The Holy Spirit in the Book of Romans

This is the study guide for the class I will teach on August 11, 2019 at The Sanctuary UPC in Hazelwood, MO, where Mitchell Bland is pastor. This material is drawn from my upcoming book, tentatively titled The Holy Spirit: An Apostolic Perspective on Pneumatology, and planned for publication this fall by Word Aflame Press.

The Holy Spirit in the Book of Romans

August 11, 2019

Daniel L. Segraves, Teacher

[1] The first reference to the Spirit in Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome declares Jesus “to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4). The phrase “Spirit of holiness” refers to the Holy Spirit. The parallel phrases “according to the flesh” and “according to the Spirit of holiness” affirm Christ’s humanity (as a descendant of David) and deity (according to the Holy Spirit, referring to the role of the Holy Spirit in Mary’s conception).

[2] The spiritual reality that replaces the circumcision of the law is circumcision “of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter” (Romans 2:29). In his letter to the Colossians, Paul connected this idea with “the circumcision of Christ,” which occurs when believers are “buried with Him in baptism” (Colossians 2:11-12). Those who have experienced this spiritual circumcision “worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).

[3] A rich benefit of the Holy Spirit is that the Spirit has “poured out in our hearts” the love of God (Romans 5:5). The words “poured out” reminds us of Acts 2:33, where Jesus is said to have “poured out” the Holy Spirit on the waiting believers. This is the language of Joel 2:28-29, which Peter declared to be fulfilled in the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-18).

[4] References to the Holy Spirit are threaded through Romans 8. In the first verse, walking “according to the Spirit” is contrasted with walking “according to the flesh.” This follows Paul’s expression of his frustration over his carnality in his struggle to be perfectly obedient to the law (Romans 7:8-25). The law aroused his sinful passions, but he now knew that he had been “delivered from the law, having died to what [he was] held by, so that [he] should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:5-6).

[5] The idea of “newness of the Spirit” is developed in Romans 8. It involves walking according to the Spirit. It is “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” which makes us “free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). We shouldn’t be quick to think that “the law of sin and death” is a reference to sin and death itself. As Paul wrote in II Corinthians 3:7-9, the law of Moses is “the ministry of death” and the “ministry of condemnation” in contrast to the “ministry of the Spirit.” These terms represent the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

[6] By means of the Incarnation, God accomplished what the law could not (Romans 8:3). He did this so “that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). To grasp the significance of this statement, we must first understand that the “righteous requirement of the law” is perfect obedience. There is no indication in the law of Moses that anything less than perfect conformity to its 613 commandments is acceptable. This is the case within the law’s statements about itself and in the observations about the law found in the New Testament.

[7] Lest we think Paul’s point is that, now that we are filled with the Spirit we are enabled to keep the law, we should keep in mind first that we are not under the law of Moses, as seen in the decision of the church council of Acts 15 and a variety of other texts in the New Testament. Indeed, the primary point of tension in the first century church was the disagreement over whether believers are required to keep the law. In every case where this subject comes up, the New Testament asserts that the law is no longer in effect; in fact, we learn from reading the New Testament that it is spiritually dangerous to attempt to relate to God on the basis of the law.

[8] Also, we must note in Romans 8:4 that in the phrase “the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,” the word translated “fulfilled” (plēroō) is in the passive voice, showing that this “righteous requirement” is fulfilled not by us, but in us by someone outside of us, on our behalf. That someone is Jesus, whose work on the cross has done for us what we could never do. As Paul pointed out in Romans 5:18-19, “Through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”[archive]