Romans 8:12–17 (ESV) — 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. 14 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.
Debtors – Vss. 12-13:
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.
Paul sums up his previous statements about flesh and death, and Spirit and life with a new twist – “opheiletes”.
- He essentially says – though he cuts himself off…
- That we are “opheiletes” “not to the flesh”…
- But “opheiletes” to the Spirit.
The ESV translates “opheiletes” as “debtors”.
- Whereas the NET, NIV and HCSB versions translate it as “under obligation”.
- The latter does a much better job of conveying the meaning of Paul’s thoughts.
- The idea is that those in the Spirit are…
- “under obligation to” do the things of the Spirit.
We are no longer “under obligation to” do the things of the flesh (“power of the old age” – Moo).
- Only those in the flesh are “under obligation to” “live according to the flesh”.
What does it look like to live “under obligation to” the Spirit?
- “…you put to death the deeds of the body…”.
Importantly, “…you put to death” is in the indicative.
- Paul is speaking of what you already do in the Spirit.
- It is done.
- This is not a command.
- “Paul refers to a fact that is true of believers, not a quality of life to which they are exhorted to attain” – Tom Schreiner.
This runs parallel to “phroneo” – setting our minds on the Spirit.
- Those empowered by the Spirit both…
- Already have a mindset for things of the Spirit…
- And already live “under obligation to” the Spirit.
- Both of these things are a work of God!
These speak to the awesome freedom for those in Christ and in the Spirit!
- We have been freed from “phroneo-ing” in the flesh.
- We have been freed from our slavery to – our obligation to – the flesh.
But – Sin Killing:
Paul makes clear in our text and in prior verses…
- That our new orientation to sin is owes itself to our new address…
- To being in Christ…
- To being in the Spirit…
- All of which is a done deal – an indicative.
But this does not mean that there is no imperative to be sin killers.
- There most certainly is.
- Colossians 3:5a (ESV) — 5a Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…
Because we “phroneo” in the Spirit and are “under obligation to” the Spirit…
- We are “are empowered to resist the flesh” – Bird.
So we are called to act in ways to kill sin.
- And we will desire to kill sin.
- Though we will often fail.
And it is the Spirit that gives us a footing from which to kill sin.
- “It is by the agency of the Spirit that the believer [kills] the deeds of the body and attempts to erect a barricade against fleshly intrusion” – Michael Bird.
Doug Moo nails the interplay between the Gospel indicatives and imperatives:
“Neither the ‘indicative’—what God has done for us in Christ—nor the ‘imperative’—what we are commanded to do—can be eliminated. Nor can they be severed from one another; they are inextricably connected. The point of that connection in this passage is the Spirit. The same Spirit that ‘set us free from the law of sin and death’ has taken up residence within us, producing in us that ‘mind-set’ which tends toward the doing of God’s will and resists the ways of the flesh” – Doug Moo.
Gospel Application – Vss. 14-17:
14 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, 17a and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…
In line with Paul’s strategy in previous verses…
- Here he once again applies the facts of the Gospel to the life of the believer.
- And, as before, he does so with theology.
I want to focus on two of his applications.
- (1) His positional application.
- (2) His assurance application.
(1) Positional Application:
Paul uses a series of phrases to heap on some more good news for those indwelled by the Spirit.
- “Sons of God” (vs. 14).
- “Adoption as sons” (vs. 15).
- “Children of God” (vs. 16).
- “Heirs of God” (vs. 17).
The central of these (we are told) is the idea of adoption.
- The rest flow from it.
What’s cool here is that…
- Paul is the first person to use the Greek word for adoption “in a theological context” – DPP.
- So in order to make his point, he repurposes a Greek word.
The question is what did he mean by it?
- And the language that flows from it – “children” and “heirs”?
A simple way to understand the language is that by it Paul is giving us…
- Both a now and not yet position with God.
The “Now” of Our Position:
So by virtue of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit acting on behalf of the Father, through the Son…
- The Spirit bestows and confirms adoption upon us – right now (Doug Moo).
- At this very moment, we are “made/declared/constituted” as God’s children (Bird).
- We are adopted as sons/children of God.
The idea behind this son/children language is thoroughly Old Testament.
- In the OT, Israel is known as God’s son.
- Exodus 4:22 (ESV) — 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son,
- Jeremiah 31:9 (ESV) — 9 With weeping they shall come, and with pleas for mercy I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble, for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.
Paul also mentions this in Romans 9.
- Romans 9:4 (ESV) — 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.
But what about the Gentiles?
- If God promised to bless the nations through Israel…
- How are the nations (Gentiles) to be made sons?
- To be included in the blessing that comes with sonship?
The answer is by adoption.
I like what Moo points out about this:
- “Paul has taken a term that depicts Israel’s unique status as God’s people and ‘transferred’ it to Christians” – Doug Moo.
By adoption, we are now God’s people.
- We are God’s sons and daughters.
- We are God’s chosen, covenant people.
- We, like Christ, can now called the Father, “Abba”.
