Thursday, December 28, 2017
Over the next several weeks we are going to be traversing some fairly difficult passages of Scripture—difficulty to read through, interpret, preach, and apply. For this reason and because of the nature of what will be discussed I thought it might be helpful to preach Romans 9-11 as its own series within our greater Romans series. This is appropriate for several reasons. First, after having discussed the nature of salvation (justification in chapters 5-6, sanctification in 7-8, and glorification in chapter 8), Paul decides to reveal to whom this salvation applies and how. Second, the majority of what Paul discusses helps distinguish between various groups of people—Jews, Gentiles, lost, saved, loved, hated, etc. For these reasons and many others, we are going to prayerfully and carefully walk through these important chapters together in a series entitled “The People of God.”
To this end, Paul helps his audience at the beginning of chapter 9 by establishing a couple of foundations that will help guide his discussion. In 9:1-13 these foundations are introduced alongside the great predicament many found themselves in and continue to find themselves in today.
a) The People’s Failure-9:1-5
Paul wants to preface the following comments by reminding his audience of what kind of spirit guides his writing-“I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testified with me in the Holy Spirit” (9:1). What Paul is about to divulge is not only important, it is difficult to digest. Therefore, he wants to reiterate that what is being shared is not as much a product of his own theological ruminations as much as it is revelation directly given by God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit.
In other words, Paul is playing the part of the messenger and making sure that this status is known. I’m sure some of you have had times in which you had to share confusing and/or difficult messages and then were prompted to say in your defense: “I’m just the messenger” or even “Don’t shoot the messenger.” At the beginning of this more theologically precarious section of his letter to the church in Rome Paul decides to reestablish his messenger status.
This reminder helps get Paul off the hook and is especially helpful as the first foundation he has been given to identify is quite negative—the people’s failure (more specifically, HIS people’s failure). Though the failure is not identified outright, evidence of its nature is made clear in the sorrow that this failure has caused Paul-“I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart,…” (9:2). When an ancient Greek writer wants to evoke an emotion in a more superlative/emphatic way, he strings similar phrases together to accentuate the feeling emoted. When Paul says “I have great sorrow and unceasing grief” he is trying to convey just how distraught he is in response to the failure of his people. However, what did they fail to do? What has caused this acute distress?
Again, though Paul does not come right out and say it, he betrays the essence of his people’s failure when he reveals what he wishes he could do in response—“For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen, according to the flesh,…”(9:3). It is obvious by what the author says here that the great failure of his people was their refusal to repent from their sin and old ways of relating to God and accept, in faith, the true nature and ministry of Jesus Christ—God’s greatest gift.
I imagine that many of you spent time over the last week exchanging gifts with loved ones. Many of you were probably looking forward to seeing your friend or family member open that perfect present that you had spent a lot of time putting together or waiting in line to purchase. Maybe it was exactly what that asked for or just what that person needed. Imagine how you would feel if, after handing the wrapped present to that special someone, they refused to accept it and turned the other way. A little bit offended and saddened would only begin to describe your response.
The implications of refusing Jesus were far worse. These Jews (whom Paul refers to as “kinsmen, according to the flesh”) were “accursed, separated from Christ.” Truly, this is the sad state of anyone who fails to repent and embrace Jesus Christ—they are accursed, separated from Christ. In fact, to be separated from Christ is to be accursed—the former defines/explains the latter.
What made the people’s refusal of Christ so egregious was that that this denial of the Savior took place in spite of all the aid God had given. Paul continues by listing the many blessings the Jews had enjoyed for centuries--"who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoptions as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, who are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever, Amen" (9:4-5). It would be one thing for a pagan idolater to deny Christ, but many of those who were refusing Jesus were Israelites (blessed with a special nation), given to be sons and daughters of God, participants in divine covenants handed down to Abraham, Moses, David, etc., beneficiaries of the law that Moses brought down from Sinai, worshippers in the temple of God, receivers of special promises that were communicated by the prophets, and relatives of the forefathers of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In many ways, all of these things—the nation, the covenants, the law, the temple, the promises, the family, pointed directly to the coming Messiah and were fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus. Christ even came to the earth as a Jew Himself!
In other words, not only did God offer the greatest gift of all to the Jews when He offered Jesus, He placed Jesus well within reach (right in their hands!). All they had to do was enjoy it!
The failure of the Jewish people to embrace Jesus Christ, in spite of all that God did to make Him accessible to them is a real tragedy. However, this failure also set the foundation for how God would relate not only to His people, but the world. Paul will unpack this more later as we journey through chapters 9-11. However, let us now move on to discuss another important foundation upon which Paul constructs his presentation of the people of God.
b) The Promised Word-9:6-13
The second foundation Paul discusses is the promised Word. Paul wants to make it very clear that while mankind in general and the Jews in particular did not take advantage of the opportunity afforded them, the Word of God has not failed—“But (in contrast to the failure of mankind), it is not as though the word of God has failed” (9:6a).
Like many in our world today, many of those reading this letter may have been tempted to place blame for their failure onto someone or something else. Maybe the promises were not explicit enough. Perhaps the law could have been worded better. Maybe something was lacking in the details surrounding the temple worship or in the covenants. Paul says “nah ah ah. Stop right there. The Word of God is not blameworthy for your failure.” How could it be given its nature?
Isaiah 40:8: “Grass dries up, and flowers wither, but the word of our God will last forever…”
Matthew 5:17-18: “I did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
When it comes to the Word of God, these and other passages clearly reveal that it is consistently compelling, persevering, and completely qualified to inspire, foreshadow, and accomplish everything required by the will of God. The Word cannot fail in so much as God—its author—cannot fail.
What has led to the dilemma concerning the people of God? Paul answers this as he explains how the people of the promised Word are identified—“For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but ‘through Isaac your descendants will be named’” (9:6b-7). Paul introduces a huge correction to the first-century Jewish thinking. He reveals here, probably to the surprise of many in his original audience, that not every Israelite is a true descendant. In fact, just as the Jews conceded that not all descendants of Abraham were legitimate (i.e. those born of the line of Ishmael), so too were they to concede that not all who called themselves Israelites were, in fact, true Israelites—that is in a spiritual sense.
