The Spirit of Adoption (Exposition of Romans 8:12-17)

The following sermon was preached at Farmdale Baptist Church on Sunday, August 2, 2009.  Audio available here.
Russell Moore is the Dean of the School of Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. A bout seven years ago, he had his wife adopted two boys from Russia. At the Russian airport an American lady asked the question, “But are they brothers?” To which Dr. Moore replied slightly irritated, “Well, they are now.” She then said, “Well, yes, but I mean, are they really brothers?” To which Dr. Moore replied, “Yes, now they are really brothers!” She said, “You know what I mean.” What she meant was do they share the same DNA, do they share the same genetic material, do they share the same blood-type? These are the things which she thought really mattered. Are they really brothers?

This morning’s text begins with the Apostle Paul addressing the Roman Christians to whom he wrote this epistle, “brethren.” How can Paul call this mix of Jewish and Gentile Christians whom he had never met his brothers? It is because he knew that these Christians had received the Spirit of adoption when they believed the gospel. Therefore these Christians were the children of God and thus his brothers in Christ. We are brothers and sisters today because of the Spirit of Adoption!

The Holy Spirit, who is called the “Spirit of Adoption” is this passage, is prominent in Romans 8. In the first seven chapters of Romans the Holy Spirit has only been mentioned two or three times. In Romans 8 alone, the Holy Spirit is mentioned twenty times!

In this morning’s text the apostle Paul highlights four important functions of the “Spirit of Adoption” in our lives as Christians. The Spirit of adoption assists our sanctification, issues our sonship, assures our spirits and ensures our salvation.

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. (13) For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. (14) For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. (15) For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. (16) The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (17) And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. Romans 8:12-17

I. The Spirit of Adoption Assists our Sanctification, vv. 12-14.
This is accomplished as the Holy Spirit aids the believer in the putting to death of the deeds of the body. This was the focus of last week’s post. I won’t say much more about it today, but it is our responsibility as those alive in the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body (v. 12). It is also evidence of our relationship with the Father (v. 14). To summarize, it is those who are led by the Spirit to put to death the deeds of the body who prove to be the Sons of God!

II. The Spirit of Adoption Issues our Sonship, v. 15.
The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Adoption”. It is the Holy Spirit of God that makes us the sons of God. We have “received the Spirit of Adoption” as opposed to “the spirit of bondage again to fear”. We have not received the law again (an instrument of bondage and fear) but a relationship with a Father! In a parallel passage found in Galatians 4:1-7, Paul explains in more detail this process:

Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

We’re familiar with adoption today in which a couple unable to have children naturally may adopt a child as part of their family. That’s a wonderful picture, but there’s more to our adoption as sons of God than this. In the first century an adopted son was a son who was deliberately chosen by his adoptive father to continue his name and inherit his estate. He was not in the least way inferior in status to a natural born son. But our adoption is even better than that. In the first century an adoptive father could only give an adopted son his name and inheritance. But the Spirit of Adoption gives believers a new nature! And this new nature results in a heart-cry, “Abba, Father!”

A lot has been made of the Aramaic term Abba being a more personal term than the Greek term Pater (translated “Father”). However, both these terms imply an intimate relationship with no discernable difference in meaning. I believe the real significance of the repetition of the Aramaic and Greek words for Father is to show that both Jews and Gentiles are now able to approach God as their Father. This is why Paul can address this mixed group as brothers. He and the Roman Christians have the same Father! Remember how Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father . . .” This has been called by some the sweet “Our” of prayer. We approach God together with our brothers and sisters in Christ! This was made possible by the death of Christ on the cross. After His work of redemption was complete following the resurrection, Jesus told Mary Magdalene to “go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” John 20:17

III. The Spirit of Adoption Assures our Spirits, v. 16.
The text says that the Holy Spirit Himself bears witness together or alongside our renewed spirit, both testify that we are the children of God! In Hebrew culture the testimony of two witnesses was required to establish a truth, and here we have two witnesses: that of our innermost being which is crying out “ABBA, FATHER”, and that of the Holy Spirit. What a double testimony!

