Earlier this year I heard someone say that Romans chapter 8 is the climax of the Bible. Immediately the thought occurred to me - What if I try to learn more about this? I took out my Bible and noticed there are 39 verses in Romans 8. I suddenly had a vision for Lent. I could spend the 40 days of Lent in Romans 8.
Then it occurred to me that it would be more fun to share it with others. I would love to have you join me. Come spend 40 Days in Romans 8 with me this Lent!
Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22 and goes to Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, not including Sundays. (This means, if you start on Ash Wednesday and read it every day, you will finish on Palm Sunday) The beauty of the season is that grace is built into the journey. You can experience the 40 Day Plan however it works for you.
Many of you may have a bible study or a practice of prayer or fasting that you are already planning to do. 40 Days in Romans 8 is something you could add, perhaps at midday as a way to stay connected to God. It is also something you could take on if you do not already have a plan for Lent. We will be reading a single verse or two each day.
This is a challenging chapter. It has some familiar verses and some that are hard to understand. I will share some brief thoughts each week about our readings for the week that will hopefully help you connect with Romans 8 more deeply.
The Reading Plan
Click on the PDF File for Print Version of Reading Plan
Some other things to consider
To Help you Begin
As we prepare for Easter, it is helpful to remember what Jesus told his disciples.
He prepared them for what was to come saying,
“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles, they will mock him, and spit on him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”
(Mk 10: 33-34)
Knowing it was hard for his disciples to understand. Jesus said,
“I will ask the Father, and he will gave you another Advocate, to be with you forever… I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
(Jn 14: 16, 25-26)
Romans 8 helps us understand what Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection mean. It tells us about our Advocate, the Holy Spirit, and the difference His presence with us and in us makes.
Paul gets to the heart of his argument in verse 35 when he asks, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” He will prepare us to answer that question as we journey through Romans 8. May we be more prepared to hear and receive it as we slowly mediate on a verse a day.
We see that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ because the Spirit unites us to what Jesus has done on the cross.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
D. Martin Lloyd Jones said, “Most of our troubles are due to our failure to realize the truth of this verse.”
The word condemn is a legal term meaning to find guilty. Jesus was condemned but he did not come to condemn us. John tells us “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life, Indeed, God do not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:16-17)
John also tells us that one day, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman guilt of adultery, who was about to be condemned to death, to Jesus. A crowd had gathered around her, armed with stones. Jesus spoke to them saying, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Hearing his words, they all left. They all knew the power of sin at work in their lives. Alone with the woman, Jesus said to her, “Has no one condemned you…Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” (John 8: 3-12)
Romans 8:1 tells us, "There is therefore now no condemnation." The word therefore, points back to what Paul has already said. Some scholars suggest it points back to Romans 3:21-27 (Stott) or Romans 6-7 (Moo). I find it helpful to turn back to chapter 7 where Paul talks about the reality of sin he experiences. He shares, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” He talks about the power of sin within him.
Even Paul, surely a exemplary follower of Jesus, struggled with sin. While sin is real and it is an ongoing challenge for us it is not the thing that ultimately defines us. Sin cannot separate us from the love of God.
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We do not move in and out of condemnation. There is nocondemnation for you but there is condemnation for sin. Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save the world. Jesus came to condemn sin. In his death and resurrection, Jesus has overcome sin and its power over us.
What does it mean that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus?
The argument Paul begins to unfold here is not easy to understand. As he contrasts the flesh and the Spirit it is helpful to understand the way he uses these terms.
In the Old Testament the word flesh refers to humans. (Gen 6:12, Isa 40:5-6) Furthermore, humans are flesh while the gods are not human or of the flesh (Dan 2:11). Flesh can also be used to describe the weakness and mortality fo human nature. “he remembered that they were but flesh” (Ps 78:39)
Flesh is also used to describe human decent. Jesus is a descendant of David “according to the flesh”.
Dallas Willard says flesh is "the natural powers of a human being, based in the human body."
