Commentary Session 6: A Life You Can't Live On Your Own
The Point: God‘s Holy Spirit lives in you and empowers you.
The Bible Meets Life: Just as we cannot save ourselves; we cannot live the Christian life
ourselves. Left to ourselves, we would face continual defeat. We are not left alone. Jesus Christ
comes to live in us through the presence and power of His Holy Spirit. He is the One who
empowers us to stand against sin, to walk righteously, and to live every aspect of life for His glory.
The Passage: Romans 8:8-17, 26-27
The Setting: Romans 7 shows us the conflict between the continual struggle with sin in our lives
and the power and work of Christ in our lives. Romans 8 shows us that there is another law at work
besides the law of sin: the ―law‖ of the Spirit. In this chapter we see the benefits we experience
because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The Christian Struggle 7:14-25
The interpretation of these verses is as difficult as any in the New Testament. The text is gripped
with tension. Paul painted for the readers a picture of the Christian life with all its anguish and its
simultaneous hopefulness. This is the ongoing struggle with which believers are involved
throughout their lives. Deliverance is promised. Victory is sure; but it is an eschatological hope
Paul described one who hates sin and judges it in his or her life. In this struggle the believer
constantly continues to strive for the good. Both the struggle of chapter 7 and the deliverance
of chapter 8 are true and real in the believer‘s journey. Though Paul spoke autobiographically of
the tensions of life as he experienced them, it remains apparent that he spoke by implication for all
who have the struggle and need for God‘s enablement and blessing.
No Condemnation 8:1-2
Paul‘s exposition shifted to a focus on the role of the Holy Spirit, who brings pardon and power for
the children of God. Those who have been justified have been freed from death. ―Therefore, there
is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus‖ (8:1). God will give life to their mortal
bodies through His spirit, who indwells believers
Background: William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans. Daily Bible Study:
Romans 8:1–4 There is, therefore, now no condemnation against those who are in
Christ Jesus. For the law that comes from the Spirit and leads to life has in Christ
Jesus set me free from the law which begets sin and leads to death. As for the
impotency of the law, that weakness of the law which resulted from the effects of
our sinful human nature – God sent his own Son as a sin offering with that very
same human nature which in us had sinned; and thereby, while he existed in the
same human nature as we have, he condemned sin, so that as a result the righteous
demand of the law might be fulfilled in us, who live our lives not after the principle
of sinful human nature, but after the principle of the Spirit.
THIS is a very difficult passage because it is so highly compressed, and because, all
through it, Paul is making allusions to things that he has already said. Two words keep
recurring again and again in this chapter – flesh (sarx) and spirit (pneuma). We will not
understand the passage at all unless we understand the way in which Paul is using these
(1) Sarx literally means flesh. The most cursory reading of Paul‘s letters will show how
often he uses the word, and how he uses it in a sense that is all his own. Broadly speaking,
he uses it in three different ways.
(a) He uses it quite literally. He speaks of physical circumcision, literally ‗in the flesh‘
(b) Over and over again, he uses the phrase kata sarka, literally according to the flesh,
which most often means looking at things from the human point of view. For instance, he
says that Abraham is our ancestor kata sarka, from the human point of view (Romans 4:1).
He says that Jesus is the son of David kata sarka (Romans 1:3), that is to say, on the human
side of his descent. He speaks of the Jews being his kindred kata sarka (Romans 9:3), that
is to say, speaking of human relationships. When Paul uses the phrase kata sarka, it always
implies that he is looking at things from the human point of view.
(c) But he has his own way of using this word sarx. When he is talking of the Christians, he
talks of the days when we were in the flesh (en sarki) (Romans 7:5). He speaks of those
who walk according to the flesh as distinct from those who live the Christian life (Romans
8:4–5). He says that those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:8). He says
that the mind of the flesh is death, and that it is hostile to God (Romans 8:6, 8). He talks
about living according to the flesh (Romans 8:12). He says to his Christian friends: ‗You
are not in the flesh‘ (Romans 8:9).
It is quite clear, especially from the last instance, that Paul is not using flesh simply in the
sense of the body, as we say flesh and blood. How, then, is he using it? He really means
human nature in all its weakness, and he means human nature in its vulnerability to sin. He
means that part of human beings which offers sin a way in. He means sinful human nature,
apart from Christ, everything that attaches people to the world instead of to God. To live
according to the flesh is to live a life dominated by the dictates and desires of sinful human
nature instead of a life dominated by the dictates and the love of God. The flesh is the lower
side of human nature. It is to be carefully noted that, when Paul thinks of the kind of life
lived by those dominated by the sarx, he is not by any means thinking exclusively of sexual
and bodily sins.
When he gives a list of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19–21, he includes the bodily
and the sexual sins; but he also includes idolatry, hatred, wrath, strife, heresies, envy and
murder. The flesh to him was not a physical thing but spiritual. It was human nature in all
its sin and weakness; it was all that human beings are without God and without Christ.
(2) There is the word spirit; in this single chapter, it occurs no fewer than twenty times.
This word has a very definite Old Testament background. In Hebrew, it is ruach, and
behind it there are two basic ideas.
(a) It is not only the word for spirit; it is also the word for wind. It always contains the idea
of power, power as of a mighty rushing wind.
(b) In the Old Testament, it always includes the idea of something that is more than human.
Spirit, to Paul, represented a power that was divine. So, Paul says in this passage that there
was a time when Christians were at the mercy of their own sinful human nature. In that
state, the law simply became something that moved them to sin, and they went from bad to
worse, defeated and frustrated men and women.
But, when they became Christians, into their lives came the surging power of the Spirit of
God, and, as a result, they entered into victorious living. In the second part of the passage,
Paul speaks of the effect of the work of Jesus on us. It is complicated and difficult, but what
Paul is getting at is this. Let us remember that he began all this by saying that all humanity
sinned in Adam. We saw how the Jewish conception of solidarity made it possible for him
to argue that, quite literally, all were involved in Adam‘s sin and in its consequence – death.
But there is another side to this picture. Into this world came Jesus, with a completely
human nature; and he brought to God a life of perfect obedience, of perfect fulfillment of
Now, because Jesus was fully a man, just as we were one with Adam, we are now one with
him; and, just as we were involved in Adam‘s sin, we are now involved in Jesus‘ perfection.
In him, humanity brought to God the perfect obedience, just as, in Adam, humanity brought
to God the fatal disobedience. Men and women are saved because they were once involved
in Adam‘s sin but are now involved in Jesus‘ goodness.
That is Paul‘s argument; and, to him and to those who heard it, it was completely
convincing, however hard it is for us to grasp it. Because of what Jesus did, there opens out
to Christians a life dominated no longer by the flesh but by that Spirit of God, which fills us
with a power that is not our own. The penalty of the past is removed, and strength for our
future is assured.
THE TWO PRINCIPLES OF LIFE. Romans 8:5–11.
Those who live according to the dictates of sinful human nature are absorbed in
worldly human things. Those who live according to the dictates of the Spirit are
absorbed in the things of the Spirit. To be absorbed in worldly human things is
death; but to be absorbed in the things of the Spirit is life and peace, because
absorption in the things, which fascinate our sinful human nature, is hostility to
God, for it does not obey the law of God, nor, indeed, can it do so. Those whose life
is a purely worldly thing cannot please God; but you are not dominated by the
pursuits that fascinate our sinful human nature; you are dominated by the Spirit, if
so it were that the Spirit of God dwells in you.
If anyone does not possess the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if
Christ is in you, even if because of sin your body is mortal, your Spirit has life
through righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in
you, he will make even your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit indwelling in
PAUL is drawing a contrast between two kinds of life.
(1) There is the life that is dominated by sinful human nature; whose focus and centre is
self; whose only law is its own desires; which takes what it likes where it likes. In different
people, that life will be differently described. It may be passion-controlled, or lustcontrolled, or pride-controlled, or ambition-controlled. Its characteristic is its absorption in
the things that human nature without Christ sets its heart upon.
(2) There is the life that is dominated by the Spirit of God. As men and women live in the
air, they live in Christ, never separated from him. As they breathe in the air and the air fills
them, so Christ fills them. They have no mind of their own; Christ is their mind. They have
no desires of their own; the will of Christ is their only law. They are Spirit-controlled,
These two lives are going in diametrically opposite directions. The life that is dominated by
the desires and activities of sinful human nature is on the way to death. In the most literal
sense, there is no future in it – because it is getting further and further away from God. To
allow the things of the world completely to dominate life is self-extinction; it is spiritual
suicide. By living it, people are making themselves totally unfit ever to stand in the
presence of God. They are hostile to him, resentful of his law and his control. God is not
their friend but their enemy, and no one ever won the last battle against him.
The Spirit-controlled life, the Christ-centred life, the God-focused life is daily coming
nearer heaven even when it is still on earth. It is a life that is such a steady progress to God
that the final transition of death is only a natural and inevitable stage on the way. It is like
Enoch, who walked with God and God took him (cf. Genesis 5:24). As the child said:
‗Enoch was a man who went for walks with God – and one day he didn‘t come back.‘ No
sooner has Paul said this than an inevitable objection strikes him.
Someone may object: ‗You say that those who are Spirit-controlled are on the way to life;
but in point of fact everyone must die. Just what do you mean?‘ Paul‘s answer is this. All
die because they are involved in the human situation. Sin came into this world, and with sin
came death, the consequence of sin. Inevitably, therefore, all people die; but those who are
Spirit-controlled and whose hearts are Christ-occupied die only to rise again.