In other words, the predicament concerning the people of God is brought about because not all who consider themselves part of the people of God are, in fact, among the people of God in the fullest sense.
Paul makes this abundantly clear in verse 8 when he says the following: “That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.” Not only is merely claiming to be among the people of God not a guarantee of real relationship with Him, neither is being genetically Jewish an indicator that someone is a member of God’s family! Instead, Paul says, one must be a “children of the promise” (9:8).
The unfailing Word of God has already made this explicit—“For this is the word of promise, ‘At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son…” (9:9). According to God’s perfect plan, it would be from Abraham and Sarah that God would build a nation and bring for this Son Jesus. Not just any combination nor just any offspring would do for this most holy purpose.
Paul continues, “And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by the one man, our father Isaac; for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls,…” (9:10-11). Here again a special calling for a specific son through whom would come the Messiah is in view. The circumstances surrounding the birth of Jacob and Esau prove that God’s unfailing Word stands in spite of what may/may not occur. Even before these twins were born and had time to prove themselves one way or the other, God had a plan—a plan irrespective of works. This plan was determined by God’s will and expressed in His sovereign Word.
Details of God’s explicit promise to Jacob and his descendants are provided in verses 12-13—“It was said to her (Rebekah), ‘The older will serve the younger. Just as it is written, Jacob I love but Esau I hated.’” Such comments reveal that not only does God’s Word trump man’s actions, it also overwhelms birth order and the traditions associated therewith.
However, what does it mean when God says “Jacob I love, Esau I hated”? How might we square this rather provocative text with verses like “For God so loved the World” and “God is love?” Perhaps another passage might help shine light on what this verse means.
Luke 14:26-“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”
In this context, Jesus is referring to a disciple’s choice. A disciple’s devotion to Christ must be so acute that other relationships and loyalties pale in comparison. This is similar to how what Paul references in Romans 9. God’s choice of Jacob over Esau is described in more drastic terms in order to highlight the Lord’s plan and purpose for the former over the latter. A paraphrase of these last verses might read “Jacob have I chosen for a special task, Esau I have not chosen for the same.”
That said, what is quite clear from verses 6-13 is the perseverance of God’s Word. It has expressed the will of God and it has established promises to the appropriate people. It never has nor ever will fail to communicate and call forth God’s grand purposes (especially as it pertains to Jesus Christ and the salvation that He alone provides).
The failure lies, unfortunately, with the people God had appointed. All who thought they were “in” weren’t because they failed to accept and embrace the Word made flesh—Jesus Christ. In so doing, these proved that they were not children of the promised and unfailing Word of God. These two foundations—the people’s failure and the promised Word—must be firmly established in order to fully understand and appreciate what Paul has to say throughout the remainder of chapters 9-11.
However, what might we glean from what we’ve read today? Truly, the failure of God’s intended people is not unlike the failure of many people today who have, in spite of all that God has made available to them, refused to accept, embrace, and follow after Jesus Christ. Are you refusing the greatest gift of all?
Maybe you have fooled yourself into believing that you’re “in” already—you grew up in church, come every now and then to a service, are a better person than most, or know where to find John 3:16 in your Bible. Friend, if genetics and titles didn’t automatically guarantee that a Jew in the Old Testament was part of the family of God do you really think that going through the motions and superficial lip service will go far in assuring your relationship with Christ?
Let us not be guilty of the same failure we read about in this passage today. Let’s not fail to embrace the unfailing Word of God this year and the Jesus that it reveals.
Friday, December 8, 2017
Last Sunday we enumerated some of the many sights and sounds that people will hear this Christmas season in an effort to introduce what we looked at in Romans 8:26-30. Today I want to ask where you might find yourself over the next few weeks. What contexts will you endorse this holiday season? Some of you may make trips to different cities and find yourself in an airport, or in a car. Others of you may spend time at home. Many might find themselves at the mall, in line at the register, seated in an auditorium for a performance, outside at a live nativity, inside by a warm fire. Wherever we are, the hope is (right) that we are enjoying the time of year and celebrating what is most important… J Easier said than done! Especially when your flight is delayed, the car begins to make a weird noise, the store runs out of that must-have item, the line for checkout stretches for a quarter mile, the performance doesn’t meet your expectations, its frigid outside, and the fire won’t light. Instead of the season looking like the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, it becomes more like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Instead of James Stewart embracing the little girl and bells awarding angels their wings, we are Chevy Chase falling off the latter and being locked up in the attic!
The Christian life (in the Spirit), is much the same way. We have every intention of growing in Christ, persevering to the end, and seeing to it that others are reached no matter where God leads us and yet sometimes we find ourselves in places/situations that seem more like inhibitions than opportunities. Thankfully, Paul provides us with an inspiring passage that carries us through the end of Romans (Romans 8:31-39). There we witness four contexts in which the victory of God is realized in the life of a believer.
1) The Battlefield-8:31-“…What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?...”
Throughout Romans 8, Paul has carefully described what life is like for those who are “in the Spirit.” So far he has revealed that those who are in the Spirit enjoy freedom (1-17), persevering hope (18-25), and victory in Christ (26-30). As Paul has delineated this reality, he has also claimed that those in the Spirit enjoy status as adopted sons and daughters of God (8:15), an inheritance as heirs (8:17), and the assurance of hope that comes from the guarantee of the Spirit. Believers have also been reminded that because they are in the Spirit, they cannot lose when it comes to prayer or their own salvation.
As chapter 8 comes to a close Paul discusses several different contexts in which believers enjoy these blessings, their status, and the victories involved therein. The first context that Paul chooses to deal with is the context of the battlefield that is this world. Paul asks in verse 31-“What shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” In other words, if God is going to provide freedom, hope, victory, adoption, inheritance, and assurance of salvation, who or what should intimidate the people of God? The answer is a resounding No One!
Make no mistake, life is a battlefield.
