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What role does the Holy Spirit play in the Christian life?

In contrast to the discouraging picture painted in Romans 7 of the person struggling to overcome sin, but failing miserable, Romans 8 offers a much more encouraging situation. Romans eight describes a different option for how the Christian life can be lived—live in the Spirit. In fact, whereas Romans 7 repeatedly mentioned the law, Romans 8 refers to the Spirit twenty-two times! This is no accident. Paul obviously wants the believers in Rome to realize that the fullness of the Christian life cannot be lived without the active presence of God’s Spirit. But before we jump to the heart of Romans 8, let’s start with how Paul develops his argument beginning with verse 1.

It is important to remember that the chapter divisions that divide our modern Bibles were not part of Paul’s original letter. In fact, they didn’t develop for several hundred years. This means that the opening verses of our chapter 8 of Romans are really the answer to the discouraging situation in chapter seven—what hope is there for the person whose life is beset my moral failure? The answer is two-fold.

In the first answer Paul soothes the guilty conscience of every sinner. In Christ there is no condemnation. Through Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, God has freed us from the penalty of sin. This is indeed good news! All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). In spite of our best efforts and intentions, we don’t always live the life we want to live. The gospel contains the good news that God has forgiven our sins and does not hold them against us.

Unfortunately, for many Christians Romans 8:1 is the entire gospel: The good news of no condemnation. But that, according to Paul, is only half of the gospel. While forgiveness does ease a guilty conscience, what we really need is the power to not have to continually live a life dominated by sin. We need freedom from both the penalty of sin and the power of sin.

Thankfully, Paul does not just share half of the gospel with the Romans. In verse 2, he tells them that God has also provided a solution to the power of sin in a person’s life.

1. According to Romans 8:2-4, how has God freed sinners from the power of sin? As you consider your answer, it will be helpful to note that the phrase “the law of sin and death” in verse 2 is a reference to the power of sin that is described at work in the life of the person in Romans 7 (cf. 7:21-23). Therefore when Paul refers to sin as a “law”, he does not mean law as in one of the commandments, but as a general principle of life like the way we refer to the “law” of gravity.

2. In practical terms, how has Christ’s incarnation delivered us from the power of sin? And what is a believer “freed” to do? Compares Romans 7:4 and 8:4.

Paul classifies all humans into one of two categories: those who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them and those who do not. He uses the metaphor of the flesh to represent the life opposed to God and lived outside of the Spirit. Thus the “Spirit” and the “flesh” represent two totally different ways of living. Those living in the Spirit live to please God, while those living according to the flesh ultimately live to please themselves.

Many ancient philosophers dealt with the question of how to live a virtuous life. The main problem, as they saw it, was a lack of knowledge. For Paul the problem is far more serious. The real difficulty is not a lack of information; it is the power of sin that manifests itself in every aspect of human life through self-centeredness. For this reason, the only solution to living a truly virtuous life is to be filled with the power of the Spirit of God. For only the Spirit is powerful enough to work in the life of the believer to overcome the power of sin.

3. Sometime individuals like to say that once we come to God we will “automatically” begin to live the life God wants us to live. Some interpret this to mean that the Christian life is more passive than active. How does this compare with Paul’s counsel in Romans 8:5-14? What obligation does Paul imply that we have in living the Christian life?

4. In practical terms, how does a person “set their mind on the things of the Spirit and not on the “things of the flesh”?

5. How does the life of a person who sets his or her “mind on the things of the flesh” (8:5) differ from the individual who sets his or her mind on the “Spirit”? Give a modern example?

6. What aspects of the flesh do you struggle with today? Ask God to focus your mind on the things of the Spirit instead.

7. Describe the work of the Spirit based on Romans 8:9-17? What encourages you most from this description?

Adoption: Paul is the only New Testament author to use the metaphor of adoption (cf. 8:23; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5). Although adoption was not unknown in Israel, it was a far more common procedure in the Greco-Roman world. Adoption brought with it a number of legal rights. In addition to becoming the “true” son and heir of his adopted father, an adopted son received all the necessities of life and was guaranteed that his father would never reject him or reduce him to slavery. Building on his imagery, Paul remains his hearers that God has also chosen them to become his legal heirs.

8. How is this metaphor different than justification, redemption, and reconciliation? Which of these metaphors do you find most meaningful? Could we actually describe God’s gift of salvation without one of these terms?

9. It is easy to become discouraged in the Christian life when we fall short of the life of faith we would like to live. Make a list of the promises in Roman 8 that can encourage you in rour walk with God.

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