A short review is always in order. In chapter 1, after Paul introduces himself, his credentials, and his audience, he begins to speak about the subject that we have now termed in our understanding, RADICAL DEPRAVITY, detailing it in 1:18-32, giving both reasons and examples regarding the terrible and approaching wrath of God.
Chapter 2 becomes a little more specific, addressing a specific target audience – the Jew in their midst – that perhaps had come because of some kind of agreement that Jesus was a man to follow, but still relying on their own Jewish ritual, rite, sign, or even membership of the specific group for their salvation. Paul went on to explain that there is no ritual, rite, sign, place, set of words or actions, or membership of any specific earthly group that has salvific effect. That salvation [soteria] only comes from one source for everyone – from Christ alone, by grace alone through faith alone, as the theologians of the Reformation put it. Romans 3 talks about the straight up gospel, and tells us not only why we need to be saved from that coming wrath, but the hows and the whens and all of that.
Then in Chapter 4. we saw Abraham, the Old Testament example of justification by faith. The chapter discussed in detail that Abraham was not justified by following the Law, which came 430 years after Abraham, or by circumcision, because this covenant was a unilateral covenant that God performed all by Himself before circumcision was ever given as a symbol of the Abrahamic Covenant – and certainly WELL before the Mosaic Covenant. Then in Chapter 5, we saw how that extended to all of us who believe now, and talked about how this “justified” us before God, or “acquitted” us before God of the unrighteousness by our great Substitute that took our place to pay for our sins, having lived a perfect life before God and then knowingly and willingly surrendered it. That’s right, Jesus was no victim – he was an active participant – as was the rest of the Godhead in this plan. However, the chapter briefly spoke about something else that will be the subject of chapter 6 – sanctification – the process whereby God uses the difficulties that He allows (I argue engineers) in our lives to make us more like His son; this will literally take the rest of your life. But we must choose to yield to God and His work in our lives through the Holy Spirit within us, and that is the problem.
Although we have been born again, or redeemed, or saved, or regenerated – whatever term you are comfortable with here – and although we are renewed in our spirit by the indwelling Holy Spirit, we still live in the flesh and in the world system that is controlled by the father of lies. Our own flesh is what we are to consider as dead – but it isn’t easy, because it for now is still alive and it fights us, being still enslaved to sin through death. And that is what the entire subject is in chapter 7, which then breaks into chapter 8, our subject in this study.
I broke the text down as follows:
KV2: Set Free by the Spirit of Christ
1-8: No Penalty in Christ
9-11: New Life in Christ
12-17: Changed Lives reveal Christ
18-25: Our Future is with Christ
KV2: Set Free by the Spirit of Christ
A number of commentators have referred to this particular chapter as “the Gospel of the Holy Spirit,” and it certainly does reveal that He has had a large part in the salvific work of Christ. Although the sacrifice was Christ’s alone to make, when He was raised from the dead by the Father, Jesus sent the Spirit 50 days later on Pentecost, the feast of First Fruits to inhabit all those that would place their faith in Christ. Our Justification was a work of the Triune god, and all three members of the Godhead were involved in that work. This chapter emphasizes the Spirit’s work in it and on our behalf.
Something else that the text this time is very clear on is that Justification and Sanctification go together. If your life has not changed and you are still in constant living in the flesh, which we termed the old self or natural man last time, it very plainly says that you do not belong to Him, and there is nothing anyone can do about that but Him. What complicates this for external observers is that there are ranges of this on both sides – you may be learning to walk in the Spirit and you may be not very good at it. That’s a situation I’m personally very familiar with. Or you may be completely unregenerate and holding your “religious” persona (in the bad sense of religious) together very well while still fooling almost everyone in the gathering.
The very good news here is that you can be set free in Christ and be made one of His brothers or sisters should you desire it, and all you need “do” if it can be called doing anything at all, is “believe” that Jesus died in your place for your sins and repent of your sins (that is change your mind and admit they are sins and offensive to God). If God allows that repentance, He will also save or regenerate you.
