This article is the third and final installment in a series on the summit section of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. The first two parts covered chapters 6 and 7, respectively, so it stands to reason that this is earmarked for chapter 8, and overall, that is the case. With that said, I will still weave in some subjects that at least indirectly pertain to Romans 7, a hot-button passage that has split theologians and laypeople alike over multiple generations.
To whatever extent the split is narrowed will ultimately be contingent on the willingness of all involved parties to prayerfully and humbly cooperate with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who is the protagonist of Romans 8 and this article.
More broadly and relevantly than achieving a consensus on Romans 7, though connections do exist, I aim to encourage my brothers and sisters to sift through various, auxiliary issues in a manner that augments our capacity to not only understand salvation but live it. With these objectives in mind, let us begin our study.
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Christ Lived and Died for Us
From what I can tell, most mainstream versions utilize the word “therefore” or some equivalent in 8:1. This is a straightforward indication that Paul is continuing from and staying attached to what he said in chapter 7, especially at the end.
It is because of our intimate bond with Christ that we can be thankful for the prospect of being rescued from our struggle with our sinful weaknesses and be cleared of the death sentence that is pronounced on those who reside in their old lives. This is facilitated by the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus commissioned to be by our sides and captain our new lives.
The awareness we have already gained through our previous sessions regarding Paul’s lofty, reverent esteem, which we need to mimic, for the immutable standards with which God operates His universe must carry over into verse 3. Whatever labels of limitation and faultiness get applied to the law on the surface should be viewed through cause and effect, not inference.
The law is not weak on its own, but because of our pitiful conditions. To repair this, Jesus came to earth, donned our humanity, demonstrated the possibility of seamless obedience, then lovingly and willingly suffered the penalty that we deserve.
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Those who read me long enough will determine, if they have not already, that balance is one of my sugar sticks, and I implore everyone to exercise it here. Our Lord did die for us, but He lived for us too. He is as much our example as He is our substitute. It behooves us to focus equitable attention on His first thirty-three-and-a-half years to that on His final three hours. The best way to express gratitude for the gift He wrapped with a red bow on Calvary is to let that gift pulsate through us in transformative efficacy and disseminate this transformation within our Nazareths, Jerusalems, etc.
Walk in the Spirit
Briefly revisiting the debate on Romans 7, the evidence and phraseologies in 8:5–8 can admittedly sway the debate in either direction. I indicated where I lean but included the caveat that my leaning is not as heavy as that of others. Furthermore, though I need the Savior as much as anyone else does, and as modest as I conventionally try to be, independent of which side you take, please replicate my cautious and courteous mitigation of dogmatic fervor.
Conceding that this can be a matter of perspective, I share with you that the portion of the passage that grabs me most is verse 7:
because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so (NASB).
Considering Paul’s genuine delight in the law—and not just its letter, but its substance, principled love—I find it difficult to conclude that he, even in his struggles with sin, was the Lord’s enemy. I instead conclude that he was already His friend, though a fledgling friend who still had to grow up a lot and get closer to putting those struggles behind him as we all must do.
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To those on both sides, please keep in mind that an acknowledgment of our resemblance of the Romans 7 dynamic, however quantifiable it is for each of us individually, is not a condonement thereof. The “pre-conversion” folks should avoid undermining the veracity of others’ sincerity of commitment, while the “post-conversion” folks should avoid the notion that these internal clashes are hunky dory. We will only walk through the pearly gates if we consistently walk in the Spirit. The respective paths of the flesh and Spirit are deviating, not helical, so trying to walk them both at the same time will tear our hamstrings.
Romans 8:10–11 carries my mind to Galatians 2:20. The Holy Spirit’s manifestation of Christ’s life through us is predicated on our figurative participation in His crucifixion. Though our inclination may be to recoil at this, let us rejoice in the fact that our time in the grave is short before He, with a strong arm, pulls us out of its terrible clutches.
We are about to go on a detour that is even more extensive and multi-branched than is my custom. I deferentially request your patience and promise to knit everything together as neatly as possible.
