Romans 8: How the Gospel Brings us all the Way Home

As I mentioned today in class, I am teaching twice tomorrow on Romans 8. I named the post here after one of my favorite little books for the layman on this chapter, Derek Thomas’ “How the Gospel Brings Us All the Way Home.” Check it out on amazon if you’re interested. In the meantime, I thought I’d post up my notes here on the chapter. There’s about 21 pages…so it will be a rather lengthy post. Enjoy!

Chapter 8

Introduction

Romans 8 has often been called the “best chapter in the Bible” and the “heart of Paul’s gospel.” Some have said that if Romans is the heart of the New Testament, then it is like an onion that is gradually being pealed back, and that chapter 8 is like the very heart of that onion.

Derek Thomas says of chapter 8, “It is a description of the Christian life from death to life, from justification to glorification, from trial and suffering to the peace and tranquility of the new heaven and new earth.”

Other major themes of chapter 8 can be summed up in the headers used by theologians as they approach the section in their commentaries. Thomas Schreiner calls the first section of Romans 8 the “ fulfillment of the Law by the Spirit” as part of “the triumph of grace over the power of the law” and that the last half of the chapter is the “assurance of hope.”

John Stott’s chapter heading simply and succinctly reads: God’s Spirit in God’s Children. What an amazing story that tells!

The Context

For several chapters now Paul has labored to describe the war that is waged within the Christian due to sin. It started in chapter 6 and wrapped up in 7 with the rhetorical question “who will deliver me from this body of death.” Paul’s answer is that its Jesus Christ who delivers us from this body of death – this sin nature that still hinders our walk and the sanctification process.

Now, in chapter 8, Paul will seek to show us what life in the Spirit is like, and how God’s sovereign purposes in our salvation are from of old. He will demonstrate through the power of the Spirit and through the use of his pen, that God not only predestined to bring us into an adoptive state, a saved and reconciled state, but that He and He alone has the absolute power to keep us in that state. What God began from before creation He will finish with new creation (Is. 66:22-23).

8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

This verse is so great that entire books have been written about it. Let me quote from the ESV notes to begin with:

The now in 8:1 matches the “now” in 7:6, showing that the new era of redemptive history has “now” been inaugurated by Christ Jesus for those who are “now” in right standing before God because they are united with Christ. But the summary relates further to the whole argument presented in chs. 3, 4, and 5.

“There is therefore” is a sounding bell across the moors of Satan’s domain, which has been shattered by the ushering in of the kingdom of God by Christ. It is a present reality and a future hope. It is the realization that even though we sin (see chapter 7) we have a glorious reality that awaits us, that is, a glorified purified state in which we will never sin and will be free of the nagging sins that “so easily entangle us” (Heb. 12:1).

Schreiner comments, “The ‘now’ in verse 1 signals a new era of salvation history, one in which God’s covenantal promises are being fulfilled, when his people are enjoying the freedom from condemnation God promised. The blessing belongs to God’s people because Christ took upon himself the punishment that his people deserved and the Spirit has been given to enable God’s people to keep the Torah.”

What a wonderful new reality! There is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That is to say that for you Christian, no matter how you struggle with sin as I have (speaking as I am Paul in the context of ch. 7), you can and will have final victory at the Day of Judgment (2 Cor. 5:10).

Some indeed struggle with whether the sin that rages within them is an indicator that they are not saved – au contraire! For the battle itself is a sign of adoption and that we belong to Christ. J.C. Ryle says, “A true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience, but war within” (Holiness, Ch. 2, pg. 20-21).

Now Paul sounds the clarion call to all saints that they need to heed the reality of what may not be seen now, but will be seen on the last day. Christ’s righteousness will indeed cover all your sins (see. Ch. 5) and you will stand with not one shred of condemnation.

In this way, 8:1 relates directly back to 7:6 which says, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”

Schreiner says, “The reason believers are not under condemnation is because they have been freed from the tyranny of the law, for sin exercises dominion over those under the law.”

Therefore, this is a verse that looks back in triumph and looks forward in hope.

8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

This is a reprise of chapter 6 in which Paul explained that:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, [18] and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)

The freedom that we have in Christ is from the Spirit of God. The phrase “the law of the Spirit” might be easier understood “the principle by which you are free is the fact that the Spirit is working in you.” In other words, the “law of the Spirit” is a new paradigm. Once you lived under the old paradigm of death, the Mosaic Law, now you live under the paradigm of life!

Stott suggest though that it is best to be more specific than just to say that the “law of the Spirit” is simply a new paradigm, though it ushers that in, but rather it is the Gospel itself. “This makes the best sense, as it is certainly the gospel which has freed us from the law and its curse, and the message of the life in the Spirit from the slavery of sin and death.”

The major purpose here in these opening verses is to show that Christ, not the Mosaic Law, is the instrument of redemption. As Thomas Schreiner says:

…the law does not break the power of sin but unfortunately and paradoxically exacerbates it. God’s saving promises to his people have not become a reality via the law. The solution lies in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ’s work on the cross provides the basis for the deliverance of believers from condemnation, while the Holy Spirit supplies the power for conquering sin so that the law can now be kept.

Sproul adds…

The Holy Spirit knows how weak we are in our grasp of the Gospel, and like dogs that keep returning to their vomit we keep falling back to the idea that somehow we can justify ourselves by our behavior, and morality.

