We become co-heirs with Christ when we allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit so that we might become fully obedient sons and daughters of God.
Through this lesson, students should:
Understand that we are no longer slaves to the flesh but children of God.
Seek to allow the Spirit to lead us continually.
Understand that as children of God, we are heirs to the inheritance that is the Kingdom of God.
Understand that sometimes suffering is a mark of obedience.
Catching up on the Story
Paul has spent the last several chapters of Romans discussing the realities of our new life with Christ. Through our baptism, we have died with Christ and been raised to new life with Christ. Because of this, we must consider ourselves dead to sin, not allowing it to exercise authority over our lives.
As Paul’s argument progresses, he begins to use the metaphor of slavery. We are either slaves to sin and death (later on, he will talk about us being slaves to the law), or we are slaves to Christ. Of course, the Law itself was not bad. Sin used the law to its advantage so that we might become slaves to it through the Law. Death comes when sin is allowed to work through what is good.
This causes a deep inner conflict. We know what the good is that we should do, but because we are slaves to sin and death, we are unable to do it. What we want to do, we cannot do, and what we don’t want to do, we do. At the end of chapter 7, Paul cries out, wondering who will save him from this conflict. Paul’s cry is rhetorical. He knows who will save him: God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Paul seemingly cannot begin a paragraph without the words “therefore” or with the question, “What then…?” The beginning of chapter 8 is no different. Because God, through Christ, can rescue us from this inner struggle with sin and death, there is now no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Not only have we died and risen to new life through Jesus, but we also have his Spirit in us. His Spirit sets us free from the law of sin and death because Jesus himself has perfectly fulfilled the requirements of the law. If we allow the Spirit to live within us, he brings us to life, not just in a spiritual sense, but in our bodies too.
Paul begins this section of chapter 8 with a “So then….” This indicates not a continuation of the argument that he has made in the previous section but signals an important conclusion of what he has just said. “So then…because we have the same Spirit of God in us who raised Jesus from the dead, we too will be raised to new life.
It’s important to understand that Paul has three phases of our salvation in mind. We are saved through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is an event that was completed in the past, but that has continuing ramifications for the future.
We are in the process of becoming more and more like Jesus as we allow God’s Spirit to work in us so that we might continue to be dead to sin. The Spirit’s work is always part of our salvation.
The fact remains that we will never be entirely perfect, perfectly loving God or our neighbor while we still reside partly in the age of sinful rebellion, this current time. Our salvation will be finally and fully completed when Christ returns and makes all things new. Our resurrection features prominently in Christ’s return.
No Longer Debtors to the Flesh - Romans 8:12-17
We are no longer debtors to the flesh because we have the Spirit of God in us. As a reminder, a brief word needs to be said concerning Paul’s use of the word “flesh.” Paul is not referring strictly to the body or even the desires we most associate with our bodies. Flesh for Paul takes on a more comprehensive meaning. It refers to the natural and typical human desires chronically orientated toward the self. In other words, the flesh is all our desires and actions that cause us to serve, not God or others, but ourselves.
Some have taken Paul’s use of flesh to an extreme and used it to enslave people to extreme forms of asceticism or self-discipline. In this view, our God-given bodies are usually seen as a liability rather than the gifts that they are.
Paul has already made it clear in the previous verse that God will also give life to our mortal bodies. Why would God give life to something which, for some, needs to be completely defeated and escaped?
To be a debtor is to be obligated to something or someone. When you take out a loan to buy a house or a car, you must make regular payments. If you don’t, you will eventually lose the house or car. When we are debtors, we are not in control.
Confidently, Paul reminds us that we are not obligated to live according to the “flesh” or our selfish desires. As he has said before, doing so will only lead to death. Quite literally, Paul states that living in obligation to the flesh can only lead to death. Living in obligation to the flesh destines us to die (Greathouse and Lyons, 247).
But, Paul says, if you put to death the deeds of the body through the power of the Holy Spirit, you will live. Again, “deeds of the body” don’t mean purely physical sins or that the body is bad. Paul’s talking about those sinful and selfish desires. Only one road leads to life, both here in this world and in the next, and that road is under the care of the Holy Spirit.
I think we have to be careful. Here as we approach verse 14. Paul says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Taken the wrong way, we can assume this means that the Spirit is doing most of the work in our lives.
Throughout this letter, Paul has emphasized the cooperative nature of our growth in grace. Obedience to God’s law of love and obedience to the prodding and prompting of the Spirit is essential. Obedience and faithfulness aren’t possible without the work of the Spirit; that much is certain. But the Spirit isn’t going to do all the work for us. Obedience is what is expected of God’s children.
