Romans 8:12-19


Romans 8:12 (NIV) Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation -- but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.

The beginning words point back to verses 9-11 which center in what Christ has done for us and what the Holy Spirit has brought us through the Word. To depart from what Paul has said in verses 9-11 would be the sheerest of foolishness and madness. Actually verse 12 is a deduction drawn from verses 9-11 which are so self-evident that the verse almost screams at us. But listen to it we must, because we still have flesh.

Note that Paul is speaking only to "brothers." He is not speaking to the ungodly. Nowhere in this chapter does his address unbelievers. But brothers need constant warnings. Why:

  1. Natural man feels that life owes him the pleasures of the flesh. Look about you. Isn't it so? And Christians are severely tempted to agree with that;
  2. The believer is one who is under obligation, but what kind of obligation? Paul says in Romans 13:8: "Owe no one anything except to love one another, for the one who loves another man has fulfilled the law." In what sense am I obligated? To follow the promptings of the Spirit to produce the fruits of the Spirit;
  3. Arndt aptly says: "We are under no obligation toward the flesh, our sinful nature. It has not done anything good for us." Correct. The Triune God has done everything for us from eternity to eternity. We are under obligation to this God, not the flesh.
Lenski: To say that we are debtors 'not to the flesh' is a sort of litotes, and means that we are debtors 'to the spirit.'

This idea is followed by the NIV translation. The sentence is really a masterpiece which makes one think.

Apology  (Tappert 126.143): Receiving the forgiveness of sins for a heart terrified and fleeing from sin, therefore, such a faith does not remain in those who obey their lusts, nor does it exist together with mortal sin. Romans 8:12-13.

You simply cannot deliberately serve the flesh and expect to go to heaven.

Romans 8:13 (NIV) For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live,

"For" is explanatory. Note that it introduces two fact or particular conditions which are meant for serious self-examination. One must say either "yes" or "no" to each "if" clause. The conclusion will be in keeping with one's answer. Notice the beautiful symmetry of the two conditional sentences. The two conditional sentences stand in sharp contrast to each other. In the first one, living leads to dying. In the second, mortification leads to living.

Formula of Concord  (Tappert 556.32): We should often, with all diligence and earnestness, repeat and impress upon Christians who have been justified by faith these true, immutable, and divine threats and earnest punishments and admonitions: 1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:5; Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:6.
Franzmann: The Spirit is not only a blessing to be enjoyed but a power which must work in us. The Spirit does not destroy our will but makes us capable of willing and of doing; through Him we can put to death, that is, make cease, those 'deeds of the body' which make the body 'this body of death.'
Arndt: Here we are furnished the proof that we do not owe the flesh anything. It cannot do anything good for us. It leads to death, temporal and eternal . . . Observe that the apostle does not say: 'If you kill the body,' but 'If you put to death the deeds of the body.' Sin is dwelling in man and using the body for its evil purposes . . . it is a bitter struggle.
Bengel: 'You shall live,' He does not say 'You are about to obtain life' but 'You will remain in life.'
Lenski: 'About to die' means that presently death will come, while 'shall live' means that the life we already have shall continue for ever . . . We already have life eternal (John 3:14-16). . . . There is a living that brings on death; there is a dying, or rather a putting to death, that makes alive and keeps alive.

Finally, we mention the Lenski insists that "spirit" in this verse refers to the new man within us, not the Holy Spirit. Interestingly enough, AAT is the only one of our modern English translations in agreement with Lenski. All others capitalize "Spirit."

Stoeckhardt: To be sure, under all circumstance eternal life is and remains a free, unmerited gift of God, which becomes ours only for Christ's sake. However, if we live and walk after the flesh, if we fail to mortify the flesh, then we lose this gift. . . . The life of the Spirit shows itself, above all, in the mortification of the flesh. By the power of God's Spirit, which is in them, Christians can and should mortify the body with its members . . . They mortify and crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts. Galatians 5:24. If they do that, they will live and receive eternal life.

