Romans 8: a Treasury for the Saints
When we come to Romans 8, we are immediately met with the word, “therefore.” What is the “therefore” there for? Some commentators point back to Romans 7:6, in which Paul argues that through Christ’s death for us, we are released from the law so that we may serve in the newness of the Spirit. And surely this ties nicely into the flow of thought introduced here in Romans 8:1 and continued in the next several verses. For in the next few verses (2-10), the apostle argues that it is the Spirit who through Christ delivers us from the flesh and enables obedience, and who, moreover, will ultimately deliver us from the mortality brought on by sin. The apostle had argued for the impotence of the law in chapter 7; now he argues for the power of the Holy Spirit given to us through Christ.
Others point back to Romans 7:25 and to the apostle’s cry of thanksgiving to our Lord who delivers us from the body of death. It is because of Christ that the Spirit comes to us. The law cannot deliver us from the power of sin, but Christ can, and the apostle now unfolds how this comes to pass.
However, I personally take the point of view that the connection between Romans 8 and the preceding goes further back and encompasses more than just Romans 7. It is remarkable that though justification is not a topic in Romans 7, and yet at the very beginning of Romans 8, this is what Paul points us to as the implication of what he had been writing about. Surely we cannot avoid the inescapable conclusion that the “therefore” at the beginning of this chapter takes in and encompasses all of the apostle’s foregoing argument, not just chapter 7, but chapters 1-7, including all that he had written on the subject of justification in chapters 3-5.
Romans 8, therefore, stands not only the end of chapters 5-8, but of all the preceding epistle. It is a summary statement of what has gone before. But it is more than that, for in it the apostle also develops the themes of the preceding chapters and shows how they all contribute towards an unshakable foundation for hope and confidence and security for those who are in Christ.
For this reason, I think it is important, before we dive into the chapter and examine it on a microscopic level, that we step back and observe it on the macroscopic level and get the big picture here. In some sense, we are not only looking at Romans 8 as a whole but also all the epistle up to this point. And there are many very important truths here that are meant to be taken in together. To just look at the details and not see the whole panoramic landscape would be like focusing on a little pebble at the foot of the Rockies and never looking up to be taken in by the breathtaking majesty of the mountains towering all around you. Yes, the pebble may be worthy of minute inspection. But the pebble is probably there at the foot of that mountain for a reason. Don’t so focus on the pebble that you miss the mountain.
One of the reasons I think it is important for us to consider the truths of this chapter together, is because the cumulative effect of all the truths together has more power in engaging the affections of our hearts than any one of them alone. It’s like a rockslide. You may be able to dodge a thousand stones when they come at you one at a time, but when they all come at you at the same time, you have no chance. In the same way, we can be reminded of this precious truth or that precious truth and yet our hearts will dodge the invigorating implications those truths have for our hope and joy. But when the apostle launches them at us one after the other, it becomes harder for us to do that. And that’s want I want to happen this morning. I want us to see the magnitude of the blessings that we have in Christ. We can do that better when we look at them all together than just one at a time.
I also think it’s a good thing to do this because of the very structure of this chapter itself. In verse 31, the apostle asks this question: “What then shall we say to these things?” In other words, given what the apostle has said up to this point, what should be our response? These are not things simply to store up in some memory block, but these are things that have soul-stirring implications. But it is only when we have considered them together that the question comes.
What are the truths that the apostle highlights in this chapter? I think they basically come to us in this order: justification (1), sanctification (2-13), adoption (14-17), and glorification (18-30). The response to these realities is then one of exultation (31-39). And as we embrace these realities by faith, our response also ought to be one of exultation and hope and joy. It ought to make us happy people.
It is so easy for us to focus on the bad in us and around us. There is no doubt that there is a lot to grieve over. There is a lot of sadness surrounding us. The trajectory of our society is troubling, to say the least. And when we look within, we find nothing good there (cf. 7:18). And then there are those of us who are naturally more melancholy and find ourselves tending towards being depressed by our weaknesses and limitations and failures.
But Romans 8 ought to make the believer in Christ a happy and hopeful person. The thing about ourselves and the world is that they are always changing, most of the time for the worse. We are not guaranteed that our jobs will get better or even that we will keep them. We are not guaranteed that we will be able to avoid heartache and hurt in this world. We cannot guarantee that everyone is going to like us. We cannot guarantee that we will be spared tragedy. In fact, if we take Scripture seriously, we can actually expect all these things (cf. 8:35-37!). Forget about having your best life now, for our Savior said that those who save their lives in this world will lose them in the age to come (Mk. 8:34-38).