Do we need this testimony? We certainly do! Remember that Jesus Christ Himself was not exempt from Satan questioning His sonship. In Matthew 4:6 the devil said to Jesus, “If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down.” If the devil tried to get Jesus to question his sonship, how much more will he try to get you and I to question our sonship! But we have the double witness of our spirit and the Holy Spirit to answer back to Satan that we are the children of God!

Note the shift in Greek terms from huios “sons” in vv. 14 & 15 to teknon “children” in vv. 16 & 17. This is a shift of emphasis from privilege to relationship. Not only do we have a privileged position as legal heirs but we also have an intimate relationship as children.

What is the significance of being called the sons or children of God?
In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel is called the son of God. In Exodus 4:22 it states, “Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn.” In Hosea 11:1 the Lord God says, “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” These same words are applied to Christ in Matthew 2:14-15,

When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

And now we as New Covenant believers are also called the sons of God! As John wrote in 1 John 3:1, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God”!

How is this possible? Jesus Christ was the true seed of Abraham, the real Israel, the Son of God! We are united to Christ by faith, therefore we become the true seed of Abraham, the real Israel, the sons of God! As Paul states it in Galatians 3:26-29,

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

What a privilege! What a position! What a relationship! With the Creator of the universe!

IV. The Spirit of Adoption Ensures our (Final) Salvation, v. 17.
Just as Israel, the physical descendants of Abraham had an inheritance. We also as the spiritual descendants of Abraham have an inheritance! Abraham was promised a land and a people! We also have been promised a land (heaven) and we are called by the Apostle Peter a “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

But what specifically is our inheritance in this text? Glorification – the final stage in our salvation. This is how the Spirit of adoption ensures our salvation. He guarantees the completion of our salvation, the redemption of our bodies!

This inheritance is only for those who suffer. But I have good news for you (or bad depending on your perspective). All Christians are called to suffer! As Philippians 1:29 states “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” In other words all who have been given the gift of faith have also been given the gift of suffering. Therefore if you are a true believer in Christ you qualify for this inheritance of glory because you have suffered, are suffering or will suffer in this life. There is no glory without suffering. No crown without a cross. But one day we will see Him (Jesus) and be like Him!

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. 1 John 3:2

“It doth not yet appear what we shall be”! We may not look like much now, but it doth not yet appear what we shall be! A fuzzy caterpillar may not look like much now, but soon he will soar effortlessly through the sky on multi-colored wings. An acorn may not look like much now, but before too long it will grow into a mighty oak where birds may nest and animal and human life may find shade under its branches. You don’t look like much right now, but if you are a child of God through faith in Christ Jesus, you will soon be like Him! No, “it doth not yet appear what we shall be”! Likewise Paul says in Philippians 3:20-21,

For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

This is our inheritance! A glorified resurrection body like that of our Savior’s! On that day, there will be no doubt that we are really brothers! Not because we came out of the same mother’s womb, but because we will all be conformed to the image of our elder brother, the Lord Jesus Christ!


  1. Good post!

    If I had been God, I would not have adopted me (maybe not you, either).

    Aren’t we both glad that He is God and has adopted us, and that I am not God?!

  2. We both did a post on the subject of adoption on the very same day . . . but I think your post is better. Then again, I am not a pastor.

  3. Yay I am so excited! I am finally back on your blog!!!!!!!!
    Oh how I’ve missed it! I’ve been really buy with music and guess what! I just finnished my first day of highschool!!!!!! Miss you guys!!!

  4. Thank you for this message. We must have the Holy Spirit to give us strength each day and every day. To remind us from liking the things
    of this world.
    I am so glad HE adopted me, now it up to me to stay adopted so that I can be counted as heir to inherit a place to live with Him someday..

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