Ephesians 6:10ff-“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of HIs might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
1 Peter 1:6-“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials.
Paul’s point in Romans 8 is that even in this battlefield, believers can know victory and enjoy the blessings that he has labored to enumerate in this compelling chapter of Scripture. Paul therefore agrees with what Jesus said in John 16:33--“these things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world.”
Because Jesus has overcome the world and all battlefields therein, He is capable of assuring the blessings contained in this chapter for His children as they traverse the same theatres of war. None can stand against Him or those who are in the Spirit!
2) The Storehouse-8:32-“…He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?...”
To this end, it follows naturally that those who endure this warfare need to be adequately supplied. This too is guaranteed by the Lord in verse 32—“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will not also with Him freely give us all things?” Here, Paul employs an argument from the greater the lesser—“A God who sacrificed his own Son on our behalf will certainly not withhold that which by comparison is merely trivial” (Mounce, 190). In other words, if God is willing to bestow His greatest grace for his children—His Son—surely he will also bestow every other grace needed to endure to the end. After all, “God is by nature a giving God” (Mounce, 190).
Psalm 31:19-“How great is Your goodness, Which You have stored up for those who fear You, Which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You, Before the sons of men!”
Those in the Spirit not only know blessing and victory in the context of the battlefield, they know blessing and victory whenever they go to the storehouse of God’s grace for in that storehouse is an consistent abundance of God’s goodness ready to be bestowed.
3) The Courtroom-8:33-34
Believers also enjoy God’s victory and blessings in the courtroom—that is the courtroom of spiritual judgment. Paul asks “Who is able to bring charges against God’s elect?” (8:33). The verb “to bring a charge against” means “to bring serious…accusations against someone, with the possible connotation of a legal or court context” (Louw Nida). Certainly, the world and the devil himself would love more than to bring charges against the people of God. In fact, in Revelation 12:10 Satan is called the “accuser of the brethren.” One example of this is found in Job.
Job 1:8-11-“The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.’ Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will sure curse You to Your face.’”
Like a prosecuting attorney in a court, the devil and the world system would love more than to indict the people of God.
However, the question “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” must be answered negatively when one considers the rest of the verse—“God is the one who justifies” (8:33b). When the devil draws up accusations against those who are in Christ, it falls on deaf ears. The gavel has already fallen in the case against God’s people and the Lord has found them righteous—acquitting them from all wrongdoing and rendering them justified in His sight.
This idea is supported by Paul in verse 24 when he takes things one step further. If the devil and the world can no longer bring charges against God’s people, certainly they cannot convict them either. “Who is the one who condemns?” Paul wonders. The clear answer is no one. As Paul has already articulated earlier in this chapter, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). But why is this? Paul provides the answer in the rest of the verse—“Christ Jesus is He who died, yew, rather, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us,…” (8:34b).
In this single verse 3 reasons are given for why followers of the Lord Jesus Christ are not condemned and therefore enjoy victory in the courtroom of life. First, Jesus died, thereby paying the penalty/suffering the condemnation that all deserve. Through faith in Jesus Christ, believers have the satisfaction of the atonement Jesus provided on the cross applied to them. In other words, because He suffered the condemnation, believers do not have to. Second, and even better, Jesus rose again, indicating that He was a worthy sacrifice to begin with and victorious over sin and death. Therefore his followers enjoy the same liberation from the same condemnation. Third, and probably best, now alive, Jesus acts as the believer’s advocate before the throne of God. In other words, while Satan might serve in the courtroom as prosecutor against the people of God, Jesus acts as the believer’s defense attorney, pleading their case in a most convincing way. Only He can say before God, my client (those in the Spirit), are acquitted—I’ve suffered their penalty already and demonstrated my worthiness to do so by overwhelming condemnation altogether.
Praise the Lord that believers do not have to fear accusation and/or condemnation before God! Instead, they know victory in God’s courtroom!
4) The Marriage-8:35-39
The final context in which the believer enjoys victory and blessing might be illustrated best as the marriage—that is the marriage between the church (the bride) and Christ (the bridegroom). Though this isn’t explicit in Romans 8, Paul and others illustrate these two parties in this way elsewhere in his writings.
John 3:29-“The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.”
Ephesians 5:25-“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,”
Revelation 19:7-9-“’Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure’— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, ‘These are the true words of God.’”
With this analogy in mind, we can read the remainder of Romans 8 and appreciate what it has to say about the deep connection that is enjoyed between those in the Spirit (the bride) and Christ (the groom). First, Paul asks “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or word?...” (8:35). Again, as with most of the question in this passage, the answer is clearly “nothing”—nothing can separate God’s people from his love.
Here, the context of marriage provides us with an illustration of this phenomenon. Typically, during a marriage ceremony, the bride and groom exchange vows. As part of these vows, the two parties of the marriage promise their persevering love to each other, even in sickness, poverty, until death do them part. Here, Jesus love for his bride is said to withstand “…tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or word?...” (8:35). In other words, God’s love for those in the Spirit follows them even in the worst seasons of life, providing them with all of the blessings that come with a meaningful relationship with Him.
This is important to remember given what Paul reminds the church of next. He continues by saying “Just as it is written, ‘For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered’” (8:36). Paul understood what it was like to endure difficult times. He was beaten on several occasions within an inch of his life, imprisoned, shipwrecked, etc. In enduring these circumstances, Paul followed in the footsteps of Jesus who was betrayed, whipped, and crucified. In fact, every follower of Jesus should expect, to some degree or another, a path of ridicule, humiliation, and suffering. After all, this is only natural for those who follow the one who was crucified on the cross. It is one of the ways in which believers grow more like Him. Just as He was a sheep led to the slaughter, those who take up their cross daily and follow Him can expect the same path.
However, this is no cause for alarm. As God’s love endures even the worst of all circumstances in the context of a believer’s spiritual marriage to Christ, “in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (8:37). The unbroken relational bond believers enjoy with Jesus provides them with victory and blessing as they follow Christ’s even to the point of great suffering and death (that is if it be required of them). The word “conquer” means to prevail over completely. Put differently, the victory believers enjoy in their relationship with Jesus is overwhelming.
