Tag Archives: Romans 8

Romans 8:35 No Separation

23 Aug

Here is a manuscript of a recent Sunday night Bible study from Romans chapter 8.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

Last week as we continued with this last section of Romans 8 we said that verses 31-39 were like an “argument of praise.” Paul is worshiping God through these last verses but he is also re-affirming the case he has been making about the truth of what God has done which he has been discussing in the first 8 chapters of the book.

What we have found in chapter 8 has been a focus on the glory of salvation and on the reality of suffering. Paul has told us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We have the Spirit, we are adopted into God’s family. We are His heirs. We have a glorious hope and the gracious Holy Spirit to minister to us and the sovereign plan of God to see us through. So there is much about the glory and goodness of all God has done in Romans 8. But then there is also the theme of suffering that runs through this chapter. We live in a fallen, broken world, in bondage to decay. There are all sorts of trials and doubts and difficulties. The challenge of life in a fallen world tests us all. But in the end, through the work of Christ, God’s goodness and power triumphs over the sin and brokenness of the world. Paul never shies away from talking about suffering, but he always puts suffering in the right place: under the sovereignty of God as something that we will ultimately triumph over as God’s children.

The problem is that suffering sometimes feels more real to us than the truths we are looking at in Romans 8. Most of us would have to admit that there are times when suffering feels overwhelming. Paul felt this way at times. For all his triumph here in Romans 8 when we turn to 2 Corinthians chapter 1 we find him saying that the challenges of ministry caused him to despair. Even Jesus in the garden says, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” So this is no little thing we’re dealing with when we are dealing with the issue of suffering. Paul won’t minimize it and he won’t give some kind of flippant, quick answer. He means to deal with it in a comprehensive way and that is what he has been doing in chapter 8 all the way from verse 18 through the end of the chapter. And that is one reason why we have lingered so long on these verses. The issue of dealing with the brokenness of the world and the suffering of our lives is just too important to gloss over with a Sunday School answer. We have already seen Paul give us three ways to deal with the suffering we face: meditate on future glory, rest in the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit and trust in the sovereign hand of God as He works out His plan for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. I think verses 18-30 are meant to give us what we need to fight this battle against suffering mentally and spiritually. On the other hand, I think verses 31-39 are intended to give us what we need to fight this battle against suffering emotionally. In other words, Paul’s argument of praise is intended to lift our hearts while his words in verses 18-30 are intended to strengthen our minds. We need both. We need right thinking and we need right belief and we also need heart encouragement to stay the course in a world gone mad. That heart encouragement is what Paul has been providing over the last few verses and will continue to give through the end of the chapter. So let’s focus tonight on the encouragement he gives in verses 35.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?

I think we have here the number one challenge we face when we suffer. We may be tempted to wonder whether God loves us. Intellectually, we know God loves us, but when we are facing a severe trial, it may appear to us that God does not love us. And it may also appear to others that God does not love us. The ancient world was similar to our own world in that we tend to think that those who have money or power or outward success are blessed while those who have disease or financial struggle or other problems must be in the shape they’re in because of sin.

So I want to look at what is going on in this verse overall and then take a look at some of the details. Paul’s point in verse 35 is that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. This is really what he will be driving home in this closing section of Romans 8, from verses 35-39. He opened the chapter with the powerful word that there is no condemnation and he will close it with the great word that there is no separation. The rest of verse 35 is just a listing of the kind of things we might be tempted to think could separate us from Christ’s love but in fact cannot.

So the main idea of verse 35 is that nothing can separate us from Christ’s love. Here it is stated in question form but the expected answer is “no,” and that answer will come in its fullness in verses 37-39 where Paul will plainly state, “nothing can separate us from the love of God that it is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Verse 35 also connects to the beginning of the argument of praise, especially Romans 8:32. “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” So Paul has told already told us that God has shown us the full extent of His love for us by giving us Jesus. In giving Jesus, God could not have given more deeply. If anything would have held back God’s love toward us, it would have been the prospect of having to give up His Son. But since God didn’t hold back His Son from us we know nothing else will cause Him to hold back His love or separate Himself from us. The sense of verse 35 when taken along with this whole closing section was summed up well by the great old commentator Matthew Henry, who wrote, “Since God in His love gave up His Son for us without hesitation, can we imagine that any thing else should divert or dissolve that love?” So that is the main point of verse 35. Now let’s look at the details.

