In verses 10-11 of Romans 8 Paul made it clear that Christ gives life to believers. This is the key thought that has too often been lost in the debate over the role of the Holy Spirit. But Paul was not teaching Holy Spirit theology. Rather, Paul is talking relationally and positionally. Christ must be in us and us in him. For the Spirit to live in us means that this is not an occasional choice. God is the rule and he lives in us. Our status is in Christ and in the Spirit when we set our minds on the things of the Spirit. Those who are in Christ must live as those who are Christ’s. Paul is now going to bring out the implications of Christ giving life.
We Are Debtors (8:12-13)
We are debtors, but not to the flesh. We cannot live according to the flesh. Obviously we are debt to Christ who died on the cross for us. We are in debt to the Spirit who gives life to us when we were dead in our sins. So we cannot be under obligation to the flesh. We cannot enslave ourselves to the flesh and its desires. We cannot be under the control of the flesh. We are debtors, but not to the flesh. If we live according to the flesh, we will die. When we live in debt to the flesh, we are separated from God. We do not have life in the Spirit, but are dead in our sins. We cannot live with our eyes focused on the physical world. We cannot be focused on the concerns of this life. Our mind is to be set on the Spirit, focused on the things of God. Therefore, we must put to death the deeds of the flesh. That cannot be our life any longer. This summarizes much of what Paul has been teaching in the first half of Romans 8 as well as Romans 6.
Family of God (8:14-17)
Now Paul continues his message of assurance. Those who are led by the Spirit (a topic he has discussed in Romans 8:5-11) are "sons of God." God called Israel his son and called himself Israel’s father (Ex 4:22; Jer 3:19; 31:9; Hos 11:1). The first intended picture is that those who walk according to the Spirit by setting their minds on the Spirit are the people of God, true Israel. This is a point that Paul made earlier in this letter (Romans 2:28-29). Those who seek after God and give their allegiance to God are the sons of God, the true Israel. Not only this, but calling those who are led by the Spirit, "sons of God," shows they are part of God’s family. God is their father and we are his children. This thought drives sharply at what Paul has been discussing in Romans 8:9-11. Being in Christ and Christ being in us means that we are joined together in a close relationship. Being in the Spirit and the Spirit living in us means that God is in charge of our lives. The assurance we have is that we are God’s children. We have been admitted into the family of God. With this declared status of child or son of God, there are privileges that come from that position.
The parallel text is Galatians 4:6-7. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Romans 8:15 becomes fairly clear. You are not slaves to fall back into fear. Paul has talked about the problem of slavery in Romans. Paul has shown that we are slaves to sin (6:20) and slaves to the Law of Moses (7:6). We are not enslaved to these things that we should fall back into fear. Remember that we learned that the Law of Moses enslaved people because people did not keep the Law. The Law reveals sin but does not offer justification. People were under the scourge of sin because they did not obey the Law. The Law had no provisions for life so all were enslaved. But that is not the situation any longer. People are no longer enslaved to the Law of Moses. People are no longer slaves of sin. What we have received in Jesus is not the status of slaves. Rather, what we have received in Jesus is the status of sons.
But Paul uses something very picturesque to describe how we are children of God. Paul says he did not receive slavery, but we received adoption. Adoption signifies being granted the full rights and privileges of sonship in a family to which one does not belong by nature (Morris, 315). We have been admitted into the heavenly family, to which we have no rights of our own. Our natural state is slavery because of our own actions. But God has adopted us because of his own righteousness and his own actions.
To show how special this relationship is with God, Paul says, "We cry, ‘Abba! Father!’" What does this mean? Who is the only person to ever call God, "Father?" Who is the only person to say to God, "Abba, Father?" Jesus could say these intimate words depicting a close relationship, "Abba, Father." Jesus said these words in Mark 14:36. We not only have the status as sons, but the heart of sons. We are not slaves. We are sons and we have access to God to cry out to him, "Abba, Father." Paul is not teaching something mystical. He is teaching something relational. To have the status as sons, we have access to the Father so that we can cry out to him.
Paul extends our assurance further that the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God. How does the Spirit testify with our spirit? If Paul means that the Holy Spirit makes you feel good about yourself or gives you some sort of feeling to know that we are children, then this is not working very well for me. Is it working very well for you? If you are like me, I often feel pretty lousy about where I stand before God. There are many times when I do not feel like a child of God because of what I have done or how I am living or because of the mistakes I have made. I submit to you that the Spirit does not testify to our spirit through feelings because it is simply too subjective. Let’s find the answer in the context of what Paul has been teaching. When I set my mind on the things of the Spirit and Christ is living in me, then my spirit knows that I am a child of God, even though I do not live perfectly. Even though I come up short and do not feel good about myself because of my sins, I know that I am child of God because I am not enslaved to sin. God is ruling my life and he has provided a way for forgiveness that the Law of Moses could not offer.
