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‘AND IF CHILDREN, THEN HEIRS’ – Romans 8.15-17

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on June 18, 2017 under 2017 |

Preached Father’s Day Sunday, June 18, 2017 from Romans 8.15-17

Theme: Our adoption in Christ makes us absolutely sure to be heirs along with Christ.

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)

I’m going to do something a little unusual this morning. Last Sunday, I shared from a passage in Romans 8; and this morning—in order to reflect on Father’s Day—I’ve felt led to go ‘backwards’ a few verses in that same chapter (rather than my usual ‘forward’ direction), and to share from what I believe to be one of the greatest portions of Scripture we could ever look at with respect to God’s fatherly love.

It’s truly an amazing passage—one that tells us one of the most remarkable things that we could ever hear in all the New Testament. And more than that; in my opinion, it is the greatest affirmation we could ever find in the Bible about our identity in Christ. If we were to fully embrace it as the truth and allow what it says to truly grip our hearts, it would change everything else about us.

And it all has to do with God’s gracious ‘fatherly’ act toward us of ‘adoption’.

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You see; there are several ways that we can understand God’s relationship as ‘father’ toward us as human beings. The first and most obvious one—the one that almost everyone in the world automatically thinks of—is as our Creator. It’s perfectly proper, I believe, for all people in this world to think of God as ‘Father’ in that way; because the apostle Paul once spoke to even the unbelieving, paganistic people of Athens and quoted one of their own poets and said, “For we are also His offspring” (Acts 17:28).

But I believe we ought always to be careful in how we express that to people. It’s certainly true that God is qualified to be considered the Father of all people because He is their Creator; and they are all made in His image. But that doesn’t mean He has what we might call ‘a parental relationship’ as Father with all people. I think it’s always important to remember that the Lord Jesus once told a group of religious leaders who were opposing Him and who would not believe on Him, “You are of your father the devil” (John 8:44). Clearly, those people that Jesus spoke to were created by God; but they didn’t have a relationship with God in which He could be called their Father. Quite the opposite, in fact! And so, just because someone has God as their ‘Father’ in the sense that He is their Creator, that doesn’t mean they have a right relationship with Him as ‘Father’ in that spiritual and salvational sense; and we might confuse people if we fail to tell them that something else needs to happen first before they can rightly call God their ‘Father’.

That other thing that needs to happen is that they must be ‘born again’; and it’s only then that we can understand God as our ‘Father’ in a second sense—that is, in a parental sense in which He has begotten us again by salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself also spoke of this. He once told a ruler of the Jews named Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). The Bible tells us that, to as many has have received Jesus—that is, to as many as have believed on Him as the Son of God who came to this earth to pay the penalty for our sins, and to as many as have placed their faith on His work for us on the cross;

to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12-13).

It’s only those who have been ‘born again’ by faith in Jesus who have the right to call themselves God’s children in a fully relational, fully parental, fully salvational sense. It’s only those who have been ‘born again’ who have the right to look to the heavenly Father as their Father, and to cry out to Him in their time of need, and to expect that God will care for them as His own in a full relationship of love, and anticipate spending an eternity in His house.

But there’s a third sense in which God is ‘Father’ to people. It’s a sense that applies to all of those who have become His children by being ‘born-again’ by faith in Jesus. And though it may not sound very ‘warm and fuzzy’, I think the best way to think of it is in a ‘legal’ sense more than in just a strictly ‘relational’ sense. And that’s where God declares that He has ‘adopted’ the believing man or woman as His own child—with all the rights and privileges that come with full sonship and daughtership.

In Galatians 4:4-5, the apostle Paul writes about the Lord Jesus—born into this world as a full-fledged member of the human race; and says,

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5).

And that actually happens to a believer long before he or she receives Jesus and is born-again by faith in Him. It is a decision that God made, long before the world was ever made, about those whom He chose for Himself and who would eventually be given the faith to believe on Jesus. In Ephesians 1:3-6, Paul writes;

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:3-6).

Now; when you think about it, when someone adopts a child, it is a greater act of love than they could express even to one of his or her own natural children. A natural-born child is, of course, automatically loved by his or her parents. It’s natural, because that child is their own by virtue of the fact that they were born to them. But in adoption, someone takes a child that is not their own—for whom there is no natural relationship or natural obligation of love and care—and legally declares them, once and for all, to be their own. They thus give to that child, for whom they have no natural connection, a permanent and complete relationship with themselves as their own child—with all the rights and privileges that would come with being a natural-born child; and with nothing being held back because they were not ‘natural-born’.

That truly is a greater expression of love than anyone could show to a natural-born child. And the Bible tells us that that’s what God the Father has done for us who are in Christ. He has declared that He has fully ‘adopted’ us as His own—once and for all and from before the world was made—and that He thus declares us to possess all the rights and privileges that pertain to full ‘sonship’ or ‘daughtership’ forever as an act of His grace.