First, this word “Who.” I found this strange because all the things Paul lists at the end of verse 35 are things, not people. My expectation would be that this would read, “What shall separate us from the love of God?” Tribulation or despair or whatever. But the verse says “who.” I believe one reason this is so is because Paul believes that what drives suffering in the world is not impersonal forces but people, God and Satan. Think about the spiritual warfare language Paul uses in places like Ephesians 6. Think about how Paul speaks about the sovereign hand of God even here in Romans 8. In behind the tribulation and distress and danger are personal forces and spiritual forces at work. Paul doesn’t believe in a random world so he personalizes his question.

“Who shall separate us?” This word “separate” is the Greek word choridzw. Jesus uses it when talking about God’s plan for marriage when He says, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” It is used three times in Acts all with the idea of leaving or departing a place. Paul picks it up and uses it four times in his discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians chapter 7. And the book of Hebrews in chapter 7 uses it in speaking of how Jesus was separate from sinners, how He was perfect while they were not. The marriage example is the strongest Scriptural use of this Word and it is a fitting example for us to think about, for God puts His relationship with the church in terms of marriage. We are the bride of Christ and nothing will get in the way of His love for us. The “us” obviously then is referring to believers. Romans 8 makes clear all the way through that it is those who are “in Christ Jesus” who receive the blessings of this chapter.
When we think about the next phrase, “from the love of Christ,” we see something more of Paul’s view of God. Paul transitions so easily between the love of Christ here and the love of God in verse 39 that it is clear that He sees the Father and the Son as equals. Then when you throw in all that chapter 8 says about the Spirit, you begin to see that this chapter has a thoroughly Trinitarian shape. And this is not just the case in Romans 8. Sometimes we here that the word trinity is never used in Scripture and that is true. But if you are alert as you read Scripture, you begin to see the trinity everywhere as a solid and sure biblical truth.

We also see something of Paul’s view of love. In saying here in verses 35-39 that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ Paul is pointing to God’s love for believers as ever-present and all-encompassing. I think about Psalm 139, where the psalmist talks about going nowhere where God is not present and feeling at all times that God is with him and is guiding him. I also think about the first few verses of Romans 5, which say, Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

This agape love, the self-giving love of God is something from which nothing can separate us if we are in Christ Jesus.
But when we face affliction, the most common thing most people do is question God. When we are going through hardship, people pity us and point to our sufferings as proof that God’s love is not with us, or even that God is not real.
Jesus faced this in his ministry. Do you remember John chapter 9, the man born blind? The disciples say, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” You see the worldly thinking of the disciples? Yet what did Jesus say? Neither this man nor His parents sinned, but he was born blind that the works of God might be displayed in his life. This man in John 9 is a picture of so many things but one of the big things he shows us is the reality of Romans 8:28-30. Jesus also saw this attitude in His disciples when the storm came up on the sea. Jesus was sleeping and they woke Him up and said, “Don’t you care that we are about to drown?” You see that, they didn’t question His power, they questioned His love.
Jesus also faced this kind of thinking when He was on the cross. The religious leaders said, “He trusted in God, let him deliver him now, if he will have him; for he said, I am the Son of God.”

And I have to say, if I am one of those disciples on the boat, I am not probably not really feeling Jesus’ love while He is sleeping as the waves crash over the boat. When hardship comes, it does not feel like love. It feels like abandonment or punishment. Paul knows this and that’s why he spends so much of this chapter talking to us about how to deal with suffering. In the end, if we are to get through the hard times faithfully, we have to be constantly reminding ourselves of these truths. That is why I have encouraged you just to live in Romans 8. Just keep praying through these promises daily and looking to these truths.

