Paul has been describing two realms, or two domains: there’s the realm of the flesh and there’s the realm of the Spirit. These two realms are in opposition to one another; and every person is either in one or in the other. When we’re born, we’re in the realm of the flesh. And that’s the realm of the human only. It’s the ordinary, earthly existence into which we’re born and which, since Adam’s fall, is characterised by sin and corruption and death. And, of course, it’s the realm everyone remains in unless the Spirit of God comes into our lives and enables us to embrace Christ by faith so that we’re transferred out of the realm of the flesh and we’re brought into the realm of the Spirit.
Those who live according to the flesh, Paul says in verse 5, have their minds set on the things of the flesh. And in verse 6 he tells us that to set the mind on the flesh is death. But those who live according to the Spirit have their minds set on the things of the Spirit; and to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
The mind of the flesh is hostile to God and cannot submit to God’s law. And those who remain in the flesh cannot please God. That’s in verse 8. But those who are no longer in the flesh, but are now in the Spirit, know that one day, one day, God the Father will raise our bodies from the dead by his Spirit just as he once raised Jesus Christ our Saviour from the dead. That’s in verse 11.
And then in verses 12 and 13, we have the application, because Paul instructs us to put to death the sinful deeds of the body by his Spirit who lives in us. And that’s the way that leads to life.
In the following verses Paul goes on to say more about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And it begins with verse 14 where Paul makes clear who the sons of God are. Who are the sons of God? Well, they’re the ones who are led by the Spirit of God. And what does it mean to be led by the Spirit of God? Often Christians will read that and they assume Paul is talking about personal guidance. The sons of God, or the children of God, are the ones who look to the Holy Spirit for guidance every day:
What should I do today? Should I do this today? Or should I do that? I know, I’ll look to the Spirit to lead me.
But that’s not what Paul is talking about. When he refers to those who are led by the Spirit, he means those whose whole lives are governed by the Spirit, because we’re no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit. And the Holy Spirit, who is governing our lives, leads us to put to death the sinful deeds of the body and to fight against sin and temptation in all its forms. Without the influence of the Holy Spirit, we wouldn’t think of standing up to temptation and to the desires of the flesh. But, because our lives are governed by the Spirit, he teaches us to resist temptation and to do what pleases God.
So, who are the sons of God? They’re the ones who are led by the Spirit of God to fight with all our might against sin and to put to death the sinful deeds of the body.
Why does Paul say ‘sons’ and not ‘children’ or why doesn’t he say ‘sons and daughters’? Why doesn’t he say, ‘Those who are led by the Spirit are the sons and daughters of God’? Well, in Bible times — and in fact, until relatively recently — daughters could not receive an inheritance. The father’s inheritance was given to his sons, and not to his daughters. The daughter needed to get married in order to secure her future. And Paul wants to teach his readers that every believer, every believer will receive an inheritance from God. And so, bearing in mind the world he lived in at that time, Paul calls us ‘sons of God’ in order to convey to his readers the truth that every believer — men and women — possess the rights of sonship and will receive an inheritance from God.
So, who are the sons of God? They’re the ones who are led by the Spirit. And the Holy Spirit leads the sons of God to put to death the sinful deeds of our body.
To be a child of God is an enormous privilege. Do you remember how the Apostle John puts it?
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
God lavished his love upon us when he made us his children. Once we were enemies of God. Once we were children of wrath. But then God, who is rich in mercy, sent his Spirit into our lives to enable us to trust in Christ. And do you remember the benefits we receive whenever we believe? First of all, all who are united with Christ through faith receive justification so that our sins are pardoned and we’re now regarded as right with God. Well, that relates to our relationship to God as the Lawgiver and Judge. Though we have broken his law and deserve to be condemned by the Judge, we are now pardoned. But as well as receiving justification, all who are united with Christ through faith receive adoption so that we’re adopted into God’s family and receive from him all the rights and privileges of sonship. And that relates to our relationship to God as Father. Once we were enemies and children of wrath. Now we’ve become his children; and as his children we can count on him to protect us and to provide for us and to help us.
And what a difference it makes to our lives to know that God is our loving heavenly Father who cares for us. What a difference it makes to our lives to know that God is our loving heavenly Father and we can always look to him for every good thing we need to cope with all of this life’s troubles and trials. When we go through troubles and trials, instead of worrying that God is angry with me and is punishing me, we know that no, my times are in my Father’s hands; and he loves me; and he always knows what’s best for me; and he’s using this experience to train me, because he wants to help me to grow as a believer; and he’s preparing me for the glory to come. What a difference to know that God is no longer the judge who is going to condemn, but has become my loving heavenly Father who loves me and cares for me and will work all things together for my good.
Verses 15 and 16
Let’s remember that Paul is writing here about the work of the Spirit. The sons of God, the children of God are those who are led by the Spirit. How does Paul describe the Spirit? Well, he’s the Spirit of Sonship or the Spirit of Adoption. Look with me again at verse 15:
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear….
That is, you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave and produces a sense of fear before God.
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.
