Romans 8:18-30 – God knows what he is doing

OPENING QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

  • What words would you use to describe what life is like?
  • What keeps you going as a Christian?
  • What is your ultimate hope in life? ┬áie, what do you really want to get out of life?

CONTEXT

Romans 8 began with the wonderful declaration that all who are in Christ Jesus are free from condemnation – 100%. This is achieved by the work of the Son of God who conquered sin in the flesh (vv1-4) and through the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead and will raise us also (vv9-11). Our job description in this life is to work alongside the Holy Spirit (v13). The carrot to pursue this is the impossible but true promise that we, redeemed sinners, have been adopted by God to be co-heirs with Christ and to share in his glory (vv14-17)!!! It is the power of God that brings salvation (1:16) and our duty is to walk by faith (1:17).

8:17 gives us the intro to our study this week: although we are promised to share in the glory of Christ – we will also share in his sufferings. Verses 18-30 delve into some details about what this means and how God continues to be our life support through this life.

OBSERVATIONS

There are a couple of quotable verses in this section:
“We do not know what we pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” v26
“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” v28
Both quotes are indeed worth storing into our memories and help us in the context of praying and suffering. But all quotes need to be meditated on in the context they are given. Taken out of context, fuller and richer meanings can be missed. The bible is a great source for inspirational quotes but the scriptures are always better understood in context.

Verse 18 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” How true! The sufferings mentioned in verse 17 appear to be a broad category that describes everything related to living on earth this side of eternity. Everything from stubbing your toe to being out of work, isolated from friends, chronically ill, and weighed down with responsibility. This life brings with it many concerns and they aren’t all physical – there are certainly spiritual sufferings too. The world, the flesh and the devil are the three areas of attack that we are up against every day. Many of us live as though we are at peace when actually we are at war! But praise God that this life is not where true happiness, joy and peace will be experienced – there is a great future for those who are in Christ Jesus. The challenge is for us to keep this hope in our minds and seek first the kingdom of heaven – living with God – and not to invest our hopes into this world.

Verse 19-21 describes the world we currently live in – the physical creation – as imperfect. It suffers because of the fall of man (Gen 3). The environment that we have all grown up in as our home is not the good creation that God made in the garden of Eden – it is less than very good! What we regard as normal is not how it will always be. We ought to regard hard work, labour pains and death as a problem – not just the way of life!

Paul describes all of creation as if it were a life form of it’s own and the history of this character is as a suffering creature that looks forward to better times ahead. It is not striving itself for improvement but waiting for a special day to come when it can finally breath a breath of fresh air: the day when God’s children – those who are in Christ Jesus – will be glorified, ie, made known. Currently, we look no different to everyone else on the planet – but there will come a day when what we are in the Spirit (children of God) will be made known and clear to see – we will be glorified. (I’m taking the word ‘glorfied’ to mean something like being displayed for what something is. God’s glory is the advertising of everything that we know God to be – his character and name and his goodness and holiness. When we share in Christ’s glory (v17) we will also be recognised for who we are in Christ Jesus.) This puts us, the children of God, right in the middle of the action of all history! The greatest names in our history will be overshadowed by the greatness of the work that God has done in those who has saved.

Just notice the language of how creation is enslaved to the effects of sin like Paul has been teaching about people – ‘bondage to decay’ v21 recalls the same language as ‘slaves to sin which leads to death’ 6:16.

Verse 22 What does it mean for creation to be groaning? Does it mean earthquakes and volcanoes and temperatures from zero degrees to fourties? Does it mean global warming? Does all of this describe imperfection? The illustration Paul gives is to compare it with the pains of childbirth. I take it that it is describing a beautiful thing which is damaged by imperfection. Childbirth is wonderful but it is damaged by the pain. This is the curse on the daughters of Eve (Gen 3:16). The world we live in is also struggling under the curse of sin.

Verse 23-25 We too, who have received the Spirit, are to groan just like the creation does. This challenges us again to think about the struggles of this life as abnormal. Our hopes are for a better existance – where there will be no more pain (Rev 22). When we know that deliverance is coming, it can make our current struggles all the more real – no longer just part of life but something that we groan internally about. Is this you? Do you live with expectation of better things to come?

