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The New Way: Freedom from Fear of Abandonment
Romans 8:15-17 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
15 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!” 16 The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, we are also heirs, heirs indeed of God, but joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer together so that we may also be glorified together.
SUPPORTING IDEA: The Holy Spirit testifies with believers’ spirits that they will be forever the children of God.
8:15–16. Paul declares that believers are children of God in whom there should be no fear. What is the fear that Paul says has been removed by the presence of the Spirit of God? Essentially and psychologically, it probably comes closest in our modern era to the codependent person or the addict getting well. Oftentimes people fear losing what has provided their identity for a significant period of time. Just as a former smoker has to learn what to do with his or her hands when nervous or in a social setting, so the new believer fears a new relationship as a child of God. The void left by the absence of sin will be filled by the Spirit and works of righteousness in time, but there is an initial fear. Several passages of Scripture provide insight:
1 Corinthians 2:12: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us” (emphasis added). Do nonbelievers, those who have the “spirit of the world,” live in fear of God and of the unknown? Yes, in their heart of hearts. They fear death, hell, judgment, eternity, punishment—not to mention tomorrow and what it might take from them. You will not find fear being discussed on talk shows, but you will find it being covered up through frantic forays into materialism, sex, substance abuse, depression, and other denial-oriented diversions. When the children of God recognize their position, instead of being afraid of life and God, their eyes are open to what God has freely given them.
2 Timothy 1:7: Instead of “a spirit of timidity” (fear), we have been given the Holy Spirit, who is love, power, and self-discipline. Rather than living in fear of life and what it may hold, the Holy Spirit’s love, power, and self-discipline through us gives us a whole new perspective on life.
Matthew 7:9–11: Children of God do not receive booby prizes or gag gifts from their Father. Even evil fathers know how to give appropriate gifts to their children; how much more will the “Father in heaven” give his children good gifts?
Paul himself provides the best illustration. Instead of a spirit of fear, we have received a spirit of sonship, or adoption. Adoption is a strictly Pauline metaphor, one common to him and his readers in Rome, due to the practice of adoption in the Roman Empire. Paul says in Ephesians 1:5 that adoption is a sovereign act of God, the result of his predestined pleasure and will. In Galatians 4:5–7, he repeats much of what he says in our Romans text, with one important addition: “That we might receive the full rights of sons” (Gal. 4:5). Therein lies the heart of sonship, or adoption. One who was not a natural son is adopted by a father and given every legal right of sonship held by the natural sons. He is made an heir of the father, and given equal standing (often a more privileged standing) with the father’s natural progeny.
Because Paul does not expand the metaphor in detail, the careful expositor will not do so either, pushing cultural aspects of Roman adoption into the realm of sanctification. But the key point—legal standing as a child of God—is fully represented by Paul’s adoption metaphor: Jesus Christ is God’s (only) natural Son and believers are adopted into the family of God and made “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).
As an adoption record in a court of law receives a stamp, seal, or signature verifying its authenticity, and validating the adoptee’s rights from that day forward, so the believer is given a seal by God. The Holy Spirit is given to believers to be a “deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:22). “Having believed,” Paul says, we were “marked in [Christ] with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph. 1:13). In Romans Paul says that the Holy Spirit plays a unique role, testifying with the spirit of the believer that we are God’s children. By the presence and power of the Spirit, we call out to God in a personal way—Abba, Father. The Spirit gives us that liberty in our spirits because we know from him that we are God’s children.
Variant forms of the Aramaic Abba can be heard in the Israeli and Arab marketplaces of today as young children call to their fathers in the hustle and bustle of the crowded market. Abba, or “daddy,” represents the familiar cry of the heart from one who knows who the father is. Because it is the Spirit of God who is given to believers, the heart of the child is linked with the heart of the Father in permanent intimacy.
But the believer is not just a child of God, but an heir of God as well. Being a child means that I have a family now; being an heir means I am included in the family forever.
8:17. No more dramatic validation of our status as co-heirs with Christ can be found than that which came through the Son’s own request to the Father. First, Christ told his Father that he had given the disciples the glory that had been given to him (John 17:22). The purpose of that was that the unity (solidarity) of believers with Christ might be evident to all the world, and that the Father’s love for believers was the same as his love for the Son (John 17:23). Finally, Christ asked the Father: “I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world” (John 17:24). Christ offers to share his own inheritance, his glory, with those whom the Father has given to him, meaning the disciples and all who would believe in him.
But there is a “catch.” Coheirs will share in glory only in the same manner in which the heir achieves glory. In the case of Christ, it was through suffering. The NIV’s if indeed is not a condition in the Greek text, but rather a fact—adopted coheirs share in all the inheritance of the son. If suffering is the son’s portion, then it will likewise be the portion of the adopted coheirs. But Paul never shrunk from this inheritance in his own life, and encourages the believers in Rome to view their past, present, and future sufferings for the cause of Christ as part of their sonship.
If the son learned obedience through suffering, so will the adopted sons (Heb. 5:8). If the son carried around in his body the persecutions of the public, so will the adopted sons (2 Cor. 4:10). If the son grew weak under persecutions without losing heart, so are the adopted sons called to do likewise (2 Cor. 4:16). It is conformity to the son that the adopted sons are gaining day by day as we “are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). We are called to share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.