God frees us from the sins of our past and enables to live a life guided by his Spirit.
- God frees us from guilt. (Romans 8:1-4.)
- God’s Spirit gives us a wake-up call for daily living. (Romans 8:5-11.)
- God gives us the Spirit to overcome sinful habits. (Romans 8:12-13.)
God Frees Us from Guilt
Certain Bible verses stand out as favorites for Christians. One of these is the first verse in Romans 8:
Romans 8:1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
God makes every person a real offer of freedom from condemnation and guilt for their sin. This offer is qualified by the fact that it is reserved for those who are in Christ Jesus. The next several verses go on to explain what this means. The reason that God can overlook human sin is that Jesus paid for this sin by dying on the cross. He fulfilled the demands of God’s law, and as a result, everyone who trusts in him as their savior receives forgiveness for their sins. Followers of Jesus don’t have to live lives of wallowing in guilt for the things they’ve done. Jesus has paid for their sins once and for all.
God’s Spirit Gives Us a Wake-Up Call for Daily Living
In Romans 8:5, Paul begins to explain two different ways of life: living according to the flesh (“sinful nature” in some translations) and living according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:5 Those who are dominated by the flesh (“sinful nature”) think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit.
Humans are born with a sinful nature and indulge that sinful nature by making choices that are contrary to God’s will. By contrast, if a person accepts Jesus as their savior, they are able to live a life directed by the Holy Spirit. This is a life that is lead in ways that please God.
This section of Romans 8 should make the Christian pause and consider how they are living. Are they living a life guided by the Holy Spirit, or are they living a life that looks like they are still following their former, fleshly (“sinful”) nature? It’s important for a Christian to pay attention to how they are living. A life dominated by the sinful nature leads to death, while a life led by the Spirit leads to life and peace. When a person realizes that they are living a life led by the sinful nature, the only right response is to confess their sin and turn back to God.
God Gives Us the Spirit to Overcome Sinful Habits
The reality is that all Christians will continue with the struggle with sin until they leave this earth. Yet Romans 8:12-13 offers hope about how a person can experience victory over sin.
Romans 8:13 For if you live by [the flesh’s] dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.
Like Romans 8:6, Romans 8:13 demonstrates that death is the end of a life lived according to the sinful nature. But there is a better path. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a Christian is able to battle and find victory over their sinful nature. In this battle, there are several ways that God helps the Christian. First, every Christian has the Holy Spirit in them who guides them toward God and away from temptation. Second, God offers his word, the Bible, as a guide for life. Thirdly, Christians have each other for support – to pray for one another and to encourage each other in ways that are pleasing to God.
With this help, Christians don’t have to suffer constant defeat with their sin but can find real victory. The fact that a person is continuing to do battle with their sin, even in the midst of setbacks, is a sign that they are listening to the Spirit in their lives.
- What’s your favorite verse, passage, or chapter in the Bible? Why is it your favorite?
- Why do you think so many people love Romans 8?
- Why do people struggle with feelings of guilt, shame, and condemnation? What are some common areas of life where people feel guilty/ashamed?
- Read Romans 8:1. How can this verse provide hope for those who struggle with feelings of guilt, shame, and condemnation?
- Read Romans 8:2-4. On what basis can God say that a person is not condemned?
- Read Romans 8:5-11. Describe the life led by the sinful nature and the life led by the Holy Spirit. What is the “sinful nature”? How do you see the sinful nature at work in your life or in the lives of others?
- How do you know if you are being led by the sinful nature or the Holy Spirit?
- Read Romans 8:12-13. According to these verses, how seriously should we take the struggle against sin? Where do you find support for your answer?
- What are some practical steps that you can take to “put to death” sins in your life?
- Is there a particular sin that God wants you to battle right now? If so, make a plan with a mentor on how you can fight that sin and experience freedom.
For general questions about Romans, readers should refer to this document.
Romans 8 deals broadly with two topics. First, 8:1-17 establishes Christians’ spirit-empowered new lives in Christ. The promise of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:11-14) is one of ultimate hope regardless of worldly circumstances.
8:18-39 establishes an “eschatological” tension, or, more commonly, an “already/not yet” tension. We see this in the corruption of creation (8:18-25) and in the bad things that happen in our own lives (8:26-30)—these things need not cause us to dread, because we are called according to God’s purpose (8:28). Because we are called according to his purpose, we are secure in him. The Father foreknew us, the Son was sacrificed for us, the Spirit empowers us, guides us, and intercedes (8:31-39). Despite the world’s fallenness, we can hold on to this ultimate hope in Christ. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” The Roman church itself had experienced persecution when the Jewish Christians were exiled, and not long after the writing of this letter, they would experience a more serious persecution under Nero, one that would claim the life of Paul himself.
As the sermon outline notes, the logic of Romans 8 is dependent upon the argumentation that preceded it. Preachers would be wise to read Romans 1-7 to see how Romans 8 encapsulates much of the letter as a whole. The original audiences of Romans would have heard it read aloud from start to finish, so we do ourselves a disservice to not follow suit.
Compare Romans 8:2-13 with Galatians 5:13-25.
Pay special attention to repeated vocabulary. “Spirit” occurs 21 times in Romans 8 alone. Pay attention to “law” and “flesh” as well.
The sermon divides the text from 8:1-13. Scholars (and modern translations) divide it 8:1-11 and 8:12-17. This is because the passages deal with two separate but related lines of thought (“So, then” in 8:12 indicates a new line of thought.)
There is a textual issue regarding the phrase “…who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” This phrase does not appear or is footnoted in many modern translations (TNIV, ESV, NLT) but appears in some versions (KJV, MEV). Modern scholarship has determined that this phrase is most likely not original to the text of Romans. (For more, see gotquestion.org’s article on the Majority Text or the Wikipedia pages for the Textus Receptus and the Byzantine Text.)
