The Believer’s Relationship to the Holy Spirit

‘Rom. 8 is famous for its focus on the Holy Spirit. The word ‘spirit’ (Gk. pneuma) occurs twenty-one times in the chapter, and all but two (cf. vs 15a and 16b) denote the Holy Spirit. However, while the Spirit is therefore extremely prominent, it is not the real topic of the chapter. It is not the Spirit himself, but the assurance of eternal life that the Spirit helps to secure, that is Paul’s topic. From ‘no condemnation’ at the beginning to ‘no separation’ at the end, the chapter passes in review those acts and gifts of God that together give to every Christian the certainty that his or her relationship with God is secure and settled. Paul shows how the Spirit confers on the believer life (1-13), adoption into God’s family (14-17) and the certain hope for glory (18-30).’ (Moo, NBC)

D.M. Lloyd-Jones agrees ‘that the great theme of chapter 8 is not sanctification…The great theme is the security of the Christian.’ Nevertheless, these two themes are intimately connected: for possession of the Spirit is the hallmark of those who truly belong to Christ, v9; his inner witness assures us that we are God’s children and therefore his heirs, 15-17; and his presence in us is the firstfruits of our inheritance, pledging the final harvest, v23.’ (Stott)

‘The essential contrast which Paul paints is between the weakness of the law and the power of the Spirit. For over against indwelling sin, which is the reason the law is unable to help us in our moral struggle (Rom 7:17, 20), Paul now sets the indwelling Spirit, who is both our liberator now from “the law of sin and death”, Rom 8:2, and the guarantee of resurrection and eternal glory in the end, Rom 8:11, 17, 23. Thus the Christian life is essentially life in the Spirit, that is to say, a life which is animated, sustained, directed and enriched by the Holy Spirit.’ (Stott)

In verses 1-17, the Spirit is depicted as ‘liberating, indwelling, sanctifying, leading, witnessing to and finally resurrecting the children of God.’ (Stott)

8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

The present verse is the counterpart of Rom 5:1, and affirms the present reality of justification.

Therefore – Moo (NBC) suggests that the conclusions now to be drawn link back to the end of chapter 5. There, the argument had been that Christians have been freed from the condemnation that was theirs in Adam because they have now been joined to Christ. Other connections are: (a) the contrast being ‘under the law’ (Rom 7:7-25) and being ‘under the Spirit’ (Rom 8:2-4,7); (b) the elaboration in this chapter of the mention of ‘the way of the Spirit’ in Rom 7:6.

Now – The force of this may be logical (belonging with the ‘therefore’) rather than temporal (‘at this present time’). But the difference is not critical, since it is clear that in other ways Paul both connects what he is about to say with what he been stated previously, and that he wishes his readers to know that the verdict of ‘no condemnation’ is pronounced in the present.

No condemnation – This is achieved by the triune God: the Father ‘sending his own Son’, v3; the Son becoming a sin offering, v3; the Spirit setting us free from the law of sin and death, v2.

‘No condemnation! This assurance can of course only carry its full force for someone who has pondered carefully the seriousness of sin and the reality of God’s judgment.’ (Wright)

‘He does not say, “There is no accusation against them,’’ for this there is; but the accusation is thrown out, and the indictment quashed. He does not say, “There is nothing in them that deserves condemnation,’’ for this there is, and they see it, and own it, and mourn over it, and condemn themselves for it; but it shall not be their ruin. He does not say, “There is no cross, no affliction to them or no displeasure in the affliction,’’ for this there may be; but no condemnation.’ (MHC)

‘This means that they have not only been liberated from all liability to punishment, but also that in Christ they have been delivered from the enslaving power of sin in order that they might serve God “in newness of the spirit”.’ (Wilson)

Linking this verse with the preceding one, Spurgeon remarks that ‘Believers are in a state of conflict, but not in a state of condemnation,’ and that ‘this “now” shows how distinctly the statement of non-condemnation is consistent with that mingled experience of the seventh chapter.’

‘The verse does not say “no mistakes” or “no failures,” or even “no sins.” Christians do fail and make mistakes, and they do sin. Abraham lied about his wife; David committed adultery; Peter tried to kill a man with his sword. To be sure, they suffered consequences because of their sins, but they did not suffer condemnation.’ (Bible Exposition Commentary)

Those who are in Christ Jesus – Notice the harmony, for Paul, between ‘judicial’ and ‘participationist’ language. ‘He was for us in the place of condemnation; we are in him where all condemnation has spent its force.’ (Loane)

‘When a sinner closes with Christ, God takes him on the instant into reconciliation. He should therefore feel his conscience to be relieved from the guilt and dread of his sins; and, instead of being any longer burdened with them as so many debts subject to a count on some future day, he has a most legitimate warrant for looking on the account as closed. Christ hath made atonement, and with it God is satisfied; and if so, well may you be satisfied.’ (Chalmers)

8:2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. 8:3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 8:4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Because – ‘In the Greek, verses 2,3,5 and 6 all contain the little word that means “because” or “for”, indicating that each step in the argument is explaining what has gone before. There is no condemnation, because the spirit-law has set you free from the sin-law, because God has acted in his son and his spirit to condemn sin and provide life, because there are two types of human beings and you are the spirit-type, because the two types are heading, respectively, for death and life. There is no condemnation, because of all this.’ (Wright)

The law of the Spirit of life – Or, ‘the life-giving law of the Spirit’ (REB). Some, such as Dunn, think that in these two expressions the apostle is referring ‘the two-sidedness of the law’, as a law of both death and life. But it is incongruous to think of the Torah setting me free from the Torah? Stott agrees that this over-subtle, suggesting with Hodge and Lloyd-Jones that the expression here refers to the gospel. Similarly, Moo sees it as the rule exercised by the Holy Spirit: ‘It is God’s Spirit, coming to be believer with power and authority, who brings liberation from the powers of the old age and from the condemnation that is the lot of all who are imprisoned by those powers.’

The law of sin and death – Stott thinks that this is a description of God’s law, the Torah. Moo inclines to the view that it refers to the rule exercised by sin and death. This situation of bondage has been ‘alluded to in Rom 5:12–21 and Rom 6:1–23 and described in Rom 7:7–25’ (Moo, NBC).

Set me free – Transferred from the realm of sin and death. ‘By this Paul is indicating that he has himself been delivered, in Christ and through the Spirit, from the law and so from the humiliating situation with which he identified himself at the end of Romans 7.’ (Stott)

‘It is essential to preserve with care both sides of this truth. Christ and the Spirit are different yet the same, the same yet different. Perhaps the best expression we can give is that while their Personalities are never identical, their presence always is.’ (W. H. Griffith Thomas, The Holy Spirit of God, 144)

The law was powerless…it was weakened by the sinful nature – ‘The law’ here is clearly the Mosaic law. The fault was not in the law, but in frail human flesh, which rendered it impotent.

‘It is as with a sick man who wants to drink some wine because he foolishly thinks that his health will return if he does so. Now if the doctor, without any criticism of the wine, should say to him, “It is impossible for the wine to cure you, it will only make you sicker,” the doctor is not condemning the wine but only the foolish trust of the sick man in it. For he needs other medicine to get well, so that he then can drink his wine. Thus also our corrupt nature needs another kind of medicine than the Law, by which it can arrive at good health so that it can fulfill the Law.’ (Luther, quoted by Moo)

The sinful nature – ‘the flesh’. The flesh is not sinful per se, for Christ ‘became flesh, Jn 1:14, but not ‘sinful flesh’. ‘Sinful nature’ is a slightly misleading translation, because it implies a dualist, neo-Platonic, proto-Gnostic, contrast with ‘spiritual nature’. The ‘Spirit’ here is the Holy Spirit. So the contrast is not between two different natures within us: it is between the person who lives according to frail human nature and the person who has received, and whose life is empowered by, God’s Holy Spirit.

‘The Son came neither “in the likeness of flesh”, only seeming to be human, as the Docetists taught, for his humanity was real; nor “in sinful flesh”, assuming a fallen nature, for his humanity was sinless, but “in the likeness of sinful flesh”, because his humanity was both real and sinless simultaneously.’ (Stott)

What…God did by sending his own Son – He sent his own Son, who became incarnate in the likeness of sinful flesh and became a sin offering; and he condemned sin in the flesh (i.e. in the humanity of Jesus), and all this so that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

The idea of God ‘sending’ does not, in itself, prove the pre-existence of Christ, for others (including the prophets) are described as having been ‘sent’ by God. But the description of Christ as God’s ‘own Son’ (equivalent to John’s description as God’s only-begotten Son’, does point to a pre-existent status and relationship with the eternal Father (cf. Jn 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; Gal. 4:4; Phil. 2:6f; 1 Jn 4:9).

Moo remarks that, whereas most references to the ‘sending’ of God’s Son focus on the incarnation, here something wider is meant (while still including the idea of incarnation).  The sacrificial allusions that follow immediately in the present verse indicate that sending him to die is paramount (as in Gal 4:4).

Before – his prophets; now – his Son

‘God had, of course, dispatched messengers and prophets to Israel in the past. “From the time your forefathers left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets” (Jer. 7:25). More than forty times in the OT God sends something or someone to lead Israel back to God. But the sending of the Son is something entirely different. God no longer represents himself through a surrogate, like the law of Moses, nor does he send someone in his behalf. In the Son, God comes in person.

‘”His own Son” emphasizes the filial intimacy between Jesus and the Father. In Jesus, God takes the problem of sin into his own hands. In Jesus, God takes personal responsibility for humanity’s salvation.’ (Edwards)

Salvation in four words

Pop religion tells us we can do something for God; sociology, that we can do something for others; and psychology, that we can do something for ourselves. But the gospel says that God has done something for us, apart from which we are caught in a tailspin of futility (vv. 18ff.). This brief phrase rearranges the axis of the world. “God sent his Son” means that God—not humanity or the world—is the source and center of reality; it means that where there was no help within creation, God intervened from outside it; and it means that God’s help is not a pious intuition, but a historical manifestation in first-century Palestine. “God sent his Son” is salvation in four words: enacted from the fullness of divine love, evoked by the fallenness of the world, and effected by the incarnation of Jesus Christ.’ (Edwards)

In the likeness of sinful flesh – ‘that is, in flesh that had the marks and miserable effects and consequences of sin upon it’ (Flavel).

Paul does not say, ‘in the likeness of flesh’, for this would suggest that Christ only seemed to be human as docetists such as Marcion taught (contrary to Jn 1:14); nor does he say, ‘in sinful flesh’, for this would deny his sinlessness. ‘In the likeness of sinful flesh’ maintains both his real humanity and his perfect sinlessness.

‘In other words, He was made in the reality of our flesh, but only in the likeness of its sinful condition…He took our nature, not as Adam received it from his Maker’s hand, but as it is in us—compassed with infirmities—with nothing to distinguish Him as man from sinful men, save that He was without sin.’ (JFB)

‘[Paul] uses this unique and exact expression to show us that the Incarnation brought the Son into the closest connection with our sinful condition, short of actually becoming sin himself. And his meaning is that when the Son entered into our lot he overcame sin in the flesh, i.e. in the same realm which sin had made its own.’ (Wilson)

Edwards quotes Dunn:

‘“God achieved his purpose for man,” says Dunn, “not by scrapping the first effort and starting again, but by working through man in his fallenness … and remaking him beyond death as a progenitor and enabler of life according to the Spirit”. Edwards adds: ‘the critical difference between Christ’s humanity and ours is that whereas we yielded to sin’s dominion, he rendered perfect obedience (Phil. 2:8; Heb. 5:8).’

‘It was great condescension that he who was God should be made in the likeness of flesh; but much greater that he who was holy should be made in the likeness of sinful flesh!’ (M. Henry)

‘The essential contrast which Paul paints is between the weakness of the law and the power of the Spirit. For over against indwelling sin, which is the reason the law is unable to help us in our moral struggle, (Rom 7:17,20) Paul now sets the indwelling Spirit, who is both our liberator now from ‘the law of sin and death’ (Rom 8:2) and the guarantee of resurrection and eternal glory in the end. (Rom 8:11,17,23) Thus the Christian life is essentially life in the Spirit, that is to say, a life which is animated, sustained, directed and enriched by the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit true Christian discipleship would be inconceivable, indeed impossible.’ (Stott)

‘Jesus Christ did not only neglect the angelical, and assume the human nature; but he also assumed the human nature, after sin had blotted the original glory of it, and withered up the beauty and excellency thereof. For he came not in our nature before the fall, whilst as yet its glory was fresh in it; but he came, as the apostle speaks, Rom 8:3 “In the likeness of sinful flesh,” i.e. in flesh that had the marks, and miserable effects, and consequent of sin upon it. I say not that Christ assumed sinful flesh, or flesh really defiled by sin, That which was born of the Virgin was a holy thing. For by the power of the Highest (whether by the energetical command and ordination of the Holy Ghosts as some; or by his benediction and blessing, I here dispute not) that whereof the body of Christ was to be formed, was so sanctified, that no taint or spot of original pollution remained in it. But yet though it had not intrinsical native uncleanness in it, it had the effects of sin upon it; yea, it was attended with the whole troop of human infirmities, that sin at first let into our common nature, such as hunger, thirst, weariness, pain, mortality, and all these natural weaknesses and evils that clog our miserable natures, and make them groan from day to day under them.’ (Flavel)

Concerning sin – so the text reads, literally.  NIV translates: ‘a sin offering’, and this may well be correct, given the frequent use of such an expression in the LXX, with reference to the Levitical offerings for sin; see also Heb 10:6, 8 (so JFB).  If so, this would be a reference to the atonement.

Keener agrees: ‘Although “concerning sin” need not be meant so narrowly, it probably evokes the biblical language of the levitical sin offering (over 80 percent of LXX uses of the phrase) to depict Jesus’s mission (cf. Rom 3:25; 5:8–9).’  So also Moo.

He condemned sin in the flesh – (NIV: ‘in the sinful man’).

Paul says in this verse, not that God condemned Jesus, but that he condemned sin in the flesh (or Jesus).  This raises a question about whether it is right for evangelicals to believe (and to sing), ‘In my place condemned he stood’.

Kruse remarks that this is an unusual expression, and unexpected in that we would expect ‘condemnation’ to be applied to a person, not a thing (‘sin’).  As for the expression ‘sin in the flesh’, this is unlikely to designate ‘human sin’, because there is, as Kruse observes, no other sin in view here.  Since Paul has just mentioned Christ having been made in the ‘likeness of sinful flesh’, it is likely that he is referring to Christ’s flesh here.

For Kruse, then,

‘it is best to think of sin being condemned in the ‘flesh’ of Jesus Christ, that is, when God presented his Son as a sin offering, the condemnation that humanity’s sin deserved was absorbed by the incarnate Christ when he died on the cross (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21; Col 2:14–15).’


‘For God to “condemn sin in the flesh” was for him to execute judgment on it in Jesus’s person (cf. Jesus “becoming” sin in 2 Cor 5:21). By Jesus identifying with Adam, God destroyed sin in Jesus’s crucifixion, raising him as head of a new humanity, i.e., his body.’

Although N.T. Wright has been severely critical of some presentations of the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, he writes (in his commentary on this epistle) of this verse:

‘No clearer statement is found in Paul, or indeed anywhere else in all early Christian literature, of the early Christian belief that what happened on the cross was the judicial punishment of sin. Taken in conjunction with Rom 8:1 and the whole argument of the passage, not to mention the partial parallels in 2 Cor 5:21 and Gal 3:13, it is clear that Paul intends to say that in Jesus’ death the damnation that sin deserved was meted out fully and finally, so that sinners over whose heads that condemnation had hung might be liberated from this threat once and for all.’

