The Spirit-Led Are the Sons of God

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. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

As we move from verse 13 to verses 14-17, there is a new theme that becomes dominant, and it is one of the most precious themes in the Bible. The theme is our sonship – that Christians are children of God. Nowhere in the book of Romans up till now have we been called sons or children of God. But now the words come thick and heavy and full of freedom and joy and love and hope.

Verse 14: "All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." Verse 15: "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" Verse 16: "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God." Verse 17: "If children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ . . ."

So a theme that had not turned up anywhere before in Romans is now mentioned in every verse of this unit. It's clearly the new focus, and it's something that we need to see and savor as part of our glorious salvation. What Paul is doing here is telling us Christians about ourselves and who we are and who God is in relation to us. And he is telling us how we can know this about ourselves and what it implies about our experience.

So let's simply take this unit one verse at a time and see what Paul has to teach us about the Holy Spirit and our adoption as children of God. We will take three verses and save verse 17, with its emphasis on our inheritance as heirs, for next week as a kind of transition to the next paragraph.

"Killing Sin by the Spirit" Explained by "Being Led by the Spirit"

First then, verse 14. It is given by Paul as the ground or the basis of verse 13. We spent three weeks on verse 13, "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." Kill sin or it will be killing you. And we put a lot of emphasis on the words "by the Spirit." "If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live." And you may remember I said at one point "by the Spirit" does not mean that the Spirit is a tool or a weapon that we wield. The Spirit is Person. We are in his hands, not he in ours! So killing sin "by the Spirit" means having a mindset through which the Holy Spirit works to free us from the power of sin. And that mindset is the mindset of faith in the blood-bought promises of God.

Now to confirm that we were on the right track when we said, the Spirit is not an instrument in our hands but we are an instrument in his hands, consider what Paul says in verse 14. He says, "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." The "for" means that he is giving the basis and explanation for verse 13. So "put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit" in verse 13 is explained by "led by the Spirit" in verse 14, and "you will live" in verse 13 is explained by "you are the sons of God" in verse 14. Ponder those two pairs with me for a moment.

"If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (14) Because all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." Paul restates "putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit" with the words, "you are led by the Spirit." So here is our confirmation that we were on the right track last week: Doing something "by the Spirit" means being "led" to do it by the Spirit. He is not an instrument in our hands. We are an instrument in his hands. We are not leading him. He is leading us. He is not a mere responder to us. We are being moved and led by him.

So then what is it to be led by the Spirit in verse 14 in view of its relation to verse 13? It is to be moved by the Spirit to kill sin by trusting in the superior worth of our Father's love. When you fight sin by trusting in Christ as superior to what sin offers, you are being led by the Spirit. Don't take this verse out of its context and make it mean mainly, "If I am led to the right college I am a child of God." Or: "If I am led to the right spouse, I am a child of God." Or: "If I am led to the right job, I am a child of God."

There is a sense in which the children of God will lean on the Spirit for guidance in all those areas. But that is not the focus of this text. This text says, Kill sin by the Spirit, because "all who are [THUS] led by the Spirit are the sons of God." In other words, the evidence that we are the children of God is that the Holy Spirit confirms his presence by leading us into war with our sin. The children of God hate sin. The children of God have the values and priorities and preferences and tastes of their Father. They are chips off the old block, as it were.

And the reason they share these traits of God their Father is because they have his Spirit who leads them this way. He gives them the new tastes and new preferences and the new values and the new pleasures and the new sadness. And so the evidence of our sonship is: Do we fight sin in our lives, or do we feel blasé about sin in our lives?

The Promise of Life Is Rooted in Our Being Sons of God

Now notice the way the other pair of ideas in verses 13 and 14 relate. The first pair is "killing sin by the Spirit" explained by "being led by the Spirit." The second pair is "you will live" in verse 13 and "you are sons of God" in verse 14. "If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (14) For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." What this shows is that the promise of life is rooted in our being sons of God.

You know that you have eternal life because you put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit. That's verse 13. And you put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit because you are led by the Spirit. That's the commandment between verses 13 and 14. And being led by the Spirit shows that you are a child of God. That's verse 14. And so it is your status as a child of God that guarantees your eternal life. That's the point of verse 17: "If children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ." Heirs of what? Everlasting life and all the glory it contains.

So what verse 14 does is explain killing sin by the Spirit in terms of being led by the Spirit, and it explains "you will live" in terms being sons of God. And then it makes being led by the Spirit the evidence and demonstration that we are the sons of God. Which means that killing sin by the Spirit is the evidence of our sonship and therefore the path to everlasting life.

And Paul means for you to enjoy this. He is telling us these things for our joy and our triumph over the adversities and fears of life. This becomes really plain in verse 15.

How Does the Spirit of God Relate to Our Sonship?

Verse 15 comes in now to explain more fully how the Spirit of God relates to our sonship. He says, (v. 14) "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (15) For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'" He is answering the question: Why does the leading of the Spirit prove that you are a son of God? And he is answering the question: How does the Spirit lead?

