Romans 8:12-25 - Our New Status in Christ
Romans 8:12) So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—13) for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14) For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15) For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba, Father!” 16) it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,17) and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. 18) I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19) For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20) for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21) that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22) We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23) and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24) For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25) But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
About Romans: Paul’s letters are the oldest Christian documents that we have. The earliest were written within 25 years of Jesus’ death. Romans was the last letter that Paul wrote, as far as we know. Romans was written to pave the way for Paul to visit the church in Rome, a church he had never visited, but whose help he needed to complete the work he longed to do in the western Mediterranean. Most scholars believe that Paul was arrested in Jerusalem when he went to take an offering that his various churches had collected to help the impoverished church there. We think that he was taken as a prisoner to Rome died while under arrest there. The circumstances of his death are unclear. Romans is the most fully developed and densely theological of all of Paul’s works. In it, we see the Jewish roots of Christianity and the unspeakable grace of God that washes over all of human life and the whole created order. It is that grace alone that leads to salvation.
Basic Point of Today’s Lesson: Paul wants his readers to understand that in Christ their status before God has changed once and for all. No longer are we frightened people cowed by our own inabilities and failures in the religious sphere. We are not people who have no standing before God because of our sin or inability to live perfectly holy lives. We are God’s own beloved children. Because of that we share the divine character. And, with Christ, we are heirs of all the wonder, power and blessings of the realm of God. These verses are filled with the language and symbols of the Exodus, Israel’s delivery from bondage in Egypt. Paul wants us to understand that in Christ our exodus was completed. We are no longer slaves to anything. We do not have to labor under the excessive burden of Law, or of sin.
What does Paul mean by “the flesh”? In Paul, this term does not refer to the body per se, but rather to broken or sinful human nature. The flesh itself is not evil. It is weak and self-centered and therefore always in need of the power of the Spirit. For Paul, the flesh is anything that takes us away from the path of God, and lures us to make sinful choices and compromises. It is an oversimplification, but helpful to me, to think of “the flesh” as the principle of selfishness that is at work in our very nature. Think about vs. 12-13 this way—So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors (working for the sake of), not to selfishness, to live according to selfishness—for if you live according to selfishness, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of selfishness, you will live.
What does Paul mean by “hope”? Hope is not a vague wish that something we want might come to us. Hope, for Christians, is the absolute confidence that God will bring about God’s perfect will for us, both now and for eternity. Hope is not based on anything human beings do. Our hope is a fact because of the work that Jesus did on our behalf. We have been made right in the eyes of God and through the work of the Spirit we are being made more and more holy each passing day.
What does Paul mean by “sufferings”? He is not speaking of ordinary grief, illness, sorrow or hardship. The word here literally means “pressure”. It refers to the negative reaction that comes to Christians who choose to live the faith publicly. Paul understood the withstanding of painful pressure to abandon faith in order to go along with an ungodly culture to be a mark of true Christianity.
V. 12 – So then – This phrase indicates that what follows is a compelling conclusion
Debtors – This word means ‘to be under an obligation.’ It is usually used to refer either to the obligation to do reparation or to face punishment. It is active. It means that one is obliged to do something and cannot escape that obligation.
Flesh – see above.
Live – This word refers to the energy of aliveness, naturally, spiritually and eternally.
Vs. 13 – you will live – Paul uses this term both figuratively and literally. He is not saying that those who believe will not experience physical death. He is saying that the life that we live will be life in its truest and most vibrant sense, and that it will continue eternally.
Vs. 14 – who are led by the Spirit of God – The word led here is truly lovely. It means to be led gently and without any hint of violence. It means to bring one along as a parent would raise a child. It implies trusting obedience on the part of the one being led that will lead that one to be devoted to the leader, even swept up or carried off by that relationship. It is a term of emotional intensity and loving surrender.
Children of God – Understanding this term is crucial for understanding this passage! Children of God share the divine character, are specially gifted and favored, and have a claim on all that God has. What is especially important to Paul is that we understand that as children of God and heirs with Christ Jesus, what Christ is legally due, we also are legally due. It is a matter of justice. Take this in! Because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we are legally due, before God, all that Jesus is due.
Vs. 15 – spirit of slavery - For Paul this means the oppression that comes from trying to fulfill the letter of the Law. The word used here for slavery refers to servitude, dependence, the state of being unable to freely possess or enjoy this life. The word for ‘spirit’ refers to the immaterial and invisible part of a person that perceives, reflects, feels and desires.
Fear – The word here refers to shrinking from fear, fleeing, running away.
Spirit of adoption – legal adoption could take place at any age and for a variety of reasons. The most important thing to remember about the concept in Biblical times is that it is permanent. A biological child could be legally disinherited. An adopted child never could be, no matter the circumstances. To take on the responsibility of adoption is forever and not subject to the behavior of the one adopted.
Cry – an intense loud cry
Abba – an Aramaic word that children use of their fathers, like Daddy or Papa. It denotes deep child-like intimacy and trust.
Vs. 16 – Spirit bearing witness – the inner witness of our spirits with which we receive insight and recognize the truth.
Children of God – Paul uses different words here than he did earlier. I expect he means the same thing and refers to all believers with this term.
Heirs – This is a legal term that reinforces his point that believers are entitled to inherit all that God has.
Suffering – see above.
Time – Kairos – refers to ripe time, time that gives a unique opportunity, opportune time.
Glorified – This word refers to the radiance of heaven and the presence of God. What Paul is saying is that as we are led by the Spirit, accept our role as God’s heirs, meet the suffering that comes from this new status, we will also experience the radiant glory of God’s presence and comfort.
Vs. 17 – joint heirs – This marvelous word refers to personal equality based on equality of possession.
Suffer – see above. Also know that this word means to suffer together with another, specifically here, to suffer together with Jesus by our side.
Vs 18 – sufferings – in addition to the above this word also connotes suffering with another, here namely Jesus.
V. 19 – eager longing – means attentive, earnest expectation. It is used for craning the neck to look for something. There are two words used here in Greek. The second means to eagerly expect something good.
Revealing – apokalupsis – means uncovering, disclosure, unveiling.
Vs. 20 – subjected – means to place things in an orderly fashion under something else. It is a dependent position.
Futility – nothingness, worthlessness, emptiness, vanity.
Vs. 21 glory – doxa – see above. Also note that this word carries the sense of recognition of what a person truly is, the true self behind all masks.
Vs. 22 – groaning in labor pains – this is an interesting phrase that refers to a woman’s laboring to bring something to life. What is interesting is that it literally says laboring together. Bringing life, being born again, is not an individual effort. Not for persons, nor for the created order.
Vs. 23 – redemption – this is the word for purchasing the freedom of a captive.
Vs. 24 – saved – sozo – to be put back together again, whole and eternal, nothing broken, nothing missing.
Questions for Personal Reflection
1. What, if anything, makes it difficult for you to think of yourself as sharing the status of Christ with God?
2. What attributes of God do you show to the world in your daily life?
3. What pressures to compromise or abandon faith do you experience?
4. In what areas do you tend to fall back into fear?
5. What does it mean to you to share suffering with Christ?
6. In what ways do you think of the whole created order groaning to be ‘saved’ these days? How do we labor together in that regard?