Children of God and Heirs with Christ

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Romans 8:12-17

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called The Greatest Chapter in the Bible, and we are taking a few weeks to look at Roman 8 together. Why? Because Romans 8 is great! It is an amazing chapter full of rich truths about God, Christ, the Holy Spirit and living the Christian life.

Today we come to a passage that presents another beautiful truth of Scripture – that as believers in Christ we are children of God and heirs with Christ. And this is something we come to know through the Holy Spirit who lives in us. (Read Romans 8:12-17 and pray)

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What does it mean to be children of God and heirs with Christ? Last week we talked about living according to the Spirit. When the Spirit of God comes to live in you, you become a new person in Jesus Christ. Now when you become a Christian, all sorts of things become new in your life. But today’s passage highlights three things in particular that become new for you. You have a new obligation, a new family and a new future. So let’s look at all three of these together.

I. You have a new obligation (12-14)

First of all, you have a new obligation.

   A. You have no obligation to the sinful nature (12)
      – Romans 6:20-21

And the first thing Paul points out to us here is that you have no obligation to the sinful nature. Look at verse 12: “Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation – but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it.” (Romans 8:12)

We learned last week that when you become a Christian, you become a new person in Christ, but your body doesn’t change. You still have a mortal body that is subject to sickness, sin and death. Which means you still sin. You still have a sinful nature, but Paul says you have no obligation to the sinful nature. None whatsoever. You don’t owe your sinful nature anything.

Think about it. What did your sinful nature ever do for you? It only leads to death. Paul talks about this earlier in the book of Romans in chapter six. He says, “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!” (Romans 6:20-21) What benefit did you reap from being a slave to the sinful nature? Absolutely none. Your sinful nature never did a good thing for you in your whole life. You have no obligation to it at all.

A little later in this morning’s passage we are going to be talking about adoption into God’s family. When you are adopted into a new family, your old family no longer has any rights in your life. In the same way, your sinful nature lost any rights over you the moment you entered God’s family. You have no obligation to the sinful nature.

Now that doesn’t mean that you have no obligations. Paul says we do have an obligation, just not to the sinful nature. As a believer in Christ you have a new obligation to God who adopted you into his family.

   B. You are called to put sinful deeds to death by the Spirit (13)
      – Colossians 3:5

You have no obligation to the sinful nature. Instead, you are called to put sinful deeds to death by the Spirit. That’s what Paul says in verse 13: “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13) You have been set free from the power of sin, but you still have to fight against it.

Once again, the stakes are high. If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die. So, you have a choice. Either you can die, or your sin can die. It’s like two opponents locked in a room. It’s either him or me. Well in this case, it’s either sin or you. One of you has got to go. Which will it be? “If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)

This command to put sin to death is in the present tense. In other words, this is not something that you do once and then you’re all done with it. No, this is something you must do every day. You must continually be putting to death the misdeeds of the body.

Paul says something similar in Colossians 3 where he says: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” (Colossians 3:5-6)

Now “put to death” may sound extreme, and it is. But that’s because sin is an extreme problem. We don’t always understand how serious sin is. Sin defies God, it defiles the person, and it destroys human relationships. And so, the proper response to sin is not to treat it casually but to kill it. You don’t try to trick it, train it or tame it; you must terminate it. You don’t put it aside or put it in a drawer; you put it to death! Extreme problems require extreme solutions.

John Owen was a famous pastor in 1600’s, and he had a famous saying: “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you!” We are to be merciful with sinners but ruthless with sin. Sin is under a death sentence, and we are to take part in its execution.

Back to Romans 8: “If you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13) Notice that you don’t try to put these sinful deeds to death by yourself. Paul says you do it by the Spirit. In other words, this is your action, it’s something you must do, but you can only do it in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We don’t have the power to stop sin on our own, but in Christ we do have the power to submit to the Holy Spirit. The fact that you have been set free from sin by the Spirit of God does not relieve you of your obligation to put sin to death in your life. Rather, it gives you a new obligation and a new ability to do what you could never do before.

It’s not all you trying to kill sin in your life and no Spirit. And it’s not all the Holy Spirit, where you do nothing and expect the Spirit to do all the work. No, it’s you and the Spirit working together, you fighting sin and the Holy Spirit giving you the power to follow through.

