From The Grace New Testament Commentary (Revised Edition)
By Zane Hodges
The Spiritual Resurrection of our Mortal Body (8:1-13)
8:1. The statement of this verse succinctly expresses the core of Christian victory. In referring to the issue of servitude to sin (katakrima), Paul has reference to the problem discussed in the previous chapter and in 5:12-21. As Paul’s exposition in 5:12-21 has shown, “through one offense [that is, Adam’s sin] judgment” has come “to all men to produce servitude [katakrima] to sin”
(5:18; cf. 5:16).
Contrary to the widely held opinion that in 8:1 Paul is discussing the truth of justification as the removal of all condemnation, Paul is referring to the reign of sin and death that was initiated by the fall of Adam.
This servitude to sin, Paul declares, does not exist for those (1) [who] are in Christ Jesus, and (2) [who] do not walk in relation to the flesh but in relation to the Spirit. Regrettably, the words in point 2 are omitted by most modern translations, due to their reliance on a few older Greek manuscripts that differ from the reading found in most manuscripts.
Being in Christ Jesus is essential to experience this freedom from sin’s bondage (cf. 6:1-11). But, as Paul’s previous discussion has shown, by itself it is not enough. The second step to victory therefore is walking in relation to the Spirit. Here we pick up the word walk that Paul has used in 6:4.
The statement of this option (repeated in vv 4, 13) introduces a component that was not present in Paul’s struggles as described in 7:15-25—the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was not a factor at all in those struggles. His introduction into the process of Christian living is, for Paul, the key to spiritual victory. The role of the Spirit will be immediately expounded in the following section (vv 2-13).
A paraphrase might be: “those who walk flesh-wise,” and “those who walk Spirit-wise,” that is, with a fleshly or with a spiritual orientation.
8:2. The reason that servitude to sin does not exist for those described in v 1 is that the Spirit of life liberates them from the law of sin and death.
But the liberation being described is experiential and cannot be automatically predicated of all believers (cf. 7:15-25). Paul personalizes the statement—[He] has freed me from the law of sin and death. The fact that he does not say “us” is not an accident. Each believer must claim this victory in his own experience.
8:3. The incapacity of the law was due to the impediment that the flesh posed to Paul’s fulfillment of its holy demands. The law, therefore, was weak because of the flesh and could not aid Paul in the resolution of this problem.
The reason Paul has been freed from “the law of sin and death” (v 2) is due to God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh [the incarnation] and as a sacrifice for sin [the cross].
As Paul has been at pains to show (see 3:21-26; 4:23-25), by His death Christ has made it possible for God to “be righteous and [to] justify the person who has faith in Jesus” (3:26). Such a person now becomes righteous in Christ. Thus the death of Christ is also a sentence of doom upon sin in the flesh, destroying its present power and presaging its final removal from the experience of the one who is “righteous by faith” (1:17).
Therefore, “the law of sin and death” (v 2) has no right any longer to rule the experience of the justified person. He has died in Christ and sin has no legal claim on him, “for he who has died is justified [freed] from sin” (6:7). He or she can now live to God (6:11).
8:4. The very thing Paul found himself unable to do as he strove to obey the law (7:15-25) has now become possible for him by means of the Spirit. The righteous action of the law can be fulfilled by him as he walks in relation to the Spirit.
Paul uses here the Greek word dikaiōma (righteous action) which he has used previously in Romans only at 1:32; 2:26; 5:16, 18. In fact, 5:16 specifically contrasts katakrima and dikaiōma, the very words used in 8:1 (katakrima) and here (dikaiōma).
Many English translations misconstrue Paul’s point, translating dikaiōma as righteous requirement (NKJV, NASB, NET, ESV), not righteous action. No one fulfills the law (1 John 1:8). But believers can manifest righteous action.
The righteous action which the law stipulated, but failed to produce (see 7:15-25), can be achieved under grace. Understood this way, the singular of dikaiōma is important.
The singular occurs because Paul’s statement is a statement of principle. What Paul is affirming is that the thing that couldn’t be done by living under the law can in fact be achieved by walking in relation to the Spirit.