The reason the leading of the Spirit proves we are children of God is that it is "the Spirit of adoption." It is the Spirit given to us to confirm a legal transaction carried out by the Father, namely, adoption. Listen to what F. F. Bruce says about this term "adoption as sons" in the Roman world of Paul's day:

In the Roman world of the first century ad an adopted son was a son deliberately chosen by his adoptive father to perpetuate his name and inherit his estate; he was no whit inferior in status to a son born in the ordinary course of nature, and might well enjoy the father's affection more fully and reproduce the father's character more worthily." (Quoted in John Stott, Romans, InterVarsity Press, 1994, p. 232)

There are dozens of children and young people and adults in this church who have been legally adopted. You are all loved by your parents with a deep, true, unshakable love just as much or more than if you had been born into your family. And that is the way it is with God. This reality of adoption is a massive, firm, legal reality. And it is a deep, strong, full-hearted emotional reality.

When the Holy Spirit is called in verse 15 the "Spirit of adoption" the meaning is the Spirit confirms and makes real to you this great legal transaction of adoption. If you have trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior and Treasure, then you are adopted. John 1:12, "To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God." If you receive Christ, you are adopted.

The Spirit Leads by Stirring Up Family Affection

Now to seal this and confirm it and make it experientially real to you, God sends the Spirit into our hearts. Here is the way Paul says it in Galatians 4:5-6, "[Christ] redeemed those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" The Spirit is poured out into our hearts to confirm and make real our adoption.

How does he do that according to verse 15? He does it by replacing the fear of a slave toward a master with the love of a son toward a father. "You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" He is contrasting the fear of a slave with the affection of a son. The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to change our slavish fears toward God into confident, happy, peaceful affection for God as our father.

Now relate that to the leading of the Spirit in verse 14. This is the other question I said Paul is answering in verse 15: How does the Spirit lead? "All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." How does he lead? How does he move us and enable us to put to death the deeds of the body – to kill sin? Answer: "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons." The Spirit does not lead by stirring up slavish fear. He leads by stirring up family affection. He does not get you to kill sin by making you a slave who acts out of fear. But by making you a son who acts out of faith and affection.

You can get a lot of external compliance with enslavement and fear. A Vietnamese man just told me last night that this was so. We asked if the people in Vietnam liked Communism. He said no, but then added, "They have the guns." So if you have the guns you can enslave and create enough fear so that there is a lot of external compliance. But that is not what the Holy Spirit does to get us to kill sin.

How then does he shape our wills and lead us to put to death the deeds of the body? He does it by making real to us the truth of our adoption and the value of our Father in heaven. How does he do that? He does it by working in two directions: one by bringing God's fatherly love to us, and the other by bringing our childlike affections for God.

The Spirit Leads by Bringing God's Father Love to Us

We have already seen the first work of the Spirit in Romans 5:5. Recall how Paul said, "Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." This is a real, present experience, not just an idea or a future promise. It is something that happens in Christians: the love of God – that is, God's love for his children – is poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit of adoption making real to us the love of our Father. Applying it to us so that we know we are loved. It is an experience of divine love. That's the first direction the Spirit works to make the truth of our acceptance and the value of our Father real to us. He pours out the love of the Father into our lives.

The Spirit Leads by Awakening Our Childlike Affections for God

The second direction that the Spirit works to lead us is by awakening our own childlike affections for our Father. This is what the last part of verse 15 and verse 16 are referring to. "You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!' (16) The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God."

The Spirit brings about a response in our hearts to the love of God that cries out, "Abba! Father!" The witness of the Holy Spirit that you are a child of God is not a testimony to a neutral heart with no affection for God's fatherly love so that your neutral heart can draw the logical conclusion that it is a child of God and then try to muster up some appropriate affections. That is not the picture. No. The witness of the Holy Spirit that you are a child of God is the creation in you of affections for God. The testimony of the Holy Spirit IS the cry, "Abba! Father!"

And the reason Paul uses the word "cry" and the Aramaic word "Abba" is because both of them point to deep, affectionate, personal, authentic experience of God's fatherly love. He didn't say that the testimony of the Spirit was that we affirm doctrinally that God is father. The devil knows that doctrine. Doctrinal affirmations, as important as they are, don't make children. What he said was that the testimony of the Spirit that we are God's children is that from our hearts there rises an irrepressible cry – a cry, not a mere statement, a cry: "Abba! Father!"

We don't infer logically the fatherhood of God from the testimony of the Spirit. We enjoy emotionally the Fatherhood of God by the testimony of the Spirit. The testimony of the Spirit is not a premise from which we deduce that we are children of God; it is a power by which we delight in being the children of God.

Don't Wait for a Whisper – Look to Jesus!

If you want to know that you are a child of God, you don't put your ear to the Holy Spirit and wait for a whisper; put your ear to the gospel and your eye to the cross of Christ and you pray that the Holy Spirit would enable you to see it and savor it for what it really is. Romans 5:8, "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

The testimony of the Spirit is that when we look at cross we cry, "Jesus, you are my Lord!" (1 Corinthians 12:3), and "God, you are my Father!" So look to Christ! Look to Christ!

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in its entirety or in unaltered excerpts, as long as you do not charge a fee. For Internet posting, please use only unaltered excerpts (not the content in its entirety) and provide a hyperlink to this page. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org