Romans 8:14-15 Commentary

Click chart to enlarge
Chart from recommended resource Jensen's Survey of the NT - used by permission
Romans Overview Chart - Charles Swindoll

Source: Dr David Cooper
Click to Enlarge
Romans 1:18-3:20 Romans 3:21-5:21 Romans 6:1-8:39 Romans 9:1-11:36 Romans 12:1-16:27
God's Holiness
God's Grace
God's Power
God's Sovereignty
Jew and Gentile
Gods Glory
Object of
of Sin
of Grace
Demonstration of Salvation
Power Given Promises Fulfilled Paths Pursued
Restored to Israel
God's Righteousness
God's Righteousness
God's Righteousness
God's Righteousness
God's Righteousness
Slaves to Sin Slaves to God Slaves Serving God
Doctrine Duty
Life by Faith Service by Faith

Modified from Irving L. Jensen's chart above

R      Ruin  (Romans 1:17 – 3:20) – The utter sinfulness of humanity
O      Offer  (Romans 3:21-31) – God’s offer of justification by grace
M     Model  (Romans 4:1-25) – Abraham as a model for saving faith
A      Access  (Romans 5:1-11) – The benefits of justification
N      New Adam (Romans 5:12-21) – We are children of two “Adams”
S      Struggle w/ Sin  (Romans 6:1-8:39) Struggle, sanctification, and victory

Romans 8:14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: hosoi gar pneumati theou agontai, (3PPPI) houtoi huioi theou eisin. (3PPAI)

Amplified: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Amplified Bible - Lockman)

NLT: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. (NLT - Tyndale House)

Phillips: All who follow the leading of God's Spirit are God's own sons. (Phillips: Touchstone)

Wuest: For as many as are being constantly led by God’s Spirit, these are sons of God.

Young's Literal: for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God;

FOR ALL WHO ARE (continuously) BEING LED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD: osoi gar pneumati theou agontai (3PPPI):

  • Ro 8:5,9; Ps 143:10; Pr 8:20; Isa 48:16,17; Gal 4:6; 5:16,18,22, 23, 24, 25; Eph 5:9
  • Romans 8 Resources - Multiple Sermons and Commentaries


Are you a child of the living God? This verse provides a good "sounding board" to address that query.

For (gar) (NIV has "because") Notice the little preposition "for" (there are over 7000 "for's" in Scripture) and if the context indicates, as it does in this passage, that the "for" is a term of explanation, pause and ask yourself what is the Spirit seeking to explain? In fact, stop reading right now and observe Ro 8:14 and see if you can determine what Paul is explaining. Notice how pausing to ponder will always force you to examine the context. You can (and should) practice this simple discipline every time you encounter a for, and while not every instance is a term of explanation, a "for" at the beginning of a verse is almost always is used with that grammatical sense. I guarantee that if you begin to "pause and ponder," you will radically rejuvenate your "Read Through the Bible in a Year" program! You might even get a small journal and begin to keep notes on what the Spirit illuminates and how this truth can be applied to your daily life. As you practice interrogating the text (for, therefore, but, so that, etc) with 5W/H questions such as "What's the for explaining?", you will begin to learn to (1) Read the Bible inductively (power point overview) and to (2) Meditate (see also Primer on Biblical Meditation) on the Scripture. Meditation or "chewing the cud" of the Scripture (cf Mt 4:4, Job 23:12-note, Jer 15:16) so to speak is a vanishing discipline in our fast paced, hi tech, low touch society, but a spiritual discipline which God promises to greatly bless (See Ps 1:1-note, Ps 1:2-note, Ps 1:3-note, Joshua 1:8-note, cf Ps 4:4, 19:14, 27:4, 49:4, 63:6, Ps 77:6, 77:12, Ps 104:34, Ps 119:15, 119:23, 119:27, Ps 119:48, 119:78, Ps 119:97, 119:99, Ps 119:148, 143:5, Ps 145:5) From the preceding passages which "organ" of our being is most often involved/engaged in meditation? What are the subjects or the focus of meditation? Reading the Bible without meditating on it is like eating without chewing. We must read…

Scripture every day
And meditate on what God said
To fight temptation from the world
And live a life that's Spirit led
(see note) --Sper

Earlier Paul also taught that "those who are according to the flesh set their minds (present tense = this is their lifestyle) on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit… 9 However, you are not in the flesh (still unregenerate) but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. (Ro 8:5-note, Ro 8:9-note) (See also 1Jn 3:1-notes, 1Jn 3:2-notes)

For is a term of explanation - When we observe the context, we note Paul's statement "if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live." (Ro 8:13). Then Paul uses "for" to explain why you will live. In short, those who kill sin are showing that they are being led by the Spirit and this marks them as true (not counterfeit) "sons of God." Stated another way, the Spirit's leading energizes sin's killing. A counterfeit "son" would not even have a desire to "kill sin" much less have the power (of the Spirit) to accomplish this supernatural task!

