In chapter 7 Paul described the hopeless and helpless condition of the man under the Law who had no forgiveness. Here he tells us that in Christ we are delivered from that condition—there is now no condemnation. What a blessing to those who are in Christ.
The word “now” is important. Those who are in Christ “now” have what those in time past did not have. This tells us that Paul is talking about two time periods—the time when the Law of Moses was God’s law for the Jews and the time (“now”) when the gospel of Christ is given to all men. They were then under condemnation (sentenced to punishment), now they are not under condemnation.
Those who are in Christ now have freedom. Paul does not say that those who are in Christ can never be condemned in the future. They “now” have been delivered from the condemnation they had while under the Law. This is a freedom which they could not have while under the Law.
In the King James and New King James translations the phrase “who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” is found at the end of verse 1. It is not certain that these words were in the original letter written by Paul. The translators of the New American Standard Bible think it was not in Paul’s letter, whereas the translators of the King James version think it was. We however do not have to worry whether it was there or not, because the same phrase is in verse 4. It is true that those who are in Christ do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
A person walks according to the flesh when his mind pays attention to the things of the flesh. A person walks according to the spirit when he listens to what is good for his spirit. The spirit in this verse is not the Holy Spirit, but the spirit of man.
The person who walks according to the flesh is working to satisfy the desires of the flesh. The person who walks according to the spirit is the one who is interested in the things which are good for his spirit and who does those things. He is thinking about what is good for his spirit now and for eternity. Because the good of his spirit is his main aim, he lives according to the spirit.
In chapter 7 Paul wrote of two laws. Both of those laws were trying to rule over the man. Those laws were (1) the Law of Moses, and (2) the law of sin and of death. The “law of sin and of death” is the law which says “the man who sins will die”. In the battle to rule over man, the law of sin and of death won. The man was made a prisoner to the law of sin (Romans 7:23).
In 8:2 Paul introduces a third law, and he says that it wins over the law of sin and of death. It made Paul free. He was made free from the law of sin when he was obedient from the heart to the form of teaching which was delivered to him (6:17-18). And since sin brings death, Paul calls this law the law of death. It is a law which rules a person because the person sins, and it gives death as its wages (6:23).
The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus is the third law. It is not certain why that law is called the law of the Spirit. There are different ways in which this law can be connected to the Spirit. I believe that it is the Spirit’s law because it was revealed by the Holy Spirit. He is the One who was sent by the Lord Jesus Christ to reveal His gospel. “The law of the Spirit” and “the law of Christ” are not two different laws. We have one lawgiver, Christ. He revealed this law by the Spirit, and therefore I believe that this is the proper meaning of these words.
The life is “in Christ Jesus”. The law of the Spirit brought us into Christ. In Christ we have life. Jesus said, “the words that I speak to you, they are spirit and life” (John 6:63). The words were not actually life, they were words. But the words produced life. So the law of the Spirit is the law which brings life, and that life is in Christ.
To say that there is no condemnation is to say that they were saved. But the gospel is God’s power to save, therefore the gospel and the law of the Spirit are the same. The Law of Moses could not deliver men from the law of sin and death, yet there is a law which delivers us. This means that law has the power to save. We are free from the Law of Moses so that the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus may save us. We are under law today. Every citizen is under the law of his government. Christians are citizens of God’s kingdom and are under law to God. The simplest definition of law is “the expression of will”. God has always had a will for man to obey. When this will is put into words, it becomes law.
Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 9:21 proves this: “to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law”. In this verse he is saying that when he preaches, his method depends on those to whom he is speaking. When he preached to the Jews he appealed to the Law of Moses to help prove that Jesus is the Christ. When he preached to the Gentiles who did not have that Law, he used another way of proving that Jesus is the Christ. In Athens he appealed to the testimony of one of the Athenian poets, but he did not appeal to the Law or the prophets of the Old Testament (Acts 17:22-31).
But in this verse Paul is quick to guard against a wrong conclusion. Even though Paul made himself as one without the Law, he was under law to God, and this law is the law of Christ. Christ is King and He has a law to govern His subjects. This law gives the way in which a person can become a citizen. Truly the law of Christ is the law of the Spirit, and this law is the law of life in Christ Jesus. It is Christ’s law because it came from Him, and it is the Spirit’s law because He is the One who made it known, and it is the law of life because it brings life.
Verse 3 explains why the law of the Spirit made us free from the law of sin and death. Paul says that the Law of Moses could not make us free, and he gives the reason why. The reason is that the Law was weak. But the weakness was because of the flesh. The flesh is weak because it is so easy to sin. The law was weak because it could not free anyone from the sins committed through weakness. The law condemned those who broke its laws, but it could not take away sins.
But God sent His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. This does not mean that Jesus was a sinner. He was not born in sin, nor did He ever commit a sin. Why, then, did Paul emphasize that Jesus was sent in the likeness of sinful flesh? The reason must be that Paul wanted to emphasize the weakness of man because he sins.
But notice: Man is the same kind of person before and after he sins. Man has a weakness toward sin. He is not a sinner when he is born, but he is weak and can sin easily. Jesus was sent to the earth with the same weakness, yet He did not sin. This shows that man is not a sinner when he is born, but becomes a sinner when he commits sin. And it shows that even though man is weak through the flesh, he does not have to sin.
Jesus came as an offering for sin. He came to take away the sins of the world. He did this by becoming a sin offering. He appeared once in the end of the world to put away sin by the offering of Himself (Hebrews 9:26). The Law of Moses could not make men free because its sacrifices could not take away sin. Only Christ could do that. Therefore the law of Christ, the gospel of Christ, can make us free from sin so that we can have life with God.
