We have often taken Romans 8 to be a celebration of our final personal and spiritual salvation, maybe in heaven. Statements like, “Whom God called he justified and whom he justified he glorified,” are assumed to be about this heavenly salvation. (Romans 8:30) Glorification here is about Adam’s restoration to priesthood, to rule the creation in the image of God. (Psalm 8) It isn’t saying that the saved people go to heaven. It is resurrection language. Paul speaks of believers ultimately in bodily resurrection, ruling over God’s creation as God intended in the beginning.
I think part of the reason why the church deviated from this biblical perspective over the years is because of its anti-Jewish position which grew over time. There was a rejection of earthly themes as Jewish ideas, so the whole gospel had to be largely spiritualised. This has been compensated for in recent years with Zionism, the idea of a Jewish kingdom being rebuilt in the land of Israel. So instead of being biased against the Jews, we are now biased against the Palestinians. This isn’t the biblical vision either. God’s kingdom doesn’t come by military or political coercion, neither is it racial. It comes according to the community teachings of Jesus Christ in the Gospels.
It’s vital that we understand Romans 8 in terms of Paul’s own situation, in describing why Israel fell and what the remedy for their fall is in the Messiah. Their fall was shown by the exile to Babylon, after their nation broke down in idolatry, which was basically self-centred living. Instead of serving the lowest in the nation and serving their neighbours,
covetousness broke up their relationships, bringing war and destruction to their land. This is the kind of trouble Paul traced in the previous chapter on the law in Romans 7. If Israel’s fall is going to be reversed, and if they are going to fulfil their call to renew the creation, this basic issue of their self-idolatry, their covetousness and their relationships with those around them must be healed. This is the problem and the salvation that Paul sees resolved in the Messiah in Romans 8.
So, when Paul speaks of a salvation in Romans 8, this is what he has in mind. Not a personalised, merely spiritual salvation, but a renewed community, through change in our inward hearts. To see this as a merely spiritual salvation is probably the opposite to what Paul intended. Rather than a personal, self-centred salvation, it is a salvation of our life styles towards one another, towards the world in which we live. It is exactly the self-centredness that salvation overthrows in our lives. The gospel doesn’t enhance our self-centredness, by giving us a self-focused salvation, but calls us away from such a focus. It is in the service of others, that we and our nations find true freedom.
The first part of Romans 8 reiterates what Paul had been discussing in Romans 6 -7. Because there is no condemnation in Christ, the Holy Spirit brings us together and helps us to live in his love and care for one another. Forgiveness in Christ “sets us free from the law of sin and death,” meaning from our captivity under the law, where condemnation brought about increased hostility between us and others. (Romans 8:2) The law builds pride into or lives. We show we are righteous by condemning others, instead of helping those in the grip of sin. But the forgiveness that is in Christ builds grace and fellowship. The law wasn’t able to overcome sin in our relationships, so Christ came to do it for us. On the cross he “condemned sin in the flesh,” meaning he revealed the way we behave towards our neighbour. (Romans 8:3) Christ revealed the way we condemn sinners, when we condemned him.
When we condemn the woman caught in adultery, or the woman who has had an abortion, our own sin isn’t revealed, because the woman has some fault. But when we turn on Christ and condemn him, he has no fault. So, his cross reveals our sin. It reveals the way we scapegoat the weak to justify ourselves. And by revealing it, it is judged in public as sin. This then exposes the law as a hopeless avenue for righteousness, meaning for restored relationships and community.
Therefore, “the righteous requirement of the law can now be fulfilled” in our lives as we walk in the Spirit. (Romans 8:4) This means walking in forgiveness and grace towards each other, receiving each other, without our former judgments of racism or nationalism. The righteous requirement of the law is met as we share life and restoration with our neighbour, because the Spirit of grace now helps us to receive them. This love shown towards each other in our daily lives is what the law requires. So, faithfulness, which comes to us through Christ, fulfils the law. The mind set on the flesh leads to condemnation, rejection, separation, hostility, but the mind set on the Spirit leads to grace, receiving and restoring others: life and peace. (Romans 8:6)
Our victory over sin is through the Spirit, meaning walking in the love of God towards our neighbour, building a family of love that includes all the tribes. It is forsaking self-centred “Christian nationalist violence,” as Peter and the disciples were summoned by Christ to do, to instead love others in Christ. (John 18:36, Matthew 5:39) If we have the Spirit this is how we walk, in enemy love. But if we walk in hostility towards others, we are the flesh, we are doing it to please and save ourselves, not for the gospel of Abraham’s one family. If we are not followers of Christ, then Christ is not in us.