But, as already indicated in 8:1, freedom from “servitude to sin” (cf. 5:16, 18) depends not only on being “in Christ Jesus,” but also, as repeated here, on not walking in relation to the flesh but in relation to the Spirit. Paul will now proceed to discuss this Spirit-led walk (8:5-13).
8:5. Paul clarifies the basis on which he can affirm the “righteous action of the law” is carried out only by those who “walk…in relation to the Spirit.” This is true because the phrases he uses to describe a person’s walk suggest an individual’s orientation. Those who are in relation to the flesh describes people who are oriented to the things of the flesh. But in contrast, those who are in relation to the Spirit are people oriented to the things of the Spirit. It is this latter orientation that is crucial to spiritual victory.
The key word in this concept is the Greek verb phroneō, translated here as have their minds set on. This verb occurs for the first time in Romans in this verse. The cognate noun phronēma also occurs in 8:6, 7, 27 and nowhere else in the NT. The concept involved in these two words is crucial to Paul’s thought in this section (8:1-13).
The orientation of the individual Christian—that is, his focus, or mind-set—is seen by Paul as a pivotal element in the Christian “walk.”
While striving for holiness under the law, Paul had focused on the commands (e.g., “lust”) so that his mind-set was fleshly: “I must steer clear of all lust.” This fleshly orientation doomed him to commit the very sin he sought to avoid.
Simply put, if one lives with a fleshly orientation—even if it is the result of a vigorous effort to keep the law—he is going to fail because he has the wrong mind-set.
8:6. These two mind-sets, the mind-set of the flesh and the mind-set of the Spirit, Paul affirms, are poles apart. One belongs to the sphere of, and results in, death. The other belongs to a contrasting sphere with contrasting results, life and peace.
The trap into which a Christian falls when he is principally concerned with the law itself is that he cannot escape a preoccupation with the spiritual deadness within and around him. The mind-set of the Spirit, however, lifts his preoccupations to the level of supernatural life and peace. Paul’s discussion (to the end of chap. 8) proceeds to explore this concept.
8:7. Since the mind-set of the flesh is inescapably preoccupied with the sphere of sin and death (v 6), it cannot be rescued from this preoccupation and from all the evil inclinations that manifest themselves in that sphere. Thus, Paul’s experience of spiritual defeat could not be changed if this mind-set remained unchanged.
The flesh’s mind-set not only does not submit to the law of God, it is incapable of doing so. For a Christian to be trapped in the wrong mind-set is to be trapped in a life of continuous defeat, precisely as Paul has described in 7:7-25.
8:8-9. Unregenerate persons (that is, the unjustified) are people who are in the flesh. Since the mind-set of the flesh is the only one possible for them, they are completely unable to please God. The Christian life can be lived only by Christians.
It is important to keep in mind that walking in relation to the flesh (see vv 1, 4) is not, in Paul’s thought, the exclusive experience of those who are in the flesh. The Christian still has the sinful flesh in his physical body (e.g., 7:22-25; cf. 8:13) and can therefore walk in relation to the flesh. But he also has another option. At the level of his innermost man (see 7:22, 25), he is not in the flesh but in the Spirit. This means that he can also walk in relation to the Spirit.
This is the first time in Romans that Paul has used the terminology in the flesh and in the Spirit, but it is clear that they are the functional equivalents for him of the “unjustified” and the “justified.” The distinguishing feature in the contrast here is whether the person has the Spirit of Christ. If someone does not have the Spirit of Christ, that person does not belong to Him at all.
8:10. On the one hand, the physical bodies of believers remain morally dead. On the other hand, the inner presence of the Spirit gives them life within those very same dead bodies.
Paul makes clear that the Christian’s body is incapable of producing the life of God on its own. This is precisely what Paul had discovered in the fruitless struggles recorded in 7:15-25. Apart from intervention by the Spirit, the resulting spiritual defeat cannot be reversed.
8:11. The Spirit can impart to these mortal bodies (v 10) an experience of life. This statement does not refer to our future resurrection. Instead, it refers to the life and peace produced by the mind-set of the Spirit (v 6b). Thus the Spirit can overcome the death that characterizes the fallen state of our present mortal bodies (v 10) and can make them vehicles for expressing the divine life within us.
