READ : Romans 8:1-17
What does the Holy Spirit bring about in the depths of our lives?
Welcome, friends to this ninth in our series on the heart of the gospel, studies in Romans Chapters 1-8. Today we begin chapter 8 which is one of the most pivotal, profound, inspiring chapters in the whole Bible! As we move from Chapter 7 with its agonizing inner struggle to Chapter 8, it’s like a sudden gust of fresh air and a wind of excitement. We’re ready to say, “What a difference the Holy Spirit makes!” Listen to a few of the verses from the passage:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law [or the rule] of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. . . . You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God for you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear but you have received the spirit of adoption by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” . . . the Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God. (NRSV)
In this section I want you to see how the Holy Spirit liberates us, how the Holy Spirit lives within us, making our bodies the temple of the Spirit, how the Spirit leads us (we’re governed and guided by the Holy Spirit), and how the Spirit lets us know we are God’s children. (Note four Ls: liberates, lives, leads, lets.)
The Spirit Liberates Us
First, the Spirit liberates us. “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Condemnation is something that we deserve, but we who trust in Christ will never be condemned. The reason, explains Paul, is “what the law could not do because it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin condemned sin in the flesh.” God sends his Son to be one with us and bear our sins. So, instead of the verdict of judgment falling upon us who deserve it, God lets it fall on his beloved Son. He takes our condemnation. He dies our death. He suffers in our place so that we need never be condemned.
Now what the law requires, what we could never do ourselves, can be fulfilled in those who walk by the Spirit. The Spirit lives now in us. The Spirit can guide us in our walk so that more and more the law can be fulfilled in the way we live. The life of Christ can be revealed in our bodies. Everything depends on the fact that the Holy Spirit lives within us.
The Spirit Lives Within Us
Paul writes in another of his letters, “Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have of God, and you are bought with a price.” This is the miracle of the gospel, not only that the Spirit of God moves upon us to transform us, but he also lives within us and brings within us the presence of the living Jesus.
Imagine Jesus as a dynamo of electric power. We are powerless here on the earth. The Holy Spirit is the one who makes the connection between Jesus and you so that the power of God can flow into your life.
Or think of Jesus as the reservoir of living water. We are dry, thirsty, and barren here. The Holy Spirit is like a stream that brings living water into our lives to refresh us and make us new. The Holy Spirit’s living within us bringing us the presence of Jesus. The Holy Spirit is at the heart of everything. So our bodies are dying, but the Spirit of God is God’s life within us. By the indwelling Spirit’s power we shall at last be raised to endless life.
The Spirit Leads Us
Next we read of how the Spirit leads us. We are “debtors,” says Paul, “not to the flesh” (v. 12). We don’t owe anything to our sinful nature and our old pattern of life. But we do owe everything to the Spirit who has brought us Christ, new life and liberation in him.
By the Spirit we can more and more put to death the workings of the flesh (our sinful nature). What we cannot do in our own strength, in dependence on the Holy Spirit we can do. We can make the doings of the body to die – sometimes by starving them and not allowing them to have any expression, sometimes by directly opposing them, but always by the power of the Holy Spirit who brings the power of the risen Jesus to operate in our lives.
So we more and more come to be governed and guided by the Spirit. “As many as are led by the Spirit of God,” says Paul, “they are the children of God.”
The Spirit Tells Us We Are God’s Children
Now we come to a great moment in this passage. Paul says that the Spirit is the very opposite of bondage and misery. The Spirit is a spirit of adoption. Let me reflect on that for a bit.
I have believed for many years that adoption (parents taking an orphan child as their own child) is one of the most beautiful, God-like things that people ever do. I heard about an adoption a while ago that moved me deeply. A well-known musician was speaking on the theme of “going across the street” to minister to people in need.
He told about a tiny baby born in the mountains of the country of Peru who was abandoned on the steps of a church. The baby was found there and placed in a small crib in a village orphanage, with only a wooden floor. His eyes seemed to focus in different directions. His tiny head was severely flattened from lying so long on the board in his crib. He seemed like an abandoned tiny child without any hope.
