The Spirit of Adoption

A brief study of Romans 8:14-17

Romans chapter 8 has been referred to as “the inner sanctuary within the cathedral of Christian faith” because it shows us some of the singular blessings only Christians have been given.  Things like freedom from the guilt of sin and from the condemnation of God, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, adoption into the family of God, predestination to glory, a living hope because of God’s love, and a promise to bring good to us regardless of the circumstances of life.

This chapter has the honor stating a glorious truth in a negative way.  In the Greek, Romans 8 begins with the word “No.”

No possible condemnation is there, therefore, for those who are in Christ Jesus.

1.  Context

Before looking at verses 14 to 17, it is necessary to see how they fit into the overall scheme of Romans 8.  It is unfortunate that there is a break between chapters 8 and 7 because the first four verses of chapter 8 really belong to the thoughts Paul expressed in the closing verses of chapter 7.  With a sense of gratitude and relief Paul exclaims,

Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!  (Romans 7:25)

Faced with the reality that he is a sinner, and feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of those sins, Paul wondered who could possibly save him from their vile and destructive influence.  He knew that only Jesus Christ could do that. Paul knew that no matter how hard he tried to live in the light, part of him was always being drawn the dark.  This is, unfortunately, something every  believer faces because it is part of the human condition.  It is part of living in a sinful and a sin-cursed world.  But Paul knew something else that gave him hope:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  (8:1a)

There is no better verse for a believer to know when they “feel” condemned because they have given into some temptation and stumbled in their faith.  In those times when we fall far short of the life God wants for us, when we come face to face our complete unworthiness, and distressed by our continual lapses of faith and frequent failures, it is good to know that God sees us, not as we are, but rather He sees us “in Christ Jesus.”  God cannot condemn a single believer any more than He could condemn His own Son.   Our salvation and our position before God has nothing to do with what we feel but everything to do with what God says.  God sees us in Christ, beyond condemnation.   This profound truth is what moved A.P. Cecil to write these words:

Oh, the peace forever flowing
From God’s tho’ts of His own Son!
Oh, the peace of simply knowing
On the cross that all was done!

Peace with God! the blood in heaven
Speaks of pardon now to me:
Peace with God! the Lord is risen!
Righteousness now counts me free.

Peace with God is Christ in glory;
God is just and God is love;
Jesus died to tell the story,
Foes to bring to God above.

Now, free access to the Father,
Thro’ the Christ of God, we have;
By the Spirit here abiding,
Promise of the Father’s love.

Jesus, Saviour, we adore Thee!
Christ of God, Anointed Son!
We confess Thee, Lord of glory,
Fruits of vict’ry Thou hast won!

There is no condemnation and therefore no judgment of believers, and so we not only have a new hope, but a new life in Christ.  This new life is made possible by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in every believer.   How significant is the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer?  Paul uses the word pneuma, “Spirit” or “spirit,” 21 times in Romans 8 alone, and all but two times are in reference to the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who brings the blessings of God into the life the believer.  It is the Holy Spirit who imparts to every believer God’s life.  It is the Holy Spirit that gives believers the power to resist the urges to sin.

So, in this first section of Romans 8, verses 1-13, Paul stresses that the believer’s new life in Christ is made possible by the work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, and tells of the obligation believers have to living according to God’s law.

2.  A new relationship

If the first 13 verses deal with the believer’s new life in Christ, then verses 14-17 are about the believer’s new relationship to God.  In a stunning declaration, Paul indicates that God has made us His sons (or children) through the work His Spirit.  This makes calling God our “Father” possible.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba,  Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now 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.

Verse 14 is actually a continuation of verse 13, and therefore a continuation of Paul’s main point:  Christians are under no condemnation because they are in Christ Jesus.  The recognition that we are God’s children is another reason for our hope and of our assurance that we have been set free from the guilt of our sins.

A unique relationship, verse 14

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.

The only human beings who have the right call God their “Father” are Christians.  God has given us the authority and power, the right and permission to become His children (Barnhouse).  The unsaved cannot have this relationship with God; they are not His children and He is not their Father.

The Bible teaches that there are two families and two fathers in this world.  All human beings are born into the sinful family of Adam, but we who have responded to the call of God, have been declared to be children of God through the work of the Holy Spirit.

  • We have been made partakers of the divine nature, 1 Peter 1:4;
  • We, who had been dead in our trespasses and sins, have been made alive, Ephesians 2:1;
  • We, who were once children of the darkness have become children of the light, Ephesians 5:8;
  • We, who were once children of wrath are now the objects of God’s love and affection.

