In Romans 8, continually speaks of the contrast between the Spirit and flesh. The chapter begins with how we have all sinned and are unable to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law. Therefore, God has to provide a way (and He did so) through Jesus Christ. Christ is the propitiation for our faith -- He has fulfilled the law and its requirements on our behalf and we can now be counted righteous by the righteousness of another.
The law of the Spirit leads to life and peace, and as Christians, we have the Spirit dwelling in us to give us new desires. This leads to today's study, where we explore and understand our identity in Christ.
(A)Adopted : a new identity in Christ (Rom 8:14-16)
Paul has been teaching about the Spirit of God dwelling in us, and verse 14 is a continuation of Paul's argument from earlier. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are therefore "sons of God". John 1:12-13 tells us that this new identity is part of the will of God. This is consistent with what we have seen so far -- God acts.
Paul goes on to contrast 2 kinds of spirits (Rom 8:15) -- slavery and adoption. The spirit of slavery leads to fear, while the spirit of adoption leads us to cry, "Abba! Father!" Notice the contrast between the identity of a slave and a son. There are rights and privileges that come with transforming from being a slave to a son. Your former debts have been paid, and you now have security and authority in the household. More than that, you now have a relationship with the Father, and can cry out intimately "Abba! Father!'. Do you realise how wonderful this is? When we come before God in prayer, uttering the words "our Heavenly Father", this is not a formula or just a model prayer for us to recite without thinking. To call God our Father is something radical, so radical and mind blowing that Jesus was charged because He claimed to be the Son of God (c.f. Matt 26:53).
Verse 16 tells us that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit. What does this mean? Or to rephrase, how can we be assured and confirm that we are sons of God? Safely to say, this passage shows us there is an experiential element to our faith. This can take the form of new and changed hearts with new desires. God not only gives us new identities, but also sends His spirit with us to confirm it.
The issue of sonship is repeated in these verses. Modern people like us think of sons from a genetic point of view. But to the 1st Century readers, they would understand sonship and its implications differently. Sonship comes with inheritance and continuity, for the son will continue the trade of the father. Isn't that different from our modern sensibilities, where we are told to be what we want to be and dream our dreams? We try our whole lives to become who we think we should be, to try to make an impact on the world and try to leave a lasting impression. We prize individualism, thinking it is our freedom, but Romans 8 shows us a different kind of freedom, and shows us what it really means to be who we are made to be. Paul calls us to become sons of God, our new identity in Christ, to be recognised by the King.
(B) Heirs : a new inheritance through faith (Romans 8:17)
Paul speaks of a privilege, a condition and a consequence of being sons of God.
- Privilege: Heirs of God and heirs with Christ
What are we heirs of? As sons of God, we now have the assurance that we are God's and that we now have the intimacy with him and no longer have condemnation because of Christ (basically everything that we've been talking about so far). The verses in Rom 4:13-14 speak of a full and complete inheritance. God is not stingy and gives us only a portion, but He gives us beyond what we can expect. More importantly, these verses tell us that we inherit it through the "righteousness of faith", not by our striving and merit. Not only that, we are also guaranteed the resurrection body and resurrection.
- Condition: Suffer with Christ
Yet, sonship does not guarantee a trouble free life. Look at the life of Christ. He suffered as the Son of God. The Bible keeps repeating this in many of Paul's letters (c.f. Phil 3:8-11, 1 Peter 1). We all have real struggles, problems and sufferings today. But as we read these verses, let us take our eyes away from our circumstances and realise that equally real are the promises of God here, and the work of Jesus Christ! So, why do we take our eyes of Jesus and the promises that await us in Him, and focus on the problems that we have?
- Consequence: Glorified with Christ after we have suffered with Him.
What does this mean for us today? What do you find your identity in today? How does understanding of your inheritance as a son of God change the way you live today? Perhaps it is time to pause and consider your answer to these questions.