Given the presence of this overwhelming victory that is enjoyed in the context of the believer’s spiritual marriage to Christ, it ought to come as no surprise that Paul would conclude by making the case that nothing can separate the bride and the groom.'
Paul is “convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, not things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:38-39). In other words, no life event, no matter how final, no spiritual being, no matter how intimidating, no matter what what’s past may hold, no matter how shady, no matter what the world has in store for tomorrow, no matter how epic, no matter what space may seem to exist at any given moment between believers and God, NOTHING can severe love that God has for his children. Why? Because they are “in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Though I typically do not give this invitation in the weddings that I conduct, in a traditional ceremony the pastor will often say near the beginning of the ceremony “If any can give just cause for why these two should not be joined together, speak now or forever hold your peace.” Most of the time, no one speaks up and the ceremony continues uninterrupted. The same is true of God’s people—no one, nothing can provide any reason for there to ever be any separation of love between Jesus and His bride—the church (i.e. those in the Spirit).
Though we are all gathered together in the context of this church this morning, I wonder what context some of you will enter upon leaving this place later this afternoon. Some of you may be heading into a battlefield—a conflict at home or at work, persecution, or some internal struggle. Perhaps after being filled by the fellowship that God will allowed today and the Word that has gone forth, some experience will require much of you leaving you looking for the storehouse for what it is that you need to make it through another week. Maybe you will find yourself under attack, accused, and near-prosecuted for your faith. Your weirdness for Jesus may make those around you uncomfortable. Perhaps some in your vicinity are hoping to catch you in some kind of process crime so that they can indict you for hypocrisy. In whatever context you may find yourself, know today, you who are in Christ and living in the Spirit, that the victory of God and His blessings go ahead of you and with you! If God is for you, who can be against you? If God gave you His son, why should we ever expect to hold back what we need (according to His will)? Charges against God’s clients? What charges? All has been paid in full! The battle of life, the needs we run across, and the case against us is no match for the victory believers have in Christ. He is the victorious general, the affluent provider, the bullet-proof defense, and He is ours! His love and affections are for us and nothing can separate us from that! Praise the Lord!
Thursday, November 30, 2017
Tis the season for many things: time with family, decorations, music, food, shopping, gifts, and FOOTBALL. Whether you follow the NCAA or the NFL or both, sports in general and football in particular has been a holiday tradition in America for decades. After all, many rivalry games are precariously scheduled during the week of Thanksgiving, bowl games are played around New Years, and other special matchups even show up on Christmas day. Why? Because it is during this season when people are gathered together and have the free time available to cheer on their team to victory. Depending on your team, you might hoping against hope for even just one victory,…just one. While I don’t have a particular team myself, Brianna and I have entered a fantasy league for the first time this year and have been following along superficially, hoping for a victory every weekend. Unfortunately, more often than not, we are defeated.
Maybe you are living with that same anticipation of victory today. Perhaps you are just looking to win SOMETHING. It is very possible this holiday season that you are experiencing defeat and discouragement. Maybe the world appears to be winning and you are just hoping for something to give you needed encouragement.
Thankfully, Romans 8:26-30 reveals two victory’s that believers can always count on no matter what they are going through. Simple though they are, these victories are presented by Paul to a church that, like many of us, was under pressure and heading into tribulation, in an effort to provide perseverance and hope. My prayer is that His presentation can encourage you in this season and every subsequent season thereafter.
a. Victory in Prayer-8:26-27
In the last passage (8:18-25), Paul articulated how hope allows those in the Spirit to persevere under extreme duress. As hope brings strength to the believer in times of suffering, so too does the Spirit come to the believer’s aid when he/she finds themselves unable to pray as he/she ought—“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness” (8:26a). This weakness to which Paul refers, according to the context is a lack of understanding regarding prayer.
“For,” as Paul admits, “we do not know how to pray as we should” (8:26b).
Recently in my own life’s experience I’ve had numerous people approach me following my family’s recent tragedy and say things like “I do not know what to say” or “there are no words.” Truly, there aren’t words in situations such as our own that can bring order, enlighten confusion, or instill peace. Perhaps you’ve been in a situation like this or have come into contact with someone who has been through something for which there is nothing to utter by way of help or solace. Unfortunately in my line of work (ministry and psychological therapy), I run across people with stories that involve all kinds of tangled messes that, at least to me, leave me speechless and, once again, with very little to say. Sometimes, this overwhelming feeling invades my own prayer life. It may surprise you (then again, it may not) to learn that I have entered a time of prayer for either myself or someone else (even some in my congregation) and not been able to utter a single word in an effort to articulate my supplication, voice my requests, or convey my feelings. Often even preachers/pastors/Bible teachers do not know how to pray as they should.
Reasons for this reticence abound. Perhaps it is ignorance that keeps people silent; maybe one simply doesn’t know what is best or where God is leading in a particular situation. Perhaps it is fatigue that keeps us tongue-tied; we’ve been praying for something so long without a clear answer that we grow weary and doubtful concerning our request. Perhaps it is being brought face-to-face with our own limitations; the request is so grand that we stand in reverent awe of the complicated nuances involved and the endless complexities therein and realize that we are totally inept to even see an answer to any single or collection of issues. Whatever the reason is, Paul admits that many are brought to a point in their personal prayers lives in which they do not know how to pray.
Thankfully, the Spirit of God is never at a loss for words—“but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (8:26c). The verb “intercede” means to “plead” and this the Spirit of God does for those who are in the Spirit, even when, especially when, they are left speechless by what they face. So intense is the Spirit’s prayer for those who are in Christ that Paul describes it here as “groans that cannot be understood” (Mounce, 186). This makes sense inasmuch as many of the issues to which we have referred are far beyond our comprehension and given that it is possible human language is unable to even form the words/sentences necessary to ask for the right kind of help.
While creation groans to be relieved from the curse, and we groan in our sinful flesh, when the Spirit groans, help and truth provide freedom and relief.