Paul‘s basic thought is that every Christian is indissolubly one with Christ. Now, Christ
died and rose again; and those who are one with Christ are one with death‘s conqueror and
share in that victory. Spirit-controlled, Christ-possessed men and women are on the way to
life; death is only an inevitable interlude that has to be passed through on the way.
8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God lives in
you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
10 Now if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life
because of righteousness.
11 And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, then He
who raised Christ from the dead will also bring your mortal bodies to life through
His Spirit who lives in you.
12 So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh,
13 for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit
you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Romans 7 focuses on the conflict all believers experience between their continual struggle
with sin and the presence and power of Jesus Christ in their lives. Romans 8 reveals how
Christ works in believers by the power of the Holy Spirit and helps believers understand
the spiritual benefits they experience because of the Holy Spirit.
Living the Christian life is a day-by-day challenge for all believers no matter their level
of spiritual maturity. The battle will finally and completely cease when believers die
physically or when Jesus Christ returns. Either way, He then will rule powerfully and
perfectly in our lives forever with the glorious effect of victory over sin forever.
Meanwhile, Christians have a daily but winnable battle on their hands.
One way to grasp Paul‘s teaching is to group verses 8-13 into three sections, which
appear to be how the apostle organized his thoughts. Verses 8-9, 10-11, and 12-13 fit
together tightly. Let‘s follow that blueprint.
Verses 8-9. Paul first stated that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. The word
flesh here refers to persons who are not Christian believers and thus do not have the Holy
Spirit residing in their lives. Consequently, he or she is unable to be or to do what pleases
God. Paul gave no wiggle room here, no exceptions, no other possibilities. People
determined to live apart from the living Christ cannot please God in any way—by
sacrificial services, religious observances, charitable donations, or other actions they hope
win His approval! Elsewhere, the Book of Hebrews makes the same point that ―without
faith [in Christ] it is impossible to please God‖ (Heb. 11:6).
Paul next stated his confidence that his readers in Rome were without doubt Christians.
The apostle worded his self-assurance by abruptly contrasting them from those in the flesh
with You, however. He then stated the key evidence of their salvation. They were not in the
flesh, meaning life apart from the Holy Spirit and in persistent independence from God.
Rather they were in the Spirit, living in obedience to the Holy Spirit as He empowered and
Paul was not yet done characterizing the Roman believers. He penned his words in
strong conviction: the Spirit of God lives in you. Lives conveys the sense of permanent
residence. The Holy Spirit was there to stay. His permanent residence in their lives would
Paul next stated that the Holy Spirit‘s absence from one‘s life is certain proof he or she
is not a Christian. The apostle was forceful and point blank with his conclusion. If one does
not have the Spirit of Christ, the certain reality is that person does not belong to Him.
Words, even deeds, may deceive, but what proves and declares a person‘s salvation is the
indwelling of God‘s Spirit. Paul used three terms synonymously in reference to the Holy
Spirit (―Spirit,‖ ―Spirit of God,‖ and ―Spirit of Christ‖) to stress one reality—people who
truly belong to the living Christ have His Spirit permanently abiding and working in their
Verses 10-11. Paul‘s use of the little Greek word de at the beginning of both verses 10
and 11 shows connection and continuation to the previous verses. Paul pointed out two
wonderful results of the Spirit‘s presence and work in believers‘ lives.
The first result of Christ living in you is set up by the fact that the body is dead because
of sin. What did he mean? Likely Paul referred to the Christian‘s physical body and its
certain death. Even though Christ lives in believers, we will die physically because of sin.
Those who belong to Christ still experience the temporal punishment for their sin—
physical death. That‘s the bad news.
The first result of Christ‘s living presence in all believers is good news, wonderful
news—the Spirit is life because of righteousness. Again, how are we to understand this
reality, which is descriptive of every believer? Likely Paul‘s teaching here means the final
outcome of the life-giving Spirit in Christians is resurrection to life. Those whom God
declares righteous on behalf of Christ and their faith in Him will live forever in His
presence and favor.
In verse 11, Paul restated and expanded his teaching in verse 10. Here the apostle
emphasized the relationship of the Holy Spirit to resurrection. If (here meaning since and
thus certainty) points to a reality—the Spirit, the One who raised Jesus from the dead lives
in all believers. That being true, the second wonderful result is certain. And what is that?
Paul‘s answer is that the same Spirit, the One who then lived in all the believers at Rome,
will also bring all believers‘ mortal bodies to life. The Spirit of God in us, who empowers
us to live new lives in Christ, will accomplish our resurrection to everlasting life by the
same power that raised Jesus from death! Amazing!
Verses 12-13. Here Paul drew a conclusion regarding his teaching in verses 8-11. So
then let the Roman believers know he was nearing the end of instructions about the Holy
Spirit‘s presence and work, and consequently their opportunities and responsibilities. Paul
next referred to his readers as brothers, a term of equality and esteem, identifying them as
What did Paul conclude? Using the word live three times in these two verses, Paul
pinpointed how believers should not live and how they should live. First, he stated the
negative. Christians have no obligation or debt, none whatsoever, to live according to the
flesh, referring to sinful desires still resident in all believers. Yes, believers face temptations
their entire lives, but the habitual pattern is a life powerfully influenced by the Spirit of
You are going to die does not mean believers will cease to be Christians if they fall
back, even temporarily, into sinful ways. Rather Paul referred to the reality that life lived
according to the flesh is the distinguishing mark of a person without the Holy Spirit
resident and powerfully at work in his or her life.
Second, Paul stated the positive. He characterized believers as those who by the
Spirit…put to death the deeds of the body. In other words, the Holy Spirit, living and
working in Christians‘ lives, powerfully enables them to spurn sin rather than embrace sin.
The Holy Spirit makes the difference in the battle against sin.
By the Spirit is the answer to the question, How can I defeat sin and live a holy life each
day? All believers have God‘s promise that if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the
body the wonderful result is you will live the Christian life successfully.
Barclay: ENTRY INTO THE FAMILY OF GOD. Romans 8:12–17.
So then, brothers, a duty is laid upon us – and that duty is not to our own sinful
human nature, to live according to the principles of that same nature; for, if you live
according to the principles of sinful human nature, you are on the way to death; but
if by the spirit you kill the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are guided
by the Spirit of God, these, and only these, are the children of God. For you did not
receive a state whose dominating condition is slavery so that you might relapse into
fear; but you received a state whose dominating characteristic is adoption, in which
we cry: ‗Abba! Father!‘ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are
children of God. If we are children, then we are also heirs; and if we are the heirs of
God, then we are joint heirs with Christ. If we suffer with him, we shall also be
glorified with him. Barclay, William (2010-11-05). The Letter to the Romans (New
Daily Study Bible) (p. 124). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
PAUL is introducing us to another of the great metaphors in which he describes the
new relationship of Christians to God. He speaks of Christians being adopted into the
family of God. It is only when we understand how serious and complicated a step
Roman adoption was that we really understand the depth of meaning in this passage.
Roman adoption was always rendered more serious and more difficult by the Roman
patria potestas. This was the father‘s power over his family; it was the power of
absolute disposal and control, and in the early days it was actually the power of life
and death. In relation to his father, a Roman son never came of age. No matter how old
he was, he was still under the patria potestas, in the absolute possession and under the
absolute control of his father. Obviously, this made adoption into another family a very
difficult and serious step. In adoption, a person had to pass from one patria potestas to
There were two steps. The first was known as mancipatio, and was carried out by a
symbolic sale, in which copper and scales were symbolically used. Three times the
symbolism of sale was carried out. Twice the father symbolically sold his son, and
twice he bought him back; but the third time he did not buy him back, and thus the
patria potestas was held to be broken. There followed a ceremony called vindicatio.
The adopting father went to the praetor, one of the Roman magistrates, and presented a
legal case for the transference of the person to be adopted into his patria potestas.
When all this had been done, the adoption was complete.
Clearly, this was a serious and an impressive step. But it is the consequences of
adoption that are most significant for the picture that is in Paul‘s mind.
There were four main ones.
(1) The adopted person lost all rights in his old family and gained all the rights of a
legitimate son in his new family. In the most binding legal way, he got a new father.
(2) It followed that he became heir to his new father‘s estate. Even if other sons were
born afterwards, it did not affect his rights. He was co-heir with them, and no one
could deny him that right.
(3) In law, the old life of the adopted person was completely wiped out; for instance,
all debts were cancelled. He was regarded as a new person entering into a new life in
which the past had no part.
(4) In the eyes of the law, he was absolutely the son of his new father. Roman history
provides an outstanding case of how completely this was held to be true.
The Emperor Claudius adopted Nero in order that he might succeed him to the throne;
they were not in any sense blood relatives. Claudius already had a daughter, Octavia.
To cement the alliance, Nero wished to marry her. Nero and Octavia were not blood
relatives; yet, in the eyes of the law, they were brother and sister; and before they
could marry, the Roman senate had to pass special legislation. That is what Paul is
thinking of. He uses yet another picture from Roman adoption.
He says that God‘s spirit witnesses with our spirit that we really are his children. The
adoption ceremony was carried out in the presence of seven witnesses. Now, suppose
the adopting father died and there was some dispute about the right of the adopted son
to inherit, one or more of the seven witnesses stepped forward and swore that the
adoption was genuine. Thus the right of the adopted person was guaranteed, and he
entered into his inheritance. So, Paul is saying, it is the Holy Spirit who is the witness
to our adoption into the family of God.