The words “of Christ” can be taken in one of two ways. It could mean (1) Christ’s love for believers or (2) believers love for Christ. In this case, it is clear that it is talking about Christ’s love for believers. The language of being separated from this love points to the idea that it is Christ’s love flowing toward us rather than our love flowing toward Him. Also, our love for Christ ebbs and flows, whereas His love for us is steady and consistent. The old theologian Charles Hodge sealed my understanding of this with these words, “It is no ground of confidence to assert, or even to feel, that we will never forsake Christ; but it is the strongest ground of assurance to be convinced that His love will never change.” Paul in trying to assure us never points us back to ourselves but always to God as the one who is at work for His glory and our joy.
So as Paul assures us of Christ’s love for us, he points to seven categories of things which might threaten to separate us from Christ’s love. I say categories because each of these words is general and could refer to anything from daily annoyances to life-threatening dangers. I do believe there is a progression or growing intensity in the list which I will point out as we go but in general this list would cover all the major threats in our lives which may cause us to question God’s love.

So here’s the list . . . Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
Now some of you might be saying, “Pastor, how can you say the list gets more intense as you go? I mean tribulation is the first word on the list. Haven’t you ever heard of the great tribulation?” But the thing is, this Greek word hardly ever refers in the Bible to the Great tribulation. It is a very general word, Thlipsis, which just means “affliction.” It is a very common word, used 45 times in the NT and it is a word for general suffering or affliction or tribulation.

The next word, “distress,” is used more rarely, just four times in the NT, all by Paul. It is twice translated “distress” and twice translated “calamities.” Again, it is a very general word that refers to hardship. I did find one interesting truth, though, in studying this word. There is a link here to Romans chapter 2. Look at Romans 2:9, There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. Do you see that tribulation and distress in verse 9? Same Greek words as those used here in Romans 8. Now we’ve already talked about Romans 2 and have said that it is true that there is trouble for those who do evil but blessing for those who do good. And we have noted that since, as chapter 3 states, no one does good, there has to be justification by faith in Christ for any good to come of our lives. But notice how Romans 8:35 rounds out the story of Romans 2:9-10. There will be tribulation and distress for evildoers. But there will also be tribulation and distress for believers, along with many blessings in this life. The difference is that the evildoer in the end will eternally live under that eternal tribulation and distress while the believer will be held steadfast even in the midst of tribulation and distress.

The third word, persecution, is fairly straightforward. It is used 10 times in the NT and simply points to the hardship others bring on Christians because of their faith in Christ.

The fourth word, famine, is used 12 times in the NT and is used by Christ in His predictions about the great tribulation and by Paul to talk about His own sufferings. This word, along with the fifth word, “nakedness” refers to physical poverty and hardship. And when we begin to put this all together, it appears that this list is straight out of Paul’s own experience. He knew tribulation and distress of all sorts. He knew well the sting of persecution. Philippians 4 tells us he knew what it was to be in hunger and that he knew what it was to be in need. The book of 2 Corinthians details Paul’s sufferings in a list in chapter 11 that goes like this, Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

The sixth word, dangers, is a fairly rare Greek word, kindunos, which is found in only two places in the NT, Romans 8:35 and 2 Corinthians 11:26, which we just read. The word speaks to various kinds of physical threats. So we can see this progression from troubling circumstances to outright persecution to severe poverty to physical threats and finally, to the last word, “sword.” This Greek word, machaira, is a common Greek word, used 29 times in the NT. Of course, many of these times it is used of a physical sword. In the gospels as well as the book of Acts it is almost always used in this physical, literal way. But when we get to Paul’s letters, we see that the word carries several symbolic meanings as well. In both Ephesians and Hebrews the Word of God is referred to as a sword. It is interesting as a side note to see that the Word as a sword is actually used in Ephesians as an offensive weapon to fight the battle of sin but in Hebrews it is doing its work on us as it cuts into our spirits and reveals the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. So the Spirit uses the same word both to build us up in God and to reveal our own sinfulness. This two-fold use of the Word is critical for our spiritual health. We need both uses of the sword to be healthy believers.

The other symbolic meaning of the sword is when Paul refers to the government in Romans 13. That he uses the same word here in Romans 8 may mean that he is thinking of official government persecution here. But the word sword may also be a reference simply to death. I think this is most likely, if we believe there is a progression here in the severity of the threats Paul is talking about.