Not salvation but adoption, verse 15

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Verse 15 brings the concept of adoption to the fore.  Adoption must be distinguished from the new birth.  Even though when we come to Christ, acknowledge our sins, ask for forgiveness, and claim Christ as our Lord and Savior, we still struggle with our sinful condition.  This was a struggle Paul knew all too well:

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.  (Romans 6:6)

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.  (Romans 7:15, 19-20)

We struggle with this, just like Paul, and fear is produced in that struggle; fear that we may lose our salvation, fear that we may anger God once too often.  Human beings, saved or not, are fearful by nature.  This is why Paul wrote that the Holy Spirit we all received at conversion does not produce this fear in us, in fact, His presence in our lives produces something very different:  He makes us children of God.  Not only are Christians saved from their sins, but we are adopted into God’s family.

This concept of adoption (buiothesia, “sonship”) is vitally important to understand in order to appreciate what Paul is saying.  In fact, Paul is referring to Roman law, the Roman law of adoption, the moment when a Roman father acknowledged a child as his son and heir, legally in the forum.  This ceremony was called “the adoption.”  He may have had many children, but only those “adopted” legally and in public were recognized as sons, with all legal rights.

We, who have been born again by the Word of God, are all God’s children, but as we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we become adopted as sons.  In the truest sense, our adoption is not yet complete.  It will be completely manifested, consummated, and publicly declared when we are changed “in the twinkling of an eye” and become like Jesus.

This present reality and future hope should compel all believers to cry “Abba, Father!”   In recent years, some have taught that “Abba” means “Daddy.”  Personally, I find this offensive, and to stop at that teaching is to miss the real power of this phrase.  The phrase, “Abba, Father” is made up of  two words from two different languages, one Hebrew and the other Greek.  This is highly suggestive.  For those who are in Christ, whether Hebrew or Greek, all differences disappear for all are one in Him, for all belong to the same family and all have the same Father!

A continual process, verse 16

The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

God Himself, aware of our weaknesses as frail human beings, emboldens our faith by continually communicating this great truth of our adoption to our spirits.  His Word testifies to us, and His Spirit testifies in us! Why is this so important?  The experience of salvation and the experience of adoption move us to express our love to God and we cry “Abba, Father.”  But a spiritual experience; a feeling, is not enough.  Every kind of experience can be counterfeited and feelings are so untrustworthy.   It is dangerous and foolish to build a theology based on emotion only.  Our beliefs must be built upon a correct understanding of the Word of God.  This is what Paul is talking about here.  Some teach that Paul is referring to a kind of mystical one-to-one communion between the spirit of man and the Spirit of God.  Consider what the writer to the Hebrews wrote:

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says….  (Hebrews 10:15)

Subsequently, the writer quotes verses from the Old Testament.  In other words, the Holy Spirit says what is in the Word.  This is no “inner voice,” no “divine voice” experience, no ecstatic mysticism that feels rather than thinks, that Paul is describing here.  The Spirit communicates to our spirits as we prayerfully approach the Word of God, which is:

living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12)

The certain fact of our reception as sons of God must be objectively based on the written Word of God, and then, subjectively, on the fact of the Holy Spirit’s joint witness with our spirit. (Barnhouse)

Heirs of God, verse 17

Now 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.

The allusion to Roman law is resumed here, implicit this time.  The adopted child was legally entitled to all the benefits of the natural child, including being the heir of his new father.  And yet, even though this was enshrined in Roman law, an adopted child was still an adopted child, inside.  No matter how much mutual love there may be between the father and his adopted child, that child will always be adopted.  And so Paul reminds his readers and us that believers must await the consummation–the ultimate realization–of their new status as sons of God.  There will come a day when we will enter into our inheritance, preceded by Jesus, the  natural born Son, who has gone on ahead of us.

We inherit not only the glories of heaven, as Christ did, but we may expect to inherit the same kind of treatment that Jesus received at the hands of sinful man.  Our lives may include trials, but this is part of being “in Christ” and it is proof that we have been joined to Him.  But we are to face life as Christ did.  We are to endure hardships as good soldiers (2 Timothy 2:3); we are to endure discipline as good children (Hebrews 12:7); and we are to endure the persecution of sinful man as Christ did (Hebrews 12:2-3).

(c)  2009 WitzEnd
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