In view of what God has done through his Son, those who are “in Christ Jesus,” being at one with him as members of his body, are “now” not under condemnation. In the past, while under the law, condemnation resulted from failing to live up faultlessly to the law’s requirements. “Now,” however, through their faith in Christ Jesus and the atoning benefits of his death for them, believers are accounted as approved. Being members of the body of which the Son of God is the head, they share in his righteousness as the one who has always been without sin. Later manuscripts add that those in Christ Jesus “do not walk according to the flesh, but according to [the] spirit.” (8:1; see 8:4, where this basic phrase is found.)
The apostle added an explanatory comment about why those in Christ are not under condemnation. “For the law of the spirit of the life in Christ Jesus has freed you [singular you; other manuscripts read ‘me’ or ‘us’] from the law of sin and of death.” In this case, law designates a governing principle or power. Accordingly, “the law of the spirit” could refer to the controlling principle or power either of the holy spirit or of the individual’s spirit that has been made new through the operation of God’s spirit. The link of the spirit to life may be understood to mean that the spirit is a life-giving principle or power for the individual who is “in” or at one with Christ Jesus or that the spirit is the controlling principle in the new life of the person who is united to Christ as a member of his body. With a new power controlling and guiding believers, they are liberated from the “law” or controlling power of sin and of death (the inevitable consequence of sin and to which sinners are subject as they would be to law). (8:2)
The “law,” meaning (as the context indicates) God’s law given through Moses, could not effect liberation from sin and death. Its powerlessness in this respect stemmed from its being “weak through the flesh.” The “flesh” or the human condition in its sinful state robbed the law of the capacity to reveal individuals as faultlessly upright and deserving of life. God himself stepped in, doing what the law could never succeed in bringing about. He sent his own Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin” to condemn sin in the flesh. (8:3)
Jesus Christ was fully human and as such did not differ from other humans. He came, however, only in the “likeness of sinful flesh,” for he was wholly without sin as a human. (8:3)
God sent his Son “concerning sin,” having him lay down his life sacrificially to make forgiveness of sins possible. Through his Son, the Father “condemned sin in the flesh.” This may mean that God exposed sin as an alien element in the flesh and deprived it of its controlling power in the case of those who believe in his Son. (8:3)
As to the purpose this condemnation of sin in the flesh served, Paul continued, “that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who are walking, not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit.” (8:4)
The obligations the law imposed were right or just. In the case of believers, their conduct harmonizes with these “just requirements,” for they are not living corrupt lives. So what the law commands is fulfilled in them. Their ceasing to walk “according to the flesh” or their sinful nature or inclinations is not attributable to an externally imposed demand to adhere to the law. Their walk or conduct is “according to the spirit.” So, because they are allowing themselves to be guided by God’s spirit, they are living the purpose of the law (which finds its full expression in love for God and fellow humans) and thus conducting themselves in agreement with its just requirements.
Those who remain fleshly persons, continuing in an unconverted state and without the help of God’s spirit, persist in living “according to the flesh” or their sinful inclinations. Their minds are on the things of the flesh or on its prompting and craving. Believers who live “according to the spirit,” living spiritual lives under the guidance of God’s spirit, have their minds on the things of the spirit. Their mental focus is on the things that are in harmony with the holy spirit’s direction and guidance. (8:5)
The outcomes for centering the thoughts on the flesh or on the spirit are very different. When the flesh is the focus or concern of the mind, allowing its sinful desires to control one’s life, the ultimate end is death. In the case of those whose mind is centered on the spirit, letting it govern, the result is “life and peace.” This life is the real life of an approved relationship with the heavenly Father and his Son. No longer are those whom God’s spirit guides at enmity with the Father. They are reconciled to him as his beloved children and enjoy peace with him and are assured of his loving help and care. (8:6)
The reason that a focus on the flesh, the inclination to satisfy its sinful cravings, can only lead to death is that the sinful nature is at enmity with God. This sinful inclination or flesh is not subject to God’s law and cannot be, for it is in a state of rebellion against the spirit of the law that finds its fulfillment in love for God and fellow humans. Therefore, those who are “in the flesh,” persons dominated by their sinful human nature, cannot please God. (8:7, 8)