I chose verse 2 as a verse that I believe is key to understanding the text as a whole. It reads, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” It reflects the work of the Holy Spirit in both Justification and Sanctification, but also does not remove our choice in the matter. This is important, because as we will remember, our sovereign God will “do no violence to the will of the creature” according to His decree as recorded in the Westminster and 1689 London Baptist confessions. What does all this mean for us? Let’s find out.
1-8: No Penalty in Christ
We have been hearing all along that Christ has saved us, Christ is saving us, like that, but what exactly does that mean? Well, it means for the regenerated sinner, such a one is now a saint, that is one that is set apart for God’s glory. For such a one, all penalty of our past sins has been removed.
1: Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
- We begin with our favorite word, “Therefore!” I love that. Let’s see what it’s there for! Remember how the last chapter ended with a plea for deliverance and then announced that it was Jesus Christ our Lord that delivered and then set up the dichotomy of our two possible natures, the old after the flesh and the new after the Spirit? Paul is about to connect the dots with that word “therefore.”
- “There is now…” The Greek word (nun) is used of time, that is the immediate present. It doesn’t matter what other time it may be contrasted with, past or future. Paul is saying that of which he speaks is RIGHT NOW, for him first, and by extension the reader of the letter in the gathering at Rome, and by extrapolation to present day, for US.
- “…no condemnation…” The Greek gives the meaning of no negative sentence [implying punishment] being pronounced any longer. Think of this from the perspective of Romans 1 and Romans 3, where all have sinned and by default have come short of God’s holy standard, and that in itself places all of us under God’s wrath and eternal punishment. That sentence, because of what Paul pronounce in this verse, has been erased (as opposed to commuted). What is that condition?
- “…for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We discussed this in chapter 6, verse 3. those who “…were baptized [or as the pure meaning of the word is, those who were immersed into Christ, this is NOT speaking of water baptism] into Jesus Christ…” These are the ones that have been taken out of the world by grace through faith and immersed into Jesus Christ. For those that by grace alone through faith alone have believed in Christ alone have been saved from God’s wrath, the sentence that was to be pronounced has been removed! There is, as the translators here say plainly, NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus!
- Notice Paul’s use of Christ Jesus – because that is how he met the Saviour. All the other apostles met Jesus before they knew He was the Messiah. They met Jesus, whom God revealed to them as the Christ when they were ready to receive it. However, Saul of Tarsus met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and came to a full stop. After that, probably because he was chosen as the apostle to the Gentiles, he began to be known by his Roman name of Paul rather than the Jewish name Saul. That’s a handful on purpose.
2: For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
- Why is there no condemnation? No pronounced sentence of doom? Because the “Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the Law of sin and death!” That’s why! How amazing is that? Remember Romans 7? How our flesh is not regenerated, and that we are trapped in the flesh? This verse once and for all time blows it out of the water that Sanctification has nothing to do with Justification. This is saying that the two are inextricably tied together, because the Law of the Spirit set us free from “That which I would I do not, but that which I would not, that I do!” (Rom 7:19 KJV Cambridge 1789) As we will see in this very chapter, the Holy Spirit has come to live inside us, and We no longer have to sin at all (although we will because of this struggle between old and new natures).
3: For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,
- This is telling us stuff we have already been over. The Law was weak because it incited the flesh, that is the old nature, to break the law. Because the law (which we spent some time last study saying was actually good) was weak, God did it instead. How? By sending His own Son in likeness of our own sinful flesh as an offering for sin, God condemned sin in the flesh. This is one of those things I don’t think I can explain any simpler. Sin lived in our flesh. Jesus came in the flesh as a sacrifice to atone for sin in the flesh, thus condemning sin and dealing with it once for all on behalf of all those who will ever believe in Him. But why? Why would He do that?
4: so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
- Well, so that the “legal sentence” would be fulfilled in us who do not walk in the old nature but instead in the new nature Christ gives, that is according to the Spirit. What was the “legal sentence?” The death of the sinner – or an acceptable substitute apparently, provided by Jesus Christ, who live a perfect life of submission under that law, and then knowingly and willingly laid his life down to pay the price for OUR sins!