God broke sin’s power, by pronouncing and carrying out a sentence of execution. This is a clear statement of penal substitution. ‘For those who are in Christ Jesus…there is no divine condemnation, since the condemnation they deserve has already been fully borne for them by him.’ (Cranfield)

‘Before humanity can live it must be freed from death. It is a delusion to think that humanity needs only a better model for life. Its plight is more desperate. It needs a savior from bondage to sin, and the price of deliverance was the suffering and death of a sacrificial victim. In the old covenant God had established the practice of animal sacrifice in anticipation of the future and ultimate sin offering of the new covenant, the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). And thus the death which had until Christ’s advent been sin’s ally became in Christ’s death sin’s defeat.’ (Edwards)

The penalty, or the power, of sin?
Some interpreters understand this ‘condemnation of sin in the flesh’ as indicating, in the present context, not so much release from the penalty of sin, but rather its power:-

According to JFB, this condemnation of ‘sin in the flesh’ was ‘not in order to the pardon of it (as Calvin, Hodge, &c.); for justification, as we have seen, is not the thing here intended, but ‘inflicted on it judicial vengeance in the flesh of Christ,’ and so condemned it to lose its hold over men—at once to let go its iron grasp, and ultimately to be driven clean away from the domain of human nature in the redeemed. (So Beza, Fraser, Meyer, Tholuck, Alford, Philippi.) In this glorious sense our Lord says of His approaching death (John 12:31), “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out;” and again (John 16:11), “When He (the Spirit) shall come, He shall convince the world of … judgment, because the prince of this world is judged”—i. e., condemned to let go his hold of men, who, through the Cross shall be emancipated into the liberty and power to be holy.’

The New Living Translation renders: ‘”God declared an end to sin’s control over us”…thereby overcoming its power in the life of believers’ (Cornerstone).

Moo cites Alford, Stuart, Murray, and Cranfield as holding to the view that Paul’s meaning is that Christ ‘broke the power of sin’.

But, ‘while it fits the context, and may be an implication of what Paul is saying, this view illegitimately eliminates the judicial connotations of “condemn.” [We should see] the condemnation of sin to consist in God’s executing his judgment on sin in the atoning death of his Son. As our substitute, Christ “was made sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21) and suffered the wrath of God, the judgment of God upon that sin (cf. hilastērion in Rom. 3:25; Gal. 3:13).’ (Moo)

Righteous requirements – The Gk is in the singular. Is Paul thinking of justification or sanctification here? Many commentators think the former. Moo, for example, says, ‘Paul does not mean that Christians are enabled to obey the law (however true this might be) but that Christians are considered by God to have fully met the law’s demand because of Christ’s obedience on our behalf (see Calvin). This is suggested by the singular dikaioma (‘righteous requirement’; the NIV inexplicably translates it with the plural requirements) and the passive sense of the phrase be fully met in us (4). As believers ‘in Christ’, we are free from condemnation because Jesus Christ has completely fulfilled the law on our behalf. He became what we are – weak, human and subject to sin’s power – that we might become what he is – righteous and holy’ (NBC).

As Edwards remarks, ‘the Spirit salvages the law as a moral standard.’

Others, such as Stott, argue that the final clause (‘who…live…according to the Spirit’) place the emphasis on God’s sanctifying purposes in believers. Whereas ‘the flesh renders the law impotent, the Spirit empowers us to obey it. This is not perfectionism; it is simply to say that obedience is a necessary and possible aspect of Christian discipleship. Although the law cannot secure this obedience, the Spirit can.’

Thus, says Stott, the prophecy through Ezekiel (36:26f) – ‘I will put my Spirit in you’, and that through Jeremiah – ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts’, 31:33, are seen to be synonymous. ‘When God puts his Spirit in our hearts, he writes his law there.’

In Stott’s view, then, verse 4 is important for our understanding of Christian holiness: (a) holiness, and not justification only, is the ultimate purpose of the incarnation and the atonement; (b) holiness consists in obeying God’s law (the moral law has not been abolished) as the fruit (though not the ground) of our justification; (c) holiness is the work of the Holy Spirit.

‘That their obedience is not perfect is no more a truth than that it is a real and acceptable obedience through Christ.’ (David Brown)

8:5 For those who live according to the flesh have their outlook shaped by the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit have their outlook shaped by the things of the Spirit.

Paul has mentioned the power of the flesh (‘sinful nature’) and of the Spirit; he will now, vv5-8, set up a series of contrasts between the two. Those who are in the flesh, who are in the domain of sin and death, have their minds set on natural desires, v5, are under the sentence of death, v6, cannot submit to God’s law, v7, and cannot please God, v8. Those who are ‘in the Spirit’, by contrast, who have been transferred to the realm where grace and righteousness reign, enjoy life and peace, v6.

What that [sinful] nature desires – ‘Its desires are all those things which pander to our ungodly self-centredness’ (Stott). To ‘set our minds’ on such things is to make them ‘the absorbing objects of thought, interest, affection and purpose’ (Murray). Stott adds: ‘It is a question of what pre-occupies us, of the ambitions which drive us and the concerns which engross us, of how we spend our time and our energies, of what we concentrate on and give ourselves up to.’

Those…who…walk…according to the Spirit – To be controlled by the Spirit means that we are not controlled by what happens on the outside but by what is happening on the inside. (Erwin W. Lutzer)

What the Spirit desires – ‘His desires are all those things which please him, who loves above all else to glorify Christ, that is, to show Christ to us and form Christ in us.’ (Stott)

8:6 For the outlook of the flesh is death, but the outlook of the Spirit is life and peace, 8:7 because the outlook of the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to the law of God, nor is it able to do so. 8:8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

All this has eternal consequences. ‘The mind of flesh-dominated people is already one of spiritual death and leads inevitably to eternal death, for it alienates them from God and renders fellowship with him impossible in either this world or the next. The mindset of Spirit-dominated people, however, entails life and peace.’ (Stott)

The sinful mind is hostile to God – ‘The life of a natural man is one departure from God. He is not only not quite right; he is altogether wrong. Every step he takes is a step of departure farther from God.’ (J.H. Evans)

‘The carnal mind sees God in nothing, not even in spiritual things. The Spiritual mind see him in everything, even in natural things.’ (Robert Leighton)

Nor can it do so – ‘The expulsion of the sinful inclination, and the origination of the holy inclination, in the human will, is a revolution in the faculty which is accomplished only in its regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Self-recovery is not possible to the human will, though self-ruin is (Hos 13:9).’ (Shedd)

‘This total inability of the natural man is due to his total deprativty – his “natural” aversion to God (v7). Those who object to this doctrine, which has its basis in this passage, often do so because they think that toal depravity means absolute depravity. It is however a term “of extensity rather than intensity. It is opposed to partial depravity, to the idea that man is sinful in one moment and innocent or sinless in another; or sinful in some acts and pure in others. If affirms that he is all wrong, in all things, and all the time. It does not mean that man is as bad as the devil, or that every man is as bad as every other, or that any may is as bad as he may possibly be. But there is no limit to the universality or extent of evil in his soul. So say the Scriptures, and so says every awakened conscience.”‘ (Wilson, quoting Tayler Lewis)

8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him.

Paul moves from the third person to the seoncd person in order to apply general truths to his readers.

You…are controlled – lit. ‘you are in’.

If the Spirit of God lives in you – As Jesus promised, ‘he lives with you and will be in you’, Jn 14:17. The Christian’s body has become ‘a temple of the Holy Spirit,’ 1 Cor 6:19.

If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ – ‘Of course there may be many further and richer experiences of the Spirit, and may fresh anointings of the Spirit for special tasks, but the personal indwelling of the Spirit is every believer’s privilege from the beginning. To know Christ and to have the Spirit are one.’ (Stott)

‘The Spirit never lies dormant and idle within the soul: He always makes His presence known by the fruit He causes to be borne in heart, character and life.’ (Ryle, Holiness).  See Gal 5:22, 25;.

‘Take a view, then, of the state and condition of them who, professing to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, do yet condemn and despise his Spirit, as to all its operations, gifts, graces, and dispensations to his churches and saints. Whilst Christ was in the world with his disciples, he made them no greater promise, neither in respect of their own good nor of carrying on the work which he had committed to them, than this of giving them the Holy Ghost. Him he instructeth them to pray for of the Father, as that which is needful for them, as bread for children, Lk 11:13. Him he promiseth them, as a well of water springing up in them, for their refreshment, strengthening, and consolation unto everlasting life, Jn 7:37-39; as also to carry on and accomplish the whole work of the ministry to them committed, Jn 16:8-11; with all those eminent works and privileges before mentioned. And upon his ascension, this is laid as the bottom of that glorious communication of gifts and graces in his plentiful effusion mentioned, Eph 4:8,11,12, -namely, that he had received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, Acts 2:33; and that in such an eminent manner as thereby to make the greatest and most glorious difference between the administration of the new covenant and old. Especially does the whole work of the ministry relate to the Holy Ghost; though that be not my present business to evince. He calls men to that work, and they are separated unto him, Acts 13:2; he furnisheth them with gifts and abilities for that employment, 1 Cor 12:7-10. So that the whole religion we profess, without this administration of the Spirit, is nothing; nor is there any fruit without it of the resurrection of Christ from the dead.’ (Owen)

Life in the Spirit, Rom 8:9-17

Here is a passage in which (to coin a phrase) toddlers can paddle, and elephants can swim. Its truth affects our understanding, our feelings, and our behaviour as Christians. Try to ‘soak’ in this great declaration of the Christian’s ‘Life in the Spirit’ by reflecting on what it means:-

  1. To be ‘controlled by the Spirit’, v9
  2. To have ‘Christ…in you’, v10
  3. For God to ‘give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit’, v11
  4. To have ‘an obligation’ to live by the Spirit, vv12-13
  5. To be ‘led by the Spirit of God’, v14
  6. To be the ‘sons of God’, v14.
  7. To be able to cry, “Abba, Father,” v15.
  8. For ‘the Spirit himself’ to testify ‘with our spirit that we are God’s children’, v16.
  9. To be ‘heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ’, v17.
  10. To share in the ‘sufferings’ and the ‘glory’ of Christ, v17.
8:10 But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is your life because of righteousness. 8:11 Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you.

If Christ is in you – This does not express any doubt, but simply points to the results of Christ’s indwelling. And these results are ‘life’, v10f, and ‘debt’ (obligation), v12f.

‘The apostle comfortably moved between the concept of Christ indwelling the believer (Rom 8:10) and the Spirit indwelling the believer (Rom 8:9, 11 [twice]). We note in Romans 8 that the Spirit (vv. 5–6, 9a, 11b), the Spirit of God (v. 9b, 11a), the Spirit of Christ (v. 9c), and Christ (v. 9d, 10) are all used interchangeably’ (Demarest, The Cross and Salvation, p331)

Your body is dead because of sin – Assuming that this refers to the physical body, this would mean, ‘your body is doomed to die because of sin’. Paul refers elsewhere to our ‘mortal bodies’, 6:12; 8:11. And he is about to speak of the body’s resurrection.

Your spirit is alive because of righteousness – Echoing Rom 5:15-21, where it is clear that ‘our spirits are alive because of Christ’s righteousness, that is, because of the righteous standing he has secured for us.’ (Stott)

Our bodies are destined ultimately not for death, but for resurrection. The Spirit who already dwells within us is the Spirit of resurrection. Spiritual life will lead to physical life.

Note the Trinitarian reference here: the resurrecting Father, the resurrected Jesus, and the Spirit of resurrection.

Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our own. The same Spirit who raised him from the dead with also raise us to life.

He…will give life to your mortal bodies – this resurrection is not a freeing of the soul from the body (as in Gk thought), but of giving new life to the body. And, of course, this life will be on an incomparably higher plane than at present, total liberation from weakness, disease, pain, and death.

‘The spiritual resurrection of believers is the guarantee of their participation in the resurrection of the body, for the Spirit through whom God raised Jesus from the dead already dwells in their hearts.’ (Wilson)

‘Wonderful is this deep characteristic of the Scripture: its gospel for the body. In Christ, the body is seen to be something far different from the mere clog, or prison, or chrysalis, of the soul. It is its destined implement, may we not say its mighty wings in prospect, for the life of glory.’ (Moule)

‘Already we express our personality through our body, especially by speech, but also by posture and gesture, by a look in our eyes or an expression on our face. We call it “body language”. But the language which our present body speaks is imperfect; we easily miscommunicate. Our new body will not have this limitation, however. There will be a perfect correspondence between message and medium, between what we want to communicate and how we do so. The resurrection body will be the perfect vehicle of our redeemed personality.’ (Stott)

8:12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh 8:13 (for if you live according to the flesh, you will die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.

The life which the Spirit brings, v11, is that of children of God. We cannot say that we have been born of the Spirit, that we belong to the realm of the Spirit, without willingly and joyfully submitting to the Spirit’s rule. ‘God’s gift of eternal life does not cancel the complementary truth that only by progressing in holiness will that eternal life be attained.’ (Moo)

‘When Paul speaks about the Spirit being present with Jesus’s people, indwelling them, and leading them to their promised inheritance (Rom 8:12– 16), the language he uses and the implicit story he is telling remind us of the pillar of cloud and fire in the original Exodus.’ (Wright, The Day the Revolution Began)

‘The conclusion is drawn is negative terms in order to underline the utter inconsistency of such a course. The positive implication is that all who are so graciously indwelt by the Spirit will yield themselves without reserve to his government.’ (Wilson)

The Spirit is

  1. the bringer of holiness, vv12-14;
  2. the bringer of freedom, v15;
  3. the bringer of prayer, v16; and
  4. the bringer of hope, v17.

‘It is not enough for us to have the Spirit; the Spirit must have us! Only then can he share with us the abundant, victorious life that can be ours in Christ. We have no obligation to the flesh, because the flesh has only brought trouble into our lives. We do have an obligation to the Holy Spirit, for it is the Spirit who convicted us, revealed Christ to us, and imparted eternal life to us when we trusted Christ. Because he is “the Spirit of Life,” he can empower us to obey Christ, and he can enable us to be more like Christ.’ (Wiersbe)

‘At this point,’ writes Hendriksen, ‘there is a transition from exposition to exhortation; from concentration on blessings bestowed by the Giver, to focussing on the obligation incurred by the recipients.’

Loane points out that this sentence illustrates a rhetorical device known as meiosis, in which more is implied than is actually stated. The implied ending is, ‘but to the Spirit, to live according to the Spirit.’

But our obligation does not turn salvation into a 50:50 affair – half God’s work and half our own, for:-

  • it is ‘by the Spirit’ that we put to death the misdeeds of the body’, v13;
  • it is by the Spirit that we are led, v14;
  • by the Spirit that have the character of sons;
  • by the Spirit that we cry to our Father in prayer, v15;
  • by the Spirit that we receive the assurance that we are in fact the children of God.

We have an obligation; but it is in total reliance on the Holy Spirit. See Php 2:12-13.

Paul has asserted at the beginning of this letter that he is ‘obligated’ to both Greeks and non-Greeks to preach the gospel. He had a sense of debt and of duty. ‘So too we are under obligation to live up to the full height of our new spiritual status as those who have been made free from the law of sin and death.’ (Loane)

We owe the flesh nothing, for if we cater to its appetites and standards we are doomed. If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die – and ‘The flesh, like sin, is a sure pay-master; it may not pay at the end of each day, or each month, or each year; but it always pays in the end, and its wages are death, Rom 6:23.’ (Loane)

If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live – This introduces the important and yet neglected doctrine of ‘mortification’. This may be defined as ‘a clear-sighted recognition of evil as evil, leading to such a decisive and radical repudiation of it that no imagery can do it justice except “putting to death”‘ (Stott). It is the Pauline equivalent of taking up one’s cross and following Christ, Mk 8:34. We follow Christ to the place of execution.

This verse teaches that mortification is not passive, but active. We must ‘put to death’ all those physical activities that please ourselves and not God. However, we do so ‘by the Spirit’, ‘for only he can give us the desire, determination and discipline to reject evil.’ (Stott)

The verb is in the present tense, suggesting that mortification must be continuous. Cf. Gal 5:24 Col 3:5-6. Note also out Lord’s vivid language in Mt 5:29-30 Mk 9:43 ff. But it must be by the Spirit, for we have no strength or ability of our own.

‘Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.’ (Owen)

‘A man may easier see without eyes, speak without a tongue, than truly mortify one sin without the Spirit.’ (Owen)

The misdeeds of the body – Of course, the body is not evil in itself. But sin finds expression in evil physical acts (‘misdeeds’), and these must be ‘put to death’.

