The Work of the Triune God in Giving Complete and Certain Salvation

The eighth chapter of Romans is the greatest single narrative in human language. Its subject matter transcends the content of all other writings outside the Bible and its place within the Bible is so fraught with clear summations of the whole biblical message that the glory of the entire text of revealed truth is poured into this single portion of the word. It seems, that by God’s own purpose in inspiration, nothing else in the Bible matches it. The facility of Paul in bringing to a coherent culmination the deep, disturbing, and complex exposition of the previous seven chapters challenges and delights the intellect, to say nothing of the unsettled spirit, with the beauty of this proportioned summation. The vision Paul presents of the outcome of this theological investigation of history is breathtaking in its clarity and fullness and matchless in its vision of the wonder and glory of the final settlement of the divine purpose. The scope of the discussion—from bondage to freedom, from condemnation to justification, from corruption to glory, wrath absorbed and satisfied in infinite love, apparent fortuity to invincible purpose—these and more constitute the vision Paul expounds under the inspiration of the divine Spirit. The passage also demonstrates the affinity the Holy Spirit had for a trained intellect deeply penetrated with scriptural truth come to life in the soul by the effectual application if it in an encounter with the resurrected Redeemer. Paul wrote it, and even the apostles recognized that Paul put forth ideas the power and scope of which expanded even their own grasp of gospel truth. (2 Peter 3:14-18)


I. Romans 8:1-11 -How the disturbing struggle of 7:14-25 serves as a point of evidence that one has received justifying grace.

A. When we are disturbed by the remaining influence of indwelling sin, Paul reason for comfort. When we fall short of our most solemn resolutions to honor God and reflect his glory by living in accord with his Law, we must embrace the reality that it is not our law-keeping that justifies. Union with Christ in his redemptive work alone gives us right standing before God and removes us from any possibility of condemnation (8:1).

B. 8:2-4 -It seems that Paul now refers back to 7:6 (“but in the new way of the Spirit”).

  1. Paul brings his readers to see that the presence of the Spirit means that our relation to the Law no longer is one either of condemnation or of gaining righteousness unto life through our own perfect obedience to it. Instead, without any relativizing of the absolute righteousness of the law, Paul points to a process led by the Spirit of God of ongoing conformity to the law’s “spirituality” (7:14).
  2. By being put in Christ Jesus, the “law of sin and death” no longer operates, but rather “the Spirit of life.” Death no longer threatens us; we deal with sin by the Spirit from the safe sphere of the righteousness of Christ. By Christ’s coming in the flesh, (8:3) according to the appointment of the Father himself, (“God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh could not do”) the effects of sin have themselves been condemned because Christ by his death in our nature rendered it powerless. “In the likeness of sinful flesh” means that he himself took a flesh and a complete human nature right from within our very humanity—not a newly created humanity, but our humanity as the seed of the woman—only without the sin that adheres to all those born through the seed of the man (according to Paul’s argument in Romans 5:12-21).
  3. This was done so that the “righteous requirement of the law”—the law that had condemned us—might now be fulfilled in us. This occurs in two ways:
  • It is fulfilled “in us” in our faith, that is, we consent in our minds and heart to its righteous requirements when we are driven to Christ for a perfect manifestation of unblemished obedience (see Hebrews 7:26-28, “made perfect forever”), and then,
  • by proportions in the process of the Spirit’s operations in sanctification to be completed in the state of glory (1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24).

C. 8:5-11 – Contrary to the man in 7:22, 23, 25 that desires God’s law in his mind and inner man, the person whose manner of life is in constant pursuit of the activities of the flesh has indeed set his mind on the things of the flesh.

