Paul’s View of the Law: Romans (8:1-39)

Romans 8:1-39

This is the fourth, and final, major section of the probatio of Romans (Rom 1:18-8:39). The first three sections were:

This last section (chapter 8) I would divide as follows:

  • Rom 8:1-30: Announcement of Life in the Spirit (Exhortation)
    8:1-11: The conflict (for believers) between the Spirit and the Flesh
    8:12-17: Believers are sons (of God) and heirs (with Christ) through the Spirit
    8:18-25: Believers have the hope of future glory (new creation) through the Spirit
    8:26-30: Believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit
  • Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

Having just worked intensively through the relation between Law and Sin (see the article on Rom 7:7-25), with the emphasis on the believer’s freedom (in Christ) from both, Paul now proceeds to discuss the life of the believer in the Spirit (of God and Christ). This thematic emphasis is, in some ways, parallel to the exhortation in Galatians 5:16-25—believers who are freed from the binding force of the Law (and Sin), now live according to the power and guidance of the Spirit.

Verses 1-11

The theme of this section is the conflict for believers between the Spirit and the Flesh, introduced by Paul in Rom 7:14, but which is more familiar from the famous discussion in Gal 5:16ff. In Rom 7:7-25, human beings were dramatized as struggling with the flesh, but under the enslaving power of sin and the Law; now, having been delivered from the Law and sin, the struggle with the “flesh” (sa/rc) remains. This deliverance is defined according to two principal declarations:

  1. “Now there is not any [ou)de/n] judgment against [kata/krima] the (one)s (who are) in (the) Anointed Yeshua” (v. 1)—addressed collectively to all believers, this describes the elimination of judgment (by God) against human beings (announced in Rom 1:18ff); this judgment was the result of violation of the Law by human beings, under the power of sin. This removal of judgment is the product of “justification”, of God “making (things) right” again for humankind, and, in particular, of making believers right and just in His eyes.
  2. “For the Law of the Spirit of life, in (the) Anointed Yeshua, has set me free from the Law of Sin and of Death” (v. 2)—here Paul personalizes the matter “set me free”, much as he does in 7:7-25; however, other manuscripts read “set you free”, and this is preferred by some commentators—either way, the personal pronoun is representative of all believers. Here we find also a new use of the word no/mo$ (“law”) in the expression o( no/mo$ tou= pneu/mato$ th=$ zwh=$ (“the Law of the Spirit of Life”)—pneu=ma here certainly referring to the (Holy) Spirit. In Galatians, the Spirit is seen as taking the place of the Law for believers (cf. Gal 5:16ff), and should be understood in this way here, but with the added emphasis on its sanctifying and life-bestowing power—Life contrasted with Death. The expression “the Law of Sin and Death” is an expansion of “the Law of Sin” in Rom 7:23-25; it reflects the dynamic of Sin and the Law at work, both against each other, and also working together according to God’s purpose (see esp. Rom 11:32). The expression should not be reduced simply to the “principle of sin”.

In verses 3 and 4, this deliverance is described in terms of Christ’s sacrificial death:

“For the powerless (thing) of the Law [i.e. what the Law lacked power to do], in which [i.e. in that] it was weak through the flesh, God (has done), sending his own Son in (the) likeness of flesh of sin [i.e. sinful flesh] and about [i.e. for the sake of] sin, judged against sin in the flesh, (so) that the just/right (thing) of the Law should be filled up [i.e. fulfilled] in us—the (one)s not walking about according to (the) flesh, but according to (the) Spirit.”

This is a complex sentence and rather difficult to translate, but it effectively summarizes Paul’s view of the Law and “Justification”:

Because the “flesh” of human beings was enslaved under the power of sin, the Law of God (as expressed in the commands of the Torah) only served to increase and reinforce humanity’s bondage—it resulted in death, not life. As such, the Law (Torah) did not have the power to make human beings right before God, because human beings lacked the power to fulfill the requirements of the Law. The requirements of the Law were fulfilled for us (lit. “in us”) through God’s work in Christ, i.e. his death. The reality of this deliverance for believers should be reflected by their “walking according to the Spirit”, and not “according to the flesh” (cf. Gal 5:16ff).