There is, of course, a positive counterpart to mortification. We are to set out minds on the things of the Spirit, v5, set our hearts on things that are above, Col 3:1f, and occupy our thoughts with whatever is noble, right, put and lovely, Phil 4:8.

You will live – note the sharp contrast with the first part of the verse – ‘you will die’. ‘Romans 8:13 suggests that we need to redefine both life and death. What the world calls life (a desirable self-indulgence) leads to alienation from God which in reality is death, whereas the putting to death of all perceived evil within us, which the world sees as an undesirable self-abnegation, is in reality the way to authentic life.’ (Stott)

Paul is clearly referring to spiritual, eternal, life and thus makes the enjoyment of that life in some sense dependent on Christian obedience. Here we are called by faithfulness to the Scriptures to hold in tension two clear truths: that the indwelling of the Spirit as the result of faith in Christ infallibly secures eternal life, and that a lifestyle patterned after God’s Spirit is necessary to inherit eternal life. The tension can be softened somewhat by remembering that the Spirit given to us at conversion is himself active to produce obedience. But it does not remove the tension, for we are still called upon to submit ourselves to this work of the Spirit.’ (Moo, NBC)

John Owen raises three doctrines from the second half of this verse: ‘The choicest believers, who are assuredly free from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin; The Holy Ghost … only is sufficient for this work …; The vigour and power and comfort of our spiritual life depends on our mortification of the deeds of the flesh.?’

Life and death redefined

‘Rom 8:13 suggests that we need to redefine both life and death.  What the world calls life (a desirable self-indulgence) leads to alienation from God which in reality is death, whereas the putting to death of all perceived evil within us, which the world sees as an undesirable self-abnegation, is in reality the way to authentic life.’ (Stott)

‘Here are set over against each other a kind of life which issues in death and a kind death which issues in life.  First, the alternative lifestyles are “living according to the sinful nature” (which is indulgence) and “putting to death the misdeeds of the body” (which is mortification).  Secondly, the alternative consequences are death and life: if we indulge ourselves we will die, but is we mortify ourselves we will live.  And thirdly there are alternative combatants: on our own we indulge ourselves, but through the Spirit we mortify ourselves.  In other words, we are called to a radical, uncompromising rejection of everything we know to be evil in God’s sight.  It is our responsibility; we are to do it.  But we cannot do it by ourselves, only through the power of the indwelling Spirit.’ (Stott, Evangelical Truth, p116f)


We often make excuses for not mortifying the misdeeds of the body:

Life Application Bible Commentary

8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.

This section (14-17) takes forward the theme of assurance by elaborating vv1-13’s theme of ‘life’, by adding the concept of ‘sonship’, and by using the related idea of ‘heirs’ to show how believers can be assured of their status before God and yet not experience the fulness of their promised inheritance. (See Moo)

Following Stott, we may say that the work of the Spirit, as set out in vv14-17, is fourfold: (a) he leads us into holiness (the ‘because of v14 refers back to v13); (b) he replaces fear with freedom, v15; (c) he prompts us to call God ‘Father’, v15f; (d) he is the firstfruits of our heavenly inheritance, v17,23. ‘Thus radical holiness, fearless freedom, filial prayerfulness and the hope of glory are four characteristics of the children of God who are indwelt and led by the Spirit of God. It is by these evidences that he witnesses to us that we are God’s children.’

‘As ‘life’ is the ruling idea in vs 1-13, so is sonship in vs 14-17. This brief paragraph, in addition to making its own contribution to the theme of the chapter by recounting the wonderful and comforting truth that Christians have been adopted into God’s own family, provides a transition between vs 1-13 and 18-30. Being a child of God explains both why God’s Spirit confers life on us (13-14) and why it can be said that we are heirs with a glorious prospect for the future (17-18).’ (NBC)

Moo draws the parallel between this passage and Gal 4:1-7. He suggests that in both passage, Paul may have in mind the identity of Israel. He wishes to say that, before the coming of Christ, the people of Israel were ‘minors’, in slavery to sin just as the Gentiles were. But those who are in Christ, both Jews and Gentiles, become sons and heirs of God.

Because – If v13 could be construed as teaching that life is gained through one’s own works, this is immediately corrected by Paul, who views the direction of life of the believer as the work of the Holy Spirit.

Being led by the Spirit of God particularly includes the putting to death of the body’s misdeeds (v13). ‘The daily, hourly putting to death of the schemings and enterprises of the sinful flesh by means of the Spirit is a matter of being led, directed, impelled, controlled by the Spirit.’ (Cranfield)

This being ‘led by the Spirit’, then, does not refer to ‘guidance’ as conventionally conceived. It is not so much about being led to make wise decisions as to make holy ones. For a parallel, note how Jesus was ‘led by the Spirit’ into the wilderness at the time of his temptation, Lk 4:1.

‘The reference to being “led by the Spirit” in Romans 8:14 relates not to inward “voices” or any such experience, but to mortifying known sin and not living after the flesh!’ (Packer, Knowing God)

This ‘leading’ is not a matter of force, but of persuasion. ‘There is no violence in Christianity..What the Spirit does is to enlighten and persuade…The Holy Spirit never browbeats us…The impulse can be very strong, but there is no “driving”, there is no compulsion.’ (Lloyd-Jones)

‘To be led by the Spirit is not a mystical experience in which we receive new revelations from God. It is to live our new, liberated life as we head for life in the new creation. We are being led by the Spirit every time he prompts us to say no to temptation and yes to Jesus (Romans 8:12-13; Galatians 5:16-18). We are being led by the Spirit every time our hearts are set on our heavenly inheritance rather than earthly treasure (Romans 8:16-17, 22-25). So we “live by the Spirit” by putting to death selfish desires (Galatians 5:24-26). If today you refuse to give in to temptation, then you will have been led by the Spirit of God; the same God who led his people in the wilderness.’ (Chester, Tim. Exodus For You)

‘It is not enough that the child have life, but it must be led every step by the nurse; so the adopted child must not only be born of God, but have the manuduction of the Spirit to lead him in a course of holiness. ‘I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms.’ Ho 11:3. As Israel was led by the pillar of fire, so God’s children are led by the Spirit. The adopted ones need God’s Spirit to lead them, since they are apt to go wrong. The fleshy part inclines to sin; the understanding and conscience are to guide the will, but the will is imperious and rebels; therefore, God’s children need the Spirit to check corruption and lead them in the right way. As wicked men are led by the evil spirit – the spirit of Satan led Herod to incest, Ahab to murder, Judas to treason – so the good Spirit leads God’s children into virtuous actions.’ (Watson)

‘The Spirit is represented as influencing, suggesting, and controlling. One evidence of piety is, a willingness to yield to that influence, and submit to him. One decided evidence of the want of piety is, where there is an unwillingness to submit to that influence, but where the Holy Spirit is grieved and resisted. All Christians submit to his influence; all sinners decidedly reject it and oppose it. The influence of the Spirit, if followed, would lead every man to heaven. But when neglected, rejected, or despised, man goes down to hell. The glory belongs to the conducting Spirit when man is saved; the fault is man’s when he is lost. The apostle here does not agitate the question how it is that the people of God are led by the Spirit, or why they yield to it when others resist it. His design is simply to state the fact, that they who are thus led are the sons of God, or have evidence of piety.’ (Barnes)

Sons of God – Those who are thus led by God’s Spirit to put to death the misdeeds of the body are sons of God, Mt 5:45; 1 Jn 3:1. ‘This term is all the more remarkable when we remind ourselves that God’s only Son in the most rigid meaning of that term is Jesus, Emmanuel, both Lord and Christ; yet God’s purpose when he sent him into the world was that he should be “the firstborn among many brethren,” 8:29…This is infinitely more than to stand in the place of creatures in the presence of their Maker; it is more, far more, than to stand in the place of servants in the presence of their Master. It means that such a man has a new and vital status in the divine household; he now belongs to it as one who is a son of God. He may be called other names in other circumstances; he may be knows as a disciple or a believer. But such names are incidental to the ultimate reality: he is a son, dearer and more welcome to the Father’s heart and in the Father’s presence than he can know.’ (Loane)

‘It is evident that the popular notion of “the universal fatherhood of God” is not true. To be sure, all human beings are God’s “offspring” by creation, Acts 17:27, but we become his reconciled “children” only by adoption or new birth. Just as it is only those who are indwelt by the Spirit who belong to Christ, v9, so it is only those who are led by the Spirit who are the sons and daughters of God, v14. As such we are granted a specially close, personal, loving relationship with our heavenly Father, immediate and bold access to him in prayer, membership of his worldwide family, and nomination as his heirs, to which Paul will come in v17.’ (Stott)

In context, the status of Christians as ‘sons of God’ is related to that of Christ himself. Jesus has been identified as God’s Son in 8:3, and God’s purpose for believers is that they should be conformed to the image of his Son, 8:29. And then again, in the very next verse (v15), Paul will apply to Christians the use of the “Abba” address that was so special to Jesus. (Moo)

8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery leading again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father.”

On this verse as a whole, cf. 1 Cor 2:12; 2 Tim 1:7. ‘Here is a beautiful chain of experimental verses, all cast in the same mould, all built upon the same pattern, with the negative first and the positive second; on the one side bondage, worldliness, and fear; on the other sonship, spiritual gifts, power, love, and sanctified common-sense.’ (J. Rendel Harris, Q by Bruce)

A spirit – Assumed by the NIV to be an attitude or disposition, as in ‘the spirit of meekness’, 1 Cor 4:21 and ‘the spirit of fear’, 2 Tim 1:7? But some, including Loane and Stott, think that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit in his work in the old era under the law. Moo thinks it likely that Paul is making a rhetorical comparison: “The Spirit you have received is not a ‘spirit of bondage’ but a Spirit of adoption.”

A slave again to fear – Or, ‘a slave to fear again’. Prior to our adoption as sons, we were slaves to fear – especially, fear of God as judge. ‘The slaves of law live in constant apprehension of the righteous judgement of God, for they know that inadequate obedience can only result in final condemnation. The scant service which they try to render finds its only motive in the craven fear of what all failure deserives, and each fresh breach of the law is bound to increase their deep inner anxiety in view of the judgement to come. It may be true that men often live long lives in apparent unconcern for “things of the Spirit,” 8:5; years may pass by while they resist the claims of law and the pressure of guilt. They do not see themselves as slaves, and there is no fear of God in their minds. But sooner or later, in the crises of life or the issues of death, they reach a point where there is no further escape. then their state of mind is one of nervous alarm because they see at last that there is no way out of that bondage to sin and death.’ (Loane)

The Spirit of adoption – (NIV: ‘os sonship’).  The verb is in the aorist, suggesting a particular point in time – our conversion. Rom 8:23 will refer to adoption as future, and so the two verses together underline the ‘already/not yet’ of our Christian status (Moo).

The Spirit of sonship brings holy boldness and affectionate access, in contrast to fear. ‘We have not only the status, but the heart of sons.’ (Denney)

The biblical idea of adoption is to interpreted not in the light of our modern understanding and practice, but in the light of Greco-Roman practice. ‘The term “adoption” may have a somewhat artificial sound in our ears; but in the Roman world of the first century AD an adopted son was a son deliberately chosen by his adoptive father to perpetrate his name and inherit his estate; he was no whit inferior in status to a son born in the ordinary course of nature, and might well enjoy the father’s affection more fully and reproduce the father’s character more worthily.’ (Bruce)

Implications of adoption

Longenecker summarises the implications of adoption in Greco-Roman society:-

  1. ‘An adopted son was taken out of his previous situation and placed in an entirely new relationship to his new adopting father, who became his new paterfamilias.
  2. ‘An adopted son started a new life as part of his new family, with all his old debts canceled.
  3. ‘An adopted son was considered no less important than any other biologically born son in his adopting father’s family.
  4. ‘An adopted son experienced a changed status, with his old name set aside and a new name given him by his adopting father.’

William Barclay, offers a similar summary:-

‘(i) The adopted person lost all rights in his old family and gained all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family. In the most binding legal way, he got a new father.

(ii) It followed that he became heir to his new father’s estate. Even if other sons were afterwards born, it did not affect his rights. He was inalienably co-heir with them.

(iii) In law, the old life of the adopted person was completely wiped out; for instance, all debts were cancelled. He was regarded as a new person entering into a new life with which the past had nothing to do.

(iv) In the eyes of the law he was absolutely the son of his new father.’ (DSB)

The punctuation here is debated. It could read, we ‘received…a Spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry “Abba! Father!” (REV). Or, alternatively, ‘When we cry “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.’ (RSV) Either way, there is a connection between the gift of the Spirit, the cry to God as Father, and the experience of sonship.

‘Adoption confers the name of sons, and a title to the inheritance; regeneration confers the nature of sons, and a meetness for the inheritance.’ (Haldane)

‘The Spirit is given to Christians as “the Spirit of adoption,” and in all his ministry to Christians he acts as the Spirit of adoption. As such, his task and purpose throughout is to make Christians realize with increasing clarity the meaning of their filial relationship with God in Christ, and to lead them into an ever deeper response to God in this relationship. Paul is pointing to this truth when he writes, “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15 KJV). “God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying [that is, prompting you to cry], ‘Abba, Father’” (Gal 4:6 KJV).’ (Packer, Knowing God)

By him we crykrazo can be translated ‘cry out’, or even ‘scream’. But it can equally be rendered ‘call’ or ‘cry’. It can apply equally ‘to a liturgical acclamation in public worship or to a calling upon God in private devotion.’ (Stott)

‘In using the verb “crying out”, Paul stresses that our awareness of God as Father comes not from rational consideration nor from external testimony alone but from a truth deeply felt and intensely experienced. If omse Christians err in basing their assurance of salvation on feelings alone, many other err in basing it on facts and arguments alone.’ (Moo)

Why should the children of a king
Go mourning all their days?
Great Comforter, descend and bring
Some tokens of thy grace.
Dost though not dwell in all thy saints,
And seal the heirs of heaven?
When wilt thou banish my complaints,
And shew my sins forgiven?
Assure my conscience of her part
In the Redeemer’s blood;
And bear thy witness with my heart,
That I am born of God.
Thou are the earnest of his love,
The pledge of joys to come;
And thy soft wings, celestial Dove,
Will safe convey me home.

(Isaac Watts, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Book I, Hymn 144)

“Abba, Father” – Jesus himself used the Aramaic term Abba in addressing God, and precisely this expression in Mk 14:36. In fact, our Saviour always addressed God as ‘Abba’, with the single exception of the cry of dereliction from the cross. According to Jeremias, this was a new way of addressing God, and without precedent in the literature of ancient Judaism. Moreover, Jesus taught his disciples to say, ‘Our Father’, Mt 6:9 Lk 11:2. ‘He empowers them to speak to their Heavenly Father literally as the small child speaks to his father, in the same confident and childlike manner.’ See also Gal 4:6 for the third example of this expression.

‘Abba is the Aramaic word which Jesus used to address his Father in prayer, and it is probably tha tthe prayer he taught the disciples began with this word (Lk 11:2). Since this was the familiar title used by Jewish children to address their earthly father, its application by Jesus to God was revolutionary in its implcations, suggesting the

Kittel (TDNT) says, ‘Jewish uses shows how this Father-child relationship to God far surpasses any possibilities of intimacy assumed in Judaism, introducing indeed something which is wholly new.’

Our union with Christ is such that we can address our heavenly Father in the same way. In uttering this prayer we express an assured awareness of our adoption as God’s children. Although the address is not as informal as, say, our ‘Daddy’, it nevertheless is a term of intimacy, and speaks volumes for our experience of and relationship with the living God.

‘In crying out “Abba, Father,” the believer not only gives voice to his or her consciousness of belonging to God as his child but also to having a status comparable to that of Jesus himself.’ (Moo)

‘The idea of adoption does not appear in the Old Testament legal system, and Paul seems to have borrowed this apt concept from Roman law, filling it out with the biblical theology of God’s fatherhood over his people.’ (New Geneva)

8:16 The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are God’s children. 8:17 And if children, then heirs (namely, heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ)—if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with him.