The resurrecting power of God the Father (the One who raised Christ from the dead), exercised through His Spirit, can bring us into experiential union with the risen life of Christ so that we actually walk in that “newness of life” (6:4) that He Himself possesses.
In every respect the “resurrection” of the believer’s mortal body that Paul describes here is accomplished on account of His Spirit who indwells us.
8:12-13. Paul now brings this unit of his discussion (8:1-13) to a close. We Christians (brothers) are in no way obligated to the flesh to live in relation to the flesh.
But Paul is far from denying the possibility of this. In fact, he bluntly warns his Christian readers that if you live in relation to the flesh you will die.
In fact, Paul had already tasted a “death experience” in the days when he struggled unsuccessfully against his sinful impulses (see discussion 7:9, 11). Thus, a kind of fellowship death had occurred, cutting him off from the experience of God’s life.
By contrast, if by the ministry of the Spirit we put to death the deeds of the body—that is, if we cease to obey the body’s desires—then we can enjoy the eternal life that God has given to us as a free gift (cf. 6:22-23).
The word translated you will live (zēsesthe) recalls the word zēsetai in 1:17 (“Now the one who is righteous by faith shall live”). Precisely in the manner outlined in Rom 8:1-13, the justified person can, by the power of the Spirit, live righteously in his experience.
Our Spiritual Triumph Over Suffering (8:14-39)
8:14. Clearly the life experienced in the Spirit’s pathway (8:1-13) is appropriately described as being led by the Spirit of God.
In the context of Romans 8, this has nothing to do with a mystical leading of the Lord, or inner direction (that is more mystical than Biblical). Here the larger context suggests that being led by the Spirit of God is a life in conformity to the revealed will of God as found in His Word.
Strikingly, this is Paul’s first use in Romans of the Greek word son (huios) other than in reference to Jesus Christ (as in 1:3, 4, 9; 5:10; 8:3). This statement does not simply mean that those led by the Spirit are Christians.
In Galatians, Paul clearly distinguished between a “minor child” (nēpios) and a “son” (huios). The former is under the governance of a tutor (the law), while the latter is the “adult son” who is no longer under this tutor (see Gal 4:1-7). If the Galatians passage is compared carefully with Rom 8:14-17, their similarities will be obvious.
Both passages refer to sons (Gal 4:4; Rom 8:14), heirs (Gal 4:1, 7; Rom 8:17), and adoption (Gal 4:5; Rom (8:15).
In the light of Paul’s teaching in Gal 4:1-7, it is natural here to take the expression the sons of God as a reference to the life-experience of the adult sons who are not under the law. In contrast to the earlier struggle (described in Rom 7:7-25) in which the regenerate inner man strived vainly to fulfill God’s law, now the one led by the Spirit lives the life of an adult son who is no longer under the law (note especially 6:14).
8:15. To be under the law is to experience a spirit of bondage, that is, to live under coercion and not in spiritual liberty. This spirit says, “I must do this,” rather than, “I want to do this.”
Such bondage had the effect of producing fear, since disobedience to the law stood under the threat of retribution. Man’s inability to keep the law resulted in him living continuously under this retributive threat (cf. Gal 3:10).
As Paul made clear in Rom 6:4-14, the believer has entered into “newness of life” by virtue of his union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. This union, in fact, was effected by the work of the Spirit (see discussion under 6:4). The Spirit did not again place us under the law.
All of this is what is intended by the expression a spirit of adoption as an adult son (cf. Gal 4:5). He lives, so to speak, a “grown-up” life which, for Paul, means a life “led by the Spirit of God” (v 14). This grown up son, moved by means of the Spirit, can cry out, “Abba, Father!”
8:16. As we pray (v 15), both the Holy Spirit and our own spirit testify together that we are the children of God. Paul will shortly say the Spirit is involved in our prayer life and personally makes intercession for us (vv 26, 27).
This verse is often misunderstood as a reference to some kind of inner (mystical) witness to (as opposed to with) our human spirit that gives us a subjective assurance that we are born again. Paul knows nothing of this kind of “inner witness.” This false conclusion is usually based on the English translation which sounds like it could mean that. But the meaning of the verb “testify with” is “to provide supporting evidence by testifying, [to] confirm, support by testimony” (BDAG, p. 957). Thus the Holy Spirit supports the testimony of our human spirit when we claim God as our heavenly Father as we cry, “Abba, Father.” It is as though the Spirit said to the Father as we prayed, “This is Your child.”
