Who’s been watching the Olympic games in Tokyo where athletes are striving to win a gold medal? In the ancient games the winner received a laurel wreath to place on their head. The wreath was a symbol of victory. The Greek god Apollo wore such a wreath. And Julius Caesar wore a wreath to show his power. So, the laurel wreath was an ancient symbol of victory and success. (more…)
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
The conflict between good and evil is a major theme of the Bible. It can be traced from the temptation of Adam and Eve in the beginning of the Bible to the punishment in the lake of fire at its end (Gen. 3:1-7; Rev. 20:10,15). Let’s look at the source, course and destiny of evil.
Source Of Evil
Let’s begin by looking at the source of evil in our world. Many believe that Satan, or the devil, is just a myth, a superstitious belief from the pre-scientific age to explain things people couldn’t understand, such as disease and disaster. This belief is supported by mythic images of Satan as a red-horned creature holding a three-pronged fork. But the Bible says he’s a real, evil personality.
Jesus believed in a personal devil. He was tempted by him in the desert with clever questions (Mt. 4:1-11). In the parable of the sower, the birds eating the seeds illustrated “the evil one” snatching away the message about God’s kingdom (Mt. 13:19). Satan is not a myth, not a clever story about someone who doesn’t really exist! He is not even merely a “virtual reality” of computer games involving a battle against evil. Satan is a real personality, just as the Bible tells us.
The Bible indicates that he was closely associated with angels, and battled with angels in heaven (Job 1:6; 2:1; Rev. 12:7-9). Angels are God’s invisible agents created to inhabit the unseen part of our world (Col. 1:16). The Bible is our only reliable source of information about Satan and the unseen world. How did evil enter God’s perfect world?
We must understand that there is only one God – and disease, sin, death and the devil are under His authority. For example, God told Satan what He could and could not do to Job (Job 1:12; 2:6). Satan was one of God’s creations, who subsequently chose to oppose Him. This is the best explanation of the origin of evil. The personalities in God’s creation had free will. Angels and people had a choice; they were not clones or robots. God did not create evil, but He made creatures with free will, and therefore with a potential for good and evil.
There are some clues in the Bible about the source of evil. Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk. 10:18 niv). He said this probably as a warning to the disciples against pride and arrogance, as the Jews knew from the Old Testament that Satan fell because of pride (Isa. 14:12-15). In the future there will be a war in heaven between God’s angels and Satan’s demons (Rev. 12:7).
Two striking passages in the Old Testament also seem to refer to Satan. First, the doom of the city of Tyre was prophesied (Ezek. 26-28). It was an island northwest of Israel ruled by the Phoenicians – one of the richest, most luxurious, powerful and arrogant kingdoms. A parallel is drawn between the ruler of Tyre – described as proud and arrogant – and the king of Tyre – described in symbolic language as being created as a guardian angel (Ezek. 28:5-6,13-14). Then Ezekiel 28:15 says, “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.” This could indicate that Satan was created as a perfect angel who became wicked. The reason given was that “your heart became proud” (Ezek. 28:17). This passage also implies that the ruler of Tyre was influenced by Satan, as was Peter when he hindered the Lord (Mt. 16:23).
Second, the doom of Babylon is foretold in Isaiah 13-14. Babylon was a city of luxury and splendor on the Euphrates river. It was the largest city of that time. In this passage, the King of Babylon could also refer to Satan. His pride and ambition to be like God is illustrated in his statement that “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isa. 14:13-14). The five “”I wills” suggest that because Satan wanted to be like God, he rebelled against the One he originally served. As a result, he was judged by God (Isa. 14:15).
Tyre and Babylon were symbols of the power of Satan and his forces. They suggest that pride and ambition were the reasons for Satan’s revolt.
Course Of Evil
Now let’s look at the course of evil in our world. One way to look at this is to see how the Bible refers to Satan. His many names indicate his character and activity. Some of the angels joined him in his rebellion against God, and he continues to seek followers today. There is a continuing war in the unseen world, between God and Satan, for the allegiance of humanity.
Satan is described as the “prince of demons,” “prince of this world,” “god of this age” and “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Mt. 12:24; Jn. 12:31; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2). These are powerful titles for a force to be contended with. Don’t be deceived – Satan has great power.
