A Verse by Verse Study of Romans 8:1-19
In the last blog post we studied Romans 7, in which Paul told us that we have been freed from living under the slavery of sin and released from the law so that we may live new lives in the Spirit.
Now in Romans 8, Paul tells us what he means by living in the Spirit: what is the meaning of spiritual life and how we can walk in the Spirit. This is the essence of the Christian life, which requires living in tune with, and in line with, the Holy Spirit.
We Have Been Freed From Power and Judgment of Sin
In verse 1, Paul begins by reminding us that there is no condemnation for those who belong to Jesus. Although Paul told us that we would continue to struggle with sin and find it hard to do what right in our own strength, he wants us to know that we don’t have to live in fear of condemnation.
We can live with peace of mind because our freedom has been bought with Jesus’ own blood. This is such an amazing reality! We are not responsible for our own salvation. We did achieve it and we don’t have to sustain it. We have only to believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection was powerful enough to save us once and for all! Verse 1 tells us that we are free from the guilt of sin.
And verse 2 tells us that we are free from the power of sin. The power of sin is strong and seemingly absolute. It only leads to death. But the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed us from the hold and consequence of sin. Though we may still sin, we are no longer compelled to sin. And we are free from the sentence of death. Death no longer has any lasting power over the believer.
We Have No Power to Save Ourselves
Verse 3 tells us that the law lacked the power to save us. It could guide us and give us a standard to try and live by, but it could not give us any power to overcome our sinful nature. Paul says, ‘God did what the law could not do’. God sent his perfect and sinless Son to live a human life and be the sacrifice for the sins of all mankind.
To defeat sin, Jesus had to identify with those bound by it, by coming in human form. The New King James Version says that Jesus came ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh.’ Paul did not say that Jesus came in sinful flesh, because Jesus was sinless. But he came in the likeness of the flesh of the rest of the world so that he could identify with us entirely.
If you’ve read the blog post on Romans 6, we learned that our flesh is our inner being where our desires, impulses, and passions come from and play out in our mind, our will, and our emotions. Jesus came in human form, including this human flesh. But our flesh has been imprinted and trained by our sinful nature because we have all sinned. So while Jesus experienced the temptation to sin, he resisted and never sinned.
We Can Now Choose Freedom
Verse 4 tells us that justice was fulfilled through Jesus. The law requires complete obedience, and punishment by death for all disobedience. Jesus took our punishment to pay for our disobedience. God now sees us as completely obedient to the law because Jesus’ righteousness stands in our place. Jesus is our substitute. He was treated as a sinner, so that we could be treated as righteous.
Verse 4 also tells us who the people are who can enjoy this benefit: those who turn away from a life of obedience to the flesh and live a life of obedience to the Holy Spirit. God wants the Spirit to rule over our flesh, rather than allow our flesh to rule over the Spirit. When we allow our flesh to continue its rule, we find ourselves in the struggle Paul describes in Romans 7.
Life in the Flesh Versus Life in the Spirit
Paul now contrasts what life in the flesh looks like versus life in the Spirit.
In verse 5, Paul gives us an easy way of determining if we are living in the flesh or in the Spirit, and that is to see where our mindset is. The mind is the battleground where the flesh and Spirit “fight”. I don’t mean that the flesh and the Spirit are battling against each other, but rather we battle in our minds over choosing one over the other.
Have you ever seen old cartoons, like Bugs Bunny, where one of the characters would have a little devil standing on one shoulder and an angel on the other? And the character struggles over which one to listen to? When we have accepted God’s gift of salvation, he gives us the Holy Spirit to live within us to guide us, as well as convict us when we are faced with bad choices.
And the test Paul is giving us here is this: what do we find ourselves thinking about? Are we thinking about sinful things, or are we thinking about things that are good and pleasing to God?
Allowing the Spirit to Lead Us Brings Life & Peace
Verse 6 tells us that letting our flesh, our sinful nature, control our thoughts leads to death, but letting the Spirit control our mind leads to life and peace. Now remember, Paul told us in verse 1 that there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ. But the choice to sin in a fallen world still leads to natural consequences.
We are saved from the ultimate consequence of sin, which is a permanent spiritual death and separation from God, but God does not want us to continue to be led by our fleshly desires. He wants us to experience the fullness of life in the Spirit.
Verses 7-8 tells us that our sinful nature is hostile towards God and to continue obeying it is to rebel against him. We can never please God while obeying our sinful nature.
The Holy Spirit Empowers Us
In verse 9 Paul tells us that we are in fact empowered to live in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers us to do what is right; we are no longer controlled by and compelled to obey our sinful nature. But Paul is clear that this applies only to those who have the Spirit living in them, those who belong to Jesus Christ.
Verse 10-11 reminds us of another amazing benefit of belonging to Christ: even though our bodies die because of sin, the Holy Spirit gives us life because we are made right with God. The NKJV says that the ‘Spirit is life’ and the power of the Holy Spirit living within us gives us life.
We Have an Obligation to Live in the Spirit
In verses 12-17 Paul now talks about how we have an obligation to live in the Spirit.
