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Romans 4 - Sanctification (6:1 - 8:39)

Julian Spriggs M.A.

Also available:

1: Paul and his Gospel (1:1 - 17) 2: The Bad News (1:18 - 3:20)
3: The Good News (3:21 - 5:21) 4: Sanctification (6:1 - 8:39)
5: Election and Mercy (9:1 - 11:36) 6: Living the Gospel (12:1 - 15:13)
7: Travel plans, Greeting (15:14 - 16:27)

This new section builds on what Paul has already stated in the first two sections. He has already shown that all people, whether Jew or Gentile, deserve the wrath of God. The answer to this predicament was the work of the cross, so that all people, whether Jew of Gentile, can be justified by faith, following the example of the faith of Abraham. Following justification, there are great benefits, especially reconciliation and peace with God.

Now he considers the next stage, looking at the process which is often called sanctification. Once we have been justified by faith, how do we now live in this new relationship with God? These next three chapters essentially answer the question: "Why do we need to be good?", and then, "How are we to be good?" If we have been justified as a free gift of grace, perhaps we can receive more grace if we continue to sin. He uses a series of four illustrations: baptism, slavery, marriage, and his own testimony to counter this question very strongly, showing that we are dead to sin and free from the law. God’s grace certainly does not provide the excuse to sin, as we are united with Christ in his death and resurrection and now belong to him. We also need to avoid the idea that we can be sanctified by keeping the law. This can only lead to frustration, because it is only through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit that we can live lives pleasing to God, and thereby fulfil the intention of the law.

Dead to sin, alive to God (6:1-23)

Chapter six looks at the first of the two questions: Why do we need to be good? If we have been saved by grace, does it matter if we continue to sin? The question is asked in two slightly different ways. The first is whether we should sin more to receive more grace (v1-14). To answer this, Paul uses his first illustration of baptism, which shows that we have identified with the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are now dead to sin, and alive to Christ, so we need to live with him. The second is asking whether it matters if we sin (v15-23). To answer this, Paul uses his second illustration of slavery. Sin is a cruel slave master because it leads to death. Jesus has paid the price to set us free from the slavery of sin to become his slaves. The reward of being his slave is righteousness and eternal life.

Sin so grace may abound? - Baptised into his death (6:1-4)

This question from Paul's imaginary opponent is a logical response to his teaching so far in the letter to the Romans. It is a question we should even expect if the true gospel is being preached, of grace and justification by faith, rather than by our own efforts. The thinking behind the question is that if God is so gracious and forgiving, shouldn't we sin more so that we can experience more of his grace and forgiveness? Is God glorified if we sin, because he has the opportunity to show more grace to us? Paul's response is, "By no means!".

Paul's answer is that our baptism shows that we have died to sin. He responds by asking two further, and equally logical, questions:

Firstly, how can someone who has died to sin go on living in it? Because the believer has died to sin, and a dead person cannot sin, the power of sin is broken, it need not longer have dominion over us. We need to reckon ourselves as dead. The believer should identify himself with the death and resurrection of Christ. When Jesus died, the old person also died, crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20); and when Jesus rose from the dead, the believer also rose from the dead as a new person. If we are linked to Jesus in this way, it is absurd to sin.

Secondly, don't you know that you were baptised in his death? This truth is dramatically expressed in Christian baptism (v3-4), the first of Paul’s four illustrations. The baptism should be seen as the funeral and burial of the old unregenerate person, and the resurrection of the new person. Through immersion in water, baptism gives a vivid picture of the old person dying, and the new cleansed person rising to new life, as the person personally and publicly identifies with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We need to look back at our own baptism, and understand what it meant - the funeral of the old person. In this way baptism becomes a powerful picture of salvation. Because of this illustration, it is very difficult to justify the common practice in many churches of baptising babies. Baptism should follow a personal declaration of faith and identification with Jesus, and in order to demonstrate Paul’s illustration here, it ideally should be by full immersion, rather than by sprinkling.