The things Satan does are indicated by his names. Revelation 12:9 contains four of them: “The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” “Satan” is an Aramaic word meaning adversary, opposer or enemy. “Devil” means accuser, slanderer. The other descriptors are metaphoric: he is deceitful like a “serpent” and awesome like a “dragon.” He also causes terror like a “roaring lion” and can disguise himself as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14; 1 Pet. 5:8). He is a “liar,” “tempter,” “accuser,” “deceiver,” “murderer” and “destroyer” (Mt. 4:3; Jn. 8:44: Rev. 9:11; 12:10; 20:3). What a picture of evil! Indeed, he is “the evil one” and the sinful world is under his power and control (Jn. 17:15; 1 Jn. 5:19).
The Garden was the perfect environment, a paradise. Here God gave Adam and Eve one test: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16). As a subtle tempter, Satan, disguised as a snake, encouraged disobedience to God to get people under his control. He attacked the body, the mind and ambition. Hunger is a natural desire, and Eve was tempted when she saw that “the fruit of the tree was good for food.” He also asked, “Did God really say …?” arousing in her mind curiosity and confusion so she would doubt God’s word. Then he sowed the seeds of ambition: “When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:6,1,5).
As soon as Eve succumbed, the battle was lost. In this first encounter with mankind, evil prevailed. The consequence was that sin spread to Adam and his descendants. Adam and Eve tried to hide from God; they were afraid; they blamed others and God for what happened; judgment was given to the snake, the woman and the man; and the penalty was death and separation from God (Gen. 3:6,8,10, 12-13,14-19).
Jesus is compared to Adam and referred to as the “second man” (1 Cor. 15:47). This was Satan’s chance to tempt someone without a sinful nature. Their confrontation occurred in the desert (Mt. 4:1-11). The tempter didn’t need to disguise himself this time, because both parties knew what was happening. Jesus’ mission was “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 Jn. 3:8), while Satan’s was to get Him to disobey God’s will.
Satan’s attack was similar to that in Eden: he attacked the body, the mind and ambition. Knowing Jesus was hungry, he asked him to change stones into bread, and use His divine power to satisfy His need. Then he urged Jesus to jump to fame from atop the temple. Satan even quoted Scripture (Mt. 4:6). Jesus replied that this would be testing God, not trusting God. Finally, Satan offered Him the world’s kingdoms – a shortcut to dominion. This aspiration was the source of Satan’s fall; he wanted what God had. He offered Jesus the kingdoms without going the way of the cross or the way of the servant.
We can learn much from our Lord’s victory over Satan. He did it in the power of the Spirit (Lk. 4:1). Satan’s names show that he has great power, but Jesus demonstrated that God’s power is much greater. Jesus also showed trust, obedience and unselfishness. He used the Scriptures and was not afraid of Satan. He was decisive, and didn’t negotiate.
Christ’s victory over Satan was finalized at the cross where He died and rose again (Jn. 12:31). He was obedient as a humble servant (Phil. 2:6-8). In taking upon Himself the sin of the whole world, Christ righted the rebelliousness of Adam and Eve, and all mankind (Rom. 5:12-21). He defeated death by the resurrection: He too shared in our humanity, “so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). So believers no longer need to fear death.
The victory has been achieved over Satan and he is condemned, but God’s judgment has not yet been administered (Jn. 16:11). The enemy is still active. He still opposes God’s ways and causes much suffering in our world – and he often seems to have the upper hand.
Destiny Of Evil
Satan’s destiny is sure. He is a defeated foe who will be dealt with by God’s angels and evicted from his place in the unseen world (Rev. 12: 7-12). Later he will be bound by an angel and unable to deceive anyone for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-3). Then we read of Satan’s final attack, when he is released for a time and allowed to deceive the nations and to prepare to attack God’s people (Rev. 20:7-10). But finally evil is judged and Satan is “thrown into the lake of burning sulfur” to be “tormented day and night for ever and ever.” This is the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). Anyone whose name is not recorded in the Book of Life, is also thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). All who follow Satan will share in his doom.
The history of the battle against evil began with Satan as an angel serving God. He let pride and ambition fill him. He wanted to be like God. Then he tricked Adam and Eve into disobeying God, which led to a world of sin, disease and death. Christ came as the only power stronger than Satan. His death and resurrection destroyed Satan’s plan to dominate the world. The final judgment for Satan and his followers is eternal torment.
The good news for those who trust Christ is that “the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). The triune God is greater than Satan and is the only source of victory over evil.
Published: July 2004