The Spirit Helps Us
Paul’s concern throughout Romans with righteousness is effected by the Spirit of God who recreates people as children of God. Paul begins with the bad news. In chapters one and two, a very bleak picture is painted – no one is righteous. But, then the good news - Jesus freed people from sin and death! That act is referred to as grace (3:24) by Paul and is accessed by faith (1:16). Romans 3:21, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” We did not earn such righteousness. It is credited to us on the basis of grace through faith (4:24-25). And even though believers will physically experience death like everyone else, we have also been given the presence of indwelling Sprit which guarantees their future resurrection (8:9-11) and our transformation into the likeness of Christ. Being delivered from sin, however, does not mean a sinless life or freedom from desires of the flesh. It means that sin no longer has a tyrannical hold upon our lives so that we are enslaved to it (7:14-25); rather, believers are given the Spirit to help us live rightly in relationship with God (righteousness) and so fulfill God’s divine purposes (our transformation – 12:1-3). That is why it is so important to keep in step with the Spirit – to live consistently with His prompting and guiding our lives toward Christ-likeness (set minds on things of the Spirit – 8:5-8). Though it faded somewhat into the background, the theme of righteousness re-emerges as the primary focus – God’s foreordained purpose for us is to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, the firstborn of many brothers and sisters (8:29). As such, we may have hope (15:13) for Christ has freed us from the law, sin and death; His Spirit helps us live in conformity to God’s law and no longer the flesh (worldly inappropriate desires); the Spirit also leads us in paths of righteousness. Righteousness is not so much obedience to behavioral regulations as it is living out of a new relationship with God as sons and daughters – made possible by the death of Christ and experienced through the Holy Spirit (5:1-8).
Dr. Gordon Fee provides this incredible summary from Paul’s most incredible chapter discussing the work of the Holy Spirit – Romans 8:
- On the basis of the work of Christ, the Spirit sets us free from the law of sin and death.
- As we live (literally “walk”) in the Spirit, the righteous requirement of Torah (the law) is fulfilled in us, thus bringing its time and usefulness to an end.
- People who live by the Spirit are materially and behaviorally in a different mode of existence from those who live by the flesh. Thus the presence of the Spirit is the single distinguishing “mark of identity” for God’s people in the present age (not law, Sabbath, circumcision, etc.).
- The Spirit is both the “Spirit of God” and the “Spirit of Christ.” Since the Spirit indwells the believer in the present age, this is how Christ and the Father are currently present with God’s people (Dr. Fee believes it is impossible to understand Paul in Romans without understanding the Trinitarian aspect.).
- As the indwelling Spirit who now gives life to God’s people, the Spirit is the present guarantee of the future, especially in the form of the resurrection of the body.
- Since God’s people are Spirit people, they must not live in keeping with the flesh; and it is by the Spirit that they “put to death” the deeds of the flesh, that is, the sin that belongs in their past.
- On the positive side, believers are described as “being led by the Spirit,” which means that the Spirit leads them in the paths of righteousness that fulfill the Torah (God’s law).
- The Spirit is the certain evidence that God’s people are his children having been “adopted as children” through the work of the Spirit and evidenced by the Abba-cry which the Spirit inspires. Indeed, the Spirit himself bears witness with us that we are God’s children.
- The Spirit is the “first fruits” of the final eschatological harvest (end of time). The Holy Spirit is the essential element of this eschatological life, and His presence now in the lives of believers is both evidence that the future has begun and the guarantee of its glorious consummation, wherein the children realize their inheritance.
- But in the meantime, during our present suffering and weaknesses, the Spirit assists us in prayer. By praying in the Spirit, believers have assurance that the Spirit is not only appealing on their behalf before God, but is doing so according to God’s own will and ways, and thus working all things together for their good.
- Our confidence in such praying, is directly related to who the Spirit is: the Spirit of God Himself, whose mind God knows and thus guarantees that what the Spirit prays through us is heard and understood.
Dr. Fee concludes by writing: Here is the wonder of grace which leads Paul to the final rhetoric of verses 31-39 (in chapter 8) – God did all this (verses 1-30 of chapter 8) for us, sinners all, who once walked in the ways of the flesh that led to death, but now by the Spirit know the love of God in Christ from which nothing can separate us!