Romans 8 is a complex chapter (along with the rest of the book!). It can be difficult to understand on our own… and even more difficult to teach to others! We found this gem of a commentary set: Teaching the Bible Series. In this blog, we are giving you an excerpt of their work on Romans 8. You’ll even find application points and possible sermon ideas. Dig in!
TEACHING THE BIBLE: ROMANS 8
How safe do you feel living under grace? How sure of the future? To entrust ourselves to the free grace of God in Jesus can feel like falling backwards into the arms of a friend who may or may not be there, and may or may not catch us even if he is. Is it safe to entrust ourselves entirely to the God of grace?
We feel this acutely when two things happen: when we fail and fall in the struggle with sin from within, and when we are afflicted by suffering from without. Both of these experiences threaten our confidence that grace works. Just as the person falling backwards is tempted to move a foot back to save themselves, so we are tempted to add a proportion of self-reliance to our Christian lives.
ATTENTIVE LISTENING TO THE TEXT: ROMANS 8
Romans 8 concludes the second main section of the body of the letter, ‘Living under grace’. We have seen that chapters 5–8 have a kind of sandwich structure.
5:1-11 Suffering with assurance of future glory
5:12-21 The basis for assurance in the work of Christ
6:1-23 Slavery to sin
7:1-25 The weakness of law
8:1-17 The basis for assurance in the ministry of the Spirit
8:18-39 Suffering with assurance of future glory
So in reading chapter 8, we will notice a number of themes picked up again from chapter 5.
The Structure of Romans 8
Romans 8 begins with ‘no condemnation’ by the wrath of God (v. 1) and ends with ‘no separation’ from the love of God in Christ (v. 39). The overarching theme is assurance. Between these end markers two other themes dominate: first (and mostly in vv. 1-17) there is life in the Spirit, who is named 15 times in verses 1-17 and then 4 more times later in the chapter; second (vv. 17-39) there is suffering. Verse 17 is the hinge between these two (‘… children … heirs … if indeed we share in his sufferings …’). Verse 31 (‘What, then, shall we say …?’) signals Paul’s great conclusion.
It is probably best to divide the chapter in three, including verse 17 in both first and second sections.
- (vv. 1-17) Life in the Spirit (continued from 7:14-25)
- (vv. 17-30) Suffering and glory
- (vv. 31-39) Unbreakable ties to Christ
WORKING THROUGH THE TEXT: ROMANS 8
Life in the Spirit (Romans 8:1-17, continued from 7:6 and 7:14-25)
Paul begins with a statement (v. 1), which he explains (v. 2) and expands (v. 3) before going on to God’s purpose (vv. 4-11).
1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
This is a summary of the letter so far. ‘Now’ refers not to individual conversion or some supposed change of gear into the higher Christian life, but to the gospel events which have brought into the open (1:17 ‘revealed’; 3:21 ‘made known’) the justification by faith by which believers of every age have been rescued from condemnation.
‘Therefore’ refers back generally to the argument so far, but very specifically to 5:12-21. Paul uses this word ‘condemnation’ only here and in 5:16, 18 in all his letters. It is the opposite of ‘justification’ (5:16). The words ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (7:25) and ‘in Christ Jesus’ (8:1) tie us back to Paul’s exposition of life in union with Christ in 5:12-21 (developed in 6:1-11).
2…because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
[…because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus set you/me free from the law of sin and death.]
(We are not certain whether Paul wrote ‘me’ or ‘you’, but it doesn’t matter.)
This very compressed verse needs unpacking.
- The phrase ‘in Christ Jesus’ is repeated from verse 1 (disguised in niv). The word ‘in’ carries the senses both of ‘in union with’ and ‘through the work of’. What has happened to us, has happened because of what Jesus did (niv‘through Christ Jesus’) and because we have been united by faith with him (‘in Christ Jesus’), and therefore we benefit from what he did.
- It is most natural to take ‘the law’ to refer to ‘the Law of Moses’ in both phrases.
