Of the many questions currently surrounding the discussion about justification, the relationship between justification and spiritual fruit merits attention. In particular, once the declaration of righteousness has been pronounced upon the sinner when personal faith is exercised,2 does this reality have any effect upon the lifestyle of the new believer? Dogmaticians would tend to phrase this question in relation to the doctrine of perseverance and how progressive sanctification relates to justification.3 But in the present essay I would like to deal with this question exegetically by looking at Paul’s treatment of justification and its fruit in Romans 5–8. Admittedly, the question raised has usually been addressed in a more systematic-theological fashion, but I hope the approach followed here will be a helpful addition to the typical systematic treatments of this issue.4
While all would acknowledge that justification should affect one’s production of spiritual fruit, not all would agree that it necessarily will affect it.5 This revelation may come as a surprise to some, but it is a reality nonetheless. On the one hand, some would argue that the justified sinner may possibly or potentially live righteously. Bible teachers supporting this perspective include those of Wesleyan,6 Keswick,7 Pentecostal,8 and Chaferian9 persuasion. On the other hand, several (typically from a Reformed viewpoint) suggest that the justified sinner will certainly or necessarily give evidence of an obedient lifestyle.10
While a descriptive historical study of this issue might prove fruitful,11 this essay seeks to be more prescriptive by providing an exegetical treatment of Romans 5–8.12 Most recognize that in these four chapters Paul specifically addresses the issue of justification as it relates to the believer’s new life.13 Thus, an investigation of these four chapters should reveal many clues that will help point us toward a solution regarding the relationship between justification and spiritual fruit.
I believe the solution to this problem is that Romans 5–8 demonstrates that an obedient lifestyle inevitably and necessarily flows from justification. This essay will pursue this thesis in three steps. First, I will give criteria used to determine whether or not fruit-bearing is present in the life of believers. Second, I will delineate evidences of fruit-bearing found in Romans 5–8 by using these criteria; this step will also require an exegetical overview of Paul’s argument. Finally, I will investigate these acts of fruit-bearing in order to determine whether they are shown to be necessarily true in the life of the believer.
1. Criteria for Identifying Spiritual Fruit-bearing
1.1. Positive Criteria
Identifying the criteria used for determining evidences of fruit-bearing in Romans 5–8 is crucial for the defense of the stated thesis. Whenever Paul provides explanations of the believer’s new life in Christ in these chapters,14 he gives information that may pertain to fruit-bearing and so to the issue at hand. If his description of the Christian involves a righteous response such as an action, attitude, or thought as opposed to a possession, then Paul provides descriptions that can be considered as applying to the concept of spiritual fruit-bearing.
It may be helpful to define my terms and then illustrate them. First, I understand “fruit-bearing” to refer to believers’ righteous responses to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in their earthly lives. These responses are “righteous” as opposed to “sinful” in that they conform to God’s standard of holiness. But “fruit-bearing” may be preferred to “righteous response” in that it comes from Paul’s own terminology (καρπός in Rom 6:22). Throughout this essay I will use the following terms synonymously (and the first term most frequently): fruit-bearing, obedient actions, and righteous responses.
Second, what does it mean to distinguish between “righteous response” and “possession”? When Paul states that believers enjoy peace with God as a result of being justified in 5:1, he is speaking of a possession of believers. This peace with God is a blessing they enjoy, but it does not speak about their righteous responses. Connected to this result of peace with God (a possession) is the result of boasting in hope and tribulations in 5:2–3 (a response). This result of justification is a description of an action (boasting) which believers perform. As such it provides an example of spiritual fruit-bearing, that is, a righteous response.
1.2. Negative Criteria
Three negative criteria can be used to limit the possibilities. First, any description of believers found in imperative15 or subjunctive16 statements will not be used since these do not express certainty with regard to the reality of a given action.17
Second, blessings provided for believers that speak of the believer’s passive reception of them will not be used. Believers enjoy such blessings as peace with God (5:1), access into grace (5:2), and death to sin (6:2), but such gifts do not qualify as fruit-bearing because they do not indicate any type of moral activity on the part of the believer. These gifts may effect righteous responses, but in and of themselves they do not speak about acts or attitudes demonstrated by believers.