John Piper explains it this way "remember I said at one point by the Spirit does not mean that the Spirit is a tool or a weapon that we wield. The Spirit is Person. We are in His hands, not He in ours! So killing sin by the Spirit means having a mindset through which the Holy Spirit works to free us from the power of sin. And that mindset is the mindset of faith in the blood-bought promises of God (Ed: See paragraph below for the link to a more complete explanation of how this killing of sin by the Spirit is effected). Now to confirm that we were on the right track when we said, the Spirit is not an instrument in our hands but we are an instrument in His hands, consider what Paul says in Ro 8:14. He says, "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." The "for" means that he is giving the basis and explanation for verse 13. So "put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit" in verse 13 is explained by "led by the Spirit" in verse 14, and "you will live" in verse 13 is explained by "you are the sons of God" in verse 14. Ponder those two pairs with me for a moment. "If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (14) Because all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." Paul restates "putting to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit" with the words, "you are led by the Spirit." So here is our confirmation that we were on the right track last week: Doing something by the Spirit means being "led" to do it by the Spirit. He is not an instrument in our hands. We are an instrument in His hands. We are not leading Him. He is leading us. He is not a mere responder to us. We are being moved and led by Him. So then what is it to be led by the Spirit in verse 14 in view of its relation to verse 13? It is to be moved by the Spirit to kill sin by trusting in the superior worth of our Father's love. When you fight sin by trusting in Christ as superior to what sin offers, you are being led by the Spirit. Don't take this verse out of its context and make it mean mainly, "If I am led to the right college I am a child of God." Or: "If I am led to the right spouse, I am a child of God." Or: "If I am led to the right job, I am a child of God." There is a sense in which the children of God will lean on the Spirit for guidance in all those areas. But that is not the focus of this text. This text says, Kill sin by the Spirit, because "all who are [THUS] led by the Spirit are the sons of God." In other words, the evidence that we are the children of God is that the Holy Spirit confirms His presence by leading us into war with our sin. The children of God hate sin. The children of God have the values and priorities and preferences and tastes of their Father. They are chips off the old block, as it were. And the reason they share these traits of God their Father is because they have His Spirit Who leads them this way. He gives them the new tastes and new preferences and the new values and the new pleasures and the new sadness. And so the evidence of our sonship is: Do we fight sin in our lives, or do we feel blasé about sin in our lives? (The Spirit-Led Are the Sons of God)

Watch (you MUST watch the video - Piper uses a technique to mark the Scripture which adds to the teaching value of HOW we BY THE SPIRIT kill sin!) - How can we kill sin by the Spirit? Piper answers that question - at about 30 minutes into the video entitled Groaning Creation, Groaning Saints, Groaning Spirit - Desiring God. Specifically Dr Piper discusses the application the following passages - Ephesians 6:17 ("Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God"), Galatians 3:5 ("hearing with faith"), 2Thessalonians 2:13 (" through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth" - on "sanctification" compare Heb 12:14) Then Dr Piper illustrates how Ro 8:13 "works" in Hebrews 13:5-6.

Douglas Moo agrees with Piper writing "In popular speech, Christians often use language such as “led by the Spirit” to refer to guidance: “I was led by the Spirit to witness to her.” But this is probably not what Paul means here. (The NIV Application Commentary)

Cranfield - The daily, hourly putting to death of the schemings and enterprises of the sinful flesh by means of the Spirit is a matter of being led, directed, impelled, controlled by the Spirit.

William MacDonald writes that Romans 8:13 "describes what is characteristically true of genuine believers. By the enablement of the Holy Spirit they put to death the deeds of the body. They enjoy eternal life now, and will enter into life in its fullness when they leave this earth."