  1. Paul emphasizes that the difference between life and death is in the mind. The mind set on the things of the Spirit is life and peace. The mind set on the flesh is death (8:6b). There is no such thing as a carnal Christian, that is, a Christian that has his mind set on the things of the flesh. That mind-set is death itself (8:6a). A Christian has the flesh as a principle dwelling within him and waging war against him, but his mind is set on the things of the Spirit and he wages war against the flesh, even as the man in Romans 7:25 (“I myself with my mind am serving the law of God”).
  • In 1 Corinthians 3:1-4, Paul writes to the Corinthians as yet immature Christians who still evaluate spiritual things according to earthly standards. They look at particular personal traits or talents that are appealing to them (1:11-13; 3:5-9) and fail to recognize the sovereign Spirit behind these personalities who distributes gifts according to his own purpose. Thus, in this instance they are acting according to a standard of the flesh, as all Christians do in the ongoing fight against indwelling flesh (Galatians 5:16, 17, 25, 26).
  • Paul assumes that focused doctrinal instruction on this issue will give the Corinthians a perspective oriented to the Spirit instead of the flesh (1 Corinthians 4:6, 7). A Christian will be assaulted with seemingly invincible intensity by the flesh, but the Lord will make a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13) and the Christian will appropriate the revelation of the Spirit as a protection and a weapon of victory in this fight (Ephesians 8:10-18).
  • If a person, therefore, resides in submission to the flesh, does not war against it, and has no desire for the life of the Spirit, such a person still abides in death.
  1. Thus, we can know that the Spirit dwells within us if we fight against the flesh. If the Spirit dwells in us then we are no longer subject to eternal death, although the body that still has the members in which the flesh dwells will die, the Spirit is Life (8:10), that is, constitutes in Himself the eternal life that is ours. Eternal Life, is, as it were, the very eternal life that we will have when this life is set aside. We enter into such life because of righteousness, that is, because of our being covered by the righteousness of Christ, as evidenced by our love of righteousness. But we also are guaranteed that because our sin-bearer has conquered death and been resurrected, even so will these bodies that die be resurrected to participate in the complete righteousness of sanctification, dwelling eternally in the atmosphere of the perfect love, communication, knowledge, and holiness that is the ongoing operation of the Spirit as He proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son. We have presently entered into this with the Spirit as the earnest of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13, 14; 4:30). We will have it more fully at death when we are absent from the body but present with the Lord (Phil 1:23; 2 Corinthians 5:4-8). We will have it in its fullest at the resurrection (Romans 8:11; Philippians 3:20, 21)


II. Romans 8:12-27 – What the Presence of the Spirit means for us in the present state of begun salvation.

A. Romans 8:12-17 – Since all this is true, the sphere of reality that constitutes our life now is one of life before the triune God. To whom do we owe our life? As Creator, God clams the loyalty and worship of all humans. But all are fallen have come short of the glory of God and are under condemnation. Those, however, who have been given new life in Christ by the Spirit, now are debtors, not to their fallen flesh, but to the Spirit of God.

  1. The Spirit performs in us now, that work that is the essence of his deity as well as the particular mark of his distinct personality. His essence of deity is the perfection of love, communication, unity of will, infinite harmony of fellowship that is the constant experience between Father and Son. So perfect this is, that the experience itself constitutes both deity and distinct personality. The deity is the same infinitely glorious unbroken simplicity of knowledge, beauty, love and goodness, while the peculiar relationship within which that is borne constitutes the distinctness of the Spirit’s personality and the way in which that unity of essence expresses itself. His dwelling in us means that he is forming in us those eternal qualities that constitute eternal life, joy in the inter-relationship of the persons of the triune God. He wars against, puts to death, all that constitutes mere flesh. He engages our mind and works our compliance with his purpose (“if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body”), he leads us to acknowledge the Fatherhood of the Father (we cry “Abba, Father” 8:15) and he places us under the blessings which accrue to the Son in his work.
  2. We are thus like the Son as he receives from the Father the rewards of his labor of redemption in being exalted as the Messiah. Even as the Spirit energized the Son to present himself unblemished to God (Hebrews 9:14), so those “being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (14).
  3. We ourselves receive that inheritance with Christ (“heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” 8:17). If that eternal life is in us, it will produce an invincible resistance to the remnants of the power of the flesh in this present existence in ourselves. It will also produce a resistance to the unholy worldliness of the present order so that we might be called on to suffer as Christ did. But this life also establishes a confidence in the superiority of our state as Sons of God so that we do not fear (8:15 [look at 2 Timothy 1:7; 1 John 4:17, 18]).