Preachers, teachers, and small group leaders may be asked about this if someone is reading from a Majority Text translation.
Romans 8:7 – Compare with John 14:17.
Romans 8:11 – “You” is plural here. Compare with 2 Corinthians 4:14; Ephesians 3:17.
Romans 8:13 – Compare with Romans 8:7-8.
As God’s adopted children, we receive the inheritance of Christ, which includes the surprising struggle of suffering.
- You can have a close relationship with God as your Father. (Romans 8:14-16.)
- As God’s children, we share in the inheritance of Jesus. (Romans 8:17a.)
- Our inheritance as God’s children includes suffering. (Romans 8:17b.)
The Bible presents God as our father. This rich metaphor can help us understand how it changes our lives to be considered children of God.
You Can Have a Close Relationship with God as Your Father
When you consider human nature, along with our individual sin, it’s surprising that God would want to welcome us into his family. Yet he does.
Romans 8:14-16 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you have received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.
No one is born into God’s family. We only become his children by adoption. When we place our faith in Jesus and his saving work, we receive the Holy Spirit, who confirms our standing as children of God. As sons and daughters of God, the door is now open to a close, intimate relationship with our father in heaven. We can approach God on familiar, affectionate terms, as our “Abba” (an ancient word for “Daddy”). We can share everything with him – our thoughts, needs, desires, and more – with no shame. And we can get to know him deeply as well.
Yet many Christians approach God as servants instead of children. We do what we’re supposed to do in order to get what we’re supposed to get, but without any emotional attachment or real sharing of life. Romans 8:15 says that we did not receive a spirit that makes us slaves. We are God’s children, so we have every right to come to him in trust, confidence, and love. We have the privilege of running into his arms, sitting on his lap, and enjoying his presence and favor every day.
As God’s Children, We Share in the Inheritance of Jesus
Having been adopted into God’s family, it follows that we have become his heirs.
Romans 8:17a And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.
Our inheritance from our father is amazing. Romans 8:17 summarizes it in two concepts. First, we are heirs of God’s glory. Second, we are heirs together with Christ. Every glorious thing that God the Father has given to God the Son, he gives to us as well. Like an earthly inheritance, we won’t get this all right away. This priceless legacy is kept securely in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:3-4). We will inherit a new world, made perfect, without sorrow or sin (Revelation 21:1-5). We will inherit resurrection bodies, transformed to be like Jesus’s glorious body (Phil 3:20-21). With this great hope, we can face life with confidence. In Christ, you are a child of God! You have a wonderful future to anticipate.
Our Inheritance as God’s Children Includes Suffering
This is a surprising twist in the story! If we are heirs together with Christ, our union with him is not limited to his glory.
Romans 8:17b But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.
Jesus suffered before he entered into glory. He endured the cross first, and only then was he raised from the dead and enthroned in heaven (Hebrews 12:2). This pattern also applies to us: first the cross, then the crown. Suffering usually makes us doubt God’s love or our status as his daughters and sons. The problem is that we don’t understand the value of suffering. God uses adversity to train us, just like an earthly father disciplines his children for their good (Hebrews 12:7-11). Suffering is not punitive. As a loving father, God can use adversity to help us grow. In fact, sometimes pain is the only teacher we will listen to. Unlike human parents, God always gets it right. We can trust him with our trials.
God is a good father. We are privileged to be adopted as his children, through no merit of our own. We have a glorious future inheritance in store. But our inheritance also includes suffering. You have the privilege of a close, personal relationship with God. Don’t let suffering push you away from him.
- Have you ever received an inheritance? What happened?
- Read Romans 8:14-16. How does this describe our relationship with God?
- When you consider God as our father, what does that relationship look like to you in practice?
- Read Romans 8:17. What does this say about our inheritance as God’s children?
- Read 1 Peter 1:3-4. How is our inheritance described here? What might this involve?
- Read Philippians 3:10. How does this add to our understanding of Romans 8:17?
- Read Hebrews 12:7-11. Why does God, as our father, allow hardship in our lives?
As noted in the previous digging deeper notes, Romans 8:12-17 is agreed to be a complete textual unit vs. 8:14-17. Though we may be teaching and preaching from 8:14-17, preachers and small group leaders would be wise to grasp the logic of Paul’s argument as it begins in v12 even though the sermon points are anchored in 14-17.
Preachers and leaders should also review Romans 8:1-11. Romans 8:1-17 is a larger argument concerned with, among other things, the Spirit/flesh dichotomy of the Christian life.
The concept of “adoption” has a rich history in the Bible reaching back to the Old Testament (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 32:10; 2 Samuel 7:14; [This text in particular is seen by some scholars as the foundation of Paul’s use of adoption language.] Hosea 11:1—many more texts could be listed). Israel itself is said to have been graciously chosen by God (Deuteronomy 7:7-8) in a way that is comparable to adoption, despite the word not being used.
Adoption in the NT is achieved through Jesus Christ and is proven by a person being filled with the Holy Spirit. Adoption, in Paul’s writings, is the only way by which a person becomes a child of God. [Romans 8:23 also mentions adoption but suggests Christians have not yet received it. This is not a contradiction. Romans 8:18 begins a section describing the fallen state of creation. Paul is highlighting the tension of the “already/not yet” reality of living as redeemed people in a fallen world. Paul often speaks in terms of things being complete as well as ongoing; we “are saved” (Ephesians 2:1-9; Titus 2:11) as well as “being saved” (2 Corinthians 3:18; Titus 2:12) and we are also awaiting future glory (Romans 8:23; Colossians 3:1-4; Titus 2:13). It will be better to understand Paul saying that we are waiting for all the results of our adoption to be made manifest.] This point was clarified in the general notes on Romans document. God has always “elected” his people by first taking steps to initiate relationship with them. Through Jesus, this adoption is extended to all humanity, not only to a particular ethnic community.