- The ‘law of sin and death’ is a compressed way of summing up what the Law of Moses does to the unregenerate sinner (7:7-12).The law when it comes from the outside into contact with sin, exposes sin, condemns sin, and results in the death of the sinner (7:7-10). This terrible ‘marriage’ was always heading for the rocks (7:1-5). This is what someone has called ‘the law on the wall’, like the Ten Commandments written on a church wall, true and good but outside of our sinful hearts.
- ‘The law of the Spirit of life’ is a shorthand for what happens when the Spirit of Christ takes the obedience of Christ (5:19), imputes the righteousness of Christ to us, and writes the fundamental demand of the good law on the cleansed heart of the believer, changing us from the inside, and so leading to eternal life (6:23). The ‘law on the wall’ becomes the ‘law in the heart’.
Paul has ‘trailed’ the ministry of the Spirit in 2:15 (probably); 2:29; 5:5; and 7:6. Now he begins to expound this theme.
The explanation expanded (Romans 8:3)
what the law was powerless to do [the weakness of the law]
in that it was weakened by the sinful nature [the flesh],
by sending his own Son
in the likeness of sinful man [sinful flesh]
to be a sin offering [and for sin].
And so he condemned sin in sinful man, [in the flesh]
How were we ‘set free’ (v. 2)? Paul takes each part in turn. Negatively, he speaks of ‘the weakness of the law, in that it was weakened by the flesh’. He has shown in 7:7-12 (and 3:20; 4:15; 7:5) that law is powerless to save. When the law remains outside of us, it is just a dead ‘letter’ (2:29; 7:6).
The law cannot save. But God can! ‘the weakness of the law … God did …’ (i.e. God did what the law was too weak to do). How did God do it?
‘By sending his own Son …’:
- ‘…in the likeness of sinful flesh’ taking our human nature upon him with all its weakness, being really tempted and fully identified with sinners, and yet without sin (the word ‘likeness’ guards this difference).
- ‘… for sin’ an expression which usually refers in the Greek Old Testament to a sacrifice for sin.
As an old hymn puts it, ‘Because the sinless Saviour died … the wrath of God is satisfied’, and that terrible slave-master sin has been ‘condemned … in the flesh’, that is, in the flesh of Jesus on the cross. This is why we may be sure ‘there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’.
Notice that the basis of our rescue is the death of the Son on the cross, and the application of that rescue to our lifestyle is by the ministry of the Spirit. Both are necessary. No one benefits from the Cross without receiving the Spirit, and no one receives the Spirit who is not justified by the blood of the Son.
God’s purpose: why did God set us free? (Romans 8:4-6)
3b… he condemned sin in sinful man, [in the flesh] 4in order that
the righteous requirements [requirement (singular)]
of the law
might be fully met[fulfilled] in us,
who do not live according to the sinful nature [flesh]
but according to the Spirit.
5Those who live according to the sinful nature
[Those who are according to the flesh]
have their minds set on what that nature [the flesh]
but those who live in accordance with the Spirit
have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.
6The mind of sinful man [the flesh] is death,
but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;
Why did God ‘condemn sin in the flesh’ of Jesus? Why the cross, and why the gift of the Spirit to apply the benefits of the cross to the believer? Answer: ‘in order that’ something might happen that could not happen through the law: ‘the righteous requirement (singular) of the law’ is now ‘fulfilled in us …’.
What does this mean? We need to hold together two parts of the answer.
- By his death Jesus fulfills the law for us. This links back to verse 3b, about the cross.
- By the Spirit we fulfill the law in union with Jesus. This links forward to verses 4b-6, which speak of how we actually ‘live’ (lit. ‘walk’).
The word translated ‘righteous requirement’ is used in the singular only four times by Paul in his letters, all in Romans (1:32; 5:16, 18; 8:4). (He also uses the plural in 2:26). In the singular, the word means something like ‘what the law says is the right thing’. So in 1:32 it is the ‘righteous decree’ of God that sinners deserve to die. In 5:16 it is translated ‘justification’ with the sense of ‘fulfilled law’, ‘what the law says is the right thing has been done’. In 5:18 it is ‘the one act of righteousness’ of Jesus, his one ‘fulfillment of the law’, which is also called his ‘obedience’ (v. 19).