Dr Wayne Grudem also draws attention to the use of "for" writing that "The privilege of being led by the Holy Spirit is also a benefit of adoption. Paul indicates that this is a moral benefit whereby the Holy Spirit puts in us desires to obey God and live according to His will. He says, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Ro 8:14), and he gives this as the reason Christians should “put to death the deeds of the body” by means of the Holy Spirit working within them (Ro 8:13-note; note “FOR” at the beginning of Ro 8:14). He sees the Holy Spirit as leading and guiding God’s children in paths of obedience to God. (Systematic theology)

Leon Morris says that for or "Because (as it is rendered in the NIV) carries on the logical sequence; it introduces the basis for saying, “you will live”.

Being led (0071)(ago) means to "to direct the movement of an object from one position to another" (BDAG) and here is used in the present tense which signifies continuously and the passive voice underscores the fact that the leading is the result of a force, power or source extrinsic to ourselves, i.e., the Holy Spirit. So what is the believer's role? We need to be willing to be led by the Holy Spirit. This calls for a Christ-like attitude of "not my will be done but thine," a prayerful attitude of God's "will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Mt 6:10) (That's easy to pray isn't it, but it's another thing to live it out in real life!) In short Spirit leading calls for self submitting! How are you doing beloved? Remember, the very fact that you are yielding to the Spirit's leading (even imperfectly as is probably true of most of us - remember that the present tense here is a call to walk in a general direction [heavenward] and not a call to perfection!).

Those who are being led by the Spirit are those who Paul has previously described as being in Christ Jesus (Ro 8:1), walking according to the Spirit (Ro 8:4), being Spirit-indwelt (Ro 8:9, 11), and putting to death the deeds of the body (Ro 8:13).

John Stott comments on the use of the verb ago here writing "Dr Lloyd-Jones rightly enters a theological caveat at this point, relating to the nature and operation of the Holy Spirit. ‘There is no violence in Christianity …’, he writes. ‘What the Spirit does is to enlighten and persuade.’ Because he is a gentle, sensitive Spirit, he can easily be ‘grieved’. ‘The Holy Spirit never browbeats us … The impulse can be very strong, but there is no “driving”, there is no compulsion.’ (The Message of Romans: God's good news for the world) (Ed: While I would tremble to disagree with men of the stature of Stott and Lloyd-Jones [a fellow medical doctor like myself] Mark 1:12 does record that "the Spirit impelled" Jesus to go out into the wilderness." which is ekballo the same term used of our Lord's expulsion of demons in Mk 1:34, 39! Interesting!)

Spurgeon - Leading implies following; and those who are enabled to follow the guidance of the Divine Spirit are most assuredly children of God (1Jn 3:1-note), for the Lord ever leads His own children (Gal 5:18-note where led is in the present passive). If, then, you are following the lead of God’s Spirit, you have one of the evidences of sonship… “It does not say, ‘As many as are driven by the Spirit of God.’ No, the devil is a driver, and when he enters either into men or into hogs he drives them furiously. Remember how the whole herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea (Mt 8:31-32). Whenever you see a man fanatical and wild, whatever spirit is in him it is not the Spirit of Christ.”

Guzik - He didn’t say, “As many as read their Bibles, these are the sons of God.” He didn’t say, “As many as are patriotic Americans, these are the sons of God.” He didn’t say, “As many as take communion, these are the sons of God.” In this text, the test for sonship is whether or not a person is led by the Spirit of God… Where does the Holy Spirit lead us? · He leads us to repentance · He leads us to think little of self and much of Jesus · He leads us into truth · He leads us into love · He leads us into holiness · He leads us into usefulness." (Romans 8 - David Guzik Commentary on the Bible)

The relation of the Spirit to the sons of God is presented as being much like that of a shepherd to his sheep. They are "being led" by Him as their Guide and Comforter (Jn 14:16KJV, Jn 14:26KJV, Jn 15:26KJV, Jn 16:7KJV) and Protector (cp Ps 84:11 [Our shield = Our Protector]-see Spurgeon's blessed note). In Galatians 3:24 Paul says the law has a responsibility to "lead" men to Christ. Once the law achieves its objective, it passes the guiding role to the Holy Spirit, Who guides us daily into the truth (Jn 16:13, cp 1Jn 2:20, 27, 1Co 2:12, 13, 15, 16) as we daily yield to His gracious leading (Gal 5:18-note). Paul rebuked his readers in the letter to the Galatians asking…

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain-- if indeed it was in vain? Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Gal 3:1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

In contrast to our prior harsh taskmaster Sin, which both subtly seduces and then deceitfully drives as one drives a slave, the Holy Spirit relies on the gentle persuasion of a "still small voice" (cp 1K 19:12KJV) rather than force, and even gives believers the "want to" or desire to follow Him! (see Php 2:13NLT-note). Paul goes to great length to emphasize that the Holy Spirit's leadership does not involve a new bondage which is simply an improved version of the works based bondage to the law, sin and Satan, a bondage in which fear dominated our life rather than faith (and obedience motivated by love) (cp Heb 2:14, 15-note).