In Rom 7:7ff, Paul described the presence and work of Sin “in the flesh” (e)n th=| sarki/, v. 18), now he describes the presence and work of the Favor/Grace of God “in the flesh”. His view of this is incarnational—Christ is sent (and is born, Gal 4:4) “in the likeness of flesh of sin” (cf. also Phil 2:7), and this becomes the location where the power of sin is removed (God literally “judges against” sin, pronouncing sentence against it). For more on Rom 8:4, in comparison with the similar passage in 2 Cor 5:21, see the supplemental daily note.

The remainder of this section, vv. 5-11, follows very much in line with Galatians 5:16-25, contrasting the Spirit with the flesh. Paul’s use of the word translated “flesh” (sa/rc) is complex and highly nuanced; it primarily refers to the human body, and its parts, but especially in the sense that it is affected and influenced by the impulse (e)piqumi/a) to sin. Paul clearly believed that this impulse to sin still remained in the “flesh”, even for Christians (Gal 5:17), but the enslaving power of sin had been removed—believers now have the freedom and ability to choose to follow God’s will. This choosing is expressed by use of the word fro/nhma (vv. 6-7, also in v. 27), rather difficult to translate, but which indicates the exercise of the mind, both in terms of understanding and the will. In typically dualistic fashion, Paul contrasts the fro/nhma th=$ sarko/$ (“mind[edness] of the flesh”) with the fro/nhma tou= pneu/mato$ (“mind[edness] of the Spirit”). In verses 9-11, Paul gives a threefold qualification of the Spirit:

    • the “Spirit of God” (pneu=ma Qeou=) which dwells (“houses”) in [e)n] believers (v. 9a)
    • the “Spirit of [the] Anointed {Christ}” (pneu=ma Xristou=), which likewise is in [e)n] believers (v. 10), but believers are also said to “hold” it (v. 9b)
    • the “Spirit of the (one) raising Yeshua from the dead” (i.e. of God), which also dwells in [e)n] believers, and gives life to our mortal (lit. “dying”) bodies just as Christ was raised from the dead (v. 11)

Verse 10 will be discussed further in a separate daily note.

Verses 12-17

The contrast between the Spirit and the flesh continues in these verses, which likewise have strong parallels with Galatians:

    • V. 12: An exhortation not to live “according to the flesh” (kata\ sa/rka)—cf. Gal 5:16-17
    • V. 13: A reminder that living/acting according to the flesh leads to death, while the opposite leads to life—cf. Gal 6:7-8; for the idea of “putting to death the deeds of the body”, see Gal 5:24 (also 6:14)
    • V. 14-16: Declaration that through the Spirit believers are made sons/offspring of God—cf. Gal 3:26; 4:1-6
      —in particular, verse 15 is extremely close to Gal 4:5-6
    • V. 17: The declaration follows that, if we are sons of God, then we are also his heirs—cf. Gal 3:29; 4:1ff (esp. verse 7); Paul adds here the detail that we are co-heirs (“ones receiving the lot together”) with Christ (see Rom 8:29)

Verses 18-25

The theme of believers as sons (and heirs) of God continues in this section with the hope (and promise) of future glory (new creation) that we have through the Spirit. In a truly beautiful, if somewhat enigmatic, passage, Paul describes all of creation as currently in the process of giving birth to something new—”the glory of the offspring of God” (v. 21). Believers are the “firstfruits” of this new creation, a process of our being realized as sons/children of God which will only be completed with our final resurrection and glorification—”the loosing of our bodies from (the bondage of death)” (v. 23). This also is ultimately the realization of salvation (“by [this] hope we are saved”, v. 24).

It is important to note the way Paul extends the idea of slavery (doulei/a) and freedom (e)leuqeri/a), which he applied specifically to the human condition in Rom 6-7, to all of creation in 8:21-22. Certainly he is drawing here upon the same Genesis 3 narrative that inspired him in Rom 5:12ff. The implied actor of the verb u(pota/ssw (“put [in order] under”, i.e. place under authority) in 8:20 is not entirely certain; based on the context elsewhere in Romans, there are only two possibilities—(a) God, or (b) Sin—the former being more likely. Even if it is Sin (through the sin of Adam, Gen 3:17-19) that subjects creation to bondage, ultimately God is the one controlling this process. The idea that creation was enslaved, it would seem, for the purpose of being freed (by God), correlates well with the declaration in Rom 11:32.

