Searching for Answers in Romans 8:9-17

Bruce Miller (senior pastor at Christ Fellowship), Lisa Scheffler (director of the women’s ministry at Christ Fellowship) and Barry Applewhite exchanged the following comments during an ongoing e-mail discussion about Romans 8.

Bruce, Barry and Lisa enjoy trusting friendships in which they sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron, with humor. The following dialogue involves seeking after truth among detailed interpretations over which good students of the Bible differ. All three of us share the same theology, but we differ on exactly how to understand some details in interpreting certain phrases. We respect each other and, in grace, give each other space to differ. Many statements are tongue-in-cheek as we poke at each other in fun while we strive together to understand just what Paul was saying.

We thought it might interest you to “overhear” one of these regular sessions. Due to electrical-power blackouts in Plano, it got a bit thrilling at times!

[START]

[Bruce] Struggled with meaning of S/spirit in verse 10, finally convinced of Spirit.

Struggling still with meaning of death and life in vs. 13; not convinced this is eternal life and death, but rather quality of living or dying for “brothers” who live according to the flesh or put to death the deeds of the body and then experience more death-like living or more life-like life; meaning a closer connection with the Life giver and the Living Spirit, or they quench the Spirit, reaping death in the sense of distance from the Living One.

[Barry] Oh I can see how you would think that, being a philosopher and all. What I can’t see is how Paul would have expected people he had never met to get that meaning out of his text (8:13). Should I apply similar reasoning to verse 11 and conclude that Jesus was not really dead prior to his resurrection, just feeling less lively after a hard day? Making death metaphorical has baggage.

I would not make a great deal out of “brothers” (8:12) since Paul has never met them, and any large group has its questionable members.

I agree on Spirit (8:10).

[Bruce] Nice points, and so — oh wise sage — how would you take death and life in 8:13??

Moo, Osborne and Cottrell take three different perspectives along theological lines.

I think Stott and John Owen make good sense on the point.

[Lisa]

Don’t pretend to know as much as you and Barry, but I was thinking the same thing as Barry about verse 13. To me it seems like Paul is bottom-lining it — making sure they know the ultimate outcome.

However, if he is talking about eternal life and death, I do think people will wonder if this somehow negates the security we have as believers.

Like the outline but I’d love to see a point about 8:16 — how the Spirit testifies with our spirit — since he’s the star of the chapter and all.

[Bruce]

“Brother” does not mean Christian? — Barry likes that nutty notion :)

Paul is bottom-lining it . . . [but there are] implications.

The whole chapter is about assurance, so now we are shaking that with a potential that a brother will be eternally damned?

So, this brother is not really a brother (false profession) or brothers can lose salvation [?] . . . just thinking it through.

[Barry] Uh, I believe I did say that Paul had never been to Rome upon writing the letter. He does not know these people, so I doubt he is playing spiritual fruit inspector with strangers. The chapter is big picture, not micro-focus.

“Implications” in BruceWorld is spelled T-E-M-P-T-A-T-I-O-N. Never spin a philosopher’s head!

“For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” [Romans 8:13]

I take the 2nd and 4th italicized words as eschatological [i.e. end times] — live or die eternally.

The 1st italicized word means to live one’s life day by day. Anyone who lives day by day with the outlook of the flesh will die eternally.

The 3rd italicized word means the same thing we see in Rom. 6:11–13. Anyone who day by day considers themselves dead to sin and refuses to allow their members to serve unrighteousness will live eternally.

Romans 6 has the commands which Romans 8 lacks. Romans 6 takes the perspective of our responsibility to live for God after trusting Christ. Romans 8 takes the perspective of what God does through his Spirit to make possible the resistance to sin and death.

Romans 8:13 is a good example of how Moo drops into theological-partisan mode when some Calvinist principle is at stake. A pity because his exegesis suffers when that happens.

[Bruce] I agree that the second and fourth highlighted words appear to be eschatological – eternal death and life — however I am struggling with the referent of “you” back to word “brothers” in verse 12 (I know there is not a personal pronoun in Greek, but implied by the verb). The brothers to whom he is talking are the ones who are in Christ, in the Spirit assured of life even though they have mortal bodies. In 12–13 Paul is not making another statement of fact (although it is indicative, there is an implied imperative/exhortation) because this is now our “obligation” as those who have received the Spirit and are now in the Spirit. That’s where I am struggling. So my solution is to find a wider meaning in “die” and “live” which is possible in the field of meaning and use in other NT passages, but I grant that the more common meaning is eschatological.