And it is certainly true that…
- Even the Jew requires adoption into the New Covenant.
BTW – Most believe the slavery-adoption-son language pictures the Exodus.
“When Paul talks of believers being ‘led,’ being adopted as ‘sons,’ and escaping ‘slavery’…it is difficult not to be reminded of a cohort of texts about the exodus tradition. Remember that the exodus was the event where Israel was brought out of the land of slavery and made a ‘son of God’” – Michael Bird.
Our Now and God’s Turf:
Paul also speaks of adoption and son-ship in Galatians too – but with a twist:
- Galatians 3:29–4:5 (ESV) — 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. 1 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Notice in this passage the curious phrase in 4:2:
- “were enslaved to the elementary principles [stoicheion] of the world”.
- This word “stoicheion” refers to the powers of darkness – the rebellious elohim, demons, Satan, etc.
Paul sees our adoption and son-ship as relating to the cosmic turf war against such powers (like we discussed last week).
- This is another feature of Paul’s adoption language that is shared with the Exodus event.
- Egypt’s god’s vs. Yahweh.
As God’s adopted children we are, obviously, His turf.
- This means we are no longer under the authority of the powers of darkness.
- We are no longer property of “the elementary principles of the world”.
- We are sacred space – like Eden, the Holy Mountain and the Temple.
John’s Gospel has a related text that speaks of the alternative to being God’s adopted children.
- John 8:44 (ESV) — 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
The “Not Yet” of Our Position:
So we have just seen that, right now, we are adopted children – sons and daughters – of God.
- But, Paul also uses language that speaks of a future aspect of being children of the Father.
In verse 17, he says we are “heirs of God”.
- This is the benefit of being God’s child that is “not yet” come.
- It is an inheritance that we will receive as heirs.
- We, “must look to the future for the full enjoyment of ‘sonship’” – Doug Moo.
What is the future benefit and enjoyment of an heir of God?
- It is God Himself.
- And it is all the promises – OT and NT – that God has made to his sons and daughters.
- This involves everything from the people, nation and land promise to Abraham…
- To resurrection life in the age to come.
- As heirs, all of these are our inheritance.
(2) Assurance Application:
Paul says in Romans 8:16:
- “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”.
- This is a beautiful text that speaks of the assurance we have has God’s sons and daughters.
- But what does it mean?
We first need to understand what this text is literally saying.
- It is not speaking of a one-way flow of bearing witness from the Holy Spirit to us.
But rather, it is saying that the bearing witness happens on two fronts (Tom Schreiner).
- The Holy Spirit bears witness that “we are children of God”.
- And “our spirit” bears witness that “we are children of God”.
- There are two witnesses!
How does “our spirit” bear witness that “we are children of God”?
- The short answer is found in the previous verse.
- “we cry, Abba Father!” (vs. 15).
This is an intimate, emotional cry.
- One that comes only from a child of God.
- One that comes from the heart.
Doug Moo describes it this way:
“In crying out ‘Abba, Father,’ the believer not only gives voice to his or her consciousness of belonging to God as his child but also to having a status comparable to that of Jesus himself” – Doug Moo.
Martin Luther describes it this way:
- “Although I be oppressed with anguish and terror on every side, and seem to be forsaken and utterly cast away from thy presence, yet am I thy child, and thou art my Father for Christ’s sake: I am beloved because of the Beloved” – Martin Luther.
What are ways we cry out, “Abba, Father”?
How does the Holy Spirit bear witness that “we are children of God”?
- On one level, the answer is the same – “we cry, Abba Father!”
- This can only be done by those indwelled by the Holy Spirit.
On another level, the Holy Spirit testifies…
- By confirming for us the truth of the indicatives of the Gospel that Paul as been talking about.
- The Spirit applies them to our hearts/minds.
The subject of assurance is admittedly difficult.
- And it manifests in different ways for different people.
Some look to feelings.
- And some look to the Gospel propositions found in the Bible.
- I think an overemphasis on emotions can be dangerous.
And I don’t see how the propositional truths of the Gospel…
- Can ever be overemphasized.
- In fact, they should be foundational to an assurance that comes from our emotions.
- The fuel for our “Abba, Father” cries.
- If the propositions aren’t true, it makes no difference how profound our emotions are.
There is no assurance if:
- God is not who He says He is…
- And hasn’t done, isn’t doing and going to do what He says He will.
- All of these are Gospel propositions.
Provided We Suffer – Verse 17b:
“…provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”
Our inheritance as heirs is conditional.
- “…we will be ‘glorified with’ Christ (only) if we ‘suffer’ with him” – Doug Moo.
The point here is not that we have to try and suffer…
- Or perform a “work” of suffering.
The point has to do with the “body is dead” idea from verse 10.
- We will suffer; we will get sick; we will die – our body is dead.
- But this must happen “with him” – in union with Christ, indwelled by the Spirit.
Paul explains all this in 2 Corinthians.
- 2 Corinthians 4:7–10 (ESV) — 7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
And he continues:
- 2 Corinthians 4:16–17 (ESV) — 16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,