As we come to our passage this morning, I almost feel like an attorney or the executor of a will after the death of someone very wealthy. Someone who before death carefully and clearly crafted a very gracious will. A will that now must be read to the family members. Family members who have no idea of the abundance they’re about to receive. Yet there I am with all the details in my hands before the family who is eagerly awaiting the contents. It’s a fitting image because something of the same idea will happen today as I preach these verses to you. But this image falls woefully short because wills like these are normally full of material benefits. And while wills as these are full of great gifts, these gifts are temporal not eternal. Jesus, on the other hand, purchased far more lasting blessings for all those who come to Him in faith. So Church, prepare yourself to hear of the great abundance we have in Christ.
But first, briefly, remember that we’re in the robust middle portion of Romans 8 where Paul unfolds the nature and work of the Holy Spirit in v5-17. We’ve been slowly walking through this passage seeing and savoring much. The foundation was laid in v5-11 where Christians are defined as those who are not of the flesh but of the Spirit. We then looked at what this actually looks like in day to day life in v12-13 and we found that if we’re truly setting our minds on the Spirit and living according to the Spirit, we will gain and we will be growing in a certain kind of violence. Not violence against flesh and blood but violence against our sin.
We then zeroed in on v14 last week and found Paul magnifying one grand truth: Christians are those who are led by the Spirit. What does it mean to be led by the Spirit? We mentioned two things last week.
First: being led by the Spirit means that we’ll be putting sin to death. That the Spirit’s great active work in us…moving us to get busy and active in our work against sin. But we said more as well…Second: by saying we’re led by the Spirit, that we are the sons of God, and that we are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ in v14, Paul’s using imagery from the OT Israelite wilderness wandering to describe how God now leads us through this fallen world to our inheritance in glory. So, as went Israel so goes the Church, but in a far greater manner than of old. As Israel followed God’s lead in guiding them, enjoyed God provision for them, and praised God for keeping them…so now, we follow God’s lead, we enjoy God provision for us, and we praise God for keeping us until the end. All these things God does for us by His Spirit. This, in Romans 8, is also what it means to be led by the Spirit.
That then, is where we’ve been the last three weeks as we’ve walked through v5-14.
For today though, we’ll take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what’s going in the rest of the verses we’ve not yet covered, v15-17. We did briefly mention that there are two themes given to us here, the first being realities that will be true of us because the Holy Spirit dwells in us, and second being our sonship…us being the children of God. These are not separate themes but interwoven themes that have everything to do with one another. So, when we take these two themes together, as they’re given to us here, we see grand benefits or great privileges of being the Spirit-filled children of God. So again I ask, what does it mean to be led by the Spirit? v5-13 gave us many answers, but v15-17 keeps filling out the answer.
There are four great privileges in our text, we’ll take them as they come.
Privilege #1: Security (v15)
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons…”
This first great privilege of security is all about two opposing spirits we could receive. The “spirit of slavery” or the “Spirit of adoption.” If we receive the spirit of slavery we fall back into fear, but if we receive the Spirit of adoption we rejoice in our sonship, that we are the sons of God. I find it interesting, in v15, that the Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of adoption.” That ‘adoption’ comes into view reminds us of how we became God’s children. No one is ever physically born into a right relationship with God. That we’ve been adopted implies that at one time we were once lost orphans with no hope in our sin, outside of Christ, and under condemnation. But, when we place our faith in Jesus our sins are forever forgiven, we’re removed from our position in Adam, united to Christ, condemnation no longer hangs over us because Christ was condemned for us, and we’re welcomed into a family we weren’t naturally born into, the family of God! You see, adoption reveals that we have not always enjoyed our privileged position in Christ as sons of God. You see, Jesus is the only Son who’s always enjoyed this privileged position before the Father, and only by grace, through faith, in Jesus, can we enter into that as well.
All of this means…we are secure.
When we come into the family of God we don’t receive the “spirit of slavery” leading us to fall back into fear. That’s what used to rule our life when we were outside of Christ. Notice that? The language of fear in v15 is something that we would fall back into? We once were ruled by fear because sin leads to fear, to judgment, to condemnation, to loss, to death. But once we come to Christ that fear goes away and we receive the “Spirit of adoption” because we’re sons. There’s no need then, to fear punishment, to fear loss, or to fear abandonment as if we were something like mere employees of God who haven’t performed our job well and fear getting fired. No, a child-parent relationship isn’t characterized by fear, it’s characterized by security.
