Romans 8: A Comforting Reminder
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” – Romans 8:14
Is there anything more comforting in all of God’s revealed word than the thought that in Christ we are sons of God? We are finding ourselves climbing higher and higher up the mountain peak of Romans 8 and now in verse 14 we have stepped out on to one of those rare ledges where we can look out and take in one of the most beautiful views in all the landscape of God’s Scripture: the glorious doctrine of our adoption in Christ. The air up here is fresh and breathing it in brings an exhilarating assurance to any Christian who takes the time look and take in the wonder of its truth.
The first thing we need to notice is the immediate logic which leads Paul to declare this stunning truth. He’s just been arguing that since Christians are people who have the Spirit of Christ indwelling them, and therefore the Spirit works within them to put to death the deeds of the body, to mortify sin within our lives. But notice the move he makes here in verse 14. It’s as if he’s saying, how could our lives look any different! Of course, Christians put sin to death because “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” In other words, if you have the Spirit of God within you, you will necessarily act and live your life in such a way that shows you are a part of God’s family. “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
I remember in High School my father pulling me aside anytime I was ready to go to some get together with friends, and he’s always say the same thing: “Remember who you are. Remember your last name, that you are an Unthank.” His point was clear. How I acted at this High School party represented my whole family and therefore he was reminding me to not act in such a way that was contrary to how he and my mom raised me. To my shame I didn’t always heed his advice well, but looking back I know those brief reminders kept me out of far more trouble then had he never said anything at all.
In one sense, Paul is doing the same thing here. He’s reminding us of who we are. Do you see the objective reality of his statement. It’s a statement of indicative truth. If you are led by the Spirit of God, then, says Paul, that means you are a son of God. He doesn’t say “All who live a life of righteousness will one day, maybe, gain the status of being God’s son. No, if you have his Spirit then, de facto, you are God’s son. On one level, this is nothing more than Paul reminding us, you’re a Christian; God is now no longer your judge but your Heavenly Father, and because of that you yourself are a changed person! Live like it! “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
But there’s more to what Paul is saying here. He’s also reminding us that we are in Christ. Remember, that’s been the major thrust of Paul’s argument so far in Romans 8. He began by declaring the wonderful good news that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And we’ve seen how all the benefits of our salvation and redemption aren’t gifts given to us out of thin air; no, everything we have in terms of salvation we have by being found in Christ. He is our Righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30) and so by faith in him and becoming one with him, his righteousness becomes our righteousness. He is Wisdom (Proverbs 8) and so by becoming one with him through faith, his wisdom becomes our wisdom. And now Paul is telling us, “Look, Jesus is the Son of God. And so, by believing in him and thus becoming one with him, his sonship now becomes our sonship.” It’s a staggering reality! Because of Jesus Christ we are now adopted as sons in the Son. Incidentally, I think this is why Scripture always uses the language of “son” rather than “sons and daughters.” The emphasis is on our union in Christ. We are all sons, whether we’re male or female, simply because we’re united in the Son. Ladies, don’t fret, all believing men are caught up in the image of the church as the Bride of Christ, so it all evens out.
The Puritan Thomas Watson, in his magisterial work, A Body of Divinity, expresses the awesome wonder of our adoption well. He says, “Extol and magnify God’s mercy, who has adopted you into his family; who, of slaves, has made you sons; of heirs of hell, heirs of the promise. Adoption is a free gift. He gave them power, or dignity, to become the sons of God. As a thread of silver runs through a whole piece of work, so free grace runs through the whole privilege of adoption. Adoption is greater mercy than Adam had in paradise; he was a son by creation, but here is a further sonship by adoption. To make us thankful, consider, in civil adoption there is some worth and excellence in the person to be adopted; but there was no worth in us, neither beauty, nor parentage, nor virtue; nothing in us to move God to bestow the prerogative of sonship upon us. We have enough in us to move God to correct us, but nothing to move him to adopt us, therefore exalt free grace; begin the work of angels here; bless him with your praises who has blessed you in making you his sons and daughters.”
This truth should lead us to ponder the amazing nature of God’s grace toward us. Tim Keller, pastor of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, says it well: “The image of adoption tells us that our relationship with God is based completely on a legal act by the Father. You don’t “win” a father, and you don’t “negotiate” for a parent. Adoption is a legal act on the part of the father — it is very expensive and costly only for him. There is nothing the son does to win or earn the status. It is simply received.” Do you see? We are God’s children not through any effort of our own, and certainly not because God saw anything worthy within us. No, we are sons of God simply and solely through grace.
Which also means that if we’re not believers, or as Paul would state it here, if we don’t have and are not led by the Spirit of God, well then, we are not God’s children. This is a truth which many fail to realize these days. Not everyone is a child of God; God is not a Father to all people. Yes, Paul says in Acts 17:28 that all humanity is God’s offspring, but it’s clear he only means that in the sense that we are created by God. When it comes to our spiritual reality, our spiritual relationship, the language used is radically different. Consider Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in John 8, when the Pharisees boast of their Jewish lineage as making them right with God and even calling God their Father. Jesus responds with the striking words, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here… You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires” (John 8:42,44).
Or again, Paul’s words in Ephesians 2, speaking there of unbelievers, those who have not yet been born again and put their faith in Jesus. “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3).
Do you see? Twice here Paul refers to those who are not in Christ as “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath.” This truth ought to convict and frighten those who have not yet put their entire trust and faith in Christ. If your life is not a life clearly led by the Spirit of God - which means, according to Paul in Romans 8:12, a life which is putting to death sin and fighting temptation - then you are a child of wrath. As Jesus says in John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” You must repent and turn to Christ and once you believe in Him and become one with Him by His Spirit, you will find you are now being led by the Spirit; and here’s the sweet assurance of verse 13, you can know you’re a son of God.
What a sweet truth indeed. To know that God is our Father and we his child! This is the stuff worship is made of, and worship God we should do. Paul will spend the next paragraph unpacking this most beautiful of doctrines, and as we explore its contours, I pray you are encouraged and strengthened in your worship to and love of God. What better news could you ponder than to know that the God of all creation, the God who controls every detail and atom in existence, is your Father. Consider that personal pronoun, your. You are his child, and he your Father. Stand tall, dear Christian, and remember who your beloved and loving Father is.
Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC. He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.
 Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (The Banner of Truth Trust), p. 240