Jesus said that He came not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17-18). When He fulfilled it He fulfilled its righteousness. He brought the justification (forgiveness) which the Law could not bring. The Law spoke of this righteousness and those who were under the Law tried to find it. The problem was that the Jews under the Law tried to be justified from sin by the Law (Romans 10:3) which could not give it. Jesus came to bring the righteousness which they could not get without Him. The Law is fulfilled in us because Jesus brought what the Law pointed to—the complete justification from sin.
However, this purpose is fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. The person who is attracted to the gospel of Christ is interested in the things of the spirit. After he receives the gospel, he walks according to the spirit. The social gospel, which provides food, good times, and other things which appeal to the flesh, is an enemy to the purpose of the gospel found in the New Testament.
I believe that the “spirit” here is the human spirit rather than the Holy Spirit. First, if this is not true then the balance in the contrast between the flesh and spirit is not there. The contrast is between the flesh and the spirit, and this means that the spirit is the spirit of the person who also is a person of flesh. Secondly, if the spirit is the Holy Spirit, then the things of the Spirit are the revelations of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:9-13). That would mean that until the gospel was given the human spirit could not mind the things of the Spirit because they had not been revealed.
Paul simply tells us what every thinking person should be able to see—that the person who is interested mainly in the things which are “of the flesh” will be interested only in those things which will give him the things which satisfy the flesh. On the other hand, the one who is seeking after the things which will be good for his spirit will be busy about those things which will help his spirit. The best men of all ages have sought after the things of the spirit, the things which produce the security, growth and well-being of their souls.
Here Paul writes about the results of setting one’s mind either on the flesh or the spirit. One whose mind is set on the flesh is in a state of spiritual death because he is separated from God. There is no spiritual life apart from God. The one whose mind is set on the spirit is at peace and has life. He has life with God, he is at peace with God. This life is given through Christ, and therefore He is our peace. Being justified by faith we have peace with God.
The reason why the mind set on the flesh is death is that the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God. The interests and desires of the fleshly mind are against the will of God. Such a person loves the things God hates and his life is opposed to God. He may not realize it but it is still true that he is an enemy of God. Paul also writes that the mind set on the flesh does not subject itself to the law of God. Why?
Because the law of God is not for the mind set on the flesh. It is given for the higher and nobler mind, the mind that understands that he must serve God and which devotes itself to the service of God and to the things which are good for his own spirit. This person is like God, because he is working for the good of his spirit which was made in the image of God.
Paul emphasizes that the fleshly mind is separate from God and against God by saying that it is not even able to do so 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. The man who minds the flesh cannot be subject to the law of Christ. There is no way he can please God. God’s law is not given for such a mind. The interests of the one who minds the flesh are so different and are so opposed to God’s ways that they cannot be brought together.
Those who are called “Calvinists” have misused these verses as translated in the King James Version. They teach that we are born “depraved”, that is, that when we are born we are only able to do and think evil, never able to mind the spirit. They teach that God must send the Holy Spirit directly to a man in order to change his nature from fleshly to spiritual. They say that “in the flesh” means “being unsaved.”
If this is a true doctrine it means that no unregenerated (unsaved) person can do a thing which God will be pleased with. The doctrine says that such people cannot think a good thought or do a good deed at all. Their doctrine teaches that “in the flesh” means “in the body” and that every person is “in the flesh”. The New American Standard Bible shows what the phrase really means. The phrase is translated “the mind set on the flesh”. We are responsible for what become our goals. We decide what to set our minds on. We are born with the ability to make choices, either for the flesh or for the spirit. If we live after the flesh and neglect the spirit, we will become and remain the enemy of God, not able to be subject to His law.
People who are living in their fleshly bodies may not be “in the flesh”. If the Spirit of God dwells in them they are in the spirit, not in the flesh. They are in their own spirit because their lives are controlled by the spirit instead of the flesh.
But if we are in the spirit, the Spirit of God dwells in us. This is also called the Spirit of Christ. It is the same Spirit; there is not one Spirit of God and another Spirit of Christ.
Paul is writing about a very serious thing. To think that one does not belong to Him is a painful thought. Jesus is coming back to receive His own, and if we are not His He will not come for us.
Paul is saying that if Christ is in us the Spirit of Christ is in us, and this Spirit is obviously the Holy Spirit. I know that some have the idea that the Spirit of Christ simply means the attitude and way of thinking of Christ. If that is true Paul is saying that we are in the spirit if we have the attitude of Christ. But such an attitude and way of acting is the result of self-development and growth, as Paul shows in Philippians 2:5-8. We have spiritual life from the time we obey Christ and are born again, before we develop and grow in Christ. This means that the Holy Spirit dwells in us as we are growing.
In Acts 2:38 Peter promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who were baptised. The gift of the Spirit comes because we are in the spirit, or alive spiritually. With brother Whiteside I say: “But the Spirit of God is the Holy Spirit. He dwells in the Christian; that is plainly affirmed. And I dare not deny what Paul here affirms.”
(Note: In Acts 2:38 Peter promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to those baptised on that day, the first day the gospel was preached in its completeness. This promise was not repeated. I think this gift was the power to perform signs, as given by the laying on of the apostles’ hands [Acts 8:16-18] which gifts are no longer given [1 Corinthians 13:8-13]. I agree that “the Spirit of God is the Holy Spirit” and that “He dwells in the Christian”. But He dwells in us as His word dwells in us. He controls us through His word. If His word does not control our actions and thoughts, we do not belong to God. PKW)
If Christ is in a person, the Spirit of Christ which is the Holy Spirit is in him. Therefore, if the Holy Spirit is in a person, that person has spiritual life. The Holy Spirit does not dwell in a person whose spirit is separated from God.
