the law of the spirit . . . the law of sin and of death: In this context, “law” does not refer to a particular law, or rule, such as those found in the Mosaic Law. Rather, the term is here used in the broader sense of a principle that guides a person’s actions—a powerful influence that like a law inclines people to act in a certain way. (See study note on Ro 2:12.) Paul contrasts the law, or strong influence, of God’s spirit that leads to life with the law, or strong influence, of the fallen flesh that leads to sin and death. Of course, all descendants of Adam feel within themselves the strong influence of “sin’s law” inclining them toward what is wrong. (Ro 7:23) But they can choose to follow the law of God’s spirit, not fleshly desires, to influence their actions in a positive direction.—Ro 7:21-25.
weak through the flesh: That is, the imperfect flesh of those who tried to observe the Mosaic Law. Even the high priests were imperfect and were therefore unable to offer an adequate sacrifice for sin. So the Law could not save sinners. Rather, it highlighted the weaknesses of the imperfect people who tried to observe it. (Ro 7:21-25; Heb 7:11, 28; 10:1-4) In this respect, the Law was “weak through the flesh.”
the flesh: The Bible uses the term “flesh” in different ways. It may refer to humans of flesh and blood with no reference to sin or imperfection. (Joh 1:14; 3:6; 17:2) However, it often refers to humans in their imperfect sinful state, as in this context. In the preceding chapters, Paul links “living according to the flesh” with “the sinful passions” that were “at work in [their] bodies.” (Ro 6:19; 7:5, 18, 25) In the following verses (Ro 8:5-13), Paul contrasts the sinful flesh with the spirit, that is, God’s holy spirit.—For other meanings of the term “flesh,” see study note on Ro 1:3; Ro 2:28.
set their minds on: The Greek verb phro·neʹo basically means “to think; to be minded in a certain way; to have a certain mental attitude.” (Mt 16:23; Ro 12:3; 15:5) In this context, it conveys the idea of directing one’s mind to something, focusing on it, and possibly striving for it. Paul’s use of this term here shows that the way a person thinks greatly affects the way he acts and lives. The term describes how a person deliberately chooses his direction in life, whether fleshly or spiritual. (See study note on Ro 8:4 for the meaning of flesh and spirit in this context.) One scholar comments on the use of this verb to describe the attitude of those who live according to the flesh: “They set their minds on—are most deeply interested in, constantly talk about, engage and glory in—the things pertaining to the flesh.” This term has the same implication when describing how those who live according to the spirit set their minds on spiritual things. In the following verse, Paul shows the different consequences for those who set their minds on the flesh (“death”) or on the spirit (“life and peace”).—Ro 8:6.
setting the mind on: This phrase renders the Greek noun phroʹne·ma, which appears three times in this context—twice in this verse and once at Ro 8:7. One lexicon defines it as a “way of thinking, mind(-set), . . . aim, aspiration, striving.” The term describes a person’s understanding as well as his will or desire. This noun is related to the verb phro·neʹo (used in the preceding verse), which means “to think; to be minded in a certain way; to have a certain mental attitude.” (Mt 16:23; Ro 12:3; 15:5) Therefore, setting the mind on the flesh means focusing on fleshly or mundane desires and allowing these to dominate one’s thinking. (1Jo 2:16; see study note on Ro 8:4.) Setting the mind on the spirit implies letting God’s spirit, or active force, influence and dominate one’s thoughts, desires, and actions.
adoption as sons: Lit., “a placing as son” (Greek, hui·o·the·siʹa). The concept of “adoption” was known in the Greek and Roman world. Most often the adoptees were, not young children, but youths or young adults. Some masters were known to free slaves in order to adopt them legally. The Roman Emperor Augustus was named as the adopted son of Julius Caesar. Paul uses the concept of adoption to describe the new status of those called and chosen by God. All descendants of the imperfect Adam were slaves to sin, so they could not be considered sons of God. But thanks to Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, Jehovah can free them from slavery to sin and adopt them as his sons, making them joint heirs with Christ. (Ro 8:14-17; Ga 4:1-7) Paul emphasizes the change in relationship by saying that such adopted ones cry out: “Abba, Father!” It was unthinkable for a slave to use this intimate expression toward his master. (See study note on Abba in this verse.) Jehovah decides whom he wants to adopt as sons. (Eph 1:5) From the time he anoints them with his spirit, he acknowledges them as his children. (Joh 1:12, 13; 1Jo 3:1) However, they must prove faithful during their life on earth before they can fully realize their privilege of being raised to heavenly life to be joint heirs with Christ. (Re 20:6; 21:7) Thus, Paul speaks of them as “earnestly waiting for adoption as sons, the release from our bodies by ransom.”—Ro 8:23.
Abba: A Hebrew or Aramaic word (transliterated into Greek) occurring three times in the Christian Greek Scriptures. The word literally means “the father” or “O Father” and was an endearing form of address used by a son to a beloved father. (See study note on Mr 14:36.) Paul used it here and at Ga 4:6, both times in connection with Christians called to be spirit-begotten sons of God. Since they had now been adopted as God’s sons, they could address Jehovah with an expression that a slave could never use of his master unless he had received such an adoption. So while anointed Christians are “slaves to God” and are “bought with a price,” they are also sons in the house of a loving Father. Holy spirit makes them clearly aware of this status.—Ro 6:22; 1Co 7:23.