Third, any description of believers found in future tense statements must be considered as highly suspect. Unless there is evidence that Paul uses the future tense for rhetorical reasons or unless he shows that the blessing in question also has present ramifications, future tense verbs have application to blessings that believers will enjoy in the future. Such blessings as future salvation (5:9–10), eternal life (6:23), and resurrection (8:11) relate to gifts that will be enjoyed by believers in the future. The present expression of fruit-bearing is not in view in such statements.
Thus, any indicative, non-future verb that relates a righteous response by the Christian to the promptings of the Holy Spirit will be considered for inclusion. With these criteria in mind an admittedly succinct exegesis of Romans 5–8 follows in order to delineate the spiritual fruit-bearing Paul describes in the new life of the believer.
2. Spiritual Fruit-bearing in Romans 5–8
2.1. Exegesis of Romans 5–8
Paul gives the purpose for writing the epistle to the Romans in his introduction (1:1–17).18 He intends to give an exposition of the gospel about Jesus Christ that reveals the righteousness of God. The first major section of the book (1:18–4:25) develops this thematic statement on the gospel by showing Jews’ and Gentiles’ need for God’s righteousness that can be received only by faith alone. Chapters 5–8 provide an explanation of the certainty of the justified sinner’s glorification.19
2.1.1. Romans 5
Chapter 5 divides into two paragraphs (5:1–11 and 5:12–21). The first describes three benefits that believers enjoy because of their justification: peace with God (v. 1), access into grace (v. 2), and boasting in hope and tribulations (vv. 2–3). The remainder of this paragraph (vv. 4–11) further explains the benefits of peace and boasting.20 Paul expands upon this subject in the second paragraph (5:12–21) by providing a reason (διὰ τοῦτο in v. 12) for those who have been justified and reconciled to have confidence in the promise of their final salvation: Christ’s act of obedience in contrast to Adam’s act of disobedience ensures eternal life for those “in Christ.”21 Using a typological connection between Adam and Christ, Paul compares and contrasts the effects of Adam’s and Christ’s activities upon the human race to make this point. Paul’s mention of the law in contrast to grace in 5:20–21 serves to conclude his argument in the chapter while laying the foundation for the discussion of chapters 6 and 7. Paul will return to the benefits of justification in chapter 8 after answering the questions raised by this law-grace contrast at the end of chapter 5.
2.1.2. Romans 6–7
In 5:20–21 Paul implies that both law and sin belong to Adam’s realm in contrast to God’s superabundant grace that belongs to Christ’s realm. Mention of these three important concepts (law, sin, and grace) prompts Paul to expound their ramifications in chapters 6 and 7. He does so with a series of four rhetorical questions (6:1, 15; 7:7, 13). The similarities in the form and function of these four questions are undeniable,22 and we can easily trace Paul’s argument by following the points made in each of the “rounds” of debate they introduce.23
In Round One (6:1–14), Paul responds to the first question (“Does reliance on grace result in a sinful lifestyle?”) by showing how believers have died with Christ so that they are no longer enslaved to sin but instead are given the freedom and ability to demonstrate spiritual fruit. Believers now “walk in newness of life” (6:4), are “free from sin” (6:7, 11), and are “alive unto God” (6:11).
In Round Two (6:15–7:6), he answers the interlocutor’s question (“Does the era of grace encourage the practice of sin?”) with a description of life under grace and not under law. In the realm of grace Christians are enslaved to righteousness rather than to the power of sin (6:16–23), and, since they are no longer “under law,” believers live in the age of the Spirit, who enables them to bear fruit unto God (7:1–6).
In Round Three (7:7–12), Paul responds to the question, “Is the Mosaic law to be equated with sin?” He shows that the law, though bringing the knowledge of sin, is not responsible for deception and sinful conduct bringing death—sin is.