But if that’s the case, how do you remain hopeful and happy in this world? This is important, because it’s going to be hard to remain faithful if we lose all hope and happiness. Psalm 73 and the book of Hebrews bears this up.
Hope and happiness in the end don’t come from nice things and earthly comforts. They can only come from blessings that have unshakable permanence. Nothing in this earth can give us that. But what Romans 8 tells us is that in Christ we have such unshakably permanent blessings. Nothing on this earth or anywhere else can take these blessings from us. They are eternally durable. Nor do they wear out or grow old. Things of this earth can make us happy for a time. But the things of heaven will make you happy for eternity. This is what Romans 8 reminds us. If we truly grasp the truths which are laid out before us in this chapter, we will find a reservoir of joy that will never dry up.
So lets take an inventory of the blessings which belong to all who belong to Christ. It is a veritable treasury for the saints. As John Stott summarized it: the chapter begins with no condemnation and ends with no separation.
Though Paul doesn’t use the word “justification” in verse 1, the idea is definitely there in the phrase “no condemnation.” For justification is the declaration that we are righteous before God. It is the opposite of condemnation, which is the declaration that a person is not righteous. To be justified, therefore, is to be no longer condemned.
To be sure, this is justification before God, not before man. Men may and will condemn us, as they did our Lord. But they cannot successfully condemn us in the sense that at the end God’s pronouncement will upend all human condemnation (35). We will inevitably triumph in God’s forgiveness and acceptance.
It is this that we need above all things. To be condemned by God in the day of judgment will be unutterably tragic and terrifying. It would be better never to have been born than to face that reality at the last day. No earthly blessing can ever redeem the value of our souls. We need to be justified by God before God. One of the reasons we might be sad now is that we do not truly appreciate the magnitude and implications of this blessing. We will see some of the implications as the chapter unfolds. But it begins here.
One of the things that makes justification so precious is that we have it “now.” It is an immediate reality for all who believe on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is not something you have to work towards. It is not something you have to earn. It is not something for which we become worthy. For God justifies the ungodly (4:5).
It is not only a present reality; it is also a permanent reality and that multiplies its sweetness for the believer. One of the things about earthly wealth is that once you have it, you have to keep it. It could be taken from you at any moment, either by robbers or by the stock market or by poor decisions or a thousand other eventualities. Wealth does not necessarily bring with it inner peace; for many people it only multiples their worries. If you don’t have much to lose, what of it? But if you have to keep your millions, that can be something to keep you awake at night.
But the thing about the justification that God gives is that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” If you are in Christ Jesus, there is no condemnation for you. It doesn’t depend upon you; your justification rests solely upon Christ and his work for you. You have it now, and you will have it as long as you have Christ. And as we shall see, the believer can never be separated from Christ. And so justification is not only a present reality, it is also a permanent reality. It cannot be taken from us. There is nothing that can happen to you in this world or the next that will undo justification, if you belong to Christ.
If we really believed this and held is constantly before our eyes, how could we not be happy? To be accepted by God! That is the thing that secures everything else. If we are justified we shall be glorified (8:30).
These are not hard and fast categories, but it is pretty clear to me anyway that Paul is dealing with sanctification in these verses. He speaks of not walking according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (4), and the distinction between being in the Spirit and in the flesh. Though in chapter 7, the apostle has argued that we cannot be sanctified by the law, now he turns and shows us that we shall be sanctified by the Spirit of Christ.
Note that Paul has no problem moving from justification to sanctification. Nor does he imagine a category of believer who has the former blessing but not the latter. If you have the Spirit, you will set your mind on the things of the Spirit (5). But everyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit (9), and if you have the Spirit you will be walking according to the Spirit. This is no second blessing; this is the description of all who belong to Christ. He not only justifies his people; he also sanctifies them. On the cross, he not only purchased forgiveness of sins, he also purchased freedom from our sins (3-4). Christ does not communicate only some of the blessings purchased on the cross for his people; he gives freely of all that he has obtained for us by his death: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (32).
Paul is elaborating here on the thanksgiving expressed in 7:25. We are indeed wretched, but Christ delivers us from our wretchedness. The law cannot sanctify us, but Christ can, and he does. The clutches of sin can be powerful but Christ is infinitely more powerful. There is no lust or passion or sin that can overpower the triumph of Christ over sin. There is never any reason for those who are in Christ to ever despair over the sin in their lives. Rather, we have every reason to fight it through the help of the grace of Christ.