8:3-4 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, [4] in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The Purpose of the Law

First, “the law” here is the Mosaic Law (some, like Sproul, say it’s the “moral law”), the law given to the people of Israel as they came out of Egypt. This law was perfect (Stott says “the law’s impotence was not intrinsic”), it was an expression of God’s perfect moral character, yet because we are weakened in our flesh because of sin we could never keep the law. That’s why Paul said that “weakened by the flesh” we could never be saved by the law. That’s what’s at stake here: salvation.

God knew that the law of Moses was never meant to be a saving instrument. People were never meant to be able to keep the entire law, it was a schoolmaster to drive to us Christ (Gal. 3:24). What does that mean? It means that the law exposes us for what we are: sinners. In that exposure we find we have a need. What is that need? Forgiveness from sin.

Therefore God allowed the people of Israel to trust in Him and use animal sacrifices as a way to point forward to the ultimate sacrifice that Christ would make on the cross. The people of old looked forward to something they could not see, in hope that one day their redeemer would come. We look back at the cross and see our Redeemer who “made an end of all our sin” (‘Before the Throne of Grace’).

The Work of the Son and the Spirit

When Paul says that Christ came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” he cannot and does not mean that Christ Himself was sinful, but rather that he had the same weak flesh we had. He had the same exposure to the world of sin, yet He never sinned. Instead He condemned sin to the flesh – I think the easiest way to think of this phrase is probably to say that He ‘banished sin to the temporary existence of the flesh’ knowing that one day He will raise us from these bodies and give us new bodies that are pure and spotless – in this way He is the first fruits of our resurrection (1 Cor. 15).

Stott works this thought out better than I though:

The law condemns sin, in the sense of expressing disapproval of it, but when God condemned sin in His Son, his judgment fell upon it in him.

Stott then quotes Charles Cranfield who says:

For those who are in Christ Jesus…there is no divine condemnation, since the condemnation they deserve has already been fully born for them by Him.

Sproul says:

Jesus was born as Adam was before the fall. Jesus was not in bondage to a corrupt nature. Christ came in the flesh as a human being, and he condemned the sin that binds us by taking it upon himself…In His Son there is no condemnation for His people. There is condemnation for their sin, but it is condemned in Christ and removed.

But not only did Christ conquer sin and justify us, He also gave us His Spirit to sanctify us. Stott explains:

First, he (the Father) sent His Son, whose incarnation and atonement are alluded to in verse 3, and then he gave us his Spirit through whose indwelling power we are enabled to fulfill the law’s requirement, which is mentioned in verse 4 and expanded in the following paragraph. Thus God justifies us through His Son and sanctifies us through His Spirit. The plan of salvation is essentially Trinitarian.

8:5-6 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. [6] For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.

What Paul has explained theologically he now works out practically. The reality is that those who are not saved don’t think on the things that are of God. Paul’s emphasis on the importance of what we set our minds on is given at the beginning of chapter 12 as we’ll see later.

But the Christian can be assured that they are in Christ simply by what they desire and what their minds are fixated on. This is not an overnight phenomenon, for surely it takes a lifetime of change and renewal. But there is a marked change between a man who was once lost and now has been found and quickened by the powerful life-giving Spirit of God. Suddenly that man thinks differently than he ever had before. I’m sure that you know what I mean. The blinders have been taken off, and suddenly perspective is added to life that you never had before – an eternal perspective.

The reason that the “mind on the flesh is death” is because those who have that mind also have a destiny with death, and are, in fact, still dead in their sins. The mindset here is not meant to be something we can effect on our own, but rather a fruit of what the Spirit is (or isn’t) doing within us.

8:7-8 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. [8] Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

This reminds me a great deal of the passage in Hebrews which says:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)

And indeed faith is a result of the Spirit work within us – it is a gift (Eph. 2). Therefore those who have faith will act in faith and will not be hostile to the things of God, in fact they will submit to His authority and will do the will of God because that’s what is in their heart. The Spirit is now at work within them to please God – it isn’t as though we please God with our own ideas, but rather the Spirit works with us to help us do things we would never do before (i.e. “love your enemies”).

Carnality: Inability to Please God

The second thing we see in this passage is the stark reality that “those who are in the flesh cannon please God.” Verse 8 reminds us that before we were saved we were at war with God. We were enemies of God. This sometimes offends people. We like to say that God loves everyone…really? Maybe He does have affection in a general way for His creation, but certainly it cannot be said that His particular love is focused on everyone, for indeed if that were the case all people would be saved. But that is not the case. Not all men are saved because not all men are the particular objects of His redeeming love.

R.C. Sproul talks a little bit about how we hear all the time about how “God loves the sinner but hates the sin” and addresses this in the context of these verses:

We hear that God loves everybody unconditionally, but that is the biggest lie of our day, because he does not. At the last judgment God will not send sins to hell; he will send sinners to hell. Even though sinners enjoy the blessings of God’s providential love, his filial love is not their desert. The Scriptures are graphic in describing God’s attitude toward impenitent, carnally minded people. God abhors them. Nobody talks that way anymore – except God in his word. To set our minds on the things of the world is death…the flesh is lived not in neutrality but in opposition to God…To be carnally minded is to be at enmity with God.