One word of caution: The Holy Spirit comes to us only and always through the means of grace. Read Galatians 3:1-5 and Galatians 3:26-27, plus many other passages. The Gospel, and the Gospel alone, is the power of God unto salvation and godly living.

Bengel: Beginning with this passage, Paul entirely dismisses the carnal state, and now that he has finished that part, which he had begun at chapter 6:1, he describes the pure and living state, which is the inheritance of believers.

Well said.

Romans 8:14 (NIV) because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

This is actually a complex sentence: "You see, these are God's sons, who alone are constantly led by the Spirit of God." But the apodosis is placed first for emphasis. It means something like "they and they alone." Note that here we have no "ifs."

Our translations unanimously consider "spirit" as the Holy Spirit and not the spirit of man. The Holy Spirit alone is the causa efficiens, the efficient cause, in leading the Christian in godly living and battling sin.

The word "sons" means "free sons" from sin, death and the power of the devil. On the whole idea read Galatians 4:1-7 where the distinction between bondage and freedom comes out so beautifully. Also read Galatians 5:18: "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law (under condemnation.)"

Franzmann: The Son lived a life of pure obedience to His God (Matthew 4:1-11); He was 'led by the Spirit' into conflict and to victory. Sons of God are sons in action, or they are not sons at all; they are LED by the Spirit.
Arndt: If we have spiritual life we have the Spirit of God. That is the same as being led by the Spirit of God . . . Certainly God will not deliver his sons over to death. Note that the sonship toward God depends on our having the Spirit of God. That is the same as being led by the Spirit of God . . . Certainly God will not deliver his sons over to death. Note that sonship toward God depends on our having the Spirit of God.
Stoeckhardt: The Holy Spirit, who lives in the Christian's heart, is never idle but always active. He drives, leads and rules the Christians. Wherever mortification of the flesh is found, there especially the Spirit is at work. He moves the Christians, draws and keeps them from evil, from the works of the flesh, and drives them to every good work . . . But this working and driving of the Holy Spirit is no coercion or compulsion. He operates through the renewed will of the converted. And so one can attribute these works of the Spirit also to the Christians. The Spirit is and remains the motivating agent.
Lenski: 'Sons' is here opposed to 'slaves.'

That is correct. It reminds one of Jesus' words at John 8:34-36.

Romans 8:15 (NIV) For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."

Here the versions differ widely as to the meaning of "spirit." It is not an easy matter: 1) KJV, NKJV, NIV and AAT "s and S"; 2) RSV and NASB read "s and s"; TEV had "S - S - S"; JB has "s - s - s"; and finally, NEB has "S - s - S." We quote four English translations which might help to bring out the meaning:

Note that "receive" occurs twice. To receive means that someone gives. The verse is talking about what God did not give and what He did give. The two gifts are "slavery-spirit" and "adoption-spirit." Though the Holy Spirit is the giver, here "spirit" does not mean "Holy Spirit." "Spirit" almost means "gift." By sharp contrast Paul shows us what the work of the Spirit and the Gospel is not and what it is.

What were people before they became Christians? Fearful unbelievers, under the bondage and guilt of sin, under the delusion that they could earn their way to heaven, considering God a stern Judge, not a gracious Father. That's not what these Romans had received. What did they receive? An adoption-spirit.

Rienecker: The word indicates a new family relation with all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities.
Lenski: God gave us His Spirit because he adopted us as sons (Galatians 4:6).

By means of the "spirit" we "call out," a strong verb which means to yell.

Bengel: Cry is a word implying vehemence, accompanied with desire, a confidence, a just claim, perseverance.

The Christian is free, not condemned. The Christian is bold, not fearful. The Christian is not an orphan, but an adopted child of God. Therefore, as Bengel indicates, he should boldly cry and prayer "Abba, Father," just as Jesus did in Gethsemane and on the cross and as Luther explains in the introduction to the Lord's Prayer.

Arndt: Here we have proof that the Christians are sons on account of having the Spirit . . . They were in slavery before, namely by nature . . . In regeneration they received the spirit of adoption. The Spirit made them sons of God, not the slaves of God . . . the praying is done through the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 8:16 (NIV) The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.