In the Old Testament the spirit is often set over against the flesh. “The Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses are flesh, and not spirit,” (Isa 31:3) Paul will go on to tell us that believers in Christ are no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit. (Rom 8:9)
The term law occurs over 70 times in Romans and is not always used in the same way. Paul uses it to refer to Mosaic Law or as a principle. He also uses the word law to refer to the Law of God, given to guide the believer or bring sin to light, or reveal God and his will. In Romans 8 he will contract the law of the Spirit and the law of sin and death. In scripture, we learn that there law restores our soul. Dallas Willard teaches,"It is the structure of a life of grace in the kingdom of God. The law is the course of rightness, but not the source of rightness."
“We are set free from the law as a way of acceptance, but obliged to keep it as a way of holiness.” John Stott
The Way that Leads to Life and Peace
“To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
“The most important thing about your mind is what it is fixed upon.”
Where does your mind go?
In the Bible, the word mind and heart are often interchangeable. “For as he thinks in his heart, so he is.” (Pro 23:7, KJV)
In Romans 8, Paul argues that nothing can separate us from the love of God because the Holy Spirit of God himself unites us with Christ, Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for those who live according to the Spirit. (Rom:8:1,4-6)
Not all live according to the Spirit of God. In Romans 8: 5-8, Paul contrasts the life of the flesh, with the life of the Spirit. What’s the difference? It’s all a matter of the mind. Those who set their mind on the flesh or worldly-mindedness find death. Those who set their mind on the Spirit or things of God find life and peace. (v 6)
We all live and work in the world. It’s how we view the world and interact with the world that matters. In the Bible, flesh refers to the “natural powers of a human being, based in the human body.”* Flesh is not always equated with sin. There is a way that leads to life. Paul contrasts the way of the world without God and the way of the world with God. We are made by God to flourish in relationship with God as we live in His world. Life without God leads to death. Life with God leads to life and peace.
The key is what your mind is fixed upon. In Phillipians, Paul tells us his goal, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection?” To know Christ is to set your mind on Him, to be with him, to learn his ways and put them into practice as you find them to be true and trustworthy. The mind fixed on Christ can be renewed and transformed by Christ. The mind set on the Spirit is guided by faith in God.
In The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer writes: “Faith is the least self-regarding of the virtues. It is by its very nature scarcely conscious of its own existence. Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves.”
The Christian is one who is looking at God. We can never fully see or know God on our own. Even though our sight may be dim, we see. It is with the help of the Holy Spirit that we can know God and can be with God. We do not have to do great things, master certain doctrines, or become great. We only need faith the size of a mustard seed.
I am reminded of Zacchaeus, the tax collector. He was not an honorable man. In fact, he had followed the ways of the world in his day when tax collectors were notorious for fraudulently overcharging people and pocketing the difference. Yet Zacchaeus was curious about Jesus. One day he decided to go see Jesus as he was passing by. There were huge crowds around Jesus. Zacchaeus could not see anything so he climbed a tree to get a better view. When Jesus approached the tree he called out to him and asked him to come down. Even more, Jesus went with him to his home. When Zacchaeus saw Jesus and spent time with him, he changed. He became more interested in God’s ways and decided to put Jesus’ teachings into practice. He pledged to pay back all those he wronged. He began to live a life guided by the Spirit.
Jesus wants to come to us as well. He wants to be with us. When we fix our eyes on Jesus and intentionally seek to know him and his ways, we will be changed as well. Life with Christ, known through the indwelling of the Spirit, gives life and peace. (Rom 8:6)
“The moment [one] is delivered from the condemnation of the law, and is changed, and in this new realm, his hope is certain, and nothing can ever rob him of it.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God.”
I Chr 22:19
* Dallas Willard
A New Way of Living
“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” C.S. Lewis
“You are a child of God…We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.” Marianne Williamson
I enjoyed babysitting when I was a teen. I liked being with children and earning some money. I also found it interesting to see how people lived. Each house was a little different. Each parent had different guidelines for their children and babysitters.
