I remember one Christmas my dad and I decided to buy some kitchen knives for mom. Honestly, I don’t think we had any idea about the present status of our kitchen knives. Were we needing more? Were the others growing old or dull? We have no idea. But we’d watched a thirty-minute long infomercial that was really well done. And we were taken in. I think I was only about thirteen. That’s my excuse. Maybe my dad was just trying to appease me or reward my excitement in wanting something for someone else.
But the infomercial really was well done. The guy would spend like three minutes cutting an aluminum can, then saw at some marble for a few minutes, and then he’d slice a loaf of bread like he was cutting through hot butter. So, when they announced all the knives you’d get at what seemed like a really good price, he had me. I hadn’t said anything to dad, but I was pretty convinced. And then I heard those magical words. If you’ve ever watched an infomercial, you’ve heard them. He said, “And that’s not all.” Now, for that same affordable price he was going to double the amount of knives you get. And on top of that, after one more “And that’s not all” announcement, he was going to throw in a somewhat unrelated item that could help you peel oranges. It seemed amazing. Every time he said, “And that’s not all,” my thirteen-year-old heart would leap within me, saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me! It gets even better?”1
I think that’s how we’re supposed to feel when we get to Romans 8:14-17. If we’ve followed Paul’s argument, when we get to this text, I think our response should be, “You’ve got to be kidding me! It gets even better?” And the reason for that is because Paul begins to pile blessing upon blessing that is ours through our union with Jesus Christ by faith. Already he has told us that there’s no condemnation for us from God. Instead, we’re credited with Christ’s righteousness, have peace with God, and are the objects of his grace, which he joyfully lavishes upon us. But Paul didn’t stop there, reminding us as well that the Spirit of God himself has come to indwell us, empower us, and shape the desires of our hearts so that we’ll walk in his ways. And that’s worth thinking about—God the Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, indwells you. That desire you have for obedience and hatred for sin is God himself, indwelling you, and shaping you. Isn’t that amazing? So, when we get to our text this morning, it’s as if we’re already rejoicing and overwhelmed at the grace of God toward us as Paul says, “And that’s not all!” And then he goes on to unfold the glorious truth that you and I have been adopted by God as his own children and heirs.
And this is the main thing I want us to see from this text this morning—that you and I do not relate to God merely as an innocent man relates to a judge in the courtroom. The judge can slam the gavel on the bench, acquitting that man for life, declaring that he is not guilty, need not worry about legal punishment, etc. And it drastically affects how that man lives. He gets to live his life in freedom, free from fear of condemnation. That judge will not doubt become a person whom the innocent man thinks fondly of and is grateful for. He may, even from his seat mouth to the judge, “Thank you” as the ruling comes down. But to that judge, the man is just one more person he has ruled on in that day. If the two of them met on the street and the acquitted man were to yell, “Judge ________, thank you again. You brought me the greatest blessing I’ve ever known when declared me not-guilty,” the judge may well say, “Great. Now remind me of who you are again.”
Now, our relationship with God isn’t less than that. God is our judge who had declared us righteous, through union with Christ, so that we are credited with his righteousness and payment for our sin. And that is a drastic and amazing reality upon which all else stands. But our relationship with God is much, much more than that. He is our Father, and we are his very own loved children. This is precisely the first thing I want us to see in this text:
If you have the Spirit of God, you are God’s child.
This is where Paul begins. He writes in verse 14, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Now, before we think through this a bit, let’s deal with two questions we might have. The first is, “Why does Paul merely say ‘sons’ instead of ‘children’?” And what makes that question even more legitimate is that later in our text he does use the world “children.” In fact, he uses it twice—in verses 16-17. And I think there are two reasons. One of them likely has to do with the idea of inheritance. The reality is that if a man had multiple children, and all but one of them were daughters, then it would be his lone son who would be the heir. His daughters are his beloved children but they would not receive an inheritance from him as his heir.2
But, in this text, as you’ll see, Paul wants us to see that we are all heirs of God, and so he may well be utilizing “sons” as an all-encompassing term for sons and daughters, showing that we’re all not only children but heirs. The other reason may be simply because we are God’s children through being united with Christ by faith, so that what is true of him is true of us. In other words, it’s because we’re united with the Son that we are sons, so Paul may be utilizing this term for the additional reason of subtly reminding us of this glorious truth that we’re united with the true Son.
The other question we might have is, “What does Paul mean by ‘led by the Spirit’?” And I think the answer is supplied for us in all the descriptions of believers from 8:5-11 that we looked at last week. In other words, to be led by the Spirit is to have the orientation of our lives toward the things of the Spirit (v. 5), to pursue those things which lead to life and peace instead of sin and death (v. 6), to submit to God’s commands and desire to honor him (v. 7), and be indwelt by the Spirit (which is true of all believers (v. 9)). That is, Paul is not simply talking about seeking the Spirit’s guidance about life decisions we make but about being indwelt by, having our desires shaped by, and yielding to the Spirit’s desire to love God and neighbor and live that out. That’s what the Christian life looks like. And Paul wants us to know that Christians—people who profess faith and whose lives are characterized by that description—are children of God.