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Christian Spirit Needed in Discussion
I typically strive to minimize gratuitous repetitions, but there are times when they necessarily deepen impression and accelerate a conversation’s momentum. To that end, let us reconsider at least a couple of things I mentioned in prior installments of this series. First, Paul wrote one continuous letter, not sixteen chapters and 433 verses of segmented content. This schematic referencing tool provides some advantages, but we also need to take it with a grain of salt. Keep that on the shelf of your mind for a few moments.
Second, there are “party lines” that link the standard sides of the Romans 7 debate to the equivalent sides of the debates on the nature of Christ and Last Generation Theology. If I decide to write on the other two issues, it would be quite a bit later. For now, I encourage you to prayerfully survey the existing material from qualified theologians and, more importantly, the biblical and Spirit-of-Prophecy evidence, then make your own Spirit-led decision.
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There are brothers and sisters who do not ride the party lines, but rather cross over the three topics one way or another. In some regard, they have more credibility than their line-riding counterparts, and I admit I am one of those counterparts, more or less. It was not by design; I did my best to examine each of the three concepts within their own boundaries and stave off any spill-over influences. That is all we can expect from each other.
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Anyhow, to “preach” another sugar stick that my readers may have identified, my main goal is not to end the debates, per se, though reaching synchronization would seem to substantiate a collective capitulation to the Holy Spirit, as well as make our faith walks and interactions simpler; my main goal is twofold: vigorously promote mutual fairness and respect and firmly challenge Seventh-day Adventist Christians of all theological, religio-philosophical bents to avoid throwing big-blanket generalizations over those on the other sides, thus turning the party lines into battle lines.
To the pre-conversion, post-fall, pro-LGT people: do not charge the others with complacent, cheap-grace apostacy. To the post-conversion, pre-fall, no-LGT people: do not charge the others with pharisaical fanaticism. Some representatives from both sides do exhibit these corresponding extremes, and that is of great concern, and they need loving, redemptive rebuke, but the big blankets are a big problem. One of the fruits of walking in the Spirit is embodying civility, not erupting in civil war.
Taking the chapter/verse knickknack back off the shelf, I have wondered if these notations contribute to our disagreements and misunderstandings in any way. To clarify, perhaps we are prone to perceive, due to these divisions and the basic disposition of written material, a passage like Romans 6–8, as well as the diverse, synergistic dimensions of biblical soteriology, in a compartmentalized, linear fashion.
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I Die Daily
I am going to suggest a cyclical approach. There are numerous nuances to this, but for the time being, we will focus on one. A cycle is built on repetition, and though Paul did not explicitly dive into this as a prevalent subtheme, the foundation for his discourse and experiencing salvation altogether is something that must occur on a regular basis—death—not Christ’s, for He died once for all, but ours.
To go on another tangent from this tangent, it is likely that most of us have said the words, “I die daily,” which come from 1 Corinthians 15:31. For what it’s worth, Paul did not say this in the general context of the sanctified life. The immediate context was his constant tendency to put his life in danger, which he was willing to do because he believed in the resurrection, and we will expand this more in a moment. The verse that is more directly associated with daily death as the grounds for one’s overall redemptive pilgrimage with Jesus, is Luke 9:23, in which He commissioned His disciples to take up their crosses.
As much of stickler as I may be for responsible hermeneutics, I do not believe that borrowing verbiage from a given Scripture and applying it in a valid yet originally unintended manner is automatically irresponsible. Paul did it himself, specifically in Romans 4:3, a quote of Genesis 15:6. Again, God did not credit Abraham’s belief as righteousness in the conventional salvation framework. What Abraham believed was that the Lord would give him and Sarah a son in their old ages.
These differentiations notwithstanding, I am convinced that they are all intertwined in a magnificent tapestry. Paul died daily because he died daily. That tautological gem makes it appear that I am slipping in my attempt to reduce redundancy, doesn’t it?
What I mean is that he, at an increased level of maturity compared to that of Romans 7, made it a morning routine to surrender his will to that of the Holy Spirit and let Him subdue his flesh and put his bodily deeds to death. This catalyzed Paul’s agreeability to face shipwrecks, imprisonment, and many strains of disdain from the enemies of God. He was sold out to the gospel because it changed his life, and he yearned to proliferate this unmatchable joy to as many precious souls as possible, come literally hell or high water.
