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Romans 8:14-17 Biblical Commentary:
ROMANS 8:14-17. LED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD—CHILDREN OF GOD
14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God. 15For you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
16The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God; 17and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are children of God” (v. 14). In Israel’s wilderness wanderings, God “went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them on their way, and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light, that they might go by day and by night” (Exodus 13:21). Now it is the Spirit who provides that leadership (Wright, 593).
“For you didn’t receive the spirit of bondage again to fear” (v. 15a). This mention of slavery brings Egypt to mind. It also brings to mind the strict discipline of Torah law—a discipline to which Jews feel obligated, but a discipline so rigorous as to inspire fear. Who, after all, can hope to keep the law in all its detail without significant failure? But Christ has freed us from slavery both to the law and to the sin that the law fails to prevent. Of course, Paul speaks elsewhere of Christians as slaves of obedience (6:16) or righteousness (6:19), but this is not fearful slavery. It represents freedom from sin.
“but you received the Spirit of adoption” (v. 15b). The person who is adopted into a family is placed into that family as a full member.
We Christians are God’s adopted children. While “adopted” might seem to suggest a second-rate status, that is not so when God is the adoptive Father. I especially like the story of the mother of two children––one natural born and the other adopted. When someone asked, “Which child is adopted?” the mother gazed for a moment into the distance and then answered, “I can’t remember.”
“by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (v. 15c). “Abba” is what a Jewish child calls his/her father—an intimate word like “Papa.” Jewish people are sensitive about using God’s name, lest they somehow use it wrongfully (Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11). The idea that anyone would address God so familiarly as “Abba” would astonish anyone raised in that tradition. However, Paul tells us that we are permitted this intimacy because we are children of God—not just God’s people, but God’s children.
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (v. 16). If anyone should happen to question that relationship, the Spirit bears witness to it—bears witness “with our spirit.” What does “our spirit” have to contribute here? What could the witness of “our spirit” add to the Spirit’s witness? Simply this! Living as God’s children and led by the Spirit, our lives take on a new character. People who see our good works “give glory to (our) Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). As we live in accord with our status as members of God’s household, the witness of “our spirit” confirms the Spirit’s witness that we are, indeed, God’s children.
“and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ” (v. 17a). As children of God, adopted into God’s family, we enjoy the full rights and privileges of sons and daughters. God does not treat adopted children as inferior, but makes us heirs—joint heirs with Christ, God’s natural Son.
Israel thought of itself as God’s heir (Deuteronomy 32:9) and the Promised Land as its inheritance. But now God extends family privileges to all those who live according to the Spirit—and expands the inheritance from a small patch of real estate in the Middle East to the kingdom of God.
“if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him” (v. 17b). Paul adds this qualifier. To be eligible for the glory associated with the inheritance, the Christian must be ready to share in Christ’s sufferings. “As members of the same family we share in the trials of life as well as the benefits” (Mounce, 183).
It was Christ’s suffering and death that set the stage for his exaltation in heaven (Philippians 2:5-11). Paul and many other Christians of his day experienced persecution—even martyrdom. In many parts of the world today, Christians are being persecuted. Even nations that pride themselves on tolerance have become increasingly hostile to Christians. While there is no virtue in seeking out persecution, we must be ready to face bravely it if it comes. We can be sure that our faithfulness in the face of persecution will not go unrewarded.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible: The Letter to the Romans (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1975)
Bartow, Charles L., in Van Harn, Roger E. (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: The Second Readings: Acts and the Epistles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001)
Dunn, James D. G., Word Biblical Commentary: Romans 1-8, Vol. 38A (Dallas: Word Books, 1988)
Gaventa, Beverly R. in Brueggemann, Walter; Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year A (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995)
Lockyer, Herbert, Sr., Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986)
Morris, Leon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co, 1988)
Mounce, Robert H., The New American Commentary: Romans, (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995)
Myers, Allen C. (ed.), The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987)
Wright, N. Thomas, The New Interpreter’s Bible: Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Vol. X (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)
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