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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Romans 8

 

 

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Verse 1

‘So there is now no punishment following sentence to those who are in Christ Jesus.’

This is literally ‘so no punishment following sentence now to those who are in Christ Jesus.’ The English versions translating ’ara as ‘therefore’ can give the impression of a decisive break as in Romans 5:1, but in Romans 5:1 the ‘therefore’ was ’oun, here it is ’ara, and an examination of the use of ’ara in Romans demonstrates that it does not carry the same force as ’oun in Romans 5:1. See Romans 5:18; Romans 7:3; Romans 7:21; Romans 7:25; Romans 8:12; Romans 9:16; Romans 9:18;Romans 10:17; Romans 14:12; Romans 14:19. Rather it refers back in the main to what has just been said (as ’oun also often does). And this is what we would expect here because we are still in the ‘I, me’ section (Romans 8:2). The reference in the plural to ‘those who are in Christ Jesus’ refers to the whole of the believing church worldwide. It does not therefore conflict with this view. Compare how in Romans 7:14 ‘we’ is used to refer to the Roman recipients of his letter, and in Romans 7:25 he can speak of ‘our’ Lord, referring again to his Roman recipients and to all Christians.

The ’ara then refers back in the first instance either to ‘I thank my God through Jesus Christ our LORD’ or to ‘so then (’ara ’oun) I myself with my mind serve the Law of God --.’ Or indeed to the whole verse. Thus indicating that Romans 8:1-2 at least is a part of the ‘I, me’ section. The change back to ‘us’ occurs in Romans 8:4, and from then on ‘I’ and ‘me’ no longer occur. However, the reference to the fulfilling of the Law of God in Romans 8:4 would appear to indicate that that too is a part of this whole section about the Law, commencing at Romans 7:1, but with the ‘I, me’ sections (Romans 7:7 to Romans 8:2) contained within it.

And why is there now no ‘punishment following sentence’? (which is the literal meaning of katakrima in external literature). It is because, like Paul, Christians have found the solution in Jesus Christ our LORD, both through His death for them and in His bringing the minds of His own to ‘serve the Law of God’, as a consequence of their having been accounted as righteous (Romans 3:24 to Romans 4:25; Romans 5:15-19), and as a consequence of their being ‘in Him’ (chapter 6). What the Law could not do, He has done (Romans 8:3). By delivering them from the condemnation of the Law, He has enabled them to delight in the Law and fulfil it (Romans 8:4; Romans 7:22; Romans 7:25). They are thus those who have become servants of obedience (Romans 6:14). For them there is now no sentence, or punishment following sentence, for, as we shall soon see, as a result of the Spirit’s work they ‘fulfil the Law’ (Romans 8:4).

‘To those who are in Christ Jesus.’ To be ‘in Christ’ is a popular Biblical phrase, but what precisely does it signify?

· Firstly it signified that being ‘in Christ’ we have died with Him and risen again (Romans 6:3 ff., where they have been ‘inundated into Christ’).

· Secondly it indicates that being in Christ we are conjoined with Him (Romans 7:4; John 15:1-6) so that we can serve in newness of Spirit (Romans 7:6).

· Thirdly we learn that being in Adam all die, whilst being in Christ we will be made alive at the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:22). This Adam-Christ theme ties in with Romans 5:12-21. Thus from there we know that it is by being in Christ that we receive the gift of righteousness, will reign in life and will enjoy eternal life.

· Fourthly it is because we are in Christ that we will be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

· Fifthly ‘in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation’ (Galatians 6:15; compare 2 Corinthians 5:17, ‘if any man is in Christ he is a new creation’). In Christ we have become a new creation.

Thus being ‘in Christ’ is firstly the basis of our being accounted as righteous (Romans 5:12-21;2 Corinthians 5:21). And secondly it is the basis of successful living as a consequence of spiritual transformation and abiding in the risen Christ (Romans 6:3 following; Romans 7:4; John 15:1-6). This is why there is no punishment after sentence for those who are ‘in Christ Jesus’.

The idea of being ‘in Christ was developed further in Ephesians and Colossians. Thus:

· Sixthly in Colossians ‘we are complete in Him’ (Romans 2:10), and ‘having received Christ Jesus the LORD’ we are to walk ‘in Him’ (Romans 2:6).

· Seventhly in Ephesians we are ‘chosen in Him’ (Romans 1:4), ‘in Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace’ (Romans 1:7), ‘in Him we have received an inheritance’ (Romans 1:11), in Him we are raised to the spiritual realm (Romans 2:1-10), in Him ‘we have been made nigh by the blood of Christ’ (Romans 2:13), ‘in Him we are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit’ (Romans 2:22).

However, looking at the broader picture we can also see the ‘no punishment following sentence (katakrima)’ as looking back to Romans 5:16; Romans 5:18, (the only other references in Romans to katakrima) as will now be explained in Romans 8:2-4. In Romans 5:16; Romans 5:18 punishment following sentence came on all men because of the judgment that had come on Adam, but for believers it was then countered by God through the free gift of righteousness resulting from the obedience of Jesus Christ. This was the necessary basis for deliverance from the Law. The Law could no longer condemn the one who was in Christ. As a result the intervention of Jesus Christ our LORD has resulted in minds set to serve the Law of God, confident of no ‘punishment following sentence’ from that Law. Romans 8:2-4 will now take this wider reference up.


Verse 2

‘For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and of death.’

Here we have an explanation of the deliverance by ‘Jesus Christ our LORD’ in Romans 7:25. It was wrought by ‘the law of the Spirit’ (paralleling ‘the law of my mind’ - Romans 7:23), ‘of life in Christ Jesus’. As a consequence of the ‘law (effective power, principle) of the Spirit’ acting upon him in contrast to ‘the law (the effective power, principle) of sin’, Paul (‘me’) has been ‘made free’. He had found himself ‘brought into captivity by the law of sin in his members’ (Romans 7:23) at those times when ‘his flesh’ caused his members to serve the law of sin. But now he is seen as being ‘made free from the law of sin and death’ as a result of the work of ‘the Spirit, of life in Christ Jesus’. He is partially ‘made free’ from his captivity to it at the present, although sadly discovering that sin will go on seeking to make him captive, and sometimes succeeding. But best of all he will one day be made free from it totally at the resurrection (Romans 8:11). ‘Has made me free’ has in mind the potential fulfilment of the hope (he will actually not be freed from the possibility of death until the resurrection). Thus the imparting of Christ’s life by the Spirit potentially annuls the power of sin and death. In consequence his ‘serving of the Law of God with his mind’ (Romans 7:25) results in his members serving the Law of God, with him in his higher nature in the main fulfilling it (no one, not even the most righteous, fulfils it totally for its demands are too high for someone who still has within them the fleshly disposition), although sometimes failing because of the flesh. Note the addition of ‘death’ so as to contrast with ‘life’. The struggle between what was spiritual and what was fleshly (Romans 7:14) still continued.

‘Of life in Christ Jesus.’ It is through His life, imparted to us through our response of faith, that we are made free. As we have seen this is the theme of the whole of Romans 5:1 to Romans 8:4 (and indeed beyond), that ‘life’ or ‘eternal life’ has come to us through our LORD Jesus Christ. See Romans 5:10; Romans 5:17-18; Romans 5:21; Romans 6:4; Romans 6:8; Romans 6:11; Romans 6:23; Romans 7:4; Romans 7:24 (by inference). Paul knows that the law of sin and death within him has been countered and defeated by the law of the Spirit through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, something Paul had already experiencing to some extent, and wanted to experience even more (Philippians 3:10). But the final triumph of ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ will take place when our mortal bodies are ‘made alive’ by Him Who raised Christ Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11).