The result of this being led is that the Holy Spirit is progressively sanctifying us as God's elect, setting us apart (the essence of the word "holy" - see hagios) more and more (cp 2Co 3:18) from the world and more and more unto God for His purposes (as "vessels of honor" 2Ti 2:21-note) and His glory (2Th 2:13, 1Pe 1:2-note, cp 1Th 5:23-note). There is the initial setting apart (justification = past tense salvation) (Acts 20:32, 26:18 Heb 10:10-note) and then the progressive continuous process of setting apart (sanctification as a process = present tense salvation) (Heb 10:14-note) (See also the Three Tenses of Salvation)

Martin Luther alluded to the leading of the Spirit when he declared "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him."

It is the Holy Spirit who awakens within us the first faint longings for God and goodness. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sin and leads us to the Cross where that sin is forgiven. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to be freed from the sins which have us in their grip (Ro 8:13-note) and to gain the virtues which are the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-note, Gal 5:23-note). It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the assurance that our sins are forgiven (Ro 8:16-note) and that Jesus Christ is Lord (1Co 12:3). Indeed, are not the inception (justification), the process (sanctification) and the consummation (glorification) of our Christian lives all the work of the blessed Holy Spirit!

Ray Pritchard - To be “led” by the Spirit is a very personal term. It means to be led by the hand, to be personally escorted by a tour guide. The Holy Spirit takes your hand and leads you through the difficulties of life. So many Christians have said, “If it had not been for the Lord, I wouldn’t have made it.” But we don’t know the half of it. When you are perplexed, you have the right to say, “Holy Spirit, please show me what to do.” “Holy Spirit, I am confused. I don’t know which way to go. I’m counting on you to lead me.” He will do it. Thank God for the leading of the Holy Spirit. (Life in the Spirit)

John MacArthur warns that "Paul is not suggesting the “Let go and let God” philosophy that is promoted by groups and leaders who advocate a so-called deeper life, in which one progressively rises to higher and higher levels of spirituality until sin and even temptation are virtually absent. That is not the kind of spiritual life Paul promises or that he personally experienced, as he testifies so movingly in Romans 7. As long as a believer is in his earthly body, he will be subject to the perils of the flesh and will need to keep putting its sins to death. Only in heaven will his need for practical sanctification end. Until then, all believers are admonished to put sin to death and to live in and for their new Sovereign, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Ro. 6:3–11). The Puritan John Owen warned that sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still (cf. Sin and Temptation [Portland, Ore.: Multnomah, 1983], p. xxi). Satan is likely to attack when a believer is most satisfied with his spiritual life. That is when pride, the chief of sins, easily sneaks into our lives unnoticed and lead us to believe that contentment with ourselves is contentment in God. (MacArthur, J: Romans 1-8. Chicago: Moody Press)

Moule writes that the phrase led by the Spirit "is exactly parallel to “walk after the Spirit.” (Gal 5:16-note) The Galatian passage is enough to show that St Paul intends not enthusiastic exaltation, but heart-subjection to the pure rule of God’s will, in thought, word, and work; a subjection on the one hand perfectly voluntary in man, on the other hand perfectly due to the Divine Agent and Teacher. (The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans)

Phil Newton on how the Spirit leads…

The Greek translates, “As many as are being led (and continually led) by the Spirit of God, these ones are sons of God.” The Spirit leads consistently rather than sporadically. He leads us to Christ and His sufficiency rather than depending on the law for righteousness. He leads us clearly in the path of divine revelation in Holy Scripture.

But is this idea of the Spirit’s leadership not one of the easiest ways to excuse and defend our actions? Yes, you are right, so we must provide a few caveats. The Spirit does not contradict the Word. You can pray about something and “feel led” to take an action that the Scripture opposes but that is not the Spirit’s leadership. You can follow your desires and wants, confusing them for the Spirit’s leadership. You can be excited about something and certain that you “have heard from God,” but it may not be the Spirit’s leadership. Here are the basics for recognizing the Spirit’s leadership.

