Study On The Book Of Romans If you would like to comment on one of the lessons simply click on the title of the lesson and you will be take to the lesson page where you will find a comment section at the bottom.
*The material for these studies is from Jon Courson’s Commentary by Thomas Nelson Inc., R. Kent Hughes Preaching the Word series by Crossway, and Warren W. Wiersbe’s Commentary by Chariot Victor Publishing, and from James Montgomery Boice’s Expositional Commentary published by Baker Books, and from The Message of Romans, John R. W. Stott published by Inter Varsity Press, unless otherwise noted.
This study is about foreknowledge and predestination. This is the first place in Romans at which Paul introduces these two terms. God’s foreknowledge of a chosen people and His predestination of them t be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ lies behind everything Paul has been teaching in the seven and a half chapters. But Paul has not discussed these ideas until he has first presented our desperate condition due to sin and God’s remedy for sin through faith in Jesus Christ.
So, where do we start in discussing this doctrine? We have already made a start in the last study, showing that foreknowledge and predestination are two of five great doctrines described as a golden chain by which God reaches down from heaven to elect and save a people for Himself. Paul wrote in verse 28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Since the word “called” also occurs again as one of the five doctrines in this chain, we are alerted to the fact that the chain of divine actions merely explains how God achieves this purpose. In other words, it’s not foreknowledge or predestination that is primary but the purpose of God itself. What is that purpose? Clearly, it is that from the mass of fallen and perishing humanity God might save a company of people who will be made like Jesus. Or we could put it this way: God loves Jesus so much that He is determined to have many more people like Him. Not that we become divine, of course. But rather that we might become like Him in His many communicable attributes: things like love, joy, peace, holiness, wisdom, patience, grace, kindness, goodness, compassion, faithfulness, mercy, and other qualities. In order to do that, God selects, predestines, calls, justifies, and glorifies this people. That is, verses 29 and 30 tell how God accomplishes the purpose of verse 28.
In the flow of these verses, we are told that God: (1) has a purpose to save certain people, and (2) does something to those people as a first step in a five-step process of saving them. As soon as we begin to look at the word foreknowledge carefully, we discover that it is used in a very specific way in the Bible. And for good reasons! When we use the word “foreknowledge” in relation to ourselves, to refer to knowing beforehand, the word has meaning to us. We can anticipate what a person we know well might do, for instance. But that sense of the word is meaningless in relation to God. Because God is not in time, as we are, He does not know things beforehand. God simply knows. He knows all things. That is what omniscience means. But even if we think in time categories, which is all we can do as creatures locked in time, we have to say that the only reason God can even be said to foreknow things is because He predetermines them. No, the word foreknowledge has quite a different meaning in relation to God than it does in relation to us. It means that God “sets His special love upon” a person or “elects” a person to salvation.
This is a characteristic use of the word in the Old Testament (Amos 3:2). We see the same idea when we examine the use of “foreknowledge: (or “foreknew”) in the New Testament, where the references occur seven times. Two of these occurrences are of man’s foreknowledge, five are of God’s foreknowledge, and they are the determining passages (Acts 2:23, Rom. 11:2, 1Pet. 1:2 & 20, Rom. 8:29). The fifth New Testament reference to God’s foreknowledge is in our text, and the meaning is the same as the other verses. Romans 8:29 means that God set His special or saving love upon a select group of people in order that His good purpose, namely to create a people to be like His Son Jesus Christ, might be achieved.
The second of our five golden terms is predestination, the one that bothers most people, though what bothers them is more accurately included in the word foreknowledge. That is, that God should set His love upon a special people and save them while overlooking others. Predestination means that God has determined the specific destiny of those He has previously decided should be saved and be made like Jesus.
This is a good place to look at the objections people have to this doctrine, whether described by the word foreknowledge or predestination. (1) If you believe in predestination, you make salvation arbitrary and God a tyrant. In other words, does predestination make God a tyrant, crushing justice by some willy-nilly saving of some and damning of others? Anyone who has studied the Bible (or even just the Book of Romans) knows how wrong this is. What will happen if we seek only an even-handed justice from God? The answer is that we will all be lost. In order to be saved, we need mercy and not justice, which is what predestination, is all about. It is God showing mercy to whom He will show mercy (Rom. 9:18). As far as being arbitrary is concerned, we must admit that from our perspective we cannot see why God chooses some and not others or even some and not all, and therefore His foreknowledge and predestination do seem arbitrary. But that is only because we are not God and cannot see as God sees.
(2) If you believe in predestination, you must deny human freedom. This is a common objection, but it is based on a sad misunderstanding of the freedom we are supposed to have as fallen human beings. What does the Bible teach about our freedom in spiritual matters? It teaches that we are not free to choose God (Rom. 3”10-11, Rom. 8:7). Predestination does not take away freedom. It restores it. It’s because God foreknows me and predestines me to be conformed to the image of His Son that I am delivered from sin’s bondage and set free to serve Him.
(3) If you believe in predestination, you will destroy the motivation for evangelism. For why should we labor to save those whom God has determined to save anyway? Suppose God does not elect to salvation and thus, because He has determined to save some, does not commit Himself to create new life within them that will break down their hard hearts and enable them to respond in faith to the message of the cross when it is made known. If God doesn’t commit Himself to doing that, what hope do you and I as evangelists have of doing it? If the hearts of men and women are as wicked and incapable of belief as the Bible teaches they are, how can you and I ever hope to present the gospel savingly to anyone? To put it in even more frightening terms, if salvation depends upon our efforts to evangelize rather than the foreknowledge and predestination of God, what if I do something wrong? What if I give a wrong answer to a question or do something that turns others away from Christ? In that case, either by my error or because of my sin, I will be responsible for their eternal damnation. I don’t see how that can encourage evangelism, on the contrary, it will make us afraid to do or say anything.
But look at the other way. If God has elected some to salvation in order that Jesus might be glorified and that many might come to Him in faith and be conformed to His image, then I can be both relaxed and bold in my witness. I can know that God will save those He has determined to save and will even use my witness, however feeble or imprecise it might be, if this is the means He has chosen. Far from destroying evangelism, predestination actually makes evangelism possible. It makes it an expectant and joyful exercise.
Romans 8:29 Reflection Questions:
How does it make you feel knowing that God’s special love elected you to salvation?
What type of responsibility do you feel to God knowing that He created you to be like His Son Jesus Christ?
How do you feel about evangelizing (sharing the gospel)? Do you feel it to be a joyful exercise?
In our previous study of Romans 8:28, it tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” That is, God has a great and good purpose for all Christians and He is working in all the many detailed circumstances of their lives to achieve it. Wonderful as this verse is, the verses that follow are even more wonderful, for they tell how God accomplishes this purpose and remind us that it is God Himself who accomplishes it. The last reminder is the basis for what is commonly known as “eternal security” or “the perseverance of the saints.”
