Summary of the Text
Context Matters: If you have ever taken an introduction to exegesis course, you may remember one of the most important rules for properly understanding a given text: look at what comes before and after. If you understand the context in which your passage takes place, then you are far more likely to come to the right conclusions regarding the overall message of the text.
This is most certainly the case with our text this morning, in which we are given a clue straight away that what is about to be said is directly connected to what has just been stated. Verse 12 begins with the Greek construction ara ouv (so then), which relates not just to the earlier verses of chapter 8, but most likely the entirety of chapters 5-8.
Life in Christ Through the Holy Spirit: The conclusion of those chapters is that in Jesus Christ, we are no longer slaves to sin (and its attendant consequences i.e. death.) As F.F. Bruce puts it in the Tyndale Commentary on Romans, “So long as they endeavour to rely on their own resources, they fight a losing battle; when they avail themselves of the resources of life and power that are theirs ‘in Christ Jesus,’ they are more than conquerors. There is therefore no reason why they should go on in a life of penal servitude, bound to carry out the dictates of the tyrannical law of sin and death.”
Rather, we now live, because of Christ’s sacrifice, through the power of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, this gift of salvation and new life comes as a debt (The NIV rendering of ofeileteœs as “obligation” seems to obscure the gravity of Paul’s words here.) Paul starts with the negative, that is what we ought not live according to (the flesh), (vs.12) What then is the debt? It is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and the new life we are able to receive because of it. The good news is, the way we do this is not through arduous and painstaking subservience to a burdensome or or authoritarian ruler. Rather, we are equipped by the Holy Spirit to live, not according to the old ways of death and fear, but in the freedom that comes from a life lived with God. Again, F.F. Bruce is quite helpful here:
But those who belong to the new order of the Spirit do the will of God [Vol.6: Rom, p.160] from the heart. Their own spirit, formerly dead and insensitive, is now instinct with the life which the Spirit of God imparts. Their body may still for the time being be subject to the law of death which results from the entry of sin into the world; but the last word remains with the Spirit of life.
For not only does the Spirit maintain life and power in the spirit of believers here and now; his indwelling presence is a token that their body, still subject to mortality, will rise to new life as Christ’s own body rose.
A Proper Understanding of the Body: There is an important reminder in this passage. It moves away from a body/spirit dualism in which the body is considered evil and the spirit good (as most Greco-Romans believed). Instead, the Holy Spirit empowers us to use our bodies in such a way that we bring Glory to God as opposed to taking part in various forms of immorality. (See 1 Corinthians 6 for example) This new life that is empowered by the Holy Spirit also has the ability to assure us of our salvation and our belonging with God.
Led by the Spirit? At this point, it might be helpful to dispel a certain understanding of how the Holy Spirit works. As Douglas Moo shares in his New International Version Application Commentary, “In popular speech, Christians often use language such as “led by the Spirit” to refer to guidance: “I was led by the Spirit to witness to her.” But this is probably not what Paul means here. As in Galatians 5:18, where the same construction occurs, “being led by the Spirit” means “having the basic orientation of your life determined by the Spirit.” The phrase is a way of summing up the various descriptions of the life of the Spirit in 8:4-9.”
In other words, there ought not be a dichotomy in Christians’ lives between normal, everyday life and life “lived in the Spirit.” Our entire lives are meant to be lived in tune with the Spirit, not just those rare moments of emotional religiosity.
The Familial in God’s Household: With that said, Paul’s primary purpose in this passage is to describe what the new life in the Spirit ought to look like. Interestingly enough, Paul uses a number of familial metaphors in his attempt to help Christ’s followers to understand their new status: “children of God,” “adoption,” and “‘Abba’ Father,” each denote belonging, but they also indicate a new legal status (adoption, heirs) and an intimacy with God (Abba) that would have seemed strange even to the most pious Jew.
The use of the word “Abba” is particularly helpful if we are trying to understand just how personally close we are able to be to God through the Spirit. “Abba,” interestingly enough, is an Aramaic word for father, but it has a sense of intimacy to it that has led at least some to translate the word “papa.”
In contrast to, say, “Father,” Abba is the word a loving son might say as he embraces his Father. There is no hesitancy, no fear of rejection. It is pure love that is expressed in this word. Interestingly enough, we know from the missionary and scholar Ken Bailey that this word is still in use in the Middle East today. The joy and intimacy in “Abba” continues to resonate with Middle Easterners thousands of years later, and through Christ, we too are given the chance to call the creator of the universe, “papa.”
And, just as Jesus says in Matthew 7 (and Proverbs before him), a good parent will always want to give good gifts to their children, including, we might argue, an inheritance. Paul grounds this inheritance as a result of living according to Jesus’ wish: to live according to the Spirit? We are thus made co-heirs with Christ.
Treasures in Heaven: I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid, there were numerous occasions where I would “do” something my parents wished and then I would say, “what do I get for doing that?” My mother’s answer was always the same: “all the prizes,” by which she meant, nothing. But I’ve heard from many Christian friends of mine that, in this same situation, their parents would say, “treasures in heaven,” by which they also meant, “nothing,” at least not in this life.
I think this is actually a rather large discipleship mistake. If we act as though “treasures in heaven” are in fact nothing, then we are essentially telling our children that spiritual rewards don’t in fact have any value. This undermines much of Christian teaching, that the life we live now, often filled with suffering, will be rewarded with significant spiritual gifts, including, as Romans 12 says, being co-heirs with Christ himself. Shouldn’t that be something that is elevated, discussed, and honored by the church, rather than dismissed?
