Friday, February 16, 2007

Romans 8:19-22

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope that [or subjected it in hope. For] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

We are not alone in this frustration. Humans, believers, are not the only one who must patiently await the consummation. Paul says that the whole creation is groaning. The whole universe is caught up in the plight of the fall and the hope of future glory. The creation is in bondage to decay on account of the sin of man. The earth longs for its dryness to end. The wolves and lions long to eat plants and cuddle up with lambs. Cobras are anticipating the day when they can play with children without fear. Do you see evidence of these realities?

How do we know it was God that did this? How do we know it was not Adam by his sin, or Satan by his temptation of Adam and Eve? We know this because of the words “in hope” at the end of v20. Adam did not subject the world to futility in hope. Satan did not subject the world to futility in hope. Neither of them had a plan for the revelation of the children of God in due time. Only God could have done it in hope; and He did. Which leads us to an incredibly important, massive truth: the futility and corruption and groaning of the creation are judicial, not just natural. It is a divine, judicial decree, not just a natural consequence of material events. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, called “entropy,” that the universe is running down, is effectively God’s subjecting the creation to futility and decay and corruption. There is a painful realism in this text, and it is meant to help you hold on to your hope as a Christian. It helps us endure our suffering in this life to know that God Himself subjected the entirety of His creation to frustration and disorder because of sin. All the misery of the world is a bloody declaration about the nastiness of sin.

And we might think it strange that God has done this, but when we realize why, we stand in awe. It pleased God to subject it to frustration so that He could liberate it by Christ for His glory and give all things to His people as heirs. When you experience suffering, remember that you are not alone, for the totality of the created order has been objected to the effects of the fall as part of God’s design not simply to bring glory to Himself, but to bring glory to His people. When you’re suffering, remember that the whole created order is frustrated and that God has a good purpose in it. Many Christians are unfortunately so desperate to remove God from the suffering in the world that they are willing to become “deists” in order to keep God out of the equation. A deist is a person who thinks of the universe as a clock created and wound by God to tick on its own with no divine interference. Everything was explained in terms of merely natural laws, not divine decrees. And we see right here that deism is false. God is active in creation, sustaining it by His powerful Word, and subjecting it to frustration until that glorious fixed time when the sons of God are revealed. God promises that the miseries of the universe are not the throes of death but merely the labor pains of childbirth. And there is seriousness about that. But there is also peace and hope.

What types of sufferings are included? Paul talks elsewhere specifically of persecution-type sufferings, but here and following broaden the scope of suffering to include all sufferings of every kind that we and all of creation face every minute of every day. Think of any pain or suffering that you or your friends and family or your pets or wild animals or even the land experiences. This is God-subjected! And its purpose is to display the grossness of sin and to glorify Christ as Redeemer, Restorer, Rebuilder, Rewarder, and Heir.

The comfort and encouragement of this text is not that God has nothing to do with human sufferings or natural disasters, but that in all of these things and through all of them, He has hope-filled designs for His people and His creation. That is what v28 is going to say in summary: “God works all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Romans 8:17-18

Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

In v17, Paul is saying that this assurance God gives us is not merely subjective or objective; it’s both. Our spirit bears witness, and the Holy Spirit also bears witness. Furthermore, Paul says that the Holy Spirit’s bearing witness that we are sons of God does not mean that we’re not going to suffer. On the contrary, precisely because the Spirit bears witness that we are true sons of God, we expect to suffer in this life. Every trial in life is used by God to sanctify.

Paul has given us the simple truth on suffering, that God is using it, that God has purposed it for sanctification, and that the Holy Spirit is leading us through it; but now he will elaborate on suffering, because it’s an issue that often drives Christians, and all people for that matter, to despair. Paul wants to do two things: teach truth about suffering and comfort those who are suffering. And this verse is a great encouragement.

On the one hand there are the health and wealth teachers who say that if you do not have health or success in all your endeavors of life, if you are not experiencing triumph, it is clearly a result of a lack of your faith; because God wants you to have abundance. He wants you to be successful and healthy. He wants you to have riches. And if you don’t, it’s clearly because you lack the faith. Paul would say, “If your understanding of Jesus’ promise of abundant life means a lack of suffering, you have misunderstood what Jesus said.” On the other hand, there are others who cope with suffering by saying, “God just can’t help it. God wasn’t able to control that. When bad things happen to good people, it’s just another sign that though God wishes that He could help us in those circumstances, it’s just out of His control. So take comfort. It’s not what God wanted; He’s just as sad as you.” And Paul says, “No! That’s wrong too.” Both views wrong.