So you see; this idea of God declaring us to be His ‘adopted’ children is, perhaps, the most profound truth we could ever grasp with respect to our identity in Christ. It means more than simply that God ‘created’ us. And it takes even the marvelous idea that we have been ‘born-again’ a step further. It lets us know that we are now, by faith, God’s own sons and daughters in the fullest legal sense possible. I would never even dare to think or say such a thing unless God Himself had declared it in His word to be so. But the fact is that we are, right now, as much His own beloved sons and daughters—by adoption—as Jesus Himself. We are not, of course, “only begotten” in the unique sense that is only true of Jesus. But nevertheless, we have been ‘legally adopted’ by God and share all the rights and privileges of ‘sonship’ that Jesus Himself possesses. The Father now loves us as much as He loves His only begotten Son; and we now are destined to share in all of the heavenly glory and the rich inheritance that belongs to Jesus Himself.

That’s what our passage this morning is all about. I think now would be a good time to look at it. You’ll find it in Romans 8:15-17.

The apostle Paul was explaining how we have been raised from spiritual death unto new life with Jesus by faith; and that we are now indwelt by the Holy Spirit who empowers us to live the life that Jesus lived on this earth—promising even that our frail, mortal bodies will one day be raised in glory like Jesus’ own body. And Paul writes;

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:15-17).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ—dear fellow full-fledged children of the heavenly Father—I honestly can’t think of a passage of Scripture that more gloriously proclaims to us how great our identity is in Christ! And I can’t think of a better passage to look to for a sense of security in our prospect of eternal glory in Christ! If we let what it says to us truly sink into our hearts, it cannot help but change everything about us! It teaches us that our adoption in Christ makes us absolutely sure to be heirs along with Christ in the day of glory!

And so, what a great passage to consider in honor of our true heavenly Father on Father’s Day!

* * * * * * * * * *

First; let’s look carefully at what this passage has to tell us about …


Notice first how Paul writes, in verses 15, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption …”

This verse uses the word “spirit” twice; and if you’re using the translation of the Bible that I’m using, you’ll notice that the first word “spirit” is not capitalized; and the second word “Spirit” is capitalized. That’s not true in all translations; but it’s found to be that way in the translation that I’m sharing from today. And that difference was an interpretive decision on the part of the translators. Neither of the two words “spirit” are capitalized in the original language; and so, the translators are suggesting that the first appearance of the word “spirit” is a kind of attitude, and the second appearance of the word “Spirit” is a reference to the Holy Spirit.

But I humbly disagree with that interpretation. I believe that both uses of the word “spirit” in verse 15 should be understood in the same way. And I suggest that the best way to understand it is as a reference to a kind of ‘attitude’ or ‘disposition’ or an ‘inner orientation’. I believe that verse 15 should be translated this way: “For you did not receive the inner orientation of bondage again to fear, but you received the inner orientation of adoption …”

Before we were born-again by faith in Jesus, we were under the bondage of the rules and regulations of God’s law. We could have no relationship with God, because we were sinful law-breakers who lived in rebellion against Him. We were unrighteous in His sight; and indeed, we could be no other way. In that respect, our motivation toward God—if we had one at all—was one of fear. We feared judgment; and we feared hell; and if we tried to make ourselves righteous in His sight, we feared any failure on our part to measure up and keep His standards. We were afraid that we could never earn His approval.

And when we trusted Jesus as our Savior, we were made to die with Jesus to that old way of living. He died for our sins; and we were placed in Him and died with Him. As Paul puts it in Romans 6:3-4;

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).

And when we were raised again with Jesus, to what was it that we were raised? Was it to the same thing?—to that old spiritual disposition and orientation of bondage under the law; an inner orientation that was driven and motivated by fear? No! We were not raised ‘ to that! That’s why Paul says we did not receive “again” that old inner orientation of bondage. Instead, were raised to a whole new disposition and orientation—one in which we are officially and legally and graciously declared to be full sons and daughters of God by adoption. And now, we are no longer motivated by fear as if we were slaves in that old orientation of bondage. Rather, we are motivated by love as God’s full sons and daughters—100% accepted in His sight through faith in Jesus Christ.

And notice how we express this new orientation of adoption. It’s one “by whom [or as it would be better to translate, “by which”] we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’.” “Abba” is an Aramaic word. That was the native language of the Jewish people. It was the language of Jesus; and it was also the language of Paul. And this word “Abba” is simply Paul’s familiar word for “Father”. It’s a very intimate word—very close in feel to “Papa” or “Daddy”. Little children in certain parts of the world can still be heard running out the door when their father comes home from work, shouting, “Abba! Abba!” But Paul also uses the Greek word for “father”; and says, that it is by this new attitude or orientation of ‘adoption’ that we cry out to God as “Abba, Father”. In Christ, it is the ‘cry’ of both Jewish believers and Gentile believers alike.

