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Sermon preached on Romans 8:1-11 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/04/2012 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“These Are Sons of God”
Christians have become children of God. This we have become by the wonderful grace of adoption. Before we were Christians, we were not counted among God’s people. But when we became a Christian, a change took place. Not only were we justified before God, as we’ve been discussing in the book of Romans. But he also adopted us as his children. We see verse 14 describe those who are known as sons of God. That’s us now. Verse 15 specifically uses the word “adoption” – a legal term in the Greek language. That’s now our standing – legal children of God. Through adoption. God’s taken us as his own family. And in these few short verses, we learn a lot about what that means.
You see, this passage tells us about what it looks like to be an adopted son of God. In these six short verses, a number of things are told to us about what it means to be God’s adopted children. Certainly more could be said about our adoption. But what is told to us here is very significant. And so it is our privilege today to consider this topic. What does it mean for us to be God’s adopted child? What does it mean now for how we live, and think, and act? We’ll consider today three specific aspects of our sonship, revealed in this passage. I’ll go in the order as they are mentioned in the passage.
First, adopted sons of God have an obligation of mortification. This is verses 12 and 13. “Therefore, brethren, we are debtors — not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 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.” And so notice that it says that we have a debt. In other words, this is an obligation we have. This is our responsibility we now have as adopted children of God. I can’t help but mention when I see language like this to clarify that it’s not talking here about our justification. We’ve said that we are not justified before God by our works. We are not put in a right standing before God by works. That’s all true. But that doesn’t mean that the justified Christian is without obligation. No, the fact that our justification comes so graciously to us, apart from our works, should only heighten such obligations. Having been saved so wonderfully, and set as God’s very own children, should it surprise us that we have obligations? I mean, doesn’t our sonship even demand it?
Take an earthly example. Imagine if you were adopted into the family. There were two other natural born children in the family, and you were the third child, the adopted ones. If the natural born children had obligations and responsibilities, and you did not, wouldn’t that seem strange? If the other children had household chores to do, and you did not, wouldn’t you wonder why you were treated differently? Might it even call into question how much of a son or daughter you had really become? But if instead, you come into the household and your new parents sit you down and say that in this family each child has certain obligations and responsibilities, and then listed out yours, then you would know you were in fact part of the family. Well, that is what comes to us now as Christians. As adopted children of God, we have an obligation we are told here.
That debt or obligation is told to us here by way of contrast. Verse 12. Our debt is not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh any more. That’s not our obligation. We are not indebted to live according to the flesh. Verse 13 then mentions the contrast. The contrast is the Spirit. Capital “S” spirit. We live according to the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. The implied point here is that is our obligation. We are debtors to live according to the Holy Spirit now. To understand this, you need to remember the last few passages we’ve been studying. Paul’s presented two ways of living. The old way we lived was according to the flesh. We defined that as our own sinful, corrupt, nature. We used to live that way. Before we became a Christian, that characterized our life. We lived according to our total depravity and our total inability. We lived not the way God would have us to live. We lived according to our own depraved purposes. We served our selves, ultimately. But not any longer. Now, we have been called to live according to the Holy Spirit. This is because as we read last week, the Holy Spirit lives inside us now as Christians, verse 9. We’ll talk about that more in a moment in our second point for today. But for now realize his point here. As sons of God, we have an obligation. The obligation is that we live according to the Spirit. That is the Holy Spirit. Why? Because that’s how sons of God live. We don’t live like the world. We are to live like the natural, non-adopted Son of God. Of course, that’s the Christ. And it’s the Spirit of Christ that lives in us. That dictates how we are to live now. This all just makes sense. Adopted children of God are to live like children of God. That means to live like Christ. That means to live in and through and by Christ’s Spirit. That’s our obligation. We are in debt to live that way as adopted children.
There is more to be said here at this point, however. The language of obligation here is more than just simply to say that we are to live according to the Spirit. The language of verse 13 is specifically the language and doctrine of mortification. Mortification means to put to death. God’s adopted children are to be putting to death the deeds of the body. Here’s where we remember that we are adopted children, and not natural children. We are born with a sinful nature. We’ve said in our study through Romans that Christians still have some of this corruption remaining in our lives. As those who are adopted, we have an obligation to look to cast off that old way of living. To put to death that sinfulness that remains in us.
I love how it puts this here. It says that on the one hand, if you live according to the flesh you will die. On the other hand, if you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. In other words, that’s a living that results in death. And there’s a death that results in living. But this is what mortification is all about. Becoming more and more dead to sin and thus becoming more and more alive by the Spirit.
