Paul concludes his comparison of living according to flesh or spirit in verses 12-13 with the outcome: death or life. He addresses us in these transitional verses as “brothers” perhaps to call attention to our common bond in Christ, assuring us that we are no longer under obligation to the flesh. Then at verse 14 he begins his explanation of who we are as “sons of God.” Membership in this fraternity is reserved for all who are led by the Spirit of God.
The Greek word translated “led” is rich in meaning. It conveys the idea of being taken hold of and in this way brought to the point of destination. This is a little different from the conception of hearing God’s voice and then moving in the direction He wants us to go. Here instead is a picture of the Spirit of God firmly holding on and making sure that we will arrive together with Him. How wonderful that God Himself personally walks with us every step of our journey!
Some translators replace “sons” with “children” but this can obscure the flow of Paul’s explanation. Paul is not making exclusion by gender, but he is using the distinctive idea of “sonship” from the culture of his time. Indeed, the Greek word for “adoption” (verse 15) is a compound word meaning literally “placed into the condition of a son.” F.F. Bruce writes:
“In the first century AD an adopted son was deliberately chosen by his adoptive father to perpetuate his name and inherit his estate; he was no whit inferior in status to a son born in the ordinary course of nature, and might well enjoy the father’s affection more fully and reproduce the father’s character more worthily.”
We therefore (all who are in Christ) are granted the privilege to cry out to our Father God using the familial “Abba” (an Aramaic word in the emphatic state). No longer fearful of punishment, but rather with joy we can cry “Daddy” as heirs to His kingdom.
next: continue Romans 8:15-17
Paul in this passage continues his discussion of “flesh” and spirit. In verses 5-7 he introduces the Greek word phrane which is commonly translated as “mind,” but it does not describe the reasoning ability of the brain. The word literally refers to the diaphragm or midriff of the body. The verb form can be translated “to entertain sentiments or inclinations.” Mindset rather than “set their minds” is perhaps closer to Paul’s meaning since it describes inclinations or tendencies and not logical intellect. Verse 5 then says that there are some who have a mindset inclined toward things of the flesh, while others are inclined toward the Spirit. One (verse 6) is death and of the other life and peace. The fleshly mindset is hostile to God. It cannot submit to God’s law (verse 7) and therefore cannot please God (verse 8). However, those in Christ with the mind of the Spirit have the Spirit of God dwelling in them (verse 9).
Paul’s words give assurance that the Spirit is moving us in the right direction toward life and peace, although we currently have this dying mortal body. Paul reminds us that the same Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead, dwells in us and will give life to our mortal bodies (verse 11). Douglas Moo comments:
“With Christ’s death and resurrection and the coming of the Spirit, the new age of salvation has begun. However, since the old age of sin and death has not yet ended, we believers live in the overlap of the ages. We belong to the new age, and our futures now are determined by that fact, but we are still influenced by the old age, and we still must face physical death.”
Paul is addressing believers and giving assurance that we have the “mind of the Spirit” so why does he write so much about the flesh? We can have confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit living in us, but perhaps he intends to warn that we are not immune to the deceptive attraction of flesh. Chuck Swindoll sees such a warning and writes:
“A believer exists according to the flesh when he or she tries to become righteous by simply trying harder. Those who train hard, expecting to leap into heaven under their own power, will fall short. That’s the old-nature way of thinking.
Fleshly thinking can have noble ideals and admirable desires, but it is also proud to the bone. Fleshly thinking presumes to achieve godly objectives without God. It rejects the grace of God in favor of its own will, its own way, its own ability to do good on its own terms. Fleshly thinking buys into the “self-made man or woman” philosophy and aligns itself remarkably well with the entrepreneurial spirit. While rugged individualism and a can-do attitude may be good for business, this kind of thinking brings death to the spiritual life.”
next: Romans 8:12-17
After recognizing at the end of chapter 7 that God through Jesus Christ is the answer to his struggle within, Paul begins chapter 8 with a very strong statement. He emphatically declares that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. F.F. Bruce writes in his commentary that the Greek word katakrima describes the condition of penal servitude, and thus we should not continue to live as if we deserve this punishment. We indeed have been set free from this imprisonment. The reason (verse 2) is because we have been set free from the law of sin and of death by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Verse 3 states that it was impossible for the law to free us, so God sent His Son. Jesus thus became the “sin offering” in order to perfectly fulfill once for all the requirement of the law.
Our freedom is completely dependent on our restored relationship to God through Christ. Paul has previously established the meaning of “in Christ Jesus” with his discussion of baptism and being united with Christ. That is how the requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us (verse 4). Now we are those who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. This fulfills prophecies in Jeremiah and in Ezekiel that speak of a new spirit within us. F.F. Bruce comments:
“The New Testament writers recognize in the gospel the fulfillment of these ancient prophecies. Christian holiness is not a matter of painstaking conformity to the individual precepts of an external law-code; it is rather a question of the Holy Spirit producing His fruit in the life, reproducing those graces which were seen in perfection in the life of Christ.”
next: continue with Romans 8:5-11
Paul continues in verses 21-24 to reflect on the struggle which he sees in himself. Although he wants to do good, evil remains present within him. He joyfully concurs with the law of God (verse 22), but he recognizes another law (the law of sin) still continuing a campaign against his better judgement (verse 23). Paul describes it as taking him captive. D.G. Barnhouse comments:
“Paul was a highly moral man by human standards. In this passage he is not talking about flagrant lawlessness, for he testifies that under the law he lived a blameless life (Phil. 3:6). However, after Paul met Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit entered his body and made it His Temple. Just as the presence of an important guest makes you conscious of inadequacies in your home, so the coming of the Spirit makes Paul and every born-again man conscious of indwelling sin.