   C. You are called to follow the Spirit (14)
      – Galatians 5:16

Which leads us to the next part of your new obligation to God. You are not only called to put sinful deeds to death by the Spirit. You are called to follow the Spirit in your life. That’s what Paul says in verse 14: “… because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)

As a Christian you have a new obligation to follow the Spirit’s leading, to go where the Spirit goes, to live as the Spirit directs you to live. This is not so much following the Spirit’s leading in the sense of guidance in your life or knowing God’s will. Rather this is the same idea of living according to the Spirit that we looked at last week. As a believer in Christ you are led, directed, governed, controlled by the Spirit. In other words, the Spirit is now the primary influence in your life. The Spirit leads you how to live your life, choosing God’s ways over sin.

It’s similar to what Paul says in Galatians 5:16: “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Galatians 5:16) All these phrases we use to talk about the Spirit – walk by the Spirit, live by the Spirit, led by the Spirit – they all mean the same thing. The Spirit is now the directing influence in your life instead of your old sinful nature.

You don’t owe your sinful nature anything. Why? Because it only brings death! Rather you have a new obligation. You are called to put sinful deeds to death by the Spirit, and you are called to follow the Spirit and live.

II. You have a new family (15-16)

Paul says those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. And that phrase “sons of God” leads us into a new thought. Not only do you have a new obligation as a believer. You have a new family. That’s what we find as move into verses 15-16.

   A. You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear (15a)
      – Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 John 4:18

Here Paul talks about the Spirit you received when you became a Christian. First, he tells you what type of spirit you did not receive. Look at verse 15: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear.” (Romans 8:15a) Paul is talking about your old life, before you came to Christ. Your old life before Christ was marked by slavery and fear. You were a slave to sin, and therefore you were also a slave to fear. And you were afraid of two things in particular. You were afraid of death, and you were afraid of punishment.

The book of Hebrews talks about the fear of death. We read this about Jesus in Hebrews 2: “… so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15) Before you came to Jesus you were held in slavery to fear of death. But now through Jesus you are free from the fear of death.

What about fear of punishment? We read about fear of punishment in the book of 1 John. 1 John 4:18 says: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)

When you come to Christ, you are freed from the old fear of death and punishment. You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear.

   B. You received the Spirit of sonship and call on God as your Father (15b)
      – Matthew 6:9; Mark 14:36

No, Paul says you received a very different spirit when you came to Christ. Back to Romans 8:15: “… but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Romans 8:15b) The word “sonship” here means the same as adoption. Paul is saying when you came to Christ, God sent the Holy Spirit into your life and adopted you into his family.

There are no naturally born children in God’s family. Only Jesus is the Son of God by nature. The rest of us were adopted. But here’s the thing. When you are adopted, you receive all the same rights of a natural born child. It’s the same as if you were born into the family. You are truly part of the family of God.

You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. The Holy Spirit does not make you a slave but a son, and Paul says by him, by the Holy Spirit, we cry, “Abba, Father.”

The word “abba” is an Aramaic word for father that speaks of love, intimacy and respect. It’s the word a small child might use for their father. Some have suggested it’s similar to our “papa,” or “Dad,” or even “Daddy,” but I like the expression, “dear father,” which best captures the ideas of intimacy and respect.

This was Jesus’ own word for God as his Father. He used it in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed, “Abba, Father.” (Mark 14:36) You have been adopted into God’s family, and so you are given the same word to address God as Father that Jesus used: “Abba, Father, Papa, dear Father.” Jesus also taught us to call God Father in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9)

Do you call on God as Father? Please know that you can only do so by the Holy Spirit. The very fact that you call on God as your heavenly Father is a sign of the Holy Spirit working in you and that you are indeed a child of God. Romans 8:15 says: “You received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Romans 8:15b)

   C. God’s Spirit testifies with your spirit that you are God’s children (16)
      – Galatians 4:6

But there’s still another truth you need to know about the Holy Spirit and your adoption. Paul writes in verse 16: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:16) We call this the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. Paul talks about it again in Galatians 4:6: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Galatians 4:6)

In one sense we know we are God’s children simply because God tells us so in his Word, and we trust his Word. But God also gives us this internal witness through the Holy Spirit where the Holy Spirit joins with our spirit in crying out “Abba Father,” so we also know deep in our hearts that we are part of the family of God.

