwells us, helping our weaknesses and interceding in our perplexities; and also in the light of the fact that God has taken us up according to His purpose, which nothing can thwart.

This brings us to the third thing: the purpose of God, which secures the glory. Two verses cover the whole statement; its exceeding brevity only enhancing its force.

There are five links in the golden chain of divine purpose. The first is foreknowledge, which is rooted in the very omniscience of God—rooted therefore in eternity. Next comes predestination: an act of the divine Mind, which destined those whom He foreknew to a certain glorious place long before they existed in time. From other scriptures we know that this predestination took place before the foundation of the world.

But predestination was followed by the effectual call which reached us in the Gospel. Here we come down to time, to the moments in our varied histories when we believed. The next step practically coincided in point of time with this; for we were justified, and not only called, when we believed. Lastly “whom He justified them He also glorified.” Here our golden chain, having dipped down from eternity into time, loses itself again in eternity.

Yet, as you will notice, it says, “glorified”—the past tense and not the future. That is because, when we view things from the standpoint of divine purpose, we are carried outside all time questions, and have to learn to look at things as God looks at them. He “calleth those things which be not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17). He chooses, “things which are not.” (1 Corinthians 1:28). Things, which are not to us, exist for Him. We are glorified in the purpose of God. The thing is as good as done, for His purpose is never violated by any adverse power.

See then the point at which we have arrived. In the Gospel God has declared Himself as for us in the wonders of His justifying grace. This came before us up to the close of chapter 5. Then the enquiry was made as to what should be our response to such grace; and we have discovered that though we have no power in ourselves to make a suitable response, there is power for it, since we are set in Christ and indwelt by the Spirit of God. We are set free from the old bondage that we may fulfil the will of God. Moreover we have seen how many-sided are the capacities which the Spirit fills as indwelling us. He is “Law,” “Life,” “Leader,” “Witness,” “Firstfruits,” “Helper,” “Intercessor.” And then again, we find ourselves in the embrace of the purpose of God, which culminates in glory—a purpose that nothing can frustrate.

No wonder the Apostle returns to his question, as to what we shall say, with all these things before him! What can be said but words that breathe the spirit of exultation? The question occurs in verse Romans 8:31, and from thence to the end of the chapter the answer is given in a series of questions and answers, ejaculated with that rapidity which betokens a burning and triumphant heart. These verses lend themselves not so much to exposition as to meditation. We will just notice a few of the more salient points.

God is for us! Fallen man instinctively thinks of God as being against him. It is far otherwise, as the Gospel proves. His heart is toward all men, and He is actively and eternally for all who believe. This effectually silences every foe. No one can be effectively against us, however much they would like to be.

The gift of the Son carries with it every lesser gift that we can hold with Him. Notice, in verse Romans 8:32, the word “freely,” and also “with Him.” Do we want anything which we cannot have with Him? In our folly or haste we may sometimes want such things. On quiet reflection however we would not have for one moment what would entail separation from Him.

God is our Justifier, not man. In the presence of this no one will succeed in laying so much as one thing to our charge. Even among men, when once the judge has cleared the prisoner it is practically libel to bring the charge against him.

If no charge can be brought there is no fear of condemnation. But if in any way that could be in question there is a perfect answer in Christ, once dead but now risen, and at the seat of power as an Intercessor on our behalf. Notice that this chapter presents a twofold intercession: Christ at the right hand of God, and the Spirit in the saints below. (vv. Romans 8:26, Romans 8:34.)

Could we have a more perfect expression of love, the personal love of Christ, than we have had? We could not. Yet the question may arise—so timorous and unbelieving are our hearts—May not some thing arise, some force appear, which will separate us from that love? Well, let us search and see. Let us mentally ransack the universe in our search.

In this world, which we know so well, there is a whole range of adverse powers. Some of them are exerted directly by evil men, such as persecution or the sword. Others of them are more indirect results of sin in the government of God, such as distress, famine, nakedness or peril. Will any of these things seen and felt, separate us from Christ’s love? Not for one moment! Again and again has a timorous convert been assailed by brutal men, who have said in effect, “We’ll knock these notions out of you.” Again and again has the effect of their persecution simply been to knock the truth securely in. He has not only won in the conflict but come out of it an immense gainer, and so more than conqueror. By these very things he has been rooted in the love of Christ.

But there is an unseen world—a whole range of things of which our knowledge is very small. Ills, that we know not of, always take on a more fearsome aspect than ills that we know and understand. There are the mysteries of death as well as of life. There are powers of an angelic or spiritual order. There are things that may lie in distant ages or reaches of space that we may yet have to traverse, or creatures that as yet we have not known. What about these?

The answer is that none of these shall for one moment separate us from the love of God. That love rests on us in Christ Jesus our Lord. He is the worthy and all-glorious Object of that love, and we are in it because connected with Him. The love reached us in Him, and we, as now in Him, stand abidingly in that love. If Christ can be removed out of the embrace of that love, we can be. If He cannot be, neither can we. Once grasp that great fact and Paul’s persuasion becomes our persuasion. Nothing can separate us, for which eternal praise be to our God!

Our chapter, then, which began with, “No condemnation”, ends with, “No separation.” And in between we discover ourselves to be taken up according to the purpose of God, in which there can be no violation.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Romans 8:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/romans-8.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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