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Children of God

Series: Romans

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jul 1, 2001

Romans 8:12-17

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Children of God
Romans 8:12-17

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Romans, chapter 8. We've said that Romans, chapters 6 through 8 speak of the issue of how grace reigns in righteousness, and that Romans, chapter 8 in particular, discusses the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. And in our first two studies, we've been able to look at some of the specifics of Romans 8. In verses 1 through 4 for instance, we learned how it is that we are able to grow in grace, despite indwelling sin. In verses 5 through 11, we saw the difference between a life of worldliness and life of godliness, and how the Spirit makes those things distinct.

And the passage that we are looking at today in verses 12 through 17, we will see how the Holy Spirit shows us that we are the children of God. Verses 18 through 25 show how God uses our present sufferings for our and His future glory. Verses 28 through 30 show us how we are certain that God's promises are going to be fulfilled in us and to us. Verses 31 and 32 remind us of just how much God is for us. Verses 33 and 34 remind us how secure God's justification of us is. And verses 35 to the end of the chapter show us how we can be more than conquerors, even though we feel like we're sheep being led to the slaughter. And so, all of the content of this chapter serves, among other things, to encourage and comfort and to strengthen Christians. It's no wonder that we so often turn to this great eighth chapter in Romans in time of need. But as we continue our study through this Book, and through this particular chapter, it will be helpful for us to catch something of Paul's argument so far in Romans 8, verses 1 through 11.

So what I'd like to do is to direct your attention to verse 1, 2, 4, 5 and 12. And I believe by giving you a synopsis or a brief summarizing statement of those verses, you’ll be able to follow Paul's argument and appreciate better what he is attempting to do in the passage today. He says, beginning in verse 1, "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. So that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. So then brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh." You see here, then, a typical Pauline pattern. He speaks first of what we are, and then of what we are to do. He speaks first of what God has done for us and in us, and then he speaks of our response to what God has done. He speaks of the indicative, and he moves to the imperative. He tells us what we are, and then he challenges us with what we ought to be do.

In this case, specifically, he explains that by the Holy Spirit's work, we have been truly set free from the dominion of the flesh. Then, he exhorts us not to live according to the flesh. He exhorts us to put to death the flesh, to be led by the Holy Spirit. These are the great evidences that we are the children of God. So with that by way of introduction, let's hear God's holy and inspired word, beginning in Romans, chapter 8 and verse 12.

"So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh to live according to the flesh — for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting the death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received the spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out ‘Abba! Father!’" The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him."

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts. Let's pray.

Our Lord, you have given us Your word, not simply to intrigue us, but to instruct us and to ground us and to equip us for righteousness. We ask then by Your Holy Spirit, we would not only understand this Word, but embrace it, embrace it, for Your glory and our good. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Paul in this great passage is speaking to us with a two-fold purpose. He is speaking both to exhort us to holiness, and also to assure us; to grant us confidence in the salvation which God has for us. Isn't it interesting that Paul's teaching on growth in grace, Paul's teaching on discipleship, Paul's teaching on sanctification always does two things at the same time. It always energizes us to godliness and assures us of salvation. And if a teaching on sanctification fails to do both of those things at the same time, it's not Pauline, and it's not Biblical. Paul always energizes us to growth in grace, and he always assures us of salvation. And he does that in this passage. In fact, his goal is two-fold; on the one hand he wants us to understand the grounds on which we may be assured that we are children of God, and the other hand, he wants us to act like children of God. And so he urges both of these things upon us in these few verses simultaneously. In fact, this passage in and of itself is expansive enough in the things that it teaches to give us a well-rounded view of sanctification.

Now we can't do justice to all of the things that are in this passage. Perhaps if we do a five-week sermon series on this passage, we could begin to scratch the surface. But what I'd like to do is I'd like to walk you through these five or six verses, and I'd like you see five things. First of all, in verse 12, let's begin to follow Paul's argument.

I. Christians are under obligation to God not to live the way someone lives apart from Christ.

Paul is saying this. In light of all that God has made you to be, in light of the Holy Spirit's work in you, in light of the Holy Spirit indwelling you, live this way. Now, of course, in verse 12, he doesn't put it in the positive. He actually puts it in the negative. Look at his words. "So then brethren, we are under obligation not to the flesh to live according to the flesh." And then he pauses his thought, because he has got to tell you something else in the next couple of verses. But his point here is that Christians are under obligation not to live the way someone lives apart from Christ, but to live a different way. We have no debt or obligation to the flesh, Paul is saying. Our new life didn't come from the flesh. We don't owe the flesh anything. It's the work of God that has given us this new life, and, therefore, we ought not to live for the flesh or for its goals. We are under obligation to God not to live according to the principles and aims of a corrupt human nature.