And our victory over sin includes the resurrection of our body, which in the Hebrew faith is given to the heirs of the covenant, to be raised up for the eternal kingdom of God. (Romans 8:10) “The Spirit raises us up because of righteousness,” to fulfil God’s promises to the Jewish nation… because of God’s righteousness. (Acts 26:6) This means we can love our enemies, because the promises of God take away our fear of death.
“Not being debtors to the flesh,” means we have no debt of sin, so we don’t have to live in the hostility of condemnation towards others. (Romans 8:12) If we go on living according to the flesh, which means by the dictates of the law, then we will die. (Romans 8:13) We will set our community on fire with sectarianism and factions. This is exactly what Jerusalem was facing when Paul wrote, and what came to pass when Jerusalem fell in AD 70. It was factionalism – refusing the neighbour love that Jesus spoke of – that brought the city down. So, “the heirs of God, the children of God,” are those who walk by the Spirit. (Romans 8:14) This means they walk in restoring relationships towards others, rather than in condemning postures. This aligns Paul with what Jesus taught. He said, the peacemakers are the children of God.
(Matthew 5:9) Jesus outlined what this meant through his Sermon on the Mount, where he spoke of reconciling and redeeming actions towards our enemies, buildings bridges of peace through self-giving forgiveness of others. This is what Jesus did on the cross. This Spirit-living is building community. This is what it means to be children of God, because we resemble God, who sent Jesus to reconcile us.
Those who live this way of God’s heirs.
Being God’s heirs means we are the Second Adam. We are the ones who, as Jesus said, inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5) The commission of God to reign over the creation is given to the peacemakers. When Paul points out in Romans 8 that “the heirs are now being revealed,” he is saying that God is moving to restore the creation through us. (Romans 8:19) These peacemakers are the fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham.
These Christ-image bearers are the ones to fulfil Israel’s mission to the world. The only way creation can be restored is if relationships can be restored, and God’s image bearers are the ones who live out this witness to the world. “We have not received the spirit of fear, to fall back into slavery,” as those who wanted to go back to Egypt. (Romans 8:15) Paul is narrating Israel’s Exodus and entrance into the promised land, showing how that is fulfilled through our new fellowship as one family of God. If we go back to separationism and tribalism, we are going back to a satanic rule of bondage and death. But God is our “Abba Father,” meaning, if we acknowledge his other children, that he is the Father of us all. (Romans 8:15) We are heirs if we suffer with Christ, if we join Christ to include our enemies, despite the persecution this brings to us from our own countrymen. This means we will be part of Christ’s resurrection.
Likewise, in Philippians 3, Paul was ready to give up his privileges as a Jew, and as a Roman citizen, in order the come to one table with all of Christ’s people. This was the faith Paul was speaking of, not a privatised concern. And it would bring him into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, who was also persecuted for identifying himself with those rejected. This then is what it means to “know Christ.” In Philippians, as in all Paul’s letters, he argues for faith, not for the sake of personal salvation, but for the sake of a common, serving fellowship.
Returning to Romans 8, Paul next explains the end of God’s plan for salvation, the promises to Israel of a renewed creation. The creation was “subject to vanity,” in the fall of man: not in God’s anger, but “in hope” of new creation, through a transformed family. (Romans 8:20) This transformed family is the manifestation of the children of God… which means, that by the love that God’s new family has for one another, God’s covenant faithfulness, his healing righteousness, is revealed to the world.
This sets the creation free from its bondage to corruption, which is its violent covetousness, which is finally broken down by the cross of Christ and the Spirit working in our new hearts. (Romans 8:21) This is “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:2) Breaking this covetousness brings healing to the world, which currently labours under the mismanagement of humanity, the self-centred idolatry of our fallen priesthood. The cross transforms power to grab for self, to power to serve the welfare of the others and power to serve the good of the creation. Instead of storing up investments for ourselves and our group, we distribute to the need of each other and to other groups. The early church is Acts was the beginning of this world transforming community.
Before Christ appears to the whole world, the church lives out the witness of the coming kingdom of God, the Spirit of life already being revealed through our new hearts and relationships. This love is the visible sacrament, the sign which shows that love shall come and rule all. This final renewal of the world is known by the metaphor of “the Second Coming.” It is literally the appearing of Christ and of heaven’s rule to the entire earth, bringing about its complete transformation into life. Christ doesn’t come from afar, but is already here, just not yet visible to the mortal eye. The word “coming” means “appearing.” The “redemption of our bodies” is the resurrection of our bodies when Christ appears.
(Romans 8:23) We are raised up to reign upon the earth, a combined new-heaven and new-earth holistic creation, the fulfilment of Adam and Eve’s commission, as God promised to Israel.
