Dr. Richard L. Strauss
April 7, 1991
Purpose: To challenge us to live like the people we are: people with an honored position in the family of God.
Being in a happy family environment is a vital contributing factor to healthy personality development. In a sample poll of the national population over 18 years of age taken just a few years ago, three out of four agreed with the statement: "The traditional family is important to Americans and should be preserved." Less than one in ten disagreed. Eighty percent of those interviewed chose "a happy family life" as their number one goal, more important than "a fulfilling career," "the opportunity to develop as an individual," or "making a lot of money" (Quote, May 15, 1987, p.148). That's quite revealing. Healthy family relationships are an important part of growing into a happy, productive, law-abiding citizen.
But not all of us have had the privilege of growing up in a normal, functioning family. We may bear the hurtful scars of that to this day, and carry the detrimental baggage from it in every new relationship. It may adversely affect our ability to establish a healthy family unit of our own when we marry. But there is hope. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are part of healthy family, whether you realize it or not--it's the family of God. And if you learn to enjoy your position in God's family, it will help you live successfully in every other sphere of life. You'll be walking around singing the Gaithers' catchy little chorus, "I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God."
There is probably no more lucid passage on our position in the family of God in the New Testament than Romans 8:14-17. As we have seen, the subject of the entire chapter is triumphant Christian living. We learned from the first 13 verses that victory is both desirable and possible because we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. We learn from the next four verses that victory is desirable and possible because we have an honored position in the family of God. Note first of all the confidence of our position.
The Confidence of Our Position
Romans 8:14. "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God."
"For" or "because" ties what we are about to learn to what we just finished learning. Romans 8:13. "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."
The reason we can live, truly live, is because we are led by the Spirit of God. Being led by the Spirit in this context is not having His special guidance in making decisions. We have that as children of God, but that's not what this is referring to. Being led by the Spirit here means being enabled by the controlling power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to put to death the destructive activities of our sinful human natures and walk in obedience to the Lord. It's the same as walking "according to the Spirit" (verses 4 and 5). And when we walk in step with the Spirit, led and empowered by Him, that gives us the confidence that we are truly the sons of God. It doesn't make us sons of God, but it confirms the fact that we are.
You understand that "sons of God" are not just the males in the family. It's a term that emphasizes a child who has come of age, a mature, adult child who enjoys all the rights and privileges of his position. The reason the Bible uses "sons" is because in that culture it was only the males who enjoyed that honored position. But in God's family there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28). "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26). All believers enjoy the rights and privileges of that honored position. And all who are truly God's sons should live like it.
We've all heard the question, "If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" It's a good question. If the evidence isn't there, that may be reason to doubt that you are truly a child of God.
I grew up in a pastor's home, and I was a pretty good kid. I was never apprehended for a crime. But if I had been, and if I had stood before the authorities and said, "You can't arrest me; I'm a minister's son," they probably would have said to me, "Well, nobody would ever know it; you sure don't act like one." But if on the other hand my actions were consistent with my family relationship, people would have more of a tendency to believe me.
Is there evidence that you are God's son? Do you love His Word? Are you drawn to commune with Him in prayer? Do you love His people and enjoy spending time with them? Do you enjoy telling others about Him? Do you like to talk about Him more than you like to talk about making money, buying things, taking trips, following sports, or anything else? Is there a deep desire in your heart to please Him? We don't try to do all those things just to prove that we're sons of God. We do them because the Spirit of God is in control of our lives. But when we do them, it gives us confidence that we are the sons of God.
After talking about the confidence of our position, Paul turns next to the characteristics of our position.
The Characteristics of Our Position
What does it mean to be a son of God? Let's find out. Romans 8:15. "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.'"
It means basically four things.
"For you did not receive the spirit of bondage." The word spirit is rightly spelled with a small "s." It doesn't refer to the Holy Spirit, but rather a temper, mood, attitude or disposition. When we became sons of God, we did not receive a slave's frame of mind. Remember chapter 6? God's emancipation proclamation freed us from slavery to our sinful human nature. "For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace" (Romans 6:14). We don't need to live as slaves, struggling helplessly against a cruel and powerful master. We're in the family. We're sons--mature, adult sons. We have a position of privilege and honor. We're free to come and go; we can make our own decisions; we have access to the family's resources. That's freedom. And it makes us want to please our Father.
"For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear." That's what they had under the law. Israel stood trembling before the mountain that quaked and burned, fearful lest God should break through and slay them. They feared the law which included penalties of death. They feared entering the Holy of Holies on pain of death. They had a fearful awareness of God's awesome holiness, their own sinfulness, and their separation from God. Some people today live in that kind of fear. They view God as an angry, selfish tyrant who is just looking for a good excuse to rap them one, like they were bratty little kids, or rebellious slaves. But true believers need not live in that kind of fear. We're God's sons. And He "... has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). And knowing that will make us want to please Him.