Sproul isn’t the only one to articulate this difficult truth, however. John Piper explains it as well:

Yes, I think we need to go the full biblical length and say that God hates unrepentant sinners. If I were to soften it, as we so often do, and say that God hates sin, most of you would immediately translate that to mean: he hates sin but loves the sinner. But Psalm 5:5 says, “The boastful may not stand before thy eyes; thou hatest all evildoers.” And Psalm 11:5 says, “The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates him that loves violence.”

Six things the Lord hates, seven which are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and a man who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16–19)

God hates unrepentant sinners—which means that his infinite wrath hangs over them like a mountain of granite and will in the end fall. “Surely God will shatter the head of his enemies, the hairy crown of him who goes on in his guilty deeds” (Psalm 68:21)

Although this is a difficult truth to explain and perhaps harder to swallow, we must also understand that Paul is subtly laying the groundwork for chapter 9 in which he will explain this difficult doctrine some more. For now what he wants us to understand is that prior to your new birth you were not simply estranged from God, you were an enemy of God.

It’s a little easier for us to see this relationship played out in the lives of atheists who publically deny God’s existence in a very vituperating manner. However, the actions and hearts of those who we may hold dear but are not Christians are still evidences of their enmity toward God and His law. Sproul comments, “We are at war with God because we do not want to be subject to the law of God.”

8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

This is a quick reminder to those to whom Paul is addressing (Christians) that they are no longer enemies of God, but rather children of God. What is the definition of someone who is a child of God? What are the evidences? The Spirit’s indwelling presence and the fruit thereof.

Christ knows who are his (John 6) and if you do not have the Spirit of Christ you do not belong to Him.

Now, it might be noted as an aside, that when Paul says “the Spirit of Christ” he is not confusing the two members of the Godhead. It is not as though, as the ancient Modalists would have it, God is really only one person with different names and manifestations. Now, what Paul is saying here is that the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit) can also be identified with Christ because while they are two persons, they are One God. They are of the same mind. Remember also the context here of how Paul is speaking to the fruit and mind of the Spirit-filled person. That person will have the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16),which is from the Spirit. They are so much “on the same page” mentally that they convey the same thoughts to us, if that makes sense…Christ’s mind is given us by the means of the Spirit of God.

8:10-13 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. [11] If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. [12] So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. [13] For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

There is a great parallel track here that Paul is explaining. But first let me first explain what is probably most likely meant by “the body id dead because of sin.” This is a hotly disputed passage and a difficult one to understand. I think that Stott and others are probably correct to say that it is not speaking necessarily spiritually as to our dying to sin, but really physically.

In other words, because of the sin of Adam we have been dying since the day we were born. Llyod-Jones says, “The moment we enter into this world we begin to live, and also being to die. Your first breath is one of the last you will ever take!”

However, because of Christ’s righteousness and death we have been renewed to life in the Spirit. So we are a walking antithetical parallelism. At one time we are dying and yet still living unto life everlasting.

Stott explains “he must surely be saying that our bodies became mortal because of Adam’s sin (‘to dust you will return’), whereas our spirits are alive because of Christ’s righteousness (5:15-18, 21), that is, because of the righteous standing he has secure for us.”

Hope of Resurrection

As mentioned earlier, the hope of our resurrection is seen in the first fruits of Christ’s resurrection. That’s why Paul encourages us with the hope that “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

In this way, not only is Christ our hope, but the Spirit also is our reminder that one day we will be made like Christ and resurrected from this body of death.

The Debt of Obligation

Paul now explains our new situation as not being in debt to the world or sin, but rather to Christ – as debt we can never repay. We aren’t to feel as though we have any obligation to the sinfulness of our former life. As Stott says, “It has no claim on us. We owe it nothing.”

Stott also explains that our debt to Christ is not necessarily/specifically worked out in our going to share the gospel, but rather in our living a righteous life. He sums it up this way:

How can we possess life and court death simultaneously? Such an inconsistency between who we are and now we behave is unthinkable, even ludicrous. No, we are in debt to the indwelling of the Spirit of life to live out our God-given life and to put to death everything which threatens it or is incompatible with it.”

In verse 13 Paul sets the table for a life and death choice. You cannot have both.

8:14-17 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [15] For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” [16] The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [17] and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

I wanted to lump these four verses together because there is one theme that pervades them: adoption.

Paul has spent the past few verses dealing with justification and then sanctification, and now he is going to remind us of the tremendous privilege we have that is greater and better than anything we could ever have imagined, namely that we have been adopted into the royal family of God.

The ‘Spirit of Assurance’

We also see that there are characteristics that must be noted here about those who are children of God. Namely that it is the Spirit of God who is doing all of the work here, and it is the Spirit of God who testifies to us internally that we are children. That’s why Paul says, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” as if to say “in case you didn’t believe me, you know it internally if you are saved because your mind has been fully convinced of this fact by the Holy Spirit Himself!

I’m sure that many of us can testify to the truth of this, and what a wonderful reality it is. He doesn’t leave us guessing but rather gives us that internal evidence that we have been adopted. Not merely an outward certificate, but an inward peace.

Martyn Llyod-Jones spent 8 chapters talking about the fact that the inward testimony of the Spirit is our greatest assurance. He says, “This is the highest form of assurance possible; there is nothing beyond it. It is the acme, the zenith of assurance and the certainty of salvation.”