It is like we are going through the pains of labour ourselves. But the pains and struggles of life and the hard work of ‘putting to death the misdeeds of the body’ (v13) are all part of the process of waiting for our full redemption (v23). We know that we are children of God by faith – but one day we will see it! It will no longer be our hope – it will be a reality!

Verses 26-27 – These verses don’t give us open ended licence to not spend time in prayer to God because the Spirit does it all for us. It is certainly a help to know that we have the Spirit helping us even when we pray. But meditate on these two verses to see the great connection that the Spirit makes between us and God. Consider how John Chapman taught these verses: “When you don’t know how and what to pray, know this, that the Spirit speaks to the Father and says “Father, if [Simon Twist] knew himself like I know him, this is what he’d want to say (v26). And Father, if [Simon Twist] knew you like I know you, this is HOW he’d want to say it.”

Verses 28-30 The path to glorification is the path of being conformed to the image of God’s Son. It is true that mankind was made in the image of God in the beginning. But Jesus Christ is the true image – the perfect image. We are being transformed from the inside out to be like Christ. This is Christian progress that is God’s work from first to last. He is working all things out for this end. The good, the bad and the ugly of life is, for the Christian, aimed at revealing our adoption as sons and daughters of God. This is the destiny for the human race – to know who are those who God has freed from the slavery of sin. It is God who knew us before we knew him. It is God who determined in his own mind and plans to set us free from sin. It is God who reached into our lives and grabbed us from the flames of hell. It is God who gave us full freedom from condemnation through Christ Jesus our LORD. And it is God who is and will bring the reality of all this into full view by all. He foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified.

See below for a little reminder of how to think about predestination…

QUESTIONS

  • What does this passage have to say on the topic of global warming?
  • Verse 20 talks of creation being subjected to frustration by the will of the one who subjected it. Who is the ‘one’ that this verse talks about?
  • What are the kind of weakness that we have that verse 26 talks about? Has Paul used the word ‘weakness’ before in Romans? How was it used then?

APPLICATION

  • We are bound for glory and that is what our dreams ought to be filled with. Settling for happiness in this life is to reject the good plans that God has prepared for us.
  • Likewise, viewing all kinds of suffering as God at work in us is the only way to be free from whingeing and complaining. This certainly doesn’t make suffering easy to swallow or to go through! Suffering is hard to cope with at all levels – but what hope can we have if it is not in the promises of God that he is working to redeem all things in the new creation.
  • Pray for the world that we live in, that many more people who God has predestined will meet someone who can introduce them to Jesus.
  • Pray for the world that we live in, so that God is the solution to the problems we see and not scientists or charity workers.
  • Praise God that from the beginning of the world, he has had his plan to take us from this broken creation into the new creation.
  • Meditate on how much God is working in your life. Do you view your sufferings as his way of perfecting us? He is committed to our redemption. How committed are you to it?

**Little reminder about predestination
The topic of predestination comes up often in bible studies and seems to have no real solution. The problem is that we get fixated on the topic at a different perspective to what the bible uses it for. Our logic says that if God only saves those he has predestined then it is not fair that he doesn’t predestine everyone and so some people are just bound for destruction and that is not their fault. Then this logic gets balanced with the resolve that it is only by grace that anyone is saved and so we need to focus on the fact that it’s not that God is leaving anybody out, rather it is gracious that he calls anybody in!

Now, I want to remove this circular and less-than-satisfactory discussion with this idea: that the purpose of the word ‘predestined’ is to give comfort and assurance to all who call on the name of Jesus to be saved. That is, Christians can rest assured that they will be safe and secure in their salvation because God has predestined them. The word is NOT used in scripture as an excuse for those who do not turn to Christ, as if it is God’s fault that they have not been saved. It is God’s desire that all men would be saved. We can simply be thankful that when we turn to Christ we know that this is the Spirit at work in us and no mistakes that we make can separate us from the love of God.

Does that help?

Romans 8:1-17 two realms: the flesh or the spirit

The bible is both simple and complex. Very often we can find ourselves nodding at the message of scripture and saying ‘amen’ in our hearts. But then, and even more often, it contains a message that is hard to grasp. Pimarily, this is because we are hearing the words of the holy and mighty Lord of all creation. The holy one speaks to his creatures who are by nature sinners.