And Paul appeals to the work of the Holy Spirit and to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in this passage, as the reason why we are under obligation to be consecrated; why we're under obligation to grow in grace; why we are under obligation to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is telling us then, here in verse 12, that we ought to grow in grace, because we are in debt to God. We are obligated to God, especially because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. You know, we often say that in the Christian life the great motive of the Christian life is gratitude. In other words, we don't obey in order for God to love us; we obey because has loved us savingly in Jesus Christ. In other words, it was God's initiative and love, which has provoked our response and obedience. And that is, of course, entirely true.

But the New Testament makes it clear that there are a whole plethora of motivations for living the Christian life. And Paul is bringing out attention to that right here. He's not bringing before us a motivation of gratitude, he's actually bringing before us a motivation of obligation. Here's how Jim Philip put it: "Such is the hope that believers have that it lays them under obligation to live as men claimed for that destiny of glory. Such is the hope that believers have that it lays them under obligation to live as men claimed for that destiny of glory." And so Paul is telling us that Christians are under an obligation not to live the way someone would live apart from Jesus Christ. That's the first thing that he says in this great passage.

II. Christians know the divinely revealed secret of mortification/life nexus -those who kill sin live!

Then, in verse 13, we’ll see a second part of his argument. This point that I've made in verse 12 is important because of the unbreakable link between sin and death on the one hand, and between mortification and life on the other hand. Now listen to this closely because it's a little paradoxical. Paul says in verse 13 that sinful living is always inseparably linked to death. But he also says that putting sin to death is inseparably linked to life. Now that's interesting isn't it? Sinful living leads to death, putting death to sin or putting sin to death always leads to life. It's paradoxical. But Paul is pressing it home. He's indicating, by the way, in this verse, among other things, that the believer is always at work in sanctification. The very phrase "put sin to death," or "you are putting to death the deeds of the body," indicates that. The indicatives of grace never produce passivity in the true believer. But rather, they produce a strong, grace-dependent, faithful activity on the part of the believer.

But Paul, in this verse, is announcing a fundamental reality. It's a law of God's universe. "Live according to the flesh," he says, "you die." "Put to death the flesh, you live." And we see reflected here that paradoxical statement of the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew, chapter 16, verse 25. Remember what He said? "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."

And what's more, in this verse before us in Romans 8:13, Paul is emphasizing not just sanctification in general, but mortification. Putting sin to death. The very topic that Derek was addressing to us
last Lord's day evening. And if you missed that sermon, you need to get the tape and listen to it again. It will help you. But Paul is picking up on that very theme. And he's seeing mortification as a sign that we are sons and daughters of God. Mortification is a sign that we are children of God. Mortification is a sign that the Holy Spirit is alive and well within us and working to make us what God intends us to be.

Notice, however, even in this verse with its emphasis on our activity and mortification, Paul makes it clear. How is that the deeds of the flesh are mortified? By the Spirit. It's not me versus the flesh, it's the spirit versus the flesh, and I am drawing on the power of the Spirit as I war against the flesh. Look at each of the phrases in this verse, and let's consider what Paul is saying. When he says, "put to death," he is indicating our responsible activity.

When he says, "put to death the deeds of the body," he doesn't just mean physical sins. He means those practices which characterize the sinful nature, and which are often expressed in a physical way. But it doesn't just means actions of the body. He's saying, "put to death all the characteristic practices of the sinful nature." When he says, "by the Spirit," he's reminding you that mortification, that killing sin, that warring against sin is something that flows from the resources and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. And when he speaks of life at the end of that verse, you will live, he's referring to that fullness of eternal life that the saints enjoy in fellowship with God.

Now Paul's point in this verse is not works salvation. Nor is it even works sanctification. He is, however, pointing out the unvaried connection between sinful living and death, and mortification of sin and life. God saves us from the flesh, but He doesn't save us in it. He saves us from the flesh, and He wars against that flesh in us. And so Paul tells us first in verse 12, we ought to grow in grace because we are under obligation, and then in verse 13, we ought to grow in grace because sin kills and putting sin to death brings life. So he's giving you a second reason for growing in grace, and a second way of being assured of your salvation.

III. Christians realize that sanctification is the great accompaniment and evidence of sonship.

Thirdly, if you look in verse 14, he goes on to make another point. Paul says, following up on verse 13, indeed it is precisely those who are being led by the Holy Spirit in sanctification that are true sons of God. It is precisely those people who are growing in grace by the work of the Holy Spirit who are the true sons of God. Paul is saying again that Christians realize that sanctification always accompanies and is the evidence of sonship.