The result of this “twofold witness” is that in the heavenly audience room our status before God as His children has the firmest possible claim on His divine attention. Our conviction that God will indeed listen to our prayers is thereby strengthened, even when we are unsure exactly what we should pray for (vv 26, 27).
This knowledge is foundational to what Paul is now about to say about Christian suffering.
8:17. To begin with, we are heirs…of God. In v 17, Paul has two forms of heirship in mind. This double heirship is clearly signaled by the construction (on the one hand…on the other hand). Not only are God’s children heirs of God, but they may also become co-heirs with Christ on the condition that they “co-suffer” with Him.
According to OT inheritance law, the firstborn son in a family normally received twice as much as the other sons (Deut 21:17). To be co-heirs with Christ is to be co-heirs with the Firstborn (8:29).
This second heirship—co-heirship with Christ—is predicated on “co-suffering” that leads to “co-glorification.” Paul’s Greek text emphasizes the “co-” element by a repeated use of a Greek prefix with all three words: co-heirs; co-sufferers; co-glorified. The word if indicates the conditional nature of this statement.
It is this last aspect of our heirship that leads Paul directly into the theme of suffering which will occupy him until the end of the chapter (8:39).
The mention of the suffering/glory motif in v 17 turns Paul’s discussion toward the intrinsic relationship between these two things in the experience of God’s children/sons. It also leads him to the natural now/then correlation which those two themes suggest. Suffering is a present experience, while glory is a future one.
8:18. Paul now underlines the huge disparity between the present suffering and future glory. Although our sufferings in the present time so often seem dreadful and nearly unbearable, they are dwarfed by the superlative greatness of the glory to which they lead. So much is this the case that our sufferings cannot stand any real comparison with the glory that is going to be revealed for us (or “which is waiting for us,” Jerusalem Bible translation).
Paul’s point is that the glory God has prepared for us far exceeds in worth and value the temporary deprivations that sufferings entail (cf. 2 Cor 4:17).
8:19-21. The words what is eagerly desired personify the creation. Because of the very presence of corruption and death, nature has an intense longing to attain release from these things.
But such a release can only come when there is a revelation of the sons of God (cf. 8:14, 15). The adult status possessed by all believers, and experienced as they are “led by the Spirit” (see discussion under v 14), will be on full and glorious display at the coming of Christ, and that display will result in the liberation of creation itself from its bondage to corruption.
Verse 20 is best treated as a parenthetical comment, and v 21, with its initial because, picks up the link with v 19. Verse 19 asserts that the creation desires something that awaits the revelation of the sons of God, while v 20 explains exactly what the creation stands in need of.
God’s splendid creation was subjected to futility unwillingly as a result of man’s fall in Eden (see Gen 3:17-19). This subjection to futility was because of Him Who did this with special reference to man’s hope for the future (in hope).
Indeed, just as God offered hope to mankind in general (Gen 3:15), so also that hope, by implication, was extended to the creation that Satan’s triumph had damaged. The Serpent’s head was to be crushed (Gen 3:15), with all that this prophecy implied. The later prophets also spoke of this hope (Isa 11:6-9; 65:25; Hos 2:18) as part of Israel’s expectation when her kingdom would be established by Messiah.
Having specifically articulated the dire condition of nature (in v 20), Paul returns to the point stated in v 19, namely, the creation waits for God’s sons to be manifested. It waits precisely because when the revelation of the sons of God takes place, then the creation itself will be released from bondage to corruption. Corruption and death will be completely removed from the natural world. Nature will no longer be in bondage to these things.
This deliverance will allow creation to share the liberty of the glory of the children of God. As a result of their being “heirs of God” (8:17), these children will at that time have fully entered into the privilege of their “adoption as sons” (8:15). They will be totally free from all the effects of sin, corruption and death when they are resurrected (or “transformed” at the Rapture). The new body will be a body of glory (cf. 1 Cor 15:43), fully at liberty from all sin-related bondage. Such is the glorious heirship of every “child” of God whether or not he attains to co-heirship with Jesus Christ (8:17). Into that kind of liberty, the creation also will come.