Contrary to the ideas of popular culture and some religions, we are not all God’s children by virtue of being human. We are loved by God while we are his enemies (John 3:16; Romans 5:8) but God’s general love for humanity is not the same as his special love for his spiritually-adopted children—Christians. God desires that all people would be saved and does not rejoice in the destruction of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9) but that does not mean everyone is or will be saved.
Relevant Parallels and Cross-References to Romans 8:12-17
Romans 6:5; 8:23, 9:4, 25-26
2 Corinthians 6:16-18
Galatians 3:16, 26-27; 4:4-7
Ephesians 1:5, 13-14
1 John 3:24
Comments on Romans 8:14-17
Though the text literally reads “sons of God” in 8:14, it is fair to extend the meaning to all people: “children of God.” [The Greek words of the New Testament (NT) have different semantic ranges than their modern English corollaries. This is atop the fact that ancient writers and readers did not necessarily share 21st-century American concerns about gender-biased or gender-neutral language.] Preachers should be aware that different Bible translations render the literal word “sons” differently; ESV/NLT, for example. 2 Corinthians 6:18, referencing adoption, refers to sons and daughters specifically. Romans 8:16, 17, and 21 use the gender-neutral Greek term for “children.”
The point of 8:14 is that there is an inseparable connection between those who are Spirit-led and those who are adopted children of God. There is also a nuanced meaning to being “led” by the Spirit, as elsewhere Christians are said to be “sealed” (Ephesians 1:13-14) by the Spirit, “indwelled” (John 14:17) by the Spirit; we have “received” (Romans 5:5; 8:15) the Spirit. Paul’s point in saying here that we are “led” vs. being “indwelled,” etc., concerns the practical outworking in our actions in what it means to have the Holy Spirit; in Romans 8:4, a more literal rendering is that we “walk” according to the spirit (vs. “live”—NIV) further reinforcing the metaphor. “Led” here has the stronger meaning of being “driven” like a pack animal or “compelled” when one is arrested. J.D.G. Dunn (Dunn. J.D.G. Word Biblical Commentary, Romans 1-8, vol. 38a. 450.) writes:
…It is important to note the degree of emotional intensity which Paul assumes in talking of believers’ relation to the Spirit. He evidently understood the Christian life as an integrated balance between moral effort (v 14) and yielding to deeply felt inward compulsions (cf. Gal 5:16, 18)…
We are “led” but we must follow by “walking” in the way in which we are led (8:4). The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (pp.377-78) reads:
“Thus when Paul speaks of the ‘Spirit of adoption’ in 8:15 he may have fused together promises linking the Spirit with divine adoption and with the spiritual and moral transformation of the restored people of God.”
The reason we can honor God with our lives is because we are led by the Spirit. If someone does not have the Holy Spirit, they cannot honor God, even if such a person is very religiously-observant. The crucial point is not that we “walk” but that we “follow” where we are led, otherwise we are “walking” the wrong way.
Paul assumes all of this to be the case as he enters into his larger point in this section of text: Christians are the adopted children of God, which makes us heirs of God’s “inheritance.” This “inheritance” is eternal life and co-reigning with Christ.
8:17b—“provided that we suffer with [Christ]”
Sharing in Christ’s sufferings and death is a lifelong process.
First, it is the willingness to suffer with Christ. We are not suffering with Christ if we are not actually in Christ and if we have not chosen that no matter what comes, we will suffer with Christ.
Second, it is the actuality of suffering with Christ. This does not always, and historically has not always, looked like physical persecution for the Christian faith. Some Christians have been able to live their entire lives with an honest willingness to suffer with Christ without actually experiencing physical persecution.
On the other hand, we all will suffer at times in our lives, perhaps in an accident, hardship, or loss or illness. In these moments when suffering strikes us, how we allow ourselves to react shows a great deal of what is in our hearts. Suffering will always become an actuality in our lives, but how we go about our suffering proves our connection to Christ.
As Christians, our hope is in the future glory that is to come when God redeems us and his creation.
- Because of sin, the world is not what it ought to be. (Romans 8:20-22.)
- God’s creation and his children have the hope of future glory. (Romans 8:23-27.)
- The joy of the future will be greater than our current suffering. (Romans 8:18.)
Because of Sin, the World Is Not What It Ought to Be
In the beginning, God created all things good. All of the heavens and the earth were made to highlight his glory. His greatest creative masterpiece, humanity, decided to disobey him. As a result, sin entered the world.
Because of sin, God’s perfect creation was changed forever. With humanity’s sin came came consequences: natural disaster, bitterness, fear, suffering, and death. All of creation was cursed because of humanity’s disobedience. Because of sin, the world and everything in it is no longer what it was meant to be. In Romans 8:20-22, Paul comments further on how all of creation was affected by the fall of humanity.
Romans 8:20-22 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Although this is tragic news, we see the word “hope” in 8:21. From the very beginning, God had a plan of redemption. Even though all of creation and humanity was hopeless, God made a way for his people to be in relationship with him again. God continued to reveal his plan of redemption for many centuries and finally fulfilled that plan in the death and resurrection of his son, Jesus Christ.
God’s Creation and His Children Have the Hope of Future Glory
Despite the grave nature of sin and its consequences on creation, those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins have the promise of great hope and future glory. As Christians, we only have a taste of what is to come through the Holy Spirit. What we sense, taste, and know now is only a glimpse of what is to come. This taste makes us yearn and groan for more.
Romans 8:23-27 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved.