‘The law of sin and death.’ Some have sought to equate this with the Law of Moses, but in a passage where the Law is described as ‘spiritual’ (Romans 7:14) and ‘holy and righteous and good’ (Romans 7:12) it is hardly likely that Paul would call it the law of sin and death, and the Law is never said to kill (see Romans 7:13). It is sin which takes advantage of the Law so as to kill (Romans 7:11). Indeed in Romans 7:23 the Law of God is seen as in opposition to ‘the law of sin in my members’. How then can it be identified with it? Thus this does not refer to the Law of Moses.

Note that it is at this stage that Paul ceases to speak autobiographically and again reverts to ‘us’. He has not openly included the Roman Christians in Romans 7:14 to Romans 8:2, he has left it for them to consider the matter in the light of his own experience, but he certainly wants to include them openly in the final conclusion.


Verse 3

‘For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh,’

Once again we learn of the weakness of the Law because of man’s fleshly disposition (Romans 7:14 onwards). The ‘spiritual’ Law failed because man was ‘fleshly’ (Romans 7:14). So what the Law could not do, make men acceptable to God and deal with the problem of sinful flesh, God did. He intervened. And He did it by ‘sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin’. He Who was the only Son (Romans 1:3) was ‘born of the seed of David according to the flesh’ (Romans 1:2), and thus came ‘in the likeness of’ sinful flesh, although Himself not sinful (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5). And He suffered for us on the cross, thus being made an offering for sin (Romans 3:24-25; Romans 4:25; Romans 5:6-10; Romans 5:18-19; Romans 6:3; Romans 6:5-6; Romans 6:10; Romans 7:4; compare 2 Corinthians 5:21). And as a consequence of His obedience both in life as the Son of David, and in the offering of Himself in death, He ‘condemned sin in the flesh’. His life was a constant condemnation of sin, which was why He was hated by so many. And He condemned sin by His teaching. But above all He condemned sin by dying for it, demonstrating thereby that it was worthy of death. Once He had ‘borne our sin in His own body on the tree, that we being dead to sin should live to righteousness’ (1 Peter 2:24), the power of sin was broken. It could no longer point the finger at those who were Christ’s. All it could do was fight a rearguard action so as to affect people’s lives. Thus this has in mind both the possibility of present victory over a ‘sin in the flesh’ that has been condemned (Romans 8:4; Romans 8:10) and final resurrection when the ‘sin in the flesh’ will have been got rid of once for all (Romans 8:11).

‘For sin.’ This may indicate that He was being offered up as a propitiatory sacrifice. See 2 Corinthians 5:21 where he was ‘made sin for us, He Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.’. Consider also that ‘He gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil world, in accordance with the will of God and our Father’ (Galatians 1:4). There may be a reflection here of Isaiah 53:10 LXX where peri hamartias (‘for sin’) is similarly used, although the same phrase is used regularly in Leviticus for a sacrificial offering. We need not on the other hand limit ‘for sin’ to a sacrificial offering here. The main point is that He was sent to deal with sin as a whole.

‘For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh.’ More literally we could read, ‘The powerlessness (impotence) of the Law being this that it was weak through the flesh -’, or alternatively ‘on account of the powerlessness of the Law in that it was weak through the flesh, God sent His Son --.’ The point is that the Law was impotent. Having revealed God’s requirements it could only stand by helplessly. And this was because of man’s fleshliness.


Verse 4

‘That the ordinance (requirement) of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’

And the consequence of what He has done is that the ordinance of the Law is fulfilled in us as is revealed by the fact that we walk after the Spirit (compare Galatians 5:16; Galatians 5:25). But how is the Law fulfilled in us?

1) It is fulfilled because Christ fulfilled it in full, and set His fulfilment of it to our account (Romans 3:24 to Romans 4:25).

2) It is being fulfilled because the Christian begins to fulfil the Law as he walks by the Spirit. It is thus being fulfilled in him.

3) It is ‘being fulfilled’ because some outward power (the Spirit) is causing the law to be fulfilled in us. This is precisely what Isaiah indicated when he spoke of the righteousness of God, ‘My righteousness’, which was to come to His people in ‘salvation’ (e.g. Isaiah 51:5 where it was to be on all people; Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 56:1; etc).

1). is certainly true, and is the basis of everything else, but it cannot be seen as the full explanation as the fulfilment in this verse is connected with the ‘walk after the Spirit’ which is very much a matter of practical righteousness (Galatians 5:16 ff). The mood and tense would strongly support 3). with the idea being that God brings His righteousness to His people thus transforming their lives. The consequence of both 1). and 3). is then revealed in 2).

So as God acts upon us by His Spirit He communicates to us not only justifying righteousness (Romans 3:24 to Romans 4:25), but also sanctifying righteousness (Romans 5:1 to Romans 6:23), resulting in His Law being fulfilled. He comes with salvation and with righteous deliverance (see on Romans 1:16-17). And the consequence is that we ‘walk after the Spirit’. This means that we look off to the Spirit continually for His guidance, especially through God’s word and prayer, seeking for Him to be renewed in us constantly (‘be you being filled with the Spirit’ - Ephesians 5:18) and walking step by step with the Spirit day by day (‘if we live in the Spirit let us walk step by step by the Spirit’ - Galatians 5:25). This is the opposite of responding daily to the clamour of the flesh. As a consequence the ordinance of the Law will be fulfilled in us as we live out the Sermon on the Mount, which is Jesus Christ’s commentary on the Law.

The ordinance (declaration, requirement) of the Law will thus be fulfilled in a number of ways. Firstly by Jesus Christ’s full obedience to the Law being put to our account in His gift of righteousness (Romans 3:23 to Romans 4:25). In this way the Law is completely fulfilled. Secondly by God’s righteousness being active within us by the Spirit, producing righteousness in our lives , enabling us to reject the flesh and fulfil the Law (Romans 8:1-18). And thirdly in the outworking of our lives when we walk after the Spirit, with our lives submitting and responding to His direction step by step (Galatians 5:25). The concluding ‘who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit’ puts the emphasis on the latter. Thus we find that the Law does triumph in the end as the standard by which the Christian ‘walks after the Spirit’, something which results from God’s inworking (Philippians 2:13; compare James 1:25).


Verse 5

‘For those who are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh, but those who are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.’

The test of whether we walk after the flesh or after the Spirit is revealed by our mind set. Those who walk after the flesh have their minds set on the things of the flesh. Those who walk after the Spirit have their minds set on the things of the Spirit. Compare Colossians 3:1-2, ‘if you then be risen with Christ (Romans 6:1-11), seek those things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth --’. If our minds are not set on things above, perhaps we ought to reconsider our position.

Note the use of the third person, continued until Romans 8:9, in order to facilitate the comparison between those who are after the flesh and those who are after the Spirit.


Verses 5-17

The Contrast Between Flesh And Spirit Is Considered, Leading Up To The Assurance Of Life Through The Triune God And A Declaration Of Our Sonship And Heirship (8:5-17).Reference to ‘walking not after the flesh but after the Spirit’ now leads on to a deeper examination of what it means to be responsive to the Spirit in contrast with the flesh. It is the battle of Galatians 5:16 ff. continued, with the Spirit and flesh being in constant opposition. This contrast is prominent verse by verse in Romans 8:5-13. With reference to ‘the flesh’ we note that:

· Those who are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh (v5).

· The mind of the flesh is death (v6).

· The mind of the flesh is enmity against God (v. 7).

· Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (v. 8).

