Pastor David B. Curtis


The Sons of God

Romans 8:12-17

Delivered 10/16/2011

This chapter begins with "no condemnation," which is no separation from God, no spiritual death, to those who have trusted Christ. Believers have been taken out of the fleshly mode of existence and placed in the spiritual mode of existence:

and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:8 NASB

There is no way that the unregenerate man, the man in the fleshly mode of existence can do anything that pleases God:

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. Romans 8:9 NASB

Believers are in the Spirit, the Spirit of God dwells in us:

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh-- Romans 8:12 NASB

"So then" draws an inference from what has already been set forth. What did Paul explain in the previous paragraph? He said that believers are in the Spirit and not in the flesh, and therefore have no obligation to the flesh.

The NIV has, "Therefore, my brothers, we have an obligation­-but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it." Once again, the NIV translators opt for "sinful nature," in translating sarx, but "flesh" is the best translation. As we have seen, Paul is using flesh here as "man in Adam, unregenerate man."

Paul is arguing that because the Church is the redeemed community and her ultimate deliverance is certain, she has no reason to live as though she is a part of the body of Sin, the kingdom of darkness. She no longer has any obligation to the Old Covenant written code. She doesn't have to keep Sabbath, be circumcised, eat certain foods, worship on certain days.

Most of churcheanity today doesn't understand that they are not under obligation of the Old Covenant. Most Christians live under some bondage to the Old Covenant; whether it be tithing, obeying the Sabbath or thinking pastors are prophets who speak for God. They live in bondage:

for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:13 NASB

Is this a warning to believers? It sure seems to be. Paul seems to be warning them of going back to the Old Covenant. Based upon what Paul says to the Galatians, I think this is a warning:

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem 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!" Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. Galatians 4:4-8 NASB

Now this is all stuff that Paul says in our text in Romans, and notice what he says next:

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. Galatians 4:9-10 NASB

Their observance of special days, months, times, and years was one of the more obvious examples of their departure from the true Gospel. They were adopted sons of God but were turning back to the flesh, the Old Covenant written code. This makes me think that in our text in Romans Paul is issuing a warning to the Jewish believers to not turn back to the fleshly mode of existence. Paul says in our text:

"For if you are living according to the flesh"--the "if" here is a third class condition in the Greek, which means: "maybe you will, maybe you won't." Paul is speaking to "brethren," Jewish believers, and warns them that if they go back to living "according to the flesh" they are "about to die." This wouldn't make sense to say to unbelievers, because they are already dead.

Tom Holland states, "However, if the corporate setting is taken seriously, the problem is removed. In this setting, the statement means that the church in Rome would die. She would come under judgment, and her 'candlestick,' or witness, would be removed" (Rev 2:5).

Speaking to the Church at Ephesus Jesus said:

'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent. Revelation 2:5 NASB

This is an interesting view, and since the "you" here is plural, it seem like this could be a possible explanation.

"But if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live"--the present tense verb indicates that whatever this putting to death might be, it is an ongoing action. It's not talking about a one-time act, but rather it is a constant, day-by-day, even moment-by-moment part of the believer's life. Remember that during the transition period there was always that temptation for the Jewish believers to turn back to the Law. I think this verse is very similar in meaning to:

and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. Romans 6:13 NASB

Paul is here telling these believing Jews that they are not to put themselves under the Law now that they are part of the body of Christ. I think that is what he is saying in our text with a little more strength.

Putting to death the "deeds of the body" is not living according to Old Covenant rules; stop walking according to the written code. This text is theological dealing with Jewish believers in the first century who were hanging on to the body of Moses. To understand this is to free yourself from the concept that this passage is talking about practical sanctification.

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:14 NASB

In this verse, the new exodus theme is in the backdrop of Paul's thinking. The image of "being led by the Spirit of God" is taken from the exodus and the wilderness wanderings of Israel where Israel was led by the pillar of cloud and fire.