Why is this true? v15 says it, we’ve been adopted into the family of God so we now have the status of sons not slaves. Think of that. Slaves obey out of compulsion, sons obey out of love. Slaves labor under threat, sons labor under delight. Slaves are insecure, fearing their master…sons are secure, knowing and loving their Master. Slaves have no honor in a household, sons are honored. There’s a confidence and a composure about them because wherever they go in the King’s land they know that it all belongs to Him and they rest easy because He’s not only the King, He’s their Father. That God the Father is the King of kings and that this world is our Father’s world, means everywhere we go in this world, whether near or far, we too can rest easy because all things belongs to Him. And not only that, we belong to Him too.
So hear it Church, as the spirit of slavery would lead us back to fear, the Spirit of adoption wells up within us a comforting conviction that we are God’s children with all the rights and privileges thereof.
Being led by the Spirit leads to security.
Privilege #2: Intimacy (v15b)
This second privilege really flows out from the first. Because we’re so secure in our privileged position as the sons of God we therefore enjoy intimacy with God. This is where v15 goes as it ends, “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!”
Before we even get to the name ‘Abba’ do you see we don’t merely say, speak, or state this? We cry out! Crying out is only done when something is deeply felt or powerfully experienced. Don’t overreact here. Some Christians make the error of letting their emotions drive them, such that when they don’t ‘feel intensely’ their faith nosedives. That’s an error for sure. Thank God our faith doesn’t rest on our emotional frame or capacities. But don’t see that error and go too far in the other direction believing the greatest way to be a Christian is to rid yourself of all emotion so you’re never led by them at all. We’re said to be those who “cry out” in end of v15. And that’s very emotive. So if we don’t ever feel this need to cry out to God, we should ask if we’ve truly been adopted by God.
What do we cry out? “Abba! Father!” This word ‘Abba’ is an Aramaic term meaning ‘Daddy.’ It’s a term normally used by little children who are just learning to talk. It was a term never used by the Israelites to address God, no, they even invented words to use for God so they wouldn’t have to use the divine name of God. Yet surprisingly, Jesus often used the name ‘Abba’ in prayer as He was talking to God. It’s a term of warmth, a term of confidence, full of a childlike intimacy. Rejecting such an intimate title for our heavenly Father, thinking it’s not high or lofty enough, is not a mark of humility. Rather, embracing it, using it, and loving it is a mark of a true child of God. That God is ‘Abba’ to us means God is no longer distant to us. God is not merely someone we believe in intellectually, theologically, theoretically, or doctrinally only. God is One we now know. But again, don’t overreact here. I never want to diminish the intimacy with God to be enjoyed here. But I do want to caution you that some have taken this truth and slowly grown into, not a childlike faith, but a childish faith. Yes, we call God ‘Abba Father’ but this still doesn’t give us a right to enter into God’s presence obnoxiously or arrogantly.
Church, it’s the grown-up who often act very formal, reserved, and proper. It’s the child who comes rushing in to see his father and grab ahold of them. This childlike posture is what’s in view in this term ‘Abba.’
Being led by the Spirit leads to intimacy.
Privilege #3: Assurance (v16)
This third privilege centers around assurance. See how Paul goes there in v16, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…”
This teaches us that the Holy Spirit not only makes us God’s children, it teaches us that the Holy Spirit also makes us aware that we’re God’s children. How great an assurance flows from this? Our final confidence that we’re God’s children doesn’t come from carefully analyzing our obedience or behavior, it does not come from a sweet sense or frame of the soul, nor does it come about as a logical deduction from good theology. No, our assurance comes from the Holy Spirit who bears witness within us, to our own spirit, that we’re the children of God. That’s what v16 says, simply put.