To believers in Rome, Paul could say, “But you are not in the flesh but in the spirit, provided the spirit of God is residing in you.” As the sinful human nature was no longer in control, believers could be spoken of as not being “in the flesh.” They are “in the spirit,” and this is introduced by a marker of strong contrast (but, allá). A craving to satisfy sinful desires no longer dominates their lives. Their spirit, under the impelling power of God’s spirit, motivates them to conduct themselves uprightly. Therefore, the sphere of their life is, not “in the flesh,” but “in the spirit.” This is “provided” (literally, “if”) the “spirit of God resides” in them. The Greek term for “resides” or “dwells” is in the present tense and so would be indicative of a continuing presence of God’s spirit as the governing power in the lives of believers. (8:9)
Paul added, “But if anyone does not have Christ’s spirit, this one is not his.” (8:9) The apostle may here have been using “Christ’s spirit” as synonymous with God’s spirit, for it is through Christ that the holy spirit is imparted to believers. (Compare Acts 2:33.) The spirit of Christ could also denote the same spirit that he manifests, for his every act is in full harmony with his Father’s will and spirit. Persons who are not guided by the spirit of Christ demonstrate that they do not belong to him. They are not members of his body.
For Christ to be in believers would mean that he would be at one with them and they with him. When this is the case, the “body” (from the standpoint of its sinful nature) is “dead because of sin, but the spirit [is] alive because of righteousness.” (8:10) On account of sin, the body is still subject to death. Believers, though, share in Christ’s righteousness, for they are accounted as divinely approved on the basis of their faith in him and his surrender of his life for them. This has made it possible for them to be recipients of God’s spirit and to enjoy a newness of life. Guided and directed by the holy spirit, they are not dead in trespasses and sins but live as God’s approved children, with the eternal sinless state in prospect.
The spirit powerfully at work in believers is the same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. When the holy spirit has a permanent home in believers, the Father, through the spirit residing in them, will “also” (not in all manuscripts) impart life to their mortal bodies. There are two different Greek manuscript readings (diá toú enoikoúntos [genitive case] autoú pneúmatos en hymín [“through the indwelling of his spirit in you”] and diá tó enoikoún [accusative case] autoú pneúma en hymín [“because of the indwelling of his spirit in you”]). The genitive construction points to the spirit as the agency through which the new life is imparted, whereas the accusative construction expresses the reason for a future granting of life to be the indwelling of the spirit. (8:11)
Being persons enjoying a newness of life through the operation of God’s spirit within them, Paul and his brothers or fellow believers were not in debt to the flesh. They were not obligated to satisfy the cravings of their human nature, living “according to the flesh” or conducting themselves in a manner that their sinful human condition craved. (8:12)
For them to live “according to the flesh” or according to the prompting of their sinful human nature would lead to death, for they would be conducting themselves contrary to the liberation from sin and death that Jesus had effected by dying sacrificially for them. If, though, they followed the spirit’s direction, they would be killing the practices of the body, that is, the corrupt ways in which the sinful inclinations of the body were ever-ready to assert themselves. This would mean life for them, as they would continue to live a newness of life as God’s beloved children. (8:13)
All who let themselves be led by God’s spirit are his sons or members of his beloved family. (8:14) They are free “sons of God,” for they have not received a spirit of slavery resulting in their again having fear (as would one in a state of slavery who obeys his master out of fear). Under the law arrangement, those who were subject to it were reminded of their failings and so did have fear of the consequences. The execution of the penalties the law prescribed were to induce fear as a preventive measure, serving as a warning to all as to what could happen to them if they became guilty of the same offenses. (8:15; Deuteronomy 6:13-15, 24; 13:6-11; 17:12, 13; 19:16-20; 21:20, 21)
Using a strong marker of contrast (allá, meaning “but”), Paul continued, “But you received a spirit of sonship.” This “spirit of sonship” makes it possible for them to have a strong inner conviction that their heavenly Father deeply loves them and will continue to care for them. (8:15)