- Now – here’s the thing – it is for those who walk according to the Spirit, not those who walk after the flesh. This is not a condition, this is rather a statement of fact. If someone is walking after the Spirit, the requirement of the law has been met. If we are walking after the flesh, it has not been met. To imply this means this is some kind of choice from this verse is actually eisegesis, or reading into the Scriptures what simply isn’t there. This is simply saying that the requirement or that the “legal sentence” has been met in those walking after the Spirit. You cannot make it say more, and those who try are messing around on some very dangerous ground.
5: For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.
- This is just an extension of what I said about the last verse. All this is actually saying is that there is a separation between the two groups. To make this about some kind of mystical choice at this stage of the game is not warranted. This is a simple statement of fact that the two groups do different things. Those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh. Those who are according to the Sprit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
- Notice the capitalization of the word Spirit. This is a decision by the translators, because the whole thing was originally written in capital letters in the manuscripts I saw – I suspect that was to save space because paper and ink cost more than to have the letter scribed back in the day. My point is that there was no differentiation in the manuscript. Now, I think it is clear from the context that this is speaking about the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the third person of the Trinity, like that, so I’m okay with this.
6: For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace,
- Here Paul is setting up the struggle to which he referred in the last chapter, but here there is more of an emphasis of where the mind is set. Recalling that this speaks less of choice than information, what this is telling us is that those who have their mind set on the flesh are in fact unregenerate and headed for death, and those that have their minds set on the Spirit are headed for life and peace. This is not signifying a choice of any kind, and no amount of wishing can make it say that if you want to accurately handle the word of truth.
- All kinds of teaching I have received tell me that this is a choice, but when you read this passage honestly, you must admit it does not tell us anywhere, nor does it even hint at, that this is any kind of choice. All we can say for certain is that it is providing information to separate the regenerate from the reprobate. What do you mean, Gerry? Of course this is a choice! Actually, not from the context of the next verse. Let’s look.
7: because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so,
- Read carefully what Paul is saying here. The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile toward God. I ask you honestly, does that sound like a Christ-follower to you? Worse, the person with this mindset does not subject themselves to the Law of God. Interesting if you want to venture into antinomianism, isn’t it? Sin is in many places equated with lawlessness. It says, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4)
- It even tells us here that it is not even able to do so. Now what does that sound like to you? To me, it sounds like a reference to what we have come to know as radical depravity! It practices sin and lawlessness because it can do nothing else! Now how can that be describing a believer? The answer very plainly is that it cannot.
- This does not mean that a believer is perfect, recall that they are still in the body and the body is still corrupted by sin. It is a struggle for the Christian – but for the reprobate, this doesn’t even bother them. It WILL bother one who is truly a follower of Christ.
8: and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
- And here we are at the “flesh cannot please God” thing again. In an honest reading of this text, Paul has not even referred to the making or exercising of choice by the individual. All Paul has done here is divide the world into two categories: Those who are “in Christ” and therefore have no sentence of doom upon them, and those who are reprobate who have this death and hell pronounced for them by default.
So we have heard of the only two categories that are mentioned in the New Testament when referring to people, thought these categories have many names for them. I have used the terminology of regenerate vs. reprobate, but you could easily say saved vs. unsaved, lost vs. found, those who are born again/from above vs. those who are not. There are likely others I have forgotten at this point, but this is exactly what this is talking about.
Now – this is not what I was taught in my previous “read but did not understand for myself” phase. I was taught that by grace, God has given Christians the power of choice, and that is maybe true, but it turns out that it does not mean what I was originally taught. Let’s have a look at the source of New Life.
9-11: New Life in Christ
In this section, Paul is going to speak directly to believers and explain where their new life and ability to walk with the Lord comes from. I’m just going to jump in.
9: However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
- Paul was speaking of the unregenerate reprobate in the last verse. Here, he turns his address to the real Christians who are believers, who are following Christ. He begins with a word that personally in this case fills me with hope – “however.” This is a word that indicates counterpoint to what has just been stated, and it is truly wonderful. It is like when Paul wrote to Timothy and discussed all the false teachers and teaching that was going on in Ephesus, and then said to Timothy, “But you…”
- You are NOT in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. If you have been saved, the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in you and is now changing your will to match that of God’s. This takes a long time and usually generates trials in our life by my experience. If you have the Holy Spirit living in you, you ARE in the Spirit. It is not some mystical state that you must mindlessly meditate to enter. (That’s actually the opposite, I find.) If you are in the Spirit, you cannot be in the flesh.