The Spirit is immanently qualified to pray on a believer’s behalf because he transcends two very different spheres—the heart of man and the mind of God. Paul continues and says “and He who searches the heart knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (8:27). In other words, God, the one who knows the believer’s complex and difficult request already, is able to also understand these deep groanings of the Spirit (“knows what the mind of the Spirit is”) offered on the believer’s behalf. Not only that but whatever the Spirit prays “for the saints” is “according to the will of God” and therefore will be answered.
Ultimately, this passages teaches that one of the victories that believers enjoy in the Spirit is made possible by the best prayer partner around. The Spirit of God is able to give the believer victory in his/her prayer life because no matter how crazy a problem is, how confusing a scenario may be, how overwhelming an issue becomes, He is never at a loss for words and, those words that He offers in prayer for believers are not only understood by God, they are in keeping with the Lord’s perfect plan! What a blessing!
b. Victory in Salvation-8:28-30
The second victory that is assured those who are in the Spirit is victory in salvation. This kind of victory spans both the present and the future, the mundane and the unique, the difficult and the arbitrary. The promise of this victory is stated in verse 28—“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good.”
Many people love to quote this verse, especially in the midst of a tragedy or trial. I had many people recently quote this verse to me in the midst of our own recent tragedy.
However, what does this verse really mean? To what good does it refer? First, it is clear that nothing falls outside the scope of God’s sovereignty. In other words God is not only able to work some things out for good—He is able to work in and through it ALL! Second, the “good” to which this refers is God’s good. After all it is His will that the Spirit is praying for and it is He that is at work in everything to this end. This means that it may not be the good that a believer may want or expect. It may not even be the good that a believer may know about this side of eternity. In fact, the “’good’ in this passage is primarily the glory God will one day enable us to share with Christ, our Lord…the blessings of the age to come” (Moo, ZIBBC, 51).
That said, “God directs the affairs of life in such a way that,… the outcome is always beneficial” (Mounce, Romans, 187). What a blessing! To know that God is at work in ALL things to bring about HIS good glory!
However, this is a blessing only for those “who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (those in the Spirit). This descriptive phrase identifies those who have an ongoing and dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ. The verbs “love” and “are called” are present progressives—“who are loving God” and those who “are being called.” This highlights the dynamic quality of a relationship with Christ. A relationship with Jesus is not a single static event that takes place at a point in time; it is an ongoing reality that matures over time (much like any other interpersonal relationship). Those in such a relationship with God can know divine purpose guides all that goes on around them.
However, this also means that the lost without Christ cannot claim the promise of this verse. For them, suffering, tragedy, trials, and tribulations carry no added benefit, no promise of any redemptive quality, and not greater purpose.
The single greatest thing that only God could cause in the life of anyone is salvation—it is the best good that God is working out through any and all of life’s circumstances. This is articulated in the rest of this passage by means of five aorist tense verbs (indicating that at least in his view, these things are either completed or as good as finished). It is also worth noting that God is causing all of this according to and for His purposes. No one/nothing else can or would do what is described here even if they had the chance or power to do so!
The first element of salvation that God has completely satisfied and brought to pass involves foreknowledge and predestination. Just as God is working ever single present event and season out for good, so too did He instigate and cause salvation to be made available to the redeemed in the first place—“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined” (8:29a). This indicates that God is sovereign over the pre-step of salvation—predestination.
Though there are variety of opinions concerning exactly what this verse refers to and how it is understood, ultimately, there are two general positions. Either, God chose people long before they were born unto salvation and then based on His choice, He predestined them to be saved, or God knew (foreknew) long before people were born who will freely choose Him when given the opportunity and then predestined them as a result. In both programs, God is sovereign over the very beginning, even the overture, of the salvation process. Either He sovereignly chooses people according to His will or he sovereignly allows freedom to provide a choice and predestined people according to His foreknowledge.
In both cases, God is sovereignly choosing people—“to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren” (8:29). This identifies the purpose of salvation, the Christian life, and all of the good that God is working out. Everything that God is working for one’s good is done so that people might be more conformed into the image of His Son—the very image that was lost due to sin.
To this end, God has also assured that the next step in salvation has been satisfied—“and these whom He predestined, he also called” (8:30a). No one would be saved if they did not receive the call of God first. Abraham was plucked from obscurity, David was chosen even while absent, warriors were commissioned while in hiding (Gideon) or woefully unqualified (Samson), Prophets were interrupted and called to action (Jeremiah, Isaiah, John), the disciples were commanded while minding their own business, Paul was thrown off his horse while on his way to kill Christians, and converts were made aware of their need by faithful Christians and church leaders throughout the first century world. In every case, every individual was brought into relationship with God in response to a call. If it were up to any of these individuals (if it were up to ANYONE else) no one would have made the advance in God’s direction or sought to open the lines of communication to begin with.
In addition to the call, God is also the active agent in the next phase of the salvation process—“and these whom He called, He also justified,…” (8:30b). Not only is God the “foreknower,” the “predestiner,” and the “caller,” he is also the “justifier.” Put another way, it is by the power of God’s creative word that he is able to declare sinners righteous following their repentance and faith. That justification is by and through God in Christ is confirmed by Titus 3:7.
Titus 3:7-“So that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
This is important because without justification, no one would be saved. All are unrighteous and therefore in need of God’s righteousness so that they might have a relationship with God. Justification grants that righteousness, thereby establishing a saving relationship with the Lord through Christ. This is something that man cannot earn, bargain for, or manufacture in his own power. Like foreknowledge, predestination, and the call, justification is from God and can be counted on as a result.
So far Paul has indicated that God is the active sovereign agent behind salvation’s beginning (in fact, in each stage of its beginning). However, appreciating the victory comes from understanding that this same God is also the sovereign agent over salvation’s end—“and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (8:30c). The same assurance that the believer enjoys at present (given what God has already wrought in the beginning of salvation), can be enjoyed as salvation continues to its glorious end! So sure is this glorious end that Paul doesn’t deter from the aorist tense—“He also glorified.” Salvation-future is as good as done. Like foreknowledge, predestination, the call, and justification, it can be counted know with hesitation because God has brought it to bear.
