Lesson 27: Romans 8:14-17
Who Is Your Father?
by Bob Burridge ©2011
The scene in John 8 must have been quite dramatic. Hostile Jews stood around Jesus hearing his words but not understanding him. They claimed to be children of God, but would not face the fact that they needed to be set free from sin and guilt. They had corrupted God’s word, and made excuses for living to serve their self-interests. They trusted in their heritage, as if that was all God’s promise considered (John 8:39a). They proudly said to Jesus, “Abraham is our father.”
Jesus made it clear that God never defined his people as those merely descended from someone God had blessed. His covenant with Abraham did not promise forgiveness and eternal life for all those born into the line of the covenant family. Jesus said to them in John 8:239b-41a, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father.”
This only confused them more. Is he saying that Abraham isn’t our ancestor? that we’re not Jews? Does Jesus mean that we are illegitimate children of some Gentile? They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father — God” (John 8:41b). They were so sure that they were the true sons of God, but it was based upon misunderstandings.
Jesus showed them that their claim did not fit the way they lived. He said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word.” (John 8:42-43)
They really thought they were God’s children, but Jesus exposed the hard truth; “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44)
Jesus did not cater to their confused beliefs. Claim what ever they will, Satan was their spiritual father, not the God of Abraham. They behaved like the one who wanted God’s glory for himself, who obscured God’s truth. They shared the desires, values and goals of the Devil.
The Apostle John later wrote about this same truth in his first Epistle (1 John 3:10), “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.”
Today, DNA testing has given us a powerful tool for identifying a person’s real physical father. A child may have been made to believe that a person is his father who is not. DNA profiles rule out all pretenders, and show the child’s true parent. Many cases of paternity, and of baby switching by hospitals, have been solved this way.
So then, how do we test for spiritual sonship? How can we know if we are truly Sons of God? Some believe all people are sons of God, but that is contrary to the revealed facts of Scripture. Many believe themselves to be specially God’s true children, but they have no grounds for that belief.
Who really are the sons of God?
Romans 8:14-17, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”
Being a child is a creation principle set up to demonstrate the relationship between God and his people. It is far more than just being born to a parent physically. It ought to imply a special relationship. There should be a special love and affection of the parents toward their children. It includes special privileges that go along with being part of a family. It means that children take after their parents in some ways. They have or develop many of the same habits and dispositions.
Those who are made into members of God’s family enjoy all these special advantages. God has a special love for his true children. He redeems them and keeps them. God cares for them specially, and promises blessings both in this life and in the life to come. At their new birth, God begins the process of improving holiness in them. They begin to take on the characteristics of God, their Father. They grow in love, mercy, patience, gentleness, holiness, and faith.
There are certain characteristics that identify the true sons of God. These charcteristics are not causes of sonship. They are evidences of it. Paul brings this up here in Romans to assure the believers. Though they struggle with overcoming the inner remains of sin, there is a promise from God: If someone is truly God’s child, they should have no reason for doubts about their salvation, or terror as they look to the day of God’s final judgment.
Being God’s child is the most wonderful assurance of hope in all the universe. The evidences in this text are unmistakable marks that show a person that his sonship is genuine.
1st – There is a walk that characterizes the sons of God.
Romans 8:14, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
It is not our walk or our life that makes us children of God. It is our true sonship that produces our walk.
They are the Sons of God who are led by the Holy Spirit, those who are governed by him in their living. His word tells what a godly walk is like. It tells us what kind of living pleases God. It is the Holy Spirit in us (as explained in 8:9-11) that produces that walk.
The Spirit does not work in God’s children to get them to walk in a more godly way against their desires. The Spirit changes their desires by regenerating them through the work of Christ. He does not just externally hold them back from sins they love and would rather do. He takes away the love for sinning, and makes them truly want to honor God. Though this love and devotion is never perfect in this life, it is an unmistakable longing the Spirit puts in them. The Spirit enlightens their understanding of spiritual things revealed in the word. Inwardly he guides his people into all truth, and produces in them behaviors and attitudes which the Bible calls “the fruit of the Spirit.”
Those who see this spiritual inclination in their living, are the sons of God. Those in whom these things are absent have no assurance of sonship.
2nd – The sons of God have a different motivation for obedience.
Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ “
The sons of God are those who are delivered from fear into confident dependence upon God. Their inner disposition is not moved by the workings of dread about their standing before their Creator.
Before God’s grace is applied there is a slavish anxiety in the soul. It believes that its future must be deserved, that it must be earned. The fallen heart looks at God’s law not as a revealing of an insurmountable need, but as a formula for becoming a child of God.
The lost struggle against impossible odds. God’s law demands a perfection no one can produce. It is plain from their own conscience that they are guilty before a holy God. They also have a love for sin itself. They would rather put their own desires first, than to deny themselves things God forbids. Over their heads hangs an inevitable apprehension of eternal punishment. To suppress this often denied awareness, they must live in self deception.
For the child of God there is a different motive for obedience. In place of that awful dread and personal cravings for immediate pleasures, there is a sense of adoption into the family of a loving and caring God. God’s sons want to live to please God out of gratitude. They understand that Jesus Christ paid their awful debt of guilt and has forgiven them. They know that they have been set free from sin’s blindness and slavery. They want to do what pleases God for his sake, not just for their own benefits.