At conversion and baptism, there is a radical break in our lives, between the old person, (in Adam) and the new person (in Christ), the slave to sin becomes a slave to righteousness, who is free not to sin. The historical fact of the death and resurrection of Jesus, becomes a personal experience by faith in Christ, as we identify ourselves with his death and resurrection. The old self was crucified with Christ, and the new self was raised with Christ.

Our old self was crucified, now live with him (6:5-11)

On the cross, Jesus died to sin, and Paul declares that the person we once were was crucified with him (v6). This means that we no longer need to be enslaved to sin. Instead the believer needs to realise that he has risen with Christ to a new life, freed from the dominion of sin and the law, and therefore needs to live that way. The message is: We need to become what we already are in Christ. Paul summarises his answer as he exhorts his readers to, "consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus" (v11), to make personal application of what Jesus has done. This is a step of faith, as each person trusts that the death of Jesus was effective to deal with their sin, and to bring the believer into a new life in union with Jesus. The truth of what Jesus has done on the cross must be applied into each believer's life personally. Each believer also needs to believe that he gives us power to resist sin, and to live a holy life, as we become more Christ-like through the process of sanctification (ch 8). Paul is not saying we become immune to sin. We are still tempted, and experience the struggle against sin, but now, through his Spirit, we have the power to resist it.

Present your members as instruments of righteousness (6:12-14)

On the basis of what Jesus has done, Paul appeals to his readers not to yield their bodies to sin, not to let sin exercise dominion over them, but to present themselves to God for righteousness (v13). Because we have died with Christ, our actions and lifestyle can and must change. There is a choice for each believer, not to choose sin, but to choose to live righteously. Faith comes first, followed by actions, otherwise it is legalism. The doctrine of justification by faith should always lead to more godly and holy lives, and certainly should not be used as an excuse for deliberate sin, presuming on God's grace. In the next chapter we will see that trying to live righteously by keeping the law is doomed to failure. We need the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

A few thoughts about sanctification

In modern thought, a clear distinction is made between justification and sanctification. Justification is the once and for all action of bringing a sinner into a place of acceptance before God. The sinner is declared "not-guilty" by God, and free from God's wrath because his guilt has been taken by Jesus at his death. Sanctification is the process following justification, by which God works through is Spirit to make the character of the individual believer more into the likeness of Christ, as he grows in his relationship with God, and willingly yields to God's discipline. This is achieved by submitting to the teaching of Scripture and following the example of Christ's life. We look back to our justification made possible through the cross and resurrection of Christ, which we identified with through baptism. We look forward to the hope we have of future glorification. In the meantime we are in a process of sanctification.

In the New Testament, however, such a clear distinction is not always made. The main concept in the word 'sanctification', as with the word 'holy', is being set apart for God, or consecrated to God, and therefore separated from the world, from sin, and from evil. In the NT, believers are often called 'saints', people who have been made holy because they have a relationship with God, which has been made possible because their sins have been forgiven through the death of Jesus. Jesus was sanctified by consecrating his life to God and willingly submitting to his will (Jn 17:19). Often 'sanctified' is used almost synonymously with 'justified' to describe the relationship, rather than the process. The writer of Hebrews describes 'sanctified' as a once for all action, made possible by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ (Heb 10:10), by which people are brought into relationship with a holy God. In the NT, sanctification also describes the life-long process of becoming more like the character of Christ, showing more of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. It is God's intention that our lives become more sanctified, as we abstain from sin and resist temptation.

Sin because under grace? - Slaves of obedience (6:15-19)

Paul’s imaginary opponent now asks the question again, but slightly differently, "Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace?". The thought behind the question is whether we can we get away with sin. Does it really matter? Again Paul's response is, "By no means!"

To answer the question, Paul uses his second illustration, from slavery, to show that sin is not worth it. He introduces an important principle, that all people are a slave of something, of their master. We are a slave of whatever or whoever we worship. The choice is between being a slave to sin and death, or a slave to obedience and righteousness in Christ.