Philippians 1:6-“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.”
Those in the Spirit have victory in their salvation—both in promise (trusting that God is working all things for HIS good to THOSE WHO LOVE HIM) and in process (inasmuch as God oversees the entire salvation program from start to glorious finish).
Although I might be aware of what some of you are going through today, I cannot possibly understand all that is currently working against you, frustrating you, or bringing you down. There are plenty of reasons to be discouraged, but this passage has presented two reasons to be encouraged. First, God promises victory in a believer’s prayer life by means of the best prayer partner around—the Holy Spirit. Even when we may be at a loss for words and the situation has brought us to the end of ourselves, the Spirit remains vigilant to plead our case before the Lord in a language that only He understands. What a comfort! Second, God promises the victory of salvation—that is salvation in every single situation (as He promises all things work together for His glorious good) and the believer’s own salvation (from start to finish). Don’t be fooled by what you see. The world may appear to be winning, but these victories that a believer possesses tell a different story. Be encouraged and choose this day to revel in the victory that God has made available by diligent prayer and earnestly pursuing Christ-likeness, for, as this passage has revealed, we simply cannot lose when we are given to these activities.
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
There are a whole lot of things that people are hoping for as we near the Christmas season. Children are hoping for specific gifts, parents are hoping for a little R&R, families are hoping to reunite, friends are hoping to find time together, people are hoping to hear their favorite song on the radio, churches are hoping for big attendance at services and events, etc. There is so much to hope for and yet, in the midst of these preoccupations we must never forget or make light of the greatest hope of that we have as believers. In Romans 8:18-25 Paul reveals how important hope is for any church and he also explains that the greater the hope, the greater the capacity there is for perseverance for any believing community. Today, as we persevere through our study of this passage we are going to come across three comparisons that highlight the incredible persevering hope that believers enjoy in the Spirit.
a. Suffering and Hope-8:18
In Romans 8:1-17 Paul discussed how life in the Spirit affords the believer freedom in Christ (freedom from the condemnation of the law, the power of sin, and the hindrance of the flesh). Next, Paul discusses how living the Spirit also provides persevering hope. Hope that perseveres is necessary for anyone living in this world, especially the people of God who have citizenship in another world entirely. Internal and external pressure, discouragement, negativity, persecution, tragedy, grief, temptation, deceit, etc. all of these potentially inhibit a believer’s joy, leading to despair.
Paul was no stranger to tribulations and obstacles in his own life. In fact, he provides a little compendium of what he went through as he was serving the Lord in 2 Corinthians 11:24-29-“Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?”
Surely some of these episodes were on Paul’s mind as he says in 8:18, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time,…”.
However, In spite of all that Paul had gone through or would go through, in spite of all the pressure the church in Rome was facing in their brave new world, and in spite of anything that could come against God’s people today, Paul says that these “are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (8:18b). In other words, what believers have to look forward to and hope for is so glorious, awesome, and assured that the troubles one faces in the meantime pale in comparison. What is it that the believer has to look forward to? Paul refers to this end-goal and destiny with “the glory that is to be revealed to us.” This glory has a name—Jesus.
1 Thess. 4:16-17-“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words.”
Phil. 3:20-21-“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of HIs glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”
In many cases, the better the goal someone has, the more perseverance and stick-to-it-ness he/she has to reach it. This phenomenon is nowhere more clearly witnessed than here. Paul indicates that because believers have the greatest and most glorious of all things to look forward to (seeing Christ and entering into eternity with Him), not even the most acute trial can deter their perseverance to that end! When it comes to what believers can expect, comparing the future to the present is apples and oranges. What is coming is quite literally out of THIS world. This is why Paul encourages elsewhere, “Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2) and “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).
b. External and Internal Groanings-8:19-23
That said, because the believing community is not there yet, there is a great deal of tension (groaning) that is witnessed both externally and internally. Paul Tillich believed that this tension came because believers are “essentially good though existentially estranged.” Estranged from what? Estranged from their glorified body, the new heaven and the new earth, and from uninterrupted communion with God. Paul identifies this tension in verse 8:19, “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God,…”. Here, creation itself is described as waiting on pins and needles for the time when the sons and daughters of God reach their full potential. One commentator has said “the whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own” (Phillips).
After all, creation itself is waiting for a similar transformation—“for the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it” (8:20a). “Because Adam disobeyed by eating the forbidden fruit, God had cursed the ground (Gen. 3:17-18; 5:29). The full redemptive work of God includes the reversal of this curse” (Mounce, Romans, 184). Sin is the reason that mankind and creation itself exists in this tension in the first place. God saw fit to punish man’s sin by making man work through thorns and thistles to yield his produce. However, this curse and the tension that it has created is not permanent.
“The physical universe was frustrated by Adam’s sin, yet there is hope. Verses 21 state the content of that hope” when it says “in hope 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” (8:21) (Mounce, Romans, 185).
In the meantime, creation, like mankind, lives in tension—it awaits a future recreation and yet suffers in the meantime. Paul uses labor pains to describe this strain when he says “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now,…” (8:22). Just as believers have hope in a glorious future to help them persevere through trials and tribulations, creation has the hope of a new birth to provide perseverance through the painful contractions that it has, is, and will continue to experience.
The wonder and joy of a newborn is a beautiful prize that helps a woman find motivation and perseverance during the pains of childbirth. So too is the hope of a recreation motivating to the anthropomorphized creative order that is reeling under the pain of corruption and groaning for relief. In both scenarios, the pain is not meaningless but “carries with it the hope of new life for all creation” (NIVSB not on 8:23).
The external tension witnessed in the created order is parallel to the internal struggle within individuals. Paul continues by saying, “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves” (8:23a). “In the Old Testament firstfruits consisted of the initial portion of the harvest that was given in sacrifice to God (Exod. 23:19; Lev. 23:9-14). Paul used the term in reference to the gift of the Spirit as an eschatological pledge.” This is similar to what he says in 2 Cor. 5:5-“Now who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.” In other words, the Spirit provides present confirmation to believers of what they will one day be.