I especially enjoyed babysitting for one family. They were incredibly kind people. Their home was calm and things were always picked up on the main floor. The father had told me that I was welcome to go to the basement, after the kids were asleep. That is where the television was set up. The basement was usually not picked up. That is one of the reasons I felt comfortable at this house. It was not perfect. Efforts had been made to create a calm, loving home and it was a work in progress — orderly and messy. It felt true to me. As we go through life, we continue to have to choose how we will live. Despite our best efforts there will always be some chaos and messiness. We have to choose what our guidelines will be.
I have recently been reflecting on Romans chapter 8. As you go through it, you can’t help but notice the two ways of life being contrasted. You can walk according to the Spirit, the ways of God, or the flesh, the ways of humanity. One scholar put it this way: If you rely on yourself, you are fighting a losing battle. If you receive the life and the power of the Spirit of Christ, you are more than conquerors. (v 37)1
With the Spirit, we find new life and become new people who can live in a new way. Paul tells us that the Spirit of Christ dwells in us. (v 9). Paul also tells us. “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 3: 20) Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, alive and at work in us, we are able to live in a new way. We are able to know that nothing can separate us from the love of God.
The way we understand the Spirit is important. The Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. The Spirit lives in fellowship with God the Father and Jesus the Son. In general, you could say that the Spirit is God’s presence in the world. In the Bible you read that the Spirit is like the wind or breath. Jesus tells us that the Spirit is our Advocate, our Comforter, our Helper. (Jn 14-17) The Spirit is love and leads to a life of love with God. Paul tells us “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom 5:5)
It is so much more than you may think at first glance. One church father said, “Scripture is like a pair of spectacles which dispels the darkness and gives us a clear view of God.” 2 The challenge is, we have to take off our other spectacles in order to truly see. It can be very hard to realize our own biases.
Let us enter into Romans 8 mindful of its author and his context. At that time there was a well known legal custom. The first born son was the heir. He received the largest share of the family wealth and carried on the family name. Not only that, your identity was shaped by your family. Sons would go on to do and become what their fathers were. The son of a farmer would become a farmer. The son of a fisherman would become a fisherman. Jesus himself, was known as the carpenter’s son. (Mt 13:55) His earthly father was a carpenter and Jesus went on to work as a carpenter before he began his ministry.
In Ancient Rome, if you had gotten on in years, and you did not have a son, you adopted a son. It was a legal procedure. Upon adoption, the sons’s debts were paid, he received a new name and was instantly the heir of all the adopted father had. Sonship was a status; an identity.
This is where we need to take off our modern day spectacles. This is where we want to be careful not to let our understanding of gender and equality get in the way of what Paul is trying to say because it is quite striking! It helps to know what he has already taught others. He told the church in Galatia, with Christ, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28-29)
With that in mind, look at what he tells us: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are ‘huioi’ ”. This is the word that is used in the original text. This word is used in Romans 8:14,15, and 19. It is best translated “sons”. All are sons of God. More specifically, adopted sons of God. (v15) Paul is taking a common practice of his day and using it to explain who we are in Christ. It’s striking because in Christ, we all are adapted as sons of God - the Jew and the Greek, the slave and the free, the male and the female. The point here is status. In Christ, like the first born son of Paul’s day, we are all children and heirs. Paul emphasizes this by also using the word “teknon”,3 meaning children. (v16,17,21) All who believe in Christ have the Spirit of God dwelling in you (v 9) and receive a spirit of adoption (v15) — both male and female are adopted sons and children of God. (Jn 1:12)
Jesus told a parable that helps us see what kind of Father God is.(Lk 15:11-32) In the story of the prodigal son, the younger son of the family, asked for his share of his inheritance early. He left his home and squandered it. At one point he found himself working as a pig feeder. He realized even the pigs were better off than he was. No one gave him anything to eat. He realized even his father’s hired hands were provided for and living a better life than he was. He decided to go back to his father. He practiced what he would say, “Father I have sinned against heaven and before you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”
He set off to return home. But while he was still far off, his Father saw him. He ran out to the boy and put his arms around him and kissed him. The son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But before he could share the rest of the message he wanted to say, the Father lavished him with love and prepared a great celebration. The prodigal son wanted to be accepted as a servant. The Father loved him and welcomed him as a son.
