MESSAGE FROM ROMANS 8:14-17 FOR JULY 18, 1999
This week, we will look at Romans 8:14-17. The eighth chapter of Romans up to this point has dealt with the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. We have seen that the Holy Spirit enables the Christian to live free from the condemning power of sin because the Spirit enables us to fulfill the law of God. More specifically, those who have the Spirit have been given a new mind that influences them to live in a manner consistent with obedience. Also, we saw that the Spirit will, at the resurrection, raise our physical bodies so that they will no longer be subject to sin and death. Last week, we saw that the Spirit enables us to live above the power of sin, by giving us the power to kill our sins as we wage an all-out assault on them with the truth.
This week, we turn to another aspect of the Spirit’s work we could only touch on last week. Let’s read verses 14-17. Paul has just mentioned those who have the Spirit will, by the Spirit, kill their sins. In verse 14, he grounds that in the believer’s unique relationship to God. He says, “because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." 16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. 17Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Paul’s main thrust in this text is to point out a glorious truth all believers should exult in. That is: all those who have been given the Spirit of God are children of God.
As the passage unfolds, Paul gives five characteristics of what it is to be a child of God. Let me list them now so we will be able to see where we are headed. Those who are children of God are led by the Spirit and therefore, (1.) no longer are enslaved to sin which brings fear. A child of God is a person who (2.) enjoys genuine intimacy with God. A child of God is one who (3.) has real assurance of their position in the family of God. A child of God (4.) has God as their inheritance by virtue of their position in Christ. Finally, a child of God is one who suffers with Christ. That is the essential content of verses 14-17. Now, let’s begin to flesh that out. This morning, we will only be able to address three of these characteristics. For the first characteristic of a child of God, let’s get a context by looking at the middle of verse 13 through 15. Paul says, “…if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship…”
As we said last week, from verse 13, we see part of what is involved in being “led by the Spirit” is what Paul calls “putting to death the misdeeds of the body.” That is, killing or overcoming our sins, by the Holy Spirit. To be “led by the Spirit” includes the idea of guidance and direction. We’ve all heard believers say (and rightly so) “I was led of the Spirit to do such and such.” But a huge part of the being Spirit led is, with the Spirit’s power, killing our sins and living out godly lives. This is what David wrote concerning being led by God in Psalm 23. “He leads in paths of righteousness for his name sake.” That part of His leading ministry is not so much about guidance as it is about godliness. With that as context, the sense of the rest of the text comes into view. Paul says, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave (literally, a spirit of slavery) again to fear, but a Spirit of sonship (literally, a Spirit of adoption as sons).
The meaning of the text is that formerly when we did not have the Spirit we were in slavery which produced fear in our lives. We know from the context that the slavery Paul is speaking of here is the slavery of sin. One of Paul’s main arguments in Romans eight is the Spirit sets us free from the enslaving power of sin by enabling us to fulfill the law. In that sense, Paul says we have not received a spirit of slavery. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of liberation. Second Corinthians 3:17 says, “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.” If our lives are marked by bondage to sin, then either we don’t have the Spirit or we are not cooperating with the Spirit so He can work out this liberating ministry within us.
In this way, we can say the first characteristic of being a child of God, (which is Paul’s main theme here) means we are no longer enslaved to sin which brings fear. Paul contrasts the idea of being a slave with being a son. He also makes this contrast in Galatians 4:7 where he says, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son…” Slavery and sonship are mutually exclusive terms for Paul whether he is drawing on his experience within the Greco-Roman culture or his Hebrew culture. In both, to be a son meant that you were NOT a slave. Let’s think about this because it has immensely practical application for us.
We would all agree that to be a son or daughter is preferable to being a slave. And we would also agree that to be the child of the perfect parent, God is greatly to be preferred over being a slave of the cruelest possible master, sin and Satan. To have God as your parent means that the One who is your Protector is almighty, omnipotent. The One who is your Provider owns the cattle on a thousand hills. The One who is your Nurturer is One whose love is unfailing, whose patience is unending and whose mercies are new every morning. The One who is your Teacher/Trainer is One who possesses all wisdom and knowledge. In other words, everything that a parent is supposed to do for a child, God, and God alone is equipped to do perfectly, without fail. There is no human parent anywhere who would claim to have those credentials. Furthermore, he created us in such a way so that we could never know true joy unless we relate to Him as our Father. So, its not just HIM and the excellence of His qualities, but also the way He made us which dictates that relating to God as our Father enables all our needs to be met. Having God as our Father provides us the opportunity to know “ joy unspeakable and full of glory,” walking in the “righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.” And a huge part of that is derived from the fact that having God as our Father enables us, through the Holy Spirit, to live above the enslaving power of sin.