This same Spirit was said to also confirm that believers are sons and daughters of God—“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!’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,…” (8:15ff). However, Paul says in verse 23 that believers are “waiting eagerly for [their] adoption as sons.” What could this mean?
Believer are adopted (papers signed, rights and privileges intact, full-fledged children of God) though not yet picked up from the agency/group home (they have not yet vacated the premises of the world as it exists and been taken to their new home in the glories of a new heaven and new earth).
When will this occur? When will believers be picked up? The answer is “at the redemption of our body” (8:23). This is salvation future—the believer’s glorification.
1 John 3:2-3-“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. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
In 1 John as in Romans 8, this hope of future adoption and relief from the external and internal tensions both believers and this world face provides the “stuff” necessary for God’s people to persevere. After all, as tense as things may be now, believers have the hope that one day this tension will be satisfied! Praise the Lord!
Just as creation will be freed from corruption and decay, believers will on this future date be freedom from their sinful flesh. It is interesting to point out how connected the fate of humanity is with the fate of the world. It was mankind’s sin that landed the world in disrepair and it will be mankind’s glorification that will trigger creation’s great re-creative transformation.
c. What is Seen and What is Unseen-9:24-25
All of this persevering hope stems from the believer’s salvation—“For in hope we have been saved” (9:24a). The perfective function of this past-tense (aorist) verb means that the present and ongoing implications of a believer’s salvation are in view. One of these present and ongoing implications of salvation is “hope.”
Hope is a curious word that has unfortunately suffered dilution over time. Today people “hope” to win the lottery and “hope” to avoid certain people over the holidays and “hope” that the bill for their car repairs is lower than expected. However, this understanding of hope reduces the original meaning of the word down to a mere wish or desire. Hope in Romans 8 (and in most other New Testament contexts” is a confident expectation of a future reality that is good and beneficial. Hope according to this definition is a sure thing—as good as already present.
However, hope also implies that it is not yet visible—“But hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?” (9:24b). The answer to this question is “No one!” Once what is hoped for has occurred, there is no need to hope any longer—it has been realized!
Instead “if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” (9:25). Hope provides perseverance to those who have it. As believers enjoy the greatest hope of all—the end of suffering, the relief of tension, adoption as sons, etc.—they have the greatest capacity to persevere in this world of sin and death.
There is a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks as we approach Christmas, New Years, time with family, friends, etc. However, I wonder how many might not see much beyond that. I wonder how many either don’t know or have forgotten that there is more than just another year, season, cycle, available to them in the end. Believers who are living in the Spirit enjoy the greatest hope of all and as such are given the ability to persevere whatever the world may throw against them! Because believers have the greatest thing coming they are able to endure the worst stuff around them. Do you know that today? Do you believe that today?
The church must be reminded of the hope that they have so that they might find strength and inspire the hopeless. If we cannot make it in this world of sin and death—we who are in Christ and living in the Spirit—who can?
Friday, November 17, 2017
Later this week many will gather with family and friends and reflect on what it is that they are thankful for. As I’ve reflected on what I’m most grateful for this year, I wanted to take this opportunity to let you all know how appreciative my family and I are for your incredible support—both practical and prayerful, financial and spiritual—you all have provided us with in what was our darkest hour. Words cannot express what your written words, texts, gifts, and simple acts of kindness have meant to us. It has been truly overwhelming to say the least and we thank God for you regularly. It has always been an honor to serve as your pastor and be your friend and these recent weeks have only made this privilege all the more meaningful.
That said, I thought I’d kick off this special week of thankfulness by leading us into Romans 8. In the first 17 verses of this amazing chapter, Paul highlights one of the things that we should thank God for every day of our redeemed lives. I’m talking about our freedom in Christ. In Romans 8:1-17, we are going to listen to three statements concerning the freedom believers have in Christ and examine three corresponding blessings that go along with this freedom that we all need to pause and thank God for today.
a. STATEMENT #1: A Declaration of the Freedom Provided-8:1-“…Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,…”
As Paul opens his exposition on what life is like “in the Spirit” he says “Therefore…” (8:1). However, before we can enjoy what comes after this conjunction, we must ask what is this “Therefore” there for? In the immediate context, “therefore” refers back to the rescue of believers from their bondage to sinful flesh under the law. In Romans 7, the law, sin, and the flesh were identified as potential barriers to a believer’s growth in Christ. However, to circumvent the law and its condemnation, God provided Jesus and the means by which one can enjoy a relationship with Him. Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross not only renders one able to trade the Law for Christ, it also saves believers from the power of sin. Also, this same Jesus and His Spirit is able to overwhelm sin’s effect on the flesh that so easily and regularly trips people up. Because these obstacles (the law, sin, and the flesh) been circumvented, believers know a new existence in the Spirit. This is what Paul turns to in chapter 8—life in the Spirit. That said, any and all blessings believers enjoy in the Spirit are predicated on the salvation people enjoy from the law, sin, and flesh that comes only through Jesus.
The statement of freedom from these things reads as follows: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). This means that those who died with Christ on the cross and were raised to newness of life three days later are no longer condemned by the usual suspects identified earlier—the law, sin, and the flesh.
Romans 6:3-7-“Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.”
Those in Christ no longer have to fear the punishment they deserve by failing to uphold the law. Those in Christ are no longer required to give into condemning sins that transgress those laws in the first place. Not even sinful flesh is capable of implicating those who are in Christ. In this we learn that salvation is just as much about where someone is as it is what someone has confessed is true of his/her heart. Those who are saved are IN CHRIST and these are no longer condemned.
b. STATEMENT #2: Explanation of Freedom-8:2-8
Next, Paul provides a lengthy description of how this freedom has come about. In verses 2-8, Paul reiterates many of the very things that he explained in the previous chapter, why? Because, as we’ve stressed several times in this series, repetition leads to retention, repetition leads to retention, repetition leads to retention.