In spiritual matters we are all unbelievers. We are weak in faith. But we are taught in these great verses from Romans that salvation does not depend upon our faith, however necessary faith may be, but on the purposes of God. And it is the same regarding love. The apostle has just said that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. But lest we somehow imagine that the strength of our love is the determining factor in salvation, he reminds us that our place in this good flow of events is not grounded in our love for God but on the fact that He has fixed His love upon us. How has God loved us? These verses introduce us to five great doctrines: (1) foreknowledge, (2) predestination, (3) effectual calling, (4) justification, and (5) glorification. These five doctrines are so closely connected that they have rightly and accurately been described as “a golden chain of five links.”
The most important of these five terms is “foreknowledge,” but surprisingly (or not surprisingly, since our ways are not God’s ways nor His thoughts our thoughts), it’s the most misunderstood. It’s composed of two separate words: “fore,” which means beforehand, and “knowledge.” So it has been taken to mean that, since God knows all things, God knows beforehand who will believe on Him and who will not, as a result of which He has predestined to salvation those whom He foresees will believe on Him. In other words, what He foreknows or foresees is their faith. Foreknowledge is such an important idea that we are going to come back to it again in the next study and carefully examine the way it is actually used in the Bible.
But even here we can see that such an explanation can never do justice to this passage. For one thing, the verse does not say that God foreknew what certain of His creatures would do. It is not talking about human actions at all. On the contrary, it is speaking entirely of God and of what God does. Each of these five terms is like that: God foreknew, God predestined, God called, God justified, God glorified. Besides, the object of the divine foreknowledge is not the actions of certain people but the people themselves. In this sense it can only mean that God has fixed a special attention upon them or loved them savingly. Foreknowledge means that salvation has its origin in the mind or eternal counsels of God, not in man. It focuses our attention on the distinguishing love of God, according to which some persons are elected to be conformed to the character of Jesus Christ, which is what Paul has already been saying.
Some may think that foreknowledge and predestination (the term that follows) mean the same thing, however the terms are not synonymous. Predestination carries us a step further. Predestination is also composed of two separate words: “pre,” meaning beforehand, and “destiny” or “destination.” It means to determine a person’s destiny beforehand, and this is the sense in which it differs from foreknowledge. As we have seen, foreknowledge means to fix one’s love upon or elect. It “does not inform us of the destination to which those thus chosen are appointed. This is what predestination supplies. It tells us that, having fixed His distinguishing love upon us, God next appointed us “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” He does this, as the next terms show, by calling, justifying, and glorifying those thus chosen.
The next step in this golden chain of five links is effectual calling. It’s important to use the adjective “effectual” at this point because there are two different kinds of calling referred to in the Bible, and it is easy to get confused about them. One kind of calling is external, general, and universal. It is an open invitation to all persons to repent of sin, turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved (see Matt. 11:28, John 7:37). The problem with this type of call is that, left to themselves, no men or women ever respond positively. They hear the call, but they turn away, preferring their own ways to God. The other kind of call is internal, specific, and effectual. That is, it not only issues the invitation, it also provides the ability or willingness to respond positively. It is God’s drawing to Himself or bringing to spiritual life the one who without that call would remain spiritually dead and far from Him.
The next step in God’s great chain of saving actions is justification. We have discussed justification in earlier studies and so we need not discuss it in detail here. Briefly, it is the judicial act by which God declares sinful men and women to be in a right standing before Him, not on the basis of their own merit, for they have none, but on the basis of what Jesus Christ has done for them by dying in their place on the cross. Jesus bore their punishment, taking the penalty of their sins upon Himself. Those sins having been punished, God then imputes the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ to their account.
What does need to be discussed here is the relationship of the effectual call to justification. Or to put it in the form of a question: Why does calling come between foreknowledge and predestination, on the one hand, and justification and glorification, on the other? There are two reasons. First, calling is the point at which the things determined beforehand in the mind and counsel of God pass over into time. Remember there is no time frame in God. What God simply decrees in eternity becomes actual in time. We are creatures in time. So it is by God’s specific calling of us to faith in time that we are saved. Second, Justification, which comes after calling in this list of divine actions, is always connected with faith or belief, and it is through God’s call of the individual that faith is brought into being. God’s call creates or quickens faith. It is the call of God that brings forth spiritual life, of which faith is the first true evidence or proof.
Glorification is also something we studied earlier. It means being made like Jesus Christ, which is what Paul said earlier. But here is something we must notice. When Paul mentions glorification, he refers to it in the past tense (“glorified”) rather than in the future (“will glorify”) or future passive tense (“will be glorified”). Why is this? The only possible reason is that he is thinking of this final step in our salvation as being so certain that it is possible to refer to is as having already happened. He does this deliberately to assure us that this is exactly what will happen. Paul wrote, “I always pray with joy…being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:4, 6); which is shorthand for what we are discovering in Romans. God began the “good work” by foreknowledge, predestination, calling, and justification. And because God never goes back on anything He has said or changes His mind, we can know that He will carry it on until the day we will be like Jesus Christ, being glorified.
I want to remind you again that these are all things God has done. They are important things, the things that matter. Without them, not one of us would be saved. Or if we were “saved,” not one of us would continue in that salvation. Do we have to believe? Of course, we do. Paul has already spoken of the nature and necessity of faith in chapters 3 and 4. But even our faith is of God or, as we should probably better say, the result of His working in us. When we are first saved we think naturally that we have had a great deal to do with it, perhaps because of wrong or shallow teaching, but more likely only because we know more about our own thoughts and feelings than we do about God. But the longer one is Christian, the further one moves from any feeling that we are responsible for our salvation or even any part of it, and the closer we come to the conviction that it is all of God.
It is a good thing it is of God, too! Because if it were accomplished by us, we could just as easily un-accomplish it – and no doubt would. If God is the author, salvation is something that is done wisely, well, and forever. God has set His love on us, predestined us to become like Jesus Christ, called us to faith and repentance, justified us, yes, and has even glorified us, so certain of completion is His plan. May He alone be praised!
Romans 8:29-30 Reflection Questions:
What does Paul mean by the phrase God “knew” His people in advance (v. 29)?
How can we explain this in a way that is consistent with God’s love, mercy, and justice?
What difference does it make in your life to know that you have been chosen by God?
In our last study in Romans 8:26 Paul said; “We don’t know what we ought to pray for.” Now he writes, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” We don’t know! We know! The first knowing concerns the details of what God is doing in our lives; we do not understand these things. The second knowing concerns the fact of God’s great plan itself. Paul tells us that we do know this; we know that God has a plan. He teaches this quite simply. If God has “called [us] according to His purpose,” He must have both a purpose and a place for us in it. Moreover, we know that everything will obviously work together for our good in the achievement of that purpose. This is tremendous! Because of these truths this verse has been one of the most comforting statements in the entire Word of God for most Christians.
“We know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love Him.” But do we really know that? How is this possible when the world is filled with hatred and evil, and when good people, as well as evil people, suffer daily? When times are good – when we have steady jobs, when our families are doing well, when no loved one is sick, and there have been no recent deaths – in times like these, well, it’s easy to say, “We know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love Him.” But what about the other times; what about times like what’s going on in today’s world? In such times we need to be sure we know what we are professing and are not merely mouthing pious nothings.