Sin is portrayed as a cruel and powerful slave-master which leads us into bondage. It is addictive and destructive, even though it can appear attractive at first. In Christ, we have been set free from the slave-master of sin, and have become slaves of righteousness. We have a new lord and master, therefore we need to obey him. Slavery demands total obedience, just as Paul introduced himself as a slave of Jesus Christ (1:1).

Freed from sin, enslaved to God (6:20-23)

Sin does not just enslave people now, it also determines their destiny. The end of sin is death (v21), and the end of sanctification is eternal life (v22). Sin pages its wages, a person reaps what they deserve, which is death. By contrast, God gives a free gift, which is sanctification now, and at the end, eternal life.

In chapter six, the question is implied: Why do we have to be good? Paul’s answers by saying we are dead to sin, as demonstrated through our baptism, so we need to live as those who have personally identified with the death and resurrection of Christ. He also shows that sin is a cruel and destructive slave-master, so we need to live as those who are free from the slave-master of sin, and are under a new lord and master.

Discharged from the law (7:1-25)

Chapter seven looks at the place law has in sanctification, which would obviously be of particular interest to his Jewish readers. If chapter six looked at the question: "Why do we have to be good?", then chapter seven looks at the question, "How are we to be good?", showing that trying to keep the law is not the way to achieve this. Some important questions are addressed in this section, for example: What is the place of the law in God's purposes? What place does the law play in Christian discipleship? How do we grow as Christians to become more like Jesus?

Again, this chapter has two parts. In the first, Paul uses his third illustration of marriage, to show that we have been discharged from the law because we have died with Christ and the law is no longer binding on us. Then in the second part, he uses the fourth illustration of his own personal testimony to show that trying to use his own will-power to keep the law can only lead to a life of frustration.

Looking back in the book, Paul showed that all people deserve wrath (ch 1-3), and then are justified, not by keeping the law, but by grace, which is received by faith (ch 3-5). The current section looks at sanctification (ch 6-8), living the Christian like, not by law-keeping, but led by the Spirit. There is a tendency among Christians to begin with grace, then slip back into law-keeping (the Galatians were doing this). It is easy to fall into the struggle to try to keep the law in our own strength, when we need the power of the indwelling Spirit to enable us to live like Jesus.

In chapter seven, Paul looks at two contrasting positions. The first is by excluding legalism (v1- 6), the attempt to be justified and sanctified by law-keeping, living in fear of the law and in bondage to it. He states we are dead to the law, so it has no authority over us, and we now belong to Christ. Secondly, he defends the law against licence (v7-13). The law is holy and good, and cannot be blamed for sin and death. Instead, we can rejoice in the freedom from the bondage of the law for justification and sanctification. We can delight in the law (7:22), as so frequently stated in the OT (Ps 19:10, Ps 119:97-104) because the law is good (7:12-13). The law is a wonderful revelation of the nature, character, ways and design of God.

Law is binding only during lifetime - marriage (7:1-3)

Paul is addressing Jews, showing that the law is only binding on a person while they are still alive. In the previous chapter, he has shown that we are dead, crucified with Christ, therefore the law is no longer binding on us. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that the law will never pass away (Mt 5:17), but Paul says here that it is no longer binding.

Paul now uses his third illustration - marriage. The marriage covenant is only binding while both partners are still alive, in the same way that the law is only binding while the person is still alive. If one person breaks their marriage vows it is adultery. But following death, the marriage covenant is no longer binding, and the widow or widower is free to remarry.

Discharged from law, new life in Spirit (7:4-6)

Because we have died with Christ (6:5), we have died to the law, the old marriage partner. This frees us to re-marry to a new marriage partner, Christ. We are in union with Christ, we were crucified with Christ, and now married to Christ. In chapter six, Paul declared that Gentiles were slaves to sin, and in Christ are slaves of righteousness. In this chapter Jews were slaves to the law, but both now are slaves to the new life in the Spirit, which he expands upon in chapter eight.

One effect of the law is to arouse our sinful passions. The law working in sinful hearts leads to condemnation (v8). The law stirs up our sinful nature in rebellion, and causes our sinful nature to be exposed. But we are now discharged from law, like a military discharge, being totally separated from law. We are no longer under law, but under the Spirit (ch 8).