In his relationship to God before conversion, Paul had power to keep the outward form of the Ten Commandments. By any standard except God’s, he was a righteous man long before he had the indwelling Spirit; but now he wants the holiness of God. That must be the desire of every believer. With this desire came the awareness that when he wanted to do perfect good, evil was present within, violently opposing and hindering.”
Paul, like many good Christians, may have seemed from the outside to be doing just fine, but he confesses here to a troubling struggle within. We can all identify with his desperate cry (verse 24): “Wretched (afflicted, miserable, enduring severe hardship) man am I ! Who will set me free?!” No matter how clean we may appear on the outside, every one of us needs the perfect cleansing within that only God can provide. So of course Paul responds with (verse 25): “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” In Christ we can be set free from captivity to the law of sin in order to then joyfully serve God.
next: Romans 8:1-4
After declaring that the law is good, Paul continues his affirmation in verse 14 saying the law is spiritual. However he follows this with the contrasting problem that he sees in himself. Paul describes himself as literally “fleshly” (the Greek word sarkinos) or unspiritual. The resulting conflict is familiar to many of us. He begins verse 15 seemingly perplexed that he does not understand this result. Paul says that what he “wishes” (intends) or would not choose; is what he does. And what he “hates” (regards with ill-will) he “does” (make, form, construct). Perhaps the reason is hinted with his use of the extra “I” (Greek ego) to place emphasis on himself. F.F. Bruce writes:
“The present passage begins with a sad confession of inability. The inability persists only so long as “I myself” – that is, I in my own strength – fight the battle.”
Although verses 17-18 might seem like an excuse, Paul may be trying to explain why the battle continues within himself. Again he emphasizes “I” to say that he is not the one producing the result, but rather the indwelling sin. We should be careful in translating verse 18. Paul is not saying nothing good dwells in him, but rather he blames the sin that remains part of his “fleshly” nature. He does say that the intention to do good is present, but the result or product is not good. Verse 19 is a simple summary of his continued difficulty. He doesn’t do the good that he wishes, but instead does the bad that he wishes not. Paul emphasizes again in verse 20 that the struggle is the result of indwelling sin. Chuck Swindoll comments:
“Every Christian receives a new nature, one which wants nothing more than to behave as Jesus Christ behaves. Meanwhile the flesh, the old human nature wants life to continue as it was.
All of us are chronically addicted to sin. Long after we are saved, our bodies crave that which gave us short-term pleasure and caused long-term anguish.
The point of Paul’s miserable self-portrait was to demonstrate that humanity can no more purify itself of sin after salvation than before. Only God can purify a soul.”
next: Romans 7:21-25
Yet again Paul uses the literary device of posing a question in order to firmly restate his argument. The question “is the law sin?” (verse 7) suggests that we might be better off without the law. It is not hard to follow this simple but flawed logic: the law condemns our sin resulting in death therefore it is bad. Paul strongly denounces such conclusions, and points out that it is the law which made him aware of sin. He gives an example with the commandment “you shall not covet” of how sin, not the law, is to be blamed. As Chuck Swindoll explains:
In essence, Paul said, “I did not know that I was dying from the disease of sin until the Law revealed my terminal condition. Furthermore the Law showed me that I loved my disease and that I would do anything to keep it. I was like a living dead man! By pointing out my problem, the Law demonstrated that I was living under a death sentence.”
We were already dying from sin, and the law gave us an opportunity to see the problem. Paul notes, however, that sin “taking opportunity through the commandment” both increased (verse 8) his sinfulness and (verse 11) deceived him (much like the serpent in the garden with Eve). The Greek word “aphorme” translated opportunity or occasion refers to a base for military operations. Thus sin is able to use the commandment as a place from which to launch the destruction leading to death.
So then is the law responsible for our death? Paul answers (verse 12) that it is “holy and just and good.” Verse 13 describes how it exposes our sinfulness and calls us into account for sin. It is like the MRI that reveals the cancer which will kill us if left untreated.
next: Romans 7:14-20
Chapter seven begins with Paul asking the rhetorical question (for a third time) Are you ignorant? or Don’t you already know?! So just in case you still don’t “get it,” he then states and explains a basic truth about the law. The statement is that the law has jurisdiction over a person only as long as they live. Paul then (verses 2-3) gives an illustration with the marriage relationship. In his example a woman is bound to her husband by law. If the husband dies, then she is free to marry another man. What point is Paul making? Douglas Moo answers:
“View the story as an illustration of a simple truth: a death must take place if one is to be released from the authority of the law.”
Paul now applies this truth in verse 4. We died to the law through the body of Christ. Paul also gives us the purpose of this sacrificial death. He states two dependent clauses: in order that we 1) can be joined to the resurrected Christ, and 2) may bear fruit to God. The gospel message according to Paul is that God has provided a way of escaping death so that we can have life in Christ and bear fruit to God. Our death through the body of Christ ends our obligation to sin and begins our new life in Him.
Paul is describing a change in the way we relate to God. We are no longer bound to the law. We are no longer obligated to comply with the “letter” of the law. Now we are truly free to serve in newness of spirit (verse 6). This frees us from religion – human attempts to relate to God. So many people remain enslaved to their religion, as F. F. Bruce describes it:
“What is really at fault is the conception of religion as law-keeping, the idea that by painstaking conformity to a law-code one can acquire merit in God’s sight.”
God gave the law to make it clear that man can not measure up to His righteousness on our own. Grace is the way He has provided to a restored relationship with Him. Paul wants us to understand that we must stop (death) attempting to earn God’s love so that we can be free to accept His grace. Even the good we try to do on our own becomes another from of rebellion against the will of God. The death of our selfishness allows us to be truly free to serve God.
next: Romans 7:7-13