Rightly Dividing: Romans 8

First, let’s review the chapters we’ve read thus far. Listen for the flow of life-changing ideas. Watch as Paul’s systematic topics lead us into Romans 8:

Rom 1: Degrading effects of sin on all mankind

Rom 2: hypocrisy and sin amongst the Jews

Rom 3: The deadening effect of sin on all mankind; the gospel of God’s righteousness

Rom 4: Justification by faith proven in example of Abraham

Rom 5: Consequences of justification by faith; Adam

Rom 6: Deliverance from sin; Two ways presented

Rom 7: Deliverance from the law; One way presented: law-keeping in the flesh (while the second way comes in Romans 8)

Romans 8: The triumphant Christian life: living in the Spirit and putting the deeds of the flesh to death

As we step out of the conflicted world of Romans 7 into the world of Romans 8, start to rightly divide Paul’s presentation of ideas in this chapter. It is a vast chapter, full of little sub-sections – like a mansion full of many rooms:

8:1-11 The two options are rehearsed again (life and death, life in the Spirit and life in the flesh)

8:12-17 Are we debtors to the flesh, or heirs of eternal life?

Then Paul puts the argument into perspective by zooming out into an image of universal suffering hope, which is follows by three sections on individual suffering and hope.

FIRST: 8:18-25 – Universal suffering and hope

THEN: Individual suffering and hope:

8:26-27 How to pray

8:28-30 Our place in providence, and eternal security

8:31-39 Love of Christ trumps all harm and worry

Remember what we said about Rom 7:13-25: It is not describing the Christian struggle against the flesh, but rather law-keeping in the flesh, which is deadly, and which must lead to conviction of sin and faith, or else it leads to death.

From that precise understanding of Romans 7:13-25, the implicit question arises: How then does the Christian struggle against the flesh?

Paul provides striking, challenging, and life-changing answers in what I will group as six sections below.

Again, each of the following sections answer the question, How does the Spirit-filled Christian live? Always ask yourself: how does this differ from the mode of life described in Romans 7? Also note how this mode of life differs from that described in Rom 1, 2, and 3!

1) 8:1-11: Be clear which side you’re on.

The two options of Rom 6 are here rehearsed again. These two options are now seen with even more clarity – Paul is teasing out all consequences.

8:1 What truly cuts through all the schizophrenic confusion of 7:13-25?

i) Release from all condemnation (because it has been put on Christ, 8:3)

ii) Position, keeping, and solace in Christ Jesus

iii) Clarity about the manner of life we lead. How we “walk” – the general pattern of our life.

“There is now therefore no condemnation” is THE medicine for the ills of Romans 7:13-25.

Why? Because it immediately frees you from all fleshly law-keeping, as if to say, “It no longer matters. There is no condemnation. Your failure or success in law-keeping is now no longer an issue; it is completely meaningless; stop thinking that way!”

Secondly, because it immediately puts you into the spiritual realm. This “no condemnation” is not felt or experience or even registered in the flesh; it is a spiritual truth, true in the courtroom of heaven, with spiritual effects that are only grasped by faith (as in Rom 4 and 5). So the very thought of “no condemnation” can only be grasped spiritually. It forces you to function and comprehend and move forth in the Spirit.

Third, it is a strong statement of total forgiveness, which cuts through the “alternate accusing and excusing” activity of Rom 7. It cuts through with the total release of a double negative – “no bad consequences – no condemnation,” which emphasizes that there should have and could have been bad consequences.

In the remainder of this section, note some important doctrinal clarifications Paul makes:

8:2 Answers 7:1-3

8:3 “What the law could not do” was spelled out in 7:13-25

8:4 Doctrine: What Wesley used to call “imparted righteousness.” But it that an appropriate term, or might it cause too much confusion with Catholic terminology? How is the righteous requirement of the law “fulfilled in us”? Compare Rom 13:8-10 for the answer.

8:9 Doctrine: The Spirit dwells within us. Against Pentecostals who believe there are Spirit-less and Spirit-filled Christians.

The Christian can and must ask for greater fillings of the Holy Spirit, but the Christian is always in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit. No exceptions.

2) 8:12-17 Whom do we owe?

Here is another striking questions that should jolt us out of the law-bound confusion of Romans 7. Are we: debtors to the flesh or heirs of God?

8:13 Now pictures the true Christian struggle against the flesh – kill it!

Paul writes, “If by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the body” not by the flesh. Remember well here that killing the deeds of the body by the flesh was attempted in Rom 7:13-25! There Paul demonstrated that such an approach utterly fails. Whereas now Paul would have us work “by the Spirit,” the conflicted Pre-Christian fleshly law-keeper had a mouth full of “I, I, I” and a back full of the burden of the law.

8:16 Important DOCTRINE: The witness of the Spirit – assurance. Note that the witness of one’s salvation here comes not from emotion, but from deep conviction, assurance, and peace, as Paul began to put forth in Romans 5:1–5. 

3) 8:18-25 How do we deal with suffering: Universal suffering and hope

This question really unfolds into two sections: a.) Universal suffering and hope and b.) Individual suffering and hope.

“Universal suffering and hope” comes on the scene in 8:18-25 as Paul’s magnificent way of getting us outside of ourselves.

Note again how the grandeur of this section cuts so deeply through the selfish preoccupations of Romans 7.

Doctrinally, note that the realities described here are similar to those in Matt 19:28: ‘And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”‘

4) 8:26-27 How to pray

One of the most profound treatments of prayer in the Bible, especially when read in the flow of Romans 7 and 8.

Again, see this in context of the Christian’s true struggle with the flesh: Instead of law keeping in the flesh, we…pray. And, more profoundly, even our prayer is not dependent on our own law-keeping instincts or abilities, but on the Spirit coming in to buoy us up “in our weaknesses.”

5) 8:28-30 Our place in providence, and eternal security

Note: 8:28 Not just external good, but also “all things work together to produce good in me” – as evidenced in Rom 15:14 and 8:29 (next verse).

6) 8:31-39 Love of Christ trumps all harm and worry

Note: 8:31: This is the first question with no objections! This breaks the flow of objections started in Rom 4!

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