· Their body is dead because of sin (v. 10).

· Living after the flesh they must die (v. 13).

This is the condition in which the world find themselves. Because they are fleshly their concentration is on fleshly things, an attitude which results in death both in this world and that which is to come (contrary to popular belief they are not going to Heaven). It also results in enmity against God, and their being in a position whereby they are unable to please Him. They are at odds with God. Note the constant emphasis on death. That is all that awaits those who are in the flesh. Their state is a parlous one indeed.

In contrast is the life of the Spirit:

· Those who are after the Spirit mind the things of the Spirit (v5).

· The mind of the Spirit is life and peace (v6).

· The indwelling Spirit is life because of righteousness (v. 10).

· He Who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit which dwells in you (v11).

· If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (v. 13).

· As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God (v. 14).

Here we note immediately the emphasis on life (eternal life). To have the mind of the Spirit is life. To have the Spirit indwelling is life. God will give life to our mortal bodies. If by the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body we will live. If we are led by the Spirit of God we are the sons of God (and will thus be alive forevermore). Through the Spirit we therefore enjoy ‘eternal life’ both now and after the resurrection (John 5:24; John 5:28-29).


Verse 6

‘For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace,’

The consequence of having ‘the mind of the flesh’ is death. If we set our minds on fleshly things we will reap our reward. God is not mocked. He who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption (Galatians 6:7). In contrast the one who sows to the Spirit, and sets his mind on the Spirit and is ‘after the Spirit’, will enjoy life and peace. He will enjoy peace with God (Romans 5:1). He will ‘reap eternal life’ (Galatians 6:7), because thereby he will be proving that he is a true child of God, who is acceptable in God’s sight through the righteousness of Christ (Romans 8:3).


Verse 7-8

‘Because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.’

And this is because having the mind of the flesh is to be at enmity with God. That which is fleshly is not subject to the Law of God, nor indeed can it be, for the Law is spiritual (Romans 7:14). This underlines the fact that the descriptions in Romans 7:22-23 were of regenerated men and women. That a battle was taking place was because the Spiritual mind was being applied rather than the fleshly one. As a consequence of all this, those who are ‘in the flesh’ cannot please God. God cannot look with pleasure on one who is deliberately dwelling in the realm of the flesh and walking in deliberate disobedience. They are enemies of God. They are not subject to God’s Law (they are criminals and rebels). They cannot please God. And the reason why this is so, is because all that they do, even if it has to do with high level morality, is done out of fleshly motives.


Verse 9

‘But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if it be that the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.’

In contrast those who have the Spirit of God dwelling in them are ‘in the Spirit’ and not ‘in the flesh’. They dwell and walk in the realm of the Spirit. They are upheld by the Spirit. They are illuminated by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:9-16). In this is the crucial test of whether someone is a Christian. Are they indwelt by the Spirit? For Jesus came as the ‘inundator in Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 3:11; 1 Corinthians 12:13). Indeed if any man does not have the Spirit of Christ he is ‘none of His’. Note the change to ‘Spirit of Christ’, important in context because the point is that central to being a Christian is our relationship to Christ. But the Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of God, for Christ is God. God is seen in general as represented in men’s hearts by ‘the Holy Spirit’. And yet we must beware of being too dogmatic, for God is such that it is impossible for the Holy Spirit to be present without the Father and the Son. They too dwell within us (John 14:23). And Paul demonstrates this by immediately speaking of ‘Christ in you’ (Romans 8:10). Compare how in John 14:17-18, having promised the coming of the Holy Spirit Jesus said, ‘I will come to you’. Note that Paul is now once again addressing the Roman Christians (as representing all Christians).


Verse 10

‘And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.’

Quite easily Paul can slip from having the Holy Spirit in us, to having Christ in us, thus illustrating Their total equality. It is because Christ is in us that the body is dead because of sin, for it is due to our having been crucified with Christ. However, some see this as indicating ‘the body is subject to death because of sin’. Both are, of course, true. If we take the first the verse is linking up with the fact that we died with Him and rose with Him (Romans 6:1-11). If we take the second then Paul is indicating that we are still subject to death because of sin dwelling in us, but are certain of resurrection because we have life through the Spirit. So in our oneness with Him we have died with Him, and we live in Him. And it is because of His righteousness applied to us that we enjoy the Spirit of life. For this was the purpose of His coming, to give us life (a theme of chapters 5-8), and we learn now that this is through the Spirit.

Translations are divided on whether to translate as ‘spirit’ or Spirit. But in a context so rich with the work of the Spirit a capital S would seem appropriate, especially as we immediately learn that it is the Spirit Who gives life (Romans 8:11, compare Romans 8:2). It makes little difference. The Spirit works by making alive our spirits, which had been previously dead.


Verse 11

‘But if the Spirit of him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead will give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit which dwells in you.’

The Triune God is now seen as in action. ‘Him Who raised up Jesus from the dead’ (the Father) is now introduced, and is also seen as indwelling us. Involved in our salvation are Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we learn that having raised Jesus from the dead by His mighty power (Ephesians 1:19 ff), we can be sure that He will also raise us from the dead (Ephesians 2:1 ff), giving life to our mortal bodies. The assurance is of physical resurrection. And it will be accomplished through His Spirit Who dwells in us. Then will ‘the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus’ have finally set us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).


Verse 12

‘So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh,’

So, says Paul, we must recognise that we are debtors. We owe it to God to be what we should be and yield our lives to His Spirit. On the other hand we own no debt to the flesh, by pandering to it and in consequence living in accordance with its demands. Indeed it has no rights over us. To ‘live after the flesh’ is to own the right of the flesh to dictate our lives. It is those who happily follow their own desires without recourse to God who ‘live after the flesh’. They are at enmity with God (Romans 8:7). In contrast the true believer’s aim is to follow after the Spirit, looking to God for guidance and help in the way we live. Thus aim and motive are of vital importance. Compare the mind serving the Law of God (Romans 7:25), even though the flesh serves the law of sin.


Verse 13

‘For if you live after the flesh, you must die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.’

Indeed if we do live after the flesh we ‘must die’, both in this world and the next. It is a certainty. The contrast with ‘live’ indicates that this means more than just physical death. For those who live after the flesh there is no eternal life. On the other hand, if we live by the Spirit, following His leading and responding to Him, and if we by His power put to death the (sinful) deeds of our body, we will ‘live’ (a verb only used of believers). In the light of the first part of the verse we may see the deeds done in the body as referring to those wrought by the flesh which operates in our body.


Verse 14

‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.’

And one reason why we can be so sure that we ‘will live’ is because, by being led by the Spirit in this regard we are demonstrating that we are ‘sons of God’. The assumption is, of course, that in the same way we will follow all the Spirit’s leading. And the fact that we can sense His leading is confirmation of the fact of our sonship. The warning is, however, elsewhere given that we can be misled (1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 John 4:1 ff). We must therefore ensure that our leading is a true leading of the Spirit (there are other spirits which will try to lead us astray including ‘the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience’ - Ephesians 2:2). In John 1:12-13 those who receive ‘the Word’, that is those who believe on His Name, are given the right to be ‘called children of God’. Here that advances to adult sonship. And the idea is that God could never allow His sons, who are destined to be made like His Son (Romans 8:29), to ‘die’ eternally. They are sons for ever (John 8:35).

