Victory in the struggle with sin
God’s promises in Romans 8
When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, in 56 AD, Rome was a great center of power and influence in the Mediterranean world. His letter contains the main doctrines of the faith, because the Christians there needed this basic instruction. Paul begins with the good news of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then goes on to describe how to live the Christian life – the subject of Romans 8.
Struggling with sin
Messages in the Bible should be interpreted in context. In this case the context is Romans 7, often titled “Struggling with sin.” God gives Christians the Holy Spirit and a new divine nature, but they still have the old sinful nature (Rom. 7:25). The struggle between these two natures frustrates and discourages us. We want to please God, but fail. So did the Romans – and Paul. Here’s what he wrote: “I do not understand what I do … For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing … What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:15-24 NIV).
Those at Rome needed to know how to deal with this inner struggle, and so do we. And that’s in Romans 8, which has three main themes: living by the Spirit’s power, the future glory of God’s people, and God’s love. The secret to overcoming our sinful nature and living the Christian life is to live according to the promises in Romans 8, particularly those relating to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit and our sin nature are in constant conflict: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Gal. 5:17).
Beginning with the promise of “no condemnation” and ending with the promise of “no separation,” Romans 8 contains at least 14 additional promises for Christians: We are not condemned to be punished (v. 1); we have been freed from the power of sin (v. 2); we have life and peace (v. 6); we are led by the Holy Spirit (v. 14); we have fellowship with God (vv. 14-16); we have an inheritance (v. 17); we will receive new bodies (vv. 11, 23); the Holy Spirit helps us and prays for us (vv. 26-27); God is in control, and working for our good (v. 28); we will be transformed to be like Christ (v. 29); we are justified and will be glorified (v. 30); God is for us, and no one can accuse, condemn or defeat us (vv. 31-34); God will give us all things (v. 32); nothing can separate us from God’s love (vv. 35-39).
Romans 8:1states that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Paul found the answer to his struggle with sin in Jesus Christ: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:25). All believers are sinners who have been forgiven. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin on the cross, so we are free from sin’s dominion. This is important to remember when we face accusations, criticisms, feelings of guilt and worthlessness. To be “in Christ” means that God now sees us united with Jesus: “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). We need to remind ourselves of this truth and apply it by not putting ourselves down and by accepting other believers just as Christ accepted us (Rom. 15:7).
Empowered by the Spirit
Romans 8 describes how Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit in our struggle with sin: “The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” (v. 11). The consequences of the Spirit’s presence are described in Romans 8.
First, the Spirit has set us free from the power of sin (v. 2). Second Corinthians 7:13 confirms this: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Isn’t that our desire? God destroyed sin’s control over us by giving His Son as a sacrifice for our sins (v. 3). Jesus came to earth “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Heb. 2:14-15). Satan is defeated, but because we still have the sinful nature, our victory over sin will not be complete until we are with the Lord (Rev. 21:4).
Second, the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that Christians are on the way to eternal life and peace (v. 6; Gal. 6:8). Both come through Christ’s sacrificial death (Rom. 5:1; 6:23). We already have what many desire: a future to look forward to and assurance that God controls everything.
Third, we are led by the Spirit, who guides us into all truth (v. 14; Jn. 16:13). Christians are to “live by” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16-25). The Spirit told Philip to go to the Ethiopian’s chariot and stay near it. After the Ethiopian was baptized, the Spirit suddenly took Philip away (Acts 8:29-39). Also, the Spirit told the church at Antioch to commend Barnabas and Saul as missionaries (Acts 13:2). The Spirit leads us through various means such as the Bible, prayer and other believers.
Fourth, we have fellowship with God: “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (v. 14). We are children in God’s family; the Spirit confirms this (v. 16). God is so close to us that we can call Him “Abba” (“daddy” in Aramaic). Slaves were forbidden to address the family head this way. Children shouldn’t fear their parents, we should not fear God.
Fifth, we have an inheritance: “If we are children, then we are heirs” (v. 17, Gal. 4:6-7). Shouldn’t the prospect of an inheritance excite us? The Bible calls us “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” This is amazing when we realize that God owns everything! We will reign with Christ (Rev. 20:6). All creation looks forward to the time when our relationship with God is revealed. We have the Spirit as a foretaste of future glory. This is a great promise for those who suffer (vv. 17-23). But we don’t have to wait to experience God’s generosity. He has already given us His Son, the greatest gift, “will He not also … graciously give us all things” (v. 32).