So, we see that every step of Roman adoption was meaningful in the mind of Paul
when he transferred the picture to our adoption into the family of God. Once, we were
in the absolute control of our own sinful human nature; but God, in his mercy, has
brought us into his absolute possession. The old life has no more rights over us; God
has an absolute right. The past is cancelled and its debts are wiped out; we begin a new
life with God and become heirs of all his riches.
If that is so, we become joint heirs with Jesus Christ, God‘s own Son. Whatever Christ
inherits, we also inherit. If Christ had to suffer, we also inherit that suffering; but, if
Christ was raised to life and glory, we also inherit that life and glory. It was Paul‘s
picture that when people became Christians they entered into the very family of God.
They did nothing to deserve it; God, the great Father, in his amazing love and mercy,
has taken lost, helpless, poverty-stricken, debt-laden sinners and adopted them into his
own family, so that the debts are cancelled and the glory inherited.
14 All those led by God‘s Spirit are God‘s sons.
15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received
the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ―Abba, Father!‖
16 The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God‘s children,
17 and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and coheirs with Christ—seeing that we
suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.
Key Words: Suffer with Him (v. 17)—Believers do not suffer to gain salvation. Their path,
however, sometimes involves opposition and hardship Identity with Christ is to follow Him
in sacrificial service.
In verses 8-13 Paul planted with a thud a big footprint, and the believers surely got the
point of his teaching. That instruction was that the Holy Spirit empowers believers to live
godly, not sinfully. Sinners, once without power to conquer sin, now as Christians can walk
the pathway of righteousness. What a wonder!
Perhaps Paul mused at this point whether the Roman believers were thinking something
like, This is all good, Paul, but will the presence and power of the Holy Spirit live in me
every day and always? Is His presence temporary or permanent? Can I really expect the
Spirit of God to stay at my side no matter what? Whether this speculation was actual we do
not know. We do know Paul stressed the permanence of the Spirit‘s living relationship in all
believers. Paul‘s teachings in these verses have brought comfort, joy, thanksgiving, and
peace to God‘s people across the many centuries since he set out to write this letter.
Notice the apostle‘s emphasis on the fact of the believer‘s relationship with the Spirit.
Christians are God‘s children. Paul used adoption to describe our family tie to the Spirit.
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God‘s people call Him Father. Believers are God‘s children and therefore heirs of God and
co-heirs with Christ. Christians, furthermore, will be glorified with Him. Christians indeed
make up the family of God on earth worldwide.
One can sense this family belonging-ness in verses 14-17. In them Paul penned four
realities regarding the Holy Spirit‘s relationship and effect with all believers. First, those in
whom the Spirit lives are led by Him. The original verb translated led is in a form that
implies characteristic behavior—not flawless, but not whimsical or occasional. The Spirit
doesn‘t live in believers merely to extinguish flash fires of temptation. He is there
permanently to guide God‘s people in all dimensions of the Christian life.
Paul did not elaborate about the Holy Spirit‘s action of leading those in whom He
permanently dwells. By experience gained over time, however, believers know the Spirit‘s
leading. For example, He enables them to turn their backs to sin‘s open doors, speaks
persuasively to their hearts about obeying a particular biblical teaching, emboldens
believers to witness for Christ in a hostile situation, fills them with love for a mean-spirited
relative or coworker, or strengthens personal faith in God when trials overwhelm. Paul‘s
principle point is that persons so led by the Spirit are God‘s children—no doubt about it!
Faith in Christ results in belonging to God‘s family. The reality of that state and
relationship will not, indeed cannot, change.
The second result of the Spirit‘s indwelling is that believers come into God‘s family by
adoption. Paul‘s statement is they received the Spirit of adoption. Notice the specific
wording to contrast believers‘ past and present. When the Roman Christians heard and
believed the gospel about Christ, they did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into
fear. A fearful relationship with a cruel master was not the outcome of their faith. Rather,
they received adoption. The loving Father embraces believers in His arms and makes them
His children! Would God ever abandon those He adopted as His very own? The answer is,
of course not! They are His forever!
Paul next focused on the comforting outcome of the Father‘s embrace of those He
makes His own. God‘s adopted children, secure in His loving welcome with opened arms,
cry out, ―Abba, Father!‖ Abba was an Aramaic term for father. Jesus spoke this word in
Gethsemane when He unburdened His heart to the Father in heaven (Mark 14:36). With
confidence but not irreverence, believers also can approach the Heavenly Father and
receive His loving attention and response to our praise, thanksgiving, and needs. We are
family, and God is our Father—a relationship for all time and eternity.
Third, believers‘ relationship with the living God confirms that we belong to God‘s
family. How so? Paul pointed out that the Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit.
What is the subject of this continuous communication, and what is the wonderful result of
this ongoing testimony we hear not with our ears but with our hearts? The answer is we are
God‘s children. Paul didn‘t spell out specifically how this comforting communication
occurs between God and His children. The believer‘s joy and peace is not dependent on
understanding how the Spirit confirms his or her relationship with the living God. That
Christians experience this communication is grand enough. God saves us. God adopts us.
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God assures us that we belong to Him and He belongs to us. No greater endorsement can
Fourth, if (here meaning ―because‖) in fact believers are God‘s children, then they are
heirs of God as well as co-heirs with Christ. Because Christians are God‘s children, they
have an inheritance awaiting them in heaven. That inheritance is sharing in the Father‘s and
the Son‘s glory. Serving and suffering for Christ now will result in sharing in His glory in
heaven. The promise of such an everlasting state is unspeakably glorious and grand. Grace
leads to glory forever for those who, by grace through Christ, are His own forever. For His
family members, this is our certain inheritance.
Barclay. THE GLORIOUS HOPE Romans 8:18–25
For I am convinced that the sufferings of this present age cannot be compared
with the glory which is destined to be disclosed to us. The created world awaits
with eager expectation the day when those who are the sons of God will be
displayed in all their glory. For the created world has been subjected to chaos, not
because of its own choice, but through him who passed the sentence of such
subjugation upon it, and yet it still has the hope that the created world also will be
liberated from this slavery to decay and will be brought to the freedom of the glory
of the children of God; for we know that the whole creation unites together in
groans and agonies. Not only does the created world do so, but so do we, even
though we have received the first fruits of the spirit as a foretaste of the coming
glory; yes, we too groan within ourselves earnestly awaiting the full realization of
our adoption into the family of God. I mean the redemption of our body. For it is by
hope that we are saved; but a hope which is already visible is not a hope; for who
hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, then in
patience we eagerly wait for it.
PAUL has just been speaking of the glory of adoption into the family of God; and
then he comes back to the troubled state of this present world. He draws a great
picture. He speaks with a poet‘s vision. He sees all nature waiting for the glory that
At the moment, creation is in bondage to decay. As that great hymn ‗Abide with
me‘ has it: Change and decay in all around I see. The world is one where beauty fades
and loveliness decays; it is a dying world; but it is waiting for its liberation from all
this, and the coming of the state of glory.
When Paul was painting this picture, he was working with ideas that any Jew
would recognize and understand. He talks of this present age and of the glory that
will be disclosed. Jewish thought divided time into two sections – this present age
and the age to come. This present age was wholly bad, subject to sin, death, and
decay. Someday, there would come the day of the Lord. That would be a day of
judgment when the world would be shaken to its foundations; but out of it there
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would come a new world. The renewal of the world was one of the great Jewish
The Old Testament speaks of it without elaboration and without detail. ‗For I am
about to create new heavens and a new earth‘ (Isaiah 65:17). But, in the days between
the Testaments, when the Jews were oppressed, enslaved, and persecuted, they
dreamed their dreams of that new earth and that renewed world.
The vine shall yield its fruit 10,000 fold, and on each vine there shall be 1,000
branches; and each branch shall produce 1,000 clusters; and each cluster produce
1,000 grapes; and each grape a cor of wine. And those who have hungered shall
rejoice; moreover, also, they shall behold marvels every day. For winds shall go forth
from before me to bring every morning the fragrance of aromatic fruits, and at the
close of the day clouds distilling the dews of health. (The Apocalypse of Baruch
And earth, and all the trees, and the innumerable flocks of sheep shall give their
true fruit to mankind, of wine and of sweet honey and of white milk and corn, which
to men is the most excellent gift of all. (Sibylline Oracles 3:620–33.)
Earth, the universal mother, shall give to mortals her best fruit in countless stores
of corn, wine and oil. Yea, from heaven shall come a sweet draught of luscious
honey. The trees shall yield their proper fruits, and rich flocks, and kine, and lambs of
sheep and kids of goats. He will cause sweet fountains of white milk to burst forth.
And the cities shall be full of good things, and the fields rich; neither shall there be
any sword throughout the land or battle-din; nor shall the earth be convulsed any
more with deep-drawn groans. No war shall be any more, nor shall there be any more
droughts throughout the land, no famine, or hail to work havoc on the crops.
(Sibylline Oracles 3:744–56.)
The dream of the renewed world was dear to the Jews. Paul knew that; and here
he, as it were, endows creation with consciousness. He thinks of nature longing for
the day when sin‘s dominion would be broken, death and decay would be gone, and
God‘s glory would come. With a touch of imaginative insight, he says that the state
of nature was even worse than the human state. Human beings had sinned
deliberately; but it was involuntarily that nature was subjected to the consequences of
sin. Unwittingly, nature was involved in the consequences of human sin. ‗Cursed is
the ground because of you,‘ God said to Adam after his sin (Genesis 3:17).