In keeping with this spirit of sonship, the divinely granted conviction of being approved sons on the basis of faith in Christ, “We cry out, Abba, Father.” The transliterated designation “Abba” (abbá) imitates one of the initial simple sounds a baby makes and so can convey the intimacy, submission, trust, and affection of a young child when saying “papa” or “daddy.” In the Greek text, abbá is followed by ho patér (“the Father”). The context does not suggest that ho patér serves to define abbá. Therefore, evidently to be regarded as a vocative, ho patér could be translated “O Father.” The term “Father” fittingly expresses the believer’s relationship to God as a son and the privileges and responsibilities associated therewith. (8:15)
God’s spirit operating within them testifies with their own spirit (their conviction, inclination, and disposition) that they are his children. Their own spirit is fully receptive to the holy spirit, confirming that they are members of their heavenly Father’s family. (8:16)
As children of God, they are also his heirs, with a marvelous inheritance in prospect. They are joint heirs with Christ. The Father granted his Son, upon the completion of his earthly course in faithfulness, all authority in heaven and on earth as his inheritance. With Christ, believers will share in the blessings that this inheritance makes possible. As was true in his case, they undergo distress. (Compare Mark 8:34, 35; Hebrews 12:4-11; 1 Peter 4:16; 5:9, 10.) Being members of Christ’s body, they are participants in his suffering. As fellow sufferers while remaining faithful to God, they are assured of becoming fellow sharers in glory, enjoying the blessings associated with the sinless state of God’s family of children and being able to reflect his image flawlessly for all eternity. (8:17)
Upon being united to Christ, believers will share his glory or splendor, coming to be like him and seeing him as the magnificent and flawless reflection of his Father’s very being. (Compare Hebrews 1:3; 1 John 3:1-3.) Therefore, Paul regarded the “sufferings of the present time,” or the distress and affliction believers endure on account of their being Christ’s disciples, as not even worth comparing with the transcendent glory to be revealed in them. So surpassingly great will be the magnificence of what they will be granted that the pains and trials of the past will not amount to anything. (8:18)
Human sinfulness has had a damaging effect on the whole environment, with resultant harm to plant and animal life. Seemingly, for this reason, Paul referred to the creation as waiting with eager longing for “the revelation of the sons of God.” This would be when believers are revealed in their glorified state as persons free from sin, ushering in a new era that would bring an end to the baneful effects human sinfulness has had on the whole creation. (8:19)
The outworking of God’s condemnation of human sinfulness also meant that the creation came to be subjected to futility, sharing in the pain and suffering that would otherwise not have existed. (Compare Jeremiah 4:23-26; 14:1-7; 23:10.) It was not of its own will or choice that the creation was subjected to such a vain, futile, or empty existence, but God subjected it, not shielding it from the ruinous impact of human sinfulness. Nevertheless, though God thus willed matters, he did so on the basis of the “hope that also the creation itself will be liberated from the slavery of ruin [to share] in the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (8:20, 21) The futile condition of the creation was not to continue, but the God-given hope assured that it would end. When the “children of God” are revealed in the magnificence of their sinless state, the whole creation would be freed from the bondage in which it shared on account of God’s adverse judgment of human sinfulness. The creation would then cease to undergo senseless devastation and ruin.
As to the present condition of the creation, Paul said, “For we know that all the creation is groaning together and is pained [as in childbirth] together until now.” (8:22) It appears that, based on what he and fellow believers could observe all around them, they knew or were aware of a world in a state of ruin and decay. Especially would this have been a stark reality in times of war and famine. Even in the case of what today would be perceived as “natural disasters,” human sinfulness often contributes to an intensification of the harmful effects on the whole environment. The ruin and devastation present a mournful spectacle, making it appropriate to speak of the whole creation as groaning and being in pain on account of the unfavorable circumstances that can be attributed to human sinfulness.
“But not only” is the whole creation in this state, “but also the very ones having the firstfruits of the spirit — also we ourselves groan within our very selves, awaiting sonship [adoption as sons], the redemption of our body.” It appears that the spirit is being identified as the firstfruits, providing a foretaste of the fulness of sonship that believers will come to enjoy. (8:23; see the Notes section for additional comments and another possible meaning of “firstfruits of the spirit.”)