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit – If ‘with’ is correct, we have a reminder of the inseparable, almost indistinguishable connection between the divine Spirit and the human Spirit in the believer. However, the translation ‘to’ is preferred by some. In either case, this inward witness of divine sonship is not doubt particularly experienced in prayer.

The ‘witness of the Spirit’ has been defined as ‘the consciousness of the gracious operation of the Spirit on the mind, “a certitude of the Spirit’s presence and work continually asserted within us,” manifested “in his comforting us, his stirring us up to prayer, his reproof of our sins, his drawing us to works of love, to bear testimony before the world,” etc.’ (Easton)

‘Graces in us shine with a borrowed light, as the stars do [sic; we would have to say, ‘as the moon does’], with a light borrowed from the sun; so, and unless God will shine secretly, and give light to thy graces and irradiate them, thy graces will not appear to comfort thee, nor be at all a witness of God’s favour to assure thee. For our spirit, that is, our graces, never witness alone; but if God’s Spirit joineth not in testimony therewith, it is silent: “The Spirit of God witnesseth with our spirits,” Rom 8:16. Now therefore, when God hath withdrawn his testimony, then the testimony of our hearts and of our graces hath no force in it.’ (Thomas Goodwin)

Our spirit – Moo thinks that this is the only occurrence of pneuma in the chapter that does not refer to the Holy Spirit.

We are God’s children – answering, for the believer, the question posed by Ps 8:4, ‘What is man?’ The word here is tekna, not huioi as in v14. Paul is, however, using the two terms interchangeably.

‘He uses still another picture from Roman adoption. He says that God’s spirit witnesses with our spirit that we really are his children. The adoption ceremony was carried out in the presence of seven witnesses. Now, suppose the adopting father died and there was some dispute about the right of the adopted son to inherit, one or more of the seven witnesses stepped forward and swore that the adoption was genuine. Thus the right of the adopted person was guaranteed and he entered into his inheritance. So, Paul is saying, it is the Holy Spirit himself who is the witness to our adoption into the family of God.’ (DSB)

‘Paul gives absolutely no hint that he is here speaking of a higher experience of assurance which might be unknown to some of his readers. Indeed his words cannot be understood of a coming of the Spirit subsequent to conversion, as the parallel passage in Galatians clearly shows [Gal 4:6f]…Perhaps if modern evangelism were less obsessed with conversion without feeling – “Do not doubt your salvation even though you do not feel any different” – there would be less emphasis upon post-conversion experiences!’ (Wilson)

‘Assurance consists of a practical syllogism, in which the word of God makes the major, conscience the minor, and the Spirit of God, the conclusion. The Word says, ‘He that fears and loves God is loved of God;’ there is the major proposition; then conscience makes the minor, ‘But I fear and love God;’ then the Spirit makes the conclusion, ‘Therefore thou art loved of God;’ and this is what the apostle calls ‘The witnessing of the Spirit with our spirits, that we are his children.’ Rom 8:16.’ (Watson)

‘But how shall I know the witness of the Spirit from a delusion? The Spirit of God always witnesses according to the Word, as the echo answers the voice. Enthusiasts speak much of the Spirit, but they leave the Word. That inspiration which is either without the Word or against it, is an imposture. The Spirit of God indited the Word. (2 Pet 1:21) Now if the Spirit should witness otherwise than according to the Word, the Spirit would be divided against himself. He would be a spirit of contradiction, witnessing one thing for a truth in the Word and another thing different from it in a man’s conscience.’ (Watson)

In his work on Communion with God John Owen illustrates how the Holy Spirit testifies that the believer is a child of God by means of a courtroom drama:-

The soul, by the power of its own conscience, is brought before the law of God. There a man puts in his plea, that he is a child of God, that he belongs to God’s family; and for this end produceth all his evidences, every thing whereby faith gives him an interest in God. Satan, in the meantime, opposeth with all his might; sin and law assist him; many flaws are found in his evidences; the truth of them all is questioned; and the soul hangs in suspense as to the issue. In the midst of the plea and contest the Comforter comes, and, by a word of promise or otherwise, overpowers the heart with a comfortable persuasion (and bears down all objections) that his plea is good, and that he is a child of God.… When our spirits are pleading their right and title, he comes in and bears witness on our side; at the same time enabling us to put forth acts of filial obedience, kind and child-like; which is called “crying, Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6).

Moo suggests that this verse is transitional, linking our enjoyment of present adoption (vv14-16) with the prospect of the full enjoyment of our adoptive status. Our full inheritance is yet to come.

If we are children, then we are heirs – a primary purpose of adoption in the ancient world was to secure an heir.

‘As the birthright of a child confers a title to the property of its father, and so distinguishes such property from what the child may acquite by industry and labour, so also is the case with adoption. Here we see the difference between the law and the gospel The law treats men as mercenaries, and says, Do, and life; the gospel treats them as children, and says, Live, and do.’ (Haldane)

Heirs of God – we are heirs of an inheritance of which the Holy Spirit is himself the firstfruits. In the OT, the inheritance was seen principally in terms of the possession of the land by the Jews, but now it broadens into the enjoyment of eternal life by all who are the true seed of Abraham. They are ‘heirs of God’ either in the sense that what they inherit is God himself (see Deut 18:2; 32:9), or (as Moo thinks is more likely) in the sense that they inherit ‘what God has promised’.

Co-heirs with Christ – ‘As the natural Son of the Father Christ is the proper heir; believers being sons by adoption are only heirs in virtue of their union with him. Christ has already entered into the glory which was won for his people by his obedience unto death, and this exaltation is the pledge that they shall follow him their.’ (Wilson)

‘Christ is by eminence THE Son of God. As such, he is heir to the full honours and glory of heaven. Christians are united to him; they are his friends; and they are thus represented as destined to partake with him of his glory. They are the sons of God in a different sense from what he is; he by his nature and high relation, they by adoption; but still the idea of sonship exists in both; and hence both will partake in the glories of the eternal inheritance.’ (Barnes)

Think what Christ has inherited. Consider all that he now enjoys. All this belongs to us as well. But as for him, so for us: only after suffering.

See Mk 12:1-12; Jn 17:24ff; Gal 3:18f; Heb 1:2; 12:2.

If indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory – On suffering as a necessary prelude to glory, see Lk 24:26; 2 Tim 2:12; 1 Pet 1:11; 4:13; 5:1.

‘Because we are one with Christ, we are his fellow heirs, assured of being “glorified with him.” But, as the same time, this oneness means that we must follow Christ’s own road to glory, “suffering with him” (cf. also Phil 1:29; 3:10; 2 Cor 1:5).’ (Moo)

‘These sufferings are both internal and external, and they result from taking their stand with Christ against the world, the flesh, and the devil. And though such sufferings contribute nothing towards the cost of their salvation which was wholly borne by him, Isa 53:5, they are a necessary part of the refining process that prepares them for glory, 1 Pet 6f.’ (Wilson)

‘Jesus Christ bears part of the suffering with us. Oh, says the Christian, I shall never be able to hold out. But remember you suffer with Christ. He helps you to suffer. As our blest Saviour said: ‘I am not alone; the Father is with me’; (Jn 16:32) so a believer may say, ‘I am not alone, my Christ is with me’. He bears the heaviest end of the cross. ‘My grace is sufficient for thee’. (2 Cor 12:9) ‘Underneath are the everlasting arms’. (Deut 33:27) If Christ put the yoke of persecution over us, he will put his arms under us. The Lord Jesus will not only crown us when we conquer, but he will enable us to conquer. When the dragon fights against the godly, Christ is that Michael which stands up for them and helps them to overcome.’ (Dan 12:1) (Thomas Watson)

‘The counterpart of this withdrawal of Christ the ascension from the reach of the senses was the gift to the apostles of the Holy Spirit by whom Christ was made present to them in a new way. They now knew him no more by sight and after the flesh; they had his Spirit. And this “having” is both a real possession and a foretaste, an earnest of what is in store…

The Spirit assures us that we are heirs of a kingdom yet to be revealed. (Rom 8:17) The Spirit wars in us against the flesh (Gal 5:17) and gives us assurance that even our mortal bodies shall be quickened. (Rom 8:11) Meanwhile the very mark of the Spirit’s presence is that we groan waiting for our adoption (Rom 8:23) and hoping for that which we do not yet see.’ (Rom 8:24,25) (Lesslie Newbigin, The Household of God, p. 128)

John Stott notes that D.M. Lloyd-Jones devoted four chapters (sermons) to ‘you received the Spirit of adoption’, v15, and eight to ‘the witness of the Spirit’, v16. Lloyd-Jones quoted an array of earlier Christians, including Puritans such as Thomas Goodwin, in support of the view that Paul is speaking of a particular kind of assurance that is associated with the ‘baptism’ or ‘sealing’ of the Spirit. Without casting any doubt on the experiences themselves, we must agree with Stott that this is not the meaning of the texts in question. Romans 8:14-17 teaches that all believers are ‘led by the Spirit’, have received ‘a Spirit of adoption’, and cry ‘Abba, Father’, as the Spirit himself bears witness to them that they are God’s children and heirs. ‘There is no indication in these four verses that a special, distinctive or overwhelming experience is in mind, which needs to be sought by all although it is given only to some. On the contrary, the whole paragraph appears to be descriptive of what is, or should be, common to all believers. Though doubtless in differing degrees of intensity, all who have the Spirit’s indwelling, v9, are given the Spirit’s witness too, v15f.’

What are we? (Romans 8:12-17)

1. We are debtors to the Spirit

We are debtors, we have an obligation, a duty, not to the flesh, our sinful nature, to satisfy its desires, because that is the way of death.  We are debtors to the Spirit, to respond to his promptings, because that is the way of life. ‘We have no obligation to the flesh, because the flesh has only brought trouble into our lives. We do have an obligation to the Holy Spirit, for it is the Spirit who convicted us, revealed Christ to us, and imparted eternal life to us when we trusted Christ.  Because He is “the Spirit of Life,” he can empower us to obey Christ, and he can enable us to be more like Christ.’

This is what Paul means by being ‘led by the Spirit of God’.  This is not a reference to ‘guidance’ as such.  Paul is not so much concerned here that we make wise decisions, as holy ones.

2. We are children of God

We have received ‘the Spirit of adoption’.  To be a servant, a subject, a soldier, a disciple, a friend, of God: all these are wonderful indeed.  But to be a child of God is best of all.  ‘Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers’ (Packer).  Instead of bondage, we have freedom; instead of fear, holy boldness and affectionate access to God.

This attitude finds expression in addressing God as ‘Abba, Father’.  This is the way a small child would speak to his father.  No Jew would have thought of addressing God thus.  But Jesus did.  Mk 14:36 – ‘“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”’  And so do we.  Gal 4:6 – ‘Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”’

3. We are heirs with Christ

The primary purpose of adoption in the ancient world was to secure an heir.  We are heirs of God.  We are joint-heirs with Christ.  He is God’s son in a uniquely special way.  We are God’s adopted sons.  And the only-begotten Son and the many adopted sons will partake together in the glories of their eternal inheritance.  Jesus once prayed, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory.”

But the apostle adds, ‘if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.’  When Christians suffer as Christians, they are sharing in the sufferings of Christ, and for them, as for him, their sufferings are a necessary prelude to glory, a prelude to entering into the inheritance that they will share with him.  Heb 12:2 – ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’

8:18 For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us.

‘The tension in 8:18–39 explores in a cosmic dimension the personal struggles of 7:7–25.’ (ECB)

More specifically, 8:18-30 ‘develops the reference to suffering and glory in v17b, continues the overall theme of assurance that dominates chap 8, and brings us back full circle to the opening paragraph (5:1-11) of this major section of the letter.’ (Moo)

According to Milne, Paul develops an argument for the assurance of our final destiny along two lines. ‘First, everything is actually moving towards the final fulfilment of God’s purpose, vv18-30. Second, nothing conceivable can stand in its way, vv31-39.’

The mention of ‘glory’ at the beginning and end of the passage (v18 and v30) form an ‘inclusio’, confirming this as the major theme of this section. This further signals a move in emphasis from the present (‘life’) to the future (‘glory’).

Paul will link several themes to this idea of ‘glory’: ‘freedom’, v21, ‘redemption of the body’, v23, and ‘sonship’, v19,23,29. (Moo) Where suffering is mentioned (both of creation, vv19-22 and of Christians, vv18,23,26), this is mainly by way of comparison with the superlative nature of future glory. (Moo)

Wright (The Day the Revolution Began) complains that ‘[this] key passage, Rom 8:18–24, has routinely been bracketed out, since it has been assumed that Paul’s talk in that chapter about “inheritance” and “glorification” is simply a roundabout way of speaking of “going to heaven.”’

This section can be seen as a continuation of Paul’s answer to various objections to the doctrine he has laid down in chapter 5. There, he asserted that God in Christ has triumphed over sin and death. This is expanded at the beginning of chapter 8, where Paul says that there is ‘no condemnation’ because we have been given life and made God’s own children. But why, then, do we suffer and die? The answer for Christians is as it was for Christ: beyond present sufferings lies future glory. We have life – real life – now, in the power of the Spirit, and this same Spirit connects us with the completion, the culmination, the climax of salvation that is yet to come.

In a sermon on this passage, Stott makes the following introductory points:-

  • Suffering and glory are indissolubly linked, both for Christ and his people.
  • Suffering and glory characterise the two ages – the present age and the age to come. The age to come has been inaugurated, but has not yet displaced the present age.
  • Suffering and glory are not to be compared with one another, Rom 8:18. They are to be contrasted. The latter far outweighs the former.
  • Suffering and glory mark both the creation of God and the children of God.

I consider = ‘I reckon’ – this is a word of cool, sober calculation. ‘I think’ would have been too weak; even ‘I hope’ would have been rather lame.

The apostle is, as it were, holding a pair of scales in his hand. Or, think of him reckoning up the two sides of a table of figures. On the one side, is all of ‘our present sufferings’; on the other, ‘the glory that will be revealed in us’.

Our present sufferings – these are a result of sin. Had there been no sin, there would have been no suffering, Gen 3:16-19. The evil results of sin are felt by all alike, and not necessarily in proportion to personal desert, cf. Ps 73:16-17. Paul no doubt has in mind here, no only specifically Christian sufferings, such as persecution or chastening, but also sufferings generally: pain, sickness, poverty, loneliness, and so on; in fact, all that afflicts us now.

Moo points out that those who consider that this world is a ‘closed system’ regard suffering as a harsh reality ‘that can never be explained nor transcended.’

Paul uses the expression ‘this present age’, which does not simply mean ‘the time being’. It refers to the time that extends until Christ’s return, but only until that time. It is contrasted with ‘the age to come’; the age of resurrection and future glory. God never promised his sons and heirs freedom from suffering in this world, as the continued experience of the church testifies.

Not worth comparing – ‘This is an astounding statement. It is even more astounding that Paul should apply it to himself. When his ship was not sinking or he was not being stoned or robbed, he was being whipped to within an inch of his life (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23–27). He wasn’t speaking poetically when he told the Galatians, “Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). Yet he says that the present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the coming glory. Amazing!’ (R. Kent Hughes)

They are ‘not worth comparing’ as a teaspoonful of water is not worth comparing with an ocean.

The glory that will be revealed in us – this is the result of grace. The intermediate state (cf 2 Cor 5:8 Php 1:23) is not in mind here, as vv19,23 show, but rather, the time of Christ’s return. Paul refers, not to glory that will be revealed ‘to’ us (RSV), but ‘in’ us: it will enter us, fill us, transform us, and then be revealed to others, ie, to each other and the angels. We will not merely be spectators of this glory, but partakers and demonstrators of it. Here is comfort for God’s children in their darkest hours of pain and sorrow and a glorious recompense in the future.