Here the first "spirit" must be the Holy Spirit and the second our renewed man. The concurrence of the two is truly amazing. On this whole passage read Galatians 4:1-7. Note the emphasis on "himself," the Spirit Himself, the very Spirit of God loves to live in and testify in the believer.

To be a witness means to tell the truth. The Holy Spirit and the renewed man speak the same truth about the fact that this person has been redeemed and is on the way to heaven.

Note here that Paul calls Christians "offspring" not "children." "Offspring" comes from a word meaning beget or bring forth. "Offspring" of God means "those whom God has converted or regenerated." That's what the Holy Spirit and our renewed man are constantly agreeing on and all that it implies.

Stoeckhardt: Our spirit, which cries Abba Father, is not the witness that makes the adoption certain, but it is assured of the adoption in that it receives from another a greater witness. It is the Spirit of God alone, who bears powerful witness, who gives the divine certainty that we are God's children. He is the Spirit of God's Son, who won the adoption for us. Galatians 4:6 . . . This witness of the Spirit is mediated through the preaching of faith. Galatians 3:25.
Lenski: Here again we must not think of immediate testimony, apart from, outside of, or above the written word. All such supposed testimony is Schwaermerei (religious enthusiasm), the evidence of not only a spiritual but also a mental pathological condition.
Arndt: When we read the Scriptures the Spirit makes the respective portion of the Scripture forceful, emphatic.
Luther: Enthusiasm clings to Adam and his descendants from the beginning to the end of the world. It is a poison implanted and inoculated in man by the old dragon and it is the source, strength, and power of all heresy, including that of the papacy and Mohammedanism. Accordingly we should and must constantly maintain that God will not deal with us except through his external Word and Sacrament. Whatever is attributed to the Spirit apart from such Word and Sacrament is of the devil.

These words may sound hard but are very true and so necessary in this day of the so-called charismatics. (Many of whom, unfortunately, have found a home in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod recently.)

Formula of Concord  (Tappert 628.73): Since the Holy Spirit dwells in the elect who have come to faith as he dwells in his temple, and is not idle in them but urges them to obey the commandments of God, believers likewise should not be idle, still less oppose the urgings of the Spirit of God, but should exercise themselves in all Christian virtues, in all godliness, modesty, temperance, patience, and brotherly love, and should diligently seek to 'confirm their call and election' so that the more they experience the power and might of the Spirit within themselves, the less they will doubt their election. For the spirit testifies to the elect that they are 'children of God' (Romans 8:16).

Romans 8:17 (NIV) Now if we are children, then we are heirs -- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Paul adds another thought. If He converted you and thus claimed you as His own, then it is axiomatic that you are also His heir and have and will receive what is His.

There are not two kinds of inheritance here, but rather the first is possible only through the second. Genesis 2:2 informs us (according to Hebrews 4) that God created eternal rest for all men. But man fell into sin. God immediately announced the Gospel, Genesis 3:15. He brought it to pass in the person of Jesus Christ, the Supreme Heir, Matthew 21:38; Hebrews 1:2.

Though not apart from His divine nature, Jesus attained this inheritance according to His human nature, not for Himself, but for us. Read Galatians 4:1-7 again.

Lenski: If indeed we suffer with him, as we most certainly do.
Arndt: If indeed, as I have no doubt we do.
Franzmann: In this new life of freedom the wall between the present and the future has become as thin as air; one can no longer speak truly of the present without speaking of the future too. Our lives are now the festive evening before the feast . . . The reproaches of those who reproached God fell on Him, 15:3, and they must fall on us.
Bengel: 'We suffer with' refers to sufferings in the following verse, and in like manner, 'we may be glorified together' in this verse refers to 'the glory' in the following verse.
Arndt: Now a new thought enters. Our being co-heirs with Christ implies that we have to share his lot here on earth, which is suffering. We have to drink the same cup as he, Matthew 20:22ff. Here we compare Acts 14:22 . . . Christ is in glory now. We shall share that glory if we are willing to suffer with him here. The apostle now quite definitely directs our gaze to the glories and happiness of heaven.
Lenski: The difference, of course, remains that Christ's suffering was vicarious, while our is not and cannot be . . . We suffer jointly with him and because of our connection with him, 2 Corinthians 4:10; 1:5; Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 4:13; John 15:18, etc. . . . Paul is speaking of the cross we bear, Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Galatians 6:12, and we must not call all our suffering a cross.