And by the way; does that phrase sound familiar to you? It was the very same way that our Lord Jesus cried out to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night in which He was betrayed—just before going to the cross for us. It was His cry to the Father in a time of distress and agony. And I believe that Paul is telling us that—because of this new inner spiritual orientation and disposition and attitude of ‘adoption’ in which God has placed us through Jesus, we find that our hearts naturally cry out to Him in a time of need in the same way as Jesus our Savior and elder Brother did.

But it’s not just our own inner-being that testifies of this to us. It’s also the testimony of the Holy Spirit that God has placed in us when we believed on Jesus. As Paul says in verse 16 of our passage this morning, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God …”

Here, you see that the word “Spirit” is correctly capitalized. And the next word “spirit” refers to that aspect of our inner being that relates to God. The Holy Spirit fulfills a wonderful ministry in us toward our own spirits. In Romans 5:5, Paul tells us,

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:5).

The Holy Spirit took up permanent residence in us when we believed on Jesus. And His presence in us constantly ensures that we do not need to remember our identity in our own power as we walk this earth. He Himself points our attention to Jesus, and helps us to keep our eyes on Him, and continually reminds us that—because of what Jesus has done for us—we are now truly in a relationship of full “sonship” toward God along with Him.

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So then; that’s our identity—right now—as God’s adopted children in Christ. The testimony of our adoption is confirmed in our own consciences; but it is not based on subjective feelings alone. We have within ourselves the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who continually testifies of our adoption and—as it were—whispers into our ears that we belong to God as His beloved children.

And that identity as God’s children has a great consequence. It makes us objectively secure. Notice next what Paul says in verse 17 about …


Paul goes on to say, “and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ …” We aren’t simply God’s children in a ‘sentimental’ way. We are God’s children in a very legal sense. We are children of God by full adoption—with full possession of all the rights and privileges that pertain to sonship or daughtership.

Now; notice that Paul says that because we are children, we are therefore ‘heirs’. And he specifies, “heirs of God”. All that the Father gives to His Son Jesus, He also gives to us. But Paul also takes the time to point out that we are “joint heirs with Christ”. Why would Paul have felt the need to say that also? Wouldn’t that have been implied in the fact that we are heirs of God? I believe that there is a very important reason. In order to give us a full sense of security in our position as God’s ‘heirs’, we’re also told that we are co-heirs with God’s only begotten Son—the one whose heirship is eternally sure, and that can never be lost or taken away, and whose right to that inheritance can never be questioned or challenged or taken away.

And as co-heirs with Jesus, we are also as infinitely secure as heirs of God as Jesus is. We are as secure in our inheritance as the only begotten Son Himself, because we are eternally united to Him. We may have trials and difficulties in this world. We ourselves may stumble and fall at times. The devil may throw everything He has against us. And yet, as Paul affirms to us at the end of this chapter—in Romans 8:37-39;

in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39).

So long as we are co-heirs with Jesus, we are sure to be heirs of God. And we will never be lost to Jesus! What a security we have!

There are three amazing statements about our relationship with Jesus in verse 17. They are what we might call “with” words. They each begin, in the original language, with the prefix that means “with”. The first one is the one that tells us that we are co-heirs with Jesus—that we are literally “with-heirs” of Him. The second one is the one that speaks of our being co-sufferers with Him—literally “with-sufferers” of Jesus. Paul speaks of our being identified as ‘with-heirs’ with Jesus, “if indeed we suffer with Him …” And indeed, since we are followers of Jesus, we will suffer in this world along with Him. This world hated Him; and because we are identified with Him, we will also share in His suffering in this world for a while.

But notice that third “with” word. It’s the one that speaks of our being “with-glorified” with Jesus. Paul speaks of our suffering with Jesus, “that we may also be glorified together.” This doesn’t mean, of course, that we somehow ‘earn’ glory with Jesus by suffering with Him. Rather, it simply stresses the completeness of our unity with Him. We are “with-heirs” of Jesus; and because we are so united to Jesus, we are also “with-sufferers” with Him; so that just as He suffered in this world and was then glorified, we also will be “with-glorified” together with Him!

We are made sure of it by the fact that we have been adopted by the Father in Christ.

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I hope you can see from this that our unity with Jesus is the basis of everything! We are nothing apart from Him. And yet, if we are united to Him by adoption—and are legally declared to be sons and daughters of God along with Him, with all the rights and privileges He enjoys as the Son of the Father—then everything that He inherits is what we will inherit also!

I don’t know what that inheritance will involve. I really wish I could know. I believe, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that we’ll find out together. But whatever it involves, I do know that our Lord Jesus is very excited to share it with us. He prayed to the Father for us and said;

And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me (John 17:22-23).

What a great Savior we have! What a great Father it is that has adopted us in Him! What a reason we have to celebrate Father’s Day!

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