So here, with a poet‘s eye, Paul sees nature waiting for liberation from the death
and decay that human sin had brought into the world. If that is true of nature, it is
even more true for us. So, Paul goes on to think of human longing. In the experience
of the Holy Spirit, men and women had a foretaste, a first installment, of the glory
that shall be; now they long with all their hearts for the full realization of what
adoption into the family of God means. That final adoption will be the forward,
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eagerly searching the distance for the first signs of the dawn breaking – the daybreak
To Paul, life was not a weary, defeated waiting; it was a throbbing, vivid
expectation. Christians are involved in the human situation. Within, they must battle
with their own evil human nature; without, they must live in a world of death and
decay. Nonetheless, Christians do not live only in the world; they also live in Christ.
They do not see only the world; they look beyond it to God. They do not see only the
consequences of human sin; they see the power of God‘s mercy and love.
Therefore, the keynote of the Christian life is always hope and never despair.
Christians wait not for death but for life.
ALL IS OF GOD.
Romans 8:26–30 Even so, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not
know what we should pray, if we are to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself
intercedes for us with groanings which baffle speech to utter; but he who searches
the hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because it is by God‘s will that he
intercedes for those whose lives are consecrated to God. We know that God
intermingles all things for good for those who love him, for those who are called
according to his purpose. For those whom he knew long ago, he long ago designed
to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the first-born among
many brothers. Those whom he long ago designed for this purpose, he also called;
and those whom he called, he put into a right relationship with himself; and those
whom he put into a right relationship with himself, he also glorified.
THE first two verses form one of the most important passages on prayer in the
whole New Testament. Paul is saying that, because of our weakness, we do not know
what to pray for, but the prayers we ought to offer are offered for us by the Holy
Spirit. The New Testament scholar C. H. Dodd defines prayer in this way: ‗Prayer is
the divine in us appealing to the Divine above us.‘
There are two very obvious reasons why we cannot pray as we ought. First, we
cannot pray aright because we cannot foresee the future. We cannot see a year or
even an hour ahead; and we may well pray, therefore, to be saved from things which
are for our good, and we may well pray for things which would be to our ultimate
harm. Second, we cannot pray aright because in any given situation we do not know
what is best for us. We are often in the position of children who want something
which would be bound only to hurt them; and God is often in the position of parents
who have to refuse their children‘s requests or compel them to do something they do
not want to do, because the parents know what is good for them far better than the
Even the Greeks knew that. Pythagoras forbade his disciples to pray for
themselves, because, he said, they could never in their ignorance know what was
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appropriate and best for them. Xenophon tells us that Socrates taught his disciples
simply to pray for good things, and not to attempt to specify them, but to leave God
to decide what the good things were.
C. H. Dodd puts it in this way. We cannot know our own real need; we cannot
with our finite minds grasp God‘s plan; in the last analysis, all that we can bring to
God is an inarticulate sigh which the Spirit will translate to God for us. As Paul saw
it, prayer, like everything else, is of God. He knew that by no possible human effort
can we justify ourselves; and he also knew that by no possible effort of the human
intelligence can we know what to pray for.
In the last analysis, the perfect prayer is simply: ‗Father, into your hands I
commend my spirit. Not my will, but yours be done.‘ But Paul goes on from there.
He says that those who love God, and who are called according to his purpose, know
very well that God is ‗intermingling all things for good‘ for them. It is the experience
of life for Christians that all things do work together for good. We do not need to be
very old to look back and see that things we thought were disasters worked out for
our good; things that we thought were disappointments worked out as greater
blessings. But we have to note that that experience comes only to those who love
The Stoics had a great idea which may well have been in Paul‘s mind when he
wrote this passage. One of their great conceptions was the logos of God. The logos
was the mind or the reason of God. The Stoics believed that this world was
permeated with that logos. It was the logos which put sense into the world. It was the
logos which kept the stars in their courses and the planets in their appointed tracks. It
was the logos which controlled the ordered succession of night and day, and summer
and winter and spring and autumn. The logos was the reason and the mind of God in
the universe, making it an order and not a chaos.
The Stoics went further. They believed that the logos not only had an order for the
universe, but also a plan and a purpose for the life of every individual. To put it in
another way, the Stoics believed that nothing could happen to anyone which did not
come from God and which was not part of God‘s plan for every individual. Epictetus
writes: ‗Have courage to look up to God and to say: ―Deal with me as thou wilt from
now on. I am as one with thee; I am thine; I flinch from nothing so long as thou dost
think that it is good. Lead me where thou wilt; put on me what raiment thou wilt.
Wouldst thou have me hold office or eschew it, stay or flee, be rich or poor? For this I
will defend thee before men.‖‘
The Stoics taught that the duty of every individual was acceptance. If people
accepted the things that God sent them, they knew peace. If they struggled against
them, they were uselessly battering their heads against the unavoidable purpose of
Paul has the very same thought. He says that all things work together for good, but
only to those who love God. If people love, trust and accept God, if they are
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convinced that God is the all-wise and all-loving Father, then they can humbly accept
all that he sends to them. A person may go to a physician and be prescribed a course
of treatment which at the time is unpleasant or even painful; but, through trusting the
doctor‘s wisdom and skill, the thing that is difficult to bear becomes acceptable. It is
the same for us if we love God.
But if people do not love and trust God, they may well resent what happens to
them and may well fight against God‘s will. It is only to those who love and trust that
all things work together for good, for to those men and women they come from a
Father who in perfect wisdom, love and power is always working for the best.
Paul goes further; he goes on to speak of the spiritual experience of every
Christian. The Authorized Version rendering is famous. ‗For whom he did foreknow
he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the
firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also
called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified them he
also glorified.‘ This is a passage which has been very seriously misused. If we are
ever to understand it, we must grasp the basic fact that Paul never meant it to be the
expression of theology or philosophy; he meant it to be the almost lyrical expression
of Christian experience. If we take it as philosophy and theology and apply the
standards of cold logic to it, it must mean that God chose some and did not choose
But that is not what it means. Think of the Christian experience. The more
Christians think of their experience, the more they become convinced that they had
nothing to do with it and everything comes from God. Jesus Christ came into this
world; he lived; he went to the cross; he rose again. We did nothing to bring that
about; that is God‘s work. We heard the story of this wondrous love. We did not make
the story; we only received the story. Love woke within our hearts; the conviction of
sin came, and with it came the experience of forgiveness and of salvation. We did not
achieve that; all is of God.
That is what Paul is thinking of here. The Old Testament has an illuminating use
of the word to know. As the Revised Standard Version has it, ‗I knew you in the
wilderness,‘ said God to Hosea about the people of Israel (Hosea 13:5). ‗You only
have I known of all the families of the earth,‘ said God to Amos (Amos 3:2). When
the Bible speaks of God knowing someone, it means that he has a purpose and a plan
and a task for that person.
And when we look back upon our Christian experience, all we can say is: ‗I did
not do this; I could never have done this; God did everything.‘ And we know very
well that this does not take free will away. God knew Israel, but the day came when
Israel refused the destiny it was meant by God to have. God‘s unseen guidance is in
our lives, but to the end of the day we can refuse it and take our own way. It is the
deep experience of Christians that all is of God; that they did nothing and that God
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That is what Paul means here. He means that from the beginning of time God
marked us out for salvation; that in due time his call came to us; but the pride of
human hearts can wreck God‘s plan, and the disobedience of human will can refuse
26 In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not
know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with
27 And He who searches the hearts knows the Spirit‘s mind-set, because He
intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Key Words: Unspoken groanings (v. 26)—The phrase describes the intensity with which the
Spirit intercedes for God‘s people.
Paul‘s introductory phrase In the same way connects his teaching in verses 26-27 to the
previous context in verses 18-25. There Paul focused on the reality that both creation and
believers groan to be released from the marring and scarring sin has created with
devastating effect on the earth and on all people. Until that time of global change (v. 21)
and believers‘ ―redemption of our bodies‖ (v. 23), the Holy Spirit is interceding in prayer
on behalf of all God‘s people.
Paul connected his teaching in these two verses with the statement in verse 23, where he
pointed out that those with the Spirit ―groan‖ within themselves as does the Holy Spirit on
behalf of all believers. Although similar, the groanings are not identical. Believers groan for
heaven and the ―redemption of our bodies‖ (v. 23), while the Spirit groans in prayer for
believers with unspoken groanings.
The reason the Spirit prays on our behalf is to help in our weakness. Sometimes our
weakness is that we do not know what to pray for as we should. He, thankfully, does know.
The Holy Spirit is perfectly aware of the Father‘s will. Consequently the Spirit intercedes
for the saints according to the will of God. Paul‘s point is that believers sometimes find
themselves uncertain what to pray or inadequate to fully express to God their prayers apart
from the Spirit‘s work on their behalf.
The Spirit‘s groanings express our hearts and our needs more fully and precisely than we
ever could and with truer insight as well. He knows every believer intimately and God‘s
will for each one perfectly. The Holy Spirit faithfully intercedes for us in ways too deep for
language to fathom but always for God‘s glory in our lives.
