Slavery and Sons
(Rom 8:14-15 ESV) 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
“Sons of God” is a reference to —
(Deu 14:1-2 ESV) “You are the sons of the LORD your God. … 2 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
Those “led by the Spirit” — like the Israelites were led by the glory of God — are, like the Israelites, sons of God.
In v. 15, Paul re-visits Romans 6 – 7, in which he describes Christianity as slavery to God — a difficult image for sure. Now, in contrast to being enslaved to the flesh, we are adopted sons of God!
Like the Prodigal Son, who asks to be a household servant but is restored to sonship, by the Spirit, we are translated from mere slaves to sons.
Yes, by all rights, we are debtors who owe everything to God. How do we pay the debt? In the First Century, the bankrupt often sold themselves into slavery. But in his unspeakable grace, God takes beggars who cannot begin to pay what they owe and adopts them as sons!
Therefore, Paul says, we do not “fall back into fear.” Slaves could be beaten or even killed by their masters. They were mere chattels — property to be used for the master’s pleasure. But a son — well, a son is the father’s treasured possession and heir. Sons have nothing to fear from their fathers.
Indeed, sons have a relationship with their fathers — an Abba relationship — of intimate, comfortable, secure love.
“Abba” is, of course, the term for a father used by children — “dad” or “daddy” — not the term for a formal, distant relationship.
(Rom 8:16-17 ESV) 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
The point of this passage is, of course, that sonship assures us of inheritance. And the Torah and Old Testament prophets spoke frequently of the Promised Land as an “inheritance” — and Paul uses this image to speak of the ultimate reward of an inheritance — the true Promised Land we receive in the New Heavens and New Earth.
But in what sense does the Spirit “bear witness” that we are children of God? Paul doesn’t say explicitly, but by now, surely we have enough information to figure it out.
First, the Spirit leads us — which should be perceptible. Second, the Spirit helps us defeat sin — which should be perceptible. Third, the Spirit brings us into Abba-relationship with God — which should be perceptible. Yes, Paul is a bit of a Pietist.
Paul warns, however, that for all the glory that is promised, there may well be times of suffering — in which we must suffer as Christ did. Indeed, his language literally makes glorification conditioned on suffering.
We modern folk tend to skip these passages as relics of a difficult past, forgetting that persecution is very real in many lands today. We also fail to realize that we often fail to suffer today because we just aren’t that different from the world.
(Rom 5:3-5 ESV) 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Paul argues that suffering leads to hope, which is assured to us by the Spirit. He copies the language of the prophets regarding the Spirit — “poured into our hearts” — whom he sees as the means by which we receive God’s love.
Our sufferings produce hope because our sufferings force us to become better people — people better conformed to the Torah of the Spirit of life — people who endure suffering comforted by the certainty of God’s love and hope of an inheritance.
And Romans 8:17 looks ahead to —
(Rom 12:1 ESV) I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
This famous passages is differently textured when “living sacrifice” is read in light of the suffering passages! But I’m entirely certain that Paul had persecution in mind as a primary form of sacrifice. (We’ll come back to this passage.)
(Rom 8:18-19 ESV) 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
Here’s the point that persists through all these passages: suffering is a sacrifice that will rewarded by glory — a glory we presently have within us but which has not yet been fully revealed.
Again, we miss the power of the passage not knowing our Old Testaments. “Glory” is taken from such passages as —
(Exo 24:16-18 ESV) 16 The glory of the LORD dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
(Exo 40:34-35 ESV) 34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
(1Ki 8:10-13 ESV) 10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD. 12 Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. 13 I have indeed built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”
“Glory” is God’s intense, shining presence among his people. The glory that is within us is, of course, the Spirit — but, Paul tells us, although the Spirit is often subtle and difficult to discern today, his presence will be “revealed” in all its glory.
(Dan 12:2-3 ESV) 2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
But, of course, it’s more! In the afterlife, not only will we shine “like stars in the universe” (Phil 2:15 NIV), but we’ll see God in the fullness of his glory.
(Rev 21:10-11 NIV) 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.