And this is huge. Our relationship with God isn’t simply one where he is our judge, Lord, and king. He is our Father, and we are his children. All who are led by the Spirit are sons of God. But I realize that for some of you who perhaps have grown up in difficult circumstances or in situations where mention of a father doesn’t signify something good, whole, and right. I also want to confess what you should already guess, namely, that I’m no perfect father. I’m often selfish and do not father my children as well as I wish I did. But I want to give you a picture that I think the Lord wants us to understand, and I’ll take this picture from a weak, often selfish, sometimes preoccupied dad—me!
My mornings are pretty routine. I get up, make coffee, go sit in my favorite chair in our living room that we bought for $20 about a decade ago now, and pray and meditate on the Scripture. And on one of these mornings, a few weeks back, I was specifically thinking about how I was loved by the Lord. I thought chiefly about the cross, remembering (as Paul did) that Christ loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20). And then, right in the middle of thinking and praying about these things, up to my right appeared two little feet where the stairs are visible from the living room, and down came one of my two youngest sons. I honestly don’t remember which one, and it doesn’t matter because my reaction would be the same for either of them (or for any of my four children). As soon as he came into view my involuntary reaction was to think and actually say out loud (to myself), “Man, I love that boy.”
Now, there’s a good chance I had to tell him more times than I wished to brush his teeth or stay in bed or stop asking questions just a few hours earlier, as it was bedtime. But none of that affects my love for him. I can’t stop loving him. He’s my son. And Jesus wants us to have that kind of thinking when we hear these words—“For all who are led by the Spirit are sons of God.” The reason I know that Jesus wants us to have that kind of image is because he brings it up in a lesson about the goodness of our God. In Matthew 7 Jesus points out that earthly fathers know how to give good gifts to their children. And then he adds in 7:11, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
In other words, when Jesus mentions to us the reality that God is our Father, he wants us to think about earthy fathers (who are evil like me), loving and caring for their children, so that we can realize that God loves us and cares for us much more than that. Therefore, the Lord would have you this morning think about that image of me in my living room, seeing my son coming down the stairs, with delight and joy and love leaping up within my heart as I say, “Man, I love that boy,” and then realize that that image pales in comparison to how much the Lord loves you and delights in you as his child. Jesus actually says in John 17:23 that the Father loves us even as the Father loves him. That’s astounding. And now, if I can borrow a phrase from every single infomercial that’s ever been produced—and that’s not all!
Our Father wants us to know in the depths of our hearts that we are his children.
Paul adds in verses 15-16, “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!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Paul is saying, “Listen. I know there was a time before faith in Christ when you were captive to the law of sin and death and the condemnation of God was constantly bearing down on you, with the law condemning you because of your sin. That was a time when your relationship with God could be characterized justly as one of fear. You should have rightly had dread of divine judgment. But your Father didn’t send his Spirit to indwell you in order for you to fall back into that kind of relationship toward God.” That’s what Paul is saying, “You did not receive the Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear” (v. 15). But he doesn’t stop there. He notes what we did receive. We’re received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”
These last six weeks have always been a time of celebration in the Tankersley family. Of course there’s Thanksgiving. But fifteen years ago in early November, Michael came into our family. Eleven years ago in early December Luke came into our family. So, with birthday celebrations and the holidays, we’ve had a pretty good run of “get togethers” and parties around this time of year. Marie was wise enough not to be born until February so that she could get a little focused attention on her birthday, seeing that November and December are so busy. But, seven years ago we added to our November and December busyness. On November 23, 2010, Lili and I stood in a court room with tears streaming down our faces as a Russian judge read, “His name will be Nicholas Daniel Tankersley.” We legally had adopted our son. We saw him one more time that week before being told we’d need to leave the country before coming back to get him in a few weeks. And though he had no understanding of my words, I remember telling him, “I will not leave you as an orphan. I will come and get you.” Then, on December 12, we had what we celebrate in the Tankersley home as “Gotcha day,” when we brought him home (and which is a picture of the day we (as believers) pray for when we say, “Lord, come quickly”).
And that glorious picture of adoption isn’t man’s idea. It’s God’s idea. It’s what he did for us. He adopted us as sons. But there was another day that I have no date for. But it was a day that I’d prayed for many, many times before we ever got our son. He got hurt or scared or something and instinctively cried out, “Daddy!” for me to come and care for him. The crazy thing is that as much as I prayed for that day, it probably happened about fifty times over a hundred days before I’d realized something glorious had happened. What I’d prayed for was that the legal reality of adoption that made my youngest to be my son would become something much more than that for him, something he knew in the core of his being—that he had a dad who loved him, delighted in him, would be there for him, and was the one he could cry out to if he needed one to run to him.