The spirit is alive because of righteousness. Righteousness is here the same as “justification”. Justification from sin changed the spirit from death to life. Because a person is justified, his spirit becomes a proper home for the Spirit of Christ.
In what sense, then, is the body dead while the spirit is alive? Paul speaks in the present tense, and yet the physical body is not dead at the time in which Christ is in a person. I think he is making a contrast between the body and the spirit of man which is true concerning the body of all men.
The body is dead in the future. It is under the sentence of death that rests on all men because of Adam’s sin. Therefore the meaning of this verse is, as I understand it, “and if the Spirit of Christ be in you, though the body is under the sentence of death, the spirit is alive because it was justified from sin”. The life which Christians possess will not stop when the body dies; Jesus tells us that those who live and believe in Christ shall never die. We receive this life by faith, and we keep it eternally by walking by faith.
God is going to do something by the work of the Holy Spirit. It is something He will do to our bodies, and it is said to be the act of giving life. But one gives life only to that which is dead. At the time this is done the body is dead.
In what sense is the body dead? Actually or figuratively?
In what sense was the body of Christ dead when it was raised up? Literally and actually. Paul says that God raised up the body of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. By this same Spirit He will give life to our mortal bodies.
Since Paul speaks of the resurrection of the body of Jesus, the also shows beyond doubt that our bodies will be given life at the resurrection in the last day. The word mortal which describes our bodies is important. The body of Jesus was mortal and so are the bodies of all men. They all die a physical death. The use of the word here strengthens the thought that Paul is talking about the physical death of the body, and the literal raising of it from the dead.
Because all men will be raised from the dead (John 5:29), some say that this verse cannot refer to the resurrection. This verse says that God will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. God does not raise the wicked dead to “life”. He raises them to “eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Only those who have the Spirit of Christ will be raised to “life”. John 5:29 says that there is a resurrection to life and a resurrection to damnation. Paul writing about himself said , “if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead” (Philippians 3:11). He knew that he would be raised regardless of how he lived, but he was saying that he was using his whole life so as to be raised to life and not to damnation. And so this verse (Romans 8:11) is talking about those who will be raised to life because the Spirit dwells in them.
Paul is not saying that God will give life to our bodies from the grave because the Spirit of God dwells in us. He is saying that the Spirit who dwells in us is the same Spirit by which God raised Jesus from the dead, and He is also the Spirit whom He shall use to raise up our bodies.
The great chapter on the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15, says that the body which is sown (planted in the earth) is a natural body, whereas the one raised is a spiritual body. Also, he says that this corruptible shall put on incorruption and this mortal shall put on immortality. This happens when the body is raised a spiritual body. But notice that everything he says about the resurrection is about the ones who are saved. This is clear from the appeal in the last verse: Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
We must not live after the flesh. In Galatians 5:13 Paul wrote: “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another”. If we live according to the flesh we use our time, affections and efforts to do what the flesh wants. But if we live according to the flesh we must die. It should be clear to everyone that we will die physically no matter how we live. The death Paul speaks of here is death of the spirit—when the spirit is separated from God and He rejects us.
But if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Who must do this? The Christian must do what this verse says. He must put to death the deeds of the body in order to live. The job is for each one of us. If we ignore this responsibility, we will die forever.
Beginning in the fifth chapter Paul wrote in detail about the different things that the flesh and the spirit of man do, and in the seventh chapter he described how those under the Law were not able to win over the flesh. But this verse tells us to put to death the deeds of the body. And this is something “you” are to do.
But it is to be done by the Spirit. What is this spirit? The answer is not easy to find. Certainly the human spirit is to use its power to control the flesh, and the flesh must not control the spirit. But if the spirit here is the human spirit, who or what is the “you”? Because of what Paul writes after this, I think it most likely that the spirit in this verse is the Holy Spirit.
How can one through the Holy Spirit tame the demands of the flesh and put an end to its unlawful desires? How does the Spirit give us the ability to do this?
The answer is this: The revelation of the Holy Spirit, which is the New Testament, instructs us, gives us light and gives us directions. This revelation also gives us the motives to cause us to do these things. These are the things the Holy Spirit does of which the child of God is conscious.
But I believe that there is an aid rendered by the Spirit in this effort, even though we are not and cannot be conscious of this. If a person objects to this idea because the aid through the Spirit cannot be consciously known by the Christian, that person might consider this idea: that if we were conscious of such aid by our feelings or in some other way, then we would be powerless to withstand it. If this were true, every Christian would be under an irresistible influence, and none would be lost, and all personal responsibility therefore would be taken away.
(Note: What Bro. Vinson says about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit doing something in addition to what the word of God does is not clearly taught in the Bible. It is not proved by these verses or any others. God answers our prayers for strength, and He does not always explain how. But there is no clear evidence in the scriptures that the Holy Spirit dwells in us in any other way than through the word of God working in us. When we are led by the word of God, we put to death the deeds of the body and live. PKW)
Now think of the wonderful result when we put to death the flesh: “you will live”. When, and for how long? Now and forever! Think about having a life which is spiritual, the life of the spirit, which will never end. This is what these words tell us.
What Paul here writes includes both how we become children of God and how we remain children. It is addressed to those who are children, and it says that they are the ones who are being led by the Spirit of God.