In verse 12, Paul tells us that we have no obligation to follow our sinful urges and choosing to live by it only brings death. In fact, the opposite is true: we are obligated to live in the Spirit. Our debt is to God who saved us, and we are obligated not to sin, which is what God has saved us from.
Verse 13 tells us that we must put to death the deeds of our sinful nature. What does that mean? It means that we must force our sinful desires to submit to the Spirit and we can only do this through the power of the Spirit. Submission to the Spirit means to obey the Spirit: to obey God’s ways and his commands.
Those Who Are Led by the Spirit are Children of God
Verse 14 tells us that all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. This is not saying that being led by the Spirit is a pre-condition to being a child of God. Instead, we become children of God first (by accepting his gift of salvation) and then the Spirit of God leads us. This statement is more of a test for whether someone truly is a child of God. If they are a child of God, they will be led by the Spirit of God.
Verse 15 describes a major difference between Christianity and many other religions. We do not become fearful slaves when we follow Christ, but rather we are adopted by God as his own children, and we can call him Father. The word Abba is the word for father in Aramaic. Other theistic religions believe in an all-powerful Being, but they do not believe in a personal Being with whom we can have a personal relationship, as Christians do.
The Holy Spirit Gives Us Confidence in Our Faith
In Verse 16, the Holy Spirit himself affirms with our spirit that we are God’s children. We know our status because the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirit that it is so. The Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity that is God himself lives within us, bearing witness that we belong to Christ and are God’s children.
Verse 17 tells us that not only are we God’s children, but we are also his heirs along with Christ. What are we inheriting as God’s heirs? We will get to share in his glory. But it says that if we are to share in his glory, we must also share in his suffering.
Because we are in Christ, we have the privilege of relating to God the Father as Jesus does. But also, because we are in Christ, we are called to share in his suffering. We are not immune from the trials and suffering in this life.
How Can We Share in God’s Glory?
Now you might ask, what exactly is God’s glory and how will we share it? This is a whole separate topic, so we won’t go into too much detail, but to simplify:
God’s glory is his beauty and his perfection. He is perfectly holy and righteous; He is love and demonstrates perfect love. He is all-knowing and wise, and He is all powerful, just to name a few of his attributes. Nothing and no one can come close to his majesty. He is infinite and transcends all things.
Does this verse mean, that we will share in his attributes? No. We can never be like God. But God’s glory is already within us, when we become children of God and have the Holy Spirit living within us. Some confuse this to mean that we become like God, or become gods. This is one of Satan’s oldest lies, going all the way back to the garden of Eden. But instead, it means that we get to experience God’s glory in a union of the closest kind: within our very being.
We Can Look Forward to Perfect Likeness to Christ
In the present, God counts us as perfectly holy and righteous. But when we are resurrected in our new bodies, God will make us perfectly holy and righteous. We will be as God intended us to be when he first created mankind, and we will live for eternity in a new earth without sin, sickness, and death. And we get to spend that eternity with him.
And another way in which we will share in the glory is because of our suffering for Christ. The world may reject, mock, and hate us because of our faith. There are Christians around the world who are experiencing physical suffering and death because of their faith. This is the case in over 50 countries worldwide.
But we will be vindicated when Christ returns. The Bible is full of references that tell us that one day every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11, Romans 14:11, Isaiah 45:23, Revelations 5:13).
This is not saying that everyone will follow Christ. But they will realize, only too late, that he is who he said he was. Those who are persecuted for his sake will be rewarded, and God promises to vindicate his people.
Nothing in this Life Can Compare to Our Future Glory
Verse 18 tells us that none of our present suffering can compare to the glory God will reveal to us later: a new heaven and a new earth; new bodies and a life without sin, sickness, sorrow, and suffering; and an eternity with God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
I wanted to point out the how the NKJV translates this verse. It says, ‘the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us‘. It says it will be revealed in, not to us, as the New Living Translation (NLT) words it. The NKJV better describes our sharing in God’s glory. As opposed to only experiencing his glory, this glory is already in us because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
All of Creation is Longing for Jesus’ Return
Verse 19 tells us that all of creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children are. Here, Paul is telling us that creation itself is eagerly awaiting the future promise of Jesus’ second coming when God reveals who his children are.
As we learned in Romans 1, God abandoned creation to its sinful desires which only enslaved it and led to death. Creation is longing for the final redemption of mankind when God will, in effect, reset all things: create a new heaven and new earth, destroy sin and Satan once and for all, and reign for all eternity in perfect peace.
God Will Reveal Who His Children Are
Verse 19 also tells us that he will reveal who his children are. This is a sobering statement. Not all people who believe in God and try to live righteously, will be called children of God. The Bible is very clear that only those who accept, by faith, that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation will get to be called children of God.
In the next blog post, we will take a closer look at the second half of Romans 8, where Paul talks about how we are to await Jesus’ return and our coming glory. But in the waiting, God does not leave us to suffer without his help!
Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller – An exploration of one of the most difficult questions we face in our lives: Why is there pain and suffering? Timothy Keller not only explains why bad things happen, but how we should respond to them.
Your Identity in Christ by Neil T. Anderson – Nothing is more foundational to your freedom in Christ than understanding your identity as a child of the King. Neil Anderson will help you live empowered by God’s grace as you relinquish the lies you believe about yourself (a pocket book).