That’s what God did for us. He sent his Spirit to indwell us, bearing witness in the very core of our being that God is our Father (“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”). But it doesn’t seem that Paul suggests here that the Spirit bears witness by some voice within us telling us that we’re God’s child as much as moving us within our being to cry out to him, “Abba! Father!” In other words, the fact that you as a believer have this desire to cry out to God, know that your life is empty without him, long to know him more, delight in him more, and love him more, is the work of the Spirit of God within you. He didn’t want our relationship with him merely to be that of intellectually comprehending and acknowledging that we’re his children (though it’s not less than that). He wanted us to feel in our hearts that we have a Father we can cry out to who loves us and cares for us. That’s one key reason why he sent his Spirit into our hearts. So that we would feel and desire and ache to cry out to him as our Father. He is our Father, and he wants us to know in the depths of our hearts that we are his children. And that’s not all!
Since we are children of God, we’re also heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.
Paul states this explicitly in the first half of verse 17, writing, “And if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” Paul wants us to see that we’re no second class children with God. It’s not as if we’re children that he takes in and cares for, but we’re not truly children who would get the promised inheritance. No, we’re actually heirs.
One of the ways that the Father demonstrates his love for his Son is by promising Jesus, as the God-man, the inheritance of the whole world. We read, for example, in Psalm 2:7-8 (a text linked to Jesus in the NT), “The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.’” And Paul is saying that we’re heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, meaning nothing less than that we’re heirs of the world.
And this has huge implications for us. It means that we can be free from yearning before and coveting so many lesser, temporary things. Imagine for a second, someone who is set to inherit billions of dollars being gripped with covetousness because his friend has a nicer vehicle. Wouldn’t that seem odd? He need just stop and realize that one day he’ll have enough to buy that car hundreds of times. This is the same point Paul made to the Corinthians. When they were trying to exalt themselves by identifying themselves as followers of certain people, Paul reminded them that they didn’t have to do that to elevate themselves. Instead, they simply needed to realize what they had in Christ. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:21-23, “For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” And that’s true of all of us because as children of God, we are also heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.
But our union with Christ doesn’t simply mean that we are heirs with him, it also means that:
Being united with Christ, we’ll one day (after suffering) be glorified as he already is.
Paul ends our text saying, “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” (v. 17). Let me start at the end. After being crucified on that Friday, Jesus rose from the dead that Easter Sunday morning with a glorified body. The body he had on that Friday was perishable, subject to decay, able to ache and hurt, etc. But the body he had on that Easter Sunday morning was glorious, imperishable, incorruptible, and immortal. And that’s our future as well. Being united with the Son means that we get to be sons, heirs, and one day have glorified bodies to enjoy this redeemed world that is our inheritance. That is certain.
But we also are reminded that the road that we travel until that day can be treacherous. As sons and heirs of God, awaiting our future glory, we’re going to be subject to cancer and cardiac arrest, slander and gossip, persecution and death, even at the hands of Christ’s enemies. You see, we are already God’s sons, but sin and death have not yet been eradicated. This age is not yet eclipsed by the age to come.
But one day it will be. One day it will be manifest to all of God’s enemies who wish to slander us and harm us that we are his sons. One day the world will be ours, as we reign alongside of our Lord Jesus Christ. One day even our bodies will be glorified. And you know what this frees us to do? It frees us to exercise radical obedience to God.
It means that we give generously to the work of the Lord without any fear because we are heirs of God. It means that we can stand for truth with men attacking us on every side because our Father delights in us as his children. It means we can even go into places with the gospel that may cost us our lives because we’ll be raised and glorified. It means that we can make decisions and choices in obedience to Christ in this life that will welcome great hardship and be okay with it because, well, because of everything that we’ve seen this morning. I mean, if you’re a child of God, heir to his promises, and guaranteed an immortal resurrected body, what in the world could keep you from spending your life in this age in radical obedience to the one who lived, died, and was raised for us?
I mentioned last week that I wanted us to remember that we are free from condemnation and indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit, renewing our minds to these truths until they gripped our hearts and shaped our lives. This morning, we can see that there is even more. We can also add that we are God’s children, set to inherit eternal blessings, in our glorified bodies. Let us renew our minds to that truth to the point that we’re willing to say to our Lord, “Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow you.” May that be our response even as we come to the table this morning. Amen.
1) As a sad side note, I actually reduced the life of those knives greatly after we received them in the mail, trying to cut through aluminum cans, bricks, and anything else that I thought one should never use a regular knife on. But how could I resist? I had these super knives and had seen what they could do in that infomercial.
2) Numbers 27:1-11 is an exception to this that proves the rule. The daughters of Zelophehad realize that their father has no heir because he has no son. Thus, they ask Moses to allow them to receive the inheritance, and he agrees. They approach Moses, saying, “Our father died in the wilderness. . . . And he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son? Give to us a possession among our father’s brothers” (vv. 3-4). And the Lord told Moses, “The daughters of Zelophehad are right. You shall give them possession of an inheritance among their father’s brothers and transfer the inheritance of their father to them” (v. 7), and amended the law, saying, “If a man dies and has no son, then you shall transfer his inheritance to his daughter” (v. 8). What this shows is that if a man does have a son, then the son alone (i.e. not the man’s daughters) are his heirs.