Whereas a slave might be afraid of his master, the son knows his father cares for him. And, according to Paul, the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Adoption, is the one who comes and persuades us that we’re God’s children. You see, it’s one thing to become God’s child through faith in the Saviour. It’s one thing to become God’s child; and it’s another thing to know it. And so, not only does God the Father send us the Spirit to enable us to trust in Christ so that we’re justified and adopted into his family, but he also sends his Spirit to make us aware that we’re his children; and the Spirit gives us the wonderful assurance that God is our Father; and he re-assures us of God’s love and faithfulness to us.
Now, he doesn’t do that by saying to us:
Colin, you’re a child of God.
He doesn’t speak to us directly like that. But as we read the Bible and all it says about God being the Father of believers, he’s working in us to persuade us that these things are true. And whenever we bow to pray, he’s the one who enables us to call God ‘our Father’ without those words sounding strange to our ears. You know, what it’s like. You meet someone you look up to and admire and you naturally, out of respect, call this person, ‘Mr So-and-So’ or ‘Mrs So-and-So’. But the person says to you that it’s okay,
you can call me by my Christian name.
But it doesn’t seem quite right. Calling them by their Christian name always seems strange to us. Well, the Spirit of Adoption, living inside us, makes it seem perfectly natural to call God ‘my Father’.
I’ve said before that the unbeliever who is under pressure and can’t cope anymore because of some crisis, might, just might, cry out in desperation:
God, help me.
But the believer will always cry out and say:
Father, help me.
And that takes us to the next thing Paul says about the Spirit of Adoption, because he’s the one who enables us to cry, ‘Abba Father’. And the cry here is really a cry of desperation. The same word for ‘cry’ was used by Mark to describe how Blind Bartimaeus cried out to the Lord for help. Do you remember? He heard the Lord was passing by. And so he cried out:
Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!
And so, in our trials and troubles, when we’re under pressure and cannot cope, the Spirit of Adoption enables us to look up to heaven, and to cry out to our heavenly Father for the help we need. Like the little boy who is in trouble, and he immediately, and naturally, cries out to Dad to come and help, so the believer, immediately, and naturally, cries out to our Heavenly Father to come and help.
And, of course, we do it naturally, naturally, because we’ve become God’s children and the Spirit of Adoption has borne witness with our spirit that we are his children. And that’s Paul point in verse 16. What does a witness do? He comes into court with his testimony to tell. And by his testimony he persuades the jury of the truth. Well, the Spirit comes and he works deep down inside us, in our spirit, and he persuades us of the truth that we have become God’s children through Christ’s redeeming work.
In the final verse today, Paul tells us of the consequences of becoming the children of God. Who are the children of God? They are all those who are led by the Spirit to put to death the sinful deeds of our body. And the Spirit of Adoption persuades us that we are indeed God’s children so that, in trials and troubles, we naturally cry out to our Father for help. And then — and this Paul’s point in verse 17 — those who are God’s children are heirs. Heirs of God. And co-heirs with Christ.
What do we inherit from God our Father? Well, remember the rich man who came and asked the Lord a question. He asked:
What must I do to inherit eternal life?
And then think of what the Lord teaches us in Matthew 25 about what he will say to the righteous on the day of judgment. To the righteous, he will say:
Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
So, what do we inherit from God our Father? We inherit eternal life in God’s heavenly kingdom of glory.
And why does Paul not only call us ‘heirs of God’, but also ‘co-heirs with Christ’? Because we only receive this inheritance by being united with Christ through faith. And all who are united with Christ through faith will be raised from the dead just as he was raised from the dead; and we will live with him for ever and ever in God’s heavenly kingdom of glory.
And so, that’s our great hope; and that’s the great end which we’re waiting for; and this is why God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world; and it’s why he sent his Son to live for us and to die for us before rising again; and this is why he sent his Spirit to unite us with Christ through faith. It’s so that we — who have become the children of God — can be with him in glory.
But look at what Paul also writes in verse 17. Not only does he refer to the great future hope of sharing in Christ’s glory, but he also mentions how we share in his sufferings. Well, for many believers that means suffering persecution. But for every believer, it means suffering here below while we wait for the glory to come. Our true citizenship is in heaven. We belong there with Christ. And we long to be with him in our heavenly home, in that place of perfect peace and rest, where there is no more sin or suffering. But we must wait for it. And while we wait for it, we must put up with the indwelling sin inside us which makes us feel as wretched as Paul was feeling at the end of chapter 7. And we must put up with all the sorrow and sadness of this troubled life. And we must put up with all the disappointments and the heartaches of this life. And the world despises us and when we preach the gospel, so many will not listen, but they think we’re fools. We must put up with all of this, because we belong to Christ.
But we know that just as Christ suffered and died before entering his glory, so we too who are united with him, will one day be raised from the dead and will come — in body and soul — into his presence. And when we come into his presence, we will be glorified with him.
Well, while we wait for that, and suffer all the trials of this troubled life, we have the Spirit of Adoption to comfort us and to re-assure us that God is our Father and we can count on him to answer when we cry out to him for help.