The term ‘son of God’ is never unambiguously used of believers in the Old Testament. It rather refers in the plural to the bene elohim (sons of the elohim - angels - as in Job 1-2), but Israel as a whole is called ‘My son’ (Exodus 4:20; compare also ‘Ephraim is my firstborn’ - Jeremiah 31:9), and individually Israel are seen as ‘the children of the LORD your God’ (Deuteronomy 14:1). In Isaiah 43:6 God also speaks of the people of Israel as ‘My sons and My daughters’, and in Hosea 2:1 LXX (cited by Paul on Romans 9:26) God speaks of His people as ‘sons of the living God. In a similar way God is seen as the father of Israel rather than of individuals. The kings of Israel were seen as His adopted sons, ‘you are My son, today I have begotten (adopted) you’ (Psalms 2:7). Compare also 2 Samuel 7:14 ‘I will be his father and he will be my son’. So the seed thought was there, but not the full reality. Jesus illuminated the idea and took it further, regularly speaking of God as ‘our Father’ (see especially the first half of Matthew’s Gospel, e.g. Matthew 5:45; Matthew 5:48; Matthew 6:1; Matthew 6:4; Matthew 6:6; Matthew 6:8 etc.) and less often referring to believers as ‘sons’ (Matthew 5:45). Jesus Himself was, however, called ‘the Son of God’ and ‘the Son’ and the probability is that our adopted sonship primarily derives from Him as a result of our union with Him (Hebrews 2:10-13), supplemented in terms of the further background.


Verse 15

‘For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, “Abba, Father”.’

This is a call for them to recognise that they have not been called as servants (who were often beaten) but as sons (something made clear by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son - Luke 15). Left to their own ideas they might well have seen themselves as ‘slaves of God’, cowering before a despotic Master ( a regular feature of life in those days), but the fact that Jesus taught them that they could call God ‘Father’ demonstrated otherwise. His point was that God did not want them to look on Him as a stern Master, but as a loving Father. This idea is thus firmly rooted in the teaching of Jesus about God as a loving Father. It is further supported by the idea lying behind ‘no longer do I call you servants, but I have called your friends’ (John 15:15) and by His stress on the fact that it was He Who had chosen them (John 15:16). God did not see them merely as servants, but as those who had been chosen by Him.

In Galatians 4:1-4 reference is made to ‘being held in bondage under the rudiments of this world’ as a situation which is remedied when God ‘redeems those who are under the Law that they might receive adoption as sons’. In that case both bondage and adoption are therefore mentioned. But simply to apply this would seem to miss the main point of the verse which has in mind previous bondage to the Law..

‘Adoption as sons’ (huiothesia). This has reference to the Greco-Roman practise of the ‘adoption’ of a son, in some cases when he became full grown, and therefore able to take on responsibility, so that he might be the heir (the idea actually lies behind Genesis 15:2-4).

Despite Galatians 4 then, there is good reason here for seeing ‘bondage’ as referring to the bondage of the Law from which they have just escaped by being accounted as righteous. The point is that the Spirit Whom they receive will not take them back again under the bondage of the Law so that they once more live in craven fear under that Law. Rather He will bring them into a state of adoption under their Father in which they cry ‘Abba Father’, the tender cry of a child to its father, and live openly and joyfully in His presence. The freely open cry of ‘Abba father’ is deliberately in direct contrast to the quivering slave who fears to say anything. It is a hugely significant cry, a cry of trust and confidence, and of assurance that the Father will hear.

‘The Spirit of bondage.’ This term is basically a term describing what is non-existent as it is describing what the Holy Spirit is NOT and what we have NOT received. He is not a Spirit of bondage but a Spirit of adoption..


Verse 16

‘The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God,’

And all this is because the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, making us aware of the privilege and joy of such a position. It is through the Spirit’s illumination and encouragement that we take up and maintain our new position, continually rejoicing in it as the wonder of it is brought home to us more and more.


Verse 17

‘And if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.’

Furthermore the Spirit bears witness to even more. He bears witness to the fact that as children we are heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ. He brings out that we are to share with Christ in all the gifts and glory of the Father. Thus will we receive the inheritance promised to Abraham (Romans 4:13-14; Genesis 12:3 ff. and often), an inheritance that will be received, not in this earth, but in the new Heaven and the new earth (Hebrews 11:10-14; 2 Peter 3:13). But Paul then enters a caveat. Such a privilege can only be ours if we share in His suffering. Those who would share the glory must share the cross. For it is the destiny of believers to experience suffering on the way to glory. ‘If we die with Him we will also live with Him, if we suffer with Him we will also reign with Him’ (2 Timothy 2:11-12). It was not that Paul doubted the Roman Christians (any more than he distrusted Timothy). It was rather that he wanted them to be prepared for what might come (and soon did come).


Verse 18

‘For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed towards us.’

Paul now gives the assurance that no matter how great the sufferings of this present time they are not ‘worthy to be compared’ with the glory which is to be revealed towards us. ‘Our light affliction, which is for the moment, works for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory’ (2 Corinthians 4:17). This is why our minds must be set on things above (Colossians 3:1-3), in order that we might not be discouraged by what happens to us on earth as we await the glory that is to be revealed to us. That indeed is what should take up our whole thoughts and determine how we live. As Jesus Himself said, ‘do not lay up your treasures on earth -- lay up your treasures in heaven ---for where your treasure is there will your heart be also’ (Matthew 6:19 ff.).

‘The sufferings of this present time.’ This is a theme of the remainder of this chapter, and Romans 8:35 makes quite clear that all sufferings of His people are included, not just persecution (e.g. famine). But having said that, both Jesus and the New Testament writers make clear that we must not be taken by surprise by persecution, for it is a part of the battle for the salvation of God’s elect.

‘The glory which is to be revealed towards us.’ Something of that glory is brought home to us in Revelation 21:22-23; Revelation 22:5 where, because of the outshining of the glory of Father and Son, then openly revealed to His people in ‘the New Jerusalem’, no further light will be needed in the City of God. Believers will then view His unabated glory. But included within the glory which is to be revealed towards us is the first glimpse of that glory when we will experience the glory of His appearing (e.g. Matthew 24:30; 2 Thessalonians 1:7; 2 Thessalonians 1:10), in which we are to have our part (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:52-54; with Philippians 3:21). Paul probably has both in mind, the one moving into the other. Our trek-leader is leading us to glory (Hebrews 2:10), and it will be revealed when we behold Him in His glory. But that glory will then be experienced for all eternity.

However, as the verse speaks of ‘glory towards us’, there is clearly here also a recognition of the glory which will be bestowed on us, tying in with the idea of the ‘revealing of the Sons of God’ in Romans 8:19 (Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Ephesians 5:27; Philippians 3:21; Colossians 1:27; Colossians 3:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:14), and with our final glorification (Romans 8:30).


Verses 18-27

The Whole Of Creation Is Groaning In Expectation Of Its Redemption. And God’s People Also Groan With It, As Does The Spirit Of God Himself On Our Behalf (8:18-27).

In spite of the division necessarily made this passage very much connects up with the previous one and it is only the change in subject matter which causes us to make the division, for Romans 8:18 takes up Romans 8:17. Paul has just been speaking of the fact that we who are sons of God will also share in His sufferings. Now we learn that the whole of creation is also undergoing anguish (is groaning) as it waits for ‘the revealing of the sons of God’. Thus prior to the final summary in Romans 8:31-39 the portrayal of redemption described from chapters 1 to 8 ends with a glance into the future when the whole of creation will be transformed and the people of God will experience full salvation as they are made like to His image.