Now, to walk in slavery to the powers of sin is to allow ourselves to come out from under the protection and provision and nurture of our Heavenly Father and to place ourselves under our old guardian, the power of sin and Satan. Their agenda for us is not our protection, but our destruction; not our provision, but our destitution, not our nurture, but our torture, not our liberty, but our enslavement. Yet, when we choose to live under the control of sin, we are choosing to operate under the control of those whose agenda for us is to kill, steal and destroy us. When we feed our greed by spending our hard earned paycheck on the lottery in the hopes of winning a millions or spend time gambling at the casinos, we are willingly placing ourselves under the enslaving power of sin. When we run to the smut shop and indulge in pornography, we are willing placing ourselves out from under our Father’s care and allowing ourselves to be handed over to the enslaving power of sin.
Do we see how utterly foolish this is? God has provided the blood of His Son and His Holy Spirit to purchase for us this status of being a child of God, liberated from sin. When we run back into the arms of sin, we are communicating that we prefer destitution to provision, torture over nurture, enslavement over liberty and the devil as our master over God as our Father. This is exactly the place the prodigal son found himself in when he was out in the hog pen. He had, because of lust and greed left the protection and provision of a good father and had willingly allowed the power of sin to enslave him. And he ended up the way all those who have sin as their master end up, in misery. But, by the grace of God, the light went on for him one day when he was out there eating hog food. He came to himself and the essence of what he said was this, “I am NOT a hog, I am not a slave, I am a son—I don’t belong here.” And he repented of his sin and went back to His Father. He reassumed his identity as a son.
If you are here today living under the controlling power of some sin or sins, whether it is greed or sexual lust or unforgiveness or anything else, you are living more like a hog or a slave than a son. And God’s word to you is the same as it was with the prodigal in that hog pen, “Come home and start acting like what you are, a child of God. Why are you living in the squalor of slavery, when I can give you liberty? Why have you chosen spiritual destitution, when I can give you the riches of heaven? Why have you chosen to walk around in the nakedness and vulnerability of sin, when I will protect and shield you?” Paul says this enslaved, sinful kind of life brings fear. He writes in verse 15, “a slave again to fear.” From the context we know this is the fear of God’s judgment.
People who are relating to sin as their Master instead of God as their Father are afraid, rightly afraid of condemnation or judgment. First John 4:18 says, “…fear has to do with punishment.” Those who have God as their Father and are led by the Spirit don’t have to worry about punishment. Apart from God, there can be a powerful fear of God’s wrath. However, those who have God as their Father can say with Paul “[we] have not been given a spirit of fear, but power and love and self control.” In place of the fear of judgment, we are filled with love from our Father because John tells us that “There is no fear in love and [God’s] perfect love casts out fear.” This leads us to a second characteristic of the children of God.
That is, children of God enjoy genuine intimacy with God. We see this again in the second half of verse 15. Hear this out of the NASB which is more literal. Paul says, “but you received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” As a sidebar comment, notice that Paul uses the notion of adoption to describe what has happened to those who have received the Spirit. We all know that God has one “natural” Son, Jesus Christ. All His other children must be adopted into his family. This concept of adoption in some way prepares us for Paul’s discussion of election in chapter nine. Adoption implies election. If a person is adopted, it wasn’t because THEY THEMSELVES make a rational decision to choose their parents. No, the parent at some point said, “I’ll take that one.” It is the PARENT, not the child who does the choosing. The PARENT brings a new person into their family without regard to the disposition of the child. The decision is made NOT by the child, but by the parent. Adoption implies election.
Paul’s main point in this verse is to show the kind of relationship a child of God has with his/her Father. The wonder of a holy God adopting a sinful person as His child should not be lost on us, not to mention the intimacy that concept conveys. When the New Testament permits and even exhorts disciples of Christ to address God as their Father, we must understand this is something new in salvation history. When Jesus came on the scene and started teaching on the Fatherhood of God to himself and to those who would follow him, this was like a lightning bolt from heaven. This was revolutionary.
In the Old Testament, God is called “Father” 15 times. In the entire Old Testament, which dwarfs the New Testament in size, God is called “Father” only 15 times and only six of those times are used in reference to an individual, the rest portray him as the patriarch of his national family, Israel. And know this: NO ONE in the Old Testament EVER addressed God as “Father.” Not Moses, not Abraham, not David, not anyone. Those men, and other saints like them who knew God “as a “friend” still did not address God as “Father.” Contrast that with the much shorter New Testament where God is called “Father” 245 times and Jesus told his disciples to address God in prayer as “Our Father, in heaven...” J.I. Packer, in his classic book, “Knowing God” says this, “Father” is the Christian name for God.” Compare that with the covenant name of God in the Old Testament. God revealed Himself to Moses as “Yahweh,” I AM WHO I AM. That conveys, transcendence and otherness and inscrutability. Contrast that with the intimacy and accessibility of “Father.” We must never take for granted just how precious a privilege it is to address the infinite Lord of the universe as, “Father.”
It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to cry out “Abba, Father.” The idea includes the fact believers have been born of the Holy Spirit into the family of God, thus making God our adoptive Father, but its more than just the theological position we assume. The concept of Fatherhood reeks of intimacy. The name Father conveys a cosmic truth. It communicates that the same God who created the universe, who is enthroned in heaven and makes the earth His footstool, who, according to Psalm 18, who soars on the wings of the wind, who thunders from heaven, who evaporates the oceans with the blast of the breath of his nostrils—this Almighty, transcendent God can be known in the same way a child can know his Father.