Because Jones influenced Stott’s commentary so much on this point, I want to quote Stott here as well:

Although ‘it is wrong to standardize the experience’ (Jones), since it comes with many variations of intensity and duration, yet it is a direct and sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, unpredictable, uncontrollable and unforgettable. It brings a heightened love for God, an unspeakable joy, and an uninhibited boldness in witness.

Yet Stott is also quick to ensure that experience doesn’t define doctrine/reality.

My anxiety is whether the biblical texts have been rightly interpreted. I have the uneasy feeling that it is the experiences which have determined the exposition. There is no indication in these four verses that a special, distinctive or overwhelming experience is in mind, which needs to be sought by all although it is given only to some. On the contrary, the whole paragraph appears to be descriptive of what is, or should be, common to all believers. Though doubtless in differing degrees of intensity, all who have the Spirit’s indwelling are given the Spirit’s witness too.

The bottom line here is that the Spirit’s indwelling is the main connection between all of these things. He bears witness, He gives us hope for the future, He testifies to our adoption and on and on.

The Nature of God’s Adoption: Love

Paul has thus far given us many reasons not to fall back into the slavery of sinfulness – we just mentioned that one of them is because we don’t owe sin or the world anything! But another reason that Paul gives us here is that we have been adopted. Our adoption should remind us that we don’t have to be ruled by fear because we not only know the reality of our adoption, we not only know the score at the end of the day, we not only know Who is in charge, but we also know that God our Father is a loving Father.

It is this truth about the loving nature of God that separates Him and our heavenly adoption from the kind of worldly adoption you might have in your mind. For some the very term adoption can carry baggage that isn’t appropriately attributable to God’s relationship with us.

God’s adoption was done in love – just as He “predestined us in love” (Eph. 1:3-6) – and that is why Paul says, “you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit understands fully the nature of the relationship between us and God even if we don’t fully understand it. You see, “Abba” was the Aramaic way to say “daddy” – this was a loving term, an intimate term. Though this letter was not written to Jews specifically, it is worth noting that in the Jewish world God was seen as so transcendent that to refer to Him as “daddy” would be a slap in the face of everything they thought of who God was. They didn’t fully grasp the paradox of His character: He is both transcendent and immanent.

What Comes with Adoption

Paul moves us from justification to sanctification to adoption, and now brings up the reality of the consequence of this adoption, namely that if we are children of God we are also heirs with Christ.

This is almost too much to comprehend. The Lord of the universe clothed Himself in flesh and died for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God. But then He went a step further, He included us in His family – and not as a red-headed step-child – but rather as a fellow heir with Christ!

However, as Stott notes, there is a qualification. We must suffer as He has suffered. In other words, don’t expect this to be an easy path. Christ calls us to take up our cross daily. Listen to the words of Christ in John 15:

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. [19] If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15:18-19 ESV)

Therefore it is the reality of our suffering and trials that testify outwardly of our adoption as heirs! What an antithetical thought to many churches in the evangelical world today! The health wealth and prosperity gospel preachers would have you believe that if your life isn’t going well then you must not be praying enough! You must not be trying hard enough! You need to give more money to the church! You need to read your Bible more!

All the while the truth is that God disciplines those whom He loves – it is a sign of adoption. Listen to what the author of Hebrews says:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. [6] For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” [7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11 ESV)

8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

When I was growing up this was one of my favorite verses – it was one of the ones I memorized and always recalled to mind, especially during my formidable teenage years. But the full weight of the verse cannot be merely summed up in the adolescent mind of a teen who looks forward to one day gaining his/her independence!

First of all, as we have seen earlier, it is pre-supposed that we will have sufferings in this present life. Any form of “Christianity” which denies suffering is straight from the pit of Hell. For this life is full of troubles, and Christ never hid those from us, but what He did teach was His preeminence over all these troubles, which is what Paul is teaching here as well.

Consider for a moment what Christ said in John 16 just prior to His majestic High Priestly Prayer:

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. [33] I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32-33)

What great hope is this! Through Christ we are more than conquerors (vs. 37 – also 1 John 4:4)! This verse gives us a look at the eternal through the eyes of a man who knew what it was to suffer. Schreiner says, “This future glory, however, is conditioned upon suffering with Christ in the present age.” And Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians of what he had to endure:

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. [24] Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. [25] Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; [26] on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; [27] in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. [28] And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. [29] Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? (2 Corinthians 11:23-29 ESV)

But all of these things He counted as “rubbish” next to the surpassing glory of knowing Jesus Christ. And that glory is still to be fully revealed to us! Schreiner says, “One reason suffering furthers hope is because present sufferings are minimal in comparison to future glory. To endure present suffering is worthwhile because our pain will be a distant memory I the light of the glory that is coming.”

Of course Paul’s great parallel text to this verse is found later in 2 Corinthians:

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, [18] as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV)

8:19-25 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

This entire section is about the hope of a new creation and finds its roots in Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22 which state:

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. (Isaiah 65:17 ESV)

“For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. (Isaiah 66:22 ESV)

This hope of a new creation which was once promised to “Israel” is now given to the church (Schreiner). “The means by which the hope is secured, however, is suffering” Schreiner comments.

Peter Gentry comments on these passages in Isaiah and relates them to what God is doing in our lives:

…the creation itself has been subject to futility and destruction on account of human sin, and God is not finished until this is rectified. He will make a completely brand new universe: a new heavens and a new earth. We see, then, that the plan of salvation is no halfway fix-it job. God’s plan of restoration brings us back to the pristine state of Eden – in a world now much better and much greater. Augustine once said that he feared to entrust his soul to the great physician lest he be more thoroughly cured than he cared to be. God’s plan of salvation is absolutely thorough, and he is not going to be satisfied with some half job of reformation and renewal in our lives.