The glory so far outweighs the sufferings that they are not ‘worth comparing’ with each other. ‘We must, Paul suggests, weigh suffering in the balance with the glory that is the final state of every believer; and so “weighty”, so transcendentally wonderful, is this glory that suffering flies in the air as if it had no weight at all.’ (Moo)

‘Some of the learned move the question, Whether the enjoyment of God shall be by way of contemplation only. That is something, but it is one half of heaven only; there shall be a loving of God, an acquiescence in him, a tasting his sweetness; not only inspection but possession. Jn 17:24. ‘That they may behold my glory;’ there is inspection: Verse 22. ‘And the glory thou hast given me, I have given them;’ there is possession. ‘Glory shall be revealed in us,’ Rom 8:18; not only revealed to us, but in us. To behold God’s glory, there is glory revealed to us; but, to partake of his glory, there is glory revealed in us. As the sponge sucks in the wine, so shall we suck in glory.’ (Thomas Watson)

‘The glory to come far outweighs the affliction of the present. The affliction is light and temporary when compared with the all-surpassing and everlasting glory. So Paul, writing against a background of recent and (even for him) unparalleled tribulation, had assured his friends in Corinth a year or two before this that ‘this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison’. (2 Cor 4:17) It is not merely that the glory is a compensation for the suffering; it actually grows out of the suffering. There is an organic relation between the two for the believer as surely as there was for the Lord.’ (F. F. Bruce)

‘What, then, must this glory be like? We know that the universe will be transformed (cf. Revelation 21:1). We also know that we will have bodies like Christ’s glorified body (cf. Philippians 3:21). These are thrilling truths, especially when we reflect on how marvelous our own bodies are even now! When C. S. Lewis preached the sermon “The Weight of Glory” in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford on June 8, 1941, he gave as eloquent an explanation as has ever been given. In his homily he noted that the promises of Scripture may be reduced to five headings: 1) we shall be with Christ, 2) we shall be like him, 3) we shall have “glory,” 4) we shall be feasted, and 5) we shall have some official position in the universe.’ (R. Kent Hughes)

This glory ‘will be revealed’: having already been ‘reserved’ for us (cf 1 Pet 1:4f.)

2 Cor 4:17 – ‘For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.’

Present suffering and future glory are indissolubly linked. See 1 Pet 5:10. They are, respectively, leading characteristics of the present age and the age to come. But though they are inseparable, they are not comparable.

8:19 For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. 8:20 For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of God who subjected it—in hope 8:21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. 8:22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now.

Note the four occurrences of the word ‘creation’ one in each verse, 19-23. There is a reference to creation’s past, v20, future, v21b, and present, v22.

The glory that will be revealed in us (v18) is such that the creation waits eagerly for it to be manifested.

Creation here means what we popularly refer to as “nature:” that is, the whole of the created order. Since Genesis 1-3 is never far away from Paul’s thought in Romans, he is probably thinking of everything that God created as recorded in Gen 1:1-25. Moo, with most modern commentators, thinks that humankind is excluded here. We should probably at least exclude Christians, for it is their ‘revelation’ as ‘sons of God’ for which the rest of creation waits ‘in eager anticipation’, and the reference to ‘we ourselves’ in v23 supports this distinction.

Eager expectation – a personification (just as we often personify ‘nature’). Such personifications of nature are common in the OT (e.g. Psa 96:11ff; 987ff). The picture is like that of a man standing on tip-toe, straining to catch a glimpse of someone he has longed for, cf Php 1:20. But this is also the language of child-birth (we speak of ‘expectant’ mothers-to-be). Paul uses here an expression of great intensity to teach that in the marks of imperfection we see in the world of nature we should see a lack, a void, which will one day be made good. He ascribes to the natural world a silent anguish and an eager longing.

For the sons of God to be revealed – ‘That is, the time when they shall be manifested in their true character and glory as his sons’ (Hodge). Cf 1 Jn 3:2. As at the end of a play, when the final curtain is drawn back to reveal the actors as their true selves (Dunn), there will be an unveiling and a public display of their character as sons of God. They will be revealed to each other; their true nature as God’s children will be revealed, and this revelation will be to the whole created universe. But this will also be a time of healing of the present order of things.

‘Experiencing suffering, v18 and weakness, v26 like all other people, Christians do not in this life “appear” much like sons of God. The last day will publicly manifest our real status.’ (Moo)

‘The “revelation” of which Paul speaks is not only a disclosure of what we have always been but also a dynamic process by which the status we now have in preliminary form and in hiddenness will be brought to its final stage and made publicly evident.’ (Moo)

‘As creation in the beginning had its role in relation to man, the crown and steward of creation, so creation’s rediscovery of its role depends on the restoration of man to his intended glory as the image of God.’ (Dunn)

‘We are part of a created order in which there are unfulfilled possibilities, and inarticulate longings for a fulfilment which can only be realised ‘when the sons [and daughters] of God are revealed’, v19 – i.e. when at the coming of the Son of Man in glory his children will experience their true liberation, their ‘sharing in his glory’, v17; cf Mk 13:8.’ (Milne)

‘Many of us have pictures of our wives after they have delivered a child, and typically the baby is in their arms and mother is radiant. None of us have a picture of our wives in labor. We do not reach into our wallets saying, “Let me show you a picture of Margaret groaning in labor. Isn’t the agony terrific?” Creation will one day be delivered—and the difference between then and now is the difference between agony and ecstasy!’ (R. Kent Hughes)

If the creation waits in eager anticipation, so should we.

Futility = So also ESV, RSV, NRSV; ‘frustration’ (NIV), ‘vanity’ (AV), ‘God’s curse’ (NLT). See Gen 3:17f. ‘Humanity’s fall into sin marred the “goodness” of God’s creation, and creation has ever since been in a state of “frustration”.’ (Moo)

F.F. Bruce: ‘In addition to implying futility (frustration, vanity), mataiotēs can also mean the worship of false gods (cf. Acts 14:15); the creation has been enslaved to malignant powers (cf. 1 Cor. 12:2).’

Barrett: ‘The English reader recalls at once passages such as Eccles. 1:2, but in the LXX this and related words sometimes refer to the gods of the heathen (e.g. Ps. 31:6). Paul would doubtless agree that creation apart from Christ could have only an unreal existence, but would himself express this more concretely as subjection to what he describes as the ‘elements of the world’ (e.g. Gal. 4:9).’

Dunn: ‘The primary allusion is to the Adam narratives: ματαιότης in the sense of the futility of an object which does not function as it was designed to do (like an expensive satellite which has malfunctioned and now spins uselessly in space), or, more precisely, which has been given a role for which it was not designed and which is unreal or illusory. As man’s futility is his assumption that he is an independent creator, the failure to realize that he is but a creature, so the futility of creation is its being seen solely in relation to man (as man’s to use or abuse for himself) or as autonomous, an entity in its own right, to be deified in turn (Nature, the Universe), instead of as God’s creation to be ordered by God.’

Stott agrees that this expression is looking back to God’s judgement and curse, as recorded in Gen 3.  ‘This reference to the past must surely be to the judgment of God, which fell on the natural order following Adam’s disobedience. The ground was cursed because of him. In consequence, it would ‘produce thorns and thistles’, so that Adam and his descendants would extract food from it only by ‘painful toil’ and sweat, until death claimed them and they returned to the dust from which they had been taken.’

This frustration is expressed in Ecclesiastes (see esp. Eccle 1:2; the word itself is used 37 times in the LXX translation of that book), which ‘expresses the existential absurdity of a life lived “under the sun”, imprisoned in time and space, with no ultimate reference point to either God or eternity.’ (Stott)

Kruse notes that the word ‘is found in only two other places in the NT: in Ephesians 4:17 to denote the ‘futility’ in the thinking of unbelieving Gentiles, and in 2 Peter 2:18 to speak of the ‘empty’, boastful words of the ungodly.’  Here in Rom 8:20, he says, ‘it is used in an allusion to Genesis 3:17–19 in which God cursed the earth following the sin of the primeval couple, subjecting it to “futility”—something creation personified neither sought nor deserved: it was “not by its own choice, but by the will of the one [God] who subjected it”.’

‘The creation is subject to arrested development and constant decay. Though it aspires, it is not able fully to achieve. Though it blossoms, it does not reach the point of adequately bearing fruit’ (Hendriksen).

Cf. Isa 24:4-6 – ‘The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the heavens languish with the earth. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth.’

Kruse quotes Cranfield: ‘We may think of the whole magnificent theatre of the universe together with all its splendid properties and all the chorus of sub-human life, created to glorify God but unable to do so fully, so long as man the chief actor in the drama of God’s praise fails to contribute his rational part’

The aorist tense (‘was subjected’) points to a definite historical event – ie, the Fall, as the cause of creation’s frustration (Marcus Loane). God’s created work had been pronounced ‘good’ until man’s sin wreaked its havoc. We still hear the echo of God’s word of judgement, “Cursed is the ground because of you,” Gen 3:17. All that was good now bears the marks of vanity. Evil in the natural world is a result of evil in the moral world. There is a mysterious, but intimate and pervasive, connection between man’s fall into sin and the decay which is now observed in the entire universe.

According to Cranfield, ‘the sub-human creation has been subjected to the frustration of not being able properly to fulfil the purpose of its existence, God having appointed that without man it should not be made perfect.’ Elsewhere, the same writer says, ‘The whole magnificent theatre of the universe, together with all its splendid properties and all the varied chorus of subhuman life, created for God’s glory, is cheated of its true fulfilment so long as man, the chief actor in the great drama of God’s praise, fails to contribute his rational part…just as all the other players in a concerto would be frustrated of their purpose if the soloist were to fail to play his part.’

‘Paul speaks of “corruption,” even though he did not have in mind what modern industry and technology have done and are doing to the universe and Earth’s ozone layer. Yet his words somehow ring true even in this century with its ecological concerns.’ (Fitzmyer)

Not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it – this universal decay was not brought on voluntarily, or by any inherent demerit in the world God had made; the curse was an act of divine judgement, brought about by man’s sin. Nature was subjected to frustration, not willingly, but by the decree of God. It shared in the penalty of the fall, Gen 3:17; Isa 24:6; Jer 12:4.

‘Paul must be referring to God, who alone had the right and the power to condemn all of creation to frustration because of human sin.’ (Moo)

According to Dunn, ‘God followed the logic of his purposed subjecting of creation to man by subjecting it yet further in consequence of man’s fall, so that it might serve as an appropriate context for fallen man: a futile world to engage the futile mind of man…There is an out-of-sortedness, a disjointedness about the created order which makes it a suitable habitation for man at odds with his creation.’

In hope – This is probably an allusion to the ‘protevangelium‘, Gen 3:15 (cf Rom 16:20). Creation’s frustration will not last for ever. ‘The creation, though subjected to frustration as a result of human sin, has never been without hope; for the very decree of subjection was given in the context of hope.’ (Moo)

‘Christian commentators have often used the present fragility and suffering of this world to point backward to the seriousness of the fall. Here Paul also points forward to the seriousness of new creation. For it was subjected in hope that the judgment itself included the promise of a better future.’

The atheist is forced to believe in futility without hope. Dawkins: ‘The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.’

Creation’s new beginning has a negative and a positive aspect.

The creation not only waits for the revealing of the sons of God, v19, but will share in this liberation itself. Its subjection to vanity is not final; there is hope of a glorious recovery. There will be deliverance from corruption and decay and a restoration of freedom and glory.

‘The day of bondage in which physical corruption rules all nature will end with the revocation of the curse which was laid on the earth for man’s sake; the day of freedom in which divine splendour will clothe the world will dawn with the revelation of the glory which is reserved for the children of God.’ (Loane)

The transition from the present fallen universe to the re-created cosmos will be cataclysmic, 2 Pet 3:10; Rev 21:1.

‘The point is this: the covenant between God and Israel was always designed to be God’s means of saving the whole world. It was never meant to be the means whereby God would have a private little group of people who would be saved while the rest of the world went to hell (whatever you might mean by that)…If it is true that God intends to renew the whole cosmos through Christ and by the Spirit – and if that isn’t true then Paul is indeed talking nonsense in Romans 8 and 1 Cor 15 – then, just as the holiness of Christian living in the present is a proper, albeit partial, fitful and puzzling, anticipation of the future life of the resurrection, so acts of justice, mercy and peace in the present are proper, albeit inevitably partial, fitful and puzzling anticipations of God’s eventual design. They are not lost or wasted; they are not, in the old caricature, a matter of oiling the wheels of a machine that is about to run over a cliff. They are signs of hope for a world that groans in travail, waiting for its promised liberation.’ (Tom Wright, What St Paul Really Said, 163f)

Liberated from its bondage to decay – This ‘strongly suggests that the ultimate destiny of creation is not annihilation but transformation’. (Moo)

Moo paraphrases: ‘the freedom that is associated with the state of glory to which the children of God are destined.’

‘Futility, bondage, decay and pain are the words the apostle uses to indicate that creation is out of joint because under judgement. It still works, for the mechanisms of nature are fine-tuned and delicately balanced. And most of it is breathtakingly beautiful, revealing the Creator’s hand. But it is also in bondage to disintegration and frustration. In the end, however, it will be “freed from the shackles of mortality” (REB), “rescued from the tyranny of change and decay” (JBP).’ (Stott)

Glorious freedom of the children of God – this translation inverts the emphasis of the original, which falls on ‘glory’: ‘the freedom of glory’.

‘What a glorious day that will be when all the restraints due to man’s sin will have been removed, and we shall see this wonderful creation reaching self-realisation, finally coming into its own, sharing in “the glorious liberty of the children of God!”‘ (Hendriksen)

“Living is death; dying is life. On this side of the grave we are exiles; on that, citizens; on this side, orphans; on that, children; on this side, captives; on that, free men; on this, disguised, unknown; on that, disclosed and proclaimed as the sons of God.” – Henry Ward Beecher

‘This expectation that nature itself will be renewed is integral to the Old Testament prophetic vision of the messianic age, especially in the Psalms and Isaiah. Vivid images are used to express Israel’s faith that the earth and the heavens will be changed like clothing (Psa 102:25ff); that God “will create new heavens and a new earth”, including a new Jerusalem (Isa 65:17ff; cf 66:22); that the desert will blossom like the crocus, and so display the glory of Yahweh (Isa 35:1ff; cf 32:15ff); that wild and domestic animals will co-exist in peace, and that even the most ferocious and poisonous creatrues “will neither harm nor destroy” thoughout God’s new world (Isa 11:6ff; cf Isa 65:25).’ (Stott)

Jesus spoke of the ‘new birth’ of the world, Mt 19:28, Peter of the ‘restoration of all things’, Acts 3:19, 21; cf 2 Pet 3:13; and John of the new heaven and earth, Rev 21, 22.

‘It would not be wise for us to speculate, let alone dogmatize, how the biblical and the scientific accounts of reality correspond or harmonize, either in the present or in the future. The general promise of the renovation and transformation of nature is plain, including the eradication of all harmful elements and their replacement by righteousness, peace, harmony, joy and security. But we should be cautious in pressing the details. The future glory is beyond our imagination. What we do know is that God’s material creation will be redeemed and glorified, because God’s children will be redeemed and glorified.’ (Stott)

Other references to creation’s liberation from bondage and participation in the glorious freedom of God’s children:-

  1. A conflagration, 2 Pet 3:7,11-12.
  2. A rejuvenation, 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1-5. ‘The fire will not destroy the universe. It will still be the same heavens and earth, but gloriously renewed, and in that sense “a new heaven and a new earth”…Accordingly, not only will we be going to heaven, but heaven will, as it were, come down to us; that is, the conditions of perfection obtaining in heaven will be found throughout God’s gloriously rejuvenated universe’ (Hendriksen).
  3. A self-realisation, Rom 8:21.
  4. A harmonisation, Isa 11:6-9.
A threefold groaning

  • Rom 8:22 – the whole creation has been groaning
  • Rom 8:23 – we who have the first fruits of the Spirit groan inwardly
  • Rom 8:26 – the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words

Ponsonby (God Inside Out, p49) notes the threefold groaning – by creation, the believer and the Spirit, which ‘suggests that the Spirit is groaning in and with and for that which he fashioned, formed and sustains.  Ultimately, triumphantly, such sufferings will pass and creation with be transformed, then groaning will give way to glory at the renewal of all things.’

The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth – These are groans not of despair, but of anticipation, not death-throes but birth-pangs, as the context shows. See also Mt 24:8; Mk 13:8; Jn 16:20-22.

The NIV obscures the fact that there are two ‘togethers’ in this verse. As Moo translates it: ‘the whole creation groans together and suffers brith pangs together’. The idea is that ‘the various parts of the creation are groaning together, are in birth pangs together, uttering a “symphony of sighs” (Phillips).’