Somehow a woman here in America found out about this child. She went to Peru, found him, loved him, took him up in her arms, and began an effort to adopt the baby. She ran into unbelievable difficulties with he government in doing that. She had to pay huge sums of money, was held in Peru for months in various kinds of danger. Finally she was able to bring the tiny boy to the U.S.
After many surgeries, the boy regained health, and began to develop. In his early years, he was found to have genius-level intelligence. While still in his mid-teen years he enrolled at Harvard University, and was on his way to becoming a medical doctor. At this point the musician telling the story handed out a picture of this young man, bright and smiling. Then he said, “This is my son, “and the woman who went to Peru for him is my wife!”
That’s just one story about adoption. You and I know of many similar stories. Sometimes infant children are adopted, sometimes older ones, much scarred and with frightening disabilities. But the adoptive parents see these children with eyes of love. They take them into their hearts and homes. You and I know what risks they take. Sometimes the parents have their hearts utterly broken.
A friend of mine and his wife have adopted two sons from the Caribbean Islands and two daughters from Africa. Some have brought them joy, some, untold pain. These adopted children have known blessing but also rejection, prison, and tragedy.
Now back to the Spirit as a Spirit of adoption. Here we learn something marvelous about the heart of God, His heart is the source of the compassion we see in human adoptive parents. We’ve already seen in chapter 5 how God shows his love for us. While we were still sinners – ungodly, rebelling against God – he gave his Son Jesus to die for us! Now this key word: He chooses to adopt us as his own children! He has all the love. He takes all the risks of receiving us into his family as an adoptive parent. He takes us to himself with our warts and all our defects as his beloved children.
Remember how Jesus taught us in the Lord’s Prayer to call God “Father.” This is not something we deserve. It is an unimaginable privilege that comes to us only through Jesus. It is because he came among us, lived a life of utter obedience, died for our sins and rose again. It is because of Jesus that we can call God “Father.” Jesus used that word Abba. He was the only one, as far as we know, in his time to use that as a name for God. And that word in Hebrew is the way a little child calls his “daddy.” It speaks of freedom and joy, affection and complete confidence. Jesus shows us how wonderful, kind, welcoming, and generous our Abba is, a Father running to meet his little child.
Now one of the blessed ministries of the Holy Spirit, we learn here in Romans 8, is to give us a deep sense of God’s fatherly heart toward us. Listen: “When we cry Abba, Father, it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our Spirit that we are children of God” (vv. 15-16). When you search and feel deep in your heart that God is your loving Father through Jesus, that is the Holy Spirit’s work. You are praying Abba, and the Holy Spirit is assuring you “Yes, Abba, God is your generous, caring Father!”
Sometimes people have a hard time with this idea that God is a Father. Maybe your father was absent, or he did not care for you, or (God forbid) he was mean and beat you. But sometimes children see a father figure in another man.
I know a man named Steve who when he was growing up had no parents. He went from one foster home to another, never remembering of any love there. Then later in his life a coach showed interest in him, believed in him, spent time with him. When Steve later became a believer in Jesus, the idea of God’s fatherhood became real to him in the person of that coach.
See how Jesus treated people. That’s God our Father’s heart! And you who believe in Jesus are dearer to God than you could ever dare to imagine. When you begin to sense that about God, to know that even a little bit, it’s the Holy Spirit assuring you.
And, friends, if you are children of God, you are also God’s heirs. Everything he has he will give to you! You are fellow heirs with Christ of all God’s wealth (riches)! Celebrate that as long as you live. As the Apostle John said, “Behold, what manner of love the Father has shown to us that we should be called children of God!” And that is who we really are—children of God!
So, friends, be glad today. The Holy Spirit liberates us from the law of sin and death. The Holy Spirit comes down to live within our bodies and make them his temples. The Holy Spirit leads us in our struggle against sin, giving us power to resist it and put it to death. And the Spirit fills us with the wonderful assurance that we are God’s beloved children. Praise be to God, our Abba!