Romans 8:12-17 (Part Four)

Continuing in our series in Romans 8…

Yesterday (Romans 8:1-11) we looked at the great truth that there’s no condemnation for us who are in Christ, because we’ve been set free from the law of sin and death. Those of us who are in Christ are led by the Spirit, and are therefore oriented towards obedience to God. Those who are not in Christ are still governed by the desires of the flesh, and are therefore not obedient to God. The Spirit, then, is the means by which “self-mastery” can be attained, rather than by the Jewish law or any other human means. It’s a gift, not an achievement.

Today’s passage begins with an implied command that follows on from this truth: to live according to the Spirit, not the flesh. Our position in Christ carries with it an ethical, practical obligation:

8:12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.

The expected conclusion “but we have an obligation to live according to the Spirit” never comes, it’s just implied. Instead we get a reminder of the consequences of living by the flesh – it brings death. And it’s contrasted with the benefit of putting to death the deeds of the body – it brings life:

8:13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

Why is this the case? Verse 14 tells us:

8:14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

That is, if you are led by the Spirit of God it means that you have the status of sonship – and you will therefore inherit the Father’s estate, which is eternal life.

The metaphor here is one of adoption – we’re now part of God’s family, with the status of a legal heir. The use of the masculine term “sons” (rather than “children”) is cultural – reflecting our participation in Jesus’ sonship. It also builds on Israel’s description in the OT as “God’s son” (e.g. Exod 4:22; Deut 14:1; Hos 11:1) and therefore the ones who inherit his promises. Later in Romans, Paul describes Israel in such terms:

Rom 9:4 Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.

But now, believers in Jesus (of all backgrounds) are adopted into God’s family. This gives us assurance in the present, and an inheritance in the future.

The contrast in the next verse is between slavery and sonship:

8:15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba,  Father.”

This reminds us of Paul’s argument in Galatians, contrasting the children of the slave woman, Hagar, with the children of the free woman, Sarah:

Gal 4:6-7 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba  Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

In Galatians, Paul talks about their previous slavery to the pagan ‘elemental spirits’, and seems to be telling them that if they submit now to the Jewish law, it will be like being back in that kind of slavery all over again.

This seems to be going on in Romans, as well. The Spirit doesn’t make us slaves so that we’re back to living in fear – whether fear of pagan gods, or fear that we won’t meet the demands of the law of Moses. Instead, the Spirit brings the confidence of adoption.

What’s more, the fundamental demonstration of the sonship we have by the Spirit is that we can pray to God not as a frighteningly powerful ruler (although he is), but as our Father.

(Note: The claim made famous by the German scholar Jeremias – that Abba means ‘daddy’ – isn’t entirely accurate. Adult men and women, for example, still called their fathers Abba. But there’s still something very significant about the colloquial, familial nature of the word.)

Paul elaborates on this in the next verse:

8:16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Just like in the OT there should be multiple witnesses to a contract, so the Spirit backs up our testimony that we are adopted.

Paul then ties the promise of this future inheritance to the present reality of being united with Christ:

8:17a Now if we are sons, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…

If we’re God’s kids, then there’s an inheritance coming our way. So far so good. Except the verse doesn’t end there:

8:17b … if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Share in his sufferings? What’s going on here? I thought this was the good news chapter! What’s all this sharing in his sufferings bit? How is that related?

We’ll look at that tomorrow. For now, rejoice in the fact that you’ve been adopted into God’s family, and stand to inherit big-time!

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