It is critical that we understand that there are two forty year exodus periods talked about in the Bible. One is a type: Physical Israel was removed from bondage to Egypt at Passover, and they were put in the wilderness on a physical journey to a physical promised land.

The second is the Anti-type: This is a spiritual exodus that runs from the Cross to A.D. 70. In this exodus, Spiritual Israel left its bondage to the Law of sin and death and began a forty year spiritual journey to a spiritual inheritance; the Kingdom of God, or the New Heavens and New Earth. This second Exodus was foretold by God through Isaiah:

Then it will happen on that day that the Lord Will again recover the second time with His hand The remnant of His people, who will remain, From Assyria, Egypt, Pathros, Cush, Elam, Shinar, Hamath, And from the islands of the sea. 12 And He will lift up a standard for the nations, And will assemble the banished ones of Israel, And will gather the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth. Isaiah 11:11-12 NASB

These nations listed here are the same ones that are listed in Acts 2 at Pentecost, which was the beginning of the second Exodus. God is "recovering the second time" His people from bondage. This time the bondage is that of sin and death. The Psalmist writes:

Then He led them with the cloud by day And all the night with a light of fire. Psalms 78:14 NASB

These symbols of God's power and presence are replaced in the New Covenant by the Spirit.

So what does it mean to be "Led by the Spirit of God"? Well Paul says in Galatians:

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Galatians 5:18 NASB

So I think we could say that the Spirit leads God's sons out from under the Law, and He does this by leading them to faith in Christ Jesus. He is leading them to the New Jerusalem.

This being "led" by the Spirit is NOT referring to guidance for everyday decisions in determining the will of God. This is not talking about leading us to decide what school to go to, what church to go to, who to marry, where to work. If you listen to Christians talk, you may hear something like: "I believe that God is leading me to marry Bill," or, "God has lead me to this job," or "God wants me to go to this church."

This kind of terminology reflects the idea that the key to making the "right" decision is discernment of God's leading. This may sound spiritual, but we don't see this kind of language in the New Testament. Notice what the Bible does say:

Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas-- Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, Acts 15:22 NASB

The text doesn't say, the Spirit led the apostles and elders to choose these men. It says, "It seemed good" to them to choose these men. Now that doesn't sound near as spiritual.

it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Acts 15:25 NASB

Again they choose them because it "seemed good":

"For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: Acts 15:28 NASB

Three times in this section we see the phrase, "It seemed good." When verse 28 says, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us"--does this mean that the conclusions of the council were supernaturally dictated by God? God certainly did that on other occasions in Acts. But the idea here could be that the Holy Spirit had already given His guidance before the council ever met. He did this by working through Peter to bring salvation to the Gentiles apart from circumcision. An angel appears to Cornelius and tells him to go get Peter because:

and he shall speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.' Acts 11:14 NASB

So Peter comes and preaches a message to these Gentiles, and he says nothing about circumcision, nothing about baptism, nothing about works or repentance or commitment. He simply tells them that all who believe receive forgiveness of sins:

"Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." Acts 10:43 NASB

Now look at what happens next:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. Acts 10:44 NASB

God saved these Gentiles apart from anything but faith. And not only that, but He also

miraculously confirmed the Gospel ministry of Paul and Barnabas among the Gentiles. And He has also inspired the writers of Scripture to foretell of Gentile salvation. This is why the church leaders said, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us." God had already revealed His will on this matter, and the church leaders lined up with it.

If you want to know God's will, don't look for supernatural leading, learn God's Word. And in non-moral areas just use wisdom. And when you do make a decision, instead of saying, "God led me to do this," which sounds super spiritual and authoritative, it would be much more Biblical to say, "It seemed good to me to do this or that."