Now do you see all the parallels in this list to the life of Paul? The one who is writing all these hopeful words about the love of God, has already walked down the path of suffering and found the love of Christ sufficient. Now he says to his readers, it is real. The love of God really is greater than all my troubles.

It is interesting that an early Jewish source, the book of Sirach, says the following words, “To all creatures, human and animal, but to sinners seven times more, 9come death and bloodshed and strife and sword, calamities and famine and ruin and plague. 10 All these were created for the wicked, and on their account the flood came. 11 All that is of earth returns to earth, and what is from above returns above.”

Sirach was written by a Jewish rabbi from Jerusalem in about 175BC. So we have a good idea through this of conventional wisdom in Paul’s day and there is a sense here that this list of seven hardships are the punishments of God toward ungodly people. But here is where it gets deep. Christians are not being punished for wrongdoing and yet they are not delivered from all hardship. This is where Christians part ways with false teachers that say faith always leads to a good result in this life. Believers still face hardship. But God does deliver us. God doesn’t deliver us from these hardships, He delivers us through these hardships. That is what Paul is saying in verse 35. Evil will not prevail, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.

But if we look at the outward appearance, we may see little difference between the circumstances of believers and the circumstances of unbelievers. Being a believer doesn’t keep you cancer free and you get a lot of hardship added like persecution. So many people would look at a suffering believer and wonder about what sin they committed to be so punished.
Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Well, that’s where we have to stop tonight. This truth is so wonderful, especially when we pair it with verse 1 . . . NO CONDEMNATION and NO SEPARATION.

Notes on Romans 8:12-17

21 May

Here are my notes from our Sunday night study in Romans 8.