B. Romans 8:18-27 In this section Paul expands on the blessings of the work of the Spirit that he has introduced in the previous verses.

  1. “I reckon, or I consider”—It is as if I could weigh this by numbers and see that one of these things is clearly more weighty and valuable than the other. Sufferings now in the interest of eternal life, are virtually nothing when placed alongside the glory, the unbroken, never-ending glory, that will be revealed to us (or in us). (18)
  2. Romans 8:19-22 -The redemptive work of Christ that has brought about the infusion of eternal life into this present fallen order has created a yearning and expectation that will at God’s appointed time burst the bonds of corruption and the shackles of ongoing futility. This yearning is manifest in the non-human creation itself as it anticipates breaking the cycle of life being swallowed up by corruption and death. Soon all of this decay and death will be swallowed up by glorious incorruptible life and the earth itself will become a fit place for the dwelling of men in the presence of the glory of the triune God. In one image these are called “the pains of child-birth (22). Another image points to the energy pent up within this present order will, in God’s time and by God’s action, spring forth and renovate this present order so that there will be “new heavens and a new earth” His glorious presence will be among men and this order, a new heaven and earth, will be purified so that it becomes the very dwelling place of righteousness (2 Peter 3:10-13).
  3. Romans 8:23-25 – Here Paul expands the idea that the Spirit is Life. The presence of the Spirit will not allow us to be satisfied with the repressions of this age.
  • The presence of eternal life in us brings to the point of combustion the implanted yearning for complete removal of all hindering factors that indwell this present body. The certainty that this shall happen constitutes our hope. All that eternal life involves we do not yet have, although we have its very presence in the indwelling Spirit. We yearn for eternal life in its fullness (“we groan within ourselves”) when our very bodies, the present locus of all that continues to oppose that life, will be redeemed and will become the vehicle of expression of praise and reception of love.
  • To be able to love God supremely and give unending and unhindered expressions of that love, and likewise to receive from Him expressions of love unhindered by the dimness of our present vision truly is eternal life. Knowing that it is certain and will come and will swallow up and put into nothingness all the evil repression of this present age makes us wait patiently for it (25).
  1. Romans 8:26, 27 – This also transforms the confidence that we have in prayer, for we recognize that the Spirit in his role of supreme communicator presents before God all those things that will bring about that needed transformation of mind and heart, that continued mortification of the flesh. Part of our dimness is that we do not know how to pray as we ought, for these supremely important eternal things, but the Spirit does because it is of his essence. His complete embodiment of the will of God is transferred to prayer for those that he has regenerated and sealed. The Father, therefore, executes, by his decreed providence, his will in accordance with the Spirit’s internal transforming operations in us.


III. Romans 8:28-30 – How the Spirit operates to execute the Father’s good pleasure. Because the Spirit’s intercessions for us go beyond the limits of our knowledge, and are precisely designed for the peculiarities of our ongoing relationship with eternal life, we must learn to trust how these prayers become real events in our lives.

A. 8:28 – Working in accordance with the sanctifying design of the Spirit, the Father does not fail to design every event in our lives as an event that will operate for the eternal good of those who, because they have been effectually called, love God and desire his presence. Their call comes from the “glory and excellence” of God (2 Peter 1:3) and causes them to have faith in Christ because they have been brought to love him (1 Peter 1:8). All of this has come about from the purpose of God, an eternal purpose carried out in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:11; 2 Timothy 1:9).

B. Paul now gives a succinct summary of the different stages of this eternal purpose of God. 8:29-30: Observe first that each of these stages of the divine purpose relate to specific persons. “Whom” he foreknew . . . Whom he predestined,” etc. Second, notice that it is the same ones from the beginning to the end of this chain of gracious designs. From the beginning of foreknowledge to the end of glorification there is a carefully constructed syntax that shows that each one perceived in love at the beginning by the Father is finally glorified.