Groaning like a Tree!

Paul uses the tool of “personification” to help us understand the nature of fallen creation’s awaiting Christ. Certainly all things are in Him and for Him and to Him (Acts), but it isn’t as though the creation has a mind of its own, per se, rather it has fallen under the bondage of sin and has been tainted with the results of our sinfulness and will one day be renewed.

Schreiner says, “Paul dazzles his readers with the attractiveness and beauty of the future glory. He does this via personification by saying that even the creation longs for the revelation of the sons and daughters of God. The creation longs for this revelation of God’s children because that revelation will be the fulfillment and fruition of the creation’s function as well…What the creation waits for is the revelation of God’s children, that is, their future glorification.”

The main thrust of this passage is that just as creation has been subjected to “futility” (which means that creation has not fulfilled the purpose for which it was made), so we too have not experienced the fullness of our original purpose as God’s image bearers. Yet we long for the day when we will see Him, and be completely conformed to His image. In fact, we will be completely conformed to His image because we will see Him as “He is” (1 John 3:2; 2 Cor. 3:18).

In the meantime, the Spirit of God bears witness within us that this world is not our home, and because of that fact, we groan for the time when God in Christ will renew the world and usher in the consummation of His great purposes for us and the rest of creation.

Stott says, “For the Spirit’s indwelling and our groaning should not surprise us. For the very presence of the Spirit (being only the firstfruits) is a constant reminder of the incompleteness of our salvation, as we share with the creation in the frustration, the bondage to decay and the pain.”

The Nature of Faith and Hope

The thing that sort of bugs us sometimes as human beings is that we have to wait for all this – and what makes it worse is that we can’t see it! But, as Paul cleverly says, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” In other words, it wouldn’t be called “hope” if we could see it!

Consequently this is where the Spirit is so wonderful because the Spirit gives us faith, and faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

It is not “blind” as some mind say, for we perceive the realities of the promise (as we learned above). But it is not something we can see with our eyes…yet! And this is the beauty of Paul’s theology. Paul understands that there is a reality which is already, and yet not already…the “already and not yet.” I love how Schreiner explains this:

…the genius of Pauline eschatology is that the future has invaded the present, the age to come has intruded into the present evil age.

John Stott says, “This whole section is a notable example of what it means to be living ‘in between times’, between present difficulty and future destiny, between the already and the not yet, between sufferings and glory.”

Waiting in Patience

I can’t help be see the clear tie between patience/endurance and God’s purposes in us. James puts it well:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, [3] for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. [4] And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 ESV)

Therefore, we are called to be patience for the sake of endurance and, in the end, our sanctification.

8:26-27 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. [27] And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Now we see the amazing and very practical benefit to being a Christian. The Spirit of God – a divine part of the Triune Godhead – is helping us in our weakness. Paul humbles by reminding us of the reality that our words are not clean enough for His holy presence. But thanks be to God, His Spirit, who always knows His will, intercedes for us converting our heart’s imperfect prayers into requests before the throne of grace.

Stott comments:

So three persons are involved in our praying, First, we ourselves in our weakness do not know what to pray for. Secondly, the indwelling Spirit helps us by interceding for us and through us, with speechless groans but according to God’s will. Thirdly, God the Father, who both searches our hearts and knows the Spirit’s mind, hears and answers accordingly.

8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

This is an oft-misused verse, and the reason is usually because those who are quoting it forget the last part: “who are called.” This qualifies the former “all things work together for good.”

We also need to remember the context of the entire chapter. We’ve been reading about how we must suffer trials, temptations, difficulties in this life, with the full assurance that one day those will all be a distant memory. This verse builds on those truths.

For we see here exactly what type of “things” work together for good, namely “ALL things.” What can this mean except that both good and bad things work together to form the amazing weave of God’s plan for a believer’s life. John MacArthur says, “In His providence, God orchestrates every event in life – even suffering, temptation, and sin – to accomplish both our temporal and eternal benefit.”

The difficulty of this verse also lies in the word “work.” The ESV perhaps is not the best translation here because others explicitly tell us that it isn’t simply that “things work” but rather that “God works all things.” In other words, He is completely sovereign over all of these things. He allowed sin, He allowed suffering, He knew all of these things before He created the world. These kinds of things He does in order to show His glory and to receive glorification.

These concepts are so difficult to understand, but it is in these truths that we find the depths of the character and loveliness of Christ.

Juxtaposition…

The obvious juxtaposition of the truth of this verse is that for those who are NOT “called according to his purpose” there is no such great hope. This hope is reserved for the elect and for them alone. This is a benefit of adoption.

8:29-30 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. [30] And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

These two verses are known in the theological world as the “Golden Chain” because of how they tie together God’s purposes for us from eternity past to eternity future. The “chain” is also known in theology as the “Ordo Salutis”, which is the Latin term for the “order of salvation” because in these verses we see a sort of chronology of God’s working in our lives.

Sproul rightly mentions that Paul doesn’t mention all of the aspects of the Ordo Salutis (ie sanctification isn’t listed here), but that the major themes that he is seeking to highlight are put forth in grand display.