I think that people would rather be led by the Spirit, in some experiential way, than study the written revelation that God has given us, because it takes away the burden of serious and, often, laborious study of the Scriptures. Second, it establishes an absolute freedom from criticism and condemnation (if the Spirit "led" in the taking of a certain position, or the doing of a certain action, what man is there that can criticize the Spirit?). Third, it establishes a profound authority in the one "led of the Spirit." Thus, the setting aside of the written revelation in favor of the internal leading of the Spirit is extremely dangerous, because it appeals greatly to those who are too lazy to study; too insecure in their theology to be able to bear criticism; and too desirous of having men think highly of them. In a word, such a position appeals to the pride of man.

Paul goes on in verse 14 to say, "For all who are being led by the Spirit of God "these are sons of God." "These" is emphatic, indicating these and these alone are sons of God. Paul introduces us to a theme that pervades the rest of this chapter and most of his epistles, that of "son-ship." Nowhere in the book of Romans up till now have believers been called "sons or children of God." But now the words come thick and heavy. The source for the term "sons" should be found in the first Testament, where Israel is quite frequently identified in both the singular and the plural as God's son:

When Israel was a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son. Hosea 11:1 NASB

In Matthew 2:15, the writer applies this verse in Hosea to Jesus as a youth returning to Judea from Egypt. Matthew has made an analogy between Israel, God's son, being freed from Egypt, and Jesus, God's Son, coming up from Egypt; a pattern that runs throughout Matthew's Gospel. "Out of Egypt I have called my son" is Exodus typology, where Jesus is the New True Israel.

"Then you shall say to Pharaoh, 'Thus says the LORD, "Israel is My son, My firstborn. Exodus 4:22 NASB

Israel is God's son, Jesus is God's Son, Jesus is the true Israel, and all who are in Him are God's sons:

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" Romans 8:15 NASB

The emphasis here is on their freedom from their former slavery. They are no longer under bondage to the Law:

But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. Romans 7:6 NASB

As long as one remains under the iron hand of the Law as the means to righteousness, he remains a slave to it, ending in death. We can hear Moses saying the same thing to the Jews as they panicked in the wilderness, wanting to return to the "comfort" and "security" of Egypt. He is contrasting the fear of a slave with the affection of a son.

"But you have received a spirit of adoption as sons"--the word "adoption is compounded of two words: "sons" and "placing"; so that we may take it as signifying the act of placing the sons of God in the position appropriate to that high and holy relationship. One of the most beautiful and rich theological concepts of the Scripture is this theme of adoption. In fact the very word is filled with grace and mercy and love. Adoption by definition refers to a legal action by which a person takes in to his family a child not his own, and usually not even related to him, for the purpose of treating as and giving him all the privileges of his own child. That's adoption.

Most commentators connect adoption to the Greek, and particularly Roman, legal

institution whereby one can "adopt" a child and confer on that child all the legal rights and privileges that would ordinarily accrue to a natural child. However, while the institution was a Greco-Roman one, for Paul the underlying concept is rooted in the First Testament and Judaism, God's adoption of Israel.

There is a beautiful story in the life of King David illustrating God's grace to us through adoption. Mephibosheth was the son of David's beloved friend, Jonathan, son of Saul. He had been crippled in both feet at age five. After David was established as king over all Israel, he desired to show kindness to anyone remaining of Saul's house "for Jonathan's sake." So Mephibosheth, crippled and destitute, unable to care for himself and living in someone else's house, was brought into David's house and "ate at David's table like one of the king's sons." (2 Samuel 9:11)

Why was Mephibosheth treated like one of David's sons? It was for Jonathan's sake. We might say Jonathan's loyal friendship with David "earned" Mephibosheth's seat at David's table. Mephibosheth, in his crippled and destitute condition, unable to improve his lot and wholly dependent on the benevolence of others, is an illustration of you and me, crippled by sin and unable to help ourselves. David, in his graciousness, illustrates God the Father, and Jonathan illustrates Christ. Ephesians 4:32 says, "...just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." David did it for Jonathan's sake. God did it for Christ's sake.