So, troublesome facts in the text:

Brothers
and
Obligation

Back to you authors (whom I may contradict on Sunday! :) —

P.S. agree on Moo — so sharp and then . . . I do not see this passage addressing Calvinist/Arminian issues — I do not see the “perseverance of the saints” as the topic. And in my view, not even an implication one way or the other. What’s at stake is our ability to experience life today in the Spirit which is contingent on our  putting to death the misdeeds of the body by the power of the Spirit.

[Lisa] My postmodern education must be showing, because now I can see how you could both be right. <sigh> That’s exhausting.

So it really couldn’t be another statement of fact? Could the “you” be more proverbial – sort of a general summation of the contrast he’s been making? It just seems odd that Paul would be so literal in discussing death and resurrection in 8:11, but switch to something more philosophical in this verse.

All that being said, I like this…”What’s at stake is our ability to experience life today in the Spirit which is contingent on our putting to death the misdeeds of the body by the power of the Spirit” precisely because you’d preach it without it being a perseverance issue. And it does seem to stay with the assurance theme that Paul has been developing.

So…what do you do for the poor Life Group leaders when you two disagree like this?

[Barry] You two are making my bald head hurt!   :)

Romans 8:9 is the key to this entire section because it can only go one way. Only those who have the Spirit are in Christ; the others do not belong to him. This isn’t quantum physics where maybe you are a Christian or maybe not, or maybe more life-like or maybe not.

Also, how can you have assurance without perseverance? Looks like a riddle to me.   :)

[Bruce] My post-modern education leans me the same way — he may be speaking proverbially or metaphorically — I don’t think it is philosophic. It is a tough issue. Barry has stated the other view well, even better than most of the commentators I’ve read. Either you explain how “therefore” and “obligation” are contingent on the fact that “brothers” means something more like attenders OR you explain that life and death are not eternal damnation but the experience of more of less of God’s life available by the Spirit today — tastes of real life — we know eternal life starts today and it is a quality of life not just duration.

[Barry] Okay … I’m laughing at the idea that post-modernism is not philosophical.

I’m waiting for you to apply your “more or less of God’s life” theory to Romans 8:9.

[Bruce] Apples and oranges, my friend.

I stand in the rich tradition of John Owen and John Stott against those modern commentators, Moo, Schreiner and Osborne! Joined by two others who shall not be named!

[Barry] Well, I do agree you are standing in something …  :)

[Bruce] a umph,

Trace the concept of life in vs 9 “The Spirit gives life” then connect to the minority view someone [i.e. Barry in the Romans 8 study guide] took of “will also give life to your mortal bodies” — just what “life” is this? Well of course the same life that is referred to in verse 13. By the Spirit we can experience life today, but the extent of our experience varies by our death-dealing to deeds of the body.

BTW — not sure about that view of 11 — weighing explicit reference to Christ’s resurrection against the word “mortal” — you have a point that makes sense (at least you are not irrational or crazy), but I’m not sure “mortal” weighs enough against resurrection reference and analogy to Christ, but I like your view because it supports my view of 13!

[Barry] Holy cow — quoting me against me!! That’s got to be cheating of some kind.
:)

In verse 11, my view says that the Spirit provides all the power necessary for the person in a mortal body to say no to an act of sin. I do not hold that the Spirit gives sometimes more power/life and sometimes less. I fully admit that I do not know how the Spirit does these things; just as John 3 says, we are in the dark about all that.

So, under your theory of sometimes more life and sometimes less … is an act done with 75% life an act done while “walking according to the Spirit,” or not? How about 85%? At what point is the person “walking according to the flesh”?

[Bruce] That’s an engineer for you — applying percentages to wonderful spiritual truth — ruining metaphors with numbers  :)

So, we get an injection of power that we can use or not?

[Barry] Yeah, it’s kind of like a total and complete salvation that we can accept or not. Odd, isn’t it?

[Bruce] So confused, once again.

Justification vs. sanctification — already and not yet — one is total the other is partial — unless you don’t sin . . .

[Barry] You didn’t leave your meds at home again, did you?

[END]

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.