As followers of Christ, our hope is that one day everything will be made perfect again. No more fear, no more suffering, and no more death. There will be a new heaven and a new earth and the weight of sin will no longer be upon it. However, in a sin-filled world, waiting for future glory is easier said than done. When the difficulties of life and the consequences of sin occur, it is easy to lose hope. However, we can persevere through the power of the Holy Spirit and his guidance for our lives.
Romans 8:25-27 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently. And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.
The Joy of the Future Will Be Greater Than Our Current Suffering
When God finally redeems creation, the glory that we experience in Heaven will be far greater than the pain that we have temporarily suffered on earth. This is a great promise for us!
Romans 8:18-19 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.
The suffering that we will experience now, the tragedy, the chaos of nature and creation will all be worth it in the end. Life is hard, loss is difficult, and sin has ruined everything, but we can rest assured in the faithfulness and the promise of God that one day he will make all things new.
Whatever trials you may be in today, remember the glory to come. Remember that God is using trials to strengthen your faith. Consider it pure joy when you experience difficulty because God is going to use it to make a positive impact in your life – today and for all of eternity.
- When you think of “sin,” what first comes to mind? Why?
- Sin can be defined as, “Doing things according to our own path instead of God’s.” Why do you think it is so easy to go our own way instead of God’s?
- Read Genesis 3:17-19. When God said to Adam that “…the ground is cursed because of you,” what do you think he meant? Explain.
- What is an example of a way in which you chose your own path instead of God’s? What happened?
- Read Romans 8:23-27. How can this verse provide hope for Christians?
- Why is it so difficult to wait patiently for something that is promised to you?
- What does Paul mean by the Holy Spirit being a “foretaste of future glory”?
- Read Romans 8:18. What is one thing that you have struggled with and can’t wait to see made perfect again?
- What are some practical ways you can focus on our future hope instead of on current struggles?
“Futility” – Romans 8:20
What many translations render as “futility” comes from the Greek ματαιότης (mataiotes); this word refers to “emptiness,” a lack of direction or a sense of purposelessness – it is what philosopher Ravi Zacharias would call “violation of purpose” or what the writer of Ecclesiastes would call “vanity” or “meaninglessness” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14; 2:1, 11, 15, 17). In the LXX, this word is the stand-in for the Hebrew הֶבֶל (hevel)—the word for “meaningless” in Ecclesiastes.
On this, P.W. Comfort (Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 322) writes:
Nowhere in the NT is the kind of futility described in Ecclesiastes so clearly reflected as in Romans 8:20. When Paul speaks of the creation being subjected to futility, he is focusing on the inability of creation to attain the goal for which it was originally designed.
This concept also has implications for the lives of individuals:
The thought life of the unregenerate is futile and aimless because it is alienated from the life of God and lacks spiritual insight. Thus it produces a life of purposelessness and ineffectiveness, marked by abandonment to licentiousness, greed, and impurity (Ephesians 4:19; cf. Romans 1:24-32).
Romans 8:20, however, reads that it is creation (Greek: κτίσις) itself which has been subjected to this purposelessness. This includes humans as part of the physical dimension of creation, but the verse focuses on the non-human aspects of the world, what theologians call “natural evil.” Much of Romans 8:18-27 orbits the question of natural evil. No one will disagree that we live in a world plagued by apparently unjust or “gratuitous” evil, like when a child is diagnosed with terminal cancer or a massive earthquake indiscriminately kills hundreds of thousands of people. There are countless results of creation’s “futility,” but all come back to the idea that things are not as they should be. Creation itself “groans” for redemption, as Paul will write several verses later.
Summarizing this point, J.D.G. Dunn (Word Biblical Commentary, 467) writes:
[Romans 8:18-30] is the climax to chaps. 6-8, and indeed of 1:18-8:30. Paul presents this cosmic outworking of salvation in strong Adam terms, as the final reversal of man’s failure and climax of his restoration.
“Because of Him Who Subjected It” – Genesis 3:14-19/Romans 8:20
Romans 8:20 is a matter of scholarly concern over the identity of “him” who subjects creation. For our purposes, we will simply list the majority view. (For a larger discussion on this topic, click here for the longer version of this article.)
In the majority view (see J.D.G. Dunn, Romans, 470), “him” in Romans 8:20 is God, but the ultimate cause of the subjection is Adam’s sin. God pronounced a curse upon creation because of Adam and Eve’s sin, so creation’s “subjection” is in actuality God’s judgment, similar to how God “gave over” sinful people to their passions in Romans 1. This does not make God morally responsible for the state of the world, he is simply allowing the freewill choices of his creations to have real effects in the world. This “curse” on the “ground” (by extension in Romans: all creation) is closely related to the concept of “futility” described above. Note the wording of Genesis 3:17:
Genesis 3:17 (NASB) Then to Adam [God] said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life…
This view is rooted in a nuanced interpretation of the first of the two times the word “subjected” occurs in Romans 8:20. In this instance, the one who is doing the subjecting is not named. Those in favor of this position argue that this is because Paul is writing in the “divine passive” in Greek. D.B. Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 437) explains:
The passive is also used when God is the obvious agent. Many grammars call this a divine passive (or theological passive), assuming that its use was due to the Jewish aversion to using the divine name [YHWH; “LORD” in the Old Testament]. For example, in the Beatitudes, the passive is used: “they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4), “they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6), “they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
Based on the idea of a “divine passive,” the argument is that God is de facto the ultimate cause of the subjection in Romans 8:20—despite not being named—and that when God pronounced that the ground is “cursed” in Genesis 3, it was not simply a statement of fact but a command that took effect when he spoke. In essence, God has said: “You have shown by your actions that you would like to live in a sinful world; fine, here you are.”
