Romans 8 has been called the most beautiful chapter in the New Testament, tremendously rich in spiritual understanding and resources. It explains what Christ has done for us on the cross (justification — see also Romans 5:1-2) and in us by his Spirit (sanctification — see Romans 8).
And there are at least ten references in this chapter to the Holy Spirit and His work in the lives of believers. The Spirit’s transforming work often begins with great rejoicing as He bears witness to forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ.
But, alas, new Christians may soon find impulses or habits they thought they had been delivered from — jealousies, bursts of bad temper, and lusts — roaring back. This can be baffling because the Apostle has told us at the beginning of the chapter that Christ “has set you free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2).
The Apostle explains that mystery as arising from “the flesh.” The primary meaning for this word in Scripture is the human body. The word also has theological meanings. It can describe the frailty or vulnerability of humanity, or false or evil impulses that lodge in us, or evil itself. All may fall under the term — often referred to as our carnal nature.
In the Roman letter the term is used mostly in this last sense. Paul takes note of this fact when he writes: “Therefore, brothers [and sisters], we have an obligation — but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh you will live” (8:12-13).
At this point the Apostle widens his lens to show that the temptations we continue to experience in our new life are shared with all of the world, created by God but fallen and thus impaired. But, says the Apostle, even now the universe itself is groaning to be renewed (v. 22a). Something better is ahead.
In turning to this fresh thought of promised future renewal, Paul uses the imagery of childbirth (22b). Giving birth involves groaning pain but the end result brings great joy. So will the future renewal of our fallen world bring great rejoicing.
The Apostle makes clear that our new birth by the Spirit has already in some measure signaled the glorious future ahead for us. Yet, for now, we work out our faith in a fallen world.
Verse 23 says: “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”
Having been promised a further redemption to come, are we left then at what appears to be a halfway point? And what do we say of those in any Christian gathering who have a genuine faith yet inwardly groan from the burden of some weakness or calamity such as family strife, poor health, broken relationships, and even some issues too deep for words?
We do our part of course by bringing them before the Lord daily, seeking greater faith to endure. And in our struggle with fallenness, we know the Spirit is our ally. Verse 26a says: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.”
Here’s how the Holy Spirit comes to our aid: Even our praying may become confused over our struggles. As the Apostle says in verse 26: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through prayers too deep for words.”
To summarize, even though we have already been assured of our salvation through faith in Christ and are being transformed / sanctified by his Spirit, we experience a deeper need, living as we do in a fallen world (v. 23).
And so God’s Spirit who is in us untangles our prayers at times and re-forms them into prayers the Father can answer. What a measureless investment God our Savior in Christ makes in us by redeeming us and giving us his Spirit to help us in our fallenness!
God is obviously interested in more than certifying our passage to heaven through Christ’s death and resurrection for us. We are also to embrace in faith the power of the Holy Spirit to live out the radiance of the Gospel here and now.
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