Verses 26-30

This section emphasizes that believers experience the work of salvation through the Spirit, which Paul describes in two ways:

    • Vv. 26-27—The Spirit works on our behalf before God, described according to two richly detailed, compound verbs:
      sunantilamba/netai, “he takes (hold) together opposite (us)”, i.e. he helps and assists us “in our lack of strength”
      u(perentugxa/nei, “he reaches in (and) over (us)”, i.e. he meets us and intercedes on our behalf, specifically in the context of prayer, of “speaking out toward” God
    • Vv. 29-30—God works on our behalf; here Paul presents a schematic or chain of what could be called an “order of salvation”:
      proe/gnw, “he knew before(hand)”
      prow/risen, “he marked out before(hand)”
      e)ka/lesen, “he called”
      e)dikai/wsen, “he made right”, or “he made/declared just”
      e)do/casen, “he esteemed/honored [i.e. granted honor/glory]”
      Between verses 29 and 30, Paul inserts a specific theological/Christological statement: “…with the shape of the image of His Son, unto his being [i.e. that he should be] the first produced [i.e. first-born] among many brothers”—that is to say, believers are marked out (chosen) to take on the form and image of Christ, to be children (and heirs) together with him (cf. verse 17).

In verse 28, in between his description of the work of the Spirit (vv. 26-27) and the work of God (vv. 29-30), Paul adds the following (and justly famous) declaration:

“…to the (one)s loving God all things work together unto good—to the (one)s being called according to (what He has) set forth before(hand).”

Rom 8:31-39: Doxology: The Love of God (in Christ)

The final section of 1:18-8:39 is a doxology, in praise of God’s love, so beautiful and remarkable that it virtually defies analysis. I will make not attempt here to comment upon it in this short space, other than to highlight briefly several points in the text which are relevant to Paul’s view of the Law:

      • Verse 32—the use of the verb xari/zomai, “show favor, give/grant as a favor”: pw=$ ou)xi\xari/setai “how shall he not…show favor”? The related noun xa/ri$ is used frequently by Paul, especially here in Romans (Rom 3:24; 4:4, 16; 5:2, 15ff; 6:1, etc), where it is set directly in contrast with both the Law and Sin, esp. in Rom 5:15ff; 6:14-15. God takes delight in his people and shows favor to them, and all the more so for believers in Christ—he demonstrates his favor by (freely) granting to them “all things” (ta\ pa/nta).
      • Verses 33-34—the legal/judicial language in these verses reflects Paul’s statements and arguments about the Law and “justification” in Galatians and Romans:
        • katakri/nw (“judge against”), here personified under a substantive (verbal noun) form, “the (one) judging against (us)”. This is associated in v. 33 with the verb e)gkale/w (“call in”, i.e. call someone in to answer charges or to give account).
        • dikaio/w (“make right, declare just/right”); note the parallel form “the (one) making/declaring (us) right”, contrasted with “the one judging against (us)”. This verb, along with related words of the dik-/dikaio- group, are used frequently by Paul. Note also the associated verb e)ntugxa/nw, parallel with e)gkale/w—the one making right (God) comes in to meet and help us, as opposed to the one calling us in to be judged.
      • Verses 35ffxwri/zw (“to separate, set apart”) and a)ga/ph (“love”): “who will separate us from the love of God?”. These two words dominate verses 35-39.
        • The first (xwri/zw) is related to xwri/$ (“separate, apart from”), which Paul uses in Rom 3:21, 28; 4:6; 7:8-9 in relation to the Law—”apart from (works of) the Law”, i.e. believers experience the favor and righteousness of God entirely apart from observing the Law (Torah). Here in 8:35ff, Paul makes a declaration in the opposite direction: nothing can put believers apart from the love and favor of God. Sometimes this “separation” is thought of as a wall or barrier, but the Greek word properly refers to space between—in Christ there is no space between us and God.
        • The second (a)ga/ph) is, of course, the most widely used word in the New Testament indicating love—the love which God has for us, and which we have toward God (and each other). God’s love (a)ga/ph) and the favor (xa/ri$) he shows to human beings are closely related, especially as described by Paul here in Romans. In particular, God demonstrates both his love and favor in the person and work of Christ on behalf of sinful humanity, cf. especially in Rom 3:24; 5:1-11, 15-17.

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