A number of translations paraphrase the words about the spirit to convey an explicit significance. “And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the Spirit are in a state of painful tension.” (J. B. Phillips) “What is more, we also, to whom the Spirit is given as the firstfruits of the harvest to come, are groaning inwardly.” (REB) “We have the Spirit as the first part of God’s promise.” (NCV) In Ephesians 1:14, the spirit is designated as the arrabón or the “first installment” of the inheritance, serving as a pledge to assure believers of the inheritance that is still in prospect for them as God’s approved sons.
Despite being so highly favored by having the spirit operating powerfully within them, believers still groan inwardly. This is because they are not fully liberated from the human weaknesses and inclinations that prevent them from reflecting the image of their heavenly Father faultlessly. The adoption for which they are earnestly waiting is their being constituted sinless sons or children of God. This requires redemption or liberation from the body in which the sinful inclinations are still at work.
Linking “hope” to salvation, Paul continued, “For in hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is not hope; for does one hope for what one sees?” The redemption of the body is yet future, and so the fulness of salvation is not yet the believer’s possession but is in prospect. Accordingly, the believer lives in hope of obtaining the salvation Christ’s sacrificial death made possible. Upon putting faith in Christ and what he did for them, believers received the spirit as the first installment that provided a solid basis for the hope of salvation. So, not in full possession, but, in hope, they were saved. Hope is no longer necessary when the object of one’s hope is seen as one’s personal possession. (8:24; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
“If, however,” as the apostle added, “we do not see for what we hope, we wait with endurance.” (8:25) For believers, the hope has as yet not been transformed into full possession. This requires that they steadfastly wait for the fulfillment of their hope (full sonship in the sinless state).
When enduring trials or distress and patiently waiting for the fulfillment of their hope, believers find themselves in a quandary about just what they need to do or what to request in prayer. At such time, God’s spirit comes to their aid, supporting them in their weakness. Although they themselves may not know how to pray as would be necessary under the circumstances, the spirit intercedes with “unuttered groans” or with sighs that are not expressed in words or audibly. On account of the working of God’s spirit within them, believers sigh or react inwardly to what they are facing. (8:26)
Our heavenly Father, who searches the hearts or the deep inner selves, understands the spirit-induced groaning or sighing (the minding or longing of the spirit). This sighing, to which the spirit gives rise, is “according to God for holy ones.” In being “according to God,” the sighing harmonizes with his will and constitutes a plea for aid to holy ones or believers who are “holy” or pure because of their faith in Christ and their life of faith. (8:27)
The assurance of help even when unable to formulate an appropriate petition in prayer is not the only reason believers have for confidence in times of distress. In their case, as persons who love God, all things work together for their good. According to another manuscript reading, “God makes all things work together for their good” or, “in all things, God works for good.” The “all things” would include suffering or distress, which, when faithfully endured, produces a stronger faith, one of tested quality. Paul also referred to those who love God as being “called ones according to his purpose.” God had purposed to direct a call or invitation to humans to be his beloved children. As those who responded to the call, accepting his arrangement for having their sins forgiven and being reconciled to him on the basis of their faith in his Son and his laying down his life for them, they proved to be “called ones.” (8:28)
God foreknew that there would be persons who would love him, and he predestined, foreordained, or predetermined that they would be conformed to the “image of his Son” or would come to be like him as fellow sons. This would make it possible for a large family of “sons” to come into being, with the unique Son being the “firstborn” or preeminent one among “many brothers” or many of God’s children. (8:29)
When the time came for humans to become part of this family, the family he had predestined or predetermined to come into being, God extended his call to them, inviting them to abandon a life focused on indulging their sinful desires and to do his will as obedient children. Individuals who responded in faith to his Son and the forgiveness of sins made possible through him were justified or accounted as “righteous” or approved. Those whom God thus justified he also “glorified,” granting them the dignity of being his beloved sons under his care and protection. Yet ahead is the bestowal of the full glory or splendor — the status of sinless sons who flawlessly reflect the image of his unique Son. (8:30)