Finally, in Round Four (7:13–25), the relationship between the law and death is broached (“Is the law the direct cause of spiritual death?”). Paul answers this question by showing that sin, the real culprit, exploits the law and brings death. Additionally, the law is unable to help the individual overcome sin.
2.1.3. Romans 8
After concluding his discussion of the ramifications of sin, law, and grace with respect to the believer, Paul moves on in his discussion to the results of justification begun in chapter 5.24 In returning to this topic he introduces a key ingredient touched on only briefly in chapters 5–7 (5:5; 7:6): the ministry of the Holy Spirit. In chapter 8 he organizes his discussion into three major sections (8:1–17; 8:18–30; 8:31–39).
In 8:1–17, Paul shows that life in the Spirit is based upon the cross-work of Christ (v. 3), which results in freedom from the condemnation of the Mosaic law (vv. 1–2) and results in the satisfaction of the demands of the Mosaic law fulfilled by Christ and appropriated by believers through faith (v. 4). Those who have been freed from the law’s condemnation walk according to the Spirit, which is diametrically opposed to the walk that is according to the flesh. Paul contrasts these two walks in verses 5–13. The reason that believers will walk according to the Spirit is provided in verses 14–17, where Paul shows that all believers are led by the indwelling Spirit. This leading indicates their sonship (vv. 14–16), and this sonship is certain to include suffering (v. 17).
Paul takes up the subject of suffering and glory in 8:18–30. It is the reality of the present age that both creation and believers groan and eagerly anticipate the reception of future glory. The intercessory ministry of the Spirit (vv. 26–27) and the certainty of the fulfillment of God’s plan (vv. 28–30) substantiate this hope. The final paragraph (vv. 31–39) summarizes the magnitude of the blessings of justification. Here Paul explains that the elect are guaranteed future vindication in the final judgment (vv. 31–34) and present victory over evil based on the love of God (vv. 35–39).
2.2. Delineation of Righteous Responses in Romans 5–8
This condensed overview of Rom 5–8 provides the foundation for a delineation of the evidence of spiritual fruit-bearing found in these chapters.
1. Boasting in Hope, Tribulations, and God (5:2, 3, 11). One of the benefits that justification brings to the believer in 5:1–11 is boasting in hope and tribulations (vv. 2–3); this is clearly a righteous response.25
2. Demonstrating Love for God (5:5). Verse 5 describes another: believers enjoy the outpouring of the love of God in their hearts. This phrase (ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ) appears to be a “plenary genitive,”26 which carries both a subjective and objective thrust. Hence, believers receive the blessing of loving God as the result of God’s outpouring grace.27
3. Reigning in Life (5:17b). A third response is located in the second paragraph of chapter 5 where Paul states that those who have been justified receive grace (v. 15b) and the promise of reigning in life (v. 17b). While this first blessing is clearly a possession, the second is likely a present action as well as a future reality (Paul uses a “logical future” here,28 and the idea of reigning in life demands the exercise of ethical actions).29 So believers presently enjoy reigning in life as a result of their connection to Christ.
4. Walking in Newness of Life (6:4). In chapter 6 Paul’s response to the foolish assertion that believers can sin with impunity includes a reference to their death with Christ (signified by the burial picture of baptism in the first phrase of v. 4). “Death with Christ” comes as a result of the believers’ death to sin (v. 2) and is one of the metaphors Paul uses to describe the transfer they experience when they leave the old aeon of death “in Adam” and enter the new aeon of life “in Christ.”30 The ἵνα clause of 6:4b indicates that this death with Christ results in a new practice for believers: they now walk in “newness of life.”31
5–6. Being Ashamed of Past Sin (6:21) and Producing Fruit Leading to Sanctification (6:22). In 6:15–23, Paul twice provides a description of life prior to salvation in contrast to the new life that believers enjoy after salvation (vv. 17–18 and vv. 20–22). In the second of these contrasts two righteous responses are revealed. In verse 21 Paul describes the Romans’ past existence in the old realm, and he states that they had formerly (τότε) produced worthless fruit. Now that they have become believers, these old practices presently (νῦν) bring shame to them. Thus, one finds an expression of fruit-bearing: believers are ashamed when they think about the sinful practices that characterized their past lives.32 The other response comes as Paul gives the reason that Christians can obey the imperative of verse 19. In contrast to the days when they were enslaved to sin (v. 20), these believers are now free from sin and enslaved to God so that they produce fruit leading to sanctification (v. 22).33 Paul contrasts the inevitability of their sinful actions prior to salvation with the inevitability of their righteous actions after salvation.
