Romans (Part 27) - Predestined to the Image of His Son (8:26–36)
Verses 26 and 27 provide a familiar set of verses which are often, maybe, slightly misunderstood. Verse 26 tells us that the Holy Spirit helps in our weakness. He intercedes with unspoken groanings when we do not know for what or how to pray as we should. Verse 27 says that the heart-searcher (God) knows the Spirit’s mindset because the Spirit is interceding (for us) according to the will of God. Somehow we sometimes misunderstand this by thinking often our souls may be so burdened for something, we don’t know exactly how to pray, so the Spirit comes alongside in his groanings, praying for us (interceding for us). But that idea makes the intercession between us and God? Is it that God the Father is there waiting to hear from us, we don’t know how to pray, and therefore the Spirit interprets our prayer to the Father (because otherwise the Father would have no idea what we want)? Of course, that cannot be true. I do not want to take away from the very real struggle in prayer that we face or from the very real help that the Spirit provides. But we have the direction wrong. Let’s examine this from a contextual standpoint.
All through chapter 8, Paul has been noting the conflict between our (Christians’) righteous spirits and our still corrupted flesh. Our corrupted flesh continues to influence toward sin while the Spirit renews the revelation of TGB to our spirits, assuring us we are God’s children (8:16). So the subject with which Paul is grappling is that internal, suffering conflict of righteous spirit and corrupt flesh. Through the chapter, Paul has also been trying to assure his readers that we will not be left in this state. Just as Jesus (who had a righteous spirit “in flesh like ours under sin’s domain” 8:3) was resurrected from physical death, so would we also be resurrected to uncorrupted flesh. And the metaphor that Paul uses to describe this period of suffering and longing for that resurrection is that of a woman groaning with labor pains in childbirth. (The word translated labor pains is used only here in the NT, but often in classical Greek for the idea of labor pains.) Thus, Paul began in verse 22 speaking of creation groaning in this state, waiting for the birth of the new creation without sin. Verse 23 continues with us in our spirits also groaning in our current state, waiting for the birth or redemption of our bodies (which is the same hope for which creation was groaning since the new creation includes our new bodies). That hope for that birth, Paul says, is still a hope because it is not yet realized. We must wait patiently for it (8:24–25).
It is then that we hit verse 26 where we are told that God the Spirit helps in our weakness. What weakness? Exactly the weakness Paul has been discussing—the internal, suffering conflict of righteous spirit and corrupt flesh that has us groaning for relief through new birth of creation. And we struggle in this conflict not knowing always how to pray to manage the conflict. Paul provides his readers with assurance here as he tells us that the Spirit “in the same way” (8:26a) groans with us. So, the Spirit, too, wants that redemption to be realized. So the Spirit’s intercession is not between us and God. The Spirit intercedes (comes between) our righteous spirits and the flesh’s corrupt influence to help us through this life as we “eagerly wait for [our hope] with patience” (8:25b).
Verse 27, then, provides another comforting assurance. Our God who has not yet redeemed, who is still having us continue in this state of internal, suffering conflict, is not doing so in conflict of care or purpose from the Spirit who groans with us. Rather, verse 27 makes clear that God, the heart searcher, knows (Greek has regard for) the Spirit’s mindset (thoughts and purposes). In other words, though God’s purpose requires the temporary corrupt-flesh/righteous-spirit conundrum, he, in both his individual and collective care-giving, is united in these purposes. So God the Father cares; God the Son cares; God the Spirit cares. And they are all caring while the plan is being accomplished—the plan that works all things “together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” (8:28).
Verse 29 begins with “for,” which means to tell us “here’s how,” or precisely, “Here’s how all things work together for good.” Paul begins by referring to the foreknown. However you want to decide how God knows these ahead of time is not the point right now. The point is that he is talking about the foreknown—those who would accept his TGB in Christ when revealed to them. They are those of faith—those who are children of God—including those Roman Christians to whom Paul is writing. These foreknown, these justified by faith, are “predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (8:29a). What is it to be conformed to the image of God’s son? Remember the context! Paul has been assuring believers throughout this chapter that just as God raised Jesus, who had a righteous spirit, to life in uncorrupted flesh, so would he “also bring your mortal bodies to life through His Spirit who lives in you” (8:11). Paul repeated the point in verse 17, saying that if we are children, we are heirs “so that we may also be glorified with Him.” This conformity to the Son is the assuring promise Paul has been telling us of throughout—we will be raised incorruptible! We will have spirits and bodies free from sin to forever be in glorious love relationship with our God! That is what God predestined for those who would be justified—a flesh and spirit uniting in sin-free union with God.
Note that this is not a verse arguing who in the world will get to heaven. The subject is not the world’s population or all of created humankind. The subject is those God foreknew. And those people—who would be Christians—are predestined to have uncorrupted physical essence in resurrection just as the Son.
Paul then concludes, in verse 30, the whole thought of his argument from Romans 3 on. God will complete his plan for these Christians—the ones who have been predestined to be conformed to the image of the Son. As shown in his discussion so far, they may rest assured that God who has called them and justified them will indeed also glorify them. They are secure in him.
That’s Paul’s conclusion. He has completed his discussion of how Messiah’s renewal of life (not the Law of the Mosaic Covenant) brings people into everlasting love relationship with God. Paul concludes this chapter, then, with a hymn of assurance. He begins by asking that if God is for us, who can be against us? (8:31). The implied answer is no one. And Paul emphasizes the point by drawing our attention to the fact that God not only provided payment for our death requirement, but he did so by giving up his only perfect relationship with humanity—that with his Son. That is in fact why Paul uses son here—to show that relationship sacrificed. And Paul’s point is that if God sacrifice so dear a cost, would he not ensure that what he gained would be perfect and secure?
Paul’s next question wonders who can accuse us or condemn us (8:33–34). Again, the implied answer is no one. In his explanation, Paul hits on both aspects of our righteous condition—our spirits that God has justified by faith so that we are beyond accusation and the death requirement for sin provided for by Christ so that we cannot be condemned.
Paul then asks, “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?” (8:35). He does answer this with a no in verse 37. But before doing so, he presents persecutions of the body that our enemies may do. And of course, those things cannot separate us from God. We already have proof of that; those things are going on right now (8:36)! Yet we are victorious.
Therefore, Paul concludes that nothing in the physical realm can keep us from losing our physical hope of resurrected, redeemed bodies to accompany our righteous spirits.