This great text has some built-in qualifications, and we need to begin with them, and we’ll call them “boundaries.” (1) For Christians only. In this verse Paul is talking about Christians. So to read on to the closely linked verses that follow, it is saying that everything works for the good of those whom God has predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, those He predestined and called and justified and glorified. This is not a promise that all things work together for the good of all people. (2) To be like Jesus Christ. The second boundary to our text comes from the question: What is meant by “good”? What does “good” mean if it doesn’t mean rich or healthy or successful or admired or happy? The answer is in the next verse: “For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son,” in other words, to be made like Jesus Christ. (3) A good use of bad things. That leads to a third boundary for this text, and it comes from another question: Are the things used in our lives by God for this good end necessary good in themselves or only in their effect? The answer is the latter. God brings good out of the evil, and the good, in our conformity to the character of Jesus Christ. (4) Knowing rather than feeling. The fourth and final boundary for the meaning of this text comes in answer to still another question: What is our relationship to what God is doing in these circumstances? The answer Paul gives is that “we know.” He doesn’t say that we “feel” all things to be good. Most of the time we do not perceive the good things God is doing or how He might be bringing good out of the evil. The text simply says, “we know” it.
After having established these boundaries, we can turn joyfully to the one part of the text that has absolutely no boundaries whatever. It is the term “all things.” This tells us that all things that have ever happened to us or can possibly happen to us are so ordered and controlled by God that the end result is inevitably and utterly for our good. Even the worst things are used to make us like Jesus Christ. And what’s more, when we begin to look at this closely, we see that they are used not only for our good but for the good of other people as well.
In the Christian life there are times the events of our lives move forward quickly and we sense that we are making fast progress in being made like Jesus Christ. At other times events move slowly, and we seem to be going slowly ourselves or even slipping backward. Sometimes we seem to be going up and down with no forward motion at all. At such times we say that our emotions are on a roller coaster or that we can’t seem to get on track. Our lives have petty annoyances that spoil our good humor. Sometimes we are overwhelmed with harsh blows, and we say we just can’t go on. It may be true; perhaps we can’t really go on, at least until we are able to pause and catch our spiritual breath again. But God has designed this plan for our lives. That is the point. It has been formed “according to His purpose,” which is what our text is about, and it is because we know this, not because we feel it or see it, that we can eventually go on.
So, what can possibly come into our lives that can defeat God’s plan? There are many things that can defeat human planning, but not God’s plans. He is the sovereign God and His will is forever being done. Therefore, you and I can go on in confidence, even when we are most perplexed or cast down.
What can happen to me that can defeat God’s purpose? Can some thorn in the flesh? Something to prick or pain me? Paul had his thorn in the flesh, but God’s grace was sufficient for him and it was in his weakness that God was glorified. Sickness? Job had boils, but God glorified Himself in Job’s sickness and even matured Job. Death? How can death hurt me? “To be away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord,” says Paul (2 Cor. 5:8). Therefore, my physical death will only consummate the plan of God for me. And as far as those who remain behind are concerned, well, God will work His will for good for them also. This is because “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.
Romans 8:28 Reflection Questions:
Explain how God turned bad things in the lives of Joseph, Job and Peter, not only for their good but for the good of other people as well in their lives.
What are the various dimensions of the purpose to which we are called in verses 28-30?
Which of these dimensions strikes you most and why?
I don’t know of any subject that has caused more perplexity for more Christians than the subject of prayer, unless perhaps it is the matter of knowing God’s will, and of course, the two are related. They are related in these verses we are studying as well as in other places. But we have help in this are area, the help of the Holy Spirit, which is great indeed. It is what Romans 8:26 and 27 are about.
These verses begin with the phrase “in the same way.” This is a connecting phrase which links the apostles teaching about prayer in verses 26-27 to his teaching about prayer in verses 15-17. The earlier passage taught that the Holy Spirit enables us to pray, assuring us that we truly are God’s children and encouraging us to cry out “Abba, Father.” That teaching was followed by an extensive digression dealing with the sufferings endured in this life before we come into God’s presence. But then, having dealt with sufferings, Paul returns once more to the Spirit’s work in enabling us to pray, adding that the Spirit also “helps us in our weakness” (v. 26). In other words, Paul returns to the subject of assurance, which is the chapter’s main theme. The point of these two verses is that the Holy Spirit’s help in prayer is another way we can know that we are God’s children and that nothing will ever separate us from His love.
Romans 8:26 and 27 imply or explicitly teach many lessons about prayer. They constitute something of a prayer primer for Christians. (1) We are supposed to pray. Regardless of the problems we may have with prayer – and we are reminded that the saints have all had problems with prayer at times – we are nevertheless supposed to pray. In fact the Word of God commands us to pray. We are told to “pray continually” (1 Thess. 4:17). Anything God tells us to do is for our good, and we are poorer if we fail to do it. (2) Do not expect prayer to be easy. Nothing with the Christian life is easy, and prayer is no exception. You don’t have to feel good about it, although you will in most cases. You don’t even have to see results. What’s important is that you keep on, keeping on. (3) Realize what you are doing when you pray. We are addressing ourselves to the great sovereign God of the universe and are presenting our adoration, confessions, thanksgivings and supplications to Him. He is hearing these prayers and responding to them consistently, perfectly, and wisely out of His own inexhaustible abundance. Does prayer get God to change His mind? No, it doesn’t. Does prayer change things? Yes, because God has ordained that it should be this way (see Matt. 7:7-8 and James 4:2). (4) Be encouraged by these verses. It’s true we don’t know what to pray for, but the Holy Spirit does, and the Holy Spirit has been given to us by God to assist precisely in this area, as well as in other ways. With this help we will make progress (something to always remember is; without Him we can’t, without us He won’t).
We now come to the second subject that causes Christians to become perplexed, and that is “in accordance to God’s will” (v. 27). The first and very obvious thing this verse does is to reinforce the idea of God’s sovereign or hidden will – hidden, that is, from us. The existence of this sovereign or hidden will is evident from verse 27 and its context in two ways. First, the verse is talking about the role of the Holy Spirit in praying with us in situations in which we don’t know what to pray for. It tells us that the Holy Spirit does know what to pray for and that the Spirit’s prayers, quite obviously and naturally, are according to God’s will. This teaches that there is a divine will and that it is hidden in these instances. The second way the existence of God’s sovereign or hidden will is evident is in the fact that the phrase we are studying has a parallel in verse 28. So what the Holy Spirit is praying for, among others, are “things” in which God is working for the good of those who love Him. These “things” are the events of life, which God controls for our good but which are unknown to us, at least until they happen.
We are free to make decisions with what light and wisdom we possess. Nevertheless, we can know that God does have a perfect will for us, that the Holy Spirit is praying for us in accordance with that will, and that this will of God for us will be done – because God has decreed it and because the Holy Spirit is praying for us in this area. This should be an encouragement to everyone.