8:22-23. Paul now describes the whole creation as racked with severe pain. The creation not only groans together but also suffers labor pains together. In unison, the entire created natural order is groaning and undergoing agonies that look toward a new age (v 19).
But it is not only the creation that groans. Also we who have the first fruits of the Spirit do the same.
Paul has already spoken of a spiritual resurrection of our bodies that is accomplished by the power of the Spirit (8:11) and which empowers us to live in newness of life (8:12-13; see 6:4). Yet such resurrection life is never perfectly realized in our “mortal bodies” (8:11) and awaits a total fulfillment. That will come when we are resurrected/transformed into our future bodies to enjoy “the liberty of the glory of the children of God” (8:21). It awaits what Paul in this verse calls the redemption of our body.
The result of experiencing this kind of first fruits of the Spirit is to produce an intense desire for its full realization in the future. Consequently, we who have the first fruits of the Spirit, and therefore walk in newness of life, do indeed groan within ourselves precisely because we long for the complete realization of our adoption as sons (see 8:15)—namely, the redemption of this present mortal body. In other words, we long for complete victory over all sin. Our spiritual resurrection is therefore the first fruits of our physical one. We eagerly wait for the full realization of our status as sons.
8:24-25. Paul now returns to a fundamental theme of Romans: we have been delivered in hope. The deliverance Paul has in mind is precisely the experience of walking in newness of life (6:4) that Paul has expounded in Rom 8:1-13.
The present “spiritual resurrection” of our bodies by the power of the indwelling Spirit is, by its very nature, a “first fruits” of our final resurrection and of our entrance into the unhindered experience of eternal life forever and ever.
Thus we have been delivered in hope, since the very experience of the Spirit’s power in our mortal bodies accentuates and deepens our longing and expectation (hope) for the full experience (that is, “the redemption of our body”).
However wonderful our present experience of the Spirit’s “delivering” power may be, it does not fulfill our ultimate longing, which is for a perfect deliverance. This “deliverance” we do not see yet, for if we did see it, it would no longer be hope.
The groanings of both creation and ourselves express our mutual longing and expectation. And when our hope is realized, so will also be realized the hope of creation itself (v 19).
In the meantime, as we hope for what we do not see, we should do so with endurance. With the mention of the word endurance, Paul will now turn to the intensely practical issue of how we bear up under our sufferings as we wait for the ultimate glorious reality which inspires our hope (see the discussion of 5:1-11).
How then can we endure sufferings? Paul addresses this in 8:26-32.
8:26-27. Paul now very deftly transitions to the theme of how to bear up under suffering. We urgently need divine help in our weaknesses.
In fact, our weaknesses are manifest precisely in our times of prayer. Into this gap comes the intercessory work of the Spirit who dwells within us.
Consequently, during our own inarticulate groanings, the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us. The preceding context speaks clearly of our own groanings (v 23), and the reference is surely to that. He prays the requests we ourselves do not know to pray.
God searches our hearts at such times and knows therefore what His Spirit within us desires (the aspiration of the Spirit). This is precisely the phrase that Paul also employs in 8:6. The realization of the Spirit’s “mind-set” is after all a realization of His aspiration for us. In Christian living (8:6) He desires us to experience “life and peace.” There is no reason to doubt that the aims of His intercessory work for us are exactly those things. In fact, when suffering is borne “with endurance” (8:25), it enhances our experience of “life and peace.”
That the intercession of the Spirit is unquestionably effective on our behalf is declared in the words because He makes intercession on behalf of the saints in harmony with God. This statement contains the first reference to believers as saints in Romans since 1:7.
In the Holy Spirit we have the ideal Intercessor in time of testing precisely because He and the One who searches the hearts are united in their aspiration for the saints.
8:28. This famous Pauline statement has been misunderstood.
The words All things (panta) do not refer to all events in our personal lives. Instead, they refer to the entire creation (vv 19-23). The Greek word often stood in the NT for the totality of existing things (cf. Heb 2:8-10).
From Paul’s perspective, as we suffer for Christ, our groanings are part of the larger travail of “the whole creation” (v 22) which longs for freedom from sin and death. That, of course, is the ultimate good.
