And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
God chose (foreknew) unbelieving individuals and eternally decreed (predestined) that they would be adopted as God’s children. He not only eternally decreed the salvation of these unbelieving individuals, he also drew them to Christ by irresistible grace through new birth (called), after he gave them faith through regeneration he forgave their sins (justified) and will certainly, without any qualifications, raise them from the dead and give them eternal life (glorified).
As we jump into these encouraging verses it is always helpful to take a look at the context. The second part of Romans chapter 8 discusses the believers hope for the eventual resurrection of his body at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This is the concluding section in a long summary of the main aspects of the Christian life. In chapters 1-3 (roughly) Paul discusses the corrupt and fallen nature of Man and their need for salvation. In Chapters 4 and 5 he shows that the forgiveness of sin and right-standing with God comes through Jesus Christ and is received by faith. Then in chapters 6 through the first half of 8 he discusses how the believer is freed from the controlling power of sin through identification with Christ by the indwelling of Christ’s Spirit. We will begin our detailed discussion in Romans 8 verse 1.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
It cannot be emphasized enough that the book of Romans as a whole, and the 8th chapter in particular is written to believers. It is not written to the world, but to the Church. God is not writing to certain individuals, but to all those who have come to faith in Christ and have already become members of his Body. Whatever warnings or promises are presented in this chapter, they are given to the people of God, not unbelievers. It is crucial that we understand this from the beginning.
Paul begins by clarifying the two themes he is discussing in the first half of the chapter. By our identification with Christ and our union with him through the Holy Spirit two great problems have been solved for believers. The first problem is condemnation. Because of the work of Jesus Christ we have been cleansed from the guilt of sin. He identified with us in our brokenness, and now by trusting in him we are identified with his righteousness standing before God. The second enemy that is destroyed in Christ is the power of sin. By the Holy Spirit’s indwelling we are now infused with the power of Christ to overcome the bondage of sin. The Holy Spirit takes the holiness of Christ and shares it with the believer, changing us from “glory to glory” (2 Pet. 1:3-4, 2 Cor. 3:18).
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
This is a great summary of the hope that Paul will now turn his attention to in the rest of chapter 8. The Christian hope is not merely for our spirits to “go to heaven after we die,” but for our physical bodies to be raised from the dead when Jesus returns from heaven. God didn’t just come to save our souls; he came to redeem every part of our nature. Paul tells us it is the Spirit of God dwelling in us that gives us reason to hope. It was the Holy Spirit that raised Christ from the dead and he will also be the one to raise us up.
It is important to see Paul’s logic here because this is the logic of the rest of the chapter. Our identification with Christ by faith and our union with him through the Holy Spirit is the ground for any future hope. Our present position and experience in Christ gives us confidence that we will ultimately experience the redemption of our bodies and freedom from the presence of sin. We have been presently freed from the guilt and power of sin, but until we are freed from the presence of sin our salvation is not yet complete (Rom. 8:23-25).
By our faith in Christ God counts us righteous, and the gift of the Holy Spirit is the evidence of that privileged status. That is to say that because God counts us righteous in Christ we can be sure that we will one day experience complete vindication even as Christ was vindicated when God raised him from the dead and seated at God’s right hand. By giving us the Holy Spirit, which unites us with the risen and glorified Christ, God has given us evidence of our right-standing with him. Since we are presently in right-standing with God, and we know this by the Spirit which he has poured out into our hearts, then we can be assured by the same Spirit that we will one day be united with Christ in his physical resurrection as well. We know we will one day be “raised up” and “seated” at God’s right hand, because IN CHRIST we have already been “raised up” and “seated” at God’s right hand (Eph. 2:6).
“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Paul continues to encourage the Christians in Rome that the presence of God’s Spirit in their lives is an assurance that their bodies will be raised up at the Second Coming of Christ. But he has not yet finished with the topic of sanctification (i.e. growing in holiness, experiencing a transformation of character) that he began in chapter 6. He tells us that not only is the Spirit’s presence a reason for hope, it is also a reason for active obedience to God. He tells us that since God gave us the gift of his Spirit through faith in the cleansing blood of Jesus, we are now “debtors” to submit our lives to the Holy Spirit. To whom much is given, much is required! Since God has given us the Spirit “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,” we are obligated to walk out that righteous standard (Rom. 8:3).
The transformation of our character will not happen automatically or irresistibly. We must be sanctified in the same way we were justified. We received the forgiving grace of God through faith. And as believers we must continue to receive the empowering grace of God through that same faith. The enabling power of the Holy Spirit to overcome sin’s dominion in our lives must be applied by submission (i.e. living faith) to that same Spirit. One who believes in Jesus Christ cannot claim to be a “child of God” unless he is “led by the Spirit of God” (vs. 14).
Being transformed into the character of Jesus is an active process. We can only become like Christ through the power of God, but his power must be received through faith. We cannot do what God does, namely changing our hearts and renewing our minds from day to day. But God will not do what he has decided we must do, that is actively submit to the sanctifying grace of the Spirit through a living faith. Sanctification is not automatic. Though it is done by the power of God, it is done in cooperation with the faith and submission of man. We have been unified with Christ through his Spirit because of our identification with Christ through faith. And we must continue to identify ourselves with Christ by walking in unity with his Spirit by that same faith. That living faith that saves us shows itself through submission.