Is the law sin? Sin revived through commandment (7:7-12)

Up to this point, Paul has been very negative about the law, showing that the law reveals sin and brings wrath. Now Paul defends the law against his imaginary Jewish opponent, repeatedly declaring that the law is holy and good. The first question is whether the law is sin. This is a logical response to the last paragraph. If the law causes sin to rise up in us, is the law evil? Paul’s answer again is, "By no means!". He shows that the purpose of the law is to show and expose our sin, and show our need of a saviour. The law cannot make us do good. It is not the purpose of the law to justify us or to sanctify us.

To defend the law he uses the fourth picture, his own testimony. The pronoun 'I' is used over fifty times in this chapter. He uses his own life in relation to the law as an example. Before the age of twelve, his Bar-mitzvah, he was not under the law (v9).

He shows three different effects the law has on people. The first is that the law reveals sin. Using the example of coveting, the only one of the ten commandments which addresses inner attitudes, he shows that it is impossible to break the law if there is no law. He only knew what it was to covet because of the law forbidding it (v7).

The second effect is perhaps more surprising, that the law provokes sin (v8). Mankind's sinful nature reacts against law, so previously dormant sin is roused and exposed. Because something is forbidden, we often have an immediate desire to do that forbidden thing, which we had not even thought about before we knew it was forbidden. For example, if we see a sign saying, "Do not open this door!", we are filled with curiosity to find out what is behind that door. Without the sign we may not even think about what is there.

The third effect follows. Because of this reaction, the law brought death to each person, instead of life (v9). The law does not cause sin, but exposes the sin which is already present in our fallen nature, and then condemns that sin. He was once alive apart from the law, perhaps a reference to his life before the age of twelve, but the law came and condemned him.

His conclusion in answer to the first question, is that the law is good, but it cannot justify us, sanctify us, or help us in any way.

Did the law bring death? Sin worked death in me (7:13)

The second question is equally logical: Can we blame the law for causing death? Again, the answer is, "By no means!". It was not the law that brought death, but the sin which was roused by the law. The law acts as a mirror, to expose our sin, but it cannot save us.

Inner conflict from trying to keep law (7:14-20)

Moving to the present tense, Paul describes his personal struggles with sin, showing the weakness of the law to sanctify us. It is a description of a divided person in conflict, the mind wanting to get better, and the flesh wanting to sin.

There is a continuing debate over the description of this person, whether this an unbeliever, or a believer. If it describes an unbeliever, it is someone trying to be righteous, particularly a Jew under the law. Perhaps it is Paul describing his life as a Pharisee, before his conversion, someone attempting to keep the law, trying to save himself. According to this viewpoint, phrases such as, "nothing good dwells in me" (v18), "sin that dwells in me" (v19), and "captive to the law of sin" (v20) could only describe an unbeliever.

If it describes a believer, then Paul is describing his life in the present, with the frustration of the continual struggle between the flesh and the spirit. In his previous life (v7-12), he gave in to sin, and v13-20 describes his present position.

In my opinion, this passage is more likely to be describing the continual conflict between the old and the new nature within each believer, particularly believers who are not relying on the help of the Holy Spirit. It could be a description of those who trying to grow in sanctification by law-keeping. It is important to remember that no Christian ever reaches the state of perfect sinlessness in this life. This internal conflict between the flesh and the spirit, the struggle against sin remains with us through all our lives.

The power of sin has been broken by our placing our trust in the effectiveness of the death of Christ, but our sinful nature still remains to make us "do the very thing we hate" (v15). The Christian is still sinful, but is a forgiven sinner. However, the fact that we hate the sin actually goes to show that something is different because we now belong to Christ.

We should note the repetition of, 'I want' - choices of the will. We can make all the right choices, but still fail. It takes more power than the human will to choose what is right (v18). This is because sin and the desires of the flesh are stronger than our own will-power, hence the final exclamation of frustration (v24a).