What changes them is the spirit of adoption. Where once they were sons of Satan, they are now transformed inwardly, and given a new love. As sons they know their Heavenly Father hears them so they cry out to him saying, “Abba! Father!”
There are two words in the original text. The first is Abba (אבא) which is Aramaic, the common language of the Jews at that time. The second word is pataer (πατηρ), the Greek word for “father.” Both words mean the same thing. Each meaningful specially to the readers, each in his own language. We in English call him by the word “Father.” Contrary to some popular commentaries, neither word is demeaning or informal. Both these words openly confess true sonship and family confidence.
Just as a child cries out to his father for help and comfort in times of need, we who are born again, adopted into the covenant family, call out to our Heavenly Father in confidence and expected blessing.
No child in this life is all he ought to be. Even the sons of God struggle with imperfect faith and imperfect obedience. This is the struggle Paul had been explaining in the previous chapter (Romans 7). In Galatians 5:17 Paul summarizes this battle, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” There is a desire and effort daily to be putting their sins to death, and to be coming alive more and more, growing into the life of Christ. They are the sons of God who persevere in that struggle and will not give up.
3rd – There is an inner testimony from God that we are his children.
Romans 8:16, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,”
This is something more direct that just watching our lives for evidences alone. Even before much progress is made, when we are fresh from the womb of the Holy Spirit, the youngest child of God has a spiritual awareness of the touch of grace on his heart.
Dr. Charles Hodge, as great a Bible scholar as he was, said, “How this is done we cannot fully understand, any more than we can understand the mode in which he produces any other effect in our mind. The fact is clearly asserted here, as well as in other passages.”
The unregenerated person cannot understand it at all. Even the true child of God, in his imperfect soul sees this testimony only dimly, but it is there none-the-less.
The Holy Spirit bears testimony directly with our own spirit to confirm this sonship with God. Hosea 2:23 speaks of this direct testimony of God to our spirit, “Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, And I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; Then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘ You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’ ”
The Apostle Paul said in Romans 5:5, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
The Apostle John explains this in his first Epistle (5:10-12), “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
And in 1John 2:20 he said, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.”
This inward testimony is far from mystical visions and private revelations. Though it comes inwardly from the Spirit to the regenerated soul, it never imparts information beyond what God has preserved for us in the Bible. It convinces us by an enriched awareness, and by working the evidences of faith and obedience in our hearts. We would not know what our faith should be place in, and what standards we should honor and obey, if it was not for the recorded principles and promises from God in our Bibles.
In our yet unglorified minds this testimony is not understood without defects. There is nothing wrong or weak in the witness of the Spirit, but there is weakness in us. Moments of questioning and faltering should not be seen as proofs against true sonship. In moments of doubt, we dare not trust our own judgment or imperfect minds. Instead we cry out to our Father holding to his infallible promise. Paul explained in his First Letter to the Corinthians, 2:4-5, “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
The results of this amazing doctrine are very practical and filled with promise.
These sons of God are also heirs with Christ.
Romans 8:17, “and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.”
What is earned for us by our Lord Jesus Christ has become our promised inheritance. Galatians 3:29, “And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
The promised inheritance of the saints is not like an earthly estate. It is not valued in goods that become outdated or that wear out in time. It is not a title or honor that lasts for a term, then is passed on to the next generation. There is no worldly inheritance that is of the same nature as that which is ours in Christ. It is an eternal heritage in glory which will always be precious and good.
This verse also mentions our suffering with him. The single Greek word translated as “that” or “in order that” by some translations is hina (ἱνα). It does not mean that our being glorified is “caused by” or “earned by” our suffering. Our heritage is ours by God’s grace. There is no suffering that can help out or add even a little to the work of Christ for us. All the good things we gain or hope for are ours by the finished work of Christ alone.
It means that by going through the ordinary and sometimes special sorrows and pains of this life, we are refined and made more mature spiritually, preparing us for our stay in glory. It is to set us into the right order for living as glorified saints forever.
This refining process is described by the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:6-7, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,”
Suffering in this life through various trials, far from making us doubt our sonship, ought to confirm the process of the Father’s work in his sons as he prepares them for glory. He chastises the children he loves because it is best for them. The writer of Hebrews quotes Proverbs 3 when in Hebrews 12:5-6 he wrote, “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.’ ”
The work of the Holy Spirit leads us to walk in the ways of holiness, purifies our motives to want to obey God out of gratitude and love, and confirms the Spirit’s presence to us inwardly proving our sonship. By these actions he removes all reasons for doubt that we are truly God’s sons.
It is important that we do not get things turned around. It is God who produces these things in us. If we see our obedience, gratitude, and confidence as things we do to move God, then we turn assurance into uncertainty, and blessing into a burden.
When we struggle in the weakness of our flesh, when we doubt our salvation, the remedy is not found by looking more and more at ourselves, neither inwardly nor outwardly. Though there are evidences there which are certain and irrefutable, there is a problem in our confident grasp of them. We ought instead to turn our attention to the foundation of our assurance, the promises of God. The words of the Bible are what the Spirit uses to assure our hearts that we are his.
There’s a wonderful summary of this in the Westminster Confession, chapter 18, Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation. I highly recommend you carefully read and study this section. Look up the Scriptures cited in the full version. The last paragraph leaves us with these words,
True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair.
(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)