Let’s begin with His foreknowledge…

Foreknown

He knew us, but then also did something – action was taken. There’s more here than meets the eye with this word “foreknew”, as John MacArthur says, “it speaks of a predetermined choice to set His love on us and established an intimate relationship – or His election.”

The ESV Study Bible puts it this way, “Foreknew reaches back to the OT, where the word “know” emphasizes God’s special choice of, or covenantal affection for, his people (e.g., Gen. 18:19; Jer. 1:5; Amos 3:2).”

In his New Testament Biblical Theology Thomas Schreiner describes the concept as relatable to an Old Testament concept of covenantal love:

It is likely, however, that the term (proginosko) means even more that this when attributed to God. God’s knowledge of his people in the OT refers to his covenantal love, by which he set his affection on his people. God “knew” or “chose” Abraham as his own. Amos 3:2 also helps us define the term. God addresses Israel, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” God obviously knows all who live upon the earth, but he has set his covenantal affection upon Israel alone. It is the only nation upon whom God has set his saving love…The word “foreknowledge” focuses on God’s covenantal choice of his people – his love in choosing them to be his own.

R.C. Sproul further explains that the root of that Greek word here for foreknowledge is “gnosis” which has two different nuances. The first is a cognitive nuance – as in something that we are aware of, or understand. The second meaning has to do with a deep understanding or intimate familiarity with something/someone (the subject/direct object). This second meaning is the one Paul is shooting for here.

Therefore, it is wrong to say that God’s predestination is based simply on how He knew we would react. It isn’t as though God looked down the portals of time and saw who would respond favorably to the gospel and then determined to save those people. Rather, God in the gracious and unsearchable counsel of His will “knew” what He was doing and predetermined that certain chosen ones would be His for all time. This foreknowledge could also be described in the way that Sproul paraphrased: “Those whom he foreloved [those whom he knew in a personal, intimate, redemptive sense from all eternity] he predestined.”

Predestined

He predestined us…to what? To “be conformed to the image of His Son.” He is obviously and necessarily speaking specifically of the elect here, to His children, otherwise the reprobate would prove the impotence of the will of God (the sovereign efficacious will), and because we know this isn’t the case we can easily deduce to whom the passage references.

Sproul says, “He has determined it (your salvation) according to the sovereign good pleasure of His will. Nowhere in Scripture is a foreseen, conditional, human response ever given as the rationale for the eternal decree by which God fixes for all eternity those whom he ordains and chooses for redemption.”

The ultimate end to this pre-determining plan is that God wants to make you like His Son. Piper says, “The purpose for which we are predestined is to share the glory of the preeminent Son of God.” The only way we are going to share in this glory is to be first fashioned by God in this lifetime, and that is all a part of His plan.

In another sermon Piper sums this up saying, “Having chosen us for his own, he then appointed for us the most glorious of all destinies—to be conformed to the image of his Son so that the Son could be the preeminent One with his glory reflected in millions of mirrors of himself.”

If you’re not catching this by now, the overall theme here is that God planned it, God did it, and God will see it through to completion.

Called

I sometimes run into trouble explaining to people God’s sovereignty, and specifically His plan of salvation from eternity past. They end up asking a lot of questions that revolve around the popular notion of “free will” – the idea that we make the choices and God accepts the results.

The idea that Paul is putting forth here when he uses the word “called” runs counter to that kind of man-centered thinking. Schriener puts it nicely, “Conversion is not primarily a matter of the human will choosing to know God but rather of God’s knowing of human beings.” And Piper adds, “So the call of God is based on God’s act of predestination which is in turn based on the election or choice that God makes without any respect to our distinctives at all.”

First, there are two kinds of “calling” in theology. The first is the General Call/Outward Call of the gospel. This simply refers to the proclaiming of the gospel and the public preaching of the word. This is the public call for all who hear the word to repent and believe.

The second “call” is the Inward Call or the Supernatural Call that the Holy Spirit affects in your heart. This is the sovereign calling of God upon your life. It is not a “wooing”, it is not a “courting”, but is the voice of the Holy Spirit calling you out of the tomb as Christ called Lazarus from the tomb (John 11).

John Piper describes it this way:

What does it mean to be called? It means that God has overcome the rebellion of our hearts and drawn us to Christ and created faith and love where there was once a heart of stone. The call is effectual. It creates what it commands. It is not like, “Here Blackie! Here Blackie!” It is like, “Lazarus, come forth!” or, “Let there be light!” The call happens in the preaching of the Word of God by the power of the Spirit of God. It overcomes all resistance and produces the faith that justifies.

So then, when we “hear” this call, it is by the grace of God. It is He who opens the ears of our heart. He is working mightily in our lives in order for us to come to repentance.

Only once He has done this supernatural “calling” will you have a desire to “choose” Christ. Before new birth you’ll never choose Christ – you’ll run away from Him because you’re at enmity with Him. Piper says, “The call is the creation of the faith. Therefore all who are called are indeed justified.”

Paul reminds Timothy of this high calling elsewhere and explains that the Lord’s calling has nothing to do with our own merit or work or plan:

“Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago.” (2 Tim. 1:8-9)

This calling is an amazing and glorious truth. If you’re a Christian today it is because the most powerful Being in the universe cared enough about you to quicken you unto life everlasting. Your name was particular to Him and He died on the cross for your sins.