Here are six points to remember regarding the subject of knowing God’s will. (1) There is a perfect will of God for all people and all events and therefore there is also a perfect will of God for each individual believer. This is of great importance for us to know that God has a plan for our lives and is directing us in it, particularly when we don’t know what it is. It means that we can trust Him and go forward confidently, even when we seem to be walking in the dark, as we often are. (2) The most important parts of the plan of God for our individual lives are revealed in general but morally comprehensive terms in the Bible. Romans 8 contains some expressions of this plan, namely that we might be delivered from God’s judgment upon us for our sin and from sin’s power and instead be made increasingly like Jesus Christ (vv. 29-30). (3) As concerns the parts of God’s will for our individual lives that are not revealed in the Bible, it is impossible for us to know them by any amount of merely human seeking. This does not mean that God cannot reveal these parts of His will to us or does not in some cases. But it does mean that the only way we can know these hidden parts of God’s will is if He reveals them to us and that, if they are not revealed to us in general moral categories in the Bible, their discovery is beyond our ability. We will not find the answer to our questions about the will of God in these areas by reading signs, following hunches, bargaining with God, or by any other similar folly.
(4) We need to realize that for the most part we do not need to know the will of God in hidden areas, because the Holy Spirit knows it and is praying for us in these areas in accordance with God’s will. This is what our text is chiefly saying, and it should be a great encouragement to us. (5) Since we do not generally know God’s will for our lives in areas not covered by the Bible’s moral directives (and do not need to know it), we must learn to make the widest decisions possible, knowing that God has given us freedom to do so. Planning is proper, though we must recognize that God can alter circumstances and thus force a re-direction of our plans. Whatever happens, we need to be submissive to the will of God in advance and as it unfolds before us. (6) In spite of these careful remarks regarding the believer’s normative guidance, God is not in a box, and as a result He can (and from time to time does) reveal His will to individuals in special ways. There are too many Christians who rightly attest to such leading to deny it. However, we cannot demand it. We also recognize that much of what passes for special guidance is self-deception and must therefore be on guard against it. But we should also recognize that it can occur and be careful not to question it too rigorously in others – and if God guides us in this way, we must be quick to respond.
Romans 8:26-27 Reflection Questions:
Verse 27 calls God a “Searcher of Hearts.” In the context of 8:26-30, what does this powerful but mysterious name imply?
What is He searching for?
In verses 18-27 we see that the world is in pain, groaning in the birth pangs of new creation. We see too that the church shares this pain, groaning in our longing for our own redeemed bodies, suffering in the tension between the “already” of possessing the first fruits of the Spirit and the “not yet” of our present moral existence. The church is not to be separated from the pain of the world; now we discover that God Himself does not stand apart from the pain both of the world and the church, but comes to dwell in the middle of it in the person and power of the Spirit. How does the knowledge that this kind of intercession is happening in us between God and the Spirit affect your perspective on life and the world?
In the passage of Romans that begins with verse 22 and (in the following paragraph) ends with verse 27, we find a word that is repeated three times and yet is found nowhere else in this letter. It is the Greek word that is translated “groan” (v. 23), “groans” (v. 26), and “groaning” (v. 22). The interesting thing is that it is applied to three different entities in these verses: to creation, to ourselves, and to the Holy Spirit. Two of these references are hard to understand. Since Paul is thinking of the inanimate creation in verse 22, it’s hard to imagine how mere matter or even plants or animals can be conceived of as groaning. It is also difficult to envision the Holy Spirit’s groans, though for different reasons. The one part of these verses that is not difficult to understand is our groaning, since groaning is a part of daily life with which almost anyone can easily identify. Still we need to see two things about this human groaning if we are to understand the verses to which we now come.
First, the groaning mentioned in verse 23 is that of believers in Jesus Christ and not that of all people generally. It means Christians grieve over the presence of sin in their lives, which unbelievers do not. In fact Christians grieve for sin increasingly as they grow in Christ. Christians also groan as the result of persecutions for the sake of their life and witness, and this is also different from what non-Christians experience. Second, the groaning of Christians is not mere grief over the things mentioned. It is expectant grief, that is, grief that looks forward to a time when all that is causing pain will be removed and salvation will be consummated. Christian groaning is a joyful grief that gives birth to a sure hope and patient endurance.
The passage itself shows this, since hope and patience are the notes on which the verses end. Paul uses the powerful image of childbirth that shows how the groans of Christians are to be interpreted (vv. 22 and 23). This is an important analogy, because it points beyond the cause of grief to its joyful consummation. The pains of childbirth are real pains, severe ones. But they are not endless; they last only for a time. Nor are they hopeless. On the contrary, they are filled with joyful expectation, since under normal circumstances they climax in the birth of a child. Paul is saying that our griefs as Christians are like that. We groan, but we do so in expectation of a safe delivery.
These verses also do something else that is important. They give substance to the Christian hope. That is, they begin to flesh out the main features of the consummation for which we are waiting. In verse 23 this is done by means of three word pictures or images: (1) “the firstfruits of the Spirit,” (2) “our adoption as sons,” and (3) “the redemption of our bodies. “ We will study them in reverse order.
What does Paul mean by the redemption of our bodies? Paul means the resurrection, the chief element in the hope of Christians. This is an important idea to bring in at this point for at least two reasons. First, Paul has been talking about our sufferings, and it is chiefly in our bodies that we experience them. Second, we are our bodies, as well as our spirits and souls. Therefore, salvation must include our bodies if it is to be complete. It is no wonder that we groan in these bodies. They are the seat of physical weakness, on the one hand, and of our sinful natures, on the other. But we groan in hope, knowing that these weak and sinful bodies are going to be transformed into bodies that are strong, sinless, and glorious, like the resurrection body of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The second image that Paul offers of our sure hope of future glory is “adoption,” speaking of “our adoption as sons.” This is the same word that we have already seen in verse 15, where it was translated “sonship.” But that creates a problem. In verse 15 our adoption was treated as something that has already taken place. But in verse 23 adoption is treated as something still in the future, something for which “we wait eagerly.” How can adoption be both past and future at the same time? The answer, of course, is that the word is used in two senses. In one sense we have already received our adoption, since we have been brought into God’s family. Nothing is ever going to change that family relationship. Yet in a second sense we still wait for our adoption, because we do not yet enjoy all its privileges. You will recall that earlier Paul had spoken of our being “heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings” (v. 17). We are sharing in the sufferings now, but the day is coming when we shall enter into the full rights of our inheritance in glory.
The third picture of the consummation to which believers in Christ are moving is a harvest, suggested by the words “firstfruits of the Spirit.” This does not refer to the fruit of the Spirit, as Paul does in Galatians 5:22-23. It refers to the Holy Spirit Himself as the “firstfruits,” which is a harvest image drawn from Jewish life described in Leviticus 23:9-14. In this Old Testament ceremony the firstfruits were something the devout Jewish worshiper gave to God. But in the New Testament Paul usually reverses this and speaks of the firstfruits as what God gives us as an earnest or down payment on the full blessing to come. The full blessing is the harvest, a joyful time for which those who labor are willing to endure great hardship.