- But with this good news and peace and hope it creates, there also comes a warning – If you do not have the Spirit of Christ, that is the Holy Spirit, you Do. Not. Belong. To. Christ.
10: If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.
- This is a continuation of the argument Paul is advancing. IF Christ is in you, even thought your body is dead (see Romans 7) because of sin, your spirit is alive to God because of righteousness, that is the knowing, willing, conscious sacrifice of Christ by Himself on the cross. And this is saying that if Christ is in you, there should be a noticeable difference, and not just to you, but to those around you.
- And IF it is true that God has regenerated you, your own spirit is alive for the first time, and is in fellowship and communication with God through the Holy Spirit. Notice the difference between the references to the spirit in this verse which is not capitalized and the Holy Spirit which is capitalized. The uncapitalized reference is to us, the capitalized reference is to God. I know that isn’t in the Greek, but it is something that modern translators have done to help us understand the difference. That’s just a carful reading tip for you.
11: But 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.
- The bottom line here is that IF the Spirit of God lives in you, then that same Spirit of God will also give you life bodily through His Spirit. Paul is indicating here that if you are indeed saved, regenerated, born again, from above, anew, justified, whatever terminology you wish to apply here, then you will live differently. You will make different choices. “Choosing” is a result, not a means to gain Christ. That depends on God regenerating you. Now – what is that we can do to cause God to regenerate us again?
- In case you haven’t been listening, the answer is “Nothing.” There is not one thing we can do. God must first do His work for His own reasons before we can be saved.
Paul is not anywhere here implying any kind of choice, and especially not before justification. This work is God’s alone for His own glory. Paul is simply referring to the soteriological categories of regenerate and reprobate. That is, he is simply talking about the two groups of people that exist on the planet today – saved and unsaved. Now that begs a question – how can we tell the difference? Let’s see in our next section.
12-17: Changed Lives reveal Christ
Paul in this section will explain that if you have become a believer by the will of God, then you will live differently. Again, I’m just going to jump in here.
12: So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—
- Paul begins this thought unit by explaining that we have an obligation because of the Justification that God has performed for us. However, for those of you that are familiar with the concept of having a duty to fulfil that is absolute drudgery, like paying ones bills for example, this is not a normal obligation. See here – Paul says it is not to the flesh – we have no requirement to live according to the flesh – we don’t have to be bogged down or entrenched so deeply that it depresses us!
13: for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
- If you want to do that, I suppose you’re free to do so – but is the death of your soul really worth all the nonsense and suffering for no good purpose? Rather than let sin kill you, kill it first. It reads here, “if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” What does that mean?
- Simply put, it means that if you have become a Christian and you are following Christ the Lord, you WILL live DIFFERENTLY! There is a bit of a corollary to this too – this is why our bodies must perish, because they are still bound to sin. That is more about glorification, but we’ll discuss that more later.
- Another implication of this here is that if you will NOT live differently, it means you are not living by the Spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit), and that means you are not His. YOU are reprobate. And if you become through the will of God His child, and you only want to allow your patterns of disobedience to reign for the silly reasons of “it’s too hard” or “that’s just the way I am,” God will still make you like Christ – but beware, He may end your life to do it, and in doing such, YOU will miss out on a bunch of stuff that I believe God wants us to have, but we’ll say more about that when we study the next book, 1 Corinthians.
14: For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
See? Different category of people! All who are being led by the Holy Spirit are the sons of God. That word for “sons” is “huios,” the Greek word for mature offspring as opposed to teknon, or little children (think toddlers).
It is very important that if you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ that you be led by the Holy Spirit. Some of us have seen the results of that kind of non-walk that Paul is referring to, also. What I find really interesting is that walk can look very pious and righteous. There is walking with the Lord, and then there is what is known as “virtue signaling,” where you find a way to be seen doing good things, and you will draw attention to your own works, and even (gasp) claim credit for what should be for God’s glory.