‘Creation groans. (Rom 8:18-22) When God finished his Creation, it was a good Creation; (Ge 1:31) but today it is a groaning Creation. There is suffering and death; there is pain, all of which is, of course, the result of Adam’s sin. It is not the fault of creation. Note the words that Paul used to describe the plight of creation: suffering, (Rom 8:18) vanity, (Rom 8:20) bondage, (Rom 8:21) decay, (Rom 8:21) and pain. (Rom 8:22) However, this groaning is not a useless thing: Paul compared it to a woman in travail. There is pain, but the pain will end when the child is delivered. One day creation will be delivered, and the groaning creation will become a glorious creation! The believer does not focus on today’s sufferings; he looks forward to tomorrow’s glory. (Rom 8:18; 2 Cor 4:15-18) Today’s groaning bondage will be exchanged for tomorrow’s glorious liberty!’ (Wiersbe)

‘In particular, the Lord Christ is glorious in this, in that the whole breach made on the glory of God in the creation, by the entrance of sin, is by this repaired and made up.  The beauty and order of the whole creation consisted in its dependence on God, by the obedience of the rational part of it, angels and men.  Thereby were the being, the goodness, the wisdom, and power of God made manifest.  But the beauty of this order was defaced, and the manifestation of the divine perfections to the glory of God eclipsed, by the entrance of sin.  But all is restored, repaired, and made up, in this recapitulation of all things in one new head, Christ Jesus; yea, the whole curious frame of the divine creation is rendered more beautiful than it was before.  Hence, the whole of it groans for the interest of each part in this restoration of all things (Romans 8.22).  Whatever there is of order, of beauty, of glory, in heaven above, or in earth beneath, it all arises from this new relation of the creation to the Son of God.  Whatever is not gathered into one, even in Him, in its place, and according to its measure, is under darkness, disorder, and the curse.  Hence, the Jews have a saying, that “in the days of the Messiah, all things shall be healed, but the serpent; that is, the devil, and wicked men, which are his seed.”’ (John Owen)

8:23 Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 8:24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? 8:25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance.

God’s triumphant purpose, writes Milne, is already being realised in Christian believers. In vv23-30 there are four points to this: the Spirit’s presence and prayers; and God’s providence and perspective.

We…who have the firstfruits of the Spirit – Indicative, as Moo says, both of the beginning of a process and the pledge of its conclusion.

There is an allusion here to the Feast of Weeks, Lev 23:15; Ex 23:18. This festival was a celebration of the promise the full harvest, anticipated in the appearance of the first stalks of grain. Another name for this feast was ‘Pentecost’, because it came 50 days after Passover; and it was at that time that the Holy Spirit came with power on the young church, Acts 2. The Holy Spirit is God’s firstfruits, the foretaste of the final harvest. ‘His presence in our lives creates the longing for his fullness when, as C.S. Lewis said, “in the land of the Trinity”, God the Father, Son and Spirit will be “all in all”, or “everything to everybody”, 1 Cor 15:28.’ (Milne)

‘Although we have not yet received our final adoption or redemption, we have already received the Spirit as both foretaste and promise of these blessings.’ (Stott)

‘A healthy balance is necessary in the Christian life, in which our joy at the many blessings we already possess should be set beside our frustration at our failures and our intense yearning for that day when we will fail no more – when “we shall be like him”‘ (Moo)

We…groan inwardly – Again, the idea is of painful anticipation. It is because we have the firstfruits of the Spirit that we long for the full harvest. Here, then, is another statement of the ‘now/not yet’ tension. ‘The very presence of the Spirit (being only the firstfruits) is a constant reminder of the incompleteness of our salvation, as we share with the creation in the frustration, the bondage to decay and the pain.’ (Stott) See 2 Cor 5:2,4.

‘This is our Christian dilemma. Caught in the tension between what God has inaugurated (by giving us his Spirit) and what he will consummate (in our final adoption and redemption), we groan with discomfort and longing. The indwelling Spirit gives us joy, Gal 3:22; 1 Thess 1:6, and the coming glory gives us hope, Rom 5:2, but the interim suspense gives us pain.’ (Stott)

‘This attitude does not involve anxiety about whether we will finally experience the deliverance God has promised – for Paul allows of no doubts on that score (cf. vv28-30) – but frustration at the remaining moral and physical infirmities that are inevitably a part of this period between justification and glorification (see 2 Cor 5:2,4) and longing for the end of this state of “weakness”‘.’ (Moo)

‘Our lives consist of groans. We groan because of the ravages that sin makes in our lives, and in the lives of those we love. Also we groan because we see possibilities that are not being captured and employed. And then we groan because we see gifted people who are wasting their lives, and we would love to see something else happening. It is recorded that, as he drew near the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus groaned in his spirit because he was so burdened by the ravages that sin had made in a believing family. He groaned, even though he knew he would soon raise Lazarus from the dead. So we groan in our spirits—we groan in disappointment, in bereavement, in sorrow. We groan physically in our pain and our limitation. Life consists of a great deal of groaning.’ (Stedman)

Some Christians have too little place for pain in their theology. As Stott puts it, they grin too much and groan too little.

We wait eagerly for our adoption as sons – Here is yet another aspect of the ‘now/not yet’ tension: for in vv14-14 adoption is said to be our present possession. ‘Christians, as the moment of justification, are adopted into God’s family; but this adoption is incomplete and partial until we are finally made like the Son of God himself, v29.’ (Moo)

Paul will go on immediately to refer to the transformation of our physical bodies. But ‘our “groan” is also a longing for the day when sin’s inner base of operations within us will be wiped out for ever, to say nothing of he elimination of the devil and his beguiling snares.’ (Milne)

Then again, we ‘groan’ not just for our own personal deliverance, ‘but for the redemption of the world, the ending of the long night of evil, sin, pain and death. No-one who identifies with the agonies of the world, to say nothing of the agonies which are personalised in a regular way among family and friends, can do anything but long fervently for the coming resurrection of all things. This “groaning” underlies the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come”, and the cry of Paul in1 Cor 15, “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”‘ (Milne)

The redemption of our bodies – The body shares the blessings of salvation. But some of the healing evangelists should note that the redemption of our bodies is something ‘we wait eagerly for’, and do not experience fully in this life. Cf. v25. See 2 Cor 5:1 – we groan in anticipation of the transformation of our temporary ‘tent’ into a permanent ‘house’.

‘The tension is clearly evident in our physical bodies. Salvation here and now does not deliver us from weakness, disease, ageing or death. But one day the full harvest will be brought in, which means the “redemption of our bodies”, v23 and the conferring of new bodies, “like his glorious body”, Phil 3:21 and hence without weakness, without susceptibility to disease, ageing, weariness, pain, corruption or death.’ (Milne)

‘In mainstream Jewish thought human beings do not have souls, they are souls. This anthropological underpinning has tremendous implications for a doctrine of the resurrection in that it refuses to surrender the somatic component of a human being.’ (DPL, art. ‘Resurrection)

In this hope we were saved – Once again: already, we have been saved; not yet, is our hope fully realised. Our flesh (our sinful nature) has not yet been obliterated; our bodies have not yet been redeemed.

‘The Christian perspective is not determined by the frustrations of the present, but by its future hope. This means that the believer must wait in this creation patiently for the new, which means a positive endurance rather than quiet acceptance.’ (Wilkinson)

Plumer understands this phrase to be in the present, rather than the past, tense.  However, this does not materially effect his comment: ‘Are not these amazing words? Saved, from wrath, and guilt, and sin, its pollution and its power; saved by an almighty hand and by amazing grace; saved when the most just and terrible destruction was impending; saved when others no more guilty were left in their blindness and hardness of heart. Nor is this salvation all future, but it is in all its great elements a present salvation, so that while some texts say that the believers shall be saved, our verse says, we are saved. If we put the emphasis on the first word, the sense is no less striking, we are saved; we, who merit no good thing; we, who are by nature the children of wrath even as others; we, who were dead in trespasses and sins, we, yes even we are saved! Surely our song will ever be of salvation!’

We wait for it patiently – This is the kind of patient endurance that Christians are often called to exhibit in times of trial and suffering, Rom 5:3f; Jas 1:3,3; 5:11; Rev 13:10; 14:12.

‘This whole section is a notable example of what it means to be living “in between times”, between present difficulty and future destiny, between the already and the not yet, between sufferings and glory. “We were saved in hope” brings them together. And in this tension the correct Christian posture is that of waiting, waiting “eagerly”, v23, cf 19, with keen expectation, and waiting “patiently”, v25, steadfast in the endurance of our trials…We are to wait neither to eagerly that we lose our patience, nor so patiently that we lose our expectation, but eagerly and patiently together.’ (Stott)

8:26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings.
The Holy Spirit Assists our Prayers

1. Who is the assister of believers in prayer? The Spirit himself, cf. v 16.

2. What is this assistance applied to? Our infirmities: infirmities in ourselves, and infirmities in our prayers.

3. How does the Spirit help believers? This is hinted at in the original: he helps as a powerful assistant to the weak, in bearing a heavy burden.

4. What is this assistance? He intercedes for us according to the will of God, v27. ‘How can a believer but prevail, who hath the blood of the High Priest speaking in heaven, Heb 12:24, and the Spirit of Christ crying in his heart on earth, Gal 4:6?’

5. How does this assistance and intercession work in us? With groans that words cannot express. And ‘there is more of the Spirit in a sensible groan, than in many formal words of prayer.’ (Traill)

In the same way – Just as our hope sustains us, so does the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit helps us with our weakness and our ignorance. ‘The Spirit helps believers in their weakness, when not just words fail but when they do not know fully God’s will in the transition and tension between creation and new creation.’ (Wilkinson)

The Holy Spirit enables us to fulfil the law, vv2-8, helps us subdue our fallen nature, vv9-13, assures us of our adoption into God’s family, vv14-17; guarantees and gives a foretaste of our final inheritance, vv18-23. And now, v26f, he supports us in our prayers. (Stott)

In general terms, ‘the Spirit helps us in our weakness’. This weakness is due to the shortfall which exists between our present and future state. In particular, ‘the Spirit himself intercedes for us’.

The Spirit helps us in our weakness – It is possible that particular weaknesses are in mind – weakness in prayer, or weakness due to suffering. But it is probable that a general weakness is referred to, ‘the totality of the human condition’ (Dunn), the weakness that belongs to a creatureliness that belongs even to Christians this side of final glory.

We do not know what we ought to pray for – ‘The wording of the clause indicates that it is not the manner, or style, of prayer that Paul has in view but the content, or object, or prayer – what we are to pray for.’ (Moo)

We often do not know, for example, whether to pray for deliverance from some trial, or for patience to endure it. Because of our limited understanding, we are often not in a position to make specific requests. However, the Spirit knows all things, and he turns that knowledge into powerful, prevailing, intercessory prayer.

‘Let him alone, and he would soon pray himself into some temptation or other, and cry for that which were cruelty in God to give.’ (Gurnall)

The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express – Fee (God’s Empowering Presence) maintains that this refers to speaking in tongues. But there is insufficient evidence to support this view. Literally, the meaning is not so much that they are ‘inexpressible’, but rather that they are ‘unspoken’. We may link these wordless groans with the longing of creation, v22, and of God’s children, v23, for the final restoration of all things. It is truly amazing to realise that the Spirit, perfect as he is, identifies with our groanings so much as to ‘groan’ on our behalf. See 2 Cor 1:3,4.

‘He works in and through our broken, misdirected prayer to present them on our behalf to the Father in a form appropriate to the fulfilling of God’s purpose, and in relation to which the Father can grant an affirming answer.’ (Milne)

‘Some interpreters have hesitated to assign this activity [“groaning to the Spirit on the grounds that involvement in a groaning, struggling activity is incompatible with the Spirit’s deity. But if God is truly involved in our lives, and if he had truly identified with us in the man Jesus and his “loud cries and treats” (Heb 5:7), it is difficult to see a problem with the Spirit’s “groans”. What marvellous encouragement this represents in portraying a God who identifies with our human struggles and helps us in the midst of them.’ (Milne)

‘It is truly amazing that, having written of the groaning creation and of the groaning church, Paul should now write of the groaning Spirit…The Holy Spirit identifies with our groans, with the pain of the world and the church, and shares in the longing for the final freedom of both. We and he groan together.’ (Stott)

‘The Holy Spirit lays hold of our weaknesses along with (syn) us and carries His part of the burden facing us (anti) as if two men were carrying a log, one at each end.’ (A.T. Robertson)

‘If we are honest with ourselves, we must all admit there are times when we cannot pray. There have been times when my children were so desperately ill and the urgency so great that I could scarcely converse with God. At best I may have said a few words, “but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

There have been times when something has been said to us that is so devastating and we are so hurt we cannot pray, “but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

One day some of us will lie in hospitals with catheters and IVs, and we will not have the will to pray or even put two thoughts together, “but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” The Holy Spirit expresses those things we feel but cannot articulate.’ (R. Kent Hughes)

John Bunyan said that ‘in prayer, it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.’

8:27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will.

The reasoning here is that although we struggle to put our prayers into words, the Spirit is interceding for us, and God (the Father) knows the thoughts of the Spirit.

He who searches our hearts – God the Father.

In 1 Cor 2:10f Paul writes of the Spirit knowing the mind of God.

As Kruse remarks: ‘In the OT God is regularly depicted as the one who knows or searches the hearts of human beings (1 Sam 16:7; 1 Kgs 8:39; 1 Chr 28:9; 29:17; 2 Chr 6:30; Pss 44:21; 139:23; Prov 24:12; Jer 12:3; 17:9–10).’

Although the Spirit’s intercession is wordless, it is not meaningless. God who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit. And God not only understands this praying, but he also responds to it, since it is ‘in accordance with God’s will’.

‘Even in human weakness prayer is participation in a divine conversation Prayer is not a human work, but, like all of God’s gifts and commands, it is evidence of God’s work in believers.’ (Edwards)

8:28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, 8:29 because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 8:30 And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.
A golden verse

I call this verse golden because it is of inestimable value to believers in all the situations of life. Only eternity will reveal how many hearts, weary on the road of life, broken and oppressed by nameless problems, have found solace in these words of inspired Scripture. Let’s break this verse down and try to see why it is so priceless.

All things. Let’s not try to modify, abridge or limit this. All things means everything without exception; things good and things bad; things past, present and future; things we understand and things we do not. There is nothing outside the sovereign purpose of God, which he does not either cause or permit.

Work together. From our standpoint here on earth, events and circumstances of life seem random, meaningless and irrational. At times, nothing seems to make sense. Why this sickness to one of God’s saints? Why the earthquake, the heartbreaking divorce? But rest assured that, in the mix of God’s providence, things are working not against each other, but together.

For good. Please note — it does not say that all things are good. Murder is not good; war is not good; cursing is not good; idolatry is not good. But the promise says that all things are working for good. In other words there is a direction to God’s providence, an end, a conclusion to all things. I n the end, it will all be for God’s glory and the good of his people.

To those who love God and are called according to his purpose. This verse is often misquoted. The text does not say that all things work for good to everybody. The tragedies that happen to the wicked are not helping them in any way. But for those who are chosen, redeemed and born of God’s Spirit, all that happens, in the final analysis, will be in some way a blessing.

We do not have to see immediately how tragedies are for the good of believers. But sometimes we do. That cancer drew us closer to our Redeemer and provided an opportunity for God to show his power. That broken relationship led to a better one.

But even if we never in this life see how, we must by faith believe that all things are working together for good to those who love God and are the called according to his purpose. John F. Thornbury

In all things God works for the good – It is possible to read this as ‘all things work together for good’ (AV, NIV margin). But even if so, this should not lead us to a naively optimistic view of life, for ‘it is the sovereign guidance of god that is presumed as the undergirding and directing force behind all the events of life.’ (Moo)

‘All things’ include, but are not be limited to, our present sufferings.