So far in Romans 8 Paul has been talking about the way things are for two groups of people: those who are in Christ Jesus and those who are not. Those who are in Christ Jesus are under no condemnation. Through the work of Christ the requirements of the law are fulfilled in them. They have a mindset on the Spirit who dwells in them. Through the work of the Spirit they have life and peace.
On the other hand, those who are in the flesh are under condemnation, they can’t fulfill the law, they have a fleshly mindset that is actually hostile to God and unable to submit to God’s law. They are unable to please God and are in the way of death.
Up to this point it has been all about what we are. There are few if any commands in this section. But when we get to verse 12, we shift to commands. We move from what we might call the indicative to the imperative, from who we are to what we do.
When Paul starts giving commands, he does two things: he encourages us toward godliness while at the same time assuring us of salvation. Any time we talk about growing in the Lord and we aren’t doing both of these things we are not following the biblical pattern. Paul wants to assure us that we belong to God while at the same time urging us to act like we are children of God.
So let’s look tonight as at much as we can of verses 12-17 and see this dynamic played out . . .
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.
This first phrase, so then, is a strong transition in Greek, a stronger emphasis than normal. The point is that Paul is moving on to say what results from all he has been saying in verses 1-11.
The word “brothers” obviously means that he is talking to believers. Both women and men are included in this word and some translations will say “brothers and sisters.” So this section is not going to describe the worldly, sinful person and the Spirit led person so much as it is going to prescribe how the true Christian should live.
We should live first as those who are debtors. Christians are people under obligation. Because we have received such grace from God, the gift of His Spirit, adoption into His family, an inheritance with Him, freedom from condemnation, life and peace, eternal life, and a thousand other gifts, we are debtors.
Now we don’t like the idea of obligation. For many Christians, the idea of obligation strikes them as wrong. We should be motivated by gratitude, not obligation. I think this way most of the time. I want to avoid any sense of trying to earn favor with God and instead rest in His grace. Yet there is a clear theme in the Bible that we are under obligation. It is our duty to love Christ.
It makes more sense when I think of it in relation to marriage, for example. A good marriage would be mostly grounded in gratitude and love and joy but there is, in a good marriage, an undertow of obligation, of debt. This person has chosen to commit to me for life therefore I am going to persevere in this relationship. I made a commitment to them too and I am going to honor that commitment in the hard times. And when I am challenged to not love and cherish my wife I am going to remember that I am under obligation. And I think this is the place where duty may serve a good purpose in the Christian life. When worldliness is surrounding you and challenges are coming your way that are pushing you toward the flesh, there is a time when you just must do your duty. If you can’t obey from a sense of gratitude and delight, you should still obey. So when you are about to say the slanderous thing that you are tempted to say, you back up and say, no, this is not what a person saved by grace does.
Our debt is not to the flesh. The flesh gave us nothing but misery and death. Our new life and peace did not come from the flesh. We don’t owe the flesh a single thing.
If you remember chapter 7, before we were in Christ we were sold as slaves under sin. But now we have been set free from that slave master and have become instead servants or slaves of righteousness.
But freed slaves might sometimes be tempted to go back to their former masters because it is all they’ve known. So we also may still listen to and follow our flesh even though we have been freed from slavery to sin through Christ. This means that the Christian life is one in which we can still sin, but we have power through the Spirit not to sin. We must trust in Christ to be saved and we must continue to trust in Christ day by day in order to grow as believers.
But interestingly, the next verse will tell us, we must live by the Spirit day by day, not only to grow as believers, but to avoid eternal death. That may strike you as strange. You may wonder whether I am teaching that we can lose our salvation. So we need to look at this carefully.
13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
It is clear that one who lives according to the flesh will die. This is obvious because of what we have already seen in Romans. The mindset on the flesh is death. But those who put to death the deeds of the body will live. Why? Because they live by the power of the Spirit.
Our way of thinking is all twisted. Most people think to live for Christ is a kind of joyless, sour existence filled with duty alone. And they think giving in to every fleshly desire is the way to live. But in reality, they are heading for eternal death. And the fact that indulging the flesh leads to death causes Paul to use it as a motivation to tell Christians not to give in to the flesh. This is not a new thing for Paul. Look at the first 11 verses of chapter 8: “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus liberated me from the law of the sin and of the death” (v. 2); “the mind of the flesh—death; but the mind of the spirit—life and peace” (v. 6); “the spirit—life through righteousness” (v. 10), the Spirit who raised up Christ “shall make alive” even our mortal bodies.
The theologian Charles Hodge said, “There can be no safety, no holiness, no happiness, to those who are out of Christ: No “safety,” because all such are under the condemnation of the law (Ro 8:1); no holiness, because such only as are united to Christ have the spirit of Christ (Ro 8:9); no happiness, because to be “carnally minded is death” (Ro 8:6)”
But the issue of course is whether a believer can lose his salvation if he lives for the flesh.
Some would say yes, if a believer goes on in a fleshly way in their life they can lose their salvation.
Others believe that a true believer cannot lose his or her salvation and if a person does go back to a fleshly lifestyle after professing faith in Christ they were most likely never saved.
This is an issue which is not easy, for there are passages that seem to provide assurance and there are other passages which seem to warn believers that ongoing sin will lead to eternal death. So if we really want to be fair with the Bible, we have to consider all the passages. We can’t just throw out the ones that don’t suit us and keep the rest.
So how does this all fit together? I think of the president of my seminary, Robertson McQuilkin, who said that we must strive to “stay in the center of biblical tension.” I think that is right. And what it means is that we hold both of these things to be true.
How do we do that? We hold two truths in tension: that faith in Christ infallibly secures eternal life and that a lifestyle empowered by the Holy Spirit is necessary to inherit eternal life. Every true Christian has trusted in Christ and every true Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and every true Christian will submit himself to the work of the Holy Spirit, not perfectly but substantially.
This means that all the great truths we talked about in verses 1-11 do not make us passive, just believing truth but not acting on truth. Instead, these truths produce faithful, grace-dependent lives. We see this clearly in Titus 2:11-15.
So, yes, we do work actively for our growth in grace, but even here when we are told to mortify, or kill, the deeds of the body, there is only one way this can happen. We must mortify the deeds of the body “by the Spirit.” So it is not that I must defeat my flesh. Instead, the Spirit defeats the flesh as I draw on the power of the Spirit. So we are not saved by works and we are not sanctified by works.
A couple of illustrations might be helpful to understand this. First, it is like the difference between a snapshot and a movie. If you took a snapshot of my life, you might see me at some point looking like I am living in the flesh. But if you took a movie of my life, if I am a true Christian, the overwhelming sense you would get is that I am not living in the flesh.
I also like what CH Spurgeon said, “The believer, like a man on shipboard, may fall again and again on the deck, but he will never fall overboard,”
As John Murray says, “The believer’s once for all death to the law of sin does not free him from the necessity of mortifying sin in his members; it makes it necessary and possible for him to do so.”
I think the overwhelming force of Romans 8 is for the security of the believer. This especially of 8:35-39. Yet we can not ignore warning passages in the New Testament.
So there seems to be a paradox: Christ’s work is the ground of eternal life but holy living is necessary for final salvation. The resolution of the paradox is that when we trust in Christ the Spirit comes to indwell us and gives us power to do God’s will. This is a middle way between moralism/legalism on the one hand and “Let go and let God” passivity on the other hand. I think it gets closer to taking into account what all the Bible says than any other view.
So on the one hand the New Testament is clear that believers have an obligation by the power of the Spirit to live lives of righteousness. Think about just a few passages.
• Romans 6:13: “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin.”
• Colossians 3:5: “Put to death … whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”
• Galatians 5:24: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”
• Mark 9:43–47: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.… And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.… And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”
But on the other hand, as Jesus says, no one can snatch us from the Father’s hand. And as Paul says in Romans, nothing can separate us from God’s love.

