Today I want to talk about Romans chapter 8. Romans 8 is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible, great because it is full of blessings for the believer, blessings that we are only beginning to appreciate as we walk with the lord. This blessed chapter follows chapter 7, one of the most troubling chapters for Christians because Romans 7 documents the great struggle we have with our sinful ways.
Romans 8 is a beautiful description of the victorious Christian life. It is bounded front and back by two amazing promises from God for those in Christ. All that self-condemnation in Romans 7 is replaced with this grand assurance, no condemnation. Then, at the end of the chapter, from verse 31 to the end he adds a second great promise, no separation from God’s love in Christ. The very best thing that could ever happen to me has happened and will continue to happen forever!
Today I want to talk about Romans chapter 8. Romans 8 is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible, great because it is full of blessings for the believer, blessings that we are only beginning to appreciate as we walk with the lord. This blessed chapter follows chapter 7, one of the most troubling chapters for Christians because Romans 7 documents the great struggle we have with our sinful ways. We talked about Romans 7 a month ago and I am sure you all remember everything I said, right? Well, maybe not. So, I will refresh your memory.
We know that Romans 7 is about the Christian struggling with sin because of the context, where it occurs in the book. Remember, the book of Romans is like a timeline of the Christian’s salvation story. In Romans 1 through 4 I hear the gospel of how Jesus died to pay for my sins and when I trust in him, I get saved.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.Romans 5:1
In Romans 6, I respond to the call to leave my old life of sin behind and follow Christ in obedience, and so I get baptized. That is what Scott did this morning and what Jenny and Sarah did two weeks ago. But then we get to Romans 7 and we find that there is a war inside us, a battle between the old life of sin and the new life calling us to live righteously. The bad news is that we are often failing badly, so badly that we begin to despair that we will ever succeed in this new life. At least that was the experience of the great apostle Paul. And by the end of it he was self-condemned and beaten down.
“What a wretched man I am!”, Paul says, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”Romans 7:24
The problem was that he was facing a severe power shortage. He knew that he ought to live a holy life, and he desired that holy life, but he lacked the power to say no to sin and yes to righteousness. And it was because he was relying on himself, on his own strength, to accomplish the task. In chapter 7, he refers to himself fifty times, as if he was the answer. Just try harder!
It is then, in his despair, that he cries out to the Lord Jesus for help, and the help comes.
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!Romans 7:25
Immediately, like turning on a light in a dark room, the darkness is dispelled. The truth of the gospel shines. Jesus has provided a perfect salvation for a most imperfect person as me.
Romans 8 is a beautiful description of the victorious Christian life. It is bounded front and back by two amazing promises from God for those in Christ. Romans 8:1 says this:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.Romans 8:1
No condemnation, no final judgment for my sin, no eternal death, no hell. The worst thing that could ever happen to me will never happen! Why? Because Jesus took the condemnation on himself when he died on the cross.
For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man.Romans 8:3
All that self-condemnation in Romans 7 is replaced with this grand assurance, no condemnation. Then, at the end of the chapter, from verse 31 to the end he adds a second great promise, no separation from God’s love in Christ. The very best thing that could ever happen to me has happened and will continue to happen forever!
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:38–39
God is for us and will never be against us. He loves us, and will, along with Christ, graciously give us all things. It is like being held securely in the two powerful arms of God. No condemnation, no separation.
In the intervening verse between these two great promises, he tells us about the ministry of the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit. From verse 2–30 the Holy Spirit is mentioned 16 times. The Spirit is a gift from God the Father and the Lord Jesus. In John’s gospel, Jesus says to his disciples,
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor(or comforter) to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. He lives with you and will be in you.John 14:16,17
This divine person comes to live in our hearts when we come to faith in Christ. Romans 8 makes it very clear that every believer has the Holy Spirit in them.
And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.Romans 8:9
Jesus and the Holy Spirit move in unison, never one without the other. If you have Jesus, you have the Spirit. You do not have to wait for some second blessing to get the Spirit. He is in you now and will be there forever.
Three Gifts of the Spirit
Romans 8 describes how the Spirit gives us three wonderful gifts to help us in our journey of faith: the gift of powerful government, the gift of promised glory, and the gift of prayerful groaning. Let’s look at them one by one.
The gift of powerful government
. . . through Christ Jesus the law of the spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.Romans 8:2
Back in Romans 7 we were introduced to the law of sin. We likened the law of sin to the law of gravity, a law that holds us down and, like gravity, keeps us from moving in the air above us. Now he introduces a new law, not the law of God, but the law of the Spirit of life. To illustrate, let’s continue with our analogy of the law of gravity.