Word Study: (Huiothesia) If you have any familiarity with New Testament Greek, the word Huiothesia may look somewhat familiar. Huios is the word for son and thus Huiothesia is essentially to make one a son (aka adoption).
As F.F. Bruce puts it, adoption in the Roman world had a very specific set of meanings:
The term ‘adoption’ (used here in older English versions) may have a somewhat artificial sound in our ears; but in the Roman world of the first century AD an adopted son was a son deliberately chosen by his adoptive father to perpetuate his name and inherit his estate; he was no way inferior in status to a son born in the ordinary course of nature, and might well enjoy the father’s affection more fully and reproduce the father’s character more worthily.
With that said, the issue of gender inclusive language in this text is somewhat of a sticky wicket. Professor Douglas Moo states the issues with succinctness and care:
[Paul] uses the male terminology because in his culture it was usual for males both to be adopted and to stand as representative of both genders. In other words, to bring this message from Paul’s culture to ours, it seems appropriate, as the NRSV does, to translate uioi in verse 14 as “children.”This may be the best alternative, but one important point may be lost. For our status as “sons” is closely tied, Paul suggests, to Jesus’ status as the Son…We are “sons of God” because we identify with Jesus, the Son. This echo is muted if we drop the terminology of son here.
Regardless of where you end up on the translation, what is most important, is that for those who believe in Jesus Christ, we have been adopted into the household of God, nothing less than Jesus’ inheritance will be shared with us. This is indeed good news!
O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams.
Augustine of Hippo
The Future Orientation of the Beatitudes
In his thoughtful book, Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes, Jonathan K. Dodson describes one of the keys to understanding the beatitudes: live faithfully now, experience Gods blessings in the future:
Another way to read the Beatitudes is as a promise of future blessings for the present. Live poor in spirit now, and you’ll benefit immediately—get a foot in the kingdom, so to speak. Hunger and thirst for righteousness now, and you will get a taste of eternal satisfaction.
This certainly fits with the “future logic” of the New Testament, in which there are frequent exhortations to do something in the present based on future realities: “For this perishable body must put on the imperishable. . . . Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:53, 58).
Taken from Our Good Crisis: Overcoming Moral Chaos with the Beatitudes by Jonathan K. Dodson Copyright (c) 2020 by Jonathan K. Dodson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Comment: It may be a bit confusing to place an excerpt on the beatitudes here in Romans, but on closer inspection we see a continuity that runs between the “future logic” of the beatitudes and Romans 12. We see how both Jesus and Paul speak to this life-often filled with suffering, with the life that is to come. In Romans 8 this life is an inheritance that we get to experience with Jesus! We are “co-heirs” of the inheritance that Jesus himself paid for on the cross-eternal life with God.
The Holy Spirit or the Reverb?
A friend once told me about a Christian singer he knew who rented a recording studio. After an extensive setup and sound check, she began performing her first song. The sound technician thought it sounded great. But about halfway through the first verse, she stopped abruptly, threw up her hands, and said, “It s no use. Turn it off! He’s not here.”
“Him” she said, “the Holy Spirit. His presence—it’s missing.” She called a few friends into the studio, and they commenced to laying their hands on various pieces of equipment, praying for God’s presence and dabbing the equipment with oil.
After a few minutes, she began singing again. About thirty seconds in, she again said: “Stop! He’s not here. Let’s pray again.” Another fifteen-minute session of walking about the room: anointing, shouting, muttering incantations. Again she started … and again she stopped.
And again in came the prayer posse. By this time, the sound tech was getting annoyed. His equipment was getting greasy. As she began recording for the fourth time, he noticed that the reverb on her monitor was turned off, so he reached down and turned it up, at which point she put her hands in the air and began to say, “Hallelujah, there he is! He is here!” “The sound tech simply did not have the heart to say to her, “Uh … no ma’am. That was the reverb.”
Comment: I (Stu) chose this illustration in connection with the earlier point about being “led by the Spirit.” We often interpret our emotional experiences as those led by the Spirit, but, as our text says, the Spirit ought to be leading at all times in our lives, not just when we have some significant religious experience.
Stuart Strachan Jr. is an ordained Presbyterian Pastor as well as the founder and lead curator of the Pastor’s Workshop. His primary passion is equipping the saints for the ministry of the church (Ephesians 4). He loves preaching, teaching, and helping churches cast vision for what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st Century. He has served churches in a variety of capacities in California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
Stu is married to Colleen, who currently serves as a spiritual formation lead at Compassion International in Colorado Springs. Stu and Colleen have two children (Jack and Emma) whom they love deeply.
In his free time, Stu enjoys gardening, golf, reading a good book, and watching baseball.
Additional Sermon Resources
Call to Worship
Adapted from Psalm 27:1-2; 4-5
The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
When the wicked advance against me
to devour me,
it is my enemies and my foes
who will stumble and fall.
One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.
Stuart Strachan Jr.
Prayer of Confession
We confess, Triune God, that we do not live up to your call to lead a life worthy of our calling. We are slow to show humility, gentleness, and patience. We make little effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit. You are three-in-one and one-in-three; all too often we are every man and woman for ourselves. We need the grace you give us when we ask. Thank you for being above all, and through all, and in all, and forgive us for all our sins,
as we continue to confess in silent prayer.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Submitted by Chip Hardwick
Assurance of Pardon
Psalm 116:5 & Colossians 1:13 & 14
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. In Christ we are forgiven!
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to [the] gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, to bring about the obedience of faith–to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.