The point is that the believer will suffer, and God is sovereign in suffering. Paul makes that clear in v20, by the way; God Himself has subjected this creation to frustration and suffering. We’ll look at that next time. God’s in charge, even in the sphere of suffering and frustration. Suffering is part of His plan for His people, and so we rejoice, just as Paul said in chapter 5 of this letter. Life in the Spirit is a life of suffering. That’s the first thing that Paul wants us to know. Your circumstances, almost certain to involve some sort of suffering, do not indicate a failure in your hearing the will of God; your circumstances indicate to you the reality which Scripture speaks of—in this life believers suffer. Look at Jesus in that garden. What took Him to the garden? The will of God. What happened when He got to that garden? Weeping, sweating, trembling, and brokenheartedness. He prayed, “Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass.” After that, He added, “Not My will, but Yours be done.” So Paul is saying to the believer, “Do you think that the Father would have called His only begotten Son that way, and would not have called His adopted sons and daughters that way?” God calls us to glory through the way of suffering, just as He did with Christ.

Paul also wants us to learn that life in the Spirit gives us a perspective on suffering that no one else can have. Our trials here are real, and sometimes they seem as they are beyond endurance; but the glory then is beyond compare. Paul contrasts the suffering of the present with the glory of the future on the grandest scale. And these sufferings include those inward battles with sin that we continue to have, and the frustration which arises from living in a fallen world, as well as coping with the injustices of this life or dealing with the opposition or persecution that the child of God faces in one shape or form no matter when or where he or she lives. Paul says that the sufferings of the present time are nothing in comparison with the glory that is to be revealed. He is not saying that we’re going through these enormous trials now, but what we’ll see when we get to glory is just going to blow our minds, and it’s going to cause what we’ve gone through to pale in comparison. He’s not simply saying that the glory to come is going to be revealed to us as if it’s the curtains of a theatre being drawn back, and we’re spectators seeing some incredible theatrical spectacle. He’s saying something even better. Paul is saying that this is a glory not simply revealed to us, but in us. Paul is speaking of our own glorification. And not only will we see the glory of Christ when He comes, but we ourselves will share in that glory. Picture the number of believers who are taking care of family members that suffer from enormous handicaps and physical or mental difficulties. They lovingly care for those family members. And think of that day when, through the grace of Christ, there’s going to be a complete transformation. Glory will not just be shown to them, but glory will be shown in them. Can you imagine that day?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Romans 8:14-16

For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship [or adoption]. And by Him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.

Paul says that those being led by the Holy Spirit in sanctification are true sons of God. Christians realize that sanctification always accompanies and is the evidence of sonship. God does not respond to us; rather, He leads us to move and respond to Him by His Spirit. He works in us. What does it mean to be “led by the Spirit?” Consider five things:

(1) We are governed by the Spirit constantly. Paul’s not saying that certain Christians receive extraordinary swaying by the Spirit during certain trials; that may be true, but that’s not what Paul is talking about here. Paul is talking about the believer being governed constantly, not sporadically or occasionally, but every second by the Holy Spirit. (2) The leading of the Spirit is primarily about correcting not protecting. The Spirit is not protecting us from suffering, but leading us through the refinement of suffering. The Spirit is making us like Christ so that we can share in His glory. (3) The Holy Spirit does not merely guide us; He empowers us. It’s not like an Indian guide who takes you across the mountains through the treacherous passes, because he knows the way. He doesn’t just have information that you need, but He is actually the force that keeps you going. He’s the One who gives you the energy to start the trail in the first place and to finish it just as surely. (4) The leading of the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean that you are lost. He doesn’t displace you; instead He encourages and ages you. It’s truly you who are growing in grace. It’s truly you who are following in the way of the Spirit. The Spirit is encouraging and aiding you to be you. (5) The Holy Spirit always leads us in the way of truth. How many times have you had Christians come to you and say, “Well, the Spirit is leading me to do ‘X.’” And you sit there scratching your heard, thinking, “What you’re saying that you’re being led to do is wrong.” The Holy Spirit never leads against the word of God or the will of God.

In v14 Paul confirms that eternal life invariably issues from sonship. If you are a child of God, you have eternal life. If you have received Jesus Christ as your Savior, then God has given you the right to be called His child (John 1:12). Have you heard people say, “We’re all children of God”? We’ll we’re not. Only those who have Christ are children of God. Likewise, sanctification is the invariable expression of sonship. The children of God are always growing in grace. So Paul says in v12 that we ought to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18), because we are under obligation; in v13 we ought to grow in grace, because sin kills and putting sin to death brings life. And in v14, we ought to grow in grace, because we, as believers, are sons of God. The purpose of the Holy Spirit in making us sons of God is to make us like our Heavenly Father.

I have my driver’s license photo at age 16 and my dad’s at the same age. We looked very much alike, and people who have seen them wonder which is which. I don’t mind looking like my dad, because I love my dad. And He’s nice looking at age 53, and I would love to be nice looking when I’m that age. Similarly, the Holy Spirit’s purpose in indwelling believers is to make us look like our Heavenly Father so that people say, “You know, you have a striking family resemblance to the good and perfect and just and righteous Heavenly Father that rules this universe. Could you be family?” And wouldn’t you be excited to answer, “Yes, yes. I’m a son of that God. By grace I’ve been adopted into His family, and the Holy Spirit is making me to be like Him. So I am beginning to have some of the character qualities that He has.”