  1. It begins with foreknowledge. This is not mere pre-cognition but means that a purposeful love has been set on an individual before he began to be. His being is the result of this foreknowledge.
  2. His being loved beforehand resulted in his being predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. This means that the incarnation and the redemptive work of Christ was central to God’s eternal purpose, for conformity to his image presupposes that he is the highest and purest expression of created humanity. That God’s eternal Son would assume a human nature is at the center of the divine revelation of Himself and his purpose for the world.
  3. This predestination before time, results in a calling in time. The calling by its very nature has a transforming effect on the individual called, as mentioned above. It drives him to see his sin, his need for redemption, and to flee to Christ as the only fit redeemer.
  4. Thus, calling results in justification as discussed in chapters 4 and 5. Once that foreknown person is justified, there is no condemnation and his final state is in the enjoyment of eternal life in heaven, the very presence of the full glory of God.
  5. This residence in heaven means that we must be put into a state of incorruption and immortality. The final state, therefore, of his restoration of fellowship with God is in glorification.
  6. Thus Spirit, Father and Son work in a completely harmonious, singularly purposeful way to mark out and redeem and bring into the presence of the divine glory a specific group selected by the Father, given to the Son for redemption, and to the Spirit for calling and holiness.


IV. Romans 8:31-39 -How the Son’s work is a gift of the Father, demonstrates the Father’s love, and satisfied the Father’s wrath.

A. 8:31 – If all of this is the work of God’s own planning and he has chosen us as his own, who can possibly oppose the successful culmination of his design toward us? The implied answer, of course, is “no one.”

B. 8:32 – Paul now argues from the greater to the lesser. If he has already given us the greatest gift, is it reasonable to expect that he will not also give us all the lesser gifts; especially since that greatest gift given was for the purpose of obtaining all these other gifts that could not be obtained without the greatest gift? So, God has given his Son particularly as a ransom, a price of redemption; he has bought us with his blood. The purchase price is given and all the graces necessary to the obtaining of the purchased possession flow naturally from the transaction. (see Ephesians 1:14 and Titus 2:13, 14) Christ himself is the manifestation of the Father’s love to us. This parallels John 3:16, Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:10; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; Ephesians 1:4, 5; 2:4; 3:17) This love is the same affection as the “foreknowledge” of verse 29.

C. 8:33, 34 – These two verses focus on two equally formidable and invincible realities of grace, the effects of which cannot be overcome by any power or accusation.

  1. The first is election that results in justification. Can anyone bring a charge capable of prosecution against a person that has been elected in eternity by God? This election results infallibly in justification so that the only verdict to be brought to the person of the elect is the declaration of righteousness.
  2. Commensurate with that, if one would say, “but he must be condemned for he has sinned,” God looks upon the death of Christ with the certain knowledge that Christ has died in full satisfaction of divine wrath against the sin of the elect and the verdict is “no condemnation.”
  3. Not only has Christ died, but he “was raised,” passive, meaning in this instance that the Father raised him for he had accepted his substitutionary death as full payment and it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him (Acts 2:24).
  4. Not only that, but the one who died and was raised is in the position of favor and power with the Father, at his right hand, and on the basis of his death intercedes for us.

D. 8:35-39 These verses reiterate what was proposed in the rhetorical questions of 33 and 34. This time it comes in the form of the love of Christ. The rhetorical inquiries began with an emphasis on God’s election in verse 33. Just as in the case of verses 29 and 30, these queries concern the same persons. The elect are the ones that cannot be condemned because Jesus has loved them in particular to the death. “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” John 13:1. Nothing can separate those elect from the particular redemptive love of Christ. As hepummels the readers with a list of horrific enemies that could indicate that we are not in the favor of God, Paul quotes from Psalm 44:22. In the Psalm the question is asked in the midst of a sense of despair, as if the evidences of the conditions around him indicate that God’s favor is present no longer. When Paul quotes the verse, he responds with a resounding “No.” The evidence that we have now of the love of Christ for us does not allow any earthly thing to shut out the light of that single event. Christ has died and risen again and intercedes and nothing can dim the glory of that. These remnants of futile opposition to the purpose of God merely show the weakness of the world’s follies. Instead of giving us despair, they display the weakness of their opposition and show how the love of Christ has raised us above them all. The love of God is found in Jesus Christ our Lord.



Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts