Right or wrong, who you are related to makes a big difference in the nature of life and how it is lived. If you are in politics and your name is Kennedy or Bush you will have an advantage over others. If you are related to the owner of a company you have an advantage at getting significant positions of leadership. If you are related to someone famous you will have “name recognition” which will open a host of doors for you in business, publishing, and other media pursuits.
Who you are related to is not only significant on these grand scales. Who you are related to may impact the friendships you have in school. Even in small communities, certain last names seem to draw some people to you while others make people reluctant to get close to you. People try not to let it happen in schools, but some children seem to have better opportunities in academics, sports, and leadership because of their last names.
In the passage we study today Paul wants us to know something about our heritage. As believers in Jesus Christ we are children of God. In verse 15 we are told, “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God”. The word the NIV translates “sons” is really a richer term that means “adopted as sons”.
In Roman culture adoption was an elaborate process where several things happened. First, the person adopted became part of a new family. His old relationship ended and he became a legitimate son in the new family. Second, as a member of this family, he became a full heir in the Father’s estate. Third, all his debts from the past were cancelled. He was seen as a new person.
The idea of adoption is a rich picture for believers. Through Christ we are made a part of the Father’s family; we are freed from our old sin nature; and the debt of our sinful past is erased. This is an incredible privilege and it has at least five practical implications.
IT MEANS WE LIVE BY THE SPIRIT OR HONOR THE LORD IN OUR LIVING
12 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
The first result of our relationship with God is a change in our behavior. We are told that we will not live according to the sinful nature because that is not what sons of God do.
Let me give you an illustration. As my children were growing up, they were very aware of one fact; they were the children of the Pastor. They understood that this position carried with it a certain responsibility. They made sure they looked appropriate and behaved appropriately in worship. They understood that their actions in the community would reflect on their church and our ministry. That realization influenced the decisions and choices they made.
In much the same way, the Apostle Paul wants us to understand that with our new position in Christ, there is a new responsibility to honor our Father in Heaven. We wear His name. What we do reflects on Him. If we truly love Him, we will honor Him in the way we live. Christians are held to a higher standard.
If we keep this in mind, it will give us the added strength we need to be obedient. When I don’t want to work, I remind myself that I have contracted with the church and with the Lord to do a certain job. This helps me to do what is right, rather than indulge in the laziness I desire. There are times when I want to stop writing because the process is too arduous. In those times I remind myself that I have set certain goals, made certain commitments, and built up certain expectations. This reminder helps me to push on.
In much the same way, when we face a sinful choice, it helps to remember that we belong to the Lord. We are children of the King. What we do, reflects on Him. When we face a moral or ethical choice it will help us to remember that our actions speak louder than our words.
Paul has told us that we should put to death the sinful nature. He also told us that this battle is difficult and we will often fall and fail. However, as learn to trust God’s Spirit that lives within us and live as sons of God, we will find victory. It is a tough battle, but because God’s Spirit lives in, us we don’t have to fight alone. Our job is to learn to draw upon His strength to a greater and greater degree.
IT MEANS WE ARE NO LONGER AFRAID
The second implication of our sonship is that we no longer need to be afraid.
15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.
In 2 Tim. 1:7 Paul writes, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” What is it about being a part of the family of God that enables us to live life less fearfully? Let me give you several reasons we don’t have to be afraid.
- If you were walking through a dark series of caves, it would be very unnerving. The threat of becoming lost forever would loom large. However, if you were walking through these caves with a person who had walked through these dark caves often, you would no longer fear (unless you were claustrophobic, like me). You would trust the one who had successfully navigated the caves and would be very careful not to wander off on your own. “In the same way, Jesus was in every sense tempted like we are, but is without sin.” (Heb 4:15). He has been through what we are going through and emerged victorious. Our Savior will guide us as well. We don’t have to fear.
- Our Father is the owner and ruler of the universe. There is no one who can ultimately hurt us. As Americans we often feel like because we are Americans, we will prevail against any oppressor. This doesn’t mean we won’t face hostility or pain. But when the United States puts it’s heart and soul into overcoming an enemy, we will prevail. In a similar way, as members of the household of God, we can have a similar confidence.
- The Spirit intercedes for us. Even when we are at a loss for words, at those times we feel all alone, God’s Spirit is in us and is in constant communication with the Father on our behalf.
- We have God’s promise. He has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. He has promised that He will supply our needs. He has promised that He will use every situation and circumstance in our lives for our ultimate (which is not the same as immediate) good. If I am selling something and a person gives me a certified check, I can receive it with confidence that there are sufficient funds to cover the check. In a sense, God’s promises are His way of certifying that we have nothing to fear in this life.
As sons of God, all of these things are true for us. We don’t need to fear, we must trust.
IT MEANS WE CAN RELATE TO GOD WITH INTIMACY
The third implication of our sonship is intimacy with God. The end of verse 15 tells us that “by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”” The “him” of the passage certainly refers to the Holy Spirit. By God’s Spirit within us we are able to relate to God with new intimacy. The word “abba” as you have surely heard many times, is the term for “daddy” or “papa”. These are terms of endearment and love that are used only by those who have a unique relationship with the person referenced.
We have a special and unique relationship with God. Like many of you, I may be deeply involved in some important work. However, if my daughter said, “Dad, I need you!” I would immediately drop what I was doing and I would be in the car headed to St. Ambrose. Why? Because she is my daughter and that relationship is unique and special.
When President Kennedy was in office, his children were young. Those children knew that they could wander into dad’s office, the same office that no one could enter without approval, any time they wanted. They played under his desk, sat in his chair, and crawled up on his lap. They did this because John Kennedy was not the President to them. He was their dad.
That’s the kind of relationship we have with God. It’s staggering to think about. We have access to Him at any time. We can call upon Him at all hours of the day or night. We have the confidence that He will ALWAYS take our call and respond to our requests.
THE HOLY SPIRIT WILL BRING YOU ASSURANCE OF SALVATION. (V.16)
The fourth benefit of sonship is an assurance of salvation. Paul says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (v.16)
There is a story about a boy flying a kite. The kite was so high that it had disappeared into the clouds. A man came by and asked, “Why are you holding on to that string.” The boy said, “I’ve got a kite up there.” The man looked up and said, “I don’t see it.” The boy replied, “Well, I know it’s there because I can feel the tug.”
This is what the Spirit of God does for us. We may not always see the evidence that we are a son of God but we will feel his tug in our hearts continually that reminds us that we belong to Him.
IT MEANS WE HAVE A RICH INHERITANCE
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.
We are going to leave the “sufferings” part of this verse until our next study. For today we want to notice that we are “heirs” of God and co-heirs with Christ. We have a rich inheritance ahead of us.
Dr. Boice lists several things that are part of our inheritance. He lists the “lesser items” first
- A heavenly home (Jn. 14:1-3). We are reminded that we are only passing through in this world. There is a place that is being prepared for us in Heaven.
- A heavenly banquet (Mt. 22:1-14). We will be invited to feast with God.
- Rule with Christ (2 Tim. 2:12) We don’t know whether this is some kind of earthly rule with Christ in some future age or some heavenly rule
- Likeness to Christ, we will be made like Jesus(1 John 3:1-2)
The greatest inheritance of the Children of God is God Himself. The phrase “heirs of God” can mean two things depending on whether God is the subject or the object. Let me give you an example of what I mean. If you heard that you were an heir of a car it could mean that some car had you listed in it’s will or it could mean that the car is your inheritance. In the same way we are either God’s heirs or God as our inheritance. I think the last meaning is the right one. Our richest inheritance is the fact that we will see God, enjoy God, and fellowship with God.
How would your life be different right now if you knew that you had a guaranteed inheritance of one million dollars waiting for you? You wouldn’t have to worry about how to pay your medical bills, taxes, college tuition for your kids. You could take that vacation you could never afford and you wouldn’t have to worry so much about having enough for retirement. You could live a little more fully in the present.
In like manner, the fact that we have an inheritance in Heaven should have a positive impact on how we live now. Though we struggle against the sin nature, we struggle with confidence and an assurance of victory. We don’t give up. We don’t get discouraged. Though things on earth do not go as we would like them to go, we are buoyed by the fact that we have an inheritance in Heaven. This one fact changes everything.
We should live with a new confidence.
We have a tendency to mistake what it means to be a Christian. We look at our Christianity as a label we wear. We see the term “Christian” as defining what we believe. Being a Christian is much more. A “Christian” is what we are. We are children of God!
The advertising slogan for the Marines is “the few, the proud, the Marines”. Those who are Marines wear the uniform with pride. They think of themselves as the best trained soldiers our country has. There is a confidence about them that is clearly evident. We would do well to adopt a similar attitude. Why should we live with heads hung down? We are God’s children! He is our “daddy”. Because of this fact we live with assurance and confidence. There is no reason for arrogance but every reason for confidence.
We should not be weighted down by the trials and concerns of this life. We know that we have an inheritance in Heaven. We know that God is on our side. We know that He is working for us and in us. This should give us an entirely new perspective on the trials of our lives. This doesn’t mean things will be easy or less painful. They will simply be less overwhelming.
During World War II, the Germans forced many twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys into the Junior Gestapo. These boys were treated very harshly and given inhumane jobs to perform. When the war ended, most had lost track of their families and wandered without food or shelter. As part of an aid program to post-war Germany, many of these youths were placed in tent cities. Here doctors and psychologists worked with the boys in an attempt to restore their mental and physical health. They found that many of the boys would awaken in the middle of the night, screaming in terror. One doctor had an idea for handling that fear. After feeding the boys a large meal, he put them to bed with a piece of bread in their hands, which they were told to save until morning. The boys then slept soundly because, after so many years of hunger, they finally had the assurance of food for the next day.
God has given us a rich inheritance, He has provided His sure promises, and has placed His Spirit in us as a “deposit that guarantees our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14). We can sleep soundly and live joyfully.
If You are Not Yet a Child of God it is time to respond to God’s invitation
It’s possible that you are here today and you wonder, “How does one become a part of the family of God? How can I be adopted into God’s family?”
In the Gospel of John we are told, “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12,13). According to the Bible the key to being a child of God is to “receive Him”.
To receive Christ we consciously renounce our efforts to save ourselves and choose to put all our confidence for salvation in the work of Christ on our behalf. And it means we agree to trust Him as he leads our lives on a daily basis even though at times we won’t understand.
If you have never made this kind of commitment, I encourage you to do so today. In simple words and with childlike faith say to God, “Lord, I turn from my rebellion and trust Christ alone for my salvation. Place your Spirit in me and help me to follow Him as I live my life from this day forward. Thank you for making me a child of God.” If you are willing to make this commitment, He will adopt you as part of His family and you will be able to live with the confidence that comes from being a child of God.