The “Curse” in Genesis 3:14-17
The curse of Genesis 3 is not an insignificant matter. J. McKeown (Dictionary of the Old Testament and Pentateuch, 83 and 85) writes:
Hebrew concepts of blessing and cursing should not be confused with the modern English usage, where the terms may refer merely to wishing someone good or ill. Biblical benedictions and imprecations are powerful and effect real change in the circumstances of the recipients. The content and the end result of the blessing or cursing vary from one situation to another, but generally blessing was the power to succeed and cursing was a harmful power that prevented or hindered success.
Pronouncements of blessing and cursing in the Pentateuch [Genesis-Deuteronomy] were powerful and efficacious. Such pronouncements were actions rather than simply speeches. They had the power to change situations and to alter circumstances.
It is significant that before God takes to prescribing increased pain in childbearing for Eve (Genesis 3:16), he first mentions a “seed” who will crush the serpent’s head in 3:15—Christian theologians largely agree that this is a reference to Jesus Christ. The logic proceeds as follows: (1) the serpent is cursed; (2) the promise of a serpent-crusher is made; (3) Eve will experience pain in childbearing, etc.; (4) the ground is cursed because of Adam’s sin.
The ultimate point is this: we live in a fallen world that will be rejuvenated when God restores everything to how it was always supposed to be and expunges all “futility” from his creation.
Who Is “Cursed?”
It is crucial to note that in Genesis 3:14-19, judgment by God is meted out to the serpent (later identified as Satan in Revelation 12) on Eve, and on Adam. However, of the three, the only one God says is cursed is the serpent. God does not say that Eve or Adam is cursed. Eve’s pain is “multiplied greatly” and “the ground is cursed” because of Adam’s sin, but Adam and Eve themselves are not cursed.
Click here to see a translation of the Hebrew of Genesis 3:14-19 by this article’s author.
The promise of a serpent-crusher had already been made before any punishment is pronounced on the humans, and immediately after punishment is pronounced, God provides clothing for the humans (Genesis 3:21). Even given human sin, God still has Adam and Eve’s best in mind.
Which Person Is Responsible for the Fall?
In the Bible, Adam (Romans 5:12) and Eve (2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:13-14) are each viewed as individually responsible for the Fall. It is a mistake to read these texts in isolation and to fully blame one person or the other. R.C. Ortlund (The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 651) explains:
In approaching the woman the serpent addresses both the woman and the man (‘you’ in 3:1, 4, and 5 is plural), leading her to speak on behalf of both her husband and herself (‘We’ may eat,’ v.2). But where is the man as this dialogue unfolds? The answer is unclear, but it would appear that he stands by and does nothing (‘And she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate’, v.6, NRSV).
Though some texts may speak in terms of one person’s failure in the Garden of Eden, a broad reading of scripture shows that Adam and Eve are each responsible for the Fall.
Biblical “Hope” (Romans 8:20)
The ultimate conception of biblical hope is the renewal of all creation from the disruption caused by Adam and Eve at the Fall. While hope manifests in other ways throughout the scripture (see the pursueGOD.org topics linked above) Romans 8:20 refers to this ultimate dimension of hope that will come about in the final chapter of history when God finally renews all creation. It is this very concept that concerns much of Romans 8:18-25.
You were saved so that you would become more like Jesus. And God uses everything that happens to you for that purpose, which he guides from beginning to end.
- God is always working for the good of his people. (Romans 8:28.)
- God’s plan is to make you more like Jesus. (Romans 8:29.)
- God is at work in every step from earth to heaven. (Romans 8:30.)
Everyone suffers hardship, and hardship can make us doubt God’s care. Yet God promises that even when things aren’t going well, he is always at work. He has a plan for our lives and his will cannot be derailed by any troubles life brings.
God Is Always Working for the Good of His People
Even though life is filled with difficulties, God is not absent during those times. He is at work in the good and the bad.
Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.
The Bible assures us that God is at work in all the details of our lives. He causes everything to work together for good for those who belong to him. God doesn’t cause evil, but when evil does happen, God turns it to a greater purpose. His purpose is far greater than we imagine, and no suffering can impede it.
God’s Plan Is to Make You More Like Jesus
God’s ultimate will for our lives isn’t about where we should live or go to school or what career we should pursue. His ultimate will is that we reflect Jesus more and more fully.
Romans 8:29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
God had this purpose in mind for us long before we were born. This is the reason he called us to salvation. Becoming like Jesus is not about a physical likeness. What God desires is that we display the traits of Jesus in our lives. It doesn’t mean that we will become divine like him. But even in our humanity, we can mirror more and more of Jesus’s character, as our love for God and others grows and as we demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). And we can reflect his mission more and more fully as we serve others and help others pursue God.
This purpose puts the difficult things we go through in a new perspective. Adversity is hard enough, but it’s even worse when it feels like it has no purpose. But God uses suffering to make us more like Jesus. If our lives are to represent Jesus more and more completely, it may require painful blows to blast away our sinful inclinations, or purifying fire to mold us into new people.
God Is at Work in Every Step from Earth to Heaven
God himself ensures us that this transformation process is complete from beginning to end.
Romans 8:30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.
There is a clear connection between every step of our salvation. The same God who chose us and called us to follow him will make sure that we have a right standing with him. If God provided that right standing through Jesus, then he will certainly also give us his glory. God will never drop the ball. He is guiding the process the entire way to guarantee that our salvation will reach to the finish line.
When hard times come, don’t lose confidence in God. Don’t give up hope in his work. Hardship does not mean God has abandoned us. It only means God is working something greater in our character. No matter what happens, never stop trusting in God’s great plan.
- Do you tend to see the glass half-full or half-empty? Explain.
- Read Romans 8:28. What confidence do believers have about events that occur in our lives?
- When has it been hardest for you to believe this?
- How have you seen God bring something good out of a bad situation?