Take for example this Bible study. I hear comments on it, and their good, sometimes have constructive criticism, and I get compliments for really opening up the Scriptures. Now, I could believe my own press and let that swell my head, or I could tell you the truth. I’m just a hick from the farm. Anything that is revealed to you by the Lord in these studies is a direct result of the Holy Spirit, and it’s through His word, not mine. Praise God if He speaks to you through me, His failing servant.
But I have seen individuals claim not only credit but authority and power for having done something they consider virtuous. This is called virtue signaling, and it has one purpose – it is to say, “Hey, look at me and all the good I can do because I’m a Christian. Aren’t I great?” Well, no – you aren’t. First of all, that’s setting your mind on the things of the flesh, and that usually means if this is your habit, you aren’t really HIS! You need to repent of your pride and believe the Gospel. Second, YOU did NOTHING. Christ may have used you to do this despite yourself – even the Devil is still God’s Devil.
Rather, we should be those that seek to walk after the leading of the Holy Spirit. That way, we will be the mature or adult offspring of God.
15: For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
- And isn’t it interesting that one of the marks of walking in the flesh is fear? If your first reaction to things is one of fear, you need to get to know Christ better and understand that our God is a sovereign God! I can give you a mundane example. I have a nearly debilitating fear of heights. I used to have a great deal of trouble walking through the overpass at either Billings Bridge or Lincoln Fields bus stations. I used to be able to feel my foot vibrations as I walked, and imagined the whole mess collapsing and me going to a very painful and terrifying death. Then God revealed something to me – He has already determined the day and manner of my death, and in His mercy he hasn’t told me when and how. And as long as it is in His hands, come what may, He will be with me in life and in death. And now I can stride confidently through those overpasses. I still don’t like heights, but it’s a LOT better than it used to be.
- And Paul has been talking up to this point about the change of nature that Christians undergo when they repent of their sins and place their belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. Now he is going to explain that the change in nature is all about a change of family and relationship. We have been moved from our old family and our old relationships and have been adopted! I could talk for hours about adoption in ancient Israel or Rome, but suffice it to say that if you were adopted into another’s family, it was a brand new start. For example, all debts were cancelled without condition. I think it is an awesome analogy for what the Lord did for us.
- We can cry “Abba, Father.” This is interesting – Abba and Father are both descriptive of a male parent in a family. However, the household slave was forbidden from using Abba, because it equates to a familiar name, like “Daddy,” instead of the more formal “Father.” We are allowed to use the familiar name now, because we have been adopted in and have become sons and daughters of the most High – who wants us to know Him with that level of intimacy.
16: The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,
- And the Holy Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. How amazing is that statement? If you have ever experienced this, you know what this means – it means that you KNOW you are saved beyond all doubt. And it is frankly the most secure thing you ever can experience.
- I do find it interesting that this is connected to the Holy Spirit. If you are walking after the flesh, it is possible to grieve the Holy Spirit, and he will withdraw from you emotionally (He will not outright leave unless you renounce Him if you ask me, I think that’s what the Scriptures say in Hebrews 6 I think). The greater that distance, the less assurance you will experience of your salvation. Lacking assurance of your own salvation? Try repenting and drawing near to God again. Just saying.
17: and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
- If we are those children of God, then we are also heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. Again, that’s wonderful news – but this is a conditional statement!
- If we suffer with Christ (we call that trials and tribulations), then we shall also be glorified with Christ. Now – what does that mean? Suffering, we have learned earlier in Romans, is the mechanism of our sanctification, or how we are made holy so that we may see God. Some of us have to suffer a great deal, and some get off easy, but God is behind it all, and it is for this very purpose. He has justified us, that is, he has made us to be in right standing before Him – and with that, He will sanctify us, that is He will make us holy. After that, He will make us like His Son and glorify us.
You see, it is in the change that real Christians are revealed. How else can you explain why some people are one way one day, and radically different or at least want to be the next? The whole statement here isn’t some choice between good and bad natures in us all, it is about the hows and whys of true Christianity. We are different because of Christ’s work alone. He redeemed us by atoning for our sins Himself, and the Father as a result has adopted us into His family by means of having the Holy Spirit come and live inside us. It is true that real Christians are revealed by this radical change in behaviour, but that change in behaviour is because of the change He has made in our nature, and how he has given us a new family.
