For an introduction to this series, click here.
July 11, 2007
This chapter is about the gift of the Holy Spirit - the indwelling Spirit, not the fraudulent gifts promoted by some churches - but that is another topic for another time.
Paul begins this chapter talking about the freedom we have in Christ and the difference between being subject to the Spirit and being subject to the flesh: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (8:1-8)
This is an incredible passage. We who are born sinners and slaves to the flesh have an opportunity to experience something much greater: abundant life in Christ. But this opportunity did not come cheaply: it required Christ to die and take our place. These eight verses are a nice summary of the doctrines of substitutionary atonement and Christian liberty. We all say that Christian liberty does not mean that we are free to do whatever we want, and of course at a certain level that is true. But it is obvious from this passage that being free from the old law only means that we are now bound to the law of the Spirit. And the indwelling of the Spirit gives us the right desires, so therefore in a way we are free to do what we want. St. Augustine is reported to have said, "Love God and do what you please." I'm sure there is more to what he said than that, but even this little statement has a lot of truth in it - more truth than some who are Christians are willing to admit.
Paul then describes another benefit of the gift of the Spirit: "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." (8:14-17) As believers we are sons and heirs of God. We don't deserve it, but it is a gift from God.
Another benefit of the Spirit is that He is at work in our lives: "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." (8:26-30)
Everybody likes to quote verse 28, but it is interesting that that verse is connected to the verse about the Spirit helping us with our prayers. He is at work in ways we don't really understand in our lives. He helps us when we pray, He intercedes with the Father for us, and that is why all things are working together for good.
And of course the last two verses are a solid presentation of the doctrine of election. You may remember from your math classes that if A=B, and B=C, then A=C. Paul is using simple logic here, but we have to follow it carefully. First of all, the ones whom God "foreknew" are the same ones who "are called according to his purpose," that is, all believers. All these are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. That includes both sanctification in this life and future glorification in heaven. All those predestined are called, that is called to salvation. All those who are called are justified, and all those who are justified are glorified. God chose and called all believers for the whole ball of wax: justification, sanctification and glorification. I don't pretend to understand it all, and I’m not sure any of us completely understand it, but there it is in black and white. Just because some people go off the deep end concerning election doesn't mean the general concept is not taught in Scripture. It definitely is.
Because of this call, and because of the indwelling Spirit, God's love for us is unchanging: "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died --more than that, who was raised-- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (8:31-39, ESV)
This is an incredible passage, and it gives us incredible confidence. Those who think they can lose their salvation have never sat down and really read Romans 8. If you understand the doctrine of election, then certainly you understand that God's sovereign call for salvation is not based on anything desirable in us, it is only based on His love. And His love is eternal, not subject to change based on what we do. Remember what Paul said about Abraham in Romans 4. Because Abraham was credited with Christ's righteousness, in God's eyes his faith never wavered, even though Abraham certainly did fail from a human perspective.