But there is an even more compelling reason of all to live lives of holiness which we see in verse 14 . . .

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
The compelling reason to live holy lives is because God has not only freed us from slavery to sin, He has also made us His own sons and daughters.
All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Now we have not talked about this at length up to this point, but we need to answer an important question. What does it mean to be led by the Spirit?
Ligon Duncan lists five ways in which we are led by the Spirit. First of all, when Paul says that we are led by the Spirit, he means that we are governed by the Spirit constantly. He’s not saying that, well, you know this Christian was up against this particular trial, and it was like the Spirit just took over. Now you may feel like that sometime, and the Lord may help in extraordinary ways, but that’s not what Paul is talking about here. Paul is talking about the believer constantly, not sporadically, not occasionally, not two or three really extraordinary times in life, but constantly every second being governed by the Holy Spirit. Notice, you see this even in the language. ‘He leads us.’ You know it’s not that the guide is there with you for five minutes, he drops off the trail for several days and comes back and meets you again for another five minutes, and then drops off the trail for a few days. He’s there with you every step. He’s constantly leading you.
Secondly, notice that the leading of the Spirit, as you look at this context, is primarily about correcting not protecting. Paul gives no indication whatsoever that the Holy Spirit protects us from suffering in this passage; in fact, the opposite. The final words of this passage indicate that just because you are led by the Spirit, does not mean that you are not going to go through trial. On the contrary, if you are a true son of God, Paul says you will. So, the Spirit’s leading here primarily is in correcting us. He’s knocking off rough edges; he’s making us to be like the Heavenly Father.
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit does not merely guide us. When we speak of the leading of the Spirit, we’re not speaking merely of guidance; it is that the Holy Spirit empowers us. It’s not like an Indian guide who sort of takes you across the mountains through the treacherous passes because he knows the way. He doesn’t just have information that you need, but he is actually the force that keeps you going. He’s the one who gives you the energy to start the trail in the first place, and to finish it just as surely. So He is empowering you from within.
Fourthly, notice that the leading of the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean that you are lost. The Holy Spirit doesn’t come in and replace some part of you. The Holy Spirit doesn’t displace you; instead He encourages and ages you. It’s truly you who are growing in grace. It’s truly you who are following in the way of the Spirit. And the Spirit is encouraging you and aiding you and helping you in that; not displacing your personality. It doesn’t mean when we say that it’s Christ in me, it doesn’t mean that somehow I has been evacuated, and I don’t exist anymore, and I don’t have no personality, and I’m sort of part of the board now. That’s not what Paul is talking about. The Spirit is encouraging and aiding us, our true self. And it’s helped and encouraged by the Spirit.
Finally, when the Holy Spirit leads us, He always leads us in the way of truth. How many times have you had Christians come to you and say, “Well, you know, the Spirit is leading me to do ‘X.’” And you’re sitting there scratching your heard, and you’re thinking, “That’s wrong. What you’re saying that you’re being led to do is wrong.” So I know it’s not the Holy Spirit that is leading you to do that, because the Holy Spirit leads us in the way of God’s word, God’s law, God’s truth, Psalm 1, Psalm 19, Psalm 119. You can get a hundred other passages. The Holy Spirit never leads against the word of God. He never leads against the will of God. He never leads against the truth of God. He always leads with them. Now we could say a lot more about the Holy Spirit. Indeed, we’ve only scratched the surface on touching this subject of His leading, but we have said at least that. And the apostle Paul, don’t miss the point here.
So this is something of what it means to be led by the Spirit. And when we are led by the Spirit, we are sons of God.
This title, sons of God, is often used in the Old Testament for the people of Israel. It is also a title Jesus used of Himself. How do you know that you are a son? Because the Spirit is working in you for your growth in grace and this is evidence that you are a child of God. It is not some upper class of Christians who are led by the Spirit. All who are children of God are led by the Spirit. The word “led” tells us that Paul is not talking about a temporary status but about a continuous leading.
As Bob Utley says, “Assurance is not meant to soften the Bible’s call to holiness! Theologically speaking, assurance is based on the character and actions of the Triune God (1) the Father’s love and mercy; (2) the Son’s finished sacrificial work and (3) the Spirit’s wooing to Christ and then forming Christ in the repentant believer. The evidence of this salvation is a changed worldview, a changed heart, a changed lifestyle and a changed hope! It cannot be based on a past emotional decision that has no lifestyle evidence (i.e. fruit, cf. Matt. 7:15–23; 13:20–22). Assurance, like salvation, like the Christian life, begins with a response to God’s mercy and continues that response throughout life. It is a changed and changing life of faith!”