Justified

In answer to the question “What is Justification?” John Piper says, “As it is used here in Romans 8:30, it refers to the declaration of God to a repentant sinner that all his sins are forgiven, he is acquitted, the wrath of the judge is removed, and he stands righteous before God. God announces that something has been taken away and something has been added. Sins have been taken away. And a new righteousness has been given.”

Because of Christ’s cross work we are able to stand before God as men who are blameless – not because of anything we have done, but because of the payment that Christ made for us. To be justified means that we are “right” before God.

Of course the major thing standing in our way from being “right” with God was our sin. Although we still struggle with sin, Paul’s point here is that at the end of the day no matter how much you sin, God’s grace is sufficient to cover you. His blood has been shed so that you can stand before God with no cause of a justified accusation. The Devil can say what he wants but it doesn’t matter because Christ already paid the penalty for your sins – not simply the sins you did commit, but also the sins you will commit. He knew all the sins of His elect and died for those sins. He is God and sees all things and knows all things.

Glorified

It is a beautiful thing that Paul is inspired to write this word in the past tense. For Paul, this is something that, although it hasn’t happened in actuality, is already a reality. For him it’s as good as done. Why? Because he knows that God is faithful to the end. He will see you through to absolute victory!

Remember, the entire purpose is to conform you to the image of Christ, the new Adam. When Adam was made at the beginning of creation, he was made in the image of God. We are all still made in that image. Only there’s a problem, that image has fallen, its been tainted. But when the Spirit brought new life into your heart, it was the beginning of a new creation that will one day be completed when you are “glorified.”

I really like the fact that there are really two ways to think about glorification. The first is obvious and perhaps our default, it’s the praise and worship we give to God. When we think of “glorify” God we think about doing so with our minds and hearts and lips. This is a wonderful thing, and a brilliant truth.

The second way that Christ is glorified has to do with the revealing of His character in our lives. This is glorifying Him because it’s showing off (so to speak) who He really is! It is the revelation of His goodness and mercy and grace and justice that brings Him that praise I mentioned a bit ago. In this way we see His glory as well.

I think of our glorification as closely related to verse 19 of this chapter which says, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” In this way our own character which is being worked on and fashioned by the Spirit, will be revealed, and we will be glorified. We will receive this glorification from Christ, it is all of Him. Perhaps this is a bad analogy, but it helps me to remember that it is God at work within me, both to will and to work for His own pleasure (Phil. 2:13).

8:31-32 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? [32] He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

The idea here is that if God went so far as to send His own Son to earth, why would He not complete that work by giving us all things? In other words, He has gone to these lengths in His purposes and He cannot deny Himself. In His love He will not allow any circumstance or power that besets us to conquer His purposes which have been set from the foundation of the world.

What God starts, God finishes, that is the overriding theme of this section and reminds us of Paul’s comforting words in Philippians:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6 ESV)

Sproul comments:

One of the greatest Latin phrases in church history is Deus pro nobis: God for us. Paul is not suggesting that if God is for us, nobody will ever stand to oppose us. The import of his declaration is simple: all the human opposition that rises against us is meaningless in the final analysis, because all the opposition in the world cannot overthrow the glory that God has laid up for his saints from the foundation of the world.

Paul’s reasoning here is from logic. He stands in the shadow of the cross and looks up and marvels. Then he makes the fair assumption that, based on everything God in Christ has done for us, and the marvelous depths to which He stooped to save us, it seems only reasonable that He would “give us all things.”

This “all things” includes the good and the bad, with the full knowledge that He is using even the bad for our good. John Stott comments:

…all things must include the sufferings of verse 17 and the groanings of verse 23. Thus all that is negative in this life is seen to have a positive purpose in the execution of God’s eternal plan. Nothing is beyond the overruling, overriding scope of his providence.

8:33-34 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. [34] Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

We know that Satan is always accusing us before the throne of God (think of Joshua the high priest in Zechariah chap. 3). If we are concerned about Satan’s accusations we ought to take confidence here because we learn that the very Being set to judge us is also our defense attorney. The courtroom is rigged in our favor. Some have used the analogy of a judge whose son is in court for a speeding ticket. The judge pronounces the young man guilty, assesses a fine, then steps down from the bench, takes off his robe, and pays the fine himself – freeing his child not from justice but from payment of what it requires. In other words, we have reason to be confident in Christ for He is interceding for us. It’s an awesome truth.

That’s the brilliant truth of these verses. Who in the universe is going to have the authority to bring a charge against the elect of God? No one will be able to bring a charge that will stand.

As Charles Spurgeon says, “We have a bulwarks, none of which can possibly be stormed, but when combined they are so irresistible, they could not be carried, though earth and hell should combine to storm them.”

I think that the significance of these verses lies in the fact that Paul brings us the name of Christ. He said that “Christ Jesus is the one who died” and brings to mind the lengths to which God went to make certain our sin would be paid for. He had to have a perfect sacrifice.

The saying cannot be true though for those whose sin is not covered by the blood of Christ, and this is why we must heed the call of Christ our captain to go and seek out the lost. There is an urgency in the realities proclaimed here as well as a comfort. These words proclaim great comfort to the believer and great condemnation to the man not saved.

RC Sproul paints the picture:

It is Christ who died; it is Christ who was raised for our justification; it is Christ who ascended to the right hand of God, where he is seated in the position of cosmic authority. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. The highest tribunal in the cosmos is the one who died for us.