Who will rescue me from this body of death? (7:21-25)

No one can win this battle against sin on their own. Trying to keep the law will only end in frustration and failure. Only Christ can rescue us from this body of death (v24). In chapter eight, Paul shows that it is only through the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit that the believer can be sanctified and become more Christ-like. He contrasts the weakness of the law with the power of the Spirit to change us.

Paul ends with a cry of a frustrated person, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (v24). We cannot live the Christian life in our own strength, we need the power of God to help us through his Holy Spirit. One important point here is that if we are involved in preaching or leading Bible studies, we must preach God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, and avoid the tendency to drift into legalism.

Alive to the Spirit (8:1-17)

Chapter eight forms the conclusion to the section on sanctification, and stands in great contrast to chapters six and seven. The pronoun changes from 'I' to 'we', defeat turns to victory, despair changes to hope, and death turns to life. In chapter six, he answered the first question, "Why do we need to be good?" We are dead to sin, and now need to live for Christ. Then in chapter seven he looked at the second question, "How are we to be good?", showing that the law cannot help us. The believer is dead to sin, and dead to the law, and now in chapter eight becomes alive to the Spirit. It is only through the power of the indwelling Spirit that is it possible to live for Christ, in law-fulfilling freedom. Theologically, this chapter one of the most important NT sources of teaching on the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

In the first part of chapter eight, Paul continually contrasts the Spirit with the flesh. Either a person lives according to the flesh, as a non-believer, or they live according to the Spirit, as a believer. The person whose mind is set on the flesh is hostile to God (v7), so the two ways are totally opposed to each other.

Law is fulfilled by walking in the Spirit (8:1-8)

The Spirit of life sets the believer free from the law of sin (ch 6) and death (ch 7) (v2). This is why there can now be no condemnation for the believer. The penalty for sin was taken by Jesus (v3). This means that the compulsion to sin has been broken. We now have the freedom not to sin.

Because of this, the requirements in the law for righteousness and holiness can now be fulfilled in the believer, by living a life empowered by the Holy Spirit. This could be called law-fulfilling freedom. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to walk out the Christian life, which is what the law could not do because of the weakness of human flesh (v3). Because Jesus obeyed all the laws in our place, the Christians are the only people who truly fulfil the law. The believer can then stand without guilt, and be declared righteous before God, so therefore have nothing to be condemned in them.

We should notice that the law was weakened by the flesh (v3). In chapter seven, Paul defended the law, as holy and good, but the law was only effective if people kept it. The word, 'flesh' (Greek: sarx) is Paul's way of describing mankind's sinful nature. Depending on the context it can mean the human physical body (1:3), or our fallen sinful human nature, which is the way it used in chapter eight.

According to Paul, there are two categories of people, those who set their mind on the flesh, and those who set their mind on the Spirit. There is a strong connection between mind-set and behaviour. If you set your mind on the flesh you are hostile to God and behave accordingly, which leads to death (v5- 6). For the Gentile, this would be a sinful lifestyle, and for the Jew it would be legalism. Anyone who tries to earn their own righteousness is actually being hostile to God (v7). If you set your mind on the Spirit, you please God, and behave accordingly, which leads to life (v6). This passage shows the close connection between what we think about and what we do - thoughts turn into actions. Later Paul calls his readers to be transformed by the renewal of the mind (12:1-2).

Spirit dwells within, and gives life (8:9-11)

The Holy Spirit indwells the believer, so the believer is now in the Spirit, rather than in the flesh. Everyone who belongs to Christ has the blessing of the Holy Spirit dwelling within them (v9). This is God's definition of a Christian, someone that has have His Spirit dwelling in them. This would explain why Paul calls the believer a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19), and being sealed with the Spirit (Eph 1:13). This passage would imply that there is no such thing as a Christian who does not have the Holy Spirit.

However, the believer is still living in a mortal body, condemned to die because of mankind's sinful nature (v10). We are still living in an age of tension - our Spirits have been renewed, but not our physical bodies yet. We have died with Christ, and have been raised with him, spiritually, but still await the future resurrection, when our bodies will also be renewed (1 Cor 15). When Jesus returns, the Spirit will give life to our mortal body, in the same way that the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. Looking to the past, the Spirit sets the believer free from the law of sin and death. Then looking to the future the Spirit gives the guarantee of eternal glory.