But, let’s go further and ask: what exactly is this? How does the inner testimony happen? Is it like secret whisper from God to us, that we can hear and no one else can? Or, is it louder, something like a voice from heaven? Or, is it more like a message from God where He gives us a special revelation that we belong to Him? No. Many say these things like this, but I say no, because think Church, what’s not mentioned in any of those options? Scripture. Bottom line, this inner testimony of the Spirit (which is extraordinary itself!) comes to us in a manner that I think is far more ordinary than many think. The Holy Spirit does indeed communicate to us (praise God!), but as R.C. Sproul said, the Spirit “…communicates to us by the Word, with the Word, through the Word, and never against the Word.” When we talk about experiencing the ministry of the Spirit we so often forget that the Holy Spirit inspired the Word for this very purpose. Therefore, we cannot define the ‘Spirit’s bearing witness to our spirit’ as if it were a thing to be experienced apart from the Spirit inspired Word. So if we’re going to talk about experiencing the Holy Spirit work, as described in v16, here’s what I’d encourage you to do: sit down, open your Bible, pray that God would open your eyes to His truth, seek Him by digging deep, and enjoy the assurance that floods the heart as the Spirit uses the Word to teach us of our status as sons and not slaves. In this light I think v16 is describing exactly the same experience that Romans 5:5 spoke of. Remember it? Our hope does not put us to shame, why? Because “…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” This is the Spirit’s work.
Being led by the Spirit leads to assurance.
Privilege #4: Inheritance (v17)
The fourth privilege is almost too great to hear. See this in the start of v17, “…and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…”
So we’ve seen and rejoiced that we’re sons of God, children of God. Paul goes further. We’re not just children, we’re heirs! In ancient cultures of the world though a husband and wife had many children, only the first son was the heir. All the children were normally loved, but this first son got the majority of the family estate and was tasked with carrying on the family name. Contrast that pattern with v17 here. In the family of God it isn’t just the oldest son who is the heir, all Christians are heirs. But see it, Paul goes further still. “…heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Why add that little bit on the end? Two reasons I think. First, by telling us we’re fellow heirs with Christ we’re reminded that we only inherit God’s blessings and the abundance of His kingdom through Jesus Christ. But second and more, being a fellow heir with Christ means all the children of God enter in jointly with Christ into the inheritance bestowed on Him by the Father. Anyone thinking of Hebrews 1? You should be. Hebrews 1:1-2, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things…” Hear it? Christ’s inheritance is all things! What does each child of God get in Christ? All things.
Curious isn’t it? We so often look to everything but Jesus hoping to find what our hearts long for. We look to the world, we look to ourselves, we look to presidents and politicians, and a million other things, and in the long run we only find disappointment and emptiness. But if we look to Christ, we’ll find Him, and with Him we’ll find everything else thrown in as well. Not because we’re so great, but because Christ is great.
So, being led by the Spirit leads to an inheritance.
But while we’ve seen the inheritance contains all things, can we get more specific about what this inheritance is? We can, that’s where v17 ends. Look at it, “…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.”
Are you surprised to hear Paul say our inheritance includes suffering? We love the glory, don’t we? But the suffering? No thanks! But, did we forget what v17 already taught us? We’re heirs of God yes, but we’re joint heirs with Christ. Which means, as Christ came into His inheritance so too we’ll come into ours. How did Christ come into His? Before the exaltation of His resurrection and ascension there was His humiliation of His being made like us, bearing our sin, dying on the cross, and entering a tomb. Only after this comes the glories we so enjoy now. And so, we come into inheritance in the same pattern. “There is no sharing in Christ’s glory unless we share in Christ’s sufferings.” We do look forward to glorification, indeed we do, but first if we’re following Christ and being led by His Spirit, we’ll find ourselves suffering for His name.
But is all this suffering worth it? Look where Paul goes next in v18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Church, the best is yet to come. This, is where we’ll pick back up in August.
 Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You, God’s Word For You (The Good Book Company, 2015), 28–29, 32–33.
 Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 522.
 Keller, Romans 8-16 For You, 28.
 Ibid., 34.
 Moo, Romans, 523–524.
 Ibid., 525.
 Kent R. Hughes, Romans: Righteousness From Heaven, Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1991), 147.
 John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 296.
 R.C. Sproul, Romans, St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2009), 263.
 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans – The Sons of God (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 241–243.
 Moo, Romans, 526.
 Sproul, Romans, 265.
 Keller, Romans 8-16 For You, 32.
 Moo, Romans, 528.
 Murray, Romans, 298.
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, page ??
 Murray, Romans, 299.