Therefore, the adopted son of God is one who is obligated to mortification. Look at your life. What are those areas of your former life of sin that you still are practicing? Cut them off. Put them away. Kill them! The Bible teaches us about this. Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4 are good chapters to meditate on about this practice of mortification. This is what an adopted son of God will do. This is your obligation. But before you falsely think that you do this by your own strength, look again at verse 13. It says that we do this mortification by the Spirit. In other words, we look to do this by the power of the Holy Spirit. We realize that mortification has to get into our hearts, into the core of where our sins start. That means that our activity to put these deeds to death is one done in reliance on the Holy Spirit.
This leads us then to the second point for today; to the second aspect of our sonship revealed in this passage. Second, we find that adopted sons of God have an indwelling of the Spirit of adoption. Now, I could say this more simply. I could simply that the Holy Spirit lives inside us as Christians. In fact, we’ve already said that today, and we said it in last week’s passage as well. That is why I’m specifically emphasizing now in this second point the language of verse 15: the Spirit of adoption. The Holy Spirit lives inside us, and that Holy Spirit in verse 15 is called the Spirit of Adoption. In other words, the fact that the Holy Spirit lives inside us, is especially related to the doctrine of adoption. This is not to take away the Spirit’s work in other areas of our salvation. But there is something special about how the Spirit is given to us with a view to our adoption.
And so verse 15 says this is something we have received. A Christian has received several things in our salvation. We’ve received a new heart in our regeneration. We’ve received a right standing before God in our justification. And here we learn that we have received the Holy Spirit, and specifically that in terms of our adoption. In adopting us, God gives us this Spirit. This Spirit leads us, according to verse 14. It is also this same Spirit that gets us to cry out, Abba, Father!
To understand the significance of this better, notice the contrast given in verse 15. Two different spirits are mentioned there. The spirit of bondage, and the Spirit of adoption. The spirit of bondage is something of our former life. We see that because in verse 15 it says we didn’t receive this again, meaning this is what we had in the past. That old spirit not only insured our former bondage, but it led to fear, it says. We were left with the terror of our slavery to sin, terror of God’s just wrath against us. But now we have received a different spirit. And if that spirit of bondage led to fear, then our new Spirit leads to something far better. It leads us to that state where we cry out to God as our father. Abba, is the Aramaic word to address your father. And so if the former spirit led to fear, this one leads to one where we cry out to our father. Surely, this new state is one of loving trust and confident dependence on God. We don’t fear God’s wrath. We rely on him. We know him and know that he knows us and loves us and has our well being in mind.
This is the Spirit God has given us as his adopted sons. What this is saying that God puts inside us a natural yearning for him. That’s the cry of “Abba, Father.” It’s the Holy Spirit that he has given us that sparks that cry of our hearts. That’s not the cry we would otherwise have. The unregenerate non-believer doesn’t have that yearning. There’s not a natural parent-child connection between man and God. In fact, there is an enmity between man and God. Those who have adopted children can probably appreciate this more. Naturally born children have an almost immediate yearning it seems for their Mom and Dad. There is quick bond that develops. However, when an orphaned child is adopted and brought into a family later in their life, that natural bond between parent and child is not just instantly there. It has to be developed. The legal paperwork of adoption doesn’t necessarily mean that this child is going to instantly reach out to his adoptive parents as his very own Mom and Dad. That new relationship will have to be cultivated.
Well, the same is true in a sense for us. God did not just adopt us on paper. Yes, there is a real legal sort of change of standing that takes place. One day we are not adopted. Then we are adopted, when we become a Christian. But God knows that more is needed than just some legal declaration. We need to know in a personal way that God is our father, and we are his children. And so he gives us the Spirit of adoption. It’s that gift of his Spirit that makes us really know we are his. That makes us know his love. That cultivates in us that dependence on him as our father. That’s why we cry out, Abba, Father! This passage is so encouraging when we think about its importance for our adoption and for our relationship with God as our heavenly father.
This then makes sense of verse 16. It says, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Here you see our human spirit contrasted with the Holy Spirit. The point of verse 16 is to say that because the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption is in us, then this is how we know we are adopted. It’s how we know we are saved. The Holy Spirit testifies along with our own spirits. We can have assurance of our adoption and therefore our salvation as we see the Spirit of adoption at work in our lives. The yearning for God inside us to cry out to him and to look to him is evidence that we are God’s children. It’s evidence of our adoption. The cry of our hearts to the God of the Bible is demonstrating the Spirit of adoption is living inside us. That’s the point here.
And so in this second point we’ve seen that the adopted son of God is one whom God’s spirit dwells inside us. God has given us of his Spirit to “cement” our father-son relationship with him. It’s how we know we are part of God’s family now. And it’s how we are equipped to begin to live out our life as God’s children. It’s how, as we said, we can mortify the sinful nature. It’s all because he has given us his Spirit to truly make us his child.