7–8. Bearing Fruit to God (7:4) and Serving in Newness of the Spirit (7:6). As Paul continues his answer to the rhetorical question of 6:15, he employs another purpose-result ἵνα clause in 7:4 with the same force he used in 6:4 to show the purpose-result of the believers’ dying to the law and being with Christ: they are to bear fruit to God. Dying to the law is accomplished through the work of Christ, who also ensures that his purposes are manifested by the righteous fruit-bearing of those who belong to him. That this was Paul’s intention is demonstrated in verses 5–6, where Paul describes the meaning of verse 4 in greater detail. In verse 5 he states that prior to the believers’ salvation, their sinful practices produced fruit unto death. Verse 6 shows that once they became Christians, the result was that they served in newness of the Spirit (another righteous response).34 Consequently, the result of being joined with Christ (εἰς τὸ γενέσθαι ὑμᾶς ἑτέρῳ) is that Christians produce fruit unto God.
9–10. Walking according to the Spirit (8:4) and Minding the Things of the Spirit (8:5). The next righteous response is located in 8:4. Paul begins chapter 8 by declaring that Christians are no longer under condemnation because of their relationship with Christ (8:1). He supports this statement with a reason: the Spirit has set believers free from the slavery of sin (v. 2).35 Verse 3 gives the basis (γάρ) for this Spirit-induced freedom: it is the sin-condemning work of Christ (on the cross). The ἵνα clause of verse 4 provides the purpose for Christ’s work: the fulfillment of the righteous requirement of the law in believers. As argued previously in reference to Rom 6:4 and 7:4, the purpose behind God’s actions will be manifested in results. Thus, if God through Christ has condemned sin in order to see the righteous requirement of the law fulfilled in believers, this will certainly take place.
In 8:4b–11 Paul provides three descriptions of believers who experience the fulfillment of the righteous requirement of the Mosaic law. The first two of these are examples of fruit-bearing. First, in opposition to those who walk according to the flesh, believers walk according to the Spirit.36 Second, these Spirit-directed people are defined in verse 5 as those who mind the things of the Spirit in contrast to those who mind the things of the flesh.37 Third, Christians are indwelt by the Spirit (vv. 9–11).
11. Being Led by the Spirit (8:14). Paul follows his imperatival comments of verses 12 and 13 with a substantiating reason (γάρ) showing why believers can obey these directives: they are sons of God (v. 14b). Verse 14a describes the primary characteristic of those who are sons in that they are led by the Spirit. The present passive ἄγονται indicates that the Spirit actively leads the believer,38 and verse 13b shows that the activity which the Spirit leads the believer to accomplish is the defeat of the sinful deeds of the body.39 The implied response of following the Spirit’s leading constitutes yet another example of righteous responses in this chapter.
12. Praying for God’s Help (8:15). A further ethical response resulting from the privilege of receiving the “Spirit of sonship” (v. 15) is that believers cry, “Abba Father.” Since this cry was used by Jesus (Mark 14:36) when he prayed on the evening before his crucifixion, there appears to be a connection between it and intimate association with God.40 This is a prayer (a righteous response) that could come only from one who personally knows God.41
13. Groaning for Bodily Redemption (8:23). In the next paragraph (8:18–30) Paul takes up the twin themes of suffering and glory. While discussing these ideas, he reveals that one of the actions characteristic of being a Christian is that groaning takes place during the period between initial justification and final glorification (v. 23). This groaning is best described as the “eager expectation of bodily ‘redemption’ (ἀπολύτρωσις [v. 23]) from the δουλεία τῆς φθορᾶς (v. 21) at the resurrection.”42
14. Expressing Love for God (8:28). Paul delineates two more examples of fruit-bearing in his description of God’s eternal plan (vv. 28–30). In verse 28 God works all things together for good to “those who love God” and to “those who are called according to his purpose.” The two parallel participial clauses indicate those for whom God is working. While the second clause speaks of the reality of being called by God, the first reveals an action believers do: they love God.