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The apostle lived his inspired words in Romans 8:18–25. It is not realistic to imagine that he faced Satan’s attacks with a plastic smile. Paul groaned; he suffered; he developed anxiety, just like the rest of the world does. However, praise be to God that it will not be in vain. He will melt our temporary agony with a permanent revelation of His glory; He will satisfy our eager anticipation and perseverance; He will culminate our adoptions as sons and daughters, cap off the current renovation of our inner beings with the allocation of incorruptible physiologies, and restore us to Edenic pristineness.
God’s Grace Towards Abraham
Shifting back to Abraham, he was accounted righteous because he was accounted righteous. I know, I did it again. Through their faith-based relationship, the Hebrew father cultivated confidence in the heavenly Father and His spot-free track record of keeping His word. If God said Abraham would have immeasurable progeny, then it would be so, no matter how high the odds were stacked against him and his barren wife.
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Unfortunately, this story and its main figure took a very wrong turn in the very next chapter. Abraham “helped” God’s prophecy by manipulating its fulfillment. Sarah exerted poor judgment in making this recommendation, of course, but the primary blame was on her husband’s shoulders; that’s the weightiness of accountability that comes with leadership. He broke their sacred, marital covenant, and as awful as that is, that was only the tip of the iceberg, from a volume standpoint at least.
I am of Lebanese descent. I have never visited the homeland, but I would like to someday. My parents, grandparents, and so on were born and raised there. My mom has not returned since her childhood. Her desire understandably surpasses mine, but it is also understandably stifled by hesitations due to the tenuous complexion of international conflict. Our family, and countless others were and are touched by Abraham’s egregious breach of the Lord’s commandments.
In addition, the time lapse between Genesis 16 and 17 was thirteen years. If there was a notable conversation between Abraham and God, Moses wrote it. Thirteen years? If there is any inspired insight regarding this apparent friendship strain that I somehow did not find in Patriarch and Prophets, please let me know. Suffice it to say that we must let these ramifications fill us with immense solemnity.
Nevertheless, thanks be to God for fixing such a wretched situation (residual consequences notwithstanding)! His grace reinvigorated Abraham, and the changes were stark. He went from scoffing at the idea of a stale old couple begetting a fresh little baby boy to not scoffing at all at the mandate from above to take his miracle son and slice his jugular. How could a change like this occur? What imperatives are we to glean?
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Let God Take Control
In Romans 8, one will find a pair of primary pillars that uphold the architecture of walking in the Spirit. We obliquely looked at them already, through Paul and Abraham, but to reiterate, first, walking in the Spirit means letting Him take our reigns. Not giving Him exhaustive permission to slay and bury our flesh means keeping our flesh alive. It is only by a Spirit-instigated rebirth, which takes surrender to both commence and maintain, that we can inherit eternity.
Second, surrender is pointless if not offered in delight, and this delight is made possible by the reality that our God is a promise-keeping God. He has kept every pledge He has ever made, especially the ones connected to His resurrection power. He can redeem us from wickedness, rescue disciples from stormy seas and cold dungeons, reboot a shut-down uterus, and repress a plunging knife. I invite you to make it a habit to buoy your own souls and those of others with reminders of the Lord’s promises, including those in Romans 8, such as:
- Polishing our armadillo-skinned prayers, thus making them worthy to reach the Father’s ears
- Causing all things to work out for good for those who love Him
- Keeping us close to Him with a love that cannot be dissolved
Unpacking that last promise a little bit as we close, some people from the once-saved-always-saved factions have employed the final few verses of Romans 8 to validate their shaky premise. I do believe that absolutely nothing can separate us from God’s love, but His love is unconditional; eternal life is not. Out of love, He must keep heaven and the new earth safe, but enabling us to enter those gates with our selfish natures would be a perpetuation of miserable anarchy. If we think living on this planet for seventy years is painful, what about seventy times seventy times seventy…?
Let us daily place our lives and wills in the hands of the Holy Spirit. This is the only way He can rewire and fit us for citizenship in Eden, where the wonders of paradise will overwhelmingly outshine the fizzling charms of this dying world.