In view of all that God has done, Paul raised the questions, “What, then, can we say regarding these things? If God is for us, who [can be] against us?” The implied answer to the second question points to the only thing that can be added. With God on the side of believers, no one can have success in opposing them or in inflicting lasting harm. (8:31)
Our heavenly Father has already made the supreme sacrifice, the sacrifice which believers have, in faith, appreciatively accepted. “He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for all of us,” making it possible for believers to be forgiven of their sins, to be reconciled to him, and to become recipients of his tender care and deep love. In view of the supreme sacrifice our heavenly Father has made for us in expression of his love, how could we possibly doubt that he, with his Son, would also graciously grant us everything we might need as his beloved children? This assures us that he will come to our aid in times of distress. (8:32)
Can anyone bring a legitimate accusation against God’s chosen ones that would disqualify them from being recipients of his gracious gifts? No, for God himself has justified them, accounting them as approved on the basis of their faith in his Son and what he accomplished by his sacrificial death. (8:33)
Can anyone rightly condemn believers, rendering an adverse judgment that would deprive them of God’s love and protective care? No, for Christ Jesus died for them. More than that, the Son of God is alive. He was raised from the dead and is now at his Father’s right hand. In the favored position as his Father’s intimate and dearly beloved, Christ Jesus can and does plead our cause. (8:34)
Nothing will stop the Son of God from interceding for believers, for nothing will separate them from his love. The apostle Paul highlighted this in question form. “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? [Can] affliction or distress or persecution or hunger or nakedness or danger or sword?” (8:35) When people come to see that the unfavorable circumstances of friends could endanger their personal welfare or safety, they may fearfully withdraw and cease to be supportive and caring. Never will this be the case with the one who laid down his life for us. Regardless of the hardships, threats, or dangers believers may face, Jesus Christ will continue to be there for them as their loyal friend.
The circumstances of believers may prove to be severe, fitting the description of Psalm 44:22 (43:23, LXX), “For your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were accounted as sheep for slaughter.” (8:36) “All day” or continually, believers may experience suffering because of being God’s people. Hateful opposers may treat them like defenseless sheep fit for slaughter (not humanely as fellow humans).
Despite the trials and hardships believers were then enduring, Paul could say, “But in all these things, we are triumphing through him who has loved us.” This is because nothing separated them from the love of Christ. With his help, they were victorious or able to endure affliction and distress in faithfulness. (8:37)
Paul expressed the conviction that neither death, life, angels, governments, things then existing, things to come, powers, height, depth, nor any other creation would be able to separate believers from “the love of God which [is] in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (8:38, 39)
Neither the violent death with which persecutors might threaten believers nor their assurance that they could live if they denied their faith would succeed in effecting a rift with Christ. Though angels possess greater power than do humans, it would not be strong enough to separate believers from divine love, and no earthly governmental authority could do so. Nothing that then existed or might yet come into being could cut them off from divine love. No power whatsoever could force a separation. It did not matter whether that power existed in the height (the superhuman element of darkness in the spirit realm) or the depth (Hades or the realm of the dead). Nothing whatsoever in all creation could effect a separation from “the love of God that [is] in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
As the express image of his Father, Jesus perfectly reflects his Father’s love. This love is “in” him, fully occupying his inmost being. As is true of his Father, Jesus is love in his very nature. With God on the side of believers and Jesus intercession for them, believers are assured of victory regardless of what they may have to face.
Certain manuscripts contain a shorter reading for Romans 8:23. The reference to “sonship” or “adoption” is omitted, and the concluding part of the text reads, “awaiting the redemption of our body.”
Early believers may perhaps be represented as having the “firstfruits of the spirit” (Romans 8:23) from the standpoint of their having experienced the first or initial outpouring of God’s spirit, indicating that, in the future, a much larger number of believers would receive the spirit.
The Greek term for “save” (sózo) can also mean “preserve.” This allows for the words, “in hope we were saved” (Romans 8:24), to mean that believers were preserved by their hope, for their hope sustained them and enabled them to remain faithful to God and Christ while undergoing trials and distress.
Depending on the Greek manuscript reading, the concluding phrase in Romans 8:24 can express two different meanings. (1) “Who hopes for what one sees?” (2) “Why wait for what one sees?”