15. Being Conformed to the Image of Christ (8:29). The final response is mentioned in verse 29 where Paul states that believers are predestined to be conformed to Christ’s image. The context of this statement appears to support both a present and an ultimately future experience of this conforming work in the lives of believers (similar to Paul’s statement of the present transforming work of the Spirit in 2 Cor 3:18).43
3. The Nature of Spiritual Fruit-Bearing in Romans 5–8
Now that the criteria have been used to identify fifteen righteous responses in these chapters, I must investigate each of the responses to determine whether Paul sees them as inevitable and necessary or as possible and potential.
3.1. Boasting in Hope, Tribulations, and God (5:2, 3, 11)
In 5:1–3, Paul gives at least two results of justification by using the verbs ἔχομεν and καυχώμεθα. If having peace with God is seen as a certain and inevitable blessing of all believers (a point substantiated by the certainty of reconciliation for all believers in v. 10), the grammatically parallel boasting must likewise be understood as a certain and inevitable blessing. Likewise in verse 11 the independent participle καυχώμενοι44 is parallel to the future salvation promised in verse 10.45 That this blessing is clearly an ethical action is self-evident, for placing confidence in God is an activity.46 Finally, there is no indication in the context that Paul is limiting the activity of boasting to a select group of Christians. Rather, this activity is one in which he participated47 and in which he expects all who have been reconciled to participate.
3.2. Demonstrating Love for God (5:5)
Several arguments show that ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ is a certain response made by believers. First, Paul’s use of the inclusive “we” throughout this paragraph (5:1–11) is evident in verse 5 with the use of ἡμῶν, which indicates the location of this love for God, namely, in the hearts of Paul and his readers. Second, the agent who brings the ability to have this love for God is the Holy Spirit, and Paul is quite adamant in his assertion that all believers enjoy the indwelling ministry of the Spirit (8:9). To argue for the potentiality of believers’ love for God would suggest that the Spirit produces this fruit in only some of the lives he indwells. Third, Paul uses the perfect indicative ἐκκέχυται evidencing his certainty of this occurrence as well as the continuance of the results of this action in believers.48
3.3. Reigning in Life (5:17b)
The benefit of reigning in life is reserved for those who are in Christ as opposed to those who are in Adam. Paul sets up a contrast in verse 17 by showing that if death reigns as a result of one man’s (Adam) sin, then, much more, those who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness will reign in life as a result of one man’s (Christ) obedience. Clearly there are only two groups discussed in this verse: those who are in Christ (believers) and those who are in Adam (unbelievers). Paul describes believers in Christ as those who have received “the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness.”49 Further, these recipients are the ones who “reign in life.” Therefore, on the one hand, those who accept Christ by faith are in Christ; grace and righteousness are their possessions while they reign in life. On the other hand, those in Adam are excluded from this benefit. Paul’s theological argument in verse 17 demonstrates the necessary result of reigning in life for those in Christ. His discussion leaves no room for a hypothetical group of believers who fail to reign.50
3.4. Walking in Newness of Life (6:4)
In 6:4 Paul describes the believers’ death with Christ by referring to their burial with Christ in baptism. He then uses a ἵνα clause to show the purpose-result of the believers’ death with Christ: walking in newness of life.51 Since God is the unnamed agent of the passive συνετάφημεν, his purpose for this action of burial is that believers live obediently, and since God is the actor, the divine purpose also becomes the result. Other indications of the inevitability of this response include the following: (1) the comparison of the believers’ walk with that of Christ’s resurrection proves that believers are presently walking in newness of life just as surely as Christ has been raised from the dead;52 (2) the imperatives of 6:11 and 13 are based on the indicative that “living” in newness of life is a present reality for believers (6:3–10);53 and (3) the use of first person plural verbs and pronouns indicates the inclusion of all believers in this description.