But that doesn’t mean that if we aren’t perfectly toeing the line, we’ll find ourselves on the outside. One commentator said this: "Since justification and sanctification are inseparable in the divine economy, the lowest degree of obedience expected of us as God’s children is the highest degree of which we are capable at any moment” (Greathouse and Lyons, 249). In other words, our obedience should grow as we allow the Spirit to lead us.
Paul goes on to say that our status as children of God is partly possible because we received “a spirit of adoption.” We discussed adoption as a metaphor for our relationship with God a few months ago. The same idea is at work here. We have been brought into the family of God, taking on God’s name and all of the rights and responsibilities of that name. We’re to represent God’s name well through our obedience and willingness to be led into greater faithfulness by the Spirit.
In the Greco-Roman world, the primary reason for adoption was to secure a proper heir. Paul takes the adoption image to its logical conclusion if we have been adopted into God’s family, then we are heirs of God.
In a way, this makes Jesus our older brother, and we become joint heirs with him. What is our inheritance? It’s life, abundant and everlasting life. It is our transformation into the beings that God intended us to be, completely and utterly free from sin and death.
This inheritance comes with a caveat at the end of verse 17. “If we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” This is a basic conditional phrase. If we share in Jesus’ suffering, we will share in his glorification, resurrection, and life.
At first glance, this might seem a bit overbearing. It might even seem guilt-inducing or make us feel we won’t be worthy of what’s to come because we haven’t suffered in the same way Jesus has. I don’t think we have to worry if we are being as faithful and obedient as we can be.
Remember, back to our study of 1 Peter; we said that the suffering Peter talked about was the suffering that resulted in a life lived in faithful obedience to God. It’s the same thing here. Sharing in Christ’s suffering doesn’t mean that we’ll die like he did. It only means that if we truly seek to live like Christ, there’s a good chance we’ll receive some pushback.
I Consider - Romans 6:18-25
For Paul, any suffering that might come from a life lived in faithful obedience pales in comparison to the end result of our faith; the glory of a world made right. We have to keep in mind that Paul was no stranger to suffering. He suffered far more than all of us combined because of his faith in Jesus.
A little while ago, we pointed to the past, present, and future aspects of our salvation. The suffering we might endure is because our salvation is not yet complete. The Christian faith is a faith of hope. As Paul says in verse 25, “We hope for what we do not see…” It isn’t just those for whom salvation has already begun; Paul reveals our connection with the larger world around us. We aren’t the only ones suffering, and we aren’t the only ones who live with hope that final salvation is around the corner. “For the creation awaits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now….”
When Adam sinned, it wasn’t just humanity that was broken, but creation as well. Since that day, creation has been groaning as if it were in labor because humanity has subjected it to “bondage to decay.”
The thing about labor pains is that they are not a pain that comes without expectation. When all is well, when the labor pains cease, there is a tremendous reward. Not only is the pain gone, but there is new life to show for it.
Paul is saying that until Christ returns, our suffering, indeed the suffering of all creation, is not fruitless.
When the pain ends, there will be new life. There will be new life free from decay and death for creation.
There will be new life for us if we participate in our growth, working alongside the Holy Spirit for our growth in grace.
Let me try to tie all of this together for us. If there is any chance that we find an existence, a life that’s better than this one, we must submit ourselves, indeed obligate ourselves, to the Spirit of God. The Spirit of God is available to us because of the justification that resulted from the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
If we are living in submission to the Spirit, then we are children of God, adopted into God’s family so that we can share his name and enjoy the benefits of that name.
As children, we receive an inheritance, abundant and everlasting life. But just as our adoption into God’s family cost God something personally, so our entry into God’s family also costs us. If we live in faithful obedience, then there’s a good chance we’ll encounter suffering.
To Paul’s mind, that suffering that we might endure pales compared to the glory that will be revealed to us when our salvation is finally fully completed. In the meantime, we must be a people of hope, hope in what we do not see, the reality of a new world, the redemption of our bodies and the earth.
Which brings us to the rest of verse 25. “But if we hope for what we do not see, we patiently wait for it.” Our waiting will not be in vain if we can wait with patience. I suppose patience is an overused word today. I patiently wait my turn at the grocery store check-out corner. I patiently wait my turn at the roundabout on the south end of town. I patiently wait for my kids to go to bed so the house will be quiet.