How do you know that you are a son? Because the Spirit is working in you for sanctification. And your growth in grace is an evidence that you are a child of God. This verse provides an explanation for the basis of the believer's confidence mentioned in the last words of verse 13. You remember, Paul says you will live, "if BY the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live." Well, Paul is telling you how is that you know how you live? This is how you live because all who are being led by the Spirit of God, are the sons of God.

Now, what does he mean being "led by the Spirit?" Are only super Christians led by the Spirit? Those who have reached an entirely different plain than the rest of us mere mortals? No, Paul is speaking about something that is characteristic of all believers; all believers are led by the Spirit. Nor, is he speaking about something that is merely momentary. He's not saying, you know, in a moment of real trial and inspiration, that Christian was really led by the Spirit. No, he's talking about something which is the normal situation for the believer in every aspect of life.

So what does he mean when he says that we are being led by the Spirit? Well, it means a lot of things, and we don't even have time to answer that question fully. But let me suggest five things that are involved in being led by the Spirit. First of all, when Paul says that we are led by the Spirit, he means that we are governed by the Spirit constantly. He's not saying that, well, you know this Christian was up against this particular trial, and it was like the Spirit just took over. Now you may feel like that sometime, and the Lord may help in extraordinary ways, but that's not what Paul is talking about here. Paul is talking about the believer constantly, not sporadically, not occasionally, not two or three really extraordinary times in life, but constantly every second being governed by the Holy Spirit. Notice, you see this even in the language. ‘He leads us.’ You know it's not that the guide is there with you for five minutes, he drops off the trail for several days and comes back and meets you again for another five minutes, and then drops off the trail for a few days. He's there with you every step. He's constantly leading you.

Secondly, notice that the leading of the Spirit, as you look at this context, is primarily about correcting not protecting. Paul gives no indication whatsoever that the Holy Spirit protects us from suffering in this passage; in fact, the opposite. The final words of this passage indicate that just because you are led by the Spirit, does not mean that you are not going to go through trial. On the contrary, if you are a true son of God, Paul says you will. So, the Spirit's leading here primarily is in correcting us. He's knocking off rough edges; he's making us to be like the Heavenly Father.

Thirdly, the Holy Spirit does not merely guide us. When we speak of the leading of the Spirit, we're not speaking merely of guidance; it is that the Holy Spirit empowers us. It's not like an Indian guide who sort of takes you across the mountains through the treacherous passes because he knows the way. He doesn't just have information that you need, but he is actually the force that keeps you going. He's the one who gives you the energy to start the trail in the first place, and to finish it just as surely. So He is empowering you from within.

Fourthly, notice that the leading of the Holy Spirit doesn't mean that you are lost. The Holy Spirit doesn't come in and replace some part of you. The Holy Spirit doesn't displace you; instead He encourages and ages you. It's truly you who are growing in grace. It's truly you who are following in the way of the Spirit. And the Spirit is encouraging you and aiding you and helping you in that; not displacing your personality. It doesn't mean when we say that it's Christ in me, it doesn't mean that somehow I has been evacuated, and I don't exist anymore, and I don't have no personality, and I'm sort of part of the board now. That's not what Paul is talking about. The Spirit is encouraging and aiding us, our true self. And it's helped and encouraged by the Spirit.

Finally, when the Holy Spirit leads us, He always leads us in the way of truth. How many times have you had Christians come to you and say, "Well, you know, the Spirit is leading me to do ‘X.’" And you’re sitting there scratching your heard, and you’re thinking, "That's wrong. What you’re saying that you’re being led to do is wrong." So I know it's not the Holy Spirit that is leading you to do that, because the Holy Spirit leads us in the way of God's word, God's law, God's truth, Psalm 1, Psalm 19, Psalm 119. You can get a hundred other passages. The Holy Spirit never leads against the word of God. He never leads against the will of God. He never leads against the truth of God. He always leads with them. Now we could say a lot more about the Holy Spirit. Indeed, we've only scratched the surface on touching this subject of His leading, but we have said at least that. And the apostle Paul, don't miss the point here.

The apostle Paul is saying something astounding in verse 14. He is saying that eternal life invariably issues from sonship. If you are a child of God, you have eternal life, and it issues from it. And, he is saying, that sanctification is the invariable expression of that sonship. Those who are the children of God are growing in grace, and those things always go together. And so Paul is telling us in verse 12 that we ought to grow in grace because we are under obligation, in verse 13 we ought to grow in grace because sin kills and putting to death brings life. And in verse 14, we ought to grow in grace, because we are sons of God. And the purpose of the Holy Spirit in making us sons of God is to make us to be like our Heavenly Father.