3.5. Being Ashamed of Past Sin (6:21)
When Paul contrasts the former lifestyles of the Roman believers (6:20–21) with their present ones (6:22), he speaks of what they were (imperfect ἦτε twice in v. 20) formerly (τότε, v. 21) and what they now (νῦν, v. 21, and νυνί, v. 22) have presently (present tense ἔχετε). One of their present possessions is an attitude of shame (present tense ἐπαισχύνεσθε) regarding their sinful actions practiced prior to salvation. Along with this attitudinal response, believers presently enjoy freedom from sin’s power, enslavement to God, fruit leading to sanctification, and eternal life (all are listed in v. 22). The attitude along with the blessings are all presented by Paul as necessary conditions or responses of believers. It would be quite impossible to suggest that some are conditional while the others are certain, for there is nothing to suggest a conditional element in the statement. Paul simply states facts that are true of believers (vv. 21–22) as opposed to facts true of unbelievers (these facts include being enslaved to sin and being free from righteousness in v. 20).54 In the argument of 6:1–7:6, Paul attaches the blessing of being freed from sin and the law to the believers’ death with Christ (6:6, 7; 7:6).55 It follows, then, that all of these elements characteristic of believers in 6:21–22 should be understood as results of their death with Christ, a death that is true of all who have been buried with him in baptism (6:4). So the shame that believers feel with regard to their former lives in Adam is a reality for all believers and represents an inevitable, ethical response to the ministry of the Spirit in their lives.
3.6. Producing Fruit Leading to Sanctification (6:22)
The previous paragraph cited four blessings of the new life mentioned by Paul in 6:22: freedom from sin, enslavement to God, having fruit unto sanctification, and eternal life. These are presented as certain consequences true of all believers. Thus, those who have died with Christ are producing fruit leading to sanctification.
3.7. Bearing Fruit to God (7:4)
Paul concludes (ὥστε) his marriage analogy in 7:4 by stating that believers have died to the law through the body of Christ for the purpose of being united with him (εἰς τὸ γενέσθαι ὐμᾶς ἐτέρῳ).56 Therefore, everyone who has died to the law and been united with him is included in this description. Paul is quite clear (he uses the purpose-result ἵνα as he did in 6:4) that the activity of bearing fruit to God is necessarily true for all believers in that he includes his fellow Christians (ἀδελφοί) and himself as those who bear fruit.57
3.8. Serving in Newness of the Spirit (7:6)
Two factors support understanding the phrase “serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” as a righteous response necessarily true of all believers. First, Paul uses a result infinitive (ὥστε δουλεύειν ἡμᾶς)58 to explain what is true for all believers who have been released from the law.59 Second, Paul makes a clear connection to the New Covenant and the blessings resulting from it in the lives of believers.60 Ezekiel 36:26–27 indicates that the ministry of the Spirit in the New Covenant will result in the possession of a new heart and in the practice of obedience to God’s law. Consequently, Christians will surely respond in obedience because of the imprint made by the Spirit on the heart of all who are indwelt by him.
3.9. Walking according to the Spirit (8:4)
The first indication of the necessity of this righteous response in 8:4 is revealed by the use of the purpose-result ἵνα; God’s power in contrast to the weakness of the law produces obedience to the law in all Christians. Second, when Paul states that the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in us (ἡμῖν) in 8:4a, he identifies both himself and his readers as the recipients of this blessing. Third, Paul further defines ἡμῖν in 8:4b with the substantival participle τοῖς περιπατοῦσιν with both a negative and positive description: believers do not walk according to the flesh but do walk according to the Spirit.61 This contrast between “flesh”-people and “Spirit”-people continues through verse 11. On the one hand, fleshly people set their minds on the things of the flesh (v. 5); their thinking results in death (v. 6); their thinking is in antagonism to God because it is not capable of submitting to him (v. 7); and they are not able to please God (v. 8). On the other hand, spiritual people set their minds on the things of the Spirit (v. 5); their thinking results in life and peace (v. 6); the Spirit indwells them (vv. 9b, 10a, 11a, 11c); the Spirit conveys resurrection life to them (v. 10c); and their mortal bodies will be made alive in the future (v. 11). Judging from the absolute nature of the contrasts made between those in the flesh and those in the Spirit in verses 5–11, believers enjoy the ministry of the Spirit including all of the blessings described in these verses. Hence, those who walk according to the Spirit are the same as those who are indwelt by the Spirit (to use but one of the many characteristics given in the passage).