‘The good’ must be defined in God’s terms, not our own. ‘The idea that this verse promises the believer material wealth or physical well-being, for instance, betrays a typically Western perversion of “good” in an exclusively material interpretation. God may well use trials in these areas to produce what he considers a much higher “good”: a stronger faith, a more certain hope (cf. 5:3f). But the promise to us is that there is nothing in this world that is not intended by God to assist us on our earthly pilgrimage and to bring us safely and certainly to the glorious destination of that pilgrimage.’ (Moo)

Christians are described, from the human side, as those who love him, and from the divine side, as those who have been called according to his purpose. The latter is both effectual (not just invitational), and also purposive (that purpose being that we should become like Christ and share in his glory.

‘Romans 8 contains five convictions about God’s providence (v28), five affirmations about his purpose (v29f), and five questions about his love (vv31-39), which together bring us fifteen assurances about him. We urgently need them today, since nothing seems stable in our world any longer. Insecurity is written across all human experience. Christian people are not guaranteed immunity to temptation, tribulation or tragedy, but we are promised victory over them. God’s pledge is not that suffering will never afflict us, but that it will never separate us from his love.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 213)

In Rom 8:28-39, ‘Paul is addressing the question of God’s faithfulness. Seventeen hostile and destructive things are listed and none of them (nor all of them together) can separate the elect (Rom 8:33) the called Rom 8:28) from the love of Christ (Rom 8:35); the love of God in Christ Rom 8:39). The reason for this is that no one can bring any charge against those whom God has chosen, because it is God who has justified them, (Rom 8:34) and if God has justified them and is for them, who can be against them? (Rom 8:31) The complex theological reasoning that lies behind this is compressed into an almost oversimplified list in Rom 8:29-30. Those who were foreknown were predestined to be made like Christ. In order to ensure that this would take place, they were called, justified and glorified. Although their glorification is future, because it is “in Christ” and Christ is already glorified, Paul could speak of their having been glorified as a certainty. Because of this no one can charge God’s elect with guilt. They are already glorified in Christ, even if that glorification, considered historically, lies in the future as the hope of salvation. For those in Christ it is an accomplished fact.’ (DPL)

‘If becoming like Christ is the “good” God is working for, then pain and suffering will almost certainly come our way. And through that pain and suffering, God will work in his sovereign way to mould us into the shape of Jesus.’ – (The Guiding God, Briefing 69)

‘All afternoon a little boy tried to put together his birthday gift from his father, a picture puzzle. Some of the pieces were bright, some dark, some seemed to go together, others seemed to fit nowhere. Finally, frustrated and exhausted and with nothing to show for his efforts, the boy gathered the pieces, put them in the box, and gave it to his dad. “I can’t do it,” he explained. “You try it.”

To his amazement, his father assembled the entire puzzle in a few minutes. “You see,” he said, “I knew what the picture was like all the time. I saw the picture in the puzzle, but you saw only the pieces.”

Paul tells us here that God causes all things to work together for good. Those “all things” are the pieces. He then tells us how they work together for the good – according to God’s purpose. That is the picture. Are you perplexed and frustrated over this event or that happening in your life? Do not take the situation out of God’s hand and try to work it into your own design. God made the picture you life is composed of, and he will complete it.’ (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 424)

The story is told of a man in China who raised horses for a living. When one of his prized stallions ran away, his friends gathered at his home to mourn his great loss. After they had expressed their concern, the man raised this question: “How do I know whether what happened is bad or good?” A couple days later the runaway horse returned with several strays following close behind. The same acquaintances again came to his house-this time to celebrate his good fortune. “But how do I know whether it’s good or bad?” the old gentleman asked them. That very afternoon the horse kicked the owner’s son and broke the young man’s leg. Once more the crowd assembled-now to express their sorrow over the incident. “But how do I know if this is bad or good?” the father asked again. Well, only a few days later, war broke out. The man’s son, however, was exempted from the military service because of his broken leg. Yes, you guessed it, the friends again gathered-but we’ll stop the story there. You can easily see how it could go on and on. This tale points out that from our limited human perspective, it’s impossible to know with certainty how to interpret the experiences of life.

Paul will now elaborate on God’s ‘purpose’, mentioned in v28. And part of this purpose, and part of the assurance that has dominated the whole chapter, is ‘the hope of glory’.

Those whom God foreknew – Paul writes of God’s foreknowledge (‘proginsko‘) here and in Rom 11:2. This has been taken to mean either God’s prior knowledge, or his prior choosing. The former sense is favoured by Arminians, who thus claim that divine election is based on divine foreknowledge: God foresees who will belief, and on that bases elects them to salvation. However, Paul does not speak of God foreknowing faith, but of foreknowing persons. Moreover, this view would appear inconsistent with the very clear teaching that salvation is unmerited on our part and is derived entirely from God’s good pleasure. The latter sense – divine knowledge as equivalent to divine election – finds support in the Semitic sense of knowledge as not merely ‘knowing about’, but entering into a personal relationship with, Am 3:2; Hos 13:5; Jer 1:5. The OT frequently uses the term ‘knowledge’ in this sense for the special relationship between Yahweh and his people, Ex 33:12,17; Gen 18:19; Deut 34:10. In Gen 18:19 “I have known him” means, “I have chosen him.” See also Gal 4:9; Rom 11:2; 1 Cor 8:3. Compare Mt 7:23. Proginsko is used of God’s election or foreordination of Christ in 1 Pet 1:20. (See DPL)

‘Arminian theology, in all its variant forms, contends that God’s foreknowledge is simply a prescient knowledge, a knowing in advance whether a given person will believe in Christ or reject him. God’s election, therefore, is said to be simply God’s choice unto salvation of those whom he knows in advance will choose to believe in Christ. God foresees the contingent free action of faith and, foreseeing who will believe in Christ, elects those because they do. But this is destructive of the biblical view of election. In biblical thought election means that God elects people, not that people elect God. In Scripture it is God who in Christ decides for us – not we who, by making a decision for Christ, decide for God.’ (ISBE)

It is fashionable amongst modern theologians (following Barth) to suppose that Paul is referring to ‘the church’ (not individual believers) as being ‘foreknown’. But ‘the purpose of Paul is to assure individual believers – not the church as a whole – that God is working for their “good” and will glorify them.’ (Moo)

Predestinedproorizo, lit, ‘I mark out beforehand’. Recognising the ‘freight’ that ‘predestined’ carries, Barnett renders it ‘pre-identified’.

Conformed to the likeness of his Son – Although this might well include a moral conformity to Christ’s character in the present life, the emphasis is probably, in context, eschatological. We are predestined to the future glory that Christ himself already enjoys.

Too often, we limit the grace of God to the work of justification. But Christ has negated the work of sin in all its effects. But ‘Christ is also the answer to sin ontologically and structurally. The redemptive work of Christ does not terminate in justification, but in sanctification. That is the Bible’s overriding concern: to conform us to the image of his Son. Christ will so deal with us that one day our lives will no longer fall short of the mark. They will no longer be inequitable, transgressive and lawless. Instead, they will conform exactly to God’s objective for us. Our lives will meet the target. Our lives will be straight. Our lives will be on God’s road. Our lives will gloriously fulfil the law. Christ will end all the alienation. He will put us together within ourselves. He will put us right with each other. He will put us right with our environment, securing in the last Adam the fulfilment of the mandates reneged on by the First.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

‘The Bible speaks of election through sanctification, and predestination to be conformed to the image of the Son of God. If these are lacking, it is a waste of time to speak of election.’ (J.C. Ryle)

‘None can know their election but by their conformity to Christ; for all that are chosen are chosen to sanctification.’ (Matthew Henry)

Those he predestined, he also called – ‘See the necessity of the effectual call. A man cannot go to heaven without it. First, we must be called before we are glorified. Rom 8:30. A man uncalled can lay claim to nothing in the Bible but threatenings: a man in the state of nature is not fit for heaven, no more than a man in his filth and his rags is fit to come into a king’s presence. A man in his natural state is a God-hater, and is he fit for heaven? Rom 1:30. Will God lay his enemy in his bosom?’ (Watson, A Body of Divinity)

‘Whom he predestinated, them he also called’. Election is the foundation-cause of our vocation. It is not because some are more worthy to partake of the heavenly calling than others, for we were ‘all in our blood’. (Eze 16:6) What worthiness is in us? What worthiness was there in Mary Magdelene, out of whom seven devils were cast? What worthiness in the Corinthians, when God began to call them by the gospel? They were fornicators, effeminate, idolaters. ‘Such were some of you, but ye are washed’. Before effectual calling, we were not only without strength, but ‘enemies’. (Col 1:21) So that the foundation of vocation is election.’ (Thomas Watson)

God’s effectual call ‘evidences election. ‘Whom he predestinated, them he also called.’ Rom 8:30. Election is the cause of our vocation, and vocation is the sign of our election. Election is the first link of the golden chain of salvation, vocation is the second. He who has the second link of the chain is sure of the first. As by the stream we are led to the fountain, so by vocation we ascend to election. Calling is an earnest and pledge of glory. ‘God has chosen you to salvation, through sanctification.’ 2 Thess 2:12. We may read God’s predestinating love in the work of grace in our heart.’ (Watson, A Body of Divinity)

‘The call intended is the effectual call of the Holy Spirit, by which the soul is renewed and translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. The only evidence of election is therefore vocation, and the only evidence of vocation, is holiness of heart and life, for we are called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Compare again Rom 8:29, where believers are said to be “predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son.” To this they are effectually called. They are made like Christ. Fellowship includes union and communion. We are called to be partakers of Christ; partakers of his life, as members of his body; and therefore, partakers of his character, of his sufferings here and of his glory hereafter.’ (Charles Hodge, An Exposition of I Corinthians)

Those he justified, he also glorified – ‘Justification’ has, of course, been the great theme of chapters 1-4. There, Paul repeatedly stressed the importance of faith. Here, his focus is on God’s side, but this does not contradict the importance of the human response.

‘God in justifying, not only absolves a soul from guilt, but advances him to dignity: as Joseph was not only loosed from prison, but made lord of the kingdom. Justification is crowned with glorification.’ (Thomas Watson)

Justification has a twofold end:

1. That God may inherit praise. ‘To the praise of the glory of his grace.’ Eph 1:6. Hereby God raises the everlasting trophies of his own honour. How will the justified sinner proclaim the love of God, and make heaven ring with his praises!

2. That the justified person may inherit glory. ‘Whom he justified, them he also glorified.’ Rom 8:30. God in justifying, not only absolves a soul from guilt, but advances him to dignity: as Joseph was not only loosed from prison, but made lord of the kingdom. Justification is crowned with glorification.’ (Thomas Watson)

‘If we are not justified, we cannot be glorified. ‘Whom he justified, them he also glorified.’ Rom 8:30. He who is outlawed, and all his goods confiscated, must be brought into favour with his prince before he can be restored to his former rights and liberties; so, we must have our sins forgiven, and be brought into God’s favour by justification, before we can be restored to the liberty of the sons of God, and have a right to that happiness we forfeited in Adam.’ (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity)

‘During his days as guest lecturer at Calvin Seminary, R. B. Kuiper once used the following illustration of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility:

“I liken them to two ropes going through two holes in the ceiling and over a pulley above. If I wish to support myself by them, I must cling to them both. If I cling only to one and not the other, I go down. I read the many teachings of the Bible regarding God’s election, predestination, his chosen, and so on. I read also the many teachings regarding ‘whosoever will may come’ and urging people to exercise their responsibility as human beings. These seeming contradictions cannot be reconciled by the puny human mind. With childlike faith, I cling to both ropes, fully confidant that in eternity I will see that both strands of truth are, after all, of one piece.”‘

‘Paul sees the sovereign plan of God for the salvation of his elect as a unitary whole, of which the glorifying of the justified is part. (Rom 8:29-30) On this basis he builds the triumphant peroration of Rom 8:31-39, in which he celebrates the present and future security of the saints in the almighty love of God. Elsewhere he rejoices in the certainty that God will complete the “good work” that he began in the lives of those Paul addresses (Php 1:6; cf. 1 Cor 1:8-9; 1 Thess 5:23-24; 2 Thess 3:3; 2 Tim 1:12; 4:18).’ (Concise Theology)

He…glorified – ‘So certain is this final stage that, although it is still future, Paul puts it into the same aorist tense, as if it were past, as he has used for the other four stages which are past. It is s so-called ‘prophetic past’ tense. James Denney writes that “the tense in the last word is amazing. It is the most daring anticipation of faith that even the New Testament contains.”‘ (Stott)

‘Eternal life is granted to us in election, promised in our vocation, sealed in our justification, possessed in our glorification. Conclude then, faithfully to thy own soul. I believe, therefore I am justified; I am justified, therefore I am sanctified; I am sanctified, therefore I am called; I am called, therefore I am elected; I am elected, therefore I shall be saved. Oh! settled comfort of joy, which ten thousand devils shall never make void.’ (Thomas Adams)

Hope in suffering

Christians take much comfort from Paul’s words in Romans 8:28 – ‘We know that all things work together for good.’

But, equally, they are frequently puzzled and perplexed by these same words.  So often, they do not seem to match our experience.  Thus, they become, not the application of a soothing balm, but a rubbing in of salt in the wounds.

As is so often the case, context is king.  J.D. Greear helps us to place this gem of truth in its proper setting, so that it can shine more truly and more brightly.

1. What God has started, he is going to finish

According to verses 29 and 30, ‘those whom [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified.’

The future glorification of God’s people is secure, because it can be traced back to his having marked them out from eternity past.  Your are loved by God.  He has adopted you as his child.  The best of earthly fathers may fail us, but our heavenly Father has pledged never to do so.

2. God is using all things to make you more like Jesus

Too often, we set our sights too low.  We suppose the ‘good’ which is promised here is what we ourselves count as ‘good’: that our suffering will be taken away, that our circumstances will be altered, that our broken relationships will be healed.

Well, such things may happen.  But the promise runs deeper and wider than that.  Verse 29 says – ‘We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.’  And what is that purpose?  That we should be ‘conformed to the image of his Son.‘  God’s intention for your life is not to change your circumstances, necessarily, but to change you.  It is to make you more like Jesus.

3. At the end of the story is the redemption of the body

According to verses 22-24, ‘we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved.’

In this life, suffering is inevitable.  But it is not everlasting.  Our bodies, along with the present world they inhabit, frail, aging, aching.  But they will be renewed.  Our resurrection bodies will never grow old, never suffer disease, never let us down.  Just as our Saviour was raised in his body, so shall we be raised.

In the light of this, the apostle – who knew so much suffering himself – was able to refer to the worst that we can experience as ‘this light and momentary affliction’ (2 Corinthians 4:17).

‘You may not see it in this life, but not a single second of your suffering is wasted. Not one thing happens in your life that the goodness of our God will not one day transform into glory.  In a world consumed by pain, corruption, and futility, this is hope you can cling to for life.’

Based on this post by J.D. Greear.

8:31 What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

What…shall we say in response to this? – that is, in response to what Paul has been saying in chapters 5-8, and, in particular, to the conviction of v28 and the affirmations of 29-30.

In vv31-39 there are five questions, which are not really questions at all, but affirmations. ‘Paul’s five questions are not arbitrary. They are all about the kind of God we believe in. Together they affirm that absolutely nothing can frustrate God’s purpose (since he is for us), or quench his generosity (since he has not spared his Son), or accuse or condemn his elect (since he has justified them through Christ), or sunder us from his love (since he has revealed it in Christ).’ (Stott)

There is wonderful reassurance in vv31-34 for the person who feels that he isn’t good enough to be right with God; who feels that salvation is for anyone else, but not for him.

Q1 If God is for us, who can be against us? – The latter clause, on its own, invites ‘a barrage of replies’ (Stott). Hardship is against us; the persecuting world is against us; indwelling sin is against us; principalities and powers are against us; death is against us; sometimes, it seems, the whole universe is against us.

But the solution is found in the first clause – ‘If God is for us.’ But who can say, ‘God is for us’? One of the most terrible utterances of God in the OT is, ‘I am against you’, spoken not only against the idolatrous nations, Na 2:13; 3:5; Jer 50:31; 51:25; Eze 26:3; 28:22; 29:3; 30:22; 35:1ff; but also against rebellious Israel, Lev 26:17; Eze 5:8; 13:8-9; 14:8-9; 15:7; 21:3; 34:10. But God is ‘for’ those he has foreknown, predestined, called, justified and glorified.