- Read Romans 8:29. What is the ultimate good that God intends to bring out of hardships?
- What does it mean to “become like his Son”? What doesn’t it mean?
- “It requires suffering to become more like Jesus.” Do you agree or disagree, and why?
- Read Romans 8:30. What assurance does God give to his people about this process of transformation?
- How are you doing in the school of hard knocks right now?
The Context of Romans 8:28
Romans 8:28 is a well-known verse that often finds its way into Facebook feeds and Instagram posts, yet we must avoid “bumper sticker Christianity.” As one renowned theologian has said, “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof-text.” The question we must always ask ourselves when studying the Bible is not what the Bible “says” but what the Bible “means.” Many people falsely believe that the Bible means whatever they think it must mean. There is no shortcut to understanding God’s word and faithfully applying it to our lives, and we have more resources than ever before for studying God’s word and sharing in accountability with other believers.
What Romans 8:28 is not teaching is that if we love and obey God, everything will be easy all of the time and we will get everything we desire. Some Christians unfortunately believe this to be the case, and worse, some preachers teach the false message of the “prosperity gospel.” What God knows to be for our good often has little to do with what we believe is for our good. God is not a vending machine who will spit out blessings if we pay him with the currency of our faith and obedience or if we “sow faith seeds” to televangelists. The Apostle Paul lived a faithful life of service to Jesus Christ yet suffered tremendously (Acts 14:22; 20:23; Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Philippians 1:29; 3:8). Jesus even said of Paul, “I will show [Paul] how much he must suffer for my name” (Acts 9:16). There are countless biblical examples of godly people who have suffered and yet are still called “blessed.” This is because being blessed is not primarily about finances, health, safety, or comfort but about walking in close relationship with God and more and more becoming the kind of people he truly wants us to be (see the section on “glory” below for more).
The context of Romans 8:28 is that of suffering, hardship, and a world at odds with God’s original purposes; reading Romans 8:18-27 shows this. In this world at odds with the ultimate will of God, we will experience trials. Yet God will cause these trials to turn out for our ultimate good—which means that at times, we may not ever see bad situations resolve themselves during our mortal lives. We may have to wait until eternity, when we are with Jesus, to see what God was orchestrating behind the scenes. Only then will we realize that things we suffered through were for our and others’ ultimate good (Genesis 45:5-8; 50:20). One professor of New Testament (NT), who suffered from lifelong asthma, would frequently tell his students that he believed God would heal him “in this life or the next.” This is the correct perspective on how to live as a blessed follower of Christ in a fallen world.
Suffering is an opportunity for us to learn to trust Jesus, to turn to God for our every need, and to examine our lives from an eternal perspective. We will experience hardships in this life (John 15:18-20) and God uses hardship to make us more and more into the people he is re-creating us to be through the Holy Spirit (James 1:2-4).
“Called According to His Purpose”—Romans 8:28
What does it mean to be “those who love God and are called according to his purpose?”
The language of “calling” or “election” orbits a theological debate over the question of “determinism,” or what many have seen in the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate within Protestant Christianity. Is God in control of everything in the literal sense that he is manipulating all the circumstances of creation, even the human will? Or is God in control in a more detached sense, in that human free will legitimately exists and the results of natural events will work themselves out whether or not God directly takes action? Determinists would say everything is “determined” by God’s complete sovereignty in all things; non-determinists would agree that God is sovereign and all-powerful, but that his sovereignty does not require him to micromanage all of existence and this in no way diminishes him.
There are two main ways to think about “election,” “predestination,” or “calling.” The idea of “unconditional election” tends to be a part of the Calvinist framework. This idea says that people become saved because God determined they would be saved before they ever lived. The second main theory is called “conditional election.” This tends to be part of an Arminian framework and says that God does elect Christians to salvation, but he does this on the basis of what he knows (see the section on “foreknowledge” below) through his omniscience they will choose to do with their free will—namely, put their trust in Christ for their salvation.
When Paul speaks of God’s “purpose,” he uses a Greek word that tends to be used in reference to an “offering” to a deity in broader Greek culture, or in the Septuagint (LXX) the showbread (Exodus 29:23; 40:4) and elsewhere in the NT the showbread as well (Mark 2:26; Hebrews 9:2). This does not mean the word should actually be translated “showbread” in Romans 8:28. Rather, the word has the broader sense of “something which has been laid out” in the same way that the showbread was “laid out” on a table and offerings to Greek deities were “laid out” in their respective temples. Even in modern English we say that we have “laid out plans,” so a translation of the Greek on this basis might read, “called according to the plans [God] laid out.” This meaning fits well in the context of the next verses, which discuss God’s foreknowledge and predestination.
SEE: Romans 1:7; 8:30; 9:24-26; 1 Corinthians 1:2, 24-26; Galatians 1:6; 5:8; Ephesians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:9.
“Firstborn Among Many Brethren” — Romans 8:29
Romans 8:29 (NASB) reads:
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren…
What does it mean that Jesus is “the firstborn among many brethren”?
“Firstborn” here is not about Jesus’s birth, although he was physically born of Mary when she was a virgin (Luke 2:7). The real weight of “firstborn” has to do with the idea of “preeminence,” rooted in the Jewish idea that the firstborn son receives the greatest portion of the family inheritance upon his father’s death. Colossians 1:15 calls Jesus the “firstborn over creation” in this manner; Jesus has the “highest rank.” Of course, because Christians share in the family of God (“brethren”) thanks to Jesus, we, too, are recipients of this inheritance (Romans 8:17).
Hebrews 12:2 calls Jesus the “author” or “pioneer” (depending on the translation) of our faith. That idea is similar to Romans 8:29 and is less about Jesus writing books and going on adventures and more about Jesus being the “originator” of the New Covenant. Each of these examples, though they use different vocabulary, are getting at the same thing: Jesus’s position of preeminence and his role as the initiator of the New Covenant between people and God.