3.10. Minding the Things of the Spirit (8:5)
The context identifies the individuals mentioned in 8:5. Those who are in the Spirit, a participial phrase that differs from that of the preceding verse only in the verbal used (ὄντες rather than περιπατοῦσιν), mind the things of the Spirit. As already shown in the previous paragraph, the contrast between the Spirit and flesh in 8:4–11 indicates a solid distinction between these two groups of people. Clearly, all who mind the things of the Spirit are believers, who inevitably obey the Spirit, in contrast to unbelievers, who inevitably obey the promptings of the flesh.
3.11. Being Led by the Spirit (8:14)
The interpretation of οὕτοι υἱοὶ θεοῦ in 8:14b has a direct effect upon whether ὅσοι πνεύματι θεοῦ ἄγονται is conditional or certain since this latter phrase is a relative clause modifying οὕτοι υἱοὶ θεοῦ.62 There are two reasons for taking οὕτοι υἱοὶ θεοῦ as a reference to all believers showing that being led by the Spirit is an inevitable response. First, Paul gives the statement of verse 14 as the support (γάρ) for the imperative of verse 13; if being a son is only a possibility, then certain hope in the Spirit’s ability to aid in one’s obedience to the command is unavailable for any believer who reads these verses. Second, the possession of the Spirit is given as a proof of sonship in verse 15 (γὰρ . . . ἐλάβετε πνεῦμα υἱοθεσίας), and all genuine believers have received the Spirit according to verse 9. So since “sons of God” describes all believers, who have received the Spirit, being led by the Spirit is an inescapable occurrence for all believers.
3.12. Praying for God’s Help (8:15)
In 8:15, Paul relates that those who have received the Spirit of adoption call out to God for help. As stated in the preceding paragraph, all believers have received the Spirit of adoption (especially since Paul states [in v. 9] that all believers receive the Spirit). Thus, just as it is certain that all believers receive the Spirit (vv. 9 and 15), it is also certain that all believers cry out to God for help.63
3.13. Groaning for Bodily Redemption (8:23)
Paul leaves little doubt that his statement about believers in 8:23 should be taken in no other way than as a description necessarily true of all believers. Not only does he include himself in this account (ἡμεῖς), but he also gives indications in this verse that he is speaking of all believers. He states that all who have the firstfruits of the Spirit (τὴν ἀπαρχὴν τοῦ πνεύματος) groan to the Lord for the redemption of their bodies. Earlier in this chapter Paul had shown that all believers enjoy the indwelling ministry of the Spirit (8:9); so all Christians who have the Spirit will also groan. This groan of anticipation flows from the believer’s relationship with Christ. Even though all believers enjoy present adoption (8:15), they long for future adoption (8:23). This desire, which prompts a specific act (groaning), is an unavoidable response prompted by the Spirit.
3.14. Expressing Love for God (8:28)
The parallel participial clauses of 8:28 serve as the indirect objects of συνεργεῖ, identifying those for whom God works all things. Both clauses speak of the same group of people: believers (“those called according to his purpose”). Those who have been called (8:30 indicates that all believers are included in “those called”) are also people who love God. Loving God is an inevitable and certain reality for these who have been called. To suggest that some Christians might not love God would require the interpreter to admit that some Christians might not have been called.