Some say that “once a child, always a child” no matter how a person lives. The one who teaches this doctrine uses the example of the relationship of a physical child to his physical parents. He says that your child never stops being your child no matter how bad he acts. A parent may not like what a child is doing, yet the child remains his child anyway. The conclusion is that if a person becomes a child of God, he will continue to be a child of God no matter how he acts.
This sort of reasoning has often made me wonder how one who is a child of the devil can ever stop being his child and become a child of God. Certainly he cannot become a child of God unless he first stops being a child of the Evil One. But if we use the example of a physical child and a physical father, the conclusion must be that the child of the devil can never stop being a child of the devil!
There were some in the church at Corinth who had stopped, in some important sense, being the sons or daughters of God. Yet they could not have come into the church of God without having become children of God. In his moving appeal for them to come out from those unbelievers who worshiped idols, Paul quotes the promise by God to receive them when they came out, and that He would be their Father and they his sons and daughters. 2 Corinthians 6:18 says, “ ‘And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me’, Says the Lord Almighty”.
But it is only those who are led by the Spirit of God, who are sons of God. How does the Spirit of God lead? It is surely true that the directions given in the Word of God, together with the motives supplied in the Bible, lead us to live as a child of the heavenly Father. The very setting or surrounding language of this statement lends strength to the persuasion that through the indwelling of the Spirit there is being exercised by Him an influence in the life of such a one as to cause their sonship with the Father to continue. How this is done, if so, I dare not express an opinion.
(Comment: Again I point out that there is no evidence in the Bible that the Holy Spirit leads us through some inner influence separate from the word of God. This is an opinion for which there is no clear biblical proof. Those who are led by the Spirit are those who listen to His word. PKW)
The rest of this passage describes the great difference between the spirit which the sons of God once had and the spirit which they now have as the children of God. Paul writes: 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
The spirit of fear is what all those who are not Christians have. But sons of God have not received the spirit of slavery leading to fear again. This shows that before they were sons of God they had the spirit of fear. Now they have received a different spirit, the spirit of sonship. They had the spirit or attitude of sonship because they were sons of God. Because they understood that they were sons they had no fear.
If the child of God studies the love and goodness which the Heavenly Father has for His children he will never have the spirit of fear. Everything the Father does for His children comes because of a father’s love, and just as our earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, much more does our Father in heaven know how to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11).
To cry “Abba! Father!” is simply to speak because of the great joy which comes when we know that God is our Father. It expresses the spirit of sonship. The word “Abba” is the common word for “Father” which the Jewish people of that time used.
In this section Paul is talking about what the Holy Spirit does for the Christian and the benefits we receive from Him. We must understand that the testimony of the Holy Spirit is telling us that we are now children of God, not only that we became God’s children. However, in order to BE a child of God we must BECOME a child of God. Just as it is necessary for the Holy Spirit and our spirit to agree about BEING a child of God, this testimony is also necessary to show that we BECAME children of God.
The only testimony which the Holy Spirit gives about how to become or continue to be God’s children is in the New Testament. Further, the Holy Spirit cannot bear testimony with my spirit unless I know His testimony.
Therefore I must first find what the Holy Spirit says a person must do to become a child of God. I do this by studying the New Testament, which is His testimony. Then my spirit can testify that I have done those things which the Holy Spirit revealed.
It is the Spirit’s testimony that sinners must not only believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, but also repent and be baptised for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). The Spirit’s testimony is true. How, then, does my spirit testify? My spirit testifies that I have done the things the Holy Spirit says to do in order to be the child of God. I have believed in Jesus Christ, repented of my sins, and been baptised for the forgiveness of my sins. My spirit testifies with the Spirit that I have become a child of God.
How can I know that I continue to be a child of God? The Spirit testifies by the word of the New Testament that a child of God must live in a certain way. He is to live after the spirit rather than after the flesh. He is to possess the spirit of a son, rather than that of a servant, and as God’s son he is to be free from the spirit of fear. As we continue to study the word of the Spirit, we find just how a child of God must walk. This is the testimony of the Spirit.
My Spirit testifies with the Spirit that I am a child when, after reading the testimony of the Spirit, my spirit can say, “I am doing those things. I love the things of God and am walking in the spirit”. Then I have the two-fold assurance of the testimony of the Spirit and the testimony of my spirit that I am a child of God. What a blessing!
Since we know that we are sons, we can know that we are heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. In 1 John 3:1-3 John tells us about this also. Our future is sure. Because we are children of God we will inherit the blessings which He has promised His children. (It is implied that if we are not children, then we will not inherit. The blessings of eternal life in heaven are not for everyone.) What a wonderful blessing it is to be a child of God both now and in heaven. Peter tells us that there is an inheritance reserved in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:4), but this inheritance is for those who are heirs, and if we are children then we are heirs.
The greatness of this inheritance is shown by the fact that we are not only the heirs of God but we are fellow heirs with Christ. We share our inheritance in common with Christ. Just as we read of the Gentiles being fellow heirs with the Jews who believed in Christ (Ephesians 3:6), so here we find the same term telling us that we are fellow heirs with Christ. When Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God and seated on His throne as Lord, He became heir of all things! There is an inheritance waiting for us so great that we cannot imagine what it will be.