The presence of the Spirit testifies for us, that we are God’s children. Paul’s point in v15 is that Christians are sanctified through the work of the Holy Spirit through whom we approach God as Father as adopted children. Paul is saying that Christians are to be mindful of Who the Spirit is that they have received. The Holy Spirit is not the Spirit of bondage. He’s the Spirit Who came to set us free from the domination of sin and guilt. He’s the spirit of adoption. He’s the One Who brings home the benefits and the effects of the fact that the Heavenly Father has received us into His family. The Spirit witnesses, along with our spirit, that we are truly children of God, and thus heirs of God. Christians are assured of their sonship and their inheritance by the witness of the Spirit.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Romans 8:12-13

Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation--but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live...

Paul’s teaching on sanctification always does two things at the same time. It always energizes us to godliness and assures us of salvation. And if a teaching on sanctification fails to do both of those things at the same time, it’s not Pauline, and it’s not Biblical. Paul always energizes us to growth in grace, and he always assures us of salvation.

Paul says that Christians are under obligation not to live the way someone lives apart from Christ, but to live a different way. We have no debt or obligation to the flesh, because our new life didn’t come from the flesh. It’s the work of God that has given us this new life, and therefore, we ought not to live for the flesh or for its goals. We are under obligation to God not to live according to the principles and aims of a corrupt human nature. Paul is telling us in v12 that we ought to grow in grace, because we are in debt to God. We are obligated to God because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We often say that in the Christian life the great motive of the Christian life is gratitude. We don’t obey in order for God to love us; we obey because He has loved us savingly in Jesus Christ. But Paul’s not bringing before us a motivation of gratitude; he’s actually bringing a motivation of obligation. Paul’s point in v12 is important because of the unbreakable link between sin-killing and death on the one hand, and between killing sin and life on the other.

And in v13, we see a bit of a paradox: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Kill sin or it will kill you. Paul says that sinful living is always inseparably linked to death. But he also says that putting sin to death is inseparably linked to life. Sinful living leads to death, putting death to sin or putting sin to death always leads to life. It’s paradoxical. Jesus in Matthew 16:25 said a similar thing: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” It’s paradox. But how do we kill sin?

Paul here is indicating that the believer is always at work in sanctification. The very phrase “you are putting to death the misdeeds of the body” indicates that. The indicatives of grace never produce passivity in the true believer. They produce a strong, grace-dependent, faithful activity on the part of the believer. However, even with his emphasis on our activity, Paul makes it clear that the deeds of the flesh are being killed by the Spirit. It’s not “me versus the flesh,” it’s “the Spirit in me versus the flesh.” Who kills sin? You or God? Who gets the glory for it? You or God? Or do you share both the responsibility and the glory, since you both have a role?

When Paul says, “putting to death the misdeeds of the body,” he doesn’t just mean physical sins. He means those practices that characterize the sinful nature, which are often expressed in a physical way. But it’s not just actions of the body. He’s talking about all the characteristic practices of the sinful nature. When he says, “by the Spirit,” he’s reminding us that killing sin, that warring against sin, is something that flows from the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit through faith and not by works of law. And when Paul speaks of life at the end of v13, he’s referring to that fullness of eternal life that the saints enjoy in fellowship with God. Your killing of sin is the effect of having life; dying is the effect of sin’s killing you.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Romans 8:9-11

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you.

Paul has talked about what happens when the Spirit is not present. Now he talks about the presence of the Holy Spirit in v9. What makes the difference between a person who is walking after the flesh and walking after the Spirit? The answer is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It’s not that one person is inherently better than another person; it’s not that one person is inherently a more faithful person than another; it is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Why is it that some people walk after the flesh? They are not indwelt by the Spirit. Why is it that some people walk after the Spirit? Because they are indwelt by the Spirit.

V9 reminds us of the inseparableness of Christ and the Holy Spirit. It shows us that a Christian by definition is in Christ. Many people will teach that first you receive Christ, and then at some later time you receive the Holy Spirit. For Paul, to be in Christ is to be in the Spirit, and to be in the Spirit is to be in Christ. And if you are not in Christ, you are not in the Spirit. And if you are not in the Spirit, you are not in Christ.

Paul offers an amazing word of encouragement for the believer in v10. He says this: “The indwelling of the Spirit assures your resurrection.” V10-11 are considered difficult verses, but the thrust is very clear. Paul is basically asking you to ask two questions. First: Who raised Christ from the dead? The answer is: God, the Father, raised Christ from the dead by His Spirit. The second question is this: Who is it that is dwelling in me? The answer is the same. God the Holy Spirit is the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead. If God the Father by the power of the Spirit raised Jesus Christ from the dead, who is it that is at work in me? It is the Spirit of the Father who is at work in me. And if He raised Christ Jesus from the dead, then I am assured that I, too, will be raised from the dead. And not only this, but also that He will continue to perfect in me that which God had first begun (Philippians 1:6). And so Paul is pointing again to the fact that the law cannot supply the power to save or sanctify. It continues to be the standard of sanctification; the believer loves the law as he embraces Christ in grace; but it is the Spirit that enables us to live the Christian life.