Work of the Spirit – Romans 8
Read the Passage: Romans 8
Flesh and Spirit (8:1–11)
Recall in Romans 7 Paul had taught that believers are “dead to the law through the body of Christ” (Rom. 7:4). Since the law no longer has judicial power over Christians, Paul now writes, “There is therefore now no condemnation to whose who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Note that Paul had only referred to the Holy Spirit four times in Romans 1–7; yet, the Spirit is mentioned twenty-two times in Romans 8 alone. Paul’s teaching in this chapter is that just as it is the Holy Spirit who justifies, so it is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies. Observe that Paul refers to the flesh nine times in Romans 8, included once in every verse between Rom. 8:3–9. Paul’s teaching here is that just as the flesh controls the lost man, so the Holy Spirit controls believers. So, while Christians will still grapple with temptations arising from their as-yet unglorified bodies (cf. Rom. 7:14–20), they are ultimately not to be controlled by the flesh.
Lest someone misunderstand his teaching about living or walking “according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1, 4, 5), in Rom. 8:9 Paul writes, “For you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom. 8:9). Therefore, living in the Spirit is not some heightened spiritual state only experienced by a select few Christians. Rather, when Paul refers to being in the Spirit, he is referring to the state of all true believers who are necessarily indwelt by the Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19–20). This is not to say that Christians cannot “grieve the Spirit” (Eph. 4:30) or “quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). Rather, Paul’s point here is that since believers are indwelt by the Spirit, they have the resources available to not live in the flesh. Paul’s teaching that the Spirit will “give life to your mortal bodies” (Rom. 8:11) refers both to our to our present sanctification and to our future resurrection.
Bondage and Adoption (8:12–17)
In Rom. 8:12–17 Paul explains that since we have been redeemed by God, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we are debtors to live according to the Spirit. This change in nature results in Christians being “led by the Spirit” (Rom. 8:14). To be led by the Holy Spirit does not entail extra-biblical revelation. Rather, as Jesus described, the primary ministry of the Spirit is, “He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). Christ later defined truth when He prayed, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17; cf. John 14:26). Therefore, being led by the Spirit entails the illumination of Scripture. Further, if we have truly been adopted by God, then “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). This witness is not a subjective impression, but an objective change in believers. This includes, among other things, manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22–23).
Suffering and Love (8:18–39)
Rom. 8:18 is one of the greatest verses in the Bible on suffering, as Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” While we might expect Paul to next describe the future glorification of man, in Rom. 8:19–25 he teaches that the entire created order will one day be glorified. This shows the magnitude of Jesus’ atonement—that is, God will one day make all the effects of sin come untrue. Observe Paul’s statement in this passage that “creation groans . . . we ourselves groan . . . the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings” (Rom. 8:22, 23, 26). The idea here is that everything and everyone realizes that sin and suffering are not right. The fact that God groans, too, gives us confidence that He is working in the midst of our trials and will one day vanquish sin.
In Rom. 8:31–36 Paul asks seven rhetorical questions as he revels in the joy of salvation and the love of God. With these questions Paul teaches: since God is for us, no one can be against us; God will freely give His children all things; no one can bring a legitimate charge against the elect; God has justified us; no one can condemn Christians; Christ makes intercession for believers; and nothing can separate us from God’s love. Paul sums up his teaching on sanctification with this declaration, “Yet, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who love us” (Rom. 8:37). Observe that the structure of Paul’s teaching on sanctification in Rom. 6:1–8:39 is important. In Romans 6, Paul teaches that believers are dead to sin and slaves of God. In Romans 7 Paul describes the reality of grappling with sin. In Romans 8 Paul reminds us of our resources and identity in Christ.
- What role does the Holy Spirit play in the life of the believer? What did Jesus mean by referring to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth” (John 16:13)?
- If believers are not ultimately controlled by the flesh, how can we resist sinful fleshly desires and temptations? Why do we fall into sin so often?
- Is the idea that Christians can experience an additional baptism (or a second blessing) of the Holy Spirit a valid biblical teaching?
- What does it mean to be led by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:14)? How does the Spirit “bear witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16)?
- When you sin, are you ever tempted to believe that God loves you less? How does your identity in Christ encourage you in your sanctification?