Paul shows the greatness of that inheritance by saying that we will also be glorified with Him. If indeed we suffer with Him, we will be glorified with Him. We must suffer with Him in order to be glorified with Him in heaven. His suffered in the past and He is glorified now. Our sufferings are now and our glorification is future. When we suffer because we are faithful to Him, then we are suffering with Him; but if we suffer for some other reason our suffering is not with Him. Paul is not telling us to suffer. He is simply recognizing the truth of another scripture which says, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Jesus was made lower than the angels for the suffering of death, and because of this He was crowned with glory and honour (Hebrews 2:9). His suffering was a death offering for our sins; ours is not. We suffer because the world hates us just as it hated Him (John 15:18-19; 17:14). Even though Jesus was speaking to the apostles in these verses, the same thing is true for all of His followers (1 John 3:13).
These scriptures do not tell us to force ourselves to suffer or to seek to cause others to persecute us. But if we are careful to be faithful to Christ we can be sure that the world will hate us. We will have to suffer.
At the present time there are sufferings, then there shall be glory. The enemies of the Lord cause the Lord’s people to suffer; God gives the glory to His people. Suffering and glory come from different causes, but the greatness of each is even more different. How can we compare the suffering which is only in this life to the glory which shall be for eternity? Paul wrote: “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
This life is a preparation for the eternal life. When we suffer for Christ we can use those sufferings to make us what God wants us to be, and shall receive glory in the future. The very statement that affliction produces glory, which is described as an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, shows that the sufferings we experience now will have a bearing on our blessedness hereafter.
Each person has his own sufferings, and each person shall have his own glory. This glory is going to be revealed to us. We do not have it now, nor do we know it. It is far beyond all comparison.
Here Paul is writing about something which is very great. It is a subject which is important to every reasonable person on earth, and it gives us the most satisfying assurances for the future of the child of God.
These verses and the next two are difficult to understand. Before anyone tries to say what they mean he must admit that they are difficult to understand and that he may be making a mistake in his interpretation. The most difficult point to determine, I think, is the meaning of the word “creation” in these verses.
This verse grows out of the verse before. The subject of that passage is the child of God. I therefore conclude that the creation of this verse is the child of God. In that verse Paul sets forth a connection between a present suffering and a future glory; in this verse he expresses a present longing for this future blessedness. The earnest longing of the creation is that deep longing and continuing desire for a future resurrection and glory. Here we suffer; there we shall be glorified. We suffer in this body, and from this body of suffering we will be raised with a body in which there will be no suffering or shame.
The phrase “for the revealing of the sons of God” is a description of the resurrection. To me this suggests that there shall be a clear difference between the resurrection of God’s children and the resurrection of those who are not, even though they will all be raised at the same time. The revealing of the sons of God does not mean that it is the time when it is revealed to the children of God that they are His children. God has made known how to become and how to be sons of God, and we know that we are His children (1 John 3:1). But the world does not know that we are the children of God. In the resurrection all the world will know which ones belong to our Father. The sons of God will be revealed to them. Later in this chapter Paul writes that the called and justified are glorified. Glorification is the goal of the whole system of forgiveness and reconciliation.
For the creation was subjected to futility not willingly means that we did not choose the suffering which we have to endure. We suffer because of Him who subjected it. God is the one who has ordained the “futility” (worthless thing) which we suffer. When we are saved from sin, we still have to endure the sufferings which all men have to suffer. Salvation does not take away that futility. We are saved from our sins; we are not saved from physical suffering. Everybody has to suffer because we are humans.
But the new creation has hope, the hope that we will be delivered from the bondage of corruption in the resurrection day.
Why did God will that those who are His shall be subject to futility? It is my judgment that, first, it is not good for God to give us material rewards for becoming Christians. That is why God does not promise them. If in this life the child of God did not have to suffer as other human beings do, then this would attract people to God through the flesh—and that cannot be. God’s appeal is to the spirit, and we must respond to Him with all our heart.
There is also a value to suffering. When Christians bear up under sufferings they become strong. Their spiritual growth comes about through suffering. When we are properly “exercised thereby” we produce the character that God wants us to have (see Hebrews 12:5-11; 2 Corinthians 4:17).
God made even the child of God a slave to corruption—that is, even the child of God has to die. But God also gave the child of God the hope that he will be freed from that slavery. This is a hope that is real, a hope of a great change. He will receive real freedom—the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
Here we are slaves; there we shall have glory. Here our slavery is to corruption. But this body which will decay will be delivered from that corruption in the resurrection.
Into what state shall that body be delivered? Into the freedom of the glory of the children of God! To those who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, honor and immortality there will be eternal life. But this hope is only for the children of God.
There are two groups or classes in these verses. One is called the whole creation, and the other is called ourselves. This second group are those who have the first fruits of the Spirit. This means that the whole creation does not have the first fruits of the Spirit. Only we ourselves have these first fruits. This means that the whole creation is more than the creation of verse 19. If the creation of verse 19 means the saved people, then the whole creation means all the people. Those who have the first fruits of the Spirit are the same as the creation in verse 19—those who are saved.
What is the meaning of the first fruits of the Spirit? Brother Whiteside held that those who have the first fruits are the apostles but that the whole creation is the whole human race. I cannot understand how it is fitting to think of the apostles set forth apart from the whole human race. If I thought “ourselves” were only the apostles, I would think the whole of which they were a part would be the family of God, all of His children. I agree with Whiteside that the whole creation is the entire family of man, but I disagree with him on who “ourselves” are. I believe those who have the first fruits of the Spirit are the entire family of God—all Christians.
We ask again, what is the meaning of the words _“the first fruits of the Spirit_”? I agree with Moses Lard who said that it means the Spirit which is given to those who have obeyed the gospel, as taught in Acts 2:38 and 5:32.