We’ll turn now to our final point for today. A third aspect of our sonship is that we possess a hope of glory after suffering. This too is something related to our adoption as God’s children. This is verse 17. It flows directly from our last point. Verse 16 had talked about how by the Spirit we know we are children of God. Verse 17 then flushes out this ramification with regard to glory. Verse 17 says, “If children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” You see, this is such a wonderful ramification of our adoption. It we are adopted, it means we have an inheritance. This is why Scripture often puts our adoption in language specifically of sonship, versus daughters and sons, because sons were the ones who got the inheritance at that time. So, this reference to our adopted sonship is to say that Christians, male and female, are heirs.
This concept of divine inheritance was seen in part even in the Old Testament. Israel was said to be given the Promised Land from God as an inheritance. The book of Hebrews helps us to look past that earthly plot of land and look to a heavenly inheritance. Here in Romans chapter 8 we understand that our inheritance as Christians comes from the fact of our adoption. God adopts us and so we now have a share in divine inheritance. We are heirs of God.
Verse 17 goes on to note that this means we are joint heirs with Christ. On the one hand, this might remind us that we are adopted sons and Jesus is the natural son, as the only begotton Son of God. And yet this also serves to exalt our standing. Our sonship and inheritance is related to the unique position of Christ. We are co-heirs with him! We share in the same divine inheritance as the natural son. Again, this shows us that we really are a part of the family. This bring out our union with Christ, of course. We are with him. In and with him we are heirs. In and with Jesus we have an inheritance.
This makes sense then of the other part of verse 17. As adopted children of God, we not only have the hope of glory, but it’s the hope that comes after suffering. Suffering in this age. Christ suffered in this age and life, and afterwards was glorified. In his coming, we will join with him in that glory, but for now we have a life in this age that involves suffering of various kinds. This was Christ’s life, and so as his adopted brothers, it makes sense now that it is our life. In our union with him, we share both in his glory and his suffering. We share in his inheritance, and even his trials.
This is a repeated point made in the New Testament: that Christ’s suffering will be a pattern for our own life. Here it’s connected with our adoption. And yet this is an important point to make. It’s something that really does need to be revealed to us. Because we probably wouldn’t tend to think that this would be the case. We probably wouldn’t tend to think that adoption into divine sonship would involve suffering. In fact, we might think that divine sonship would preclude earthly suffering. We might have naturally thought that suffering would be the lot of mere humans. Think in this life, you might think how the son of a peasant, would be one of suffering. But if that son was adopted by the emperor, you would think this would mean a life free of suffering. And so take that thought to God. You might think that being adopted into God’s family would mean that there would be no more suffering. Surely on a surface level, that thought makes sense.
And yet we understand why that is not the case when we remember the gospel. That for the joy set before him, the only begotten Son of God endured the cross and despised its shame. That he underwent such suffering for our sake. He became a man of sorrows that we could be called sons of God. That we could become adopted by God. Realize that Jesus did this because it shows what God is really all about. God is love. God is radical, sacrificial, gracious, love. Love that is also fully just and righteous. Love that went to the great lengths of such suffering to save sinners. God’s love meant Christ suffered for us. Christ did this willingly and freely because he as the Son of God had this same divine love. And so if we are going to be adopted into this family, he evidently wants us to learn and even experience this love. This is the family we have been adopted into. It’s a family that is all powerful, above all, and yet suffers for the benefit of others. And not just for others, but for those who have wronged this family. So, they can bring such enemies into their family. That’s who we were and who we’ve become. And so our adoption involves glory after suffering. Suffering that for now will help us to learn what it means to be a son of this amazing gracious God.
This is what it means to be an adopted son of God. May this color your suffering in this life. May all this color how you look to put to death what is earthly in you. If you are in Christ, then you have been adopted into God’s family. If you are in Christ, then this is your life. And if you are here today and are not in Christ, then I would urge you to turn to him today. Be reconciled to God in Jesus Christ. Be received into the best family you could ever be in! Learn what it means then to be a son of the Most High!
And so, saints of God, you are his children. You are being led by him. You have his Spirit. His Spirit which will make you yearn for calling out to him. His Spirit which will make you want to aspire to be a better man or woman of God. His Spirit which will draw you to reflect the image of Christ your elder brother and Lord. And so then I urge you today to live this out. Live this out through vital familial prayer. That when you sense that urge to cry out, Abba, Father, that you do not try to stifle it. That you realize that this is where your strength as God’s child comes from. Cry out day and night to your heavenly father. Pray, and pray, and pray, and when you finish, start again. Call to him as your Dad who loves you. He does. And he has put his Spirit in you so that you will know it to be true. Be encouraged today as his love. Know his love. And so cry out to him in prayer. Spend time with your Heavenly Father, and draw from the strength that he gives you. Amen.
Copyright © 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.