Just as Mephibosheth was elevated to a place at the king's table for Jonathan's sake, so you and I are elevated to the status of God's children for Christ's sake. And just as being seated at the king's table involved not only daily food but other privileges as well, so God's salvation for Christ's sake carries with it all the provisions we need, not only for eternity, but for this life as well.

As if to emphasize the special privilege of Mephibosheth, the inspired writer mentions four times in one short chapter that Mephibosheth ate at the king's table (2 Samuel 9:7,10,11,13). Three of those times he says he "always" ate at the king's table. But the account both begins and ends with the statement that Mephibosheth was crippled in both feet (verses 3,13). Mephibosheth never got over his crippled condition. He never got to the place where he could leave the king's table and make it on his own. And neither do we.

I see several parallels in this story. First of all David took the initiative. David sought out any remaining sons of Saul. And in our adoption the Lord took the initiative. Furthermore, David sought one who was socially outcast, who was socially rejected and even despised, one who normal kings wouldn't want in their presence. And so has God chosen us with our deep sinful deformity. Thirdly, David was motivated by love. He had a love for Jonathan. In our case God was motivated by love. It was God's love for Christ that made Him come and redeem us and adopt us.

Paul, in Romans 9, talks about the Jews, the Israelites to whom belongs the adoption as sons. God reached out and adopted first the Jews and then He went beyond that, of course, and adopted the Gentiles to become sons:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: Ephesians 1:1 NASB

Archbishop Usher has advanced the theory that Ephesians was an encyclical letter headed, as in Manuscript B., "to the saints that are ... and to the faithful," the name of each Church being inserted in the copy sent to it; and that its being sent to Ephesus first, occasioned its being entitled, as now, the Epistle to the Ephesians. Whether that is true or not we know that this is a general Epistle. Notice what Paul says to these Gentiles:

He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, Ephesians 1:5 NASB

And that's the whole point of biblical adoption, that we become children of God by sovereign divine choice. We will never be condemned, because God has chosen us to be His children forever by His free grace and His uninfluenced sovereignty.

Suppose that I was an incorrigible criminal, standing guilty before a judge. It would be one thing for the judge to pronounce me innocent in the eyes of the law on the basis that my wrong doings had been paid for. But it would be something far greater for the judge to make me his own son and take me home to be a part of his family--that's adoption.

Adoption is a beautiful loving thing, but some teachers within Christianity have made it ugly. How many of you are familiar with Bill Gothard? Bill teaches that you should never adopt a child from an unconverted family. He goes so far as to say you might even get a demon possessed child because of some curse and antiquity somewhere. He says you don't ever want to adopt because of what it says in:

who keeps loving kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations." Exodus 34:7 NASB

He says that you may be adopting a cursed child bearing a curse from several generations before. In my understand of this verse, this is talking about influence; the father's influence on the children with their sin. It is not about being cursed because of your parents. Notice what Ezekiel 18 says:

"What do you mean by using this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, 'The fathers eat the sour grapes, But the children's teeth are set on edge'? "As I live," declares the Lord GOD, "you are surely not going to use this proverb in Israel anymore. "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die. Ezekiel 18:2-4 NASB

He goes on to say:

"The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. Ezekiel 18:20 NASB

No father will be punished for the sins of his sons, says Ezekiel, and no son will ever be punished for the sins of his Father. He lays out individual responsibility very clearly.

Gothard's teachings have put a huge cloud over adoption. This is really sad because adoption is a very beautiful thing.

Let's look again at what Paul said in Romans 8:15, "You have received a spirit of adoption"--had they already been adopted? Look at what Paul says a little later:

And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. Romans 8:23 NASB

So, had they received the adoption, or were they waiting for it? Commenting on this in his Romans Commentary, Schreiner writes, "The alternation between present and future adoption is best accounted for by Pauline eschatology in which the age to come has been inaugurated, but not consummated. Thus believers have truly received adoption, but await the consummation and completion of that adoption at the day of their redemption." Now, he is a Futurist, but he seems to somewhat understand the transition period. Notice in verse 23 that the "adoption as sons" is the same as the "redemption of our body." They were eagerly awaiting both.