Romans 8:1 gives us one of those ‘head-nodding’ moments… There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!

But then, the verses that follow may make us scratch our heads…what is the law of the Spirit?…how are the righteous requirements of the law fulfilled in us?…if anyone does not have the spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ…is that me?

It’s not that this chapter is particularly hard, but the challenge here, to live according to the spirit instead of by the flesh, is a hard concept to grasp and to practice. One key to understanding this chapter is simply knowing what it means to live according to the flesh and what it means to live according to the Spirit. Descriptins of what it means to live according to the flesh are found in chapters 1-7 – either enjoying the freedom from righteousness or the struggle to be righteous. The difficult teaching is what it means to live according to the spirit. What that looks like is partly answered in these verses of 8:1-18 and partly by the rest of the book of Romans.

LOOK AND NOTICE

“Therefore, there is now…” This phrase highlights a turning point in the book. Not just a ‘therefore’ but ‘there is now’! And the turning point matches what Paul has been driving toward for several chapters (1:16-17; 3:23-24; 5:8-9; 5:21; 6:23; 7:25).

There is no condemnation. What Paul has in view here is the consequence of being declared righteous. Only the righteous will be rewarded – all the unrighteous ones will get what they deserve. This has been the problem of sin which we cannot escape from. All who are sinners, and that’s all of us (3:23) stand condemned (6:23) but the righteous ones that comes only through Christ (3:22) are those who believe and put their faith in Christ (1:16-17), they will stand before God with no condemnation. What a wonderful thing to stand free of sin before the holy one! It is a wonderful thing to soak in all that Paul has said about our struggle with sin and the condemnation that we are unable to bypass on our own and to now stand and breath in the fresh air of forgiveness. We have peace with God.

“in Christ Jesus”. We cannot stand uncondemned without Christ Jesus. He is the only way (Jn 14:6). It is not enough to be religious or think that you are good at heart. God does not bless any attempt to worship him. Unless we come to Christ and “bond” with him, we are lost. We must be “in Christ.” Paul uses this language in many of his letters, Ephesians 1 is the classic chapter on this phrase. Romans 6:1-7 also describes this union with Christ. It is not about doing religious things, attending church regularly or even being sprinkled with water. It is about uniting your life with Christ. He is your master, he is your king, he is your head, he is your life coach and inseparable from all that you are and do.

Verse 2 describes the “law of the Spirit” and the “law of sin and death”. The best way to understand the way Paul uses the word “law” here is to think of it as a ‘principle’ or a ‘way’ as opposed to a written code. The focus of this sentence and the rest of the chapter is not about law but about the way of the Spirit and the way of the flesh.

Verses 3-4 What we were unable to do – live righteous lives – Christ was able to do for us. He has accomplished righteousness for us! When we are united with him, we are credited with the work that he has accomplished as if it were us that did it! Without him, we battle in the flesh to get done the impossible. But with him, he has done it for us and so we are free to live according to the Spirit.

Verses 5-8 Life in the flesh compared to life in the Spirit
“the flesh” – the NIV footnote on the text (verse 3) explains that this word is a metaphor for the sinful nature and is usually in opposition to the Spirit. It is not a word of condemnation to creation as if God hates creation or that creation is sinful. That would ignore the fact that God created all things and it was good. But the phrase, ‘the flesh’, embraces the concept of how sin distorts all things good. It is not a sin to eat food but our flesh desires more than we need and we eat obsessively. It is not a sin to have sex, but our flesh craves this feeling and the obsessive desire to feed our passions and to use sex as a toy rather than a gift of God in the right context. It is not a sin to own things but our sinful nature, the flesh, covets more than we need and what other people have and we push God out of the way to get what we want. Sin thrives in our fleshly bodies. We desire to feed our passions and cravings.

Notice how we can have our minds ‘set on’ and ‘governed by’ the things of the flesh or things of the Spirit. This describes the two masters of chapter 6. One is hostile to God and leads to death and the other leads to life and peace. One cannot please God, while the other, it is inferred, can please God. Notice the word ‘desire’ applies to both realms. The flesh desires what the flesh desires but the mind can also desire what the Spirit desires. This would be the definition of being without sin: to desire and accomplish what the Spirit desires! To want what God wants.