The key is to hold together the doctrines of the work of Christ for us and the person of Christ in us. Although these are distinct they are inseparable.
We can’t include ALL the teaching from this commentary on Romans 8. It would definitely be too much! So, let’s move onto some application.
FROM TEXT TO TEACHING: ROMANS 8
Getting the Message Clear: The Theme
The grand theme is assurance, from ‘no condemnation’ at the start to ‘no separation’ at the end of the chapter. In between, the argument progresses in two main stages with a conclusion. The first stage is verses 1-17, whose focus is the ministry of the Spirit. Because Christians walk by the Spirit now, they may be certain that they are heading for glory later. We must hold together the present ministry of the Spirit with his role to point us securely towards a promised future.
In the second stage, verses 17-30, the focus shifts from the Spirit to suffering, but we are still being pointed to future glory. The central point is stated in verse 18 that, for the Christian, certain glory later outweighs present suffering. The conclusion in verses 31-38 needs to hold together the objective and the subjective: the objective truth of the cross guarantees that God loves us for ever in Christ.
Getting the Message Clear: The Aim
How do the aims of Romans 5-8 relate to the aims of the letter as a whole?
This is a good point to look back on the whole section ‘Living under grace’ to ask how this section contributes to Paul’s overarching aims in the letter, to promote harmony within the church and a zeal for missionary partnership beyond the church. Why do we need to understand our unbreakable relationship with God (5:1-12; 8:17-39), our reliance upon the work of Christ and the ministry of the Spirit (5:12-21 with 8:1-17), our freedom from slavery to sin and condemnation by the law (chapters 6 and 7), the struggle with indwelling sin (7:14-25) and so on? Of course it is a good thing to understand these things, but how will it make us a harmonious and outward-looking church?
The key is to grasp the connection between works and assurance. We go back to our imaginary (but not unrealistic) Mr X (pp. 153-155), who begins to rest his standing before God and in the church partly on his own moral uprightness, Bible knowledge or religious privileges. Not only does this make him boast (and so destroy harmony); it also undermines his assurance. And an insecure Christian is a dangerous Christian (and an insecure pastor is an especially dangerous one!). If I am insecure, I always feel I have something to prove. So my attitude to my fellow Christians will have an element of competitiveness (however discreet). And my evangelistic involvement (if any) will never be the humility of one forgiven sinner telling other sinners where to find grace.
POINTERS TO APPLICATION: ROMANS 8
- The message ‘no condemnation’ (v. 1) only makes sense to those who have grasped that without Christ we are and must be condemned. It may therefore be necessary to recap some of the argument of the letter so far (especially 1:18–3:20). We need to feel the wonder of ‘no condemnation’ and never take it for granted.
- We may also need to recap ‘the law of sin and death’ (v. 2). We need to understand and feel our helplessness, and the inability of moral guidance (‘the law on the wall’) to help us (v. 3).
- Show how vital it is that the ‘law on the wall’ should become the ‘law in the heart’. Previously the law bid me fly, but left me on the ground. Now the law bids me fly and the Spirit gives me wings.
- THERE ARE 18 MORE APPLICATION POINTS
SUGGESTIONS FOR PREACHING AND TEACHING THE TEXT
We might lead in by asking, ‘How safe do you feel?’ and explore the kinds of regrets about past failures, and anxieties about future pressures, which make us feel insecure.
Our teaching points might be as follows:
To be a real Christian means …
- To be under new management (vv. 1-8);
- … who gives us new hope for our bodies (vv. 9-11);
- … and guarantees us a great inheritance (vv. 12-17).
Alternatively, we might divide the passage as follows:
To be a real Christian means…
- No condemnation, because of the sacrifice of God the Son (vv. 1-4);
- Resurrection hope, because of the indwelling of God the Spirit (vv. 5-11);
- Present assurance in the security of God the Father (vv. 12-17).
Our tone is not so much exhortation (‘Now be good and walk by the Spirit’) as encouragement to see the connection between the Spirit’s ministry in us in the present, and future resurrection.
There are TWO other sermons ideas, along with 22 questions to ask while leading a Bible study!
LEARN MORE WITH THE TEACHING THE BIBLE SERIES
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