The phrase those who love God is the direct object of work together with. The meaning is that all of creation works harmoniously together with those who love God to produce the good that lies ahead in the age to come. Another way of putting this idea is that when we suffer as Christians, we participate in God’s larger goal of preparing for the day when God’s children are manifested (vv 19-21).
When a Christian suffers for Christ, he should no longer think of it as merely “his personal troubles,” but rather as a part of God’s glorious purpose for creation and for His “sons” whose “glory” is about to be revealed (vv 18-19). True Christian suffering is therefore an intrinsic part of a cosmic drama that is currently unfolding. To understand them that way is to find strength to endure them.
There are many sufferings that Christians bring on themselves because of their sinfulness, and Paul is not talking about these. He is talking rather about suffering for Christ.
In short, those who love God share deeply in God’s cosmic plan. They do so precisely because they may also be described as those who are called in harmony with His purpose.
In the immediate context, God’s purpose is clearly seen to be the release of all things (panta) from bondage to corruption at the same time as this release is manifested in the sons of God (vv 19, 21). God’s purpose is that both God’s children and the created order should experience this splendid freedom.
8:29-30. Laid out in these verses are five elements: [God] (1) knew in advance, (2) predetermined, (3) called, (4) justified, and (5) glorified.
(1) Knew in advance. Individual Christians in no way catch God by surprise when they become believers. In fact, God knew such believers far in advance of their exercise of faith.
(2) Predetermined. God predetermined (not predestined) that those so known should share the likeness of His Son (i.e., not eternal salvation per se, but rather conformity to Christ) so that He might be the Firstborn among many brothers. But as v 17 declares, co-heirship is also a possibility since if we co-suffer with Him, we shall also be co-glorified with Him.
(3) Called. According to v 28, those with whom “all things” are cooperating toward eternal “good” are those who have been “called in harmony with His purpose.”
(4) Justified. In a context where suffering is the major concern, it is crucial that our fundamental relationship to God involves justification with its accompanying peace and access to the divine throne. Only in the assurance that such a relationship with God exists for us can we find the spiritual strength to endure our sufferings. The concept involved here is more fully explicated in vv 31-34.
(5) Glorified. Although glorification is actually future, here it is presented in the same past tense (aorist) as are the statements that precede it in this series. Since an aorist is quite capable of what the grammarians call a “gnomic” sense, its use as a statement of a fixed principle or a regular action is natural. All five of the aorists could well be rendered as “gnomic”—i.e., “those whom He knows in advance…predetermines…calls…justifies…glorifies.”
Here Paul picks up the theme of “glory” mentioned first in v 17 and then developed in vv 18-21. The climactic statement of v 21 specifies the shared “glory” of the creation and the “children of God,” which is perfect freedom from the “bondage to corruption.” So, it is clear that “all the creation” (v 21) participates in the glory to which all the children of God are heirs. But the mention in v 29 of the Firstborn Heir also recalls the fact that Paul has already suggested that there is a co-heirship predicated on suffering (v 17b). But what does this mean in the present context?
The following verses make that clear.
8:31-32. What an encouragement the truth of vv 29-30 ought to be for the suffering believer. If God is for us, who is really against us? Who can truly oppose God?
But beyond this stabilizing fact, the believer also can expect, as a result of his sufferings, a tremendous compensation. Paul has already indicated in v 17b that we will be “coheirs with Christ if we suffer together with Him so that we may also be glorified together with Him.” When He is glorified as the Ruler of all creation, they will be co-glorified together with Him sharing the same rulership.
Paul does not say that God has given His own Son to us, but on behalf of us all. That is, Christ died in place of us and for our eternal salvation.
Paul’s logic is clear. God did not even spare the life of His own Son but delivered Him up to lay it down on behalf of us all. If our eternal interests required God to make so enormous a sacrifice, why would He hesitate to give us the whole creation together with the Son He refused to spare?
The greater benefit (the death of God’s Son) makes the lesser one (all things) reasonable, even though both benefits are staggering to the human mind.
