The Greatest Encouragement to the Christian
One of the responsibilities of the Christian in his life's walk is the need to constantly keep the "big picture" in mind. If one loses sight of the grand truths given to us, that Christ died for our sins, that we can be justified by His blood, that we have the fellowship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, and that He will bring us home to heaven, and gets lost in the daily grind of resisting sin and temptation and keeping the light shining, one may easily fall into those temptations and lose heart. In order to remain secure and to keep fighting the good fight of faith, we must constantly encourage ourselves and one another and remember the greater good and glory that is uniquely ours. To that end Romans the eighth chapter is perhaps the greatest encouragement that we can receive. Let us now examine this chapter and gain the encouragement we so desperately need.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace: because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: and they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, he that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies through his Spirit that dwelleth in you. So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh: for if ye live after the flesh, ye must die; but if by the Spirit ye put to death the deeds of the body, ye shall live.
Paul begins this section with a contrast from the discussion in Romans 7:14-25, where he speaks of the "law of sin" within the body and how it leads to sinfulness and subsequent death. This hypothetical situation, going back to the time in every person's life where sin was served and not God, is reversed by believing in Christ and obedience to the law of the Spirit (Romans 8:1-2). While there is only condemnation for those who obey the lusts of the flesh, for those who obey Jesus Christ there can be no condemnation.
Paul then speaks about Christ and the fulfillment of the law, a discussion interwoven throughout the letter. Since the law was weak-- in the sense that mankind, a fallible creature of flesh, was commanded to obey it, but could in fact not do so-- God sent His Son to condemn sin by living a perfect life as a man, and this bringing forth the promised new covenant with a new prophet (Deuteronomy 18:18-22, Jeremiah 31:31-34). This covenant was to be spiritual, not physical, and therefore represented the end of the law of sin and the flesh and the emergence of the law of the Spirit.
Romans 8:5-13 is thus a discussion of the contrasts between those who live by the flesh and those who live by the Spirit. Those who live by the Spirit are after the things of the Spirit, having put away the desires of the flesh and the death contained therein, and live anew in Christ perpetually. Those who live according to the flesh, however, do not live for God but in fact against God, and they live in constant friction and enmity against God. Their end is only condemnation, but those who live by the Spirit have the Spirit within them and will live.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.
Paul now concludes his discussion of how we live by and are led by the Spirit with the grand truth that those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God, freed from the bondage of sin and now adopted by God as sons. This was not possible under the old covenant. The Hebrew author explains how the Israelites entered the presence of God in Hebrews 9:2-7:
For there was a tabernacle prepared, the first, wherein were the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread; which is called the Holy place. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holy of holies; having a golden altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was a golden pot holding the manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; and above it cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat; of which things we cannot now speak severally. Now these things having been thus prepared, the priests go in continually into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the services; but into the second the high priest alone, once in the year, not without blood, which he offereth for himself, and for the errors of the people.
In this covenant only one man-- the High Priest-- was able to enter the presence of God, and that only on one day a year. The rest of the Levites had to be content in the Holy Place, and the rest of the Israelites even further from the presence of God. To us as Christians, however, the ability has been given to enter the very presence of God since we are in fellowship with Him according to 1 John 1:3:
that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
We are not only able to enter His presence in prayer, praise, and worship thanks to our fellowship with Him, but we are able to call out to Him as "Abba, Father." Abba is an Aramaic word that signifies the most intimate relation between a child and his father; the English word "daddy" perhaps can bring the sense of it. I am by no means asserting that we ought to call upon our God by using the term "daddy," for proper respect and reverence ought to be given to the Most High. It does teach us, however, that our relationship with our God and Father is most special and very close, and we should be in constant wonderment and joy that we have been given the ability to be so close to the Creator of all things.
Paul continues to affirm our relationship with God and Christ by establishing that as we are led by the Spirit and the Spirit witnesses with our own spirits that we are children of God and therefore co-heirs with Christ. This does not mean, as some have speculated, that we are equal heirs with Christ; if a person dies and he gives to one a million dollars and another a thousand both people are "co-heirs," but their reward is not necessarily equal. Although we may not be equal heirs with Christ, nevertheless our inheritance will be far better than we could ever imagine, for we will have the opportunity to be in the presence of our God and Father and His Son Jesus Christ. For this we constantly strive and suffer all the day long, as Paul continues, for if we are to reach the glory of Christ we must first suffer as He did also.
For I reckon that the sufferings of this
present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be
revealed to us-ward. For the earnest expectation of the creation waiteth for the
revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of
its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation
itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty
of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation
groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only so, but
ourselves also, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan
within ourselves, waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for
that which he seeth? But if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with
patience wait for it.