8:32 Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?

Q2 If Paul had simply asked, ‘Will not God give us all things?’, he might have received an uncertain answer. How can we be sure that all our wants will be supplied? But Paul provides a powerful argument from greater to lesser (cf Rom 5:9-10). If God his Son to save us, he will surely give us all things necessary to complete our salvation. ‘In giving his Son he gave everything. The cross is the guarantee of the continuing, unfailing generosity of God’ (Stott). Cf Mt 6:33.

God did not spare his own Son – an echo of Gen 22:12 (Cranfield, Moo, Longenecker, etc.).  The difference between Abraham’s offering of Isaac and the Father’s offering of his Son is that Issac was spared, Jesus was not.

Most modern scholars (including Fitzmyer and Longenecker) deny, however, that the offering of Isaac carried any overtones of substitutionary atonement, or that Isaac is to be regarded as a Messianic figure.

Barrett agrees that there is an allusion here to to Gen 22, and possibly to Isa 53.  But, allusion or no allusion, the meaning is clear: ‘in the Cross God displays such love (Rom 5:8) that we cannot doubt his willingness to give us any good thing.’

Moo says that in referring to Jesus as God’s ‘own’ Son, Paul is distinguishing him from the ‘adopted’ sons of Rom 8:14-16.

God gave him up – to death.  More literally: ‘handed him over’ (Moo)

Moo comments that this ‘reminds us of the initiative of God in the crucifixion’.  So also Osborne: ‘God did not just allow the cross but deliberately “delivered” his Son to the cross for our sake.’

For similar expressions see Rom 4:25, “who was given up on account of our trespasses”. Christ’s death is also seen as a self-giving, Gal 1:4 “who gave himself up for our sins;” and Gal 2:20 “gave himself up for me”.

‘Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy; – but the Father, for love!’ (Octavius Winslow).

‘It is a glorious truth that Jesus Christ did not die by accident, or because he could not live any longer, or because man was too strong for the Almighty, but that God spared him not, and all according to his wise and eternal counsel, v. 32.’ (Plumer)

‘The twentieth century has seen many chilling manifestations of evil. But the cross of Jesus Christ is a greater scandal to faith than Belsen or Auschwitz or Aberfan because here is the Omegapoint of the demonic and the irrational: God’s own Son is being dealt with by God in the way that sin deserved.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

‘From the oblation Christ made of himself to God for our sins, we infer the inflexible severity of divine Justice, which could be no other way diverted from us, and appeased, but by the blood of Christ. If Christ had not presented himself to God for us, Justice would not have spared us:And if he do appear before God as our surety, it will not spare him; Rom 8:32 “He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up to death for us all.” If forbearance might have been expected from any, surely it might from God, “who is very pitiful, and full of tender mercy,” Jas 5:11. yet God in this case spared not. If one might have expected sparing mercy and abatement from any, surely Christ might most of all expect it from his own Father; yet you hear, God spared not his own Son. Sparing mercy is the lowest degree of mercy, yet it was denied to Christ:he abated him not a minute of the time appointed for his suffering, nor one degree of wrath he was to bear; nay, though in the garden Christ fell upon the ground, and sweat clodders of blood, and in that unparalleled agony scrued up his spirit to the highest intention, in that pitiful cry, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass;” and though he brake out upon the cross, in that heart-rending complaint, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” yet no abatement; Justice will not bend in the least; but having to do with him on this account, resolves upon satisfaction from his blood.’ (Flavel)

“He will give us all things”

I asked for strength that I might stand straight and tall;
he made me weak that I might lean on him.
I asked for health that I might do great things;
he gave me grace that I might do good things.
I asked for riches that I might be comfortable;
he gave me poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the respect of men;
he gave me weakness that I might feel a need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
he gave me life that I might enjoy all things.
I received nothing I had ever asked for;
he gave me all that I had ever needed.

(Adapted from Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 274)

‘Though he was his own Son, yet, being made sin for us, it pleased the Lord to bruise him.’ (MHC)

‘Thus the Father delivered up His Son to humiliation, involving an assumption of our nature and our transgressions. He delivered Him up to sorrows unparalleled, and even to death itself,—to death, not merely involving the dissolution of the soul and body, but the weight of the sins of men, and the wrath of God against sin. God thus delivered up His Son, that He might rescue us from that misery which He might have justly inflicted upon us, and might take us, who were children of wrath, into His heavenly presence, and there rejoice over us for ever, as the trophies of His redeeming love.’ (Haldane)

For us all echoes Isa 53:6 – ‘The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’

‘In accordance with the immediately preceding context, the apostle must have been thinking of all those who love God (verse 28), who were foreknown and foreordained (verse 29), were (or were going to be) called, justified, and glorified (verse 30).’

Barnes comments: ‘The argument for the security of all Christians is here derived from the fact, that God had shown them equal love in giving his Son for them. It was not merely for the apostles; not only for the rich, and the great; but for the most humble and obscure of the flock of Christ. For them he endured as severe pangs, and expressed as much love, as for the rich and the great that shall be redeemed. The most humble and obscure believer may derive consolation from the fact that Christ died for him, and that God has expressed the highest love for him which we can conceive to be possible.’

How will he not also…graciously give us all things? – ‘How can he fail to lavish every other gift upon us?’ (REB) All things is probably not to be limited to spiritual blessings, but to all things, without exception, that God understands that we need. Cf. v28.

‘And what are these “all things”? They are the things we need to do his will, glorify his name, and make it safely into his joyful presence.’ (Piper, Coronavirus and Christ)

Longenecker specifies ‘these things’ as, especially:-

1. “Peace (i.e., ‘completeness’) with God,” with “reconciliation” being a distinctive feature of the Christian experience (5:1–11).
2. The “grace” and “obedience” of “the one man, Jesus Christ” as countering the “sin” and “disobedience” of “the first man, Adam,” thereby providing “righteousness” as a divine gift that is available to all who respond positively to God and what he has effected through Christ (5:12–21).
3. Being “in Christ” and “in the Spirit,” with “Christ by his Spirit” being also in the believer (8:1–13).
4. Being “adopted by God” into his family, with all the rights and privileges of naturally born sons and daughters (8:14–17).
5. “Life in the Spirit,” that is, life lived under the control of God’s Spirit—with this new relationship bringing about a number of important implications for a Christian’s understanding and living (8:18–30).

Calvin: ‘Paul…draws his argument from the greater to the less – since he had nothing dearer, more precious, or more excellent than his Son, he will nothing which he foresees will be profitable to us.’

‘”He spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all; how shall he not with him freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:32) How is it imaginable that God should withhold, after this, spirituals or temporals, from his people? How shall he not call them effectually, justify them freely, sanctify them thoroughly, and glorify them eternally? How shall he not clothe them, feed them, protect and deliver them? Surely if he would not spare his own Son one stroke, one tear, one groan, one sigh, one circumstance of misery, it can never be imagined that ever he should, after this, deny or withhold from his people, for whose sakes all this was suffered, any mercies, any comforts, any privilege, spiritual or temporal, which is good for them.’ (John Flavel)

8:33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 8:34 Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us.

Q3. Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? – The imagery is of a court of law. Once, again, the question standing on its own would invite a number of despairing replies: our conscience accuses us; our enemies accuse us; the devil accuses us. No charge, however, can be brought against the Christian because the great Judge has already acquitted him. And who can question the divine sentence? All accusations, therefore, are deflected like arrows off a shield. Cf. Isa 50:8-9; Zec 3:1-3.

‘The world censures the people of God as proud and hypocritical, and the troublers of Israel; but though men censure and condemn the godly, yet God has justified them, and as he has now justified them, so at the day of judgement he will openly justify them, and pronounce them righteous before men and angels. God is so just and holy a judge, that having once justified his people he will never condemn them. Pilate justified Christ, saying, ‘I find no fault in him;’ yet after this he condemned him; but God having publicly justified his saints, he will never condemn them; for “whom he justified, them he also glorified.”‘ (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity)

It is God who justifies – All three persons of the Trinity have a hand in our justification; Rom 8:33; Acts 13:39; 1 Cor 6:11 –

‘God the Father justifies, as he pronounces us righteous; God the Son justifies, as he imputes his righteousness to us; and God the Holy Ghost justifies, as he clears up our justification, and seals us up to the day of redemption.’ (Watson)

Think of your justification!

‘What are all thy sorrows, thy cares, and thy losses, viewed in the light of this happy condition? Tell me of thy poverty and many privations, I will reply, ‘Yes; but then think of thy justification!’ Tell me of thy disappointed hopes and blasted schemes; ‘Yes, but thy justification!’ Tell me of thy change of circumstances, and the painful contrast of the present with the past; ‘Yes, but thy justification!’ Tell me of thy friends departed, and thy now desolate condition; ‘Yes, but thy justification!’ Thus, to every tale of want or woe, when that tale comes from the lips of a believer in Christ, I will bring up that one sweet, soothing melody for the troubled spirit – justification by faith.’

(John Angell James)

A finished work

‘We rest our souls on a finished work if we rest them on the work of Jesus Christ, the Lord.  We need not fear that either sin or Satan or law shall condemn us at the last day.  We may lean back on the thought that we have a Savior who has done all, paid all, accomplished all, performed all that is necessary for our salvation.  When we look at our own works, we may well be ashamed of their imperfection.  But, when we look at the finished work of Christ, we may feel peace.  We are complete in Him, if we believe.’

(J.C. Ryle)

Q4. Who is he that condemns? – Many people and things would seek to condemn us: our own hearts, 1 Jn 3:20f; our enemies, and Satan himself.

But all these condemnations have no force. Why? – because the counsel for the defence is present and active:

(a) Christ died for us – died for the sins for which we would otherwise have been justly condemned.

(b) he was raised to life – the Father thus demonstrating his acceptance of the sacrifice of his Son.

(c) he is at the right hand of God (cf Ps 2:1 10:1) – resting from his finished work, occupying the place of highest honour, exercising his power to save. (d) he is interceding for us (Isa 53:12) – as our heavenly advocate and high priest.

At the right hand of God – signifying ‘not a palatial location but a regal function.’ (J.I Packer)

As a prime minister might stand beside the king, so Christ stands at the right hand of God, having been appointed by the Father to be Judge of the world. Far from condemning us, he is the advocate in our defence, standing at God’s right hand to present our case.

This expression (Ac 7:55,56; Eph 1:20; Heb 1:3; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Pet 3:22) ‘expresses the final step in the Lord’s exaltation. Care must be taken in the use of the expression. It is a figure to express the association of Christ with God in glory and power. It must not be employed as by Luther to denote the relation of the body of Christ to space, neither must it be limited to the Divine nature of the Logos reinstated in the conditions laid aside in incarnation. Christ thus glorified is the God-man, the anthropic person, Divine and human.’ (ISBE)

Christ alone has the power to condemn or acquit, and I know that because of his death, resurrection, ascension and intercession, I remain ‘not guilty’ in God’s eyes. Christ Jesus (a) died for the sins which otherwise would rightly have condemned us; (b) was raised to life by the Father, who thus demonstrated his acceptance of his Son’s sacrifice; (c) is at the right hand of God, occupying the place of highest honour and authority; (d) is also interceding for us, continually applying the benefits of his death.

Interceding for us – cf. Isa 53:12; Lk 23:34; Jn 14:16; 1 Jn 2:1; Heb 7:25. This role is ascribed the Christ and not, be it noted, to saints, angels, or the Virgin Mary.

‘Romans 8:34 appears in Paul’s well-known summary of the work of God in Christ on behalf of believers. (Rom 8:31-39) In Rom 8:34 he lists the climactic events of Christ’s life: “Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, and who intercedes for us.” This contributes to Paul’s confidence in the unfailing love which God holds for believers. (Rom 8:35) Christ is their advocate who continuously prays on their behalf before God. Considerable debate has always surrounded this issue. (1) Are we to think that Christ’s intercession is a continuation of his work of redemption? Must he eternally plead the efficacy of his cross before God in order to make salvation a reality for believers? Luther was persuaded that this was the case, and for him, Christ’s intercession stood alongside his death and resurrection as integral works of salvation. (2) On the other hand, some have emphasized the completed work of Christ. Since the mystery of salvation is concluded at the cross, redemption is accomplished without further mediatorial ministry of the ascended Christ. This second view has been particularly popular in the Reformed Tradition (see esp. K. Barth and the commentaries by L. Morris and C. E. B. Cranfield). Its premise is that if we posit more requirements for salvation than the death of Jesus, this undercuts the conclusive power of the cross. Most have argued that Christ’s presence alone with the Father in heaven achieves this intercession. This latter view seems true to Paul in terms of the finality of the cross, though some have suggested that it lacks a pastoral quality implicit in Paul’s statement. Jesus Christ is ultimately and eternally sympathetic with the condition of believers and forever validates their security in God’s plan. Thus Rom 8:35 quickly emphasizes that nothing can separate from the love of God because God’s compassion for his own is eternally displayed in heaven in Christ.’ (DPL)

An ascension text

‘Stroke follows stroke, each driving home the last…It is not only a living Christ, but a Christ enthroned, a Christ in power. It is not only a Christ in power, but a Christ of ever-active sympathy, constantly (if we may so speak) at the Father’s ear, and constantly pouring in intercessions for his struggling people on earth. A great text for the value and significance of the Ascension.’

(Sanday & Headlam)

8:35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Q5. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? – we have been climbing a ladder, and now reach the top step. With the previous questions, possible answers have been implied, not stated. But here seven sample responses are listed. They are not slight. But Paul knew what he was talking about, since he had experienced them all.

These words were written to a church which would soon suffer the most bitter persecution. Suffering does not indicate that God has stopped loving us; rather, is should drive us closer to him.

8:36 As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 8:37 No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us!

This quote from Ps 44:22 shows that suffering has always been part and parcel of the lives of the children of God.

‘Don’t miss these painful and amazing words: “We are being killed all the day long.” That means that the “all things” God will give to us, because he did not spare his Son, includes bringing us safely through death. Or as he says in Romans 8:38–39, “I am sure that neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”’ (Piper, Coronavirus and Christ)

‘No!’ is the answer which rings out in defiance of all the sufferings which seem to threaten our communion with God.

More than conquerorsupernikwmen – because we not only bear them with fortitude, but triumph over them.

A number of things can be said about this:-

  • It is not some special breed of ‘super-Christians’ who are ‘more than conquerors’; all Christians are thus described.  They are those who have been predestined, called, justified, and glorified, Rom 8:29f.
  • The evidence of their being ‘more than conquerors’ is that they persevere despite all opposition and setback.  The pleasures of the world will not seduce them, nor the sufferings of this present life defeat them, Rom 8:35-39.
  • That from which we cannot be finally separated is the ‘love of Christ’, Rom 8:39.  We rest not merely in a final acquittal, but in a lasting relationship with our Saviour.
  • Our final perseverance is guaranteed by the sovereign purpose of God in Christ.  For if God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:32).  (After D.A. Carson, For the Love of God, Vol 1, p256)

Him who loved us – Paul is probably still thinking of the cross here. Suffering and death were not able to triumph over him; nor will they be able to overcome those who belong to him.

8:38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 8:39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Here are ten items which might be supposed to separate us from God’s love.

Death nor life – the crisis of death and the calamities of life.

Angels nor demons – all the cosmic, superhuman agencies.

Powers – The unseen forces of evil, such as the Devil and his demons, Eph 6:12.

Nor anything else in all creation – Paul rounds off his inventory with this catch-all expression, just in case anything has been left out.

]Let me no more my comfort draw From my frail hold of thee; In this alone rejoice with awe – thy mighty grasp of me.

…will be able to separate us… – Christians have often had to face the most terrible hardships. But Paul states that it is impossible to be separated from God’s love in Christ. The proof of this is the death of Christ, and the outcome is total, fearless assurance.

How we need this assurance, this stability, today! Christians are not guaranteed immunity against temptation, tribulation, or tragedy. But they are promised victory over these things.

The love of God – our security rests, not in our love for God, which is frail and fickle, but in God’s love for us, which is strong and steadfast.