Spirit of adoption as sons of God (8:12-17)

We have a debt to the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body, to murder the things of the flesh. These are drastic measures, but need to be done in the power of the Spirit.

Paul uses the illustration of adoption to show that we now belong to God and have his identity. In Roman law, a childless couple could adopt a son, often a slave. A father could even adopt one of his own sons to be his heir, to take over the family business. This adoption was done through a legal document, signed by witnesses. The adopted son could then call his father by the familiar form, 'Daddy'. The application is that God adopts us as his sons and heirs, with the Holy Spirit and our spirits acting as witnesses.

The Spirit shows us who we belong to. The Spirit guides the believer (v14), which shows that the believer is a true son of God. The believer has received a spirit of adoption as a son, in contrast to a spirit of slavery, which only leads to fear (v15). The Spirit bears witness with our own spirit that we are children of God, giving great assurance to the believer that we truly do belong to God, and that our sins are forgiven (v16). We should notice that we are adopted as sons, whether we are male or female. This is because in the illustration of Roman adoption, only the son received the inheritance. If this appears sexist, we have to remember that we are also the bride of Christ, whether we are male or female.

This also give assurance for the future, that because we are children of God, we will share in his sufferings, as well as in his glory. We share in the inheritance that Christ receives, the suffering (trouble, persecution, death) and the glory (the inheritance, after the suffering).

Suffering can be endured if we have an eye on the future. The hope of glory is something to look forward to during tough times. Elsewhere Paul states, "This slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor 4:17).

Groaning now, but looking to future glory (8:18-39)

The second part of chapter eight looks more to the future. There may be suffering now, but these sufferings are not worth comparing with the future glory (v18). The believer’s glory will shared with the physical creation. Both creation and the believer are groaning while waiting for future glory. We can be confident that the process of sanctification will come to completion because the believer is in a process that God began and that God will complete. We were foreknown, predestined, called, justified and will be glorified. Because it is all the work of God, there is no condemnation and nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Creation waits with eager longing (8:18-25)

The hope of the gospel, the glory which is our inheritance in the future is also shared by the physical creation itself (v19-22), and is also something which will involve our physical bodies as well. Just as the physical creation is groaning, waiting to be set free from its bondage to decay (v20-21), to return to its original state of perfection, the believer is also groaning (v23), waiting for the time when we will be finally set free from the sinful nature, and from the afflictions and sufferings of this life.

In this present life, both the physical creation, and the believer are still subject to the fall of man (Gen 3). Both are under the curse of sin, and both are eagerly waiting for the time when they are finally set free. After the fall, God cursed the ground and condemned man to die physically (Gen 3:17-19). This curse will finally be removed in the new heaven and the new earth (Rev 22:3). The gospel involves more than just personal salvation, but the whole of creation as well. It is important for us to remember that the physical world we live in is also fallen, and subject to decay. Creation is good, but fallen.

In the Christian life, we only have the first fruits of the Spirit (v23). What we experience of God now is only a foretaste of the glorious relationship with him we shall have in the future. The present indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers is a pledge or guarantee of the inheritance we wait for (Eph 1:14, 4:30). We will receive our final inheritance when we leave this fallen world, to enter into the presence of God when we die. It is only then that we are fully adopted as sons to receive the inheritance that is ours.

In chapter eight, it appears that the word 'adoption' is used in two ways. We have already been adopted as children of God (v14-15), but it is something that we are also still waiting for (v23). We have been adopted as sons, but this is merely a foretaste of the glory to come when our adoption is complete. It is another now, but not yet.

This inheritance is not only spiritual, but also involves our physical bodies. At the second coming, our bodies will be transformed into immortal heavenly, or spiritual bodies, which will be suited to life in the new heaven and new earth (1 Cor 15:49,51, Phil 3:21). At this time, the final enemy, death, will be conquered (1 Cor 15:55), and the whole process of salvation will be complete in every way, both spiritually and physically. This is our hope, the confident expectation for the future (v24-25), which is focussed around the second coming of Jesus (Titus 2:13).

