Romans 8 has been called the most beautiful chapter in the New Testament, tremendously rich in spiritual understanding and resources. There are at least 10 references in this chapter to the Holy Spirit and his work in the lives of believers.
The Spirit’s transforming work often begins with great rejoicing as he bears witness to forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ. But, alas, new Christians may soon find impulses or habits they thought they had been delivered from — jealousies, bursts of bad temper and lusts — roaring back. This can be baffling because the Apostle has told us at the beginning of the chapter that Christ “has set you free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2).
The Apostle explains that mystery as arising from “the flesh.” The primary meaning for this word in scripture is the human body.
The word also has theological meanings. It can describe the frailty or vulnerability of humanity, or false or evil impulses that lodge in us, or evil itself. All may fall under the term — often referred to as our carnal nature. In the Roman letter the term is used mostly in this last sense.
At this point the Apostle widens his lens to show that the temptations we continue to experience in our new life are shared with all of the world, created by God but fallen and thus impaired. But, Paul says, even now the universe itself is groaning to be renewed (v. 22a). Something better is ahead. In turning to this fresh thought of promised future renewal, Paul uses the imagery of childbirth (v. 22b). Giving birth involves groaning pain, but the end result brings great joy. So will the future renewal of our fallen world bring great rejoicing.
The Apostle makes clear that our new birth by the Spirit has already in some measure signaled the glorious future ahead for us. Yet, for now, we work out our faith in a fallen world. Verse 23 says: “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”
In our struggle with fallenness, we know the Holy Spirit comes to our aid. As the Apostle says in verse 26: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through prayers too deep for words.” And so God’s Spirit who is in us untangles our prayers at times and reforms them into prayers the Father can answer.
God is obviously interested in more than certifying our passage to heaven through Christ’s death and resurrection for us. We are also to embrace in faith the power of the Holy Spirit to live out the radiance of the Gospel here and now.