Through the Holy Spirit, we can know this glorious, infinite God who dwells in unapproachable light, who no man can see and live—we can know Him intimately, personally and come boldly into His presence through the blood of Jesus. He doesn’t desire to be some aloof, far away, unapproachable, shrouded-in-mystery God. He wants to be our Father. Yes, a God who sits enthroned above the heavens, but also a God who makes his lap available to His children. Tragically, too often in the church today over-emphasizes this truth and prostitutes it to mean something it should never have come to mean. Too often, we take the intimacy implied in having God as our Father and, rather than be lost in the wonder of the fact that the Lord Omnipotent would condescend to relate to us as a son or daughter, we instead abuse that intimacy by losing our wonder of Him. We treat him as a spoiled, adolescent treats a weak parent, losing our reverence of Him and griping to Him when He doesn’t meet our self centered expectations. We must never lose the wonder over the fact that those who have the Spirit can relate to the Lord of Glory in the intimacy of a Father/child relationship.
A third characteristic of a child of God according to Paul is they have assurance of their position as children of God. We see this in verse 16 where Paul says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” We have seen that God causes us to BE children of God, here we see the same Spirit also causes us to KNOW that we are children of God. One scholar puts it this way, “The Holy Spirit is not only instrumental in MAKING us God’s children; he also makes us AWARE that we are God’s children.” It is crucial for the health of a believer that they have a biblical assurance of their salvation. That is, that they are in a right relationship with God which will result in their eternal habitation in heaven. The very concept of sonship connotes the idea of assurance. Sonship is a fixed relationship. You cannot be a son one day and not a son the next. You cannot lose sonship. The puritans used to say that the believer’s assurance is rooted in three truths. First, the truths relating to Christ and his saving work. Jesus did something that secures salvation for people. That is THE basis of assurance—not what WE can do, but what Jesus did for us and the believer has a right to claim the promises of God regarding Christ’s saving work for them. I KNOW I am a Christian because Christ died for my sins and I, through His grace have repented and believed on His name. A second, corroborating witness which provides assurance is the evidence of God’s sanctifying work in a person’s life—is there spiritual fruit? Jesus said, “by their fruit you shall know them.” And a third ground of assurance is the inner witness of the Spirit Paul speaks of here.
This is that experiential knowledge that comes to us by the Holy Spirit agreeing with our spirit that we are children of God. In providing this inner witness, God is only living up to his own requirement in Deuteronomy 19 for the necessity of two witnesses to confirm the truth of something. His Spirit testifies to my spirit in agreement that I am a believer. The Holy Spirit experientially confirms the truth to us that we are indeed children of God. This is a very subjective, experience-based element of our assurance, but Paul clearly sees this as an important part of the Spirit’s ministry. Because it is about a person’s inner experience of the Holy Spirit, we must be careful when we say things like, “It feels like this…or that.”
We can, however say something about this experience as it relates to feelings. Think of it like another Spirit-given experience, conviction of sin. Just as the Holy Spirit gives us the experience of conviction when we sin, so too He gives us this inner witness which reassures us of our status with God. The experience of Holy Spirit conviction effects how we feel—we feel something, guilt. Likewise, the Holy Spirit assurance also effects us how we feel—we feel something, assurance. Because the arena of feelings can change and go up and down with our situations, it is dangerous to place all our “assurance eggs” in this basket. If we are saved only when we FEEL saved, we are in big trouble. But having said that, we must admit that in a text which describes the ministry of the Spirit in the life of the believer, Paul, without batting an eye lists this one of giving inner, experiential assurance. That means it must be important and precious to the believer and if we have never experienced it, we need to seek out God and get counsel as to why not.
Where are we in relationship to all this? Do we see the utter foolishness and self destruction involved in running from the provision and protection of a loving Heavenly Father for into the arms of a Master who would just as soon kill us as look at us? That is what we do each time we wander away from God into the meat grinder of sin and self. Is this where we want to be. If God is our Father, he waits for us to repent and run home to Him. If you are wandering this morning, come home to Him.
Second, do we have a genuine intimacy with God? Is there a genuine warmth and closeness between us and God? Or, is it more of a business relationship—He lays down his expectations and you do your best to impassionately meet them? We must never sacrifice our reverence for God on the altar of His Fatherhood, but genuine intimacy in KNOWING God is His plan for us. Do you know that kind of intimacy with God? Maybe the reason you have never known that kind of intimacy with Him is, you don’t know Him. If you have never entered into a personal relationship with God, you can do that today. Come to Christ and repent of your sins. Ask God to come into your life and change you and make you His child, adopt you into His family. He’ll do that if you turn from your sins and come to Him in humility.
Finally, do you know you are saved? Are you claiming the glorious gospel promises? And do you have this experiential inner witness of the Spirit which confirms that you are His child? That is part of what it is to be a Christian and we should be enjoying that blessing. Are we? May God give us grace to behave like his children and to relate to Him as our Father.
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