"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).
Whether we think of being "in Christ," walking in the Spirit, setting our mind on the Spirit, living according to the Spirit, the Spirit in us, or Christ in us (8:1,4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11) our mindset is what moves us from confidence in the flesh to faith in the agency of the Spirit.
That life in the Spirit is not a new emphasis in Paul's preaching is clear from his previous explanation that his ministry was "not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and power" (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). And then again he says "Our competence comes from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills but the Spirit gives life" (2 Corinthians 3:5-6; Galatians 3:1-5; Philippians 3:9-10; see the failure of the Jewish attempt to attain perfection by obeying the letter of the law in Romans 2:1-24).
8:1 The logic of the 'therefore' that begins this chapter is that we are freed from the guilty sense of feeling condemned by the dismal performance of our flesh (7:14-24). And nowhere has Paul argued that the 'no condemnation' is a result of accepting a Roman law court legal substitution.
8:2 The conclusion of chapter 5 is picked up by the words "The principle of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the "in Adam" principle of sin and spiritual death." (5:15-21). The freedom is both from "the bondage of the will" (Martin Luther's phrase) in 7:23 and the "body of death" in 7:24.
8:3 Our unaided flesh could never produce the perfect fruit of God's kind of love in the confusions of our life. But the good news is that "the power of God for salvation" (1:16) can do this in us. The power that is needed is defined as "the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead" and gives resurrection life to our very mortal bodies (8:11).
In the second half of the verse Paul adds that this resurrection power was released by the mysterious sacrifice of the Son of God. We might try to explain by saying that the Son of God, having become fully man, allowed the sin of the world to demand his crucifixion. He then voluntarily entered death, trusting in the power of the Spirit, and his resurrection demonstrated the failure of all merely fleshly attempts to attain perfection by other means.
The mystery of Christ's death and the power of the Spirit is further explained in Colossians. "In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, but putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him by baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead" (Colossians 2:9-12).
That deeper mystery may not answer all our questions, but some results of the death, resurrection, ascension, and pouring out of the Spirit are set out in the remainder of Romans 8. We might say that we enjoy the many uses of electricity in our homes, though we cannot explain the mystery of how the electricity is produced.
8:4 Life in the Spirit enables us to live out what the law had in mind, as interpreted by Jesus in the twofold love command (Matthew 22:36-40) and in the perfections of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:17-48).
8:5 There are two ways of setting our mind, either on our human efforts to perfect ourselves, or on the power of the Spirit to effect change in us. We might compare a pilot setting her controls on to her radar controlled automatic pilot to come down and land safely through thick fog. The alternative by human minding is to come crashing down into the wrong part of the runway.
8:6 By setting our mind on the Spirit to change us we experience not only life (8:10-11) and peace of mind, but also freedom and adoption (8:15), hope in the midst of cosmic suffering (8:18-25), prayer in the Spirit (8:26-27), and much else for perfecting us into the image of the Son of God (8:28-30) for the perfect love of heaven (8:31-39).
8:7-8 The problem is that our unruly flesh has no stomach for losing its control and letting God be God.
8:9-11 Christian salvation is not defined by whether we made some decision in our past but by the work of the Spirit in our hearts. We still have a very human body with all its drives and twisted instincts (7:14-18), but now the very life of Christ (his life, death, and resurrection by the power of the Spirit) is empowering us. We are not only assured of our own resurrection by the Spirit, but Paul makes clear in the following verses that this resurrection power is available for living in the present.
8:12-13 There are therefore two ways of living our life: in Adam or in Christ (5:15-17), in the flesh or by the power of the Spirit, gripped by spiritual death or by eternal life.
Here Paul develops the explanation in Galatians that redemption (being freed from the power of sin) was "so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying "Abba! Father!"(Gal. 4:5-6).
8:14 Here we might translate "It is those who are moved by the agency (agontai) of the Spirit of God who are children of God".
8:15-16 Children of God are marked by a sense of being loved and adopted. Instead of fear they feel free to call the Father "Abba" (a child's dad or daddy). Or put the other way, when we begin to chat to God as a little child that is loved by his parents, then we know that this relationship could only have been established by the work of the Spirit in our hearts.