The Spirit helps us to pray (8:26-27)

The Spirit also helps us to prayer, giving both the desire and the power to pray. The Spirit intercedes for the saints, just as Christ intercedes for us (v34). The Spirit helps us to maintain faith and hope in the midst of every-day life, especially by giving help in prayer.

All things work for good: foreknowledge to glory (8:28-30)

At the conclusion of chapter eight, Paul shows that, although we are still waiting for the glory we hope for, we are secure because our hope depends on God's faithfulness in fulfilling his purposes, rather than on our external situation. Even through sufferings and afflictions, God's purposes will not be destroyed, and therefore our hope can remain strong and unwavering.

Security comes from the fact that God will certainly fulfil his purposes. What he began, he will bring to completion. Paul lists five stages of salvation from being foreknown and predestined in the past, to being called and justified in the present, and being glorified in the future. These are all part of one process, which will come to completion because it is something God is doing. It is significant that all five of these words are in the past tense, showing that all are considered to be an accomplished fact, because they are all part of God's purpose. This shows that our hope is a certainty. God is in charge of our salvation, so God gets the glory.

Some thoughts about predestination

Predestination means that a person's destiny is decided beforehand. In the scriptures, the doctrine of predestination is not applied to unbelievers, but only to believers. The Bible does not say that people are predestined to hell. This is what Calvin taught, in his doctrine of double predestination.

It is important for believers to know they are predestined, as it gives comfort and security. God chose us, rather than we chose him. The destiny of the believer is to be conformed to the image of his son (v29). This is the context of the well-known promise that, "all things working together for good" (v28). Whatever happens in our lives, God can work it for good, in conforming us more into the likeness of Christ, whether before or after we are saved.

Predestination can leave us with some awkward questions. One is whether God calls everybody. In the context of Romans, we have to remember that God has the right to choose. No one deserves heaven, we go to heaven because of his mercy, not his justice. If we received justice, we would face the wrath of God. The concept of God’s election is continued in chapter nine.

Another question is answered here, why it was that God chose us. The purpose is that Jesus could be the firstborn within a large family (v29). God is a God of relationship and wants a big family with many sons, who are like Christ, the firstborn. So we are his brothers.

Who is against us? Who is to condemn (8:31-34)

Chapter eight concludes with some very encouraging truths, which are expressed in a series of four questions. The answer to each question is the same. The first question is, "If God is for us, who is against us?" (v31). The answer is, "No one". God gave his son to us, so he will give us everything else. The second is, "Who will bring any charge against God's elect?" (v33). Again the answer is, "No one". No one can bring a charge against us, as God's elect, because justification depends on the work of Christ, rather than on our own efforts. Therefore we are not guilty when accused by the enemy. The third is, "Who is to condemn?" (v34). Again the answer is, "No one". No one can condemn, because Christ is at the right hand of God, interceding on our behalf.

The fourth is, "Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" (v35). Again the answer is, "No one". Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. All the enemies which may try to separate us from Christ will be unable to do so, because we are more than conquerors through Christ v37). In the first century, height and depth, rulers and powers are probably names of spirit beings which were believed to control the destiny of people. We are victorious over all the things which may come against us to deflect us from our salvation. If we are linked to Jesus, nothing can separate us from him. But notice that all these things are outward. Paul emphasises the eternal security of the believer, showing that God will be faithful to bring the process of salvation to completion. However, Paul would certainly stress that we also have our own part to play, in perseverance and endurance. The promises of security do not remove our own responsibility to "work out our salvation in fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12).

Also available:

1: Paul and his Gospel (1:1 - 17) 2: The Bad News (1:18 - 3:20)
3: The Good News (3:21 - 5:21) 4: Sanctification (6:1 - 8:39)
5: Election and Mercy (9:1 - 11:36) 6: Living the Gospel (12:1 - 15:13)
7: Travel plans, Greeting (15:14 - 16:27)