Romans 8:2-8-“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 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, 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. 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. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 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, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God,…”
Simply put, the law has failed to keep people right with God (as no one can fulfill this standard) and the flesh has rendered being right with God nearly impossible (Paul even called it wretched!) (see Romans 7:14-25). As a result, the only way to enjoy the freedoms that come in Christ is to live life “according to the Spirit.” Endorsing this mindset brings about “life and peace” according to verse 6 while thinking on and handing one’s members over to fleshly things only brings about death.
What are these “spiritual” things worth considering? Again, almost every time Paul has spiritual things in mind he is referring to that which is from God and inspired. Therefore, to enjoy the life made available in Christ, one must live a life that is preoccupied with those things from the Spirit that are from God and inspired by God.
c. STATEMENT #3: A Presentation of the Results of Freedom-8:9-17
The first result of freedom in Christ is life in the Spirit. Paul says “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you,…” (8:9). In other words, to be in Christ means to be in the Spirit also and those who are in the Spirit are those who have the Spirit dwelling within them. “Dwell” here means to take up residence in. The active, progressive, and present nuances of the verb describe an ongoing and consistent reality of God’s Spirit abiding in a person. Those who are in Christ have this abiding presence of God within them. However, as Paul continues, “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him,…” (8:9).
Life in the Spirit affords some amazing things according to Paul—“If Christ is in you, through the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness,” (8:10). What the apostle means is this: one’s life in the Spirit allows the individual to live in a way that is better than their flesh would otherwise allow (remember the struggle of the flesh in Romans 7:14-25). While the flesh is only capable of sin and death (as it is fallen and longing to be made new), the Spirit in which one dwells and who dwells in them, allows believers to overwhelm the sinful flesh and actually live a life of righteousness.
How is this possible? Paul says “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,…” (8:11). Believers can trust that the Spirit who dwells in them is able to give them life because He is the same Spirit that brought Jesus back to life from the dead. It is this kind of power—radically transforming power---that is required to animate an otherwise dead and sinful body for God’s glorious purposes and it is this kind of power that is offered by the Holy Spirit to all who are in Christ.
Recognizing the transforming power of the Spirit in the life of every believer helps inform Paul’s presentation of the second result/benefit of the freedom one finds in Christ—freedom from the obligation to the flesh—“So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh” (8:12). Before believers were in Christ, they could not help but say yes to the inclinations of their flesh and give into sin. Now that believers are in Christ and, by proxy, in the Spirit (with the Spirit dwelling in them), they are able to say ‘no’ to the flesh. What a blessing!
To fail to live in this reality and choose the other option that is available (a life committed to sin and the flesh) is to live the kind of life that leads only to death. Paul indicates this when he says “for if you are living according to the flesh you must die” (8:13a). Why is this? Because that which is of the flesh is contaminated with sin and sin leads to death. Death is always the natural outcome of sin.
Whenever and wherever sin is endorsed, something dies—innocence, opportunities, confidence, trust, relationships, etc. Those who choose to live in the flesh will experience death in any number of these ways and more.
“But” Paul says, “if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body you will live” (8:13b). “Putting to death” describes a continuous activity in which extreme measures are taken so that something ceases from happening. This is the other option that believers have as it concerns their sin and flesh. There are two kinds of people in the world—those who endorse sin and embrace their flesh to that end and those who hate sin and wage war against any and everything that encourages it. Believers are free from the obligation of sin and as such are able to wage this war that Paul describes here. Because believers are “in the Spirit” they have the assurance that they will win this battle and “live” in the end.
In addition to life in the Spirit and freedom from the obligation to sin, the final result/benefit of one’s freedom in Christ is life as a son/daughter of God. Paul says, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (8:14).
Because believers are sons and daughters of God, they are able to endorse a new attitude toward God—“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!’…”(8:15). When once sin held the believer in oppressive slavery, salvation has broken the chains and pulled up a chair at God’s table. Though sin made everyone enemies of God, believers are sons and daughters of God. So intimate is this connection that believers and God share that they are able to call God ‘Abba Father.’
Notice also that this new relationship is akin to adoption. We are not naturally born of God (and technically not God’s children) until we are reborn in Christ. Then and only then does God adopt us who were once far off into His family. This does not suggest that the new relationship is somehow less reputable or compelling. After all, in the first century, adoption in Rome granted the adopted equal status with naturally born sons and daughters of a family and all of the implications thereof. The same is true of believers and God—they are now GOD’S KIDS through and through.
How does one know that they belong to God in this way? Paul answers this in verse 16—“the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” The presence of God’s Spirit in the life of a believer provides them the assurance that God is their Father. This He does while also helping the believer put to death the sinful flesh and execute righteousness in its place.
Son-ship and adoption doesn’t just come with the assurance of the Spirit of God, it also comes complete with the greatest inheritance available—“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” (8:17). Legitimate adopted children in Rome were not second-class kids. These inherited property and possessions just as natural born children did. So too do God’s adoptive children inherit the things that Christ Himself inherits—life eternal and a place of authority in the new heaven and the new earth. The Bible says that we will, as the church, rule with Christ during a future millennial kingdom and then be ushered into a perfect and complete world thereafter to enjoy forever.
Those who know this inheritance, Paul says, are those who “suffer with Him” (8:17). When does a son of God suffer with Christ? We suffered essentially in his death as we were “buried in the likeness of his death” in a spiritual sense. We also continue to suffer existentially (in our current experience) in persecution and in the ongoing struggle that we encounter in this world as God’s people. This suffering, in a painful way, reminds the believer that they are God’s. After all, Jesus told his disciples “if the world hated Me, they will surely hate you” (Jn. 15:18). However, this suffering is not the end. It is a preview of the glory that will one day be realized.
Philippians 2:5-11-“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
As you count your blessings this week, can you say with absolute certainty that you can include freedom in Christ in that compendium? Or, if you were honest with yourself, would you have to say that you are still enslaved in sin, controlled by the flesh, and condemned under the law? There is a better way to live (there is the only way to live) and it is found IN CHRIST, is confirmed BY THE SPIRIT, and result in being an adopted son/daughter of the PERFECT FATHER. Freedom! Praise the Lord we can be free in Christ!