Adoption is a very good analogy as to what has happened, particularly in the Roman world of Paul’s day. We have been completely cut off from our past life as if we had died, and we are given a new status. All old debts have been cancelled and we have been set free of them and their penalties and power. We have instead been set free to serve our new family, in particular its head, God the Father, as does our older brother, Jesus. And there is more.
18-25: Our Future is with Christ
It is a fair statement that “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those that love Him.” (1 Cor. 2:9) So far we have seen that God has set us free in Christ from the penalty of sin in His justifying of us. We have also seen how He is delivering us from the power of sin in His present sanctifying of us. But there is indeed more, and it is wonderful in our eyes, beloved. One day, when He returns for us, either by our deaths or when He returns to take us with all believers, he will then deliver us from the very presence of sin by His glorifying of us. There are many theories about what we may become, but I think the Apostle John says it best: “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” (1 John 3:2) We don’t know all the details, but we don’t need to, because it will be glorious! Let’s see how Paul explains this.
18: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
- Paul is continuing his thought, referring to our being made holy, or our sanctification, particularly the means by which this process happens, our sufferings at this present times. What does he say about it? That these things are not worthy of being compared to the coming glory that is to be revealed in us.
- Now before anyone starts screaming “that’s your interpretation,” at me, all I did was read it. If you think I am going to add words here, I’m not. Any meaning you got out of that, you supplied yourself. But what does that mean? I think it means what John and Paul says it means. To put their explanations into our modern speech, “We don’t know – but it’s gonna be gooooood…”
- “Not worthy.” The phrase in Greek refers to something that is a due reward, or what something is worth in terms of value ideally. Paul is saying that compared with what’s coming, these sufferings are not worth the comparison. And now he’s going to tell a bit of a story here.
19: For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.
- Wait – what? The creation? What has this got to do with anything? As it turns out, a great deal. As it turns out, the creation around us is waiting for this day anxiously as well. Why? Let’s read on and find out.
20: For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope
- What does all THAT mean? Well, let’s think about it. When man disobeyed God and fell from their original position in Eden, what happened? Well, they brought death into the world, but that death and decay was not simply limited to them. God Himself cursed the earth because of their sin, and ever since, all nature has been bearing the consequences of our actions – from the biggest creatures on the planet, to the smallest viruses and other prokaryotic bacteria, all have suffered consequences that they did not incur for themselves. That’s the ugliness of our sin, right there. It isn’t just us that is ruined by the consequences. Look at what we’re in the middle of now, folk – we are all in a government-imposed quarantine so that no one contracts the virus known as COVID-19. Now is this a last-times pestilence? I don’t know – I don’t think so – but I do feel like it is just part of the hostility of nature towards man in a natural sense. Think about this. With very few exceptions, animals will either avoid man altogether when they hear us coming, or they will attack and kill man if given the chance. And yet the Scripture tells us that someday that will all come to an end, and the fierce and predatory wolf will lie down with the lamb, the leopard with the goat, and the lion with the fatling together, and that a little child shall lead them. (Isa. 11:6). That would mark, if not an end to the curse, at least a significant change (I think the end of the curse).
- And who subjected the creation to the death and decay that Adam’s sin brought? Well, GOD did. Do you see the capital H here? Why would He do that? The next verse will tell us.
- I need to point out something else. The chapter divisions and the verse divisions are NOT inspired, although the original text IS inspired by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes that becomes evident when one reads the thought unit again. I believe this verse is one of those cases. Those last two words in my opinion go with the next verse. You’ll see why now when I read them.