The passage presents this in a remarkable way as it portrays salvation history in terms of groaning, for not only does it see the whole creation as groaning in hope of deliverance, and all God’s people as groaning as they await the redemption of their bodies, but it also portrays God Himself as groaning through His Spirit as He fulfils His role in our salvation. Thus this present age is summarised as one of groaning prior to our deliverance into ‘the liberty of the glory of the children of God. It is a time of suffering and tribulation. That is why Paul will go on to emphasise the certainty of the fulfilment of God’s plan of salvation and give the guarantee that amidst the groaning God will uphold his children (Romans 8:31-39).

This passage is in fact of vital import in Paul’s outlining of God’s plan of salvation. It helps to bridge the gap between justification and glorification. The Question can be put, Why in view of man’s redemption does he have to suffer and endure, and be allowed to be a prey to ‘sin and death’? The answer lies here. It is a part of the fulfilment of God’s purpose from creation to consummation. As Adam sinned and brought sin into the world (Romans 5:12-14), so did his sin bring corruption to God’s creation. Thus not only has man to be delivered, but the whole of creation is to share in that deliverance. And in the process of this redeemed man must play his part. Indeed we can parallel Romans 7:14 to Romans 8:4 with this passage, the one depicting man groaning in his bondage to sin (‘O wretched man that I am’ - Romans 7:24), the other depicting the whole creation as groaning in its wretchedness, subject to the curse. Both are a necessary part in God’s answer to the problem of sin.


Verse 19

‘For the earnest expectation of the creation waits for the revealing of the sons of God.’

Paul vividly presents the whole of creation as waiting, as it were, with bated breath, for the time when the sons of God will be revealed. In Jewish tradition ‘creation’ can refer to either the whole of creation, animate and inanimate, or be seen as a term for mankind as a whole But while it is true that only mankind can wait with ‘earnest expectation’, (if we take what Paul says literally), it must be seen as very probable that Paul is here speaking metaphorically (compare Isaiah 24:4; Isaiah 35:1; Isaiah 55:12; Jeremiah 4:28; Jeremiah 12:4). He rather pictures the whole of the universe as waiting with earnest expectation for the time of redemption. Only sinful man is unaware of it so as to be taken by surprise.

‘The earnest expectation.’ Literally ‘the waiting with outstretched head’, thus a ‘straining forward in anticipation’.


Verse 20-21

‘For the creation was subjected to frustration (emptiness, vanity), not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope, that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.’

And the reason why it waits with bated breath is because it had been subjected to frustration and emptiness (‘vanity’). The thought here is of Genesis 3. Creation had been ‘very good’ even in God’s eyes (Genesis 1:31). It had flourished and prospered. But it had been transformed as a consequence of man’s sin into something that suffered corruption, death and decay, into something that was greatly marred. What had flowered in such glory had been subjected to frustration, futility and emptiness as it sought to propagate. Instead of positive fruitfulness, left to itself it produced weeds. And the animal world likewise was subject to struggle, death and decay, in total contrast to Isaiah’s vision of the new earth (Isaiah 11:6-9). It too had entered into the struggle for existence. And that not by its own choice (thus excluding man who did make his choice). It had rather been at the will of the Creator, Who had so subjected it (‘cursed be the ground’) because it belonged to rebellious man who had been given rule over it. This had not, however, left it without hope, for just as it was involved in man’s sin and failure, so would it be involved in his final redemption. Whilst therefore it is now in the bondage of corruption (a prisoner of corruption), it will one day be set free to enjoy the freedom of the glory of the children of God, part of which is incorruption (Romans 2:7).

The idea behind this is, of course, the ideal of the new heavens and the new earth in which dwells righteousness (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1; compare Isaiah 65:17). In that new earth, a spiritual earth, will be literally fulfilled all the promises to Abraham and his heirs, of the land that was to be theirs (see Hebrews 11:10-14), for this earth is a ‘prototype’ of what is to come. Just as man’s resurrection body will somehow be connected with our present bodies, so will the new earth somehow be connected with the old earth. But in contrast with the present earth, the new earth will be spiritual, everlasting and incorruptible.

The Groaning Of Creation, Of God’s Children, And of God Himself In Carrying Out His Saving Purpose Through The Spirit.

Nothing is more moving than this picture of a groaning creation, a groaning church, and a groaning Spirit, as God’s purposes move forwards. It confirms, and is intended to confirm that we are part of a suffering creation, which is why we also must expect to suffer, because God carries out His purpose through suffering.


Verse 22

‘For we know that the whole creation groans together and suffers birthpangs together until now.’

Thus just as Christians are groaning within themselves over their temporary enslavement by sin which is not of their own will (Romans 8:23; Romans 7:14; Romans 7:24), so does the whole creation groan together and suffer birthpangs together even to this present time, because it has been subjected to frustration not of its own will. Note the emphasis on togetherness (emphasised in the Greek of both verbs). The whole suffers as one. The fact that it ‘suffers birth pangs together’ not only indicates that all parts suffer together, but also that what creation suffers is in fact only the first agonies which precede eternal bliss. Once the new creation has sprung out of the old the birth pangs will be forgotten. Ongoing history may seem a long time to us, but in the household management of God (Ephesians 1:10) it is but the brief initial suffering which leads to glory ahead. Compared with eternity the present ages are simply a brief passage of time.


Verse 23

‘And not only so, but ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.’

Creation groans, and so also do Christians. We have received the firstfruits of the Spirit. We have thus experienced something of God’s work in producing a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10), which lives out its existence within the old creation. Our new life in the Spirit is a taste of what is to come. But we groan in our present bodies ‘within ourselves’ as we endure the agonies of the old creation, longing to be clothed with our habitation which is from Heaven, so that our mortality (and bodily weaknesses) might be swallowed up in life (2 Corinthians 5:2; 2 Corinthians 5:4). We long that this body which we have to endure in this time of our humiliation (‘this vile body’) might become like his glorious body (Philippians 3:21). And we groan because of our desire to be delivered from the depredations of sin (Romans 7:24). For we await our adoption, when we will be adopted as true sons who have been transformed into His image, that is, we await the redemption of our bodies. Then finally all traces of sin and decay will have been removed.

‘The firstfruits of the Spirit.’ The firstfruits were the initial benefit, and the guarantee of what was to come, they were ‘the pledge of our inheritance until the redemption of God’s own possession’ (Ephesians 1:14). In other words the Spirit has brought us some relief as we have experienced the new creation within ourselves, prior to the consummation. We are a new creation in the midst of the old creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have receive new life through the Spirit. But there is much more to come, especially in that day when He transforms us into Christ’s image at the same time as creation itself enjoys its renewal.

‘We ourselves groan within ourselves.’ We do not constantly pass our spiritual burdens on to others. Rather we groan ‘inside’. We recognise our weakness, and frailty, and our shortcomings, and we are constantly reminded of them as we are unable fully to do what we want to do. We long for the day when we will be like Him, and when our weaknesses and frailties will be no more. (Although, of course, this is largely countered in practise by the joy we know as we look off to Him, and walk with Him, with our minds set on things above. Paul is not prescribing a life of morbid introspection).

‘Waiting for our adoption.’ In one sense we have already been adopted as sons of God (Romans 8:15), and are now His children (1 John 3:2), but there is to be an even more glorious adoption when we are adopted as those who have been perfected, with every stain and blemish removed (Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22).

‘The redemption of our bodies.’ In ourselves we have already been redeemed through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24). But we still live in frail and mortal bodies which are beset by sin, living in the old creation. We await the resurrection when our bodies will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed (1 Corinthians 15:42-44; 1 Corinthians 15:52), being conformed to His image (Romans 8:29).


Verse 24

‘For in hope were we saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he sees?’