(1) He always leads you to glorify Jesus Christ—not self, not an idea, not a project, not a ministry, not an ideology, not a theology, not an image. “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:14).

(2) He always leads you to truth—God’s Word alone is truth. That is why He is called “the Spirit of truth,” that is the Spirit who is characterized in every way by truth (John 14:17).

(3) He always leads you in the way of understanding and applying Scripture, never contrary to the eternal Word. “He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13; cf. 1 Cor. 2:6-10). So the Spirit’s leadership strengthens obedience, faithfulness, and conformity to the image of Jesus Christ in all things. He leads you to love and depend upon the Word.

(4) He always leads you to more and more dependence upon the Father through the sufficiency of Jesus Christ demonstrated by the Spirit as “the Spirit of adoption as sons” by which we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15).

Conclusion - Here are definite marks of the true believer:

He has a new obligation to walk in the Spirit that spurs him on to conformity to Christ.

He knows the Spirit’s aid and impetus in putting to death the deeds of the body.

He is being led by the Spirit.

Do these things ring true in your life? (Sermons from the Epistle to the Romans)

William Newell on "led by the Spirit" notes that "led by the Spirit” does not refer here to service, nor to “guidance” in particular paths (see Piper's note above). It refers to that general control by the blessed Spirit of those born of the Spirit, living by the Spirit, in the Spirit. He is the sphere and mode of their being, and is their seal unto the day of redemption.

Beet writes that led by the Spirit refers to our "thoughts, words, actions, guided by Him. That He prompts and enables us to put to death the actions of the body, proves Him to be the Spirit of God. He leads us by opening our eyes to recognize sin and see its hurtfulness (Ed: And how much it grieves our Father's heart and causes Him displeasure!), and by giving us moral strength to conquer it; by revealing the will of God and its excellence, and by giving us power to do it. (Ed: See this balance of our responsibility to accomplish the task but the Spirit's provision of power to do so in Php 2:12-note and Php 2:13-note). (Romans 8 Commentary)

Hendricksen writes that ultimately being led by the Spirit

means sanctification. It is the constant, effective, and beneficent influence which the Holy Spirit exercises within the hearts and lives of God’s children, enabling them more and more to crush the power of indwelling sin and to walk in the way of God’s commandments freely and cheerfully.

The influence which the Holy Spirit exercises is:

a. Not sporadic but constant.

It is not being injected into the lives of God’s children now and then, in moments of great need or danger. On the contrary, it is steady, constant, as even the tense here in Rom. 8:14 implies. Believers are being led by the Spirit.

b. It is not (at least not primarily) protective but corrective.

In the entire context nothing is said about guarding God’s children from receiving physical harm, nothing about keeping them out of danger when traveling. On the other hand, the immediately preceding context refers to putting to death the disgraceful deeds of the body, doing this “by the Spirit.”

c. It not merely directs but controls.

To be led by the Spirit means more than to be guided by him, though, to be sure, the Spirit is also our Guide (John 16:13). Cf. Matt. 15:14; Luke 6:39; Acts 8:31. But the leadership provided by the Spirit amounts to more than merely pointing out the right way. It reminds us not so much of the Indian guide who pointed out to the white explorers the pass through the Rockies, as of the people who led the blind man (of Jericho) to Jesus (Luke 18:40). Merely pointing out the way to him would not have helped him. When the Holy Spirit leads believers he becomes the controlling influence in their lives, bringing them at last to glory. (Ed: See John Piper's preceding caveat regarding this "genre" of interpretation.)

d. On the other hand, it does not stifle or repress but helps and encourages.

When the Holy Spirit leads God’s child, the latter’s responsibility and activity are not canceled or repressed. (New Testament Commentary- Romans- Chapters 1-16)

THESE ARE SONS OF GOD: houtoi huioi theou eisin (3PPAI):

In a word, when the believer submits to the leading of the Holy Spirit, he or she is giving evidence (to themselves and to others) of their genuine (saving) faith in Jesus Christ.