For hundreds of years mankind tried to fly like the birds, but to no avail, so strong was this law of gravity. They would attach bird like wings to themselves and then jump off cliffs. Didn’t work! Then, only 120 years ago, in 1903, the Wright brothers made their engine powered flying machine and it worked. Mankind entered the age of flight. When a jet goes over my head, I still look up in awe at how tons of metal can soar through the air like that. What is the secret? The law of gravity is still there, but there is another law called the law of aerodynamics in play. Enough powerful thrust forward and enough lift and people can fly. It is not that we abolish the law of gravity, but rather we overcome it by the law of aerodynamics.
In the spiritual realm the law that overcomes the law of sin and death is the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. It is the law that enables us to fly spiritually. This is the freedom that is mentioned in verse 2. True freedom is not the right to do anything you want to do, rather it is the power to do what you ought to do. No longer is there a power shortage when we trust the power of God within us. Such a gift of grace from God!
So, what needs to be governed? Well, every part of us, but the first thing he mentions is the mind. That is where the battle is.
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.Romans 8:5–6
The ability to think is a gift from God, but when this natural power is teamed with my sinful nature, it produces death, not just sometimes, but every time.
The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.Romans 8:7–8
This is a very damning statement. Without dependence on the Spirit, the mind cannot, will not and does not please God. It does not submit. We might think that this applies only to the big sins, like murder or adultery, but any thinking independent of the Spirit’s control and government is displeasing to God.
I offer an example. When Kathy and I and the family returned from the mission field in Africa some years ago, we were busy setting up house, but on an understandably small budget. For a family outing we went to the Toronto home show at the Exhibition grounds. When we came to the hot tub exhibit, the kids went bananas. Such decadent and beautiful machines! And they started to chirp, “Dad, buy a hot tub, buy a hot tub. It’s what we really need.” I must admit I was warm to the idea as well, and don’t get me wrong, hot tubs are not evil things.
But I knew we were on a budget, so I said, “Kids, I will pray about it.” And I did. I prayed and the Lord led me not to buy. Ultimately, we went home from the show without a hot tub and didn’t buy one for several years. But it became a family joke. Whenever there was something like that that was available for us to buy, the kids would say, “Dad, don’t pray about it, because if you pray, we won’t get it!”
So, what is the lesson? Pray or don’t pray? PRAY! Ask the Lord for wisdom. Ask him for guidance. Ask him for strength. Ask him for patience. Ask him for peace. PRAY WITHOUT CEASING. Rely on the Lord for every and all issues of life. Make it a constant habit. Have your mind set on the Spirit. When temptation comes, the first move will be heavenward, “Lord, help me.” This is how we are led by the Spirit. Then your mind will be full of life and peace. This is because,
Whatever is not of faith is sin.Romans 14:23
So, what is our response?
Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.Romans 8:12–14
In other words, there is choice here. God wants our minds to be subject to the Spirit. He is here describing that battle we all face every day as believers. It is here that we must be very clear. Paul is not talking about death in the sense of having lost our salvation. That is a ‘given’ and never to be lost. He is talking about the value of our souls as we live out our lives. Days lived in the sinful nature without obedience to Christ and dependence on him are days lost which are never to be recovered, days when I am living in death. But days spent living for Jesus by his powerful Spirit are days saved for eternity.
The promise (the hope) of glory
What is hope? Hope is faith directed towards the future. The Spirit gives me hope of final victory in my struggle against sin. There are two promises for the future. The first promise is resurrection of the body, found in verses 10 and 11.
But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.Romans 8:10–11
My sin nature is tied to my body and so this body still lives under the curse of death. That is why, when I get baptized, I lay my body into the water. It is a picture of death, burial and resurrection with Christ. As long as this body lives in its present state, it provides a home base for the sin nature. That is why in Romans 7:24 Paul cries out in despair, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” One day soon, we who know the Lord will experience that glorious day of resurrection where we receive a new body, one free of the contamination of sin and we will never sin again. Finally free!
But not only is there the hope of being finally free, there is the hope of being gloriously free. This is the hope of sonship. Let’s read verse 14 again.
Those who ae led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.Romans 8:14
Those days when I am being led by the Spirit and growing in faith and obedience are days when I display the character of sonship. So, what is sonship? It certainly is not about gender but rather it refers to a state of increasing moral maturity that applies to all believers, male or female.
You are all the sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.Galatians 3:26–28
And it doesn’t mean the same as being a child of God. We all come into the family of God by new birth. We are born into the family as babies in Christ. And so, adoption is not just another description of entrance into God’s family. If that is the case, what is it?