A favored position in God's family. And that brings us to the great doctrine of adoption. "...but you have received the Spirit of adoption." In the Roman world, the legal position of a child was not much better than a slave. A child was the property of his father, without any rights or privileges of his own. His father was entitled to take any earnings he might have, sell him into slavery, and under certain circumstances, even put him to death (ZPBD, p.15). Rights and privileges were for the mature, and a child had to be declared mature by his father before he could have them. He had to be placed in the favored position of an adult son. And that is one idea in this word adoption. In his letter to the Galatians Paul said we are no longer children, but have received the adoption as sons (Galatians 4:3-5).
The word was also used as we use it today, granting the full rights and privileges of sonship to one who did not belong to the family by nature. In the Roman world, a man without a male heir might adopt an adult into his family. His new son would give up his old family name and all his old family associations for the purpose of perpetuating his new father's name and inheriting his estate. He was in no way inferior in status to any son who might be born into the family in the course of time. The Emperor Claudius adopted Nero so that Nero could succeed him to the throne, even though there was no blood relationship between them.
That's another idea in this word adoption. We were not by nature the sons of God. God adopted us into His family. And He didn't bring us into the family in a subservient position. He placed us immediately in the favored position of adult sons.
Whichever idea was in Paul's mind when he wrote this, having the consciousness of being placed in an honored position as adult sons in God's family would certainly make us want to please Him.
Here's another beautiful picture of what it means to be in the family of God. "...by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.'" "Abba" is an Aramaic word meaning "father," but it's an extremely familiar term derived from some of the first sounds of an infant--abababa (like dadada). It pictures the warmth and intimacy of a young child climbing up on his father's lap, giving him a big hug, and saying, "I love you Daddy." I can remember intimate times like that when my kids were little. They would snuggle up around me and I would read to them, and there was a feeling of acceptance and security. If I ever asked them to do something for me during those moments, they were usually happy to do it, because that kind of closeness breeds a desire to please.
Our heavenly Father invites us to enjoy that degree of intimacy with Him, and accepting His invitation will make us want to please Him.
Our privilege of calling Him Abba, Father "...rests on no less an authority than God Himself...who continues to assure us that we are His children" (Cranfield, p.189). So having seen the confidence of our position and the characteristics of our position, let's look next at the confirmation of our position.
The Confirmation of Our Position
Romans 8:16. "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God."
The commentators are divided on whether this means the Spirit bears witness "to" our spirit, or "along with" our spirit. It could be translated either way. And while it's certainly no big thing, it seems better to take to mean "along with." We just learned from verse 15 that we have a consciousness of belonging to God's family, and a sense of warmth and closeness to our heavenly Father. That is affirming witness that we are truly God's children. Now, along with that, the Holy Spirit Himself also bears witness that we are in the family.
The Old Testament insisted that the truth had to be established in the presence of at least two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). And that may be what Paul is thinking about here. Our spirits sometimes fail us. We feel discouraged and depressed. Maybe we've fallen into sin, and that has us down. Maybe we're facing some deep trials. We just can't understand why God would have allowed them in our lives and they have us down. Maybe there are questions we cannot find answers to, or problems we cannot solve, and they have us down. But the Holy Spirit is always there, bearing witness deep in our souls, that regardless of the circumstances, we are the children of God. He may do it through the Word. He may do it when we are praying. He may do it through the encouraging ministry of other believers. But however He does it, He's always there, bearing witness that we are in truth the children of God.
A Roman adoption ceremony had to be performed in the presence of seven witnesses. In the event that the adopting father should die, there could be a dispute over the inheritance. Natural born children might try to cut the adopted son out of his inheritance. But in that case, one or more of the seven original witnesses would step forward and swear that the adoption was genuine and true (Barclay, 111).
And if there's any doubt about our position in the family of God, we've got a witness: the Holy Spirit of God. He keeps on confirming it--if we have trusted Christ as Savior from sin, we are undeniably and unquestionably the genuine children of God.
Did you notice that Paul uses the term children here rather than sons? I don't think we can make a big thing of it, because he seems to be using them interchangeably. But there is a technical difference between them. "Children" (tekna) emphasizes our relationship as those who are born into the family. That's the doctrine of regeneration. "Sons" (huioi) emphasizes our position and privileges as adult children, and that's the doctrine of adoption. In God's family, both are true! We're born into it, and we're adopted into it. Any way you look at it, we're in the family. And the Holy Spirit keeps on bearing witness to it. And that double assurance ought to make us want to please our Father even more.
