The Struggle Is Worth It
Romans 8 is one of the most beautiful chapters in all of scripture. After all the building throughout the book, Paul reaches a climactic midway point that ties together the main points of the entire first half and sets up the rest of the book. If you have ever needed a passage of scripture to comfort you and reassure you, to offer you hope or encouragement, this is it. Especially after the dark shadows of Romans 7, this chapter is especially hopeful.
Romans 7 ended with these statements: "Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin." Romans 7:24-25 NLT. In reality, though, since chapter divisions were added much later in history, this was originally one line of thought extended into the start of chapter 8:
"So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit." Romans 8:1-4 NLT
Everything Paul has said about the power of the law, the application of the law, sin, righteousness, God's promises, the identity of Israel and the Jews, and the place of the Gentiles in God's church comes together in these statements. The law that God gave to the Jewish nation, to the people of his promise and covenant, could only ever point out their sinfulness, highlighting and intensifying their moral emptiness every time they failed. The people who were meant to be a light and example to other nations caved under the pressure of the law. And in mercy and compassion, God personally stepped into their story in the person of Jesus. Jesus succeeded where his people had failed, took the penalty for their failures for them, and he opened a new way for humanity to connect with God by forgiving the sins that separated us from him and sending God's Spirit to live in our midst.
Humanity has been given a new calling, a new direction, and a new driving power deeply within themselves. It is the story of God and his love coming to live within human beings.
Everything has been leading to this moment. The whole story of the Hebrew Bible pointed forward to the day when God would send a suffering servant (Isaiah 53) and write his law in people's hearts rather than just on tablets of stone (Jeremiah 31). What God has accomplished is a transformation of human nature through Christ and the Spirit. Humanity has been given a new calling, a new direction, and a new driving power deeply within themselves. It is the story of God and his love coming to live within human beings. This is the promise that God extends to all of us too.
But the early Christian community that Paul wrote to did not have it easy. They were a misunderstood group of people whose identity confused and even angered the people around them. Many of the early followers of Jesus would pay with their lives because they were perceived as a threat by the world around them. A multi-cultural community of people in the Roman Empire acknowledging a different King than Caesar? Refusing to worship the gods that were seen as taking care of society and the natural world? People found this threatening.
At the same time, within the church itself there were struggles, tensions, disagreements, and confusing, contradictory teachings. People were also struggling deeply to work out their salvation and strive against their own sinful impulses, which all too often boiled up to the surface and brought embarrassment and shame on the faith. The apostles worked hard to counteract these problems, but the problems came nonetheless.
Things are not so different today. In many parts of the world, Christians face outright persecution and violence because of their religious identity, while in other parts of the world, people outside the religion simply find Christianity to be confusing and bothersome. At the same time, there are perplexing, sometimes contradictory teachings going around in Christian circles, and many disagreements and debates. And this is all besides the fact that there is still pain, suffering, and injustice in the world facing all people -just as there was in the early days. Apparently, some things never really change.
In Romans 8, Paul speaks to these concerns. He tells the church that they no longer need to feel condemned, broken, and lost because of their sins, because God has forgiven them and chosen to live in their hearts through His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-17). The Holy Spirit helps God’s people to walk through difficult times because He connects us to the Father - prompting us to pray, guiding us in our prayers, reassuring us that we are accepted as God’s children, and encouraging us to hope for a future day when God will set all things right. (8:26-30)
All of God’s good creation has been “subjected” to a curse because the overseers God placed in this world - human beings - fell into evil. But Jesus and the Spirit have planted a seed of new life in the damaged old creation. This seed of new creation is growing inside the hearts of believers who are living life filled with the Spirit. True followers of Jesus are not simply people with a certain religious belief, but a living foreshadowing of the plan God has for the world. The more the Holy Spirit shapes us to be like Christ, the more fully we reflect what will one day be revealed in full: a new creation that is free from death and decay. (8:18-25)
"Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord." (8:35, 37-39)
Read Romans 8:5-8. Think about your own mind: What kind of things do you spend most of your time thinking about? Is there room for God's Spirit to be present in those thoughts, or would God want to stay away from them? Where do you tend to set your mind?
Read Romans 9:9-11. Paul says that the Holy Spirit can live inside of us, but pay attention to the names and titles he uses. Who exactly is it that lives inside us? Who, according to this passage, raised Jesus from the dead? Do you notice any awkward overlap? What words would you use to describe this phenomenon?
Romans 8:31-39 talks about separation from God and his love. Write down a list of things that you feel either have or could separate you from God and his love. Then read through this section of Romans. Is there anything on your list not covered by Romans 8? Is there anything that can truly separate you from God's love?
Many people struggle to reconcile a God of love with the idea that there is so much suffering, destruction, and chaos in the world. Read Romans 8:18-23. What does it tell us about the world? Compare with Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 3:17-19 for more context.
One of the most beautiful teachings in Romans 8 is the teaching on intercession. Read through the following passages and see what they tell you about how the Holy Spirit helps us:
- Romans 8:14-16 NIV. What does it mean for the Spirit to "testify with our spirit"? Have you ever experienced the Holy Spirit assuring you that you belong to God?
- Romans 8:22-27 ESV. Has life in this world ever made you groan? Have you ever felt that God was with you in your frustrations and pains? Have you ever felt the need to pray something that was beyond your words? Have you ever felt the need to pray, but not known what do say?
- According to these passages, what does the Holy Spirit do for us while we struggle through this life? Try to put it in your own words.