Notice in Romans it is you who call out “Abba, Father.” In Galatians it is the Spirit in your heart who calls out “Abba, Father.” And so, there is this dual witness to your adoption into God’s family. Not only do you cry out “Abba Father,” but the Spirit himself testifies with your spirit that you are a child of God. You really do have a new family now that you’ve come to Christ.

III. You have a new future (17)

When the Holy Spirit comes to live in your life, you have a new obligation. You have a new family. And thirdly, you have a new future.

   A. You are an heir of God and co-heir with Christ (17a)
      – Galatians 4:7; Ephesians 1:13-14; Hebrews 1:2

You are an heir of God and co-heir with Christ. We see this in verse 17: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:17a) Galatians 4:7 says something similar: “You are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:7)

Most of us would get pretty excited if we opened up the mail and found out that some long, lost relative we never heard about left us their inheritance. But as a Christian you have an amazing inheritance waiting for you. God’s inheritance outstrips anything this world could ever give.

Now this inheritance works a little different than the inheritances we get here on earth. Here on earth you get your inheritance when someone else dies. With God you get your inheritance when you die! Which is a good thing, because if you had to wait until God died, you would never get it at all!

Romans 8 says you are not only an heir of God; you are a co-heir with Christ. That means whatever Jesus inherits, you inherit with him. And what does Jesus inherit? Everything! We read in Hebrews 1:2 that God “appointed his Son heir of all things.” (Hebrews 1:2) And you are a co-heir with Christ! Co-heirs are different from multiple heirs. Multiple heirs each receive a share of the property. But co-heirs inherit all the property together. Everything God gives to Jesus, he also gives to you. And God gives Jesus everything.

This is both amazingly generous and exceedingly gracious. Jesus receives all things because he deserves it. He earned it. His inheritance is what is due him. But we do not earn or deserve it. We receive it only by grace. We are joined with Christ by faith, and so we are co-heirs with Christ by the grace of God.

And how do you know you have this inheritance waiting for you? Well, once again, just like with your sonship, you know it by faith in God’s Word. But also, just as with your sonship, you know it by the Holy Spirit living within you. We read in Ephesians 1: “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” (Ephesians 1:13-14) How do you know you will receive this amazing inheritance in Christ? Because God gave you a deposit. The Holy Spirit is God’s deposit guaranteeing the inheritance you will receive in the future.

   B. You share in Christ’s sufferings that you may also share in his glory (17b)
      – Matthew 5:11-12; 1 Peter 1:6-7

There’s one more point Paul makes in this verse and it has to do with suffering. Look at the second part of verse 17 where Paul writes: “… if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8:17b)

These are not just the ordinary sufferings of life. Rather, verse 17 speaks of sharing in Christ’s sufferings. Sharing in Christ’s sufferings means the suffering we experience because we are faithful to Christ. All Christians suffer with and for Christ. It’s part of being a Christian.

When you start putting sin to death and following the Spirit and identifying with Christ, the world does not like that, and you will suffer accordingly. But even as you suffer, you are blessed. As Jesus said in Matthew 5: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11-12)

Your sufferings with Christ do not call your sonship or heirship into question. Rather, they are a necessary part of your journey to heaven. And they eventually will result in glory. As we read in 1 Peter 1: “You may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith … may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Here is an important truth. In Christ your sufferings have value and meaning. Suffering does not get the last word. Suffering is not the end of the story. I peeked at the back of the book, and the last word is not suffering but glory!

Romans 8:17 is transitional and prepares us for next week’s message on the hope of future glory. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. We share in Christ’s sufferings that we may also share in his glory.

CONCLUSION: When the Holy Spirit comes to live in you, you become a brand, new person. That means you have a new obligation. You owe nothing to your old sinful nature; you owe everything to God. You have a new family. You are adopted into God’s family and God is your heavenly Father. And you have a new future. You are heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ, and the Holy Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing your inheritance.

You don’t owe your old sinful nature anything, but you owe God everything. God adopted you into his family. He cancelled your sin and made you an heir to his glory. So, let us take seriously our obligation to put sin to death and to follow the Spirit. Let us rejoice in our adoption into God’s family through faith in Jesus Christ. And let us endure suffering for Christ knowing that we will also share in Christ’s glory.

© Ray Fowler

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