Verses 9-13 Life in the Spirit is life with the Spirit in you
Notice that having the Spirit of God living in you is synonymous with having Christ in you! The doctrine of the Trinity teaches that the Spirit is the Spirit of the Father and of the Son (Jn 15:26) – One who the Son sends from the Father. You cannot have the Son without having the Spirit and vice versa. To be united with Christ is to have the Spirit who guides us into all truth (Jn 4:23, 24; 14:17; 15:26; 16:13).

Verses 9-11 describe the connection between life in Christ and life in the Spirit as well as expanding on what it means for the Spirit to bring life (8:6). It was the Spirit who raised Christ from death to life and this same Spirit is given to all who believe and have faith in the Son. There is no room for a two stage conversion here – where you turn to Christ and then ask for the Spirit to come on you. The two are inseparable. If you are in Christ, you are in the Spirit and the Spirit is in you.

12-13 provide some application along with this teaching. We are not now ready to lay down and retire as though God has done everything and we can now budge in his grace. We have an obligation. Not a repayment but a logical conclusion to the transaction of grace – that is, to live with and by and through the Spirit. It makes no sense to be saved from sin and death only to remain in it. We have been set free from the slavery and captivity of sin so that we may pursue a living and breathing relationship with the Spirit. Although we still live in the flesh, by the Spirit we can put to death the misdeeds of the body. This too is a great promise, that we can do now what we were previously unable to do.

Verses 14-17 the pleasure of being a son
When we walk with the Spirit of God, we are identified as God’s children and therefore heirs of his kingdom. Being a Christian has enormous benefits! It is devastating to think of Christianity as a life choice and a morality code. That is missing the point completely! Christians – true Christians – are people who call God Father and are waiting eagerly to see him face to face and to live in his presence forever. Christians – true Christians – set their minds on what the Spirit desires because this is who they now are – God’s children and co-heirs with Christ. Imagine that! We don’t merely receive entrance into heaven, we inherit, like a brother of Jesus, the keys to the kingdom!

The good news and the news – we will be glorified with Christ! For now, however, we experience a life like he experienced – where many will not understand why we do or think like we do. Where people will mock us simply because we trust in God. Where people may persecute us in subtle and direct ways because we call ourselves Christians. Also where we live in the world of the flesh – subject to death, to illness, to injury and to grief of every kind. This is the world of the flesh that we live in but our hope and our minds and our hearts and desires are set on the things of the Spirit – to inherit what Christ and the Spirit have prepared for us!

QUESTIONS

What does it mean to live in the realm of the Spirit? Many may assume that this means we meditate and follow the spontaneous promptings of the Spirit as he secretly whispers to our spirit. There is a small element of truth here where, at times, we are prompted to speak to certain people or to go or not go based on a feeling. This is both rare in the Christian experience and not prominent in the bible. Paul appears to have been led by the Spirit not to go into an area of mission that he had intended to go (Acts 16:6). The way that the Spirit works and speaks to us, however, is through the word of God: the bible! Two references will suffice to make this point although there are many more places to go to and attending the “Start Living” course will give a fuller study on how the Spirit and the word are inseparable. Ephesians 6:10-17 speaks of the armour of God. It is complete with items pointing to the Gospel of grace that comes through faith and is capped off by the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. God’s word comes to us by the Spirit and is the weapon that equips us thoroughly to fight the good fight of faith. The second passage is in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. The bible is described as God-breathed – this can equally be read as “God-Spirited”. The scriptures are described here as sufficient and effective. There is nothing else we need and it will accomplish what it sets out to do. It equips the Christian for every good work.

Being in the realm of the Spirit is to be informed by the mind of God rather than being informed by the things of this world. It means meditating and being transformed by the mind of God rather than our own imaginations and dreams. The Spirit teaches us and trains us, equips us and rebukes us all from the word of God. This means that the Spirit inspired us as we read from the word of God and it also means that the word of God is Spiritual.