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The Setting—Romans 7 is in the middle of Paul‘s long discussion of our salvation. Starting
at 3:24 Paul stressed the word picture of justification by faith as the way God provided
salvation through Jesus Christ. In chapter 4 he illustrated this doctrine with the life of
Abraham. In chapter 5 Paul contrasted Adam‘s sin and Jesus‘ obedience to God as two ways
of life, condemnation and salvation. In chapter 6 Paul noted that our salvation means we are
free from the dominion of sin. Now in chapter 7 he turned to the Christian‘s relation to the
law and the continuing struggle with sin.
Bible students have often puzzled over the interpretation of chapter 7. One of the key issues
is Paul‘s use of ―I.‖ The issues are complex, but here are some of the questions and views.
First, was Paul writing about himself personally? Is this text part of Paul‘s spiritual
autobiography? Or, does his ―I‖ refer to others as well? Second, is Paul writing about his
experience before he became a Christian? He might be personifying the experience of a Jew
struggling with legalism. He might even mean the ―I‖ as a reference to the experience of
Adam in Genesis 3. Or, is he writing about the struggles of a Christian? If so, is this an
immature Christian or a mature believer? Certainly Paul was a mature believer when he
wrote this letter.
Although scholars offer strong arguments for many of these interpretations, the perspective
presented here is that Paul uses the ―I‖ because he wrote about himself. But this
autobiographical account exemplifies the struggle facing all believers. Both new Christians
and veteran Christians can benefit from studying this text.
Flesh—The Greek word sarx appears many times in Paul‘s letters. Although the word can
refer to the physical body, it often carries the theological meaning of the total person in
opposition to God.
The word in 7:14 is sarkinas. While it might be rendered ―unspiritual‖ (NIV) or ―carnal‖
(KJV), it refers to being ―fleshy‖ rather than ―fleshly‖ in this context. The Greek word
sarkikos more clearly refers to sinful behavior. Paul stressed the sinful aspect of flesh in the
list of ―works of the flesh‖ in Galatians 5:19-21.
The law of my mind—In 7:23 Paul referred to the law of my mind as one of three laws.
The Greek word nomos (law) has a range of meaning. Paul noted a law related to his body, a
law related to his mind, and the law of sin. The law of his mind is probably ―the principle of
rational thought.‖1 Although Paul occasionally criticized pagan intellectuals for their false
teachings (Col. 2:8), he was never anti-mind or anti-reason. Instead, his goal was to take
―every thought captive to obey Christ‖ (2 Cor. 10:5). Our minds can help us in the struggle
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The law of sin—This law is one of three laws in 7:23. The Greek word nomos or ―law‖ here
might be rendered ―principle‖ since it refers to our human tendency to sin. We have been
saved from the penalty of sin, but we still live in a fallen world. We face temptations daily,
and sometimes we are spiritually weak enough to succumb to those temptations.
Condemnation—The Greek word katakrima in 8:1 refers to God‘s negative evaluation of our
sins. The word can refer both to God‘s judgment of our sins and the punishing of those sins.
Earlier Paul wrote that Adam‘s sin in Genesis 8 led to ―condemnation for everyone‖ (5:18).
Paul stressed that we are no longer under God‘s condemnation because of our salvation in
Christ and the empowering work of the Holy Spirit.
CONDEMN: Condemn is the act of pronouncing someone guilty after weighing the
Old Testament: The word appears first in the context of a court of law (Ex. 22:9) where a
judge hears a charge against a thief and condemns the culprit. Another juridical instance
appears in Deuteronomy 25:1 where judges are instructed to hear cases, decide on the issue,
and ―condemn the wicked.‖ In Psalm 94:20-21 the writer accuses corrupt judges who
―condemn the innocent,‖ and in Psalm 109:31 he thanks God for saving the poor man ―from
those who condemn him to death‖ (TEV).
―Condemn‖ is also used in making everyday personal judgments as in the Book of Job.
Feeling helpless before God‘s power and righteousness, Job knew that no matter how he tried
to defend himself, his own mouth would condemn him (9:20). He begged God not to
condemn him but to explain why He was making him suffer (10:2). After Job‘s advisors had
had their say, Elihu saw that all three ―had condemned Job‖ (32:3). Other instances of the
word being used in everyday judgments appear in Isaiah 50:9; 54:17.
The more significant use of ―condemn‖ is in connection with God‘s judgment. In dedicating
the new Temple, Solomon prayed that God would judge His people, ―condemning the wicked
and justifying the righteous‖ (1 Kings 8:32). The writer of Proverbs expected the Lord to
condemn ―those who plan evil‖ (12:2 TEV). The psalmist was sure God would not forsake a
good man or allow him ―to be condemned when he is on trial‖ (37:33 TEV). On the other
hand, the Lord asked Job whether he wanted to condemn Him just to prove his own
New Testament: Several Greek words are translated ―condemn‖ and ―condemnation‖ with a
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progression of meaning from just making a distinction to making an unfavorable judgment.
The three-way usage of the word in the Old Testament continued into the New. The law court
context is seen in Jesus‘ prediction of His coming trial in Jerusalem (Matt. 20:18), in a
remark of one of the men crucified with Jesus (Luke 23:40), and in the final vote of the
Sanhedrin (Mark 14:64).
―Condemn‖ was also used in Jesus‘ day in making personal judgments of others. For
instance, Jesus said the men of Nineveh would condemn His own unrepentant generation
(Matt. 12:41); James warned the brethren that teachers were subject to greater criticism (Jas.
3:1); and Paul urged Titus to use healthful speech in his teaching to avoid criticism (Titus
2:8). As in the Old Testament, God is also the source of condemnation in the New. He was
responsible for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (2 Pet. 2:6), and He condemned sin
in human nature by sending His own Son (Rom. 8:3).
New Testament usage of ―condemn‖ is unique in its reference to the final judgment,
especially in John 3:17-19. A similar teaching appears in John 5:24. Paul felt that avoiding
that final condemnation was a reason for accepting the Lord‘s chastening in this life (1 Cor.
ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND READING:
ROME In ROMANS A Cultural Reflection
By Timothy Trammell, professor emeritus of biblical studies at Dallas Baptist University and
is associate pastor at Hillcrest Baptist Church, Cedar Hill, Texas.
HOW INDEBTED WE ARE to the apostle Paul! Without his 13 Spirit-led letters in our New
Testament, we would lack many key truths of the Christian faith. Indeed, his letter to the
believers at Rome is one of the most significant.
Paul wrote this letter in order to persuade his audience of the truths of the gospel. Knowing
that a single word or well-turned phrase can paint a splendid picture for the careful reader,
Paul filled his letter with well-known, culturally relevant topics and metaphors in order to
communicate those truths.
War and Warfare—Romans 7, particularly verses 14 through 24, picture the spiritual warfare
of the apostle Paul. The passage seems to detail the struggle of Paul the Pharisee, who was
aware of the requirements of the law of God yet was unable to meet its demands.
Consequently he saw ―a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the
law of my mind‖ (7:23)1 The result of the conflict is the anguished cry, ―Wretched man that I
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am!‖ (v. 24).
To affirm that Rome and the empire were inseparably linked with war and conflict would be
an understatement. Conflict with the Etruscans, the Italic tribes, the Carthaginians, and the
Seleucids, among so many others, marks Roman Empire history.
Although the first century AD was one of relative peace, Rome‘s 25 legions were spread
across the Empire. The Roman historian Tacitus lists their deployment in AD 23, telling us
that eight were on the Rhine, three in Spain, two in Africa, two in Egypt, four in Syria, and
the remaining six in various parts of Europe.2
One wonders if former legionaries were believers and a part of the church at Rome.
Obviously we cannot be certain, but in the first century AD, two-thirds of the legionaries
were natives of Italy.
Armor—In Romans 13:12, Paul encouraged the Christians in Rome to ―lay aside the deeds of
darkness and put on the armor of light.‖ He did not describe here the details of the armor as
in Ephesians 6, yet he employed a derivative of the Greek term hoplon. It is a rather general
term that may be translated ―weapon.‖ Yet the New American Standard Bible prefers
―armon,‖ because the term eventually referred to a heavily armored infantry soldier.
Sword—The apostle declared that the ―sword,‖ (Greek machaira, Rom. 8:35) was one of the
instruments incapable of separating us from the love of Christ. This term describes the short
sword used effectively by the legionaries. The word pictures a sword that is distinct from a
large sword, the rhomphaia.
Interestingly machaira may refer to a large knife used for killing and preparing animals.
Matthew 26:51 uses this term to tell of the action of Simon Peter cutting off the ear of the
servant of the high priest.
Throughout Paul‘s letters he made use of athletic imagery, and this was certainly true of
Romans. Roman citizens were quite involved with athletic events. Four major events were
held in highest regard: the Isthmian, Nemean, Pythian, and Olympic games. In drawing from
the imagery of running and the strict training of athletes, Paul described certain aspects of the
Running—In Romans 9:16, Paul used the athletic metaphor of running to reject the idea that
salvation depends on the efforts of the individual. He affirmed, ―So then it does not depend
on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.‖ The term Paul used
is the participial form of the Greek verb trecho. It pictures the foot races in the stadium and
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focuses on exerting oneself to the limit of one‘s powers. The running motif is also in Romans
12:11. Paul in surrounding verses had been urging Roman Christians to have sincere love for
fellow believers, ―not lagging behind in diligence.‖
In the Olympic games, one of the long-distance events covered over 5,000 yards. The
stamina required for such a distance may be what Paul was considering when he compared it
to the Christian life.3
Training—Paul used the Greek adjective gumnos in Romans 8:35, which the NASB
translates simply ―nakedness.‖ It is a cognate of the verb gumnazo and the adjective
gumnasia, from which we get our English word, ―gymnasium.‖ The image here is of the
strenuous exercising an athlete does to prepare for various athletic events.