(Note: Neither verse says that all Christians for all time shall receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 was a promise to those on Pentecost. The apostles were present to give them the Holy Spirit by the laying on of their hands [Acts 8:17-18]. Acts 5:32 is a reference to the witness of the Holy Spirit which He gave by the signs performed by many early Christians who had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. [See Mark 16:20; Acts 2:33.] Acts 5:32 does not promise the Holy Spirit to others. PKW)
Also, this accords with the language of Ephesians 1:13-14: “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.”
(Note: These verses refer to the miraculous coming of the Holy Spirit to the first Gentiles [Acts 10-11] and to the gifts which were given to Gentile Christians after that. This is the seal that the Gentiles are saved on the same basis as the Jews. These verses do not tell us that Christians today receive the Holy Spirit. PKW)
In Bible times the first fruits of the harvest were a pledge that the rest of the harvest would come. Christ is the first fruits of those who sleep (1 Corinthians 15:20). Because He was raised, we can be sure that all will be raised. This verse tells us that because the Holy Spirit was given, we can be sure that we will receive the inheritance God has promised to us—the redemption of our body. Jesus not only redeemed our spirits, but He redeemed our bodies. They belong to Him (1 Corinthians 6:20) and should be used to serve Him now. In the resurrection He will come to claim them and to change them into the likeness of His glorious body. Philippians 3:21 says: who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. And 1 John 3:1-3 says: See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
The teaching that our bodies will be raised to live on this earth for a thousand years contradicts the truth that our bodies will be spiritual bodies. In order to live on this earth we will need material bodies which will need to eat, drink and breathe. But when we are raised from the dead, our bodies will be spiritual bodies. We will be like Jesus. We will not live here on earth any more. We will live in heaven. Read 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 for a description of our resurrected bodies.
Many people believe that the whole creation, vegetable, animal and spiritual, was cursed because of Adam’s first sin. These people believe that all life, vegetable and animal shall be delivered from this curse at the coming of Christ. They teach that this earth will be made new. They say that life as it was before Adam sinned will again be enjoyed by all of creation. This teaching imagines that there was no death of any kind before Adam’s sin, and that all death of every creature was caused by Adam’s sin. With Whiteside, I wonder how man could eat what God made for him, both vegetable and animal, except those things died before he could eat.
Therefore I reject the idea that the whole creation of this verse includes the vegetable and animal kingdoms. I believe “the whole creation” is the human family only. Only people with proper minds can have the feelings and longings which these verses say the whole creation has.
I do not think that the lower creation (animals and vegetables) can have these feelings and longings. I agree with Campbell that such creatures do not have fear or hope in death.
But man is different. Man, even when he sinks as low as the description given in Romans 1, still fears a future judgment. But disobedient people cannot have any hope of future blessings, except as wishful thinking because of their strong desire. But the Christian is looking forward to the time when his body will be redeemed from its corruption, and when that body will enter into its eternal and immortal state of glory. The redemption of the body is the fulfillment of God’s plan to save man (Ephesians 1:13).
Here we are told that we are saved in, or by, hope. How does hope save? It saves because it influences the one who hopes. Hope and fear cause us to choose what we do. Both hope and fear are good to have. But as the Christian grows, the influence of hope becomes stronger than the influence of fear. John tells us that the child of God who has this hope purifies himself even as Christ is pure (1 John 3:1-3). As he perseveres in doing good (Romans 2:7), the hope of eternal life becomes stronger and stronger, thus keeping him on the path of salvation. As he grows older and closer to the time of death, the child of God looks more and more to the time when he will be with God, and the things of this world become less attractive to him.
Commentators do not agree as to what the spirit is in these verses. Some say that the spirit is the spirit of a man, not the Holy Spirit. Alexander Campbell gave this explanation in the first volume of the Millennial Harbinger. He admitted that he was the only one who believed this explanation. Some commentators today also say that the spirit in these verses is the human spirit. Campbell’s reasoning shows the great powers of his mind, and I disagree with his position only after careful study.
In this section of the chapter there is a special way the words “we” and “us” are used. They are used to include all of man. They cannot be understood to mean only the body. If the spirit in this verse is the spirit of the Christian and not the Spirit of God, it means that “we” who “know” are different from “the mind of [our] spirit”. That does not make good sense. But Paul says that the spirit does something for “us” because “we” are not able to do it for ourselves. “We” pray, but we are not able to pray as we should. We do not always know what we need, therefore we do not always pray for what we should. We have deep longings inside ourselves. We realize that we need something. But we do not know exactly what our needs are and we are not able to speak the words which tell of those needs. They are but groanings on our part.
The groanings too deep for words are not the groanings of the Holy Spirit. They are our groanings when we cannot speak the words which tell of our deepest needs. The Holy Spirit then takes them up and gives them the words which they need. He is able to do this because He knows what is the mind of the spirit (of the Christian). He knows the interests, longings and attitudes of the human spirit. This makes Him able to intercede before the throne of mercy in the way which is pleasing to God.
We can be sure that the Holy Spirit does not ask things for us which are not the will of God. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have perfect agreement in thought, purpose and action.
I am sure that every sincere child of God feels that he is not able to say exactly what he needs when he prays to God. These verses give us a reason to be thankful.
1 Corinthians 2:11 tells us that no man knows the things of a man save the spirit of man. Therefore the thoughts, longings and utterances of “us” and “we” must be the thoughts, longings and utterances of our spirit. Hope helps us to be patient and to wait for our final triumph, but also the Spirit of God helps us in our prayers, and possibly in other ways we do not know. These verses make us sure of the assistance of the Holy Spirit in our prayers.