How many professing Christians today are not putting to death the misdeeds of the body? This is not what we are intended to be or how we are intended to live. We are sons of God. How can we live in a way that denies that truth? That is what Paul is going to take up in verse 15.

15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

In contrast with the control of sin, which enslaves to the point of fear, believers have received the Spirit of sonship. The word translated “sonship” (huiothesias) means “placing as a son” and is frequently translated “adoption” (as in, e.g., v. 23). Believers are adopted sons (Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5), not slaves (Gal. 4:7); so they need not be enslaved to sin or in fear. In New Testament times adopted sons enjoyed the same privileges as natural-born sons. So, instead of cowering in slave-like fear, Christians can approach God in an intimate way calling Him Abba, Father. “Abba” is a Greek and English transliteration of the Aramaic word for father (used elsewhere in the NT only in Mark 14:36; Gal. 4:6). Besides being adopted into God’s family as sons, believers also are His children (tekna, “born ones”) by the new birth (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1–2). And the Holy Spirit, who gives believers life, testifies with (not to) their spirit (s) of the fact of the new birth.
In adoption all previous relationships are severed. The new father exercises authority over the new son, and the new son enters into the privileges and responsibilities of the natural son. “Abba,” the Aramaic word for “father,” was used primarily within the family circle and in prayer (cf. Mark 14:36; Gal 4:6). Montgomery’s translation (“My Father, my dear Father!”) underscores the intimate nature of the expression, which is so clearly the opposite of fear (v. 15a).