Paul‘s letter to the church at Rome by its very nature and design is a religious document.
One would thus anticipate the use of several religious allusions.
Sacrifice—As Paul moved to the explicitly hortatory passages of the Roman letter, he urged
his readers ―to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice‖ (12:1). Such terminology
would strike a familiar chord with citizens of Rome, for animal sacrifice was one of the most
important aspects of Roman religion. If animals went willingly to their slaughter, the
Romans considered it a good sign. Thus Paul‘s writing of a ―living sacrifice‖ would receive
a ready hearing.
Temple—Only one time in Romans does Paul use the world ―temple‖ (2:22), but he alludes to
temple service in 15:27. The verb used is leitourgeo. It is translated ―to minister‖ in NASB
but may well be translated ―priestly service.‖
As well, the ―introduction by faith‖ in 5:2 clearly pictures an approach to the King in the
sanctuary, the temple. The Romans tended to build their temples on raised platforms
approached by many steps. They were usually rectangular buildings with four main features:
(1) the inner room, or cella, contained the statue of the god to whom the temple was
dedicated together with an altar for the burning of incense; (2) a room or rooms behind the
cella for the preservation of treasures; (3) an anteroom located in front of the cella,
surrounded by (4) a roofed colonnade. . . . A stone altar was usually located in front of the
temple, where animal sacrifices were made.4
Enslavement and Punishment
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Slavery—In affirming that his readers were ―led by the Spirit‖ and as such were ―sons of
God,‖ Paul declared, ―For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again‖
(8:14,15). Slavery was an integral part of the first-century AD world and was the accepted
norm of Roman society. Various writers of the period suggest that from a fourth to a third of
Rome‘s population were slaves.
Prior to the first century AD, the primary means by which persons were enslaved were by
capture in war and kidnapping by pirates. However, when Rome‘s great wars of conquest
ceased after the death of Augustus Caesar, slaves‘ children and the selling of oneself into
slavery for various reasons were the primary sources of slaves.
Many non-Romans sold themselves to Roman citizens with the justified expectation that they
themselves would become Roman citizens when freed. The money a person gained by
selling himself or herself into slavery became the beginning of the funds that would later
purchase the slave‘s freedom.
Roman laws allowed slaves to own property—even other slaves! In Roman households,
slaves were cooks, personal attendants, tutors, physicians, nurses, and household managers.
In the business world slaves could be salesmen or manage estates, shops, and ships.
Crucifixion—After reminding the Roman believers that they had become united with Christ,
Paul observed ―that our old self was crucified with Him.‖ (6:6, emphasis added).
Remembering that Jesus‘ crucifixion was by Roman authority, this type of punishment
deserves our attention.
Although the Romans were not the first to practice crucifixion, they were the ones that made
it most well known. The more elite Roman writers generally agreed that it was degrading
and cruel punishment; mentioning it was, therefore, frowned upon. Not all, though, followed
this reservation, for some writers seemed to relish discussing it.5
One example of crucifixion in graffiti is particularly telling.
In 1856, a carving was found on the Palatine Hill in Rome, dating from ca. AD 225, which
depicts a person nailed to a cross with the head of an ass and another person raising their
right hand in worship. The inscription reads, “Alexamenos worships [his] god.”6
The carving seems to be a caricature of Jesus and the Christian faith and was designed to be
Roman citizens normally did not need to worry about being crucified; this punishment was
reserved for foreigners and slaves. ―The actual act of crucifying a person involved nailing or
hanging a person to a tree or to timbers in the shape of a T, X or the common modern image
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of a cross.‖7
Paul consistently proved himself to be the consummate communicator. Addressing
worshipers at the Pisidian Antioch synagogue, Paul referred to Old Testament events and
persons: Egyptian slavery, the exodus, Abraham, Samuel, Saul, David, and others (Acts
13:13-41). Addressing philosophers and intellectuals at Athens, Paul appealed to logic and
quoted pagan poets, all to get his message across (17:19-31). Not only when speaking, but
also when writing, Paul referred to topics that would have been familiar to his readers, as
evidenced in his letter to Christians in Rome. His pattern of using appropriate yet culturally
relevant topics is a model we should follow when we are telling others about Christ.
CONDEMNATION A Word Study
By David L. Jenkins, retired pastor living in Gilmer, Texas.
―CONDEMNATION‖ IS ONE of the dark words in Holy Scripture. It does not ring with joy,
as do words like grace, or peace, or redeemed. Yet both theologically and psychologically,
condemnation is a significant biblical term. It is important theologically because it reflects a
highly, righteous God‘s reaction toward sin. Psychologically, condemnation causes people to
fear because of a sense of guilt. Even we Christians, who no longer fear condemnation, need
to grasp the seriousness of this word, for often we are tempted to judge (condemn) others,
which is exclusively God‘s prerogative.
But what of the setting in which Paul dealt with this awesome word? Can you imagine the
state of euphoria that must have gripped his amanuensis, Tertius (Rom. 16:22), as he wrote
down the powerful, inspired words of Christian doctrine that flowed from Paul‘s heart? For
nearly 25 years, Paul had preached the gospel of God‘s saving grace throughout the Roman
provinces scattered over the northeastern part of the Mediterranean. He had planted thriving
churches and dealt with people of many cultures and backgrounds. In those diverse settings
he had hammered out the fine points of his theology as he wrestled with pastoral problems
and debated with factions that opposed him. Paul was probably wintering in Corinth during
the end of his third missionary journey when he sensed God‘s Spirit leading him to write to
the believers in Rome.1 He had not established that church, but he longed to strengthen the
Christians there in their understanding of the gospel and its implications for their lives. Also
he wanted their prayers and support as he looked longingly toward Spain to begin a new
phase of his evangelistic ministry.
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The church at Rome included a majority of Gentile converts and a minority of Jewish
believers, some of whom were likely in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10,41). If
so, they joyfully brought their new belief in Jesus as Messiah back to Rome with them. In a
masterful way, Paul included in his letter to the Romans ―one of the most detailed
explanations of the Christian faith in the Bible.‖2 He also presented the ongoing conflict all
believers face as they struggle with God‘s clear commandments confronting sin‘s constant
presence to tempt and harass those who seek to walk with God in obedience and
righteousness. In the section of his letter included in chapter 7, Paul faced head-on this everpresent enemy of sin. Before his conversion, Paul had been ―a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees‖
(Acts 23:6).3 No doubt he shared the feeling of his fellow Pharisees that they were the
ultimate examples of those who kept God‘s law. After his conversion, however, Paul rejected
of his old opinions about self-righteousness.
As we read of Paul‘s personal struggle with sin (Rom. 7:20-25), we want to back away from
that scene of personal anguish. Surely Tertius, as he recorded these words, felt something of
Paul‘s spiritual pain. But suddenly, Paul‘s message changed. Based on his awareness of
Christ‘s readiness to strengthen him in the darkest hours of his struggle with sin (v. 25), Paul
proclaimed triumphantly: ―Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus‖
(8:1). He insisted that neither sin nor the law (chs. 6—7) could block a believer‘s promised
vindication in Christ.
“Condemn” in Scripture
The word ―condemn‖ appears a number of times in the Old Testament. Translated from the
Hebrew word rasha, it means ―to be wicked‖ or ―to act wickedly.‖ Another Hebrew word,
asham, means ―to offend‖ or ―to be guilty.‖ On rare occasions the Old Testament translates
this as ―to condemn‖ or ―to be condemned.‖ It describes persons who choose to live wicked
rather than a godly life. Thus they bring themselves under condemnation. Psalm 34:21
contains both Hebrew terms: ―Evil brings death to the wicked [ rasha ], and those who hate
the righteous will be punished [ asham ].‖ The prophet Ezekiel gave a welcome ray of hope
when he reminded his people (and us) that the wicked can turn from their ways, confess their
sins, and enjoy a right relationship with God (Ezek. 18:30-32).
Several Greek words in the New Testament are translated ―condemn.‖ The basic word is
krino, which means ―to judge‖ or ―to decide.‖ The noun krima (―a judgment‖) is usually
translated ―judgment‖ in the New Testament (HCSB), while the verb katakrino (―to give
judgment against, condemn‖) is usually translated ―condemn‖ or ―condemned.‖
Originally, krino and its cognates indicated simply an assessment. A person examined a
matter and then came to a conclusion about it. By [New Testament] times these words had
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become part of the legal terminology used to speak of bringing charges, of judging, and of
passing judgment. When used of God, krima (―judgment‖) is understood as ―condemnation,‖
for one judged by God is already condemned.4
For one whom God has judged ―is already condemned, because he has not believed in the
name of the One and Only Son of God‖ (John 3:18). Thus Jesus did not come to condemn
us, for those who refuse to respond to God‘s Word are already under condemnation. He
came rather to lift this dreadful sentence from those who have confessed their sins and
acknowledged Him as Lord and Savior.