At the beginning of this study we discussed the word “groan”, pointing out that it is used of the creation, ourselves, and the Holy Spirit. But groaning is not the only thing Paul says we do. He also says that “we hope” (v, 25) and “we wait” (vv. 23, 25) adding in the later case that we do it both “eagerly” and patiently.”
- We Hope. Hope is one of the very great words of the Christian vocabulary. It is one of the three great virtues listed in 1 Corinthians 13:13. Paul has already written about hope in Romans 5:3-5. What is striking about the Christian attitude of hopefulness is that it is a “sure and certain hope” and not mere wishful thinking. What makes it sure and certain is the content. The specific content is the return of Jesus Christ together with the things we have been mentioning in these verses: the resurrection of the body, the adoption of God’s children, and the gathering of God’s harvest. These things are all promised to us by God. Hence, the Christian hopes in confidence, a confidence grounded not in the strength of one’s emotional outlook but on the sure Word of God, who cannot lie. If God says that these things are coming, it is reasonable and safe for us to hope confidently in them.
- We Wait. More specifically, we wait for them, which is the second verb Paul uses. Verse 23 says, “We wait eagerly.” Verse 25 says, “We wait…patiently.” It is important to take two adverbs together, because biblical “patience” is not passivity. This is an active, though patient waiting. It expresses itself in vigorous service for Christ even while we wait for His appearing. The word eagerly makes us think of the creation waiting “in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed,” which Paul introduced in verse 19, though the Greek words are not the same. In verse 19 Paul pictured creation standing on tiptoe, as it were, looking forward with outstretched neck in eager anticipation of the consummation. It is a grand picture, and it is what we are doing, too. It’s one mark of a true Christian.
Romans 8:22-25 Reflection Questions:
How are the hope and patient waiting in verses 18-25 connected to the mention of suffering in verse 18 and in the previous chapter?
How are the hope and patient waiting in verses 18-25 connected to the mention of suffering in verse 18?
What kind of service are you doing for Christ?
What are the implications for us now as individuals and as a society, knowing that creation itself looks forward to this transformation?
At the end of our previous study we studied the importance of the word “consider” in verse 18. It refers to a rational process by which a thinking person is able to figure something out. What Paul is thinking about is, as we would say, whether the Christian life is worth it. The Christian life is not easy. It involves rigorous self-denial, persecutions, and even some sufferings. Unbelievers, worldly people, seem to have it better. Why should we, too not live only for pleasure? What is to be gained by godliness?
As Paul “considers” this, it becomes perfectly evident to him why the Christian way is the only rational way – for two reasons. The first reason is the contrast between the short duration of our present sufferings and the timelessness of eternity. The second reason why the Christian life is “rational” lies in the contrast between the weight of our sufferings, which is light, and the weight of the glory yet to come. Paul does not deny that the earthly sufferings we experience are grievous. In 1 and 2 Corinthians he lists some of the tribulations he endured, and they were indeed heavy. But he says, weighty as they are, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.” Think it out he says. Put both on a scale. If you do, you will find that our present sufferings are really inconsequential if compared with the glory to come (2 Cor. 4:17).
The two arguments from verse 18 are alone adequate to prove Paul’s point: that the Christian life is eminently worth it. However Paul continues the argument into verse 19 and beyond. In fact verses 18-21 are all part of a long carefully sustained argument. The new element at this point is “the creation.” It’s important to get this reference straight, for with the word “creation” Paul is talking about the physical world of matter, plants, and animals. His argument is that nature is in a presently imperfect state, but that it is longing for the day of liberation. Paul is personifying nature, of course, but he does not mean that inanimate nature has personal feelings that correspond to ours. He means only that nature is not yet all that God has predestined it to be. It is waiting for its true fulfillment. And if nature is waiting, we should be willing to wait in hope, too, knowing that a glorious outcome is certain. This is the third reason why Christianity is worth it.
This view of creation is radically different from the worlds of course. In general the world either deifies the cosmos, virtually worshiping it as an ideal, or it regards the cosmos as gradually evolving towards perfection, accompanied by the human race, which is also so evolving. The Christian perspective, supplied by Scripture, is at this point far more balanced and mature than anything the blind and unbelieving world can devise.
The Christian doctrine of the cosmos has three parts. (1) This is God’s world. Everything in our passage presupposes this, not least the fact that the cosmos is called “creation.” That term presupposes a Creator, which is exactly what the Christian maintains, is the case. Even scientific evidence for the Big Bang alone tells us that. The only rational view of origins is that God made everything. (2) This world is not what it was created to be. The problems with the cosmos are not only those that the human race has inflicted on it, mostly destruction and pollution. The world has also been subjected to troubles as the result of God’s judgment on man, rendered at the time of the fall (Gen. 3:17-18). Nature had not sinned; Adam had. But nature was subjected to a downgrading because of him and thus entered into his judgment. It is this trouble, the result of God’s judgment on sin that Paul is particularly concerned with in Romans. He uses three words to describe it; frustration, bondage, and decay. (3) The world will one day be renewed. In spite of creation’s current frustration, bondage, and decay, the day is coming when the world will be renewed.
In Genesis 3 God came in judgment on Satan and on the woman and the man and the world they had known. But even as He pronounced a judgment upon Satan, God also gave a promise of a deliverer, saying, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15). This was a promise that Jesus would come one day to save all who would believe on Him, but it was also more than that. It was a promise that in Christ God would frustrate Satan, undo his destructive works, and once again bring a redeemed human race into a redeemed creation. The promise was that Paradise will be perfected and regained. Creation is waiting for that day, says Paul. And if it is, can we not wait in hopeful expectation, too? And be faithful children of God?
What Paul is suggesting to you, is a Christian perspective on this life, and that by adopting it, it will rearrange your values and change your approach to suffering and the disappointments of life. If you learn to reason as Paul does, you will experience the following: (1) You will not be surprised when things go wrong in this life. We live in a fallen environment. Your plans will misfire, you will often fail, others will destroy what you have spent long years and much toil to accomplish. This will be true even if you are a Christian and are trying to follow Jesus. But your successes are not what life is all about. What matters is your love for God and your faithfulness. (2)You will not place your ultimate hope in anything human beings can do to improve this world’s conditions. You will not delude yourself into thinking that the salvation of the world’s ills will be brought about by mere human efforts. You will feed the poor, but you will know that Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matt. 26:11a). You will pray for your leaders, but you will know that they are but sinful men and women like yourself and that they will always disappoint you. (3) You will keep your eyes on Jesus. Where else can you look? All others are disappointing, and everything is crumbling about you. Only He is worthy of your trust. He has promised to return in His glory, and we know that when He does return and we see Him in His glory, we will be like Him (1 John 3:2). Moreover, when we are made like Him in His glory, the creation that is also straining forward to that day will become glorious too. No wonder the early Christians prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Romans 8:19-21 Reflection Questions:
In these verses, creation plays a key part in Paul’s words. Describe all the things that creation is experiencing and “doing” in verses 18-25.