What does ‘abba’ mean? This is simply Aramaic for father but is used only by immediate family members. It has been said that it is a more affectionate word than what the word ‘father’ conveys and some have said that using the word ‘daddy’ brings a close resemblance to what is being said here. How far this must be taken should be governed by the context of our passage. What Paul is putting across in verses 14-17 is that we are now in the family along side Jesus Christ! We can speak to God the Father directly because of our union with Christ and because the Spirit is in us.

APPLICATION

Read the bible. How often do we neglect to put this obvious application into practice! Reading the bible more doesn’t make us more Christian but neglecting to read us is an indication of how much influence the realm of the flesh has on us. So, put down that kebab and read your bible! Stay up an extra ten minutes and read your bible! Delay your first job of the day by 15 minutes and read your bible! Make sure that in your Growth Groups, you are encouraging one another to read the bible for all it’s worth.

Confess the misdeeds of the flesh that you are battling with and ask the Spirit to help you to put it to death. Shoot that sin in the head and kill it! Stop flirting with it. Stop walking past it and dreaming about it – set your mind on the things above and get rid of it.

Related to the last point is this: being a Christian doesn’t mean that sin is magically removed from your life. Battling with sin is part of the Christian growth process. But we only grow as we persevere and walk with the Spirit away from it.

Praise God that there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus. Reflect on what it means to know Christ and to be redeemed. Reflect on what it would mean if God did not send his Son.

Praise God that he not only sent his Son but he and the Son also sent the Spirit of Truth to live in us! We are not alone!

What further applications can you see in the passage?

PRAYER

Abba Father – my dad – thank you for the gift of your Son and for the gift of the Spirit. I praise you for being so generous and gracious to a person so bound up in the realm of the flesh. Please help me to put to death the things of my past, the sins that trick me and lead me astray. Please help me to set my mind on the things that you love. Thank you for the hope that I can only find in you. I ask all this in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord, through the Spirit of Truth. Amen.

Romans 7:14-25 love for the law is not enough

Friends, sorry that the blog for Romans 7:1-13 did not make it out in a timely manner (ie, not at all). I’d like to offer you a focus in Romans 7:14-25 with reference to the whole chapter this week. Let’s follow a slightly different format this week called the COMA method of bible study (this doesn’t mean that it puts us to sleep!).

C.O.M.A. – CONTEXT, OBSERVATION, MEANING and APPLICATION

C is for CONTEXT
What have we covered so far in Romans that is relevant to this chapter?

Paul is writing to a Christian audience in a very friendly style. He has never met this church but loves their reputation. His aim is not to rebuke but to outline exactly what this gospel that he is not ashamed of. It is the power of God that bring salvation by faith alone.

Without God, we are all sinners. All have turned away from God regardless of their knowledge of the law or not. No one is righteous and yet it is only the righteous who will be safe on judeny day (I have not placed bible references hear bit I hope that this is all filial ground and you might even remember where these lessons are coming from).

It is not our works or attempts to be good that can save us but only faith like Abraham – who believed God and that act of belief or faith was credited to him as righteousness. We couldn’t save ourselves but God could and while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Grace has saved all who have faith in God the Father and Jesus Christ.

What good then is the law? That’s the context and question of chapters 6 and 7. Romans 6:1 proposes: let’s sin! sin! sin! so that God can be praised so much more for his grace. What an amazing grace! Romans 6:15 asks: if grace is so good, we have no motivation to stop sinning. Romans 7:7 asks: is the law to blame for our sin and guilt? Romans 7:13 asks: did the law become like poison to me? Each of these questions are aimed at understanding where the law fits in to this teaching about Grace and each question is followed by a resounding NO!!!

The point? Sin and judgement exists prior to the written law but only when the law became known was sin both recognised and fanned into flame. We would struggle to understand the grace of God without first hearing what it means to be in rebellion against him.

The context of chapter 7 is working out who the enemy is: the law or sin? What is their relationship? Should we hate the law?

Verse 7 asks ‘is the law sinful?’ Is God’s commandments the bad guy? The answer in short comes in verse 12… the law is holy, righteous and good. After all, it came from God. Verse 6 tells us that we are living in the spirit now and not struggling under the written code or law but this does not mean that the law was useless. Verse 13 concludes for us that without the law, sin would not have been identified and understood as sin.