This became the glory shout of Paul‘s message and the shining beacon light of his letter to
the Romans: ―Divine condemnation no longer exists for those in Christ!‖ God‘s attitude
toward believers is not one of condemnation only because of Jesus. Divine condemnation
was all the more terrifying to Paul because, after receiving Christ, he realized that keeping
God‘s law within one‘s own strength was impossible. The basic requirement of the law is
holiness (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7). Because of our innate sinfulness, the law could not
make us holy. The law spells out to us what sin is, but it cannot save us from sin because,
apart from Christ, we are eternally and hopelessly separated from God.
Believers and Divine Condemnation
Already we have seen that those who refuse to acknowledge God and enter His family
through faith in His Son (John 5:24) stand condemned because of their deliberate choice to
reject God‘s offer of salvation (Matt. 12:41-42). But what about those who have trusted
Christ as Savior? God does not see Christians as those who live above sin. In a sense, He
sees them through the filter of His Son‘s sacrificial blood, which He shed on the cross.
Neither Satan nor his emissaries can bring valid charges against God‘s people. Paul
expressed this amazing truth: ―Who can bring an accusation against God‘s elect? God is the
One who justifies‖ (Rom. 8:33).
How are believers to react to this thrilling truth? Indeed, believers are free from sin‘s
condemnation forever because we are eternally secure as members of God‘s family. Yet
Paul‘s moving confession (7:20-25) should make us aware that sin‘s temptations are
―crouching at the door‖ of our hearts, ready to lure us away from the pathway of
righteousness. God indeed condemns sin within the lives of His people. Because He loves
us, He chastens us when we disobey Him. To the believers in the church at Laodicea, the
Lord Jesus said, ―As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be committed and repent‖
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Divine condemnation is God‘s eternal judgment on sin, and it falls in all its fury on those
who reject Christ. But standing between believers and that awesome judgment is God‘s
grace manifested in the gift of His Son. For that reason, we can join with Peter in his
doxology of praise: ―You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing
Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you
are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls‖ (1 Pet. 1:8-9).
Paul’s Contrast of Flesh & Spirit
By Fred Howard, retired professor of New Testament at Wayland Baptist University,
IN ROMANS 8:5-8, Paul pointed out a stark contrast between ―flesh‖ (sarkas) and ―spirit‖
(pneuma). By ―flesh,‘ Paul did not refer to the meaty substance or tissues of the physical
body. Rather, he meant the mental attitude of unregenerated people who long for and practice
a sinful lifestyle. Thus unsaved people do not long for spiritual things but for worldly or
fleshly things. In contrast, saved people have the inner witness of the Holy Spirit to help them
focus on spiritual things. At least that is the way God intended. However, many genuine
believers live a worldly lifestyle much of the time. Accordingly, Paul wrote, ―If any man‘s
work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire‖ (1
Cor. 3:15, NASB).
Significantly, in Romans 8 the Greek word for ―spirit‖ (Pneuma) occurs 21 times. Therefore,
Romans 8 refers to the Holy Spirit more than any other chapter of Paul‘s letters. The
expression ―Spirit of God‖ and ―Spirit of Christ‖ are interchangeable. This fact agrees with
Jesus‘ statement: ―I and the Father are one‖ (John 10:30).
In Romans 8:6 Paul declared that ―the mind set on the flesh (sarkos) is death, but the mind
set on the Spirit (pneumatos) is life and peace.‖ In each occurrence ―Spirit‖ was capitalized
by the translators because it referred to the Holy Spirit. To be Spirit-controlled means to be
Christ-controlled or God-controlled. The paradox of the divine Trinity means that God
somehow is both one and three. To me, a helpful suggestion is to think of God the Father as
the originating cause of creation, revelation, and redemption; God the Son as the mediating
cause of creation, revelation, and redemption; and the Holy Spirit as the effecting cause of
creation, revelation, and redemption.
Even before his conversion, Paul‘s Jewish background and his knowledge of the Old
Testament meant that he used the terms ―flesh‖ (basar) and ―spirit‖ (ruach) with ease. For
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example, Adam referred to Eve as ―flesh of my flesh‖ (Gen 2:23). Thus, flesh as bodily
substance is neutral, not sinful. All that God created was good. Yet, even good may become
bad as the result of human abuse, resulting from the wrong use of human freedom of choice.
Because of human sin, God sent the flood ―to destroy all flesh‖ (Gen. 6:17). However, He
spared Noah and his family and also pairs of living creatures.
We may wonder how other nations and their best thinkers have dealt with questions
concerning flesh and spirit. As Paul waited for Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens, he
was provoked by the widespread idolatry. As he witnessed in the market place, the Epicurean
and Stoic philosophers were amused at his preaching. Some of them said, ―What would this
idle babbler wish to say?‖ (Acts 17:18a, NASB). Since the Greek word for ―babbler‖ means
―seedpicker,‖ they probably compared Paul with a familiar bird that searched the Athenian
streets for morsels of food. They also accused Paul of promoting ―strange deities‖ because
Paul ―was preaching Jesus and the resurrection‖ (Acts 17:18b). Since the Greek word for
―resurrection‖ is a feminine word, anastasis, (meaning ―standing up‖), the Greek
philosophers evidently though Jesus was a male deity and Anastasis was his goddess
Although we do not know the identity of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, we do know
about their background. Epicures was a Greek philosopher who taught there was no life after
death. Although his life and teaching consisted of moderation, he was disappointed in many
of his followers who lived for sensual pleasure. As a result, Epicurean philosophy became
condensed to the saying: ―Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.‖ Jesus
apparently was familiar with Epicureanism. He told a parable about a rich man who said,
―And I will say to my soul, ‗Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come, take
your ease, eat, drink and be merry‖ (Luke 12:19, NASB.).
What about the Stoics? The father of stoicism was a Greek named Zeno. Since he lectured
from a porch (stoa). Actually an open colonnade in Athens, he and his followers were called
Stoics. Their central doctrine was ―apathy‖ (apatgeua) or insensibility. Although the Stoic
philosophers in Athens ridiculed Paul, he later wrote something that they would have
approved. To the Philippians, he wrote: ―for I have learned to be content in whatever
circumstance I am‖ (Phil. 4:11, NASB). Although the Stoic philosophers usually did not
agree fully with one another, their central doctrines were ―apathy‖ and ―virtue.‖ They
acknowledged the deity of Zeus, borrowed by the Romans and renamed Jupiter. Their
concept of the afterlife was somewhat vague and evidently did not include th4e concepts of
heaven and hell. However, with their devotion to duty and refusal to complain about bodily
injury, they make excellent soldiers. Although the Romans were not as innovative as the
Greeks, they did not hesitate to borrow good ideas and use them to their advantage.
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With reference to the early religious sects, the greatest threat to the early church was
Gnosticism. The term is from gnosis, the Greek word for ―knowledge.‖ According to the
Gnostics, knowledge is superior to faith in the Christian experience. Also, the Gnostics
believed that all flesh is evil and only spirit is good. As a result, they claimed Jesus never had
a body. He just seemed to have one. From the Greek verb dokeo (meaning ―think, believe,
suppose‖), the docetic Gnostics insisted that Jesus was like a ghost or apparition. If people
reached out to touch Him, they merely were grabbing at the air. Accordingly, the incarnation
never took place. Thus, the New Testament accounts of Jesus‘ birth were just folklore, and no
virgin birth occurred.
Many Bible students believed that the apostle John challenged the Gnostics and thoroughly
exposed their false doctrines. For example, John began his Gospel with the words: ―In the
beginning as the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God‖ (John 1:1,
NASB). As a whole, the Gnostics believed that the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus at His
baptism but deserted Him at, or just before, the cross. Likely, John refuted the Gnostics when
he wrote: ―This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water
only, but with the water and with the blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the
water and with the blood‖ (1 John 5:6, NASB).
After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to the eleven who doubted that He was real. To assure
them of His resurrection, He said, ―See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me
and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have‖ (Luke 24:39,
What can we say about our modern situation? Although we do not have Gnostics,
Epicureans, and Stoics to confront, we have many differences of opinion about what is
spiritual and what is worldly or fleshly, Unfortunately, even the vocabulary of professed
Christians does not agree. To many, a ―saint‖ is a person whom the church has set apart
because of his or her outstanding ministry or service to the church. Yet, when Paul wrote ―to
those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling‖ (1 Cor. 1:2), he referred to
all genuine believers in the Corinthian church. Since the basic meaning of ―sanctify‖ is ―to
set apart,‖ God has set apart as His children all who trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
Today many professed Christians differ over the matter of formality or informality as the best
way to worship God. Although most older Christians prefer familiar hymns from traditional
hymnals, many younger Christians prefer fast-paced choruses, raising hands, and other
informalities. Also, pastors differ greatly in the content and method of their preaching. Thus,
worship practice cannot be the standard by which we understand what is fleshly and what is
spiritual. The two concepts are best understood within the context of a relationship with Jesus
Christ and the teaching of the Word.
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With reference to the ―flesh,‖ some professed Christians do not think the flesh is neutral, but
that it is positively evil. Therefore, the flesh must experience pain to keep it under control.
For example, a male group called flagellants punish their bodies as a sacrificial act of
worship. I vividly recall having seen a picture of a large group of flagellants in a procession.
Their backs were bare and as they marched they flailed their backs with whips tipped with
metal barbs. As a result, each man‘s back was profusely bleeding from his self-inflicted
wounds. Maybe I am just a coward, but I cannot see how abusing one‘s body is pleasing to
God. Thus, we must relate to Christ in such a way that He can remove fleshly tendencies
from our lives.