Here then we meet a theme that is extremely prominent in the NT (cf. Rom 8:17; 2 Tim 2:12; Rev 2:26-28; 3:21): the future King will rule all things and so will we together with Him if we endure suffering for His sake. To co-suffer leads to being co-glorified with Jesus Christ in His exaltation over all creation (8:17b).
8:33-34. Paul proceeds in vv 33-34 to tie the suffering/glory theme again to the truth of justification.
In the midst of any experience of suffering there is the temptation to think, “I am guilty and I deserve this.”
But there is no legitimate condemning voice against the believer who co-suffers with Christ. Who can bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? God Himself is the Justifier of such persons.
God does not accept charges against His chosen ones who are already in the stream of His plans for them which end in eternal Christlikeness (vv 29-30). After all, He is the One who justifies them. Nor can this justification be properly challenged by anyone (Who is the one who condemns?), since it is based on the fact that Christ is the One who died and who also rose (cf. 3:21-26; 4:22-25).
But here Paul adds that the Lord Jesus also is at the right hand of God and there He also intercedes on our behalf. Paul nowhere else in his epistles refers to the intercessory work of Christ on our behalf in the presence of God. (He has referred to the intercession of the Holy Spirit within us: 8:27.)
8:35-37. Paul returns to the rich theme of God’s love (cf. 5:3-5). He has also made the cross of Christ the central demonstration of that love (5:8).
Here, however, Paul explicitly refers for the first time in Romans to the love of Christ. Our Intercessor is more than a disinterested defense attorney—His intercession is motivated by love.
Considering all that Christ has done, and is doing, for us, who will separate us from such love as that? Paul’s list (seven items) is intended to refer to all eventualities, whether living beings or any possible experience.
However, the accumulation of words in v 35 is not intended to indicate matters that are fully distinct from one another. Instead, the accumulation of seven negative terms has a rhetorical effect
equivalent to “nothing whatever.”
The first two, tribulation and hardship, are general words and are close to being synonymous. But the following five terms (persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword) suggest the various forms in which tribulation and hardship often come.
Such troubles are attested by Scripture as experiences of the godly. Paul now takes up the words of Ps 44:22 and applies them to himself and to other suffering believers: “for Your sake we are put to death all day long.” As the previous verses of the Psalm disclose, this was not the result of sin (cf. Ps 44:20-21).
But tragic as the experience he describes may appear, on the contrary (i.e., despite appearances) in all these things we are more than conquerors.
This ultimate victory, Paul asserts, is achieved through Him who loved us. With the phrases “love of Christ” and Him who loved us in v 35 and “the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v 39), Paul employs a triad of references to his Savior’s love that tie vv 35-39 together as a unit.
The suffering believer’s situation is impregnable and moves irresistibly toward complete and unequivocal victory.
8:38-39. In a superbly elegant hymn of praise to the permanence of God’s love in Christ, Paul brings the entire first movement of his first section (1:18–8:39) to a climactic conclusion. This virtual song of triumph is composed of ten elements combined into a strophic arrangement of 2 (death, life) +3 (angels, principalities, powers) and 2 (things present, things to come) + 3 (height, depth, any other created thing). Paul affirms his complete conviction (I am persuaded) that none of the entities enumerated can separate him from the ongoing reality of divine love.
The experiences or forces which cannot cut the persecuted believer off from Christ’s love are: (1) neither death nor life (that is, nothing in our experience of living, nor in the cessation of that experience); (2) nor angels nor principalities nor powers (that is, no supernatural being whatever its exalted position); (3) nor things present nor things to come (that is, no eventuality already present or that will be present in the future); nor height nor depth nor any other created thing (that is, nothing at the highest level of existence or the lowest level or anything in between).
In the final threefold enumeration, Paul is probably thinking of beings like Satan with access to heaven (height), of beings whose sphere is in the bowels of hell (depth), and of created beings wherever they may be (cf. Eph 1:19-23; Phil 2:9-11).
The Risen and Exalted One who is at the right hand of God (v 34) is for Paul the Possessor of absolute power over every experience and every being. He is the ultimate bulwark that shields us from separation from God’s love, inasmuch as that love is found in Him who is Christ Jesus our Lord!
Zane Hodges was a pastor, author, and professor of Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary. He was promoted to glory in 2008.