Similarly in Hebrews 2:11, Jesus is referred to as the “brother” of Christians. This is not stating that we are literally Christ’s siblings or that we are of the same “essence” as he, as some religions teach. Rather, the Hebrews author is writing in the same sense that Paul writes in Romans 8 about Christians being the “adopted children” of God who share in Jesus’s “inheritance” through our faith in Christ. Jesus grants us access into the family of God.
By referring to “many brethren,” Paul in Romans 8:29 refers to the future resurrection all Christians will share as part of God’s family thanks to that first, preeminent resurrection of Jesus Christ.
SEE: Acts 26:23; 1 Corinthians 15:20; Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 1:6; Revelation 1:5
What Are the Meanings of Some Words in Romans 8:29-30?
Several words in Romans 8:29-30 are theologically dense.
Romans 8:29-30 (NASB) For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.
“Foreknew” comes from a Greek word from which we get the English word “prognosis.” It is found in Acts 26:5; Romans 8:29; 11:2; 1 Peter 1:20; 2 Peter 3:17. It means “foreknowledge” in two possible senses. (1) Foreknowledge as we would normally think of it: knowing something before it happens. (2) “Knowledge” in the Hebrew sense, such as how Adam “knew” Eve which meant they had a sexual relationship. “Know” in this sense is not always referring to sex; it can refer to a close relationship. The first definition is how most Arminians would interpret this text, the second definition is how Calvinists would interpret it.
The word “predestined” only occurs six times in the NT (Acts 4:28; Romans 8:29, 30; 1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 1:5, 11). The English translation “predestined” essentially captures the Greek meaning and needs no further explanation here.
“Justified” comes from the Greek which refers to “righteousness” or “validation.” It is a common family of words in the NT and the Septuagint (LXX) with a broad sphere of meaning in different contexts across a wide span of time. Though the word was used in legal contexts in wider Greek, it has other uses in the NT, often related to the Hebrew concept of righteousness—behaving justly and righteously (1 Timothy 6:11). It also has the meaning of “vindicating” another (Luke 7:29) or trying to “justify” ourselves to make our position clear or to seem correct in a debate (Luke 10:29). When Christians speak of “justification,” they are often speaking of the technical idea of “forensic” or “legal” justification in which we are granted the “righteousness of Christ” when we put our faith in him. This concerns our status before God as either sinners or saints; there is no in-between. Though we are all sinners, we are declared “not guilty” before God because of the righteousness of Christ. In this sense, we are justified.
“Glorified” is a very common word in the NT and in Paul’s writings. As it refers to Christians in this verse, this word highlights the “already/not-yet” tension Paul has been discussing in Romans 8. We have been glorified already…in a sense. But we will not receive full glorification until we stand before God (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 3:7-18; 4:17; Ephesians 5:27). In theological terms, it could be said that our ultimate glorification is “eschatological”—meaning that it will not reach its full conclusion until Jesus returns and the final judgment occurs. Until then, we are more and more becoming like Jesus Christ, which means we are more and more becoming the type of people God initially created us to be before Adam and Eve’s fall into sin. We are ascending more and more toward God’s original purpose for us as individuals and as humanity. Paul at times writes in terms of Christians as “saved” and “being saved” or “glorified” and “being glorified.” This is what he is getting at.
SEE: Titus 2:11-14.
God’s love protects us from the guilt of sin and any force set against us accomplishing his will for our lives.
- God is for you even when the world seems against you. (Romans 8:31-32.)
- God will not allow anyone to condemn you if you love Jesus. (Romans 8:33-34.)
- God will not permit anything or anyone to separate you from his love. (Romans 8:35-39.)
Some powerful people and forces in the world can threaten us and make us feel like the world is against us. God’s word gives us three great encouragements when we feel like the world is against you.
God Is for You Even When the World Seems Against You
God never promised his followers an easy road. Instead, Jesus clearly warned us that there were going to be terrible times of trouble because of our loyalty to him. The Apostle Peter tells us that we shouldn’t be surprised by the suffering we are going to be confronted with. And even though tough times are coming, God wants to encourage us.
Romans 8:31-32 …If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?
God demonstrates his commitment to us by giving the life his son for us. If he was willing to do that, he will also give us everything we need in times of trouble.
God Will Not Allow Anyone to Condemn You if You Love Jesus
We live in a negative and critical world. With social media, the 24-hour news cycle, blogs, etc., it seems everybody has an opinion about everybody and everything. This often toxic and cynical approach to life wants to evaluate what we look like, what we drive, where we live, what we do for a living, what do we do for fun, how many likes can we get, who we hang out with, and on and on. But God offers us hope.
Romans 8:33-34 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
The Apostle Paul tells us that for the Christian there will not be any condemnation. The reason for this is that Jesus died in order to pay for the full penalty for our sin and to take our condemnation on himself. He rose again, providing victory over sin and death. He is at the right hand of God the Father and interceding for us as our advocate against all accusations.
God Will Not Permit Anything to Separate You from His Love
What God is saying in these verses are some of the most profound and encouraging statements in the entire Bible. He is stating that nothing can possibly affect the eternal purposes of God or the eternal love of Christ in our lives. Nothing in the physical world can stop God from loving us.
Romans 8:35-37 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
Then he shares that nothing in the spiritual world can separate us from God’s love either.
Romans 8:38-39 Neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God
With every word picture available in his arsenal, the Apostle Paul wants it known that God’s love for us is untouchable. Nothing above, below, physical or spiritual, demonic or deadly, even hell itself cannot separate God from loving those who love Jesus. God is for us, therefore nothing can stand against us. Christ died for us, and therefore we will not be condemned. God will not allow anything or anyone to separate us from his love.