What is it about the world that makes you “groan” in frustration, anger or desperation for something to change?
Paul repeats several key terms in verses 18-30, one of which is “groaning.” Who is groaning in these verses and why?
From time to time we will come to thoughts in Scripture that we know we shall never fully understand, at least not until we get to heaven. Glory is one of them. I call it “incomparable,” not only because it resists comparison with anything we know in this life, particularly suffering, which is the contrast found in our text, but because glory is truly beyond our comprehension. At best we only have an intimation of it. And yet, the greatest word for what is in store for God’s people is glory. Our text says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
The first thing the Bible adds to our understanding is that we long for glory because we once enjoyed it. We once enjoyed glory as a race – in Adam. Adam was made “in the image of God” (Gen 1:26-27), which means that man at the beginning had a kind of glory. He was like God, and he may even have been clothed with the splendor of God like a garment. But man today is a disgrace compared to what he once was. He is a fallen being and well described by the biblical name “Ichabod,” meaning “no glory” because “the glory [had] departed from Israel” (1 Sam. 4:21). As far as man is concerned, the glory had departed from his body, his soul, and his spirit.
We enjoyed glory once though, which is why we long for it so much. But it is gone, gone with the wind. What a marvelous thing it is then, when we turn to the Bible, to find that the end of our salvation in Christ is not merely deliverance from sin and evil and their consequences, but glorification. God is restoring to us all that our first parents lost. This is what Paul is beginning to deal with here in Romans, which brings us to our text. But soon as we turn to that text and try to place it in its context, we notice that something greater even than restoration of Adam and Eve’s lost glory is involved. As we read on in Romans 8 we find that we are to have an enjoyment of God and participation in God that surpasses Adam’s.
All this brings us directly to the text. For in Romans 8:18 Paul is comparing the future glory to be enjoyed by God’s people to their present suffering, but saying that the glory far outstrips their suffering. That’s obvious isn’t it? For if the glory we are to enjoy is to exceed even that minimal glory enjoyed by Adam, it is certain that it will exceed the trials we are enduring now.
Finally, if we can appreciate what Paul is saying in this text and get it fixed in our minds, we will find it able to change the way we look at life and the way we live – more than anything else we can imagine. It will provide two things at least: (1) Vision. Focusing on the promise of glory will give us a vision of life in its eternal context, which means that we will begin to see life here as it really is; that is, we need to emerge from the darkness into God’s light. (2) Endurance. Breaking the spell of the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us will give us strength to endure whatever hardships, temptations, persecutions, or physical suffering it pleases God to send us. Suppose there were no glory. Suppose this life really were all there is. If that were the case, I for one would not endure anything, at least nothing I could avoid. But knowing that there is an eternal weight of glory, I will try to do what pleases God and hang on in spite of anything.
Verse 18 has one more word we need to examine; it is the word “consider.” It is the process by which we figure something out. We are dealing with God’s real world, and we are instructed to think this out clearly. Paul writes “I consider that…” meaning that he has thought it through and concluded that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” By using this word he invites us to think it through also. If you are a Christian, I ask, “Isn’t what the apostle says in this verse true? Isn’t the glory to come worth anything you might be asked to face here, however painful or distressing?” If you know that you are part of heaven’s citizenry, you will endure – and say with the hymn writer, “yet how rich is my condition.”
Romans 8:18 Reflection Questions:
What is “the glory that is going to be unveiled for us” depicted in verse 18?
What is it you look towards when you are going through a time of suffering?
When going through suffering do you say “yet how rich is my condition?”
Romans 8:17 introduces us to two important biblical ideas: suffering and glory. The verse begins with the glory, talks about suffering, and ends with glory again. The first statement is that children of God are God’s heirs and co-heirs with Jesus Christ. What a marvelous thing this is, to be an heir of God Himself!
So what does our inheritance consist? What will believers actually possess in heaven? There are a number of things that can be called “lesser items,” and then there is the greatest prize of all. (1) A heavenly home. The first thing that comes to mind here is the promise of a heavenly home that Jesus made to His disciples just before His arrest and crucifixion (John 14:1-3). This is a place prepared especially for all believers, and it is guaranteed by no less an authority than the Lord of glory Himself, Jesus Christ. (2) A heavenly banquet. In several of His parables Jesus spoke of a heavenly banquet to which His own are invited (see Matt. 22:1-14; 25:1-13, Luke 14:15-24; 15:11-32). These stories present our inheritance as joy and secure fellowship. (3) Rule with Christ. Another feature of our inheritance is that we will rule with Jesus in His kingdom. (4) Likeness to Christ. One of the promised blessings is that we will be made like Jesus Himself. John writes about it in his first letter (1 John 3:1-2). It’s hard to imagine a greater inheritance than to be made like the Lord Jesus Christ in all His attributes.
So why would we call those four items “lesser”? It’s because of the amazing and infinitely greater blessing that awaits us as “heirs of God.” Paul speaks of our being “co-heirs with Christ” in verse 17. That is, we inherit whatever we do inherit along with Him. But as soon as we ask, “What does Jesus inherit?” all items mentioned earlier don’t seem to fit. The only thing that can properly be said to be His inheritance is the Father. This is what He had in mind in His great prayer just before His crucifixion (John 17:4-5). Christ’s inheritance is the glory of God, which means the vision or, participation in, and enjoyment of God Himself. This is exactly the flow of thought in Romans 8:17. For having spoken of our being heirs and having reminded us that we must enter into our possession by the gate of suffering, Paul ends us again with glory, reminding us that “we may also share in His [Christ’s] glory,” which is the glory of God.
You may ask yourself; why does Paul drag the subject of suffering in at this point? Paul was a realist, more than that, as an evangelist and a pastor, he knew that the people to whom he was writing were suffering. The early ministers of the gospel began to suffer for the gospel as soon as they began to obey Christ’s Great Commission. In fact if we were to read the New Testament with suffering in mind, you would be startled to discover how extensively it is mentioned. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33b). Most of the New Testament epistles have important discussions about suffering.
Suffering is as common to God’s people today as in New Testament times. We need to understand that. It’s true that most of us do not experience that special kind of suffering we call persecution, though our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world do. But we know suffering. We suffer when we lose a spouse or other family member through death. We groan under pain, trauma, and sickness. We are hurt by prejudice, poverty, or sometimes a lack of rewarding work. The list is endless. Realism and pastoral concern undoubtedly caused the apostle to introduce this subject. Honesty didn’t allow him to talk about our inheritance without at the same time acknowledging that the path to glory involves a cross.