There's one more thing in this passage that ought to motivate us to please Him.
The Consequences of Our Position
Two consequences of our position should motivate us.
Romans 8:17. "...and 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."
As children of God we have a marvelous inheritance. It isn't an inheritance in the strict sense of the term as we use it, because that usually requires somebody to die. And God is certainly not going to die. He took care of that at the cross, and now He is alive forevermore. But it is an inheritance that is ours because of our privileged position in the family.
You remember the story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and asked, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 18:18). That was a contradiction of terms. Heirship is not a matter of works, not something we "do." It's a matter of relationship. That man was moral, respectable, clean living, and law-abiding. But he had no eternal inheritance to look forward to because he wasn't in the family. He needed to be born again by faith in the Lord Jesus. Then he could be assured of an eternal inheritance.
As Jesus said to Nicodemus one night, "...whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:15). Peter described it as "...an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you" (1 Peter 1:3). We will have a glorious new body, a glorious new home, and a glorious new existence in God's glorious heaven.
"Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ." We all know what joint heirs are. If you inherit your parents' estate, you're an heir. If you have brothers and sisters who share in that estate with you, then you are joint heirs. And we're joint heirs with Christ. All that belongs to Him by virtue of His eternal relationship with the Father, we will share. All the glory that He has enjoyed in the Father's presence from eternity past, we will participate in (refer to John 17:22). We are joint heirs with Christ. That delightful expectation ought to make us want to please Him.
There's one more consequence of our position that Paul wants to mention. This one isn't quite so exciting at first sight, but it will turn out to be in the end. It's suffering--"...if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together." It helps me to know that I'm in the family if I am willing to suffer for the sake of Christ when the occasion requires it.
Paul wants to talk about suffering in some detail in the verses that follow, which we'll cover in the next several messages ahead. This provides the transition into that subject. But suffice it to say here, there are times when our faithfulness to Christ will demand suffering.
We don't suffer like some Christians in other countries do. But some of you in the business world know what it means to lose a job, or to be passed over for a promotion, because you wouldn't do something unethical, immoral, or harmful to others. Some of you in the classroom know what it means to be ridiculed for speaking out in defense of Biblical truth, or to be put at a disadvantage because others are cheating and you will not.
But the good news is that suffering with Christ and for Him does not cast doubt on your heirship. On the contrary, it is further assurance of your future glory. If, indeed, we suffer, we will also be glorified together with Him. You're going to share His glory. That ought to make you want to please Him, to live like the person you are: a child of God, a son of God, a person with an honored position in the family of God, a joint heir with Jesus Christ. If you understand that, you'll want to please Him. Will you make that commitment today--the commitment to live in obedience to His Word, to live a life that pleases Him?
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
Maybe you're not sure that you're in the family. Some people have that confused. Some people think they're born into the family, and others are afraid they'll never get into the family. We're not born into it; it's something we become. "Children of God" is something we become. "As many as received Him," John wrote in John 1:12, "to them gave He the right to become"--something we were not prior to that--"children of God, even to those who believe on His name." Maybe you've never become a child of God because you've never acknowledged your sinfulness and your need of a Savior. You've never put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who died for you and paid the penalty of your sin. If you've never made that decision and become a child of God, we invite you to do that right now.
Let's bow our heads prayerfully in God's presence. With our heads bowed, may I ask you if you do know the Savior? Do you have the assurance that your sins are forgiven, that you're part of the family? Do you have the assurance that you will enter into your inheritance one day--your eternal home in heaven's glory? If you're not certain, you can be sure. The Bible holds out that assurance. You can know that you have eternal life. Will you put your faith in the Lord Jesus right now? I'd like to suggest that you settle it in prayer. Say something like this just in the quietness of your own soul right now:
"Lord, I'm a sinner. I acknowledge my sin as I acknowledge Your holiness. I don't deserve your forgiveness, but thank You for paying for my sins at Calvary. Lord Jesus, I'm putting my trust in You as my Savior. Come into my heart and save me from sin."
Will you settle that issue today? Jesus said, "Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone opens the door, I will come into him." Receive Him right now, will you?
There are some of you, I'm confident, who have made that decision and you know you have. But you have to admit, you haven't been living in a manner that pleases your Father in heaven. Would you be willing to make that commitment today. Just thank Him:
Lord, thank You for this reassurance of this position in Your family. Now help me to live like the person I am.
Father, I pray that You'll give believers the courage and the will to respond to You with total surrender, with a commitment to live in a manner that honors You and glorifies Your holy name. We ask it in the name and for the sake of the Lord Jesus, our Savior. Amen.
Continue to ROM 14: From Groaning to Glory (Part 1)