- Share a time when you felt that someone was against you. What happened?
- Read Romans 8:31-32 and share how the apostle Paul is trying to encourage Christians.
- Would you give your special child, the one you love deeply, for someone who was selfish, sometimes mean, said nasty things, thought things and did things that hurt others? Explain.
- Read Romans 8:33-34 and share how it feels to know that when you stand before God that there will be no condemnation for those who love Jesus because of his work on the cross.
- Read Romans 8:35-39 and share what you used to be afraid of that might have separated you from the love of God. How did you overcome it?
- How does it make you feel to know that because of Jesus’s work on the cross nothing can separate you from God’s love? How can you live differently knowing this great truth?
“He will give us all things”—8:32
Paul writes that God, who gave up Jesus to the cross to save us from our sins, will also “give us all things.” This idea is paralleled in 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.
“All things” does not literally mean “all things” since this would include all evil and sinful things and God is holy and without sin. Paul seems to have in mind humanity sharing in Christ’s glory (8:29-30) and lordship—this is an “eschatological” category, meaning it has to do with the fulfillment of God’s ultimate plans for creation and our ultimate, glorified destiny with Jesus. As with earlier in Romans 8, this falls into the broader context of the “already/not-yet” world in which we live. We await anxiously for the redemption of fallen creation, for the “glory” we have been given to reach its conclusion and for all things to be returned to their right position.
Paul is addressing here the practical questions we all ask when we see that our identity in Christ seems to be overshadowed by a world that is fallen, chaotic, and full of evil. This is similar to Paul’s statement in 2 Corinthians 1:19-20 that all the promises of God find their “yes” in Jesus Christ. This isn’t supporting “name-it-claim-it” theology.
“All things” does not literally mean “all things” but rather refers to all of the things God has promised to give us through Jesus Christ—ultimate meaning and purpose in life, a salvation which cannot be snatched away by “anything in creation” (8:39) and eternal life with God and the family of God in renewed creation. This is a promise God will keep.
“Who will bring charges against God’s elect?” is a rhetorical question. We know Satan is the “accuser” of God’s people and in this sense is the one bringing charges. However, the phrasing of the rhetorical question indicates the intended answer: “no one.” Satan, the world, the flesh, and our own sense of guilt may bring an accusation, but these accusations will not be heard because our defense attorney is Jesus Christ (1 John 2:1-2).
Not only did Jesus Christ sacrifice himself “that whoever might believe in him will not perish but will have eternal life” (John 3:16), but he (along with the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:27) is currently “interceding” for the church at the “right hand of God.” During the entirety of our earthly lives, Jesus is speaking on our behalf to the Father, leveraging his privileged position as the “firstborn over creation” and the “firstborn from the dead” for the benefit of his people.
In essence, Satan is the prosecutor the judge despises, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are our defense attorneys, and God the Father is the presiding judge. Under these circumstances, it is impossible that we will be convicted. The prosecutor’s arguments will fall on deaf ears. “Who will bring charges against God’s elect?” No one, indeed.
“Love of Christ”—Romans 8:35
“Of” here means the love Jesus has for us, not the love we have for Jesus. Along with the previous point, this is good news. No one and nothing can come between us and Jesus.
General Comments on Romans 8:35
J.D.G. Dunn (Romans 1-8) writes, “Such sufferings [listed in this verse] should be seen as evidence of union with the crucified one, not a cause for doubting his love.” A consistent theme across the latter half of Romans 8 is the “already/not-yet” nature of living in a fallen world as Christ’s followers. While it is not guaranteed that all Christians in all ages will suffer the same things, Paul suffered tremendously for the gospel, and all of these things are theoretically “on the table” for any Christian to suffer in any era. See: 2 Corinthians 11-12.
“Persecution” in this list almost certainly refers to religiously-motivated persecution. Specifically, persecution of Christians for their Christian faith. “Nakedness” is not so much the fact of no clothing as it is the state a person lives in when they do not have their basic needs provided in the same way that “hunger” here is not hunger because we chose not to eat breakfast today, but because we are lacking sufficient food to alleviate our hunger.
This may cause some to wonder about Jesus’s statements in Matthew 6 and Luke 12. Didn’t Jesus teach that we shouldn’t worry because God will provide our physical needs (Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-34)? It is important to recognize that in Matthew and Luke, Jesus is dealing explicitly with two issues: (1) the love of creation over the love of creator; (2) the sins of anxiety and worry—willful disregard of God’s sovereign rule. (This does not mean it is a sin to suffer from diagnosed anxiety disorders; this is about nurturing our dependency on physical things rather than spiritual things; it’s about unchecked lack of faith.) In addition, worrying does not accomplish anything. If Jesus’s followers work on making God’s kingdom their primary focus in life, God will provide all their needs—but what is even perceived to be “needs” will change as our focus on living as God’s people in a fallen world becomes more and more refined. A life of discipleship will lead the true Christian to say that “death” is “going home,” and that when we pray for anything, we do so in Jesus’s name—asking for God’s sovereign will to be done in our lives (1 John 5:14-15). One Bible teacher looked forward to the healing God would provide him for his lifelong illness—in the next life. Generally, God provides our needs, but specific circumstances may occur in which God supersedes this general principle in order to allow suffering to refine us. This is the kind of perspectival shift Jesus is getting at. See: Philippians 4:6-7; Hebrews 13:5; 1 Peter 5:7.
General Comments on Romans 8:36
The quoted verse is from Psalm 44:22 (listed as Psalm 44:23 in the LXX translation). The phrase “all day long” in Semitic idiom means “inescapable” (Dunn, Romans, 506). So: “We can’t escape persecution.”