Look again at verse 15 and notice that Paul doesn't say that they received the adoption, but that they "received a spirit of adoption." What is the spirit of adoption? Let's look at a few things that Paul says elsewhere and see if we can make sense of this:

who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge. 2 Corinthians 1:22 NASB

Here Paul says that the Spirit is given as a "pledge," which is the Greek word, arrhabon. This word is only used three times in the New Testament, all by Paul. Arrhabon means: "a pledge, i.e. part of the purchase-money or property given in advance as security for the rest: earnest or guarantee." We see this same idea in:

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:13-14 NASB

What the saints had in the transition period was the down payment or pledge of the perfection that was to come:

Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. 2 Corinthians 5:5 NASB

What is the purpose of this pledge? In context it was as a guarantee that they would receive their new home, a building from God, a house not made with hands. This "Spirit as a pledge" is the same thing as the "spirit of adoption." So we could say that the Spirit was given these transition saints as a pledge or guarantee that they would in the very near future receive the adoption, the redemption of their body.

"As sons by which we cry out, 'Abba! Father!'"--in verse 14 believers are referred to as "sons of God"; in verse 15 believers are referred to as "sons of God by adoption"; and in verse 16 again believers are referred to as "sons of God."

"Abba" is an Aramaic word for father. Significantly, the only other place in the Bible, besides Galations 4, where "Abba, Father" appears is in Mark 14. On the eve of His crucifixion, the Lord was deeply troubled in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed:

"Abba! Father! All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt." Mark 14:36 NASB

That the Lord addressed His Father, "Abba, Father" in His moment of deep distress reveals that "Abba, Father" is an expression of the greatest intimacy between father and son. It is an expression of total dependence on the Father.

The word Abba appears in certain legal texts of the Mishna as a designation used by grown children in claiming the inheritance of their deceased father. As a word of address, Abba is not so much associated with infancy as it is with intimacy:

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, Romans 8:16 NASB

The Spirit has always been the undisputed evidence that God has accepted a people for Himself. Peter was confident that the household of Cornelius had been accepted by God (Acts 15:6-9) when he saw how the Spirit came upon them.

What does the Spirit testify? The clause makes it clear, "that we are children of God." I believe He does this by giving us faith. He gives us the ability to trust in God, to depend upon God. As our new Father, we look to Him to meet our every need:

and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. Romans 8:17 NASB

Because we are His sons, we are His heirs. In the First Testament, God promised to give the land to Israel (God's son) as an inheritance. As we move from the First Testament into the New Testament, the promise no longer focuses on the physical land of Israel, but on the kingdom of God (Col 1:13-14). This is in keeping with the fact that son-ship has transferred from the physical descendants of Abraham to his spiritual descendants (Rom 4:12). Paul asserts that believers have inherited the promises of Abraham:

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:29 NASB

"If indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him"--the phrase "if indeed" is the first class condition in the Greek, and could be translated: "since." What is this suffering with Him? One commentator writes, "It is any of the effects of the fallen world that test our love, loyalty, and faithfulness to Jesus Christ. It may be physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. It may be through oppressive governments or critical co-workers. It may be due to disease or injury or aging." I disagree! The sufferings that Paul spoke of here are the eschatological sufferings of the end of the age. It was persecution for Christ and the Gospel.

Paul is saying just as surely as they share His sufferings, they will share His glory. He reminds them their suffering is vital evidence that they are part of the eschatological community, and that they have left the acceptance and security of the world as they journey towards their inheritance.

The adoption that these first century believers looked forward to we have. We have been adopted into God's family. We are His sons and daughters by faith in Jesus.

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