I have a picture in my den at home, and it's a picture of me at the age of twenty-one and my father at the age of twenty-one. He's in his Marine Corps uniform getting ready to leave. It was taken when he was getting ready to be shipped off to the South Pacific to fight in the Second World War, and I'm in my blue blazer in college. And we look sort of alike, and when people come in they will often say, "Oh, Lig, I didn't realize that you were a Marine. I kind of puff out my chest, not just because it's nice to be confused for being a Marine, but because I like it when people think that I look like my dad, because I loved my dad, and I'm not the half the man that he was. And I would love to be like he was in so many ways. And you see, the Holy Spirit's purpose in indwelling you is to make you look like your Heavenly Father so that people say, "You know, you have a striking family resemblance to the good and perfect and just and righteous Heavenly Father that rules this universe. Could you be family?" Yes, yes. I'm a son of that God; I'm a daughter of that God. By grace I've been adopted into His family, and the Holy Spirit is making me be like Him. So I am beginning to have some of the character qualities that He has. That's what the Holy Spirit is doing in us. And that's why we ought to grow in grace, because we're sons of God.

IV. Christians are sanctified through the work of the Holy Spirit of adoption, by whom we approach God as Father.

Quickly, then, verse 15. Paul goes on, the fourth thing. Paul here says remember, you’re being led by the Spirit, and those of you who are being led by the Spirit you’re the sons of God, and this because you’re not being sanctified by the spirit of bondage, you’re being sanctified by the Spirit of adoption. In other words, Paul's point in verse 15 is that Christians are sanctified through the work of the Holy Spirit in adoption through whom we approach God as Father. Now this is a tough verse. Commentators differ on how we're to understand the phrase "the spirit of bondage" or "a spirit of bondage." Some say that that spirit refers to our spirit. We have a spirit of bondage. Others say, "No, that's actually speaking objectively." "The spirit of bondage" as opposed to "the spirit of adoption." How do we understand it? Is this talking about the Holy Spirit, or is it talking about our spirits? Well, I'm going to take that former view that it's speaking of the Spirit Himself, the spirit of adoption.

Paul is saying in verse 15 that Christians are to be mindful of who the spirit is that they have received. He's basically saying this. The Holy Spirit who indwells you is not the Holy Spirit of bondage. He's the spirit who came to set you free from the domination of sin and guilt. He's the spirit of adoption. He's the one who brings home the benefits and the effects of the fact that the Heavenly Father has received you into His family. That's the one who indwells you. So, of course, you ought to be growing in grace and in the family resemblance. The Holy Spirit's goal is that you would actually live life as sons, both in the freedom and the privileges of sons and in the responsibility and the obedience of sons. And because He's the Holy Spirit of adoption, and because He's at work in us, grow in grace, Paul is saying, and be comforted and assured that God is at work in you.

V. Christians are assured of their sonship and inheritance by the witness of the Spirit, and their perseverance in suffering.

And then finally in verses 16 and 17, Paul makes it clear that the Spirit witnesses, He Himself witnesses along with our spirit, that we are truly children of God, and thus heirs of God. Christians are assured of their sonship and their inheritance by the witness of the Spirit. And, interestingly, Paul says, look at the end of verse 17, in their perseverance and suffering. In other words, Paul is saying that this assurance that God gives you is not merely subjective or objective, it's both. Your spirit bears witness, but the Holy Spirit also bears witness. But furthermore, he says that the Holy Spirit's bearing witness that we are sons of God does not mean that we're not going to suffer. In fact, precisely because He bears witness that we are true sons of God, we may expect to suffer in this life. One of the old Puritans said, "God has one Son without sin, but none without suffering."

So what is Paul's point in this passage? Paul's point is that you have been so united to the Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit of adoption, that you are one with Him in His sufferings, and you will be one with Him in His glory. And when you doubt that you will be one with Him in His glory, you remember that you are one with Him in His sufferings. And it is just as certain that you will be one with Him in His glory, as it is that you are going through trials now. That's what Paul is saying. Every trial that you go through in life is a witness of the Spirit that you are going to share in the glory of the inheritance of the Son of God.

And so the apostle says, grow in grace because you are under obligation, because sins kills, because you’re sons of God, because the Holy Spirit of adoption is at work in you, and because the Holy Spirit is in you bearing witness that you are sons of God. Now live, Paul says, in that light. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, the truth of Your Word is rich, beyond our comprehension. Bring home some it we pray, for

Your glory and our good. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

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