The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit: Here the Greek word for “spirit” (pneuʹma) appears twice but with different meanings. (See Glossary, “Spirit.”) “The spirit itself” refers to God’s holy spirit, or active force. The expression “our spirit” refers to the dominant mental attitude of anointed Christians. So God’s holy spirit bears witness, or testifies, together with the dominant attitude of anointed Christians, impelling them to respond in a positive way to what God’s inspired Word says about the heavenly hope.
creation: All earthly creation has suffered from the effects of mankind’s rebellion in Eden. However, in this context, “creation” apparently refers to the human family, since only humans can be waiting with eager expectation as they express hope of being set free from the effects of sin and death. (Ro 5:12; 8:19) According to some scholars, the Greek word rendered “eager expectation” alludes to the idea of a person stretching his neck in order to look for something or watching eagerly with his head raised.
the revealing of the sons of God: Here Paul refers to the “joint heirs with Christ” as “sons of God.” (Ro 8:17) They will be ‘revealed’ when it becomes evident that they have been glorified and are reigning with Christ Jesus in heaven. Since they are the secondary part of the promised “offspring” (Ge 3:15), they will share with Christ in destroying Satan’s wicked system of things (Ro 16:20; Re 2:26, 27). They will be further ‘revealed’ when, during Christ’s Thousand Year Reign, they serve as priests conveying the benefits of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice to mankind, here referred to as the creation. This “revealing of the sons of God” will result in mankind’s being “set free from enslavement to corruption” and will allow them to enjoy “the glorious freedom of the children of God.”—Ro 8:21; Re 7:9, 10, 14; 20:5; 22:1, 2.
futility: Or “emptiness; vanity; frustration.” The same Greek word is used in the Septuagint to render the Hebrew word heʹvel (literally referring to a transitory “breath” or “vapor”). This Hebrew word appears more than 35 times in the book of Ecclesiastes in such expressions as “the greatest futility” and “everything is futile.” (Ec 1:2; 2:17; 3:19; 12:8) Solomon, the writer of Ecclesiastes, sometimes used this term to parallel the expression “a chasing after the wind.” (Ec 1:14; 2:11) In the context of Ro 8:20, Paul describes a striving without attaining a goal or purpose. However, the hope here referred to is that God will deliver mankind from the “futility” that creation has been subjected to until now.—Ro 8:21.
the one who subjected it: This expression refers neither to Satan nor to Adam, as some have suggested, but to Jehovah God. Although Adam and Eve could pass on only imperfection, sin, and death, Jehovah mercifully allowed them to produce children. By allowing this, God knowingly “subjected [the creation] to futility.” However, he did so on the basis of hope through the “offspring,” Jesus Christ. (Ge 3:15; 22:18; Ga 3:16) The sure hope offered by God is that faithful ones will eventually be “set free from enslavement to corruption.”—Ro 8:21.
enslavement to corruption: The Greek term rendered “corruption” denotes “decay; deterioration; destruction.” This “enslavement to corruption” is the result of sin, producing bodily imperfection, aging, disease, and death. Even perfect humans have a corruptible body, which is indicated by what Paul said regarding Jesus: God “resurrected him from the dead never again to return to corruption,” that is, never to return to life in a corruptible human body. (Ac 13:34) Likewise, perfect Adam had a corruptible body, one that could die. However, obedience to God would have enabled Adam to live forever. It was only when Adam sinned that he became enslaved to corruption and its deteriorating effects. He passed this enslavement on to all his offspring, the human race. (Ro 5:12) The glorious freedom of the children of God refers to a release from such enslavement and the eventual privilege of entering into a relationship of actual sonship with God, as enjoyed by Adam. (Lu 3:38) Jehovah has promised such freedom and everlasting life to “the one sowing with a view to the spirit.” On the other hand, “the one sowing with a view to his flesh will reap corruption from his flesh” and will fail to gain such freedom and everlasting life.—Ga 6:8.
adoption as sons: See study note on Ro 8:15.
the spirit itself pleads for us: At times, God’s servants may “not know what [they] should pray for” or may not know what they really need. They may have feelings, unspoken sighs, or thoughts that they cannot clearly express with words. At such times, God uses his holy spirit to plead, or intercede, for them regarding their unuttered groanings. This pleading is apparently connected with the spirit-inspired Word of God. Paul indicates that the feelings and circumstances of Christians have already been expressed in the inspired prayers and events recorded in God’s Word. So whenever Christians have such “unuttered groanings,” Jehovah considers those inspired thoughts from his Word to be spoken by his servants, and he responds according to his will.—Ps 65:2; see study note on Ro 8:27.
the meaning of the spirit: Or “the mind (thought) of the spirit,” that is, of God’s spirit, or active force. Since God caused his spirit to direct Bible writers to record the thoughts found in the Scriptures, he knows the meaning of those spirit-inspired thoughts. But Paul here shows that as the one who searches the hearts, God even knows what Scriptural thoughts effectively speak for his earthly servants when they are too distressed to know what to pray for. It is as if those spirit-inspired passages were pleading, or interceding, on behalf of God’s holy ones. (Ro 8:26) Using the Greek term for “mind” and the verb rendered “pleading” is another example of God’s spirit being personified in the Scriptures.—See study note on Joh 14:16.
called according to his purpose: The Greek word proʹthe·sis, translated “purpose,” literally means “a placing before.” The term also appears at Ro 9:11; Eph 1:11; 3:11. Since God’s purposes are certain of accomplishment, he can foreknow and predict what will happen. (Isa 46:10) For example, Jehovah foreknew that there would be a class of “called” ones, but he does not predestine the specific individuals forming this class. He also takes steps to make sure that his purposes are realized.—Isa 14:24-27.
was raised up: Some manuscripts add “from the dead,” but the current main text reading has strong manuscript support.
at the right hand of God: To be at the right hand of a ruler meant to have the most important position next to that of the ruler himself (Ps 110:1; 1Pe 3:22) or to be in a position in his favor.—See study notes on Mt 26:64; Ac 7:55.