W H Griffith-Thomas notes that…

The sonship mentioned in the former verse is here confirmed by an appeal to their personal experience. They had indeed received the Holy Spirit, but this gift was something altogether different from the spirit of bondage which would lead them again into servile fear. It was a "spirit of adoption" in which they were enabled to appeal to God as their Father. This contrast between slavery and sonship is very striking and goes to the heart of the true Christian life. Anything that involves a believer in fear and bondage cannot possibly be the work of the Holy Spirit of God, and must come either from his own heart of unbelief or as a temptation of the Evil One. Our sonship implies perfect spiritual liberty and the absence of all legal features which would bring us once more "under law." It is the work of the Holy Spirit to lead the believer into a position of filial confidence which is the very opposite of all servility and thralldom.

The use here made by the Apostle of the idea of "adoption" is particularly interesting and should be carefully compared with the corresponding thought of our sonship as "regeneration." When it is said that we become God's children by regeneration the reference is to our relationship and union of nature. When we are said to become His children by adoption it refers to our position and privileges. One who has been, as it were, taken out of another family and adopted enters thereby into all the rights and privileges of sonship. So that regeneration concerns our nature and condition, while adoption concerns our position and privileges. The two are complementary aspects of our Divine sonship. (Romans-St Paul's Epistle to the Romans-A Devotional Commentary)

Spurgeon "Not those who say they are “the sons of God,” but those who undoubtedly prove that they are, by being led, influenced, gently guided, by the Spirit of God."

Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. ( Matthew 5:9-note) (Are you a peacemaker or a peace breaker?)

We're members of God's family,
We're children of the King;
Because we've put our faith in Christ,
To us He'll always cling. -Sper

Sons of God - Exact phrase 5x in NT - Mt 5:9-note Lk 20:36, Ro 8:14-note, Ro 8:19-note, Gal 3:26

Sons (5207)(huios) is most literally used to describe a male offspring. Figuratively huios is one who on one hand is the object of parental love and care and on the other hand yields filial love and reverence toward the parent. Clearly, in the present context Paul is speaking of those who are spiritual offspring of God (cp Heb 2:10 [speaking of Jesus]-note; cp Heb 12:5-note)

Huios is used in Galatians 4:5 of a mature child of God in a legal standing as against a child of God (teknon) in his minority (Gal 4:1, 2, 3). God is the Father of all in the sense that He created all and His love and providential care are extended to all (see Mt 5:45-note). But contrary to popular opinion (or perhaps more accurately self-deception and "wishful thinking"!) not all men and women are God's children. In truth, all men have only one of two fathers, either God (believers) or the Devil (unbelievers). Jesus speaking to the "believing" (Jn 8:31) and yet unbelieving Jews (as shown by their deeds = Jn 8:57, 58, 59, cp Titus 1:16-note, Jas 1:22-note, Jas 2:18, 19, 20-note;) declared…

You are of your father the devil, and (How does one recognize such a person? Read on… ) you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer (Remember you don't have do literally murder to be a murderer! cp Mt 5:21, 22-note) from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies. (Jn 8:44)

People enter the family of God as "family members" when they become His children by grace through faith (Ep 2:8, 9-note) in God's only begotten Son (Jn 1:12,13, Acts 4:12, 16:31, Jn 8:24), and being led by the Spirit is one of the chief marks that one is truly a member of God's family.

The Old Testament often comments on God's leading of His children Israel through the wilderness (Ex 15:13 Dt 3:2 Ps 77:20 78:52 106:9 136:16 Jer 2:6,17 Hos 11:4 Am 2:10). Similarly, in the Old Testament we see that Israel is referred to as His “sons” or “children” when He redeemed them from Egypt (Ex 4:22 Dt 14:1, 32:5, 18, 19, 20 Ps 29:1, Isa 43:6, 45:11, 63:8, Jer 3:19, 22, Hos 1:10 11:1, 10). And we also see in the Old Testament taht God’s leading was sometimes associated with His Spirit (Neh 9:20, Ps 143:10, Isa 63:14).

How Slow I Wake!
Sweet will of God! How slow I wake
To hear your quiet word
That tells my inner man to go,
Uproot, depart, to leave my ways.
But I arise. I stand to find
Your Perfect way. And ah,
My heart, long trembling, now is still.
Sweet Spirit, Guide, I go to do Your will.