For we were saved ‘in hope’ (through faith - Ephesians 2:8). When we committed ourselves into the hands of our Saviour we were accounted as righteous and entered into the process of salvation. But that was in order to enjoy the ‘hope’ of what was to come as we awaited the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, when our salvation will be completed in the final transformation of our bodies. Thus we can know that we are ‘saved’, while at the same time looking forward with confident certainty (certain hope) to our complete salvation at ‘the redemption of our bodies’. It is not something that we have as yet seen or experienced. For if it were we could not hope for it. We would know that we had it. Thus this hope refers to something promised, but as yet not experienced.


Verse 25

‘But if we hope for what we do not see, then do we with patience wait for it.’

And because that hope is of something that we do not see, we will wait for it with patient endurance. God has plenty of time, and He does not determine His purposes according to our wishes. We must therefore trust in Him, hoping with confident certainty for the finalisation of what He has promised.


Verse 26

‘And in the same way the Spirit also helps our infirmity, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,’

And in the same way as hope sustains us and aids us as we go forward with Christ at difficult times, so does the Spirit also sustain us. He ‘bears the burden of our infirmity (our bodily and spiritual weakness, especially as regards to prayer) along with us’. He aids us in our infirmity. But like many of the verbs in this passage the verb has in it the idea of togetherness. The same verb was used in LXX to describe the seventy elders in Numbers 11:17 as ‘bearing the burden along with Moses’. Thus the Spirit comes alongside us and, working together with us, helps us in our weakness. He bears our burdens along with us. And He does it by intercession on our behalf in a way beyond our ability to understand.

Others, however, see ‘in the same way’ as indicating that the Spirit groans in the same way as we do, entering into our feeling of infirmity, and being a co-partner with us in our groaning. Both interpretations express what is true.

The fact that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought’ indicates that prayer is very much in mind, whether through us or for us. And the probability is that we are to see the Spirit as interceding through us. As we pray in our weakness and frailty, not knowing what the will of God is, the Spirit groans through us as He intercedes with groanings which cannot be uttered (because it is for what is beyond our knowledge). The fact of ‘groaning’ suggests prayer at times when we are in some distress (it is in the context of ‘the sufferings of this present time’ - Romans 8:18), thus at times when we are most at a loss as to how to pray. In general we do know how to pray, for Jesus has taught us how to pray (even if we do tend to ignore what He most laid emphasis on). But there are times when we face situations where we are at a loss. And at such times we often cry, ‘Father, your will be done’, or even do groan, not knowing what to say. How comforted we should be to think that as we do so the Spirit intercedes with groanings which cannot be uttered, taking our prayer and making it specific in accordance with the will of God.

On the other hand it may be that we are to see the Spirit as praying for us, even at times when we fail to pray, ensuring that we are prayed for by One Who knows the mind of God, just as Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, prays and intercedes for us in Heaven, ‘ever living to make intercession for us’ (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25).

There are no good grounds for connecting this groaning with speaking in tongues, if only because tongues were intended to be interpreted, and thus clear as to what was being prayed. The groaning here is for things beyond human conception. And it is not limited to those who have the gift of speaking in tongues.


Verse 27

‘And he who searches the hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because he makes intercession for the saints according to (the will of) God.’

The reference to ‘He Who searches the hearts’ confirms that the Spirit is praying as we pray. Whatever our outward words our Father knows all that is in our hearts (and all our needs, as Jesus made clear in Matthew 6), searching our hearts as we pray. And as the Spirit prays through us the Father ‘knows His mind’, that is knows precisely what He is requesting, because He makes his intercession ‘according to God’ (‘the will of’ is not in the Greek, but put in by translators in order to make the sense clear). We need therefore never be afraid that any failure of ours in understanding will hinder our prayers to God at times of need.


Verse 28

‘And we know that to those who love God all things work together for good, even to those who are called according to his purpose.’

In contrast to what God knows (Romans 8:27) is what ‘we know’. Our knowledge of the purposes of God may be limited, but what we do know is that to those who love God (believers), to those who are called according to His purpose, all things work together for good. By ‘good’, of course, we must see final good, what is good in God’s eyes. Such things do not necessarily turn out for our earthly benefit, for God’s way might lead to a cross, and may well, as we have seen, lead to suffering and tribulation (Romans 8:17 c-18). But what we can be sure of is that they result in our eternal good. God will take all that happens to His own and make it work for their good.

‘To those who love God.’ Unexpectedly this description is rare in Paul’s writings. See, however, 1 Corinthians 2:9 (an Old Testament quotation); Romans 8:3 (‘the one who loves God is known of Him’) and compare Ephesians 6:24 (‘those who love our LORD Jesus Christ’). But the idea is common in the Old Testament, signifying true believers, something which 1 Corinthians 8:3 confirms. Such love is, of course, the basis of Christian living, ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and soul, and might’ (Deuteronomy 6:5; and regularly cited or confirmed by Jesus; Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27). But Jesus also said, ‘If God were your Father you would love Me’ (John 8:42). Thus to love God is to love Jesus Christ. The reference is therefore clearly to true believers, something confirmed by the fact that they are those who are ‘called according to His purpose’.

‘All things.’ We need not put a limit on ‘all things’, for if one thing is sure it is that God does make all things finally work together for those who love Him, even though it might be as a rod of chastisement (Hebrews 12:5-11). It especially has in mind suffering and persecution, as well as the antagonism of evil spiritual forces (Romans 8:35; Romans 8:38-39).

‘To those who are called according to his purpose.’ Here is a definition of those who love God, and vice versa. Those who love God are those whom He has called according to His purpose. In some way they have heard His voice speaking to them, and they have responded. The calling has thus been an effectual call because it has resulted in their loving God. And it is a call made ‘in accordance with His purpose’. Whatever men’s thought may be concentrated on, God’s thoughts are focused on the salvation of His own, and on His presentation of them in His sight as holy, unblameable and unreproachable (Colossians 1:22). For this purpose of God for those whom He has called is now made clear as it is expanded on in Romans 8:29-30.


Verses 28-39

The Believer Can Rest In Total Assurance Because He Knows That God Is Working His Purposes Out From Beginning To End. He Can Therefore Rest In The Certainty Of His Love Whatever Befalls (8:28-39).

Now we learn that, although we may not know what is the mind of the Spirit in His intercession on our behalf, one thing that ‘we do know’ (Romans 8:28) is that to ‘those who love God’ all things work together for good. While the Spirit intercedes in full knowledge, our knowledge is restricted. This is in fact good for us. It would not be good for us to know all. But our knowledge is nevertheless sound for it is firmly based on our faith in His purposes (Romans 8:28-30) and our faith in His love (Romans 8:35; Romans 8:39). We know that God is ‘for us’. And in view of that fact that we know that ‘God is for us’ (Romans 8:31), we know that we have no need to fear, for He has demonstrated in the giving up of His own Son, what His intentions towards us are. Does someone lay a charge against us? (Romans 8:33). God has declared us righteous. Does someone seek to condemn us? (Romans 8:34). Our advocate, the risen Christ, pleads on our behalf (1 John 2:1-2). And having had made known to us His love by His death and resurrection, we can rest on that love with confidence knowing that nothing can separate us from it. For nothing can ‘separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our LORD’ (Romans 8:39).


Verse 29-30

‘For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers, and whom he foreordained, those he also called, and whom he called, those he also justified, and whom he justified, those he also glorified.’