This brings us to the value of suffering according to a right theological framework or life-view. It has several important values, and the first is the chief reason Paul mentions it in Romans: He has been talking of Christians being son and daughters of God; now he speaks of suffering as proof of that relationship, though the suffering may be in any of three different forms, each with a particular purpose. (1) Persecution: Some suffering is in the form of persecution and one value of persecution is that it proves to us that we really are children of God. Jesus taught this many times (Matt. 5:11-12; John 15:18-20). (2) Purification: Not all suffering is in the form of persecution, however. Some of it is from God and is for no other reason than to produce growth and holiness. (3) Training: A third kind of suffering also has value for Christians and can be likened to the suffering endured when a soldier is trained for combat by his commanding officer, or for that matter, the suffering endured in the battle itself.
The second value of suffering is that our witness to Christ is empowered by it. This means that the witness of Christians carries particular weight when it is given under duress, when it is evident to everyone that it would be easier and apparently more rational to back off from one’s witness or even, as Job was advised by his wife, to “curse God and die!” (Job 2:9).
The final thing we need to say about the value of suffering is that it is the ordained path to glory. Paul says this explicitly in verse 17; he also says this in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. There are two basic things to remember about suffering. First, suffering is necessary. Jesus taught that it was necessary for Himself when He said to the Emmaus disciples, “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?” (Luke 24:26).Then He proved that this was necessary by showing it to them in the Scriptures. Jesus taught that suffering is necessary for us when He said, “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20b) and “In the world you shall have tribulation” (John 16:33a).
Second, although suffering is necessary (and has value), suffering is not the end of the story for Christians. Glory is. Since it’s not the end, since suffering is the path to glory, Christianity is a religion of genuine hope and effective consolation. The Christian who needs to worry about suffering is not the one who is suffering, particularly if it is for the sake of Jesus Christ. The person who should worry is the one who is not suffering, since suffering is a proof of our sonship, a means for the spreading the gospel, and the path to glory.
So let’s hang in there! And let’s encourage one another as we run the race and fight the long battles. We need each other, but we have each other. That is what we are given to each other for. Thus by the grace of God, we may actually come to the end of the warfare and be able to say as Paul did to young Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8) May it be so for all God’s people!
Romans 8:17 Reflection Questions:
Paul begins this section (vv. 12-17) by saying that we are in debt, no to the “flesh” but to God. We have to live in a particular way, a way which anticipates the “glory,” the rule over creation, which we will eventually share with the Messiah. How can you live this week in the specific knowledge of being in debt to God?
Sit in silence, giving thanks and praise for being in debt not to sin and death but too God. Then offer short prayers of thanksgiving, giving glory to God for adopting us as His children.
We are continuing to study the section of Romans 8 in which Paul introduces the thought of Christians being members of God’s family. Paul’s development of this idea makes verses 14-17 among the most important in the chapter. It’s important to see how they fit in. Remember that the apostle’s overall theme in Romans 8 is assurance, the doctrine that Christians can know that they truly are Christians and that, because they are, nothing will ever separate them from the love of God. The chapter has not been written to make uncertain of our salvation, but to give assurance of it, and that is where these verses come in. They give multiple and connecting reasons, one in each of the four verses, why the child of God can know that he or she really is a member of God’s family. We looked at the first of these proofs in the previous study. We will look at the fourth in the next study. In this study we will look at proofs two and three, adoption and the witness of the Spirit with our spirits, which belong together.
We begin with verse 15, the chief idea in this verse, which is also a new idea, is “adoption.” Adoption is the procedure by which a person is taken from one family (or no family) and placed in another. In this context, it refers to removing a person from the family of Adam (or Satan) and placing him or her in the family of God. Adoption is related to regeneration, or the new birth, but they are not the same thing. Regeneration has to do with our receiving a new life or new nature. Adoption has to do with our receiving a new status.
In Romans, Paul has been talking about the Christian’s former state – in which, being in Adam, we were enslaved to sin – and he has argued that we have been delivered from that former bondage by the Holy Spirit. Now he adds that this new state, which conveys freedom from bondage, also contains the privileges of sonship. Paul took the idea of adoption from Greek and Roman law, probably for two reasons. First, he is writing to Greeks and Romans (in this case to members of the church at Rome), so adoption, being part of their culture, was something they would all very readily understand. Second, the word was useful to him because it signified being granted the full rights and privileges of sonship in a family to which one does not belong by nature. That is exactly what happens to believers in salvation.
I have spoken of adoption as giving the adopted one a new status. But “new status” may not be the best description of what happens. What is really involved is a set of new relationships – new relationships to other people, both believers and unbelievers, but above all a new relationship to God. When we speak of salvation as justification, we are thinking of God as Judge. This is a remote and somewhat grim relationship. When we think of regeneration, we are thinking of God as Creator. That too, is remote. But when we think of adoption, we are thinking of God as our Father, which denotes a far closer relationship. This is why the apostle says that the Spirit of adoption causes us to cry out, “Abba, Father.”
It’s important to recognize that our authority to call God “Father” goes back to Jesus Christ. It goes back to no less important a statement than the opening phrases of the Lord’s Prayer, which begins, “Our Father in heaven…” (Matt. 6:9). Today we take the right to call God “our Father” for granted, but we need to understand how new and startlingly original this must have been for Christ’s contemporaries. No Old Testament Jew ever addressed God directly as “my Father.” What does Abba mean specifically? The Talmud says that when a child is weaned “it learns to say abba and imma” (that is, “daddy” and “mommy”). So this is what abba really means: daddy. To a Jewish mind a prayer addressing God as daddy would not only have been improper, it would have been irreverent to the highest degree. Yet this is what Jesus said in His prayers, and it quite naturally stuck in the minds of the disciples. It was something very unique when Jesus taught His disciples to call God “Daddy.”
Verse 16 gives another reason for knowing we are in God’s family. It says, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” There is no question what the two “spirits” refer to in this verse. The first is the Holy Spirit. The second is our human spirit. Verse 16 concerns the Holy Spirit’s witness, which is separate from our own. But what is this witness? How is it separate from what Paul has already said?
Have you ever had an overwhelming sense of God’s presence? Or have you at some point, perhaps at many points in your life, been aware that God has come upon you in a special way and that there is no doubt whatever that what you are experiencing is from God? You may have been moved to tears. You may have deeply felt some other sign of God’s presence, by which you were certainly moved to a greater and more wonderful love for Him. This has been a very common experience in revivals.
If this idea is foreign to you or it seems dangerous, perhaps you are not ready for it at this point. Let it go. You have plenty to occupy yourself with in what has already been taught in verses 14 and 15. But if you have had any of these intensely spiritual moments, perhaps in your quiet times or while sitting in a church service, thank God for them. Know that they do not replace any other things we have studied. The Bible is primary. But rejoice that God also has a way of making Himself so real to us that we are actually lifted up, even in hard times, and are assured by that spiritual whisper of divine love that we are and always will be God’s children.
Romans 8:15-16 Reflection Questions:
Paul explains that the Christian discovers a new identity, picking up Israel’s vocation in the Old Testament: adoption. How is adoption a wonderful image for the work of God in the lives of believers?