Paul continues with his discussion of the glory that is to come and the momentary suffering that is before it. Romans 8:18 is an excellent memory verse and ought to be often on our tongue when we find ourselves worn down by constant temptation and suffering, for no matter how hard it may be, it will not compare to the glory that awaits. Although I have never personally gone through such a trial, I have been told that a woman will soon forget the pain and suffering of pregnancy and labor when she holds her child who beams back at her. The glory of her child has caused her to forget-- or minimalize-- the pain and suffering she previously went through. So too shall we see our sufferings: they may be bad now, but soon enough, on the other side of the glory land, we will account them as nothing compared to the glory of Heaven.
The rest of the passage-- verses 19 through 25-- speak of the groanings of the creation and of mankind for the deliverance from sin. Although this deliverance will result in the destruction of all physical matter (2 Peter 3:8-10), the entire creation waits with fervent desire to be so purged from the stain of sin and death which has marked and scarred the creation since the expulsion from the Garden. We as Christians, who have the "firstfruits of the Spirit," also groan for the same redemption from sin and death which we find in Christ Jesus and will come to pass on the last day (Acts 17:30-31). We constantly hope this very thing since we have not seen it, and Paul here in verses 24-25 does for hope what 1 Corinthians 13 does for love and Hebrews 11:1 does for faith: provide the proper definition. Our hope is our belief in that which we have not seen but constantly desire to realize. This hope will only be fulfilled when we stand in the presence of Christ; at this moment our faith will be vindicated and love will triumph at last.
I wish to avoid the contention and strife generated by any discussion of Romans 8:26-30, the discussion of the role of the Spirit, for while it contains glorious news it is also somewhat tangential to our current discussion.
Therefore, let us now examine Romans
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written,
"For thy sake we are killed all the day long;
We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter."
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This grand conclusion ought to stir our hearts and confirm us mightily in the Lord. Paul asks rhetorically in verse 31 what the conclusions of these things-- the fact that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, that we are considered sons of God and thus co-heirs with Christ, that through our present sufferings we will reach the glory of the presence of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ at the final revelation of the latter-- are to be. The conclusion is, simply, if God is for us, who can be against us? If God was willing to give up even His own Son for us, what would He refrain from giving us? If God is judge, and we are not to be condemned, we are to live and be justified. Christ, who sacrificed Himself for us and was resurrected, being both God and man, now mediates for us in Heaven. With such powerful allies, what can we possibly fear from the feeble powers of the earth and of evil? Can the sword separate us from Christ? Famine? There is no power that can break through the mighty hand of God, and no amount of force can change the grace manifest to us through His sacrifice and resurrection. Even if we are killed all the day long, our strength and resources poured out, and left for nothing, we still overcome through Christ and we still are in the love of Christ. As Paul establishes forcefully, no power on earth, below the earth, from times past or times future, no thing whatsoever can separate us from the love of Christ. The Christian must conquer.
There is one thing, however, that Paul does not mention in this list, and this has proven to be a stumbling-block to our Protestant friends who believe Romans 8:31-39 proves that the Christian cannot fall from grace. While it certainly remains true that no external force can separate us from the love of Christ, we can separate ourselves from the love of Christ. There is nothing that Christ can do for a heart that will not hear and lives in open rebellion against God. The unrepentant person must die in his sins (Matthew 12:31-32); there is no forgiveness for this. This wonderful security and salvation, therefore, cannot exist for the one who never obeys Christ or the one who ceases to obey Him; they are lost in their sins unless they come-- or return-- to the truth. No temptation can separate you from the love of Christ; no immorality and ungodliness surrounding you has that power. You alone in your spirit make the decision whether you will accept the love of Christ and live or reject it and perish.
The picture has been made for us. We were lost in our sins, following the law of the flesh and in danger of death eternally. We, through whatever means, found Christ, or perhaps Christ found us. If we obey Him, be led by the Spirit with the Spirit in us, we are accounted as sons of God and therefore co-heirs with Christ, and we must suffer so that we may as Christ ascend to glory. This suffering, however, cannot and will not compare to the glory that will be revealed, that wonderful glory that the entire creation pines for in agony. And because of all this we are to have no concern, for if God is assuredly for us, no power will be strong enough to overcome us. No thing-- no suffering, no temptation, no person or place or action or event, either now, before, or in the future-- will be able to separate us from Christ our Lord. This is true as long as we remain in obedience to Him, for He can do nothing for us if we choose to refuse Him. Let us be encouraged and strive to maintain humble hearts, accepting correction, running the race and overcoming any and all obstacles that may beset us, and constantly keep before us the reason for all these things and the hope that we desire to have fulfilled: the glory of Heaven and the reward of being in the presence of the Father and the Son. Let us diligently work, as the Hebrew author charges us in Hebrews 4:1-11, that we may enter that holy Sabbath of God, Heaven.
By Ethan R. Longhenry
From Expository Files 13.3; March 2006