These concepts of resurrection, new bodies, the curse of death removed from the earth, the appearance of heaven to and upon the earth, transformed nations, are all Hebrew concepts of salvation. The purpose of the church is to move the world towards this, to be God’s temple, his conduit, through which heaven rules, through which God’s kingdom flows into this world, making all things new. This is what the scriptures mean by salvation. When Paul said in Romans 10:9, that whoever believes in Christ shall be saved, he meant that God’s Spirit of life puts us onto this road of transformation. If you are being transformed into the image and likeness of Christ, then God’s faithfulness is being seen in you. This shows you are saved, and also are being saved.
Before then, “the Spirit now helps us in our weakness.” (Romans 8:26) This is mainly to do with persecution, to which Paul alluded early on in Romans 5. This persecution becomes a major feature of Romans 8. It is a major aspect of what it means to be a child of God, just like Jesus was persecuted. That is, the transformation of the world, isn’t some supernatural event that just falls out of heaven in an instant.
This changing of the world from its bondage to corruption, to its glorious deliverance, happens through a Sermon on the Mount kind of church, revealing the light to darkness. It happens in the midst of conflict, and to this conflict we reveal the forgiveness and the love of God that Jesus revealed on the cross. We are called to forgive our enemies, just like Jesus did and by this bring reconciling relationships out of the darkness.
This is what the Spirit helps us with. Our weakness is that naturally speaking we cannot love our enemies. But the Spirit renews our hearts with grace and enables us to do this with heavenly help. When we pray and ask for this help to forgive others, the Spirit begins to help our heart to love the ugly and the unlovely: the poor, the sick, the ones the world cast out as useless, and dangerous to our lives. God enables us to serve.
This is truly helping our weakness. This is how the early church renewed the Roman empire and it’s how the church renews our violent world today. And in this process of helping us, “the Spirit is conforming us into Christ’s image,” who loved and forgave his enemies. (Romans 8:29) The Spirit intercedes for us, meaning he helps us to hit the mark of Christ’s image. (Romans 8:26) This is the opposite to our former sin. He restores humanity’s imagebearing priesthood to the creation, for the creation’s deliverance, to deliver creation from pagan covetousness, through the self-giving image of its Creator. The Spirit through the church delivers humanity from its mutual destructive violence, by making our enemies our brothers and sisters through the cross, through one mutual redemption of grace, leading us from punitive to restorative justice within our wider relationships. The resurrection is the complete act of restoring our image bearing to this world, which is termed the glorification. (Romans 8:30)
“Since God has redeemed us through his Son, the world can bring no charge against us,” nor can they take anything from us. (Romans 8:33) The world is ours. (1 Corinthians 3:22) “No power on earth or over earth can separate us from the love of God.” (Romans 8:35) This shows that the transforming lives of the children of God, in delivering the creation from its corruption, will be contested by the ruling powers, which don’t like to give up their possessions. This would have included the rulers of Jerusalem in Paul’s day. These are the powers that profit from our divisions and they resist God’s rule over a family that shares its lives and possession with the weak, the sick and the rejected nations.
The principle of Christ is that it is through dying that we give life to the world. Paul died every day, “that others may live.” (2 Corinthians 4:11) A Christianity where we seek our own wellbeing is just another religion, where we try to placate God to enhance our own lives. Christ has a family who restores the world by laying down their lives for it. They are “counted as sheep for the world to slaughter,” but in slaughtering the church, the world comes to see who the true God is and is transformed. (Romans 8:36) It is not through power that the world is changed, but through meek service. Power corrupts, service transforms us all.
Romans 8 sets out the plan for Christ’s image bearers. Christ gave his life so that others may live. This is the life or way of the Spirit. The life of the flesh is saving our own life, building the separatism that existed in the Jewish and Romans worlds. Instead of building separatism, we draw others together to serve. This is the life of Christ, what Jesus did for us by laying down his own life. Giving of ourselves to serve the weak is the very thing that restores our communities. Condemning sin in the flesh of Christ, in his exposing our sin and forgiving it on the cross, set the kingdom of God loose in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, to form a new world
transforming family, in which people are received, served and restored, rather than condemned, isolated and destroyed. It releases into the world a people passionate for restorative mercy, the healing atoning power that the world has lacked ever since Cain and Lamech launched their false way of “atonement” through vengeance, alienation and bloodshed.
Paul’s purpose so far, in Romans chapters 1-8, is to bring Jews and gentiles together into one common purpose in Christ: the purpose of bringing the kingdom of God, the self-giving witness of God, into our nations. It’s that simple. Complicating the doctrines of Romans to the point that we miss Paul’s central purpose, aborts our whole simple mission. This also usually leads us into arguments that divide us and then overthrow Paul’s purpose altogether. Our discipleship which renews the world isn’t dividing in our doctrines but emulating the life of Christ together.
A summary of Romans 5:12 – 8… The overthrow of the law in the body and death of Christ brings about a renewedfellowship of grace between the world’s diverse peoples, restoring the earth.