These verses take us into territory where we have been before in Romans. Paul begins to echo the story of the exodus in which the nation of Israel traveled out of slavery in Egypt, was led by God through the wilderness, became tempted to return to Egypt when things got hard but ultimately moved toward the Promised Land. How is the book of Exodus glimpsed in verses 12-17?
In verses 12-13 Paul is talking about our obligation to do the right thing as Christian people, and he is implying as Christians, we not only have an obligation to live a holy life, doing the right things, but also the ability to live rightly. In fact, the obligation and the ability are both grounded in the fact that we are Christians. So, what is the proper approach to sanctification (to be set apart)? How are Christians to achieve victory over sin and grow in holiness? Paul gives the one and only adequate answer in these verses.
In some ways the most important word in verses 12 and 13 is the first, the word “therefore.” It points to what the apostle has just said. Paul is arguing that Christians “have an obligation” to live according to the Holy Spirit, rather than according to the sinful nature. And the reason for this, which he has just stated, is that the Holy Spirit has joined them to Jesus Christ so that: (1) they have been delivered from the wrath of God against them for their sin and been brought into an entirely new realm, the sphere of God’s rule in Christ; (2) they have been given a new nature, being made alive to spiritual things to which they were previously dead; and (3) they have been assured of an entirely new destiny in which not only will they live with God forever, but even their physical bodies will be resurrected. These are things God has done (or will do) for us. We have not done them for ourselves; indeed, we could not have. But, says Paul, because God has done them for us, “we have an obligation” to live like God has lived. We must – it is imperative – live for Him.
Everything that we have seen in Romans 8 up to this point has been a general description of the Christian: his status, present experience, character, and future expectation. Now for the first time, Paul draws a specific conclusion, saying that the work of God for us and in us presents us with a serious obligation. It is to live for God and not according to our sinful natures.
Again, what Paul is saying here in verses 12-13 is that if you live like a non-Christian, dominated by your sinful nature rather than living according to the Holy Spirit, you will perish like a non-Christian – because you are a non-Christian. “If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die.” On the other hand, if you really are a Christian, you will not live according to the sinful nature. Instead you will acknowledge what you actually are in Jesus Christ and live accordingly.
We have seen that as we work our way through Romans 8, Paul isn’t teaching anything new here but instead reinforcing what he already stated. The general theme is assurance of salvation, but that doctrine was laid out in chapter 5, and chapters 6 and 7 were a digression to answer several important questions growing out of chapter 5, after which the apostle picked up where he left off earlier. But now we find something new when we come to Romans 8:14. This verse tells us that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God,” and here the idea that we are “sons of God” appears in Romans for the first time. Verse 14 is one of those amazing verses, found often in the Bible, which is literally loaded with important teachings. We will study five of them.
The first point is a negative one: Not everyone is a member of God’s family. When Paul writes of “those who are led by the Spirit of God,” he is distinguishing between those who are led by the Spirit and those who are not led by the Spirit, which means that only a portion of humanity are God’s spiritual children. The clearest statement of this important truth is from the mouth of Jesus Christ in John 8:31-47. In those words Jesus made clear that there are two families and two fatherhoods, and that only those who love and serve God are God’s children.
This leads to the second important teaching of this verse. In fact, it is the main one: All Christians are members of God’s family. This involves a change that is radical, supernatural, and far-reaching. To become a child of God means that the individual has experienced the most radical or profound change possible. This is because, before a person becomes a child of God, he or she is not a member of God’s family but is a member of the devil’s family. It means to be delivered from sin and its judgment, to be growing in holiness, and to possess eternal life. The change is radical as passing from a state of slavery to freedom or from death to life. This change is not only radical; it’s supernatural too, which means that it is done for us from above by God. The point that it is far-reaching will be developed more as we proceed through this section, but it is important to say here that the end of this spiritual rebirth is not only deliverance from sin’s judgment – or, as many in our day seem to think, happiness now – but glorification.
So what is the practical result of this important change that has happened to us? What does being a Christian mean in one’s daily life? Here is where verse 14 provides us a third important doctrine: To be a Christian means to be led by God’s Spirit. Because our change of status has been accomplished by the Holy Spirit, who lives within every genuine Christian, being a Christian also means that we will be led by that same Spirit. In other words, it means that we will be growing in holiness increasingly. This is the way verse 14 is tied to verse 13.
The fourth important teaching in this verse tells us how we can know we are in God’s family. We are in God’s family if the Spirit of God is leading us in our daily lives. This is another way of saying that those who are Christians will necessarily live accordingly. They are on the path of discipleship. Therefore, although they may fall while walking along that path, they also inevitably get up again and go forward. They grow in holiness.
The big question still remains: How does the Holy Spirit lead us? The place to start is by recognizing that the Holy Spirit works within us or, as we might say, “internally.” Everything in the passage indicates this. So what does the Holy Spirit do internally in Christians to lead them? Let’s review three things: (1) He renews our minds. This first area in which the Holy Spirit works is the intellect, and He does this by what Paul will later call “the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12). The person who discovers, tests, and approves what God’s pleasing and perfect will is obviously is being led by God, is the mind’s renewal. How, then, are our minds to be renewed? There is only one way. It is by our reading and being taught by the Spirit from the Bible. (2) He stirs the heart. Figuratively, the heart is the seat of the emotions, and the Holy Spirit works upon it by stirring or quickening the heart to love God. Ask yourself: Do you try to please God? Do you want to spend time with Him through studying the Bible and praying? Do you seek His favor? Are you concerned for His glory? (3) He directs our wills. Just as the Spirit leads us by renewing our minds and stirring our hearts or affections, so also He leads us by redirecting and strengthening our wills. Paul speaks of this in Philippians 2:12-13. God gives us a singleness of purpose – to do His will. It is the way God works. Has your will been redirected in that way? When you look deep inside, do you find that you really want to serve God and act accordingly to His good purpose? God does not force you to be godly against your will. He changes your will by the new birth so that what you despised before you now love, and what you were indifferent to before you now find desirable.
There is one more important teaching in this potent verse, and it comes from the fact that the words we are dealing with are plural: “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Therefore: Those led by the Spirit of God are our true brothers and sisters. We are part of the same divine family. There are many differences between believers within the church of Jesus Christ. They have led to divisions in the church, for not all divisions are doctrinal. This should not be, for the text teaches that what makes other believers our brothers or sisters in Christ is not what denomination or movement they belong to, but whether or not they are being led by God’s Spirit. Anyone for whom that is true is our brother or sister in Christ, and we should recognize it and be willing to work with that person to fulfill God’s purposes.
Romans 8:12-14 Reflection Questions:
One of the most terrible things about debt is that it dominates your mind. Whatever else you might be going to think of, or plan or hope for, the fact that you’re in debt determines the way you see the world. So, why does Paul so dramatically begin by saying that we have an obligation or are in debt?
What are the privileges of being “led by the Spirit”?
How has the Holy Spirit spoken to you through this study so far?