3.15. Being Conformed to the Image of Christ (8:29)
In the chain of five aorist verbs detailing the outworking of God’s purpose in the lives of believers (8:29–30), Paul provides two explanatory phrases with reference to the second of these verbs (προώρισεν). The first of these phrases is of particular importance here (“conformed to the image of His Son”). That Paul considers conformity to be an absolute certainty is indicated by two factors. First, the fivefold linkage of verbs is presented as part of God’s plan, which He is carrying forward to fruition and which culminates in the glorification of all believers.64 Second, the lexical meaning of προώρισεν retains a strong determinative flavor.65 Hence, with God pictured as the determining will behind the believers’ conformity to Christ, it is clear that this transforming work within the lives of believers will certainly occur.
The investigation of the fifteen responses indicates contextual evidence that supports each of the fifteen as a necessary outcome of justification. While this data clearly confirms the thesis of this essay, some may not agree with either the inclusion or assessment of every one of these responses. Three responses might be questioned on the basis of grammatical decisions,66 and six other responses might be rendered suspect for theological reasons.67 Six of these responses, however, remain particularly unambiguous in their support of the thesis that fruit-bearing inevitably flows from justification: boasting in hope, tribulations and God (5:2, 3, 11); being ashamed of past sin (6:21), bearing fruit to God (7:4), serving in newness of the Spirit (7:6), groaning for bodily redemption (8:23), and expressing love for God (8:28).68
Paul’s argument in Romans 5–8 confirms the truth that fruit-bearing necessarily and inevitably flows from justification. By suggesting specific criteria and then using those criteria to sift through Paul’s statements in Romans 5–8, fifteen righteous responses were identified. After investigating each of these responses, Scripture shows that spiritual fruit-bearing by believers is inescapable and certain. Nothing in these four chapters suggests that a second work of grace or a crisis experience of surrender or dedication is required to begin the process of fruit-bearing in the life of the believer. In fact, quite the opposite appears to be the case: those whom God justifies, he also transforms.
Finally, permit me to offer some final points of clarification and reflection:
1. While Paul clearly speaks in regard to the necessity of fruit-bearing in the lives of the justified, he never suggests that this growth in righteous living is completed or perfected in the earthly existence of the believer. Indeed, he gives numerous imperatives to believers and continually calls them to obedience and growth.
2. Romans 5–8 is not the only section of Pauline literature advocating that fruit-bearing is a necessary result of justification. I suggest that 1 Cor 15:10; 2 Cor 3:18; 5:16; 9:8; Eph 2:10; Phil 1:6; 2:13; and Tit 2:14 all provide further proof that Paul is consistent in his support of this truth.
3. In the larger enterprise of New Testament theology, the findings of this essay help to substantiate the doctrine of perseverance, that is, “[believers] continue in faith, love, and holiness because God freely save[s] them once for all.”69 The many statements of Jesus regarding the necessity of fruit-bearing (e.g., Matt 13:23; Luke 6:43–45) agree with Paul. In the same way Peter (1 Pet 1:6, 8; 2 Pet 1:5–11), John (1 John 2:3–6; 3:11–18), and James (Jas 2:17, 20, 24) do as well.
4. A significant ramification of this essay is that Paul denies any teaching that would advocate two classes of Christians (e.g., the “spiritual” vs. the “fleshly”). While we all observe various levels or degrees of maturity and growth in the experience of believers, Paul gives no indication of distinct classes of Christians, and he certainly does not advocate certain types of decisions that would help to move a Christian out of one class into another.
5. This essay seeks to advocate the view that God initiates and brings forth fruit in the believer’s life. He does this through various means including his Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit within the believer. The challenge remains for us who live at the “end of the ages” (1 Cor 10:11) to submit obediently to his gracious working in us (Phil 2:12–13).
While the divine-human connection in the work of Christian fruit-bearing certainly constitutes a mystery similar to others we find in Scripture,70 we dare not stumble into the error of attaching too much value to the human part of the equation, tumbling toward perfectionism. Nor can we afford to overemphasize the divine work in our growth by advocating a type of quietism.71 No, a challenging yet theologically informed balance is required. May God give us strength to be rightly engaged in the pursuit of holiness, and may he be praised for completing what he graciously begins in the life of the believer.