FREED FROM MORTALITY Romans 8
“And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you” (Rom. 8:11).Despite our weaknesses, with the Spirit’s help we can live holy lives.
Paul’s exposition of the Gospel’s impact on individuals examines three vital issues: sin, Law, and mortality (“flesh”). Union with Christ in His death frees us from the domination of our sinful nature, so that we can offer ourselves to God as “slaves to righteousness” (6:18). Union with Christ in His death also legally frees us from man’s obligation to God’s Law. This is important, as Law stimulates the sin nature and corrupts even the good we seek to do. We are to respond to Jesus out of love, not obligation (Rom. 7). Now Paul explored the problem of our mortality. Human beings are but flesh, sarx. As a theological term sarx stands for all that is weak and corrupt in human nature. In effect Paul asked, how can a mere mortal, whose essential being is tainted by corruption, live a godly life? His joyful answer leaps from the pages of Romans 8. God has given us His Holy Spirit! If we respond to the Spirit within us rather than the sarx within, the righteous requirements of that Law we could not keep will be “fully met in us!” God’s Spirit vitalizes us, even in our present mortal state, so that we can live righteous and holy lives! Then Paul went on. We are bound to our mortality now. But in the resurrection we will be fully liberated, along with the whole creation! And, until then, we can be sure of one thing. No one, and nothing, can ever separate us from the love of Christ.
The dynamic principle of new life in Christ overwhelms the principle of indwelling sin, enabling us to live righteously (8:1–4). If we as sons of God choose to live in harmony with the Spirit, not the flesh, the Spirit’s resurrection power vitalizes us even in our present mortal state (vv. 5–17). In the future our bodies, with all creation, will be transformed (vv. 18–25). Till then we live in the love of the Spirit who prays for us (vv. 26–27), the Father who provides for us (vv. 28–33), and Christ who guards us (vv. 34–39).
Understanding the Text
“In order that the righteous requirements of the Law might be fully met in us” Rom. 8:1–4. So many Christians feel condemned to failure. They try. But somehow they keep on failing. The life of many Christians is like the god in Greek mythology who was condemned to roll a giant stone up a mountainside—only to see it tumble down into the valley every time he got near the top. What a condemnation this would be. Always to try. And always to fail. But Paul’s message was, “no condemnation!” Jesus didn’t die that we might be left frustrated and hopeless. God has introduced a vital new principle of life into our personalities, which frees us from bondage to the “sin living in me” that Paul acknowledged with such agony in Romans 7. In Jesus, we are freed to live righteous lives. That’s what’s so special about Romans 8. It gives us hope. And it tells us how to draw on God’s own resources to experience spiritual success, not failure. “Righteous requirements of the Law . . . fully met in us” Rom. 8:4. The little Quaker lady was complimented by a younger woman, who was amazed at her self-control when provoked. No matter what, the little lady seemed to remain sweet and patient. She received the compliment, nodded, and then said, “But thee should know I’m shouting inside.” When Paul said that the righteous requirements of the Law are “fully met” in the believer, he was making an amazing statement. Rightly understood, the Law does not just speak to what we do and say “outside.” It calls for us to be changed “inside” as well. A sweet and patient voice while “shouting inside” has not “fully met” the righteousness God requires. Law itself can never make us good. But God can! The death of Christ, and the gift of God’s Spirit, are intended to make you and me different inside and out. “Controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit” Rom. 8:5–9a. So many illustrations have been offered to clarify what Paul was saying here. Some speak of a tug-of-war between the Spirit and the flesh. Whichever side you choose to pull with will win. Some suggest a teeter-totter. The sinful nature is on one end, the Holy Spirit on the other. And you tip the balance. These, and other illustrations, make a common point. There’s a competition between God and man’s mortal, sinful nature. The Spirit urges us to go in one direction and the flesh urges us to go another. And, each of us can choose. We can choose to follow the Spirit’s leading, to pull with the Spirit, to add our weight to His side of the teeter-totter. Or we can choose to go the way of the flesh. How gracious God is. Even now, He does not say “You must.” That would be Law. Instead He reminds us that, because of Christ, and in the power the Spirit gives, “You can!” “He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies” Rom. 8:9b-11. “You can!” is one of the hardest things for a Christian to truly believe. We’re so used to failure that down deep many of us are convinced, “Well, I can’t!” When that conviction overwhelms you, remember the nature of God’s power. God’s power, exercised by the Holy Spirit, raised Jesus from the dead. That same power, exercised by the Holy Spirit, is fully capable of taking your mortality—your deadness—and making you live! And, this same verse says, His Spirit “lives in you.” Of course “I can’t.” But because God’s Spirit lives in every true believer (v. 9b), you can! To approach any spiritual challenge with the