Those who have truly come to Christ for forgiveness for sin must inevitably come to him for freedom from sin as well. This is because, to truly see ourselves as sinners and as someone in need of forgiveness we must also see the sinfulness of sin. We must come to hate sin and see it as hateful and disgusting, not only because of what it does to us, but more than that because of what it is to God. But if we see sin in this way, we are going to want to be rid of sin. No one who comes to Christ comes to him and yet wants to go on wallowing in his or her sin. They are not only going to want to be justified but also sanctified.
When we look within, there can be a lot of reasons to be sad. But we must remember that the sin within does not and cannot control the story that God is writing for us. God is at work in each of his people, working in them the graces of the Spirit. Through his providence and the work of the Spirit, he is at work bringing you to be a more holy, humble, and loving person. And that is surely a reason to be glad.
In these verses, the apostle expands upon the blessings which all who belong to Christ enjoy. They are not only justified and sanctified, but they are also adopted in the family of God. It has been often put that this is the crowning blessing of salvation. It is conceivable, at least, that God could have forgiven our sins and left it at that. But he has not only done that, he has also brought us into his family and made us sons and daughters of God. It’s one of those things that, had Scripture not revealed it to us, we dare not believe it.
Thus, the apostle speaks of “the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God” (15-16). God has not adopted us into his family but then kept this fact a secret; no, he sends the Spirit to his children so that they will have an awareness of the familial ties that now bind them to their heavenly Father, and cry out to him as a child does to their parent. God wants us who are in Christ to come to him as his sons and daughters.
Do we believe this? Do you think you are not worthy of this honor? Well, you are not. But that’s okay. For Christ was worthy for us. We don’t become sons and daughters of the most High because we are good enough, but because Christ is good enough for us.
If this is true of us, how could we not be hopeful? Yes, it is true that God allows us to go through hard times. We can be sure that he does so because it is best for us to go through those hard times. But they are not the end of the story, for “if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided with suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (17).
As his children, we can be absolutely sure that God knows us, knows the very details of our lives, that he cares for us, and is working for our good (Mt. 6:25-34). It is why we can say, with Paul, “that for those who love God all things work together for good” (28).
Because we are justified and sanctified and adopted in Christ, we can be sure that we will be glorified. That is the theme of these verses. The apostle talks about the “glory that is to be revealed in us” (18). In fact, this has direct links to the previous verses, for according to Paul glorification is the outworking of our adoption into the family of God, for we are heirs with him: “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we await eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (23).
But that is not all: for it is not as if the glory to come is something that is put in front of us as if it were a carrot on a stick. Rather, all who belong to Christ and have these blessings must inevitably inherit the glories of the age to come. For “those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (30). This has often been called an unbreakable chain, because it is: all those who at the beginning were predestined will be glorified at the end.
We must not slide by this word, “glory.” It is a word which in Scripture is very often used in reference to God. Of course Paul is not saying that we become God, or even little gods. But he is saying that the inheritance to come is not something that can be described in terms of this world. It is something which only God can give. It is something which is qualitatively different from the decay and the sinfulness of this world. Moreover, it is greater than what we lost in Adam. For Adam could fall in paradise: but in the age to come, there is no more probation. Eternal life is eternal life. The way to the Tree of Life is now open in Jesus.
Our Response: Exultation (31-39)
“What shall we then say to these things?” (31). This ought to be a question we ask of realities like this. If we just read about them and then go on with our day, then we will not be affected by them as we ought. Our hearts will be left heavy with the weight of this world instead of being lifted up through the blessings that we have now (1) and will have in the age to come (30). Hope only fills us when we are filled with the Spirit and the word (15:4, 13). If we are only focused on present problems and do not allow the truths of Scripture to penetrate our thoughts and minds and affections, we won’t change from people whose arms hang down to those who hands are lifted up.
So that is what Paul does. He exults in the blessings of grace. To the end of the chapter, the apostle, in several different ways, supercharges our hope with the triumph that is ours in Christ. No one can condemn us. No one and nothing can defeat us. No one and nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our lord.
This morning and tomorrow morning and the morning after and on and on should find us rejoicing in our hope which is ours in Jesus. That doesn’t mean we don’t groan inwardly. But it does mean that even as we groan we can “await eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (23). These are sure blessings because they don’t depend on us, they depend on what God is doing and has done for us. And surely that is reason to hope and be glad.