Romans 8:18 (NIV) I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

In verse 17 "suffering" was a verb. Here it's a noun. In verse 17 "glorified" was a verb, here it's a noun. Obviously this is a play on words, actually an understatement. Paul means "I am persuaded; I am absolutely sure."

By the way, the purpose of the verse is obviously to encourage the readers to suffer with Christ. Suffering hurts. Adversities are those things which are utterly opposed to us. That is not fun.

Bengel: The reason is assigned, why he just now made mention of suffering, and of glorification.
Lenski: Paul turns to our suffering in general, some of which is due only to our own sins, some of which is due to evil men, and some of which is incidental to our earthly existence . . . . 'The sufferings of this present period' all of them, of whatever kind . . . all the sufferings and evil experiences that come upon us. Here is mentioned a definite short period . . . When sufferings and glory are held against each other, the sufferings amount to nothing.
Stoeckhardt: Patient suffering is also a part of sanctification, of spiritual life . . . The present time, the time of suffering, is a rapidly passing, short period of time. The already is a comfort for suffering Christians, 1 Peter 1:6 . . . The sufferings of the present time are of no account in comparison with the glory which will be revealed in us . . . Paul had worked and suffered more than all the apostles, but in his severe sufferings he had a deep insight into the promised glory and was greatly comforted, 2 Corinthians 1:11-12.
Franzmann: No one in the New Testament really attempts to explain what the new world will be like. Paul does not attempt it either . . . What is it like, that future splendor that we shall inherit with Christ? There is no 'like' that man can use; he can only say, in the assured conviction of his faith, that all the present sufferings of the church (and both Paul and the Roman church knew what suffering meant, 8:35-36, look at Hebrews 10:32-34,) cannot weigh in the scale over again that weight of glory, look at 2 Corinthians 4:17, the glory which will come into our lives.

Romans 8:19 (NIV) The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.

Bengel: The glory is revealed, verse 18, and then also the sons of God are revealed, verse 19.

Watching eagerly with outstretched head, eager waiting. The sense is strengthened by the preposition in compound which denotes diversion from all other things and concentration on a single object.

Uncovering, unveiling, revelation.

And finally, to await expectantly but patiently.

This verse reminds one of 1 John 3:2. According to Genesis 1 God first created everything and every creature except man. Man was created last, the crown of His creation. Genesis 1:31 reads: "God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good."

Yes, it was very good, sinless. Then of course came the sad fall into sin. God immediately promised the Savior, Genesis 3:15. This was followed by the curse described in verses 16-19. Ever since then all creation has been suffering and groaning because of the sin, death, and agony which mankind brought upon this world. But God, in Christ, intervened. Really, this verse reminds us of Christ more than anything else, for were it not for Christ and His redeeming work, there never would be any "sons of God," those who have been freed from sin, death and the devil.

Franzmann: Paul ascribes 'creation' to man's world and all that is therein, an intense longing for the day on which the children of God will emerge from their hiddenness, their shame and suffering, and will stand revealed as what they are, as justified men who need not shrink from His who judges the secrets of men, sons of God who see Him face to face, Colossians 3:4; 1 John 3:2; Matthew 5:8.
Arndt: Paul now wishes to show that the glory of heaven is certain. His proof is: all creation is waiting for the revelation of the sons of God . . . Creation is here personified . . . Paul says creation is waiting. He does not refer to conscious waiting. His language is figurative. He points to the fact that creation is now in a condition which is inferior and which will be ended. The term revelation of the sons of God reminds us that the sons of God are not yet revealed or made manifest. Their real nature is not yet apparent . . . At the resurrection Christians will be seen as what they are, see 1 John 3:2.

This text will be continued in the text for Pentecost VIII.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series A Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1983, pp. 96-100. Used with permission.

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