confidence that “I can” isn’t presumption, it’s faith. Faith that God’s Spirit living in you will give you the power you need, despite your mortality, to succeed rather than fail. Actually, this is how you and I add our weight to that inner tug-of-war, or climb on the Spirit’s side of that teeter-totter. We say, “I can,” confident that the Spirit will act in and through us. And then, we do! “You received the Spirit of sonship” Rom. 8:12–17. Paul concluded with a paragraph that emphasized consequences, obligation, and resources. The consequences of a choice to respond to the prompting of the sin nature are to live in the realm of death and defeat (v. 13). Our obligation and our resources are rooted in our new relationship to God. When a person was adopted under Roman law, all earlier obligations were broken, and he became responsible only to his new father. He owed the adoptive father complete obedience, and everything he possessed was under the adoptive father’s control. But as a child, he was now an heir of his new father. And under Roman law, an heir was considered to possess his inheritance even before the father died. In other words, all the resources of the father were, through the father, available to the child. When we received the “Spirit of sonship” (literally, of “adoption”), the authority of the old nature over us was broken completely. We became obligated to no one but God, our new Father. And, as His heirs now, all the resources of God Himself are available to you and me. No wonder Paul shouted, “There is now no condemnation” (v. 1). Because Christ died for us, because the Father adopted us, because the Spirit is given to us, there is now no question. We can live a victorious Christian life! All we need to do is to believe. And, acting on faith, to step out and to do. “Creation waits in eager expectation” Rom. 8:18–25. Still working with the theme of mortality, Paul noted that the entire creation has been affected by man’s sin and is subject to decay. One day, when our redemption is complete, and our bodies, like our spirits, have been renewed, creation itself will be fully redeemed. Till then, mortality means suffering. For us, and for nature. We know that our sufferings are insignificant when compared to the glory that awaits us. But till then, we can only look ahead, confident and eager, waiting for Jesus to return. “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him” Rom. 8:28. The verse doesn’t say that everything that happens to us is good. There’s far too much pain in the world for that to be true. What Paul said was that God is at work in all things. He redeems even our suffering, using it to do us good. “He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” Rom. 8:29. Christians have argued over predestination. Did God simply know ahead of time what individuals would do? Or did God cause individuals to act as they did? Are we saved because of our faith, or did we believe because we are chosen? This passage won’t resolve questions like these. Why? Because it says we who believe are “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.” God has determined that believers will become like Jesus. The great contribution of this verse is the perspective it provides on the teaching that God works in all things “for the good of those who love Him.” It tells us what God’s “good” is: Likeness to Jesus. What a wonderful thought. And what an exciting destiny. God wants us to be like Jesus. And He is committed to transform us into Christ’s likeness. Even suffering, if it helps me learn Christlikeness, is a blessing from the Lord.
Until Then (Rom. 8:26–39)
Waiting is so hard. I remember as a child, sitting on the front porch, waiting. We were going up to Cedar Lake, and I could hardly stand the thought that the trip was three whole days away. And there was nothing I could do to make the time pass faster. Waiting for Jesus is especially hard as we sense our vulnerability and mortality. We may even feel there’s nothing we can do until then. When we do feel that way, it’s helpful to remember that, until then, God is active for us! God the Holy Spirit, sensitive to our mortality, “helps us in our weakness.” The Spirit prays urgently for us and with us (vv. 26–27). God the Father, who has adopted us, in that act committed Himself to us totally. God is for us: He gives us all things now, and will give us the glory that is assured in His initial choice and call (vv. 28–33). God the Son, who died for us, is praying for and loving us. We sense that love, whatever our hardships. In everything we know with Paul that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 38–39). So if waiting seems hard, and a little frustrating because there doesn’t seem to be anything you can do, remember. Until then, God is active for you. Until then, the Spirit prays, the Father provides, and the Son protects you. And, until then, you can live your life here on earth for God.
Until then, serve the One who loves you.
“The strength for our conquering and our victory is drawn continually from Christ. The Bible does not teach that sin is completely eradicated from Christians in this life, but it does teach that sin shall no longer reign over you. The strength and power of sin have been broken. The Christian now has resources available to live above and beyond this world. The Bible teaches that whosoever is born of God does not practice sin. It is like the little girl who said that when the devil came knocking with a temptation, she just sent Jesus to the door.”—Billy Graham