The Epistle to the Romans
Part I (Chapters 1 – 8)
The Case of Man’s Justification
4- Faithful union between God and His Church:
This section was divided into four headings:
1- The Fruits of Righteousness in Christ (Ch. 5): was discussed in SNOB # 24.
2- The Relation Between Sin and Man Before the Era of Grace and Under Grace (Ch. 5, 6)
3- The Law and the Christian Man (Ch. 6, 7): # 2 & 3 were discussed in SNOB # 25
4- Life in Christ through the Holy Spirit (Ch.8):
Summary: This chapter is considered one of the most important writings of St. Paul. It can be named the chapter of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul reveals in it the power of the Holy Spirit in the believer. After presenting the inner conflict between good and evil in chapter 7, crying: who can deliver me, and realizing that the law could not deliver him; St. Paul reveals in ch. 8 the victory of good by Jesus Christ, and puts an end to the inner conflict, saying: “there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (8:1). This is the status of man who has believed in Christ the Savior. This man has been freed from the dominion of sin, and accordingly, from the judgment of death, which is wage of sin. It has been taken away from him by the cross. Therefore, there is no sin against him, because he has been justified by the blood of Christ. This is what the law could not do, because of the weakness of the flesh towards sin, which Christ has corrected by His incarnation in a human body without sin, in which He took away all the sins of the world without becoming a sinner. Therefore, the person who is born of God, through the Spirit who dwells in him, can act according to the Spirit and not according to the lusts of the flesh, as long as he abides in Christ and is led by the Spirit of God, who dwells in him through the various means of grace (e.g. the sacraments). Then, to this newborn man, the spirit of son-ship to God is revealed. This is the goal of our redemption, as Christ has purchased us to the Father by His blood that was shed on the cross, and through Christ we have inherited glory and eternal life.
St. Paul concludes this dialog by elevating man from the spirit of slavery to the spirit of son-ship and challenges the sin that had dominion over man in the past saying: “If Christ has justified us, and the Holy Spirit has sanctified us, what can then separate us from the love of God? And if Christ, who is the Judge, intercedes for us to the Father with His blood, who can accuse us?”
We shall try to explain this chapter in more details because of its central importance*. It may be divided into these four headings:
1- Christ gave us the Spirit instead of the law (8:1-11, please read these verses first):
And the Spirit is Spirit of life, whereas the law is law of sin and death. And life by the Spirit is life in Christ Jesus (8:2). This life makes us a new creation, in which sin is dead because of the death of the body (i.e. the law of sin, which is in the members of the body, as in Ro. 7:23), but the spirit (i.e. the new man born of the Spirit, as in Jn. 3:6) is full of life, having received God’s righteousness (8:10). And because of the death of the body of sin, then “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1), since they have been also, therefore, “made free from the law of sin and death” (Ro. 7:4, 8:2).
The law could not justify us because of the sinful passions working in our bodies (flesh, Ro. 7:5,6,13,23; 8:3). But when the Son of God came in the likeness of the sinful flesh (8:3), in order to save us from sin, He condemned sin in this body of Him. How did He condemn sin? First, He lived a sinless life in this body, revealing that sin is not mandatory to those who live in the body (but not according to the body), and finally, He died (and rose from death) for our sins fulfilling the judgment of the law in His body, and consequently in our bodies (Ro. 7:4, 8:4). And since our body (i.e. the sinful passions working in it) died, we began to walk, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit who gave us this victory.
St. Paul describes the work of “the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” as a law (8:2), because His work in the believer became a stronger law than the work of sin in man before the era of grace, which he has previously described also as law (Ro. 7:21-23).
2- Raising man to live by the Spirit also makes him son of God (8:12-17):
Those who live by the Spirit, put to death the deeds of the body (8:13). This is the foundation of Christian asceticism. If the Spirit does not reign first instead of the self, all ascetic acts will be self-righteousness that God rejects. God is Spirit, and those who worship (kneeling, and worship in fasting, prayer, struggle, sacrifice, giving and serving) Him must worship in spirit and truth (Jn. 4:24).
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (8:14), because the Spirit of God is the Spirit of adoption (8:15), and He bears witness to us that we are children of God (8:16). We receive this witness when we worship and pray in the spirit and truth: “When you pray, say: Our Father in heaven” (Lk. 11:2). And if we are children, then we are heirs … (8:17). The inheritance here is not something left after death, but inheritance of Him who lives forever and ever (Rev. 5:14). It is not inheritance of things apart from God, but inheritance of the glory of God: “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them” (Jn. 17:22). But this glory becomes ours, as with Christ Himself, through the cross, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified” (Jn. 12:23), “if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified with Him” (Ro. 8:17).
3- Being in the Spirit, man came to the domain of hope (8:18-27):
“For we were saved in this hope … we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (8:24,25). We do not live on what is seen and felt of redemption, salvation, and the kingdom of God, because these all are eternal things. But we go beyond what is seen and felt, and look up to the invisible hope. Therefore, we can rightfully say that we were saved (in the past), being out of ourselves, free from our feelings, looking only to what Christ has done for us in the past, which we are sure is taking place in the present. We may even say it has happened though we do not see it, and we live in it by the Spirit, because it is definitely coming.
These verses bring us to the depth of spiritual life. It is not knowledge to be taught, but life of a pilgrim who is a stranger on earth, seeking a better homeland (8:25), and who gathers in himself the redeemed (8:23), and the unredeemed creation (8:19-22), as an issue presented to God by Christ and the Holy Spirit. And all groan (8:22,23,26), asking for salvation from the present (8:21,22), and in hope, asking for the coming salvation. The Holy Spirit uniting both (redeemed and unredeemed), laments for their weaknesses, and groans for their groaning (8:26), as He leads them in one road, that of the cross which leads to heaven (8:18).
4- The victorious conclusion of chapters 6-8 “ Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (8:28-39):
Despite a long list of enemies and obstacles (8:33-39), we are more than victorious (8:37) because of His love, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things” (8:32).
* - This explanation is a very short summary extracted from the book, “Commentary on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans” by Fr. Matthew the poor, published by St. Makarios Monastery, Egypt, 1992, in 760 pages (Arabic).