Verse 17 adds to our assurance. If we are children of God, then we are heirs of God. This is a picture of an inheritance. We will receive the full reality of all that God has promised when Christ returns. We are going to receive the inheritance. Not only this, but we are fellow heirs with Christ. Paul is again revealing that we are joined with Christ. We have been adopted as children, been given the status of justified, and we are in a relationship with God as our father and Christ as our brother. The writer of Hebrews makes a similar point that Paul is making here.
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, (Hebrews 2:9–11; ESV)
What a privilege and what a blessing! But notice the conditional statement, "Provided we suffer with him." This glorification and blessings will only happen if we suffer with him. To share in the glory of Christ means sharing in the sufferings of Christ. To share in the inheritance with Christ means to suffer loss with Christ. The Christian life is not going to be easy when we live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. We suffer in order that we may also share in his glory. It is an interesting statement because Paul is not questioning if we will suffer. The point is that if we are Christians we will suffer. To be dead to sin will bring sacrifices and suffering. To present our members as instruments of righteousness will bring suffering.
Revealing Glory (8:18-25)
Verse 18 contains the good news. The present sufferings are minimal when compared to our future glorification. Actually, that is not what Paul said. Paul said that our suffering is not worthy comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. We like to compare our sufferings. We like to consider who is suffering more. We always have a way to "one-up" the other person. "You think your day was tough, look at my day." "You woke up at 5 AM, but I woke up a 4 AM." We also compare if our sacrifices were worth it. But consider the thought. The suffering at this present time is not even worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed. We really lose sight of this. It is the suffering that causes us to stop serving God and stop worshiping God. But we are not looking at the glory that is to be revealed.
Further, all creation is eagerly anticipating this revealing. We should not be thrown off that the creation is personified. Paul has personified sin for much of Romans. Paul personifies the creation to focus on the eagerness. Paul uses the personification of creation to say even it longs eagerly for this moment of glorification. The creation is longing eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. We should be eagerly anticipating this moment, though we must suffer with him. It does not look like we are "sons of God" as we experience suffering. It does not look like we will be glorified as we suffer with Christ. But the last day will publicly reveal our status.
Why does Paul bring in the creation as eagerly longing for the revealing of our glory? Paul reminds us that the creation was subjected to futility. This points back to Genesis 3 where the creation was cursed because of Adam’s sin. We observed this point back in Romans 5:14. Sin affected everything. Adam’s sin was not like the transgression of those who came after him. Adam’s transgression affected the world and changed the world. Everything is awaiting the glorious revealing. The point of focus is not on the creation, but that everything is longing for the revealing. The creation is used as a parallel to us. The creation is longing to be set free from bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of glory. If creation longs for this, we certainly must eagerly long for and anticipate this. That is how verse 23 brings this back around to us.
We ourselves groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. This is similar to Paul’s words to the Corinthians. "For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling" (2 Corinthians 5:2). Perhaps another way to look at this is the way Paul groaned earlier in Romans, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). In verse 5 Paul went on to say, "He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee" (2 Corinthians 5:5). In the same way, Paul is saying that we have the firstfruits of the Spirit. In 2 Corinthians 1:22 and Ephesians 1:13-14 we are told by Paul that the Spirit was given as guarantee or a down payment of the inheritance to come. The point is that we have been given a portion now as a down payment for the future glories to come. This includes many things that were given through the Spirit. The miraculous spiritual gifts were one piece of the firstfruits of the Spirit. The blessings of God that we have now in Christ (Ephesians 1) is a portion. The new covenant that we are under is part of the down payment of the Spirit. The kingdom that we are partakers in is another portion that we have now. The restored relationship with the Father through Christ was promised through the Spirit. This restored relationship we enjoy now. These are just a few things given as a down payment to prove the future glorification is to come.
So we groan for adoption. This is interesting because we already studied in verse 15 that we have received adoption now. However Paul says we are waiting for our adoption. What does Paul mean? In one sense we have already received our adoption because we have been brought into God’s family. In another sense, we are still waiting for our adoption because we do not enjoy all the privileges of sonship yet. We eagerly anticipate receiving the full rights as adopted children of God.
This brings us to verse 24. "For in this hope we were saved." We have something to look forward to. We have not been given everything now. Further, we have not seen all that this glorification will be. Hope that is seen is not hope. We are hoping for the things we do not see. This is yet another reason why we need to have our minds on the Spirit and not the flesh. We cannot be focused on worldly things because we will lose our hope in what we cannot see. Present sufferings will take us away from waiting eagerly for the future glorification. Paul tells us in verse 25 that we wait for it in endurance and patience.
- Debtors, but not the flesh. Put to death the deeds of the body. The flesh cannot be our master.
- Not slaves, but sons. A close relationship with God is available. We can cry out to God as our dear Father.
- Not only sons, but heirs of the promise and inheritance. But we will suffer as children of God.
- The present sufferings cannot compare with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Our suffering for Christ will be worth it.
- So we groan inwardly as we wait for this glory, our full rights as adopted children.