As a beloved son or daughter of God, adopted as his own child, we need not fear (v15). We can rest assured. (v16). We can call out to God - Abba, Father 4 (v15)
C.S. Lewis writes, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” When you know that God loves you and claims you as his very own son or daughter, it can move you to live in a different way. (Eph 5:15, 18b) You can set your mind on things above. (Rom 8:6, Col 3:2) You can be guided by love and live loved as a beloved son or daughter.
Those led by the Spirit are children of God. (v 14) God our Father is always looking out for you and ready to embrace you as His own.
1 F.F. Bruce, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Romans
2 John Calvin, Institutes I.VI.I
3 You may find that your translation of the Bible renders the word “huioi” as “children”.
4 Abba is the Aramaic word for Father used by Jews to this day. Jesus called out in prayer to God saying Abba. The significance of being able to call out to God as our Father is emphasized here but using both the Aramaic and Greek words — “Abba, Father.”
My guess is that right now, you or someone you care about is going through something difficult. You need healing. You need comfort in the reality of grief and loss. You need provision at work or for work. You need guidance as questions or troubles loom. In one of the most famous passages from the Bible, Romans chapter 8, Paul acknowledges the reality of this saying “I consider that our present sufferings…” (v 18) In his day and in ours, there are sufferings. Yet Paul also tells us that we have hope and we can live with hope. It is more than hopefulness. It is more than a positive feeling. One preacher said Paul’s teaching “is concerned about the glory of the blessed hope. It is taught everywhere in the Bible from beginning to end.” 1
We need hope when troubles come. In fact, troubles seems to be all around us. Paul points out that even nature itself is not what it was meant to be (v 19-22). The created world in nature is an endless cycle of growth followed by death and decay. Creations waits and groans, longing for that day when things will be as they were created to be. There are not yet what they shall be due to the consequence of sin entering the world. (Gen 3)
We long for that day when things will be made right as well. As we wait, there is a way to acknowledge the reality of our troubles and carry on in hope. Paul tells us that there will be a day when “glory will be revealed in us.” (Rom 8:18,25)
He tells us “There is the hope of the people of God - Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) This hope points to how things were meant to be. We were created in the image of God. We were made to share in the glory of God as His created beings. We were made to be with him. His love for us is so great that though this world may bring troubles and suffering, that will not separate us from God.
After delivering Israel out of slavery in Egypt, we learn “The Lord has his heart set on you and chose you, not because you were numerous than all people, for you were the fewest of all people. But because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors, he brought you out with a strong hand and redeemed you.” (Deut 7:7-8) God delivered them, not because they were great but because God loved them.
God’s great love for us became even more real when he sent his only son, Jesus. Jesus overcame death and invited us to new life — life with him. We know this now and we will realize it even more in the future, when we will see God face to face; “when the glory will be revealed to us.” (Rom 8:18,23)
C.S. Lewis writes: “[God] will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal, creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) his own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but it is what we are for.” 2
With that kind of reassurance, Paul writes, “The glory to come outweighs the sufferings of the present.” The hope comes from what Jesus has done for us in the past. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes,” Faith comes first, hope goes behind it; faith leads up to hope. Faith gives a certainty about these, hope makes us stand on tiptoe to have a look at them. Hope is stronger than faith, it takes us a step further.”
Let us live in hope.
D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Romans: An Exposition of Chapter 8:17-39 The Final Perseverance of the Saints
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. As quoted by Tim Keller in Romans 8-16 For You
Tim Keller writes:
“I have always believed that at the heart of Romans 8 you have the secret to profound change.”