16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
And then finally in verses 16 and 17, Paul makes it clear that the Spirit witnesses, He Himself witnesses along with our spirit, that we are truly children of God, and thus heirs of God. Christians are assured of their sonship and their inheritance by the witness of the Spirit. And, interestingly, Paul says, look at the end of verse 17, in their perseverance and suffering. In other words, Paul is saying that this assurance that God gives you is not merely subjective or objective, it’s both. Your spirit bears witness, but the Holy Spirit also bears witness. But furthermore, he says that the Holy Spirit’s bearing witness that we are sons of God does not mean that we’re not going to suffer. In fact, precisely because He bears witness that we are true sons of God, we may expect to suffer in this life. One of the old Puritans said, “God has one Son without sin, but none without suffering.”
So what is Paul’s point in this passage? Paul’s point is that you have been so united to the Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit of adoption, that you are one with Him in His sufferings, and you will be one with Him in His glory. And when you doubt that you will be one with Him in His glory, you remember that you are one with Him in His sufferings. And it is just as certain that you will be one with Him in His glory, as it is that you are going through trials now. That’s what Paul is saying. Every trial that you go through in life is a witness of the Spirit that you are going to share in the glory of the inheritance of the Son of God.
And so the apostle says, grow in grace because you are under obligation, because sins kills, because you’re sons of God, because the Holy Spirit of adoption is at work in you, and because the Holy Spirit is in you bearing witness that you are sons of God. Now live, Paul says, in that light.
Our adoption into God’s family, however amazing and comforting, is not the end of the story. For to be children is also to be heirs: to be still waiting for the full bestowment of all the rights and privileges conferred on us as God’s children (17; see especially Gal. 4:1–7, with an argument quite similar to that in 8:1–17). As the Son of God had to suffer before entering into his glory (1 Pet. 1:11), so we sons of God by adoption must also suffer ‘with him’ before sharing in his glory (see also Phil. 1:29; 3:20; 2 Cor. 1:5). Because we are joined to Christ, the servant of the Lord ‘despised and rejected by men’ (Is. 53:3), we can expect the path to our glorious inheritance to be strewn with difficulties and dangers.
In many families children inherit their parents’ estates; each child is an heir and the children together are co-heirs. Similarly, since Christians are God’s children, they are His heirs (cf. Gal. 4:7), and they are co-heirs with Christ. They are recipients of all spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3) now, and in the future they will share with the Lord Jesus in all the riches of God’s kingdom (John 17:24; 1 Cor. 3:21–23). Sharing with Jesus Christ, however, involves more than anticipating the glories of heaven. For Jesus Christ it involved suffering and abuse and crucifixion; therefore being co-heirs with Christ requires that believers share in His sufferings (cf. John 15:20; Col. 1:24; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12). In fact believers do share in His sufferings; if indeed translates eiper, which means “if, as is the fact” (cf. Rom. 8:9). Then after the suffering they will share in His glory (2 Tim. 2:12; 1 Peter 4:13; 5:10).
Paul himself provides the best illustration. Instead of a spirit of fear, we have received a spirit of sonship, or adoption. Adoption is a strictly Pauline metaphor, one common to him and his readers in Rome, due to the practice of adoption in the Roman Empire. Paul says in Ephesians 1:5 that adoption is a sovereign act of God, the result of his predestined pleasure and will. In Galatians 4:5–7, he repeats much of what he says in our Romans text, with one important addition: “That we might receive the full rights of sons” (Gal. 4:5). Therein lies the heart of sonship, or adoption. One who was not a natural son is adopted by a father and given every legal right of sonship held by the natural sons. He is made an heir of the father, and given equal standing (often a more privileged standing) with the father’s natural progeny.
Because Paul does not expand the metaphor in detail, the careful expositor will not do so either, pushing cultural aspects of Roman adoption into the realm of sanctification. But the key point—legal standing as a child of God—is fully represented by Paul’s adoption metaphor: Jesus Christ is God’s (only) natural Son and believers are adopted into the family of God and made “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).
Suffering is the norm for believers in a fallen world (Matt. 5:10–12; John 15:18–21; 16:1–2; 17:14; Acts 14:22; Rom. 5:3–4; 8:17; II Cor. 4:16–18; Phil. 1:29; I Thess. 3:3; II Tim. 3:12; James 1:2–4; I Pet. 4:12–19). Jesus set the pattern (Heb. 5:8). The rest of this chapter develops this theme.

A Great Way to Start Your Week . . .

15 Apr

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 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.

Heirs with Christ
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Future Glory
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

God’s Everlasting Love
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ro 8:1–39). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.