The things which are of greatest importance for our well-being are those things which are spiritual. If the “spirit” of these verses is the human spirit, it would mean that our spirit would be a mediator or intercessor between itself and some other. This could not be true. Our spirit cannot intercede for itself, because the act of interceding is done for another.
(Dennis C. Abernathy makes a strong argument different from the above interpretation. He argues that this verse refers to prayer which was inspired by the Holy Spirit during the years when the gifts were given to Christians, and that it does not apply to Christians today. His point is that in the years when revelation was not complete, prophecy, preaching and prayer were assisted supernaturally by the Holy Spirit. Now that the whole truth has been given to us, the Holy Spirit does not have to give us this aid. Truth Magazine, 2 September 1999. This is worth considering, but I believe Bro.Vinson is right. PKW)
This is one of the most important judgments ever written. These truths should be a never-ending and ever-increasing source of confidence and joy to those who love the Lord. This statement stands between two things. Paul has just written of the blessings which flow from God’s love. After this passage Paul gives a deep explanation showing that the things which God does for us fill all time. These things began when God planned how to save man, and they continue for us until we receive heaven itself. We cannot ever fully appreciate how important this statement is.
First we must understand what the words all things include. “All things” mean those things which rightly fall within the context (words surrounding this verse). These words do not include all the good things and bad things which happen to us in this life. Many times it has been stretched and misapplied to mean this. If this were true, evil would become good. It would become true that “we may do evil that good may come”, which Paul clearly said could never be true. (Romans 3:8)
(Note: I believe Bro. Vinson’s reasoning here is faulty. I see nothing in the context to limit “all things”. The limitation is found in the words, “to those who love God”. Evil still remains evil, even though God can bring good out of it. The brothers of Joseph intended evil when they sold him as a slave, but Joseph loved God. God was able to use that evil act to bring good both to Joseph and to his family. God cares for the Christian. Nothing can separate him from the love of God. God is able to use every circumstance to bring good. PKW)
These “all things” are all those things God has done and now does for us: the death of Christ, His resurrection, His ascension and priestly functions now being carried out for us. But these things are only for those who love the Lord and who are called according to His purpose. Of course, the ones who love the Lord and the ones who are called are the same people. They show their love by keeping God’s commandments, and those who keep His commandments are the called according to His purpose (1 Peter 2:21; 3:9). Only those who love the Lord can be named “the called”. He calls us by His gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Those who hear and obey its call are the called. Those who do not follow the gospel cannot be considered “called”. Everything God has done and is doing is for the good of the called. God never does anything to hurt those who love God.
The expression “called according to His purpose” does not include all of the callings which men have invented. God calls us by the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14). The gospel is His power unto salvation (Romans 1:16). Any other call is not according to His purpose. It is not His purpose to call us directly by the Holy Spirit. It is not His purpose to call us by an angel. The only ones who are His called are those who have listened to the gospel and are obeying it. These are the ones for whom God is working all things together for good.
Because Paul writes in the past tense, some think that the people Paul writes about have already been raised from the dead. They think Paul is talking about the ones who were raised when Christ was crucified (Matthew 27:51-53). This is a mistake.
God often uses the past tense when He speaks of things which “are” or “will be”. If you read your Bible very much you will know that this is true. The past tense adds strength and truth to the statements. God knows what is to come. It will surely come to pass. It is as though it has already happened. Men cannot speak in this way of their plans. James warns us that we should always say, “if the Lord wills” (James 4:15). But with God it is different. What He plans happens!
What Paul is writing about had not been finished. Paul gives us God’s purpose. His words describe the people who have been called according to His purpose, and they include all the redeemed. Paul puts before our eyes the entire plan to save man. His words show that God knows the ones He approves, even before they are born. He knows the ones who have been predestined (those whose destiny—final destination—has been decided beforehand), and their destiny is to become conformed to the image of His Son.
When God first decided to save man He saw that the saints will be raised from the dead and that their bodies will be changed into the image of the body of His Son. Christ will change us by the working of the power He has to put all things under His control (Philippians 3:21). This teaches that the resurrection of the body is the last and greatest work of man’s salvation. But notice: Paul does not tell us that the bodies of the unsaved will be changed in this way. Their destiny is eternal corruption (Galatians 6:8).
The phrase so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren tells us that Christ is the firstborn one and all Christians are the secondborn ones. He was raised first, and we also will be raised. If we are not raised, then His resurrection is meaningless. He cannot be the firstborn unless we are raised like Him.
(Note: The “firstborn” is the one who has authority over the others born in the family. So Jesus is the One who has authority over all of us who are His brethren. PKW)
These whom He predestined, He also called. This means that the ones God chose from the beginning are the ones whom He calls. They are the ones who love the Lord, and they show that love by obeying Him—they keep His commandments.
Before God started His plan to save man He decided what He would do for the saved. The saved would be glorified. These verses tell us about His plan in a wonderful way. There are no other verses in the Bible which give such a high thought as these. They lift the spirit of man above all things on this earth and sweep it away to the world of glorified saints and to the enjoyment of the indescribable blessings of the heavenly world.
Much has been written concerning this purpose of God. When did God decide to save and glorify man? Most people seem to think that before God made man He decided to save him. Very far back in some sort of eternity they say that God formed this purpose, that it is an eternal purpose.
But a little thought will show that this cannot be true. First, the words “eternal purpose” contradict this idea. If God had to decide to save man, that means there was a time before He made that decision. How could the purpose be “eternal” if there was a time before the decision was made?