In Romans 8:17 Paul had spoken of Christians as those who would be ‘glorified with Him’, and in Romans 8:18 he had spoken of ‘the glory which will be revealed towards us’, this being the consequence of our being ‘sons of God’. Then in Romans 8:19-23 he has described the process from creation and from the fall of man to the time when we would be finally ‘adopted’, when our bodies would be redeemed (Romans 8:23). Then Christians are to experience ‘the liberty of the glory of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21). Thus he makes clear that our ‘justification’ as described in Romans 3:24 to Romans 4:25 is to result in our ‘glorification’. Now he sums up the eternal process by which this glorification will be brought about.

This summing up follows on the last defining clause in Romans 8:28 (‘to those who are called according to His purpose’) which now thus leads on to an explanation of what it means to be ‘called according to His purpose’. This explanation refers to those who are caught up in His purpose of salvation for those whom he has chosen, and explains how they will finally be ‘glorified with Him’ (Romans 8:17). In it Paul describes in a series of quick phrases God’s activity in redeeming men from the very beginning, commencing with His ‘foreknowing them’ even before creation, and ending with His glorifying them on that day when He ‘sums up all things in Christ’ (Ephesians 1:10). It covers the whole panorama of history. The aorist tenses indicate the certainty of what is to happen to those who are called according to His purpose. They guarantee the successful conclusion of the process as being from God’s point of view already completed.

The process commences with ‘foreknowledge’ (proginowsko). This means more than ‘knowledge about beforehand’ which could have been pro-oida. Ginowsko indicates knowledge gained through personal experience. Thus when Adam had a child by his wife it was after he had ‘known her’, and God could say of Israel ‘you only have I known’ (Amos 3:2). Compare how Jesus spoke of those to whom He would say, ‘I never knew you’ (Matthew 7:23). In each case there is a thought of ‘entering into relationship with’ someone. So to ‘foreknow’ is to ‘enter into relationship with beforehand’ (compare Romans 11:2; 1 Peter 1:20; Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 1:2). In some way it indicates that God entered into relationship with those whom He chooses before time began, ‘in eternity’. In the words of Ephesians 1:4, they had been ‘chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, that they may be holy and blameless before Him’, and chosen as a result of being marked down as His. They were His from the beginning even before they were born, and even before the world was created. And He had a personal relationship with them from the beginning.

And those whom He so foreknew ‘He foreordained (proorizow - to decide upon beforehand) to be conformed to the image of His Son.’ The very use of the term ‘His Son’ takes us back into eternity. Historically speaking He was ‘Jesus Christ’. But in eternity He was His Son (a term only used in Romans in Romans 1:4; Romans 5:10; Romans 8:29). A definition of the word ‘fore-ordained’ is found in Acts 4:28. It indicates His doing ‘whatever His hand and counsel determine beforehand to be done’. Compare also Ephesians 1:11, ‘having been fore-ordained according to the purpose of Him Who works all things after the counsel of His own will’. So having entered into relationship with them beforehand He determined beforehand, in accordance with His own purpose and will, to make them like His Son in all respects (compare 1 John 3:2). It was His purpose that they should be conformed to the ‘image (inward and thorough likeness) of His Son’, the Son described in Romans 1:3-4. And this was so that He might be ‘the firstborn (as a result of His resurrection - Colossians 1:18) among many brothers’. Through His resurrection others would be raised as well who would be made like Him (1 John 3:2), who would be glorified with Him (Romans 8:17), and who would enjoy eternal life with Him (Romans 5:21).

We might ask when this ‘conforming to the image of His Son’ is to take place. Whilst it undoubtedly commences in this life as the Spirit does His work in our hearts (Romans 5:2-5; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Ephesians 5:26-27) the main emphasis would appear to be on our being conformed to His image at His coming, when we will be transformed ‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:52). See especially 1 Corinthians 15:42-44; 1 Corinthians 15:49; Philippians 3:21. It will be ‘when we see Him as He is’ that we will be like Him (1 John 3:2).

‘And whom He foreordained those he also called.’ Having entered into a relationship with them beforehand, and having foreordained them to be conformed to the image of His Son, in due time He ‘called them’. He spoke to them in such a way that they would respond. That this is an effectual call comes out both because it is of a specific group, and because in Paul’s letters to be ‘called’ always refers to an effectual call. It is a call which brooks no refusal.

‘And whom He called, those He also justified.’ Having called those whom He foreknew in such a way that they had to respond, He ‘accounted them as righteous’ (Romans 3:24 to Romans 4:25) through the gift of the righteousness of Christ (Romans 5:17-18). We should note here that God’s moral perfection is revealed in that when He saves He does so in righteousness. Those whom He saves must be seen as acceptable in His sight. Their righteousness must be apparent to all. And this is accomplished by their being ‘reckoned as righteous’ in accordance with the principles of Romans 3:24 to Romans 4:25; Romans 5:6-21. From the moment that they are ‘justified by faith’, and onwards, they are in a right relationship with Him, and acceptable in His sight, and that in accordance with the principles of righteousness and true holiness. And it is because they have been accounted as righteous (justified) in His sight that He can commence His work of continuing salvation which will finally result in their glorification.

‘And whom he justified, those he also glorified.’ The fact that they have been ‘justified’, reckoned by God the Judge of all men as righteous, is a guarantee that they will be ‘glorified’, that is, that they will experience and partake in His Heavenly glory. Here is the evidence that no one who has truly had accounted to him the gift of righteousness (Romans 5:17) can ever be lost. Once ‘justified’ their glorification is guaranteed. That this glorification includes sanctification can be assumed. In one sense glorification is a process (2 Corinthians 3:18). But Paul is here looking at the completion of the process, that point in time when there will be the final transformation. At that final transformation they will be ‘glorified with Him’ (Romans 8:17). Their mundane bodies will be ‘fashioned like His glorious body’ (Philippians 3:21). Those who ‘have been called unto His eternal glory in Christ’ (1 Peter 5:10) will experience that glory. They will be ‘partakers of the glory which will be revealed’ (1 Peter 5:1). They will experience ‘the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory’ (2 Timothy 2:10). They will thus partake in the Heavenly glory (Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:3-5). Just as Jesus as the Son returned to ‘the glory which I had with You before the world was’ (John 17:5), so will His people enter into and experience that glory. ‘The glory which You have given me, I have given them’ (John 17:22).


Verse 31

‘What then shall we say to these things? If God for us, who against us?’

Here we have another typical Pauline question, ‘what then shall we say?’ But this time it refers ‘to these things’. The previous three verses have indicated that God is for us in accordance with His own divine purpose, as indeed has Romans 5:1 ff. In view of this how can we see anyone who is against us as particularly relevant? If God is for us, any adversary must pale before the Almighty. Paul will go on to speak of those things which might be seen as against us. For example, those who seek to lay a charge against us. Those who seek to condemn us. Those things which seek to separate us from the love of Christ. But none will avail. And as a result of these words they pale into insignificance. For God is ‘for us’. And He is ‘for us’ in a clearly defined way, a way described in Romans 8:28-30.


Verse 32

‘He Who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how will he not also with him freely give us all things?’

Indeed the extent to which He is ‘for us’ is revealed in the fact that ‘He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all’. God commended His love towards us in that Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). He was willing to allow men to put His own Son through the suffering of the cross, because He was so much on our side. If then for our sakes He ‘spared not His own Son’, delivering Him up as a sacrifice on our behalf (8,3), how can we doubt that He will with Him freely give us all things (i.e. all things which are for our benefit, all that is required for our full salvation). Compare Matthew 6:33, ‘all these thing will be added unto you’, which in the Lucan parallel included the giving of the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13).