We might feel like rejecting this truth and say that God should just do it without requiring any participation from us, but “Who are we to answer back to God?” “God is in the heavens and does as he pleases,” we must surrender to his wisdom. We might cry “foul” and say, “Salvation is by grace alone!” And so it is, but that saving grace is received through faith alone. Again I hear an objection, “But you are saying that human faith ‘helps’ God’s grace!” On the contrary, faith is the only “work” that humans can do that gives God all the glory (Rom. 4:20). It was for this reason that God chose faith, and not the works of the law, as the means of receiving God’s grace. “That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring” (Rom. 4:16).
Besides telling us that sanctification is done only with the participation and cooperation of believers, Paul also lets us know that glorification (i.e. the resurrection and future exaltation of believers with Christ) is not unconditional. In 8:13 he promises believers, “If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” In the same verse he warns believers, “If you live according to the flesh you will die.” In verse 17 he promises the Christians in Rome that they will be physically resurrected with Christ. But he makes sure to let them know that their future exaltation with Christ is conditional on their willingness to endure suffering with him in this present age. As Christ said, it is those that endure to the end that will be saved. Only by losing our lives can we hope to save them.
In these few verses Paul makes it abundantly clear that our future share in Christ’s glory is dependent on participation with the Spirit’s sanctifying work. Our sanctification is dependent on actively submitting to the Spirit’s leading. Reformed Theology will try to make all of this hypothetical by saying that those who were unconditionally chosen by God from all eternity could never do anything other than persevere in holiness. This unbiblical theology tries to tell the saints that they can never “die” if they are truly the elect. With all due respect to our Calvinist brethren, we cannot stand for this! We cannot accept that the plain warnings of the God of truth are a mere formality. God does not waste his words. As our loving Shepherd he warns us, as he did the first couple in the Garden, “You will die.” Satan tried to tell them that God’s warning was hypothetical, and they believed it. We will not make the same mistake as Adam and Eve.
“For I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
In verse 18 Paul begins the next section of his teaching. This is the section where will find the verses known as the “Golden Chain of Salvation.” We will notice that Paul is contrasting the suffering of Christians in this present age with the glory that they will receive at the return of Christ. The Church in their time, and in our time throughout most of the world, suffers opposition from every angle. They could easily feel besieged and overwhelmed. These demonic attacks came to discourage them and seek to overturn their faith. But Paul wants to encourage them that these are “light and momentary” troubles. But the glory that will be revealed at the coming of Christ will last forever.
In verses 19-22 he speaks about the longing of all of creation to be set free from the corruption that came from the sin of our first parents. It is God’s plan, not only to redeem our bodies, but even to renew this fallen physical universe. Paul tells us that in some sense, the creation itself is longing for this redemption.
“And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Paul here turns to the longing in the believer’s heart. We thank God we have been forgiven of our sin, and freed from its power over our lives, but we are still ever troubled by its presence. The corruption of the world and the temptations we face on a daily basis make us long for the complete eradication of sin’s presence. We long to experience the complete redemption of our bodies and the absolute freedom it will bring. We are painfully aware that we are still waiting for the fullness of our salvation.
With the clear knowledge that we have not arrived and that we still see through a glass dimly, we are tempted to feel hopeless. After all, how can we overcome all the forces that assail us? The world, the devil and even the un-renewed aspects of our earthly nature are always seeking to destroy us. We seem to be outmanned and outgunned. But it is here that Paul will reveal to us the reason we have for hope!
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”
It is not just us that longs to be transformed and finally free, but the Spirit of God himself is longing for this very thing. Many see in these verses the charismatic gift of speaking in tongues. But the problem with that is that tongues are spoken out, but the groaning of the Spirit in this passage is “too deep for words.” No, it is not the gift of tongues being spoken of here, but the inward renewing of the Holy Spirit. God is working deep in our hearts bringing change to our mindsets, perspectives and priorities. We cannot search our hearts to their very depths, but God’s Spirit can. And as he digs deep into the thoughts and intents of our hearts he cries out for transformation according to the will of God.
We will soon get to verse 29 which reveals exactly what “the will of God” is for his people, namely that we be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, but here we just want to note that we are not working alone. We are not just “trying” to become better people. We are not just following a set of religious rules that can only clean the outside of the cup; no, we are being transformed from within by God’s powerful Spirit.
“Therefore, my beloved, … work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
These two verses are a great summary of Paul’s teaching about the active nature of sanctification in Romans chapter 8. In verses 12-17 we were told to work out our salvation by actively submitting to the Spirits leading. And now here in verses 26-27 we are realizing more fully why we must “strive for holiness.” Philippians verse 13 does not make verse 12 unnecessary; instead it is given as the reason to “work out” out our salvation. Both here and in Romans 8:12-17 Paul uses the work of God as the thing that obligates believers to strive for holiness. But if we look at it in another way, we can see that not only does it obligate us, but it also encourages us. After all, if God is working transformation “within us,” we have hope that our “working it out” will be effective. The fact that God’s Spirit is “groaning” and “interceding” within us, gives us hope that we are not laboring in vain. We can strive for holiness with all of our energy because we are sure that we are not striving alone!
Let us once more point out that this work of the Spirit is only possible because of our identification with Christ in his right-standing before God. Since we have been counted righteous through our faith in Christ, we have received the Spirit of adoption that bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children (Rom. 8:15-16). The Spirit assures us that we have been acquitted of our past sins by joining us to the risen and vindicated Son of God. This present experience of glory in Christ gives us confidence that we will one day experience all that Christ is presently experiencing at the Father’s right hand.
To be continued….