Sixth, we will receive new bodies (vv. 11, 23). Just as He raised Christ from the dead, at Christ’s return the Spirit will resurrect and change the bodies of all believers (1 Cor. 15:50-54; 1 Th. 4:13-18). We can look forward to bodies that will never wear out.
Finally, the Spirit helps us and prays for us (vv. 26-27). Jesus said that the Spirit would be a helper who is always with us (Jn. 14:16). The Greek word describing the Spirit, “paraclete,” means a legal advocate, comforter or counselor. The Spirit understands our difficulties when we can’t even express them, and prays for us: He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). So we should pray to the Father guided by the Spirit and in His power (Eph. 2:18; Jude 20). When we are feeling weak, fearful or inadequate, remember that the Holy Spirit pleads for us.
God works for our good
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (v. 28). This verse does not say that all things are good or that we will be wealthy, healthy and safe from tragedy. It says that God is in control, and is at work in our lives to bring about His good purposes. Whatever the situation, God will bring good out of it. Of course, we may not always see it.
What does “His purpose” mean? In verse 29 we see that it means “to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.” Whatever God allows in our lives is designed to make us more like Christ. Our lives are not controlled by the stars, chance or luck, but by a loving God who is working for us. This promise applies to “those who love Him” – to Christians. Those who do not have such a relationship with God have no hope and no one to turn to. For them life can seem futile. We should encourage others to accept Jesus as their Savior so God can work in their lives.
We will be transformed
God is in the business of making us like Christ (v. 29). As the Spirit works within us, we become more like Him in character, attitudes, responses and priorities. Our behavior will show more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). God knows all about us and is working to bring us to maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:14-19). This process will be complete when Christ returns and we will be transformed – free from sin, and with resurrected bodies: “When He appears we shall be like Him” (1 Jn. 3:2; Phil. 3:21). The power for this transformation “comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). We need to allow the Spirit to make us more like Christ. Meanwhile, we experience frustration because we’re not there yet. Along with the rest of creation we groan until God’s purposes are fulfilled (vv. 22-23).
Paul writes that we are justified and will be glorified (v. 30). We are righteous before God and fit for His presence – free from the guilt, penalty, and power of sin. This is an outcome of Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 4:25). Furthermore, we will share His glory. This is so certain that it is written in the past tense – as already done! This is true for all believers in Christ, showing that each believer has a wonderful destiny.
God is for us
Because God is for us, no one can accuse, condemn or defeat us: “If God is for us, who can be against us” (v. 31). What difference does it make who is against us? With God on our side, any opposition ultimately faces defeat. If someone accuses us, we can tell them that our sins have already been forgiven, and the penalty has already been paid on the cross (1 Jn. 1:9). God has promised victory for His people amidst adversity (Mt. 16:18). We are victorious because Christ has died for us, has been raised from the dead and is now at God’s right hand pleading for us. With the all-powerful God helping us, no lesser power can interfere. We have God on our side.
The final section of Romans 8 emphasizes that nothing can separate us from God’s love (vv. 35-39). People can be separated from each other by all sorts of trouble. Instead of separating us from Christ’s love, these things draw us closer to Him. Paul was convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love: Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither today’s fears nor tomorrow’s worries, not even hell’s power can keep us from God’s love. Nothing in all creation is able to separate us from the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus (vv. 38-39). The conclusion is that we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Through Christ we have overwhelming victory (v. 37).
What a great list of promises to help us in our struggle with sin! Coming from God, they are more than promises, being privileges and truths to enjoy. God has given us everything we need to live for Him. We should be Romans 8 Christians, using the promises and resources He has given us. The Holy Spirit is our greatest ally in the struggle against sin. We are forgiven and freed from the power of sin; the Holy Spirit guides us and guarantees eternal life and peace; as children in His family, we have fellowship with God and a great inheritance; God works for our good in everything; we will be transformed and receive new bodies; we have been made fit for God’s presence and will share His glory; God is for us, so no one can accuse, condemn, or defeat us; nothing can separate us from God.
God empowers us through the Spirit to put to death the misdeeds of the sinful nature (vv. 12-14). This means daily turning away from all known sins. We may need to help one another by confessing our sins to and praying for each other (Jas. 5:16). We should read the Bible each day to renew our mind (Rom. 12:2). Paul said think about “whatever is true … noble … right … pure … lovely … admirable … excellent or praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24). What a striking metaphor! Our selfish feelings and desires have been killed.
Living in the Spirit means consulting with God about our priorities and not trying to do it on our own. This liberates us from the demands and expectations of others. Living in the Spirit involves both submitting to God and resisting sinful desires (Jas. 4:7) And thank God we have His power to do it!
Published, May 2002