8:17 Adopted children receive the family inheritance in the same way as Jesus the Son of God. But any kind of loving will involve the hurts of loving. So just as the Son was hurt by human sin from the time of the first image of God humans, and having become man he was crucified for loving his own people, we also can expect hurt and rejection. But it is by taking up the cross of loving that we also share in the Son's glory (see taking up one's cross in Matthew 10:38; 16:24; and Luke 9:23; 14:27).
Paul had set out this same principle in Galatians: "May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything" (Galatians 6:14-15).
The thought of personal suffering and glory (8:17) that ended the previous section reminds Paul that the whole messy confusion and suffering of our world is only a prelude to the glorious destiny God has in mind.
8:18-22 It is not only our own suffering and glory that is at stake. It seems that the butterflies, birds, fish , mammals, and perhaps even the grass, trees, and flowers, and even more astonishingly the land and sea, of our world all share an unfulfilled longing. Instead of confusion, death and decay, the whole of creation looks forward to "a new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21:1). This a breathtaking "plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Ephesians 1:10; see Colossians 1:16).
8:23 Evidently this plan is to be put into effect by the Holy Spirit. It begins with those who have "the first fruits of the Spirit." As they await the resurrection and full freeing of their bodies, they feel the cosmic groaning of other people and the ravaged nature around them.
8:24 Paul reverts to what he said earlier about the hope that has been "poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (5:2-5). And as we have kept repeating, he looks forward to the doxology, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (15:13).
Prayer in the Spirit is one of the characteristics of the children of God. It involves realizing that we cannot possibly discern what is needed in our own life and the life of others. We then open ourselves to let the Spirit reveal the concerns of God's heart in that situation, and we let the Spirit pray accordingly.
8:26 We not only sense our weakness in trying to pray, but after a few obvious family needs we soon realize we don't even know what we should pray for. If at that point we look to the agency of the Spirit to pray within us we find unexpected sighs, groans, concerns, perhaps untranslated tongues which we can hardly put into words (1 Corinthians 14:13-15; and in Jesus' case, Luke 22:44).
But if we use our unaided fleshly strength to think up topics to pray about, we "heap up empty phrases" (Matthew 6:7) and babble like "a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1).
8:27 "The Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." This may explain the idea of praying according to the will of God (1 John 5:14). If a prayer is given to us by the Holy Spirit without any admixture of human wisdom we can be sure it will be answered by our loving God.
The idea of predestination will appear again in "God's purpose of election" (9:11) were it refers to the children of Israel as opposed to the children of Esau, who became the Edomite Arabs.
Here the predestination refers to our destiny "to be conformed to the image of his Son" (8:29). This takes us back to the original intention to create children in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The required image will involve loving like God the Father, the grace and loving sacrifice of the Son, and the creativity and loving fellowship of the Spirit.
8:28 Once we understand the loving purpose of God we then know that all that happens in our life will work towards the perfecting that is in mind.
8:29-30 The predestination is to be conformed to the image of the Son, who then becomes the truly caring elder brother (unlike the elder brother of Luke 15:25-30). The sequence is important. First we were chosen for the "large family" of God. Then we find ourselves called, invited, wooed, drawn into faith in Christ. Thirdly we allow ourselves to be put right by the agency of the Spirit for the perfect love of heaven. And the final outcome is the glory of all that we will enjoy in heaven as joint heirs with Christ.
If the Son of God came to us to live among us, go into death, trusted the Spirit to raise him, and ascended to glory, then we know God is for us. And nothing we can possibly imagine could separate us from God's loving intentions (8:38-39).
8:31-32 God's predestined plan to perfect and bring many children to glory assures us that his love will work for us in every other situation.
8:33-34 God's plan leaves no room for condemnation. It is God who intends to perfect us by the power of the Holy Spirit. And not only does the Son pray for us as the changes occur in our life but the Spirit also prays within us.
8:35-39 Paul then gives a list of all the personalities, events, or cosmic forces that the people of his day might imagine could separate them from the love of God. And he can assure them that the powerful work of the Spirit (outlined in 14 references to the Spirit in this chapter) is more than sufficient for them to be "conquerors" through Christ.
We might compare "Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God . . . the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication" (Ephesians 6:12-13 and 17-18).