Romans 8: Life in the Spirit
The following is an excerpt from Romans: A Devotional Commentary written by Bo Giertz and translated by Bror Erickson (1517 Publishing, 2018).
1–11, Life in the Spirit
Paul concludes, “There is, therefore no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This condemnation that hung over us is suspended and will never manage to fall upon us. This is completely and wholly because of what Christ has done. We may believe and receive. To believe means to come to Christ and be united with him. Then one is “in Christ Jesus,” and then “the law of sin and death” has expired. It is this law that says, “He who sins shall die.” It has been suspended by “the law of the Spirit of life.” This is the new order: we do not need to die because the Spirit “gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). He creates faith in Christ. His Word says, He who believes in the Son shall not perish (John 3:16).
So the impossible has become possible. The law could not make us into children of God. It stood powerless before our depraved nature, our “flesh,” which could never be changed and freed of sin. For this reason, God intervened. He sent his Son in human form, like us, exposed to the same temptations, the same suffering and death, but without sin. He did it in order to overcome sin and atone for it. Only now did God judge sin, which he had long passed over in his divine forbearance (3:25). But now it was Christ who bore it. In him, it received its judgment, “in the flesh,” Paul says. This means that Christ bore our sins “in his body” (1 Pet 2:24). It can also mean that it was the sin in our flesh that now received its judgment.
Only in this manner could the good that the law pointed to be completed. It was completed in us, not by us. We were justified. We became children of God and received his Spirit. Therefore our life has received a complete realignment. We “walk according to the Spirit,” as Paul actually says. This means that we are driven and guided by the Spirit on our path through life. The flesh still remains in us. It tries to hinder us in every way it can (Gal 5:17). But here there is yet one decisive difference. Some allow the flesh to rule. They are aligned to that which the flesh wants. One can also translate it “they join the party of the flesh, and take the side of flesh.” If one does that, then one is under the law of sin and death.
But a Christian allows the Spirit to rule. He puts himself on the side of the Spirit in the fight that is fought within him. Even within him, there is something that neither can nor wants to obey God. It is condemned to death on the cross. This sentence is confirmed in Baptism. A Christian confirms it every day. He says no to that which the flesh wants. He knows that this means death, just as he knows what the Spirit wants: life and peace. This attitude is found where the Spirit is found. It is the consequence of a man living in faith in Christ and in communion with him.
So in a certain manner, a Christian is a double being. He is, as Luther says, “Simultaneously saint and sinner.” He has a human nature that is marked by sin. For this reason the body must die. But at the same time, he is pardoned and justified. A new life has been kindled within him. He possesses it through the Spirit and in his spirit (the text can be read both ways). It is a life that death does not rule over “for the sake of righteousness”—that is, because Christ died for us and gave us participation in His righteousness. This communion with Christ that we possess in the Spirit means that we too shall be awakened and made alive in the same manner that Jesus was awakened. Thus death and resurrection do not mean that the spirit “is freed” from the body but that our spirits have a new body, a new concrete existence in which we are essentially free from “the law of sin in our members.”
12–17, We Are God’s Children
God’s children are those who “are driven by God’s Spirit.” God’s children also have their flesh remaining. It comes with its demand. But we do not remain in the guilt of it. We have no obligation to it. We don’t need to think, “Because this is still in me, it is then hopeless.” It can never be hopeless when we have Christ, because we put ourselves at the side of the Spirit and “put the deeds of the body to death” (“the body” here means “the flesh”). These are the desires and notions that we say no to. We do this with the Spirit’s help.
And take notice: it is not a matter of a spirit of slavery, as one who says, “It is so bad but I have to do it.” This spirit makes us fearful before God so that we serve as unwilling servants. But here it is a question of the Spirit of childship, he who can say, like Jesus Himself, “Abba Father.” The certainty that we have of being children and living under the eye of a good father is a far better motivator than any law can be. And the Spirit also gives us certainty that we are God’s children. Paul points to one of faith’s deepest experiences, a comfortable inner certainty of childship. Thereby we are also heirs to all this that Christ has won for us: God’s kingdom and all the coming glory. But this childship does not mean that we escape suffering in this world. It means that even suffering receives meaning.
18–25, Hope and Suffering
In the New Testament, suffering is a fact. It almost goes without saying, not the least for a Christian who encounters all the enmity that the world spontaneously feels before Christ. But this suffering feels as light as a feather compared to the glory that comes to be revealed “in us,” as Paul says—that is, so that we are changed by it. Paul thinks of the day when Christ comes again and makes all things new. Then we shall “together with him step forward in glory” (Col. 3:4). We are not the only ones who long after that day. This means all of creation, Paul says. Today the creation is no longer such as it was when it proceeded from God’s hand. It has been “placed under corruption.” Even here the forces of destruction are effective. This is a consequence of the fall into sin, and it has happened “through the work of another.” Here Paul means through the fall of Adam, and because the earth was cursed for his sake (Gen. 3:17). But already at that time, God had resolved to establish His creation, both man and the world. Therefore God will create a new heavens and a new earth “where righteousness lives” (2 Pet. 3:13). It is to this day that creation longingly reaches. We know, Paul says, that the creation groans and agonizes under corruption. We do not know this naturally from our own study of nature—it is a knowledge that only God can give, when through His word He allows us to see the hidden context of existence.
But it is not only nature that groans under the pressure of evil in the world. We Christians do too, Paul says. We do this even though we are God’s children and have received the “first fruits of the Spirit.” The first fruits were the first of the harvest. They were brought forward as an offering to God. There they were laid upon the altar where it was proof that the fields were now ripe. So the Spirit is the first of the harvest of the kingdom of God that is ripe. We still do not see the harvest, but the Spirit shows that it is there. God’s kingdom is near. But “It is so in this hope that we are saved.” We are really saved, but it is also something that we hope in. Our childship is not something visible, not a concrete reality, until that day when Christ comes in His kingdom. On that day, our body shall be redeemed. We shall not be redeemed from the body. On the contrary, the body is caught up in salvation. It shall really be freed from the “law of sin” that lives in our members.
26–27, The Spirit That Intercedes for Us
It is not only the creation and ourselves that moan. The Spirit that dwells within us also does this. Even within a man who believes and who prays, there is weakness. It is in this relationship to God, in the life of prayer—so long as it depends on us. But the Spirit comes “to help our weakness.” He steps in for us as our intercessor with God. This He does with groaning that we do not understand. Perhaps Paul means that speaking in tongues was an expression for the Spirit’s manner of “interceding for us.” In any case, He will say that in the end the decisive thing is not the strength and depth of our prayers, but the Spirit Himself. The Comforter and Advocate takes on our cause. Something happens in the hidden depths of our hearts, in the midst of our weakness, a work that God Himself carries out for those who believe.
This is an excerpt from Romans: A Devotional Commentary written by Bo Giertz and translated by Bror Erickson (1517 Publishing, 2018). Used by permission.