Lastly, there’s another great truth that’s proclaimed here, and that is articulated in the words, “more than that, who was raised.” What this means is that the same power by which God raised His Son from the grave will also keep us safely in His care until the Day of Judgment.

The assurance here (our assurance) is based in the reality of God’s power – power that has already been demonstrated in the resurrection of Christ.

8:35-36 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? [36] As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

The question that Paul poses is rhetorical, and in posing it he enumerates a laundry list of items that mankind fear might separate them from God’s presence.

By listing them, I believe, Paul is as much as saying that we should expect to encounter them. It is in light of this reality that Paul seeks to bring us ultimate comfort and a refreshing reminder of whom we ought to delight in and place all of our hope.

Like Sheep to the Slaughter

Once Paul lists these several items, he takes a moment to use an Old Testament passage from Isaiah to verify his point that believers will suffer all kinds of adversity. There is no doubt that it will occur…no prosperity gospel preaching here!

The presence of this OT quote balances out 8:28 and helps us remember that God uses trials and tribulations to bring about His purposes.

One of the greatest eschatological misconceptions in the evangelical church today is this idea that the church will not have to endure the tribulation(s) prior to the second and final coming of Christ. The entire witness of the New Testament stands against this kind of thought. In fact, we are told over and over again that life in Christ involves suffering. In this way we identify with Him in His sufferings.

I am reminded especially of the experience of the early church, and how they were persecuted. Early in the book of Acts the disciples were preaching and teaching in the temple in Jerusalem and were arrested for this, but eventually were beaten and released. What was their reaction to this persecution? Check this out:

…and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. [41] Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. [42] And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. (Acts 5:40-42 ESV)

The reason I bring up the misconception about end times tribulation is because it results from a direct misunderstanding of the character of Christ and our call to follow Him no matter what the circumstances. Recently, a dear lady at my church messaged me about these things saying she was struggling to understand them. She said, in effect, that ‘surely Jesus wouldn’t want us to suffer, would He?’

Such a presumption betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to follow Christ, and the realities associated with His Lordship. Furthermore, it isn’t as though we are looking for suffering, quite the contrary. This isn’t sadism. However, we can bear with the pain and even rejoice in it because it means we’ve been identified with our Lord and there is nothing more gratifying than to be so closely related to Jesus that we reap the consequences of that relationship – even if they be painful.

8:37-39 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. [38] For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, [39] nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now in a sweeping conclusion to the section of this letter Paul answers his own rhetorical question. The will of the Father and the plan and power of Christ will not be frustrated, nor will He abandon us to face our trials alone. He comforts, molds, encourages, brings us home to absolute and complete victory.

Thomsas Schreiner explains what it means to be “more” than a conqueror:

To be more than a conqueror over affliction, distress, persecution, and so on indicates that these enemies are actually turned to the good of believers through the power of God…The point is that the love of Christ is so powerful that it turns our greatest enemies into our friends.

I absolutely love that point! In this way verse 32 is closely tied with Paul’s concept of “all things” in verse 28.

Next we see that it is through the love of Christ that we are enabled to be conquerors, and Derek Thomas reminds us that the reason we aren’t able to be separated from the love of Christ is because of the love of the Father. “Our security is grounded in the objectivity of the finished work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. Bt it is not, initially at least, the love of Jesus that is in Paul’s mind; it is the love of the Father who sent Him.”

John Owen delights in the love that the Father shows us in this context:

If the love of a father will not make a child delight in him, what will? Exercise your thoughts upon this very thing, the eternal, free, and fruitful love of the Father, and see if your hearts be not wrought upon to delight in Him.

Derek Thomas quotes Octavius Winslow on the fact that Jesus as the ransom shows us the depth of the love of God for us:

Who killed Jesus? Who killed Him? It wasn’t Judas out of greed. It wasn’t the Jews out of envy. It was His Father out of love. The Father killed Him. It was the Father who put Him to death.”

Being that this is indeed the case, what in the world (to rephrase Paul) could ever keep God the Father from completing this mission? Frankly, the stakes are too high. He’s not going to allow the work of His Son to not be brought to an absolute smashing victory.

I am Sure

Next Paul states something that ought to bring us into the most wonderful comfort. He says quite plainly: “I am sure.” If Paul is sure, the we can be sure!

Furthermore, after being “sure” Paul enumerates a new list of potential foes, this list is even more powerful and lines up really well with what he said when he described the struggle of the Christian life elsewhere:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)

Yes because of the armor of God, and the provision He has given us, we can survive the attacks of the Evil One and his forces.

Conclusion

What an amazing thought that we are the benefactors of the Father’s plan and love. We are the objects of His grace, and it blows me away that we get to be included in His sovereign plan of redemption. If it were up to us we might certainly lose our ways, and our salvation. But thanks be to God that salvation, from first to last, is extra nos and is wholly of the sovereign and benevolent predestining plan of our Father God.

From beginning to end, He has predestined, redeemed, sanctified, and glorified us. His plan is perfect, even though we sometimes can’t see the full outcome; we know that His purposes are motivated by love, and that His will is sovereign. The truths we learn in chapter 8 of Romans are truths that last a lifetime. They are truths that comfort, protect, and secure us for the day of storms and set our heart of fire in the day of pleasant skies.

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