NB: Paul uses the word ‘law’ quite a lot without a clear definition and he doesn’t always mean the same thing. Mostly, what he refers to is the written down laws of the Old Testament. This includes everything that describes how God’s people ought to live as the people of God. Sometimes, as in chapter 2 and in 7:1-3, he refers to the law of the land – the laws that we live under in our society. Context is needed to work out what he means in each case.

O is for OBSERVATION
What can you see in the text that helps your understanding of it? What do you notice? What is the structure? This is an information gathering moment and a bit of initial comprehension.

Here is a thought on the structure of verses 14-25

  1. vv14-17 ‘I know’ that the law is spiritual but I am unspiritual.
  2. vv18-20 ‘I know’ that good itself does not dwell in me.
  3. vv21-23 So ‘I know’ this: I want to obey the law but sin is what is at work in me
  4. vv24-25 this seems impossible but thank God for Jesus!
  5. Verse 25b a recap of what he is attempting to say

This structure follows a logical argument from Paul, namely, the Law is from God but sin is my constant enemy and I cannot do what the law commands even though I try – God is my only help.

  • Verse 14 it is surprising to hear Paul describe the law as spiritual. This has two effects, firstly that it aligns the law of God immediately with a category that we’ve seen is good, that is, the way of the Spirit (v6). Secondly, it alludes to the fact that the law has it’s origins with God and that it ultimately embodies knowledge and revelation of God (see 2:18-20; 3:1, 21).
  • Paul discusses the concept of dwelling in the ‘sinful nature’. He contrasts the new life of the Spirit introduced in the first half of the chapter with the life of the natural person – living captive to sin – Note verse 15 stating that ‘I do not know understand what I do.’
  • “Total depravity” is a theological term used to describe the condition of humanity outside of Christ. Chapter 1 of Romans pictured the human race as out of control in the opposite direction from God. Here in chapter 7, Paul describes the battle that humans face. Total depravity encaptures a concept that means even becoming a Christian and rejecting sin is an act of mercy and grace from God. This is captured in the way that Paul finishes the chapter.
  • v24 highlights a problem that many discuss in this chapter: who does Paul mean when he says “I”? Does he mean himself? If so, is he describing what it was like before he became a Christian? Isn’t he already saved? Or is he pretending to be any human on the planet? Perhaps he is pretending to be all of Israel who received the law and were stuck with the problem of being unable to keep it? Does the answer to these questions matter?

M is for MEANING
What is the overall meaning of the text. Try and state the point of this section in 10 words or less.

Here’s my attempt – you might be able to capture it better…

“I am, by nature, incapable of good – God help me!”

OR

“Love for the law is not enough. We need Jesus.”

OR

“The Law is from God – sin is my enemy.”

Now, does that sound right? Does that first one sound too harsh? Does that sound like what Paul is saying? If I am wrong, prove it. If I am right, how does this affect your view on people, the world and society in general?

A is for APPLICATION
Having looked at the CONTEXT, OBSERVATIONS of the text and then the MEANING, what are we to do about it? How should we respond? Does the passage tell us? Is there an obvious implication? Here’s some ideas…

  • By default, we are not basically good and make mistakes at times. This is a radically different view from our culture’s view.
  • The law, given by God and revealing the mind of God, uncovers the savageness of sin. Without it, sin kills us without us even being aware that we are dying. With the law on our minds, we can only conclude that we need God’s help.
  • Let us have a high view of the LAW and a low view on sin. Let’s be absolutely suspicious of our motivations and ability to do good and very affirming of the origin of the law and the reason for the law.
  • Stop and consider why the law was given. Without our knowledge of the corrosion and demolition of sin, we would not conclude that we need a Saviour.
  • Rejoice that God is good.
  • Rejoice that he has delivered us through Jesus Christ!
  • Lean on God for help to deal with sin. Keep in mind that we need his Spirit to battle while we are still in the body.

That’s it from me. I know that this was a long post – perhaps they all are – but chapter 7 can be tricky to handle. Consider also, using the COMA method laid out in this post – I plan to use it in my groups this week.

PRAYER FOR THE WEEK?
Father God, we praise you for your goodness and kindness to us in sending your Son. Save us, we pray, from the power of sin in our lives. Thank you for your grace and mercy, for your word of truth and for the Holy Spirit. Keep us safe in your care we pray. Amen