SIN and EVIL in Paul’s Theology
By C. Mack Roark, vice-president of religious life, Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee,
PAUL’S doctrine of sin did not arise, like Melchizedek, without father, mother, or genealogy.
Its roots are deep in his biography. On every page of his letters we can see Paul‘s
background. Nowhere is this clearer than in his treatment of sin. Many diverse influences
shaped Paul‘s life, and these elements help us understand his view of sin.
Paul was born in Tarsus, capital city of the Roman province of Cilicia. Antiochus Epiphanes
had settled Jews there as colonists in 171 BC. These Jews would have organized a
synagogue, which Paul would have attended with his parents. Tarsus was also a significant
center of Greek learning. The Greek influence on Paul would have been strong. Indeed, the
language used in the synagogue was probably Greek.
This explains Paul‘s ease would the Greek language, his preference for the Septuagint, the
Greek translation of the Old Testament, and his use of imagery and analogy drawn from
Greek culture. From this Hellenistic background comes his vocabulary for sin—the concepts
themselves came from elsewhere.
Although Paul had a Greek background, he was not a Greek; he was a Jew, and his Hellenism
was filtered through the greater influence of Judaism. At some point, exactly when is
unknown to us, Paul and his family moved to Jerusalem (Acts 26:4) where Jewish culture
was strong. There Paul was educated at the feet of Gamaliel, who later intervened in Paul‘s
behalf before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:34-39). Under Gamaliel Paul became a true Pharisee
(Phil. 3:5; Acts 26:5). Gamaliel was a highly respected Pharisee and a member of the
Sanhedrin and was, in fact, a grandson of the famous Rabbi Hillel.
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Thus, Paul not only was an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, but was trained by the most
respected Pharisee of his day (Phil. 3:5; Acts 23:6). The Torah became the decisive center of
his life. By Torah alone a man could attain righteousness. Paul‘s goal in life was to succeed
in reaching that righteousness (Gal. 1:14; Phil. 3:6). The Law thus would play an important
role in Paul‘s development of Christian theology. Sin is ―falling short‖ of that goal.
How did this dual background affect Paul‘s doctrine of sin? In a capsule, he rejected the
concepts of sin found in Hellenism while keeping the Greek vocabulary. On the other hand,
he used and applied the Jewish concepts of sin, modified by his experience with Christ. The
language is Greek, the concepts are Hebrew. Paul read a Greek Bible, wrote in Greek, and
ministered primarily among Gentile/Greek people. When he talked about sin, he seemed to
use a device that both Greek and Hebrew cultures have in common, namely dualism.
Paul recognized a radical difference between good and evil. He knew the dualism that
distinguishes a person in Christ from one out of Christ. What he did recognize was a dualism
that poses body against soul as evil against good. Such was the dualism of the Greeks.
Platonic philosophy said that life happens when a preexistent soul is forcibly united with a
body. From this point man‘s struggle is with that body. Plato expressed this best by his play
on the Greek words soma (body) and sema (tomb): ―I have heard a philosopher say that the
body (soma) is our tomb (sema).‖1 So that good soul is trapped in an evil body.
Two separate levels of reality are posed: the material and the immaterial, the imperfect and
the ideal, the transitory and the eternal, the physical and the spiritual. Sin, for the Greeks,
resulted from the lesser, lower half of man. It was an inevitable result of physical nature, and
the soul was only an unwilling partner. Escape from sin was by way of knowledge or
philosophy, freeing the soul of the body and its limitations.
In this dual nature what occasions sin in man? In the early part of Romans Paul addressed
the question ―How does sin get to man? What is the door?‖
Had Paul intended to continue the dualism of the Greeks, he no doubt would have kept their
vocabulary. That he used a different set of words and concepts shows his intent to express a
different antithesis. Paul did not counterpose soul and body, but flesh and spirit (especially
Rom. 8:5-14 and Gal. 5:16-25). In fact, when he listed works of the flesh in Galatians 5, only
six of the seventeen were sins of the body; the rest had nothing to do with anything physical.
According to Paul and Jesus alike, the worst sins were not bodily.
Paul did not say that the body is evil since it is flesh and not spirit. Flesh does not sin. It
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only means the possibility of sin—a seat and site for sin to begin its work. Even Christ was
flesh (Rom. 8:3), and man is not bound to live according to the flesh.
Rather than using Greek dualism to explain the occasion of sin in man, he used the Hebrew
concept and its corresponding Greek word. The Hebrew Bible was filled with the word
―flesh‖ (basar [bah-SAHR]). Two hundred seventy-three times it occurs in the Old
Testament. There it refers primarily to man‘s physical life. Occasionally it refers to man in
his opposition to God (Jer. 17:5). Often in the Old Testament flesh is ―what distinguishes
man qualitatively from God, not in the sense of matter-spirit dualism, but of a contrast
between strength and weakness‖ (note Gen. 6:3; Isa. 31:3; Jer. 12:12; Ezek. 21:4).2 From
Genesis 3 on, the weakness of the flesh is a ready base for sin.
By the time Paul took up the term, it had been colored by its use at Qumran, the site of that
group of Essene Jews who gave us the Dead Sea Scrolls. There, the second sense of this
word ―flesh‖ became more prominent. Flesh not only is man physical, it has moral
connotations as well. When the Qumran community says ―I belong to the company of the
flesh of evil‖ (1QS xi), it sounds much like Paul‘s ―I am fleshly, sold, under sin‖ (Rom. 7:14,
Paul used the Greek word for flesh, sarx, over ninety times in his letters. Some thirty-five of
these occurrences connect flesh with sin, usually citing flesh as the opportunity for sin to
enter life. Other passages use flesh in a neutral sense, referring to the physical life (2 Cor.
12:7), to family kinship (Rom. 1:3), or to the present life (Gal. 2:20). In Romans, especially
in chapters 7 and 8, the term is used to describe that which occasions sin. When Paul talked
about man in Romans, the noun ―flesh,‖ with its adjective and adverb, was used more than
any other word group. In all, the noun was used twenty-four times in Romans, with
seventeen of these occurring in chapters 1 through 8, where Paul built his case for man as
sinner in need of a savior.
If there is a dualism, it is flesh and spirit (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 3:3; 5:13,17; 6:8; see also John 3:6).
It is because he is fleshly that man rebels against the Law, which is spiritual (Rom. 7:14). Sin
uses the weakness of the flesh and the spirituality of the Law to create a conflict in which
man is decimated and destroyed.
So, as Paul saw it, the flesh is the vehicle for sin. By flesh ―Paul means that we mean to-day
when we speak of the natural impulses and instincts which, while they are not sinful in
themselves, master us and become occasions of sin unless we master them.‖4 By this term
Paul designated man‘s capacity for sin as opposed to man‘s capacity for the spirit. It is man
as creature, and man as creature is destined to sin and its destruction.
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It is because he is fleshly that man rebels against the Law, which is spiritual. So sin uses the
weakness of the flesh and the spirituality of the Law to create a conflict in which man is
deceived and destroyed.
For Paul then, it was not flesh that is sinful. The flesh becomes sinful when it is allowed to
reign supreme, when man‘s values and actions are determined by his flesh, rather than by
God. Flesh is the vehicle, the conductor, the opening for sin.
What is sin, anyway? What was Paul‘s understanding of sin? It seems that Paul almost
personified sin. In expressive, rhetorical language he said that sin entered the world (Rom.
5:12) and reigns there (5:21), that man serves sin (6:6) and in fact is enslaved to it (6:17-20),
and can be sold into sin (7:14). It dwells in man (7:17,20), deceives man, and kills him
(7:18). When on yields himself (his flesh) to sin, then sin dwells in him and even when he
wants to do right, sin is close by to destroy him.
Thus, for Paul, sin was not simply ―doing bad things.‖ Although it results in wrong, sin itself
is more. It is man apart from God ―falling short of the glory of God‖ (Rom. 3:23). It is not
merely breaking the Law, falling short of Torah, it is violating the purpose of the Lawgiver.
This concept of sin is the reason Paul‘s primary word for sin is hamartia [hah-mahr-TEA-ah].
Although he used thirteen different words for sin, it is this word which is most characteristic,
and its roots are deep in the Old Testament. The Hebrew is chatah [kah-TAH], and its basic
meaning is ―missing the right point.‖ It is exactly matched by the New Testament word
hamartia. The normal and non-theological sense of hamartia can be seen in the verse about
the Benjaminites in Judges 20:16, ―Every one could sling a stone at a hair, and not miss‖
(RSV). From Homer on, the Greeks had used it in this secular sense. The Septuagint
translators of the Old Testament used hamartia to render at least fifteen different Old
Testament words for sin. Thus, it was ready-made for Paul.
From the secular use of this word in everyday Greek, and especially from its regular use in
Paul‘s Greek Old Testament, sin for Paul was ―missing the mark‖ in the sense of failure to be
what we were created to be, falling short of a God-given potential (Rom. 3:23). Both in the
Old Testament and in Paul, the idea is not so much an act of sin and the state of sin. It is not
a disease some get and some do not.
The decisive, catalytic event in Paul‘s background was his Damascus road conversion. There a
new, dynamic center for his life appeared, Jesus the Christ. From that conversion, Paul learned the
good news, there is a victory over sin . . . and thanks be to God!
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