In some translations the word ‘sonship’ is called adoption. The Greek word is a combination of two words which mean the placing of an adult. In Roman culture, especially amongst the ruling class, if a man saw that his own children were not up to the task of ruling his estate, he would choose a man of character and skill and adopt him to do the job. Julius Caesar, the first Caesar, chose a distant relative, Octavian, and he became the next Caesar. We know him as Augustus Caesar.
So, the idea is that the Spirit gives us hope for a high and holy calling for the future. Yes, we are children of God now, because we have been brought into the family of God through new birth. That is how we all start in the Christian life. The Spirit teaches to cry ‘Abba Father’ (Abba means Daddy), and assures us that we are in the family. (verse 9,16) But then there is more. We are told that we are heirs, heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ. Day by day, as we grow in grace we are evidencing more of the work of the Spirit in our lives, more moral maturity.
The full expression of this adoption as sons is in the future. This glorious future is assured to every believer as we see in verses 28–30.
For those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified. Those he justified, he also glorified.Romans 8:29–30
The idea here is that God has a set plan for all who come to Jesus. He predetermines their destiny. They will end up looking like Jesus. They will end up being morally mature. He will make sure that happens by giving us the Holy Spirit. It is his job to make us holy and he is always working to that end. One day the fully mature sons of God will be revealed for all the angels of God to see. We will be glorious, each and every one of us. We will all shine like the stars in the night sky. This will fully happen when we are raised to life in our resurrection bodies at Christ’s return.
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For is this hope were we saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has. But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.Romans 8:23
When I started medical school way back when, I was the only one from Windsor in my class. I was the country hick. I looked around at my classmates and thought, “I must be the dumbest one here.” I was struggling in the histology lab with looking at slides under the microscope. Harry, the lab instructor noticed my distress and came to my side. He saw my name tag which read Jim Rennie and then said, “What can do to help, Dr. Rennie?”
What did he just say to me? He called me Dr. Rennie. And I’m only a first year student! Can you imagine how that made me feel? It gave me hope, hope that I was going to make it. That is what the Holy Spirit does for me in the spiritual realm. H gives me, dear child of God, the assurance of glory. I will be ruling and reigning with Christ. I will share in his glory. I will reflect his glorious character for eternity. This is your future, dear child of God.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
One of the most difficult weeks of my life was when a measles epidemic hit our mission hospital in Zambia. Measles is a deadly disease in the Zambian population because they have not yet developed herd immunity. We had tried to vaccinate as many children as possible but many villages deep in the bush were not immunized. Streams of children came to hospital gravely sick with measles pneumonia.
We did all we could for these babies and toddlers but one after the other they died. I remember the groanings of the mothers and fathers as they looked on in anguish while we attended their little loved ones who were fighting for breath. No doubt the Christians among them not only groaned but prayed in earnest for God to be merciful. We all felt their pain.
The Holy Spirit is a person. He feels our pain because he is totally sympathetic with us. That is why he is called a comforter. In fact, all three persons of the godhead are called comforter. We need comfort because there is often pain as we live out our lives in this world. The Lord has not promised us a pain free, trouble free, sickness free life as some have imagined. It is quite the opposite. Look at verse 18. It speaks of ‘our present sufferings’. We don’t know why some Christians endure more pain and suffering than others, but they do.
By the way, this is not the same pain as we find in Romans 7, because in Romans 7 the pain is accompanied by despair, and when we are living in Romans 8 we have no despair. We suffer in hope that the suffering is redemptive and will soon be over. If we are willing to trust our Lord and patiently endure even when we are weak, this finds favour with our Lord. It may be a sickness; it may be a betrayal or a rejection. It may be the painful loss of a loved one. It may be a direct consequence of standing up for our faith. When we say, “I will bear it for you”, then our trials become redemptive.
If we suffer with Christ, we share in his glory. But remember, after suffering for Christ, there is glory. 8:18Romans 8:17–18
While all who are believers will exhibit the same kind of glory in heaven, not all will have the same degree of glory. Just like the stars vary in intensity of light, I think that those who are called to bear suffering for Christ will shine the brightest in heaven.
And all the while the Spirit who knows us so intimately and loves us so dearly is groaning and prayerfully interceding for us with the Father. We groan, all creation groans as if in sympathy with the saints of God, and the Spirit groans until that day when all tears will be wiped away.
So there it is, the ministry of the Spirit, a powerful government, a promise of glory, a prayerful groaning and all within those two great promises, no condemnation and no separation. Living the Christian life is not pain free, but it is the most rewarding life one could ever live, and after that, there is glory.