In Ephesians 3:10-11 Paul says, “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord”. The church is in the plan of redemption. It is in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord. But when did this plan come into the mind of God?
It does not seem reasonable to me to say that God had a purpose to save man before there was any need to save him. If we use the verses which say that God’s plan was before the foundation of the world, and we use those verses to prove that God decided to save man before He made Him, we use the word “world” to mean the earth, sun and stars. However, I agree with MacKnight who says that the words of Ephesians 3:9 (which is translated in the King James Version as: “to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid with God, who created all things by Jesus Christ”, and which is translated in the New American Standard Version as: “and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things”) mean “which was hid from the ages”, and, “which was hid from the Jews under the Mosaic dispensation by God”. And think of this. If the purpose of God to redeem man began before man was created and if it was hidden with God, from whom was it hidden? Before creation only Deity existed, and Deity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) could not hide something from itself! Therefore the purpose could not exist before those from whom it was hidden were made. The way in which God’s purpose was eternal is that God planned to save man for all eternity. The fulfillment of God’s plan is eternal.
The words these things include all those wonderful things Paul has just listed. If God has decided to glorify His saints, what terrible accident or persecution can keep God from doing what He has decided to do? Nothing can stop God from doing what He has decided. That means that for us who love God and who therefore obey His will, there is no force which has the intelligence or the power to stop God from giving us what He has promised to give.
This is an argument from the greater to the lesser. God did the greatest thing for our salvation by giving His Son. Since God loved us that much, it is sure that He will give us all the things He has promised.
The all things of this verse are the same things as the all things of verse 28. God will give us everything needed to bring about the glory which He has purposed for us through Jesus Christ. Nothing could ever be said which would give greater assurance to God’s children. The obedient believer can never doubt. These truths must have been a solid fortress and refuge to those early Christians who were under great persecution. They can give us the same assurance today.
Because it is God who justified those whom He has called, no one can change what He has done. Some people added commandments and said that they must be obeyed. They taught that if a person did not obey those commandments, he could not be saved. Some Jews were doing this. They insisted that Christians must keep the Law of Moses. But God’s elect are those whom God justifies, and He justifies those who keep His commandments, not the commandments of men. Since the Law of Moses was no longer His law, even for the Jews, it was wrong to insist that Christians must keep that Law. It is just as wrong for men to insist that believers must keep the laws of the denominations. When we keep human traditions instead of the commandments of God, we make God’s commandments void (worthless) (See Matthew 15:1-14). Those who say that God’s children are sinning because they do not keep man’s traditions will not be able to bring a charge against God’s elect in the judgment. Those who believe and follow God will be saved, no matter what man says.
All those who oppose the children of God are fighting against Christ. He died for us, was raised, and is at the right hand of God. He is interceding (taking our part) for us. Who is greater than Christ? God is listening to Him as He pleads for us. We do not have to worry about those who condemn us for not following the commandments of men.
Does the love of Christ mean the love we have for Christ or the love Christ has for us? It is my understanding that here Paul means “the love Christ has for us.” All of the things in verse 35 are powerless to keep Christ from loving us. They cannot come between us and Christ’s love.
The reason I think that the love of Christ cannot mean “the love we have for Christ” is that the things in this verse sometimes cause children of God to lose their love for Christ. When Jesus foretold the difficulties during the coming destruction of Jerusalem He said, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).
But no matter how many or how terrible are the sufferings brought against us, they can never separate us from Christ’s love for us. He will continue to plead for us. And when these things happen because we belong to Christ we are only receiving what we have been told to expect. The quotation in these verses is from Psalm 44:22. It indicates a fear that because they were having persecutions the Lord had forsaken them. We can think the same thing when bad things happen to us. We think that when everything is going well, then the Lord is with us. But if bad things happen to us, we think the Lord has forgotten us. These verses teach us that we cannot judge things that way. No matter how bad things become, God’s love is still there.
Merrill Tenney observes: “The Roman church was probably small and weak. Repressive measures under Claudius (A.D.49), who endeavored to keep Christianity out of the city, had prevented any rapid increase in members. It was largely an underground movement, which had not grown materially during the three years of Nero’s reign following the death of Claudius in A.D. 54. The Roman Christians were still insecure and were wondering what new turn the imperial policy might take.” — The Reality of the Resurrection, p. 77. Paul’s words here must have helped these Christians very much.
Here Paul lists many things which people think can separate us from the love of God. They cannot!
God loves all men, but this is not what these verses are talking about. This is the love of God for those who will come to Him. It is the active love which caused Him to plan the way to save men and to send Jesus Christ to bring it about. It is continuing through the work of Jesus who is the mediator for the children of God. It is the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
All spiritual blessings are in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). The words “in Christ” refer to Him as a person, to that which He has and will do. It does not mean the same as “in the church”, for some spiritual blessings can be found out of the church and are necessary to becoming a member of the church. But God gives us all these spiritual blessings in Christ. We can separate ourselves from God’s love, but no power outside of ourselves can ever do this.
This chapter has brought the student of the Roman letter to the mountain peak of thought. No area of thought in the Bible, and certainly none outside of the Bible, can lead the human mind to as high a height as this chapter, I think. For this reason I have written more comments on these verses than I have elsewhere. Here we find the abounding riches of His goodness supplied in Christ and the powerful provisions for our salvation and spiritual security spoken of in ways which are powerful and thrilling. It humbles the heart and enriches the soul of those who drink deeply from its words.