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Romans 8 in context

We are about half way through the Book of Romans. I hope by now we are all realizing again, maybe for the first time, how central and clear Paul’s message is. Yet, we have also seen those issues where Christianity has split itself, even in Paul’s day down to ours! Something about Romans brings out the worse and best in us.

We have told each other many times that Romans must be read as early Christians heard or read it—no chapters, no verses, just a heart-felt pastoral letter. Thus, we must read Romans 8 as Paul’s answer to Romans 7 — Romans 7 cannot be understood without hurrying into chapter 8.

In 1974, I was hit publicly by those who wanted to stay in Romans 7 for their theological focus when I finished my presentation at the Bible Conference at Andrews University. I had made the point that each of us should get out of Romans 7 and into Romans 8, in our living and in our teaching and preaching. In the right, rear section of Pioneer Memorial, a large group was agitating and wanting the roving microphone. These were preachers who were being mesmerized by my friend, Desmond Ford and some seminary teachers. Their response is still with us. They really didn’t see the literary and theological seamlessness between the two chapters. They were living and groaning under the weight of the law while thinking that some kind of legal transaction was giving them peace—paper piece. Paul wanted to show how those groans could be genuinely lifted as he hastened into the lines we now see in Romans 8.

Romans 8 is a very bright light; Romans 7 is a very bleak and black picture of those who try to live their lives, either without a knowledge of the “good” life or without the confidence that God, through the Holy Spirit, wants to help us live overcoming lives. The connection between the chapters is in the first verse of this week’s chapter: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Paul passes from the painful struggle to the peace and freedom that is offered to those “in Christ.”

“No condemnation.” Exactly! Jesus did not come to condemn the world because “he who does not believe [have faith] is condemned already, because he has not believed [had faith] . . . . this is the condemnation that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:17-19). There is power in listening to the Word!

“In Christ.” More than merely being His disciple, more than praying to Him, it means living in union, as close as the vine and its branches (John 15:1-7). This is a transforming experience–this is what is meant by biblical faith. No justification or sanctification without it!

“The law of the Spirit and the law of sin and death.” Ah, the heart of Paul’s gospel! The law of the Spirit works contrary to the depressing law of sin, empowering the believer to overcome sin’s destroying, deadly influence, freeing him from sin’s bondage. This is very clear in English as it is in Greek.

“God . . . [sent] His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. . . . He condemned sin in the flesh.”

In the Great Controversy Satan’s great lie was exposed for the entire universe to see: Jesus proved that a human being can overcome all of Satan’s fiery darts—that God’s law was fair and just. Satan was the liar, not God. God’s law should not be blamed or discarded because it did not accomplish what it was never designed to do. Failure to render obedience is our fault, not the law’s.

“Condemned sin in the flesh.” Good news, Earth! Jesus assumed the flesh that every baby is born with (Hebrews 2:17, 18; 4:14-16; DA:49). He assumed the very flesh (the sphere of sin) where Satan had triumphed.

“Righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” Paul is not an academician—he is a pastor explaining the gospel to common people. In other words, what does all this mean to me, Paul? He answers by saying that this is the whole purpose of God’s plan to rescue the willing from this world and redeem them forever—God’s plan is to convince men and women that sin is not inevitable, that sin is a choice, and His gift of the Holy Spirit to each one, on all continents, from the day they are born (Genesis 3:15; John 1:9), will help each one to overcome inherited weaknesses—misused passions and propensities.

“In us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Because of our Lord’s obedient life and death and resurrection, the plan is in full view as God’s faithful grow and keep walking with the Spirit. And the promise is as real as His Cross and His Resurrection—what Jesus lived out in His 33 years will be fulfilled in anyone who says No to sinful temptations (Titus 2:12, NIV) and Yes “to the Spirit.”

So much in this chapter clarifies so much that has been introduced into Christian churches, even ours, through the centuries. Understanding Romans 8 is the happiest way to deal with Paul’s plea to the Galatians: “Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. . . . Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heretics, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like. . . those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” We are talking about those two roads and those houses on sand or rock—serious stuff!

“Shall be revealed.” Paul paints the big picture that we all need to grasp. Christians alone know the why of “the suffering of the present time.” But they also know the “glory which shall be revealed in us.” What a promise!

Paul continues his emphasis: at the heart of the gospel’s purpose is that day ahead when the “sons of God” will be revealed to the entire universe. All creation has waited longingly for that day when Jesus returns for all the willingly obedient, whether from their graves or those in the final generation. What a story that all these willingly obedient men and women will tell each other, from Adam and Eve down to the last person who chose to join those “who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev 14:12).

Space forbids comments on those sky-high promises of 8:28 and 8:35-39. But we can promise to read them several times this week and every week until we meet on the other side.

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