‘His own Son.’ It was the use of a similar expression that caused the Jews to want to stone Jesus as guilty of blasphemy for calling God ‘His own Father’ (John 5:18). The term ‘His own’ distinguished Him from all others who in one way or another could be called ‘the sons of God’. It indicated direct and real relationship. There is probably also an indirect look back to when Abraham was called on not to spare his own son, ‘take now your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love’ (Genesis 22:2) followed by ‘because you have not spared your son, your only son, from Me’ (Genesis 22:12 LXX). However, in that case the requirement was not carried through. He was replaced by a substitute. But there could be no substitute for God’s own Son. He had to bear the burden to the full because He was our substitute and Isaac’s. In the end there had to be the perfect Substitute who would make all previous substitutes efficacious (Romans 3:25).


Verse 33

‘Who will lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God who justifies.’

In Romans 8:32 Paul’s language was sacrificial, now it becomes legal. What possible charge can be laid against God’s true people, those ‘chosen’ as described in the process in 29-30, and who would dare to lay such a charge, when God Himself has accounted them as righteous (justified them) on a totally satisfactory judicial basis, as described in Romans 3:24 to Romans 4:25.

An interesting contrast can be made here with the one who brought a charge against Israel’s High Priest in Zechariah 3. There God answered it by replacing his filthy garments with clean ones so that the charge failed. But here Paul is referring to those who have already been cleansed. They have already received their ‘robe of righteousness’. In their case therefore any charge would be futile.


Verse 34

‘Who is he who will condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, yes rather, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.’

Nor can anyone condemn God’s ‘chosen and beloved ones’ (His elect). For the only One Who has the right to condemn is the One appointed by the Father as Judge (John 5:22; John 5:27; Acts 17:31). And He, rather than condemning them, died for them, and having been raised from the dead, now makes intercession for them as the One Who is at God’s right hand, as a result of which He is able to save them to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25).

Many would prefer to translate as, ‘it is God Who justifies, Who is he who condemns?’ taking the two phrases together. This puts in apposition two words which are the opposite of each other, ‘justify’ and ‘condemn, and links more closely with Isaiah 50:8 (see below). But the overall significance is the same. Although less directly, the following reference to the activity of Christ is still applicable to the fact that we will not be condemned, but is then also more closely linked with the words, ‘who will lay anything to the charge of God’s beloved and chosen ones’. They are an assurance that for God’s chosen ones Christ Jesus will be neither judge nor prosecutor.

We can compare with these questions the question regarding the Servant in Isaiah 50:8, which may well be one of the sources of Paul’s thoughts, ‘He is near Who justifies Me, who will contend with Me -- behold the Lord God is near who will condemn Me’. The purport there is the same. The one who is accounted as righteous by God, has nothing to fear from the accusations of man, or even of angels.

With regard to Christ Jesus being at God’s right hand compare Psalms 110:1 where the future Davidic king was told by YHWH to ‘sit at My right hand’. And here we must make a differentiation. Because Christ Jesus is God He sits on His Father’s throne (Revelation 3:21), enjoying the glory which He had with Him before the world was (John 17:5), but because He has been raised as man and Messiah He sits in His manhood on a throne at God’s right hand as God’s Christ (Messiah). See Revelation 3:21. We need not question the logic of this because both descriptions are metaphorical, illustrating different theological ideas (that Christ rules as both God and glorified man), for there are no physical thrones in Heaven. Thrones are an earthly concept. They represent authority. And God cannot be limited to permanently sitting on a throne, any more than He could be limited to dwelling in a Temple (1 Kings 8:27).


Verse 35

‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?’

In view of the fact that it is Christ in His love Who pleads our cause (Romans 8:34), it demonstrates the impossibility of our being separated from that love. His continual intercession for us is evidence that He has our interests at heart. And so Paul issues the challenge, ‘who will separate us from the love of Christ?’, with the answer due to come back of ‘nothing’. It is quite clear from the passage that Paul is putting ‘God’ and ‘Christ’ on the same level. Their love is interchangeable. He then lists a number of possibilities of things that might make us doubt His love. We note here that the legal language is now replaced by that of love. It is love that underlies all God’s activities on behalf of His people (Romans 5:5; Romans 5:8). Thus whatever happens we need not doubt the love of Christ for us. It is the love which passes all knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). It will be noted that the list includes natural disasters such as famine which cannot directly be the consequence of persecution (although could, of course, arise indirectly). The aim would appear to be to cover all possibilities of suffering, with words like ‘anguish’ and ‘peril’ being catch-all descriptions. It is a reminder that the love of Christ remains firm whatever situations we face, whether spiritual or physical, and that in the face of them we need not doubt His love. We are to hold onto the fact of ‘the love of Christ which passes all knowledge’ (Ephesians 3:19).


Verse 36

‘Even as it is written, For your sake we are killed all the day long. We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’

On the other hand the fact that persecution with its consequences is prominent in Paul’s mind comes out in this supporting quotation, which is from Psalms 44:22, and refers to our suffering ‘for His sake’. It is equally an assurance that the Scriptures demonstrate that suffering should not come as a surprise to God’s people.

The description is vivid. The world marks down God’s people as only suitable for slaughter, as only fit for the charnel house. And it is because the world is at enmity with God. It is precisely because we are His that the world will turn against us, as it turned against Jesus (John 15:18-19; John 16:2-3).


Verse 37

‘No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.’

Indeed rather than being defeated by such circumstances as those described above, Christians rise above them. ‘In all these things we are ‘more than conquerors’ (or ‘super-conquerors’)’. They not only overcome them, but they triumph in them. And this is ‘through Him Who loved us’. Our assurance is in Christ not in ourselves. Note the continual emphasis on love (Romans 8:35, here, Romans 8:39). Through His sustaining love we can find the strength to face all possible situations because we know that that love wants only the best for us, and that the One Who loves is all-powerful.


Verse 38-39

‘For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

Paul closes this part of his letter with this final assurance of God’s love for His people revealed through Christ Jesus our LORD. He stresses that it is a love from which it is totally impossible to be separated, and he then lists and dismisses ten possibilities of things which might attempt to separate us from His love. Made in the light of the whole passage from Romans 8:38 onwards it is a guarantee of the security in Christ of the true believer. And it is a reminder that God’s purposes are not only determined by fiat but are undergirded by His love. Nothing can prevent their fulfilment.

The list is mainly made up of pairs, some contrasting, but in order to leave room for the cover-all ‘any other creature’ and still achieve the number ten (indicating completeness), it was necessary to have one other description not included in the pairs, and thus we find ‘powers’ in a place by itself. Too much must not be made of this. Paul is more concerned to cover every possible opponent rather than to be too choosy. ‘Death nor life’ covers every possibility of day to day occurrence. Death is the great enemy of man, an ever present grief, but for the true Christian it cannot separate us, or our Christian loved ones, from His love. ‘Life’ covers all things that can occur in life. He makes all things work together for good for those who love Him. ‘Angels nor principalities’ cover all possible spiritual adversaries. We need not fear the powers of darkness. ‘Things present nor things to come’ cover all events in the flow of history both now and in the future. ‘Powers’ covers all who have authority whether in the spiritual realm or on earth. Its not being linked with ‘principalities’ possibly puts the emphasis on earthly powers. ‘Height nor depth’ probably signifies ‘nothing in Heaven and earth’ (compare Ephesians 4:8; Isaiah 7:11). ‘Nor any other creature (thing in creation)’ covers all that we might think has not been included. The point being underlined is that NOTHING can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our LORD, the love which has been revealed in all that Paul has written from Romans 1:2 onwards. As Christians we are totally secure in His hands (compare John 10:27-29). God’s activity on our behalf is guaranteed.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Romans 8:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/romans-8.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, June 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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