21: that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
- Now you may be scratching your noggins wondering why God needs to have hope here, but if that so, I need to remind you that the New Testament uses the word “hope” differently than we do in English today. We have a sort of wish that may or may not come to pass as hope, but the New Testament word elpis means a favourable and confident expectation regarding future events. I can hope that the Winnipeg Jets will win the Stanley Cup this year, but I don’t think it will happen this year – I don’t think we will be awarding one this year. At least one of our Ottawa Senators has COVID-19, and what happens with the season for everyone else is anyone’s guess. But if I were using this word in the NT sense, I have hope that we will as a country get through this pandemic and rebuild whatever is left. That WILL happen. It’s a matter of time. The Lord WILL return. It WILL happen. It’s a matter of time. See? Like that. I usually substitute the phrase “with the current expectation” whenever I see “hope” in Scripture. It really helps clarify things.
- And what is the expectation? That the creation will also be set free from its “slavery to corruption.” That things will be set free from the penalty, power, and presence of sin. That all of the creatures that used to have very adversarial relationships with each other, and with man, will all be one big family again for lack of better words. And from that slavery, like us, they will be truly free – but read the verse carefully – “into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” “And a little child shall lead them.” (Isa. 11:6c) Humanity will once again be restored to their God-given place as leaders and administrators on God’s behalf.
22: For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.
- But that isn’t the case just yet. Up until now, all of creation groans (read complains) and suffers (that one we know) the pains of childbirth together. COVID-19? Part of that process if anything. Calamities, Jesus told us in His Olivet Discourse, would multiply in number, frequency, and rapidity until His return. So do “birth pangs” or “pains of childbirth,” which we call contractions. The closer events happen together in time, the closer we are to His return. I’m not predicting anything, just stating what the Word does. Do I think we’re in the “end times?” No, I don’t – but that isn’t actually speaking specifically of those end times, it’s just referencing it.
23: And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.
- We are, however, no different in this yearning than the rest of creation. We are also anxiously awaiting something. We groan within ourselves (that’s what Romans 7 can be seen as here – that internal groaning of the wretched man we all are, awaiting, and anxiously calling for this deliverance from this body of death.
- Now notice here that is does not say we ARE the first fruits of the Spirit – it says we HAVE the first fruits of the Spirit. Ever wonder what those things are? I don’t – I know what they are, and Paul even listed them off in Galatians 5:22-23, which read, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Now there’s an interesting connection, right? Because we have all these behaviours and they are increasing in us over time, it is also a sign that we are simply waiting for our adoption as the mature offspring of God – and then it says something very unique and specific.
- It names that “adoption as sons” phenomenon “the redemption of the body.” This is unique to Christianity among all world religions – the salvation of the body. In all other religions, the body is seen as either just a shell to be disposed of after death, or as inherently evil in itself and is thus to be denied pleasure, or even “punished” under ascetic practices. No, God is saying that we will at some point have a new body, and it will be one that is not subject to corruption like it is right now. But for that, we must wait.
24: For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?
- Here is some evidence that hope is something that is not like we use the word currently. This is clearly something that has some tangible aspect to Paul, but is off in the future and not currently seen. We have been saved, and it means all of this – even though it has not yet come to pass – we are simply waiting until it does.
25: But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
- No matter what it takes. That’s the perseverance aspect of it. We must go through the pain, the suffering, the trials, the tribulations for God to perform His sanctifying work in us. The formula is well known – it starts with justification by faith, moves to sanctification by suffering, and finally to glorification by the Father to make us like Christ. And that, my friends, is worth waiting for.
We are truly set free in Christ. We are now free of the sin that can still easily entangle us, but if we suffer though the trials that come our way, God does his sanctifying work in our lives. You see, God is not interested in mindless chanting crowds. He wants mature individuals that can walk into a situation and represent His interests fully. To such holy brethren, he calls us to “preach the word,” in season – and out of season. Whether there is a COVID-19 outbreak or not. (Stay safe, by the way – just because of everyone overreacting, it doesn’t mean we should be boldly stupid about things.) No matter what.
And as we are faithful in our sufferings, God sanctifies us, and people will see it, and those who are the elect of God will be drawn by that. When they are, be prepared to preach the Gospel. We don’t know who will receive it or when, and so we have to share it at all times with everyone!
All of this is made possible by our change in nature, that is our “adoption,” where God has taken away our past and given us a future with His Son by His grace, and in fact all of creation is waiting for that blessed event.
And that’s what I saw in the first half of Romans 8!
Next time, Romans 8:26-ff.