The Expositor's Bible Commentary notes that "In the OT, Israel has the title sons (Deut 14:1; Hos 1:10; cf. Apocryphal Books Pss Sol 17:30; Wisdom 2:13-18). Now it belongs to the heirs of the kingdom who, meek and poor in spirit, loving righteousness yet merciful, are especially equipped for peacemaking and so reflect something of their heavenly Father's character (Mt 5:9-note). "There is no more godlike work to be done in this world than peacemaking" (Broadus). This beatitude must have been shocking to Zealots when Jesus preached it, when political passions were inflamed (Morison). (Gaebelein, F, Editor: Expositor's Bible Commentary 6-Volume New Testament. Zondervan Publishing)

William Evans in the ISBE has an excellent discussion on sons of God

Men are not by nature the sons of God, at least not in the sense in which believers in Christ are so called. By nature those outside of Jesus Christ are "children of wrath" (see Ep 2:3-note), "of disobedience" (Ep 2:2-note), controlled not by the Spirit of God (Ro 8:14-note), but by the spirit of disobedience (Ep 2:2-note; Ep 2:3-note; Ep 2:3-note). Men become sons of God in the regenerative and adoptive sense by the acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour (Jn 1:12; Gal 3:26). The universal brotherhood which the New Testament teaches is that brotherhood which is based on faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the divine and only Saviour of the world. And the same is true of the universal Fatherhood of God. It is true that all men are "His offspring" (Acts 17:28-note) in the sense that they are God's created children; but that the New Testament makes a very clear and striking distinction between sonship by virtue of creation and sonship by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, there can be no reasonable doubt.

Sonship is the present possession of the believer in Christ (1Jn 3:2-note). It will be completed at the second coming of our Lord (Ro 8:23-note), at which time the believer will throw off his incognito, by reason of which the world may not have recognized his sonship (1Jn 3:2-note), and be fully and gloriously revealed as the son of God (2Co 5:10-note). It doth not yet appear, it hath not yet appeared, what we shall be; the revelation of the sons of God is reserved for a coming day of manifestation.

The blessings of sonship are too numerous to mention, save in the briefest way. His sons are objects of God's peculiar love (John 17:23), and His Fatherly care (Lk 12:27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33). They have the family name (Ep 3:14-note; 1Jn 3:1-note); the family likeness (Ro 8:29-note); family love (John 13:35; 1Jn 3:14); a filial spirit (Ro 8:15-note; Gal 4:6); a family service (Jn 14:23; 15:8). They receive fatherly chastisement (Heb 12:5;6-note; He 12:7; 12:8; 12:9; 12:10-note; He 12:11-note); fatherly comfort (2Co 1:4), and an inheritance (Ro 8:17-note ;1Pe 1:3;1:4-note; 1Pe 1:5-note).

Among the evidences of sonship are: being led by the Spirit (Ro 8:14-note; Gal 5:18-note); having a childlike confidence in God (Gal 4:5); having liberty of access (Ep 3:12-note); having love for the brethren (1Jn 2:9, 10, 11; 5:1), and obedience (1Jn 5:1, 2, 3). (Orr, J, et al: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia) (Bolding added)

Wayne Barber: explains that…

Paul repeats this same truth (Ro 8:14) in Galatians 5:16, 17, 18

But I say, walk (present imperative = command to make this your general direction, not a call for perfection) by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets (present tense = continually = this internal strife will continue until we see Jesus - 1Jn 3:2-note) its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition (present tense = continually) to one another, so that you may not do (present tense = continually) the things that you please. But if you are LED BY THE SPIRIT, you are NOT UNDER THE LAW." (See notes on Galatians 5:16; 5:17; 5:18) (Ed: Paul emphasizes that a godly life is NOT lived under rules and regulations and lists of do's and don't's [the Law] but is a life led by the Spirit. Note carefully the Greek word for "under" is hupo which in context means not simply to be "beneath" the Law but to be totally under the power, authority, and control of the Law! Be careful when you begin to try to obey a list of rules and regulations. We can even fall into the trap of legalistically doing "good things". E.g., we establish a "Quiet Time" and one morning miss it and go to work thinking God won't bless me today because I didn't have my "Quiet Time"! That's legalism even in good things. It's subtle beloved and we need to remain on the alert so that we don't place ourselves back up under the Law in any shape, fashion or form!)

This is the clearest picture of what Paul is trying to say in Ro8:14. You say I want to put to death the deeds of body…Sin is controlling my life. How do I do it? You put yourself in the presence of God, the Spirit Who lives within you. You get into His Word. And you let Him rule & reign - you do whatever He says. Wayne tells about the little sign he had in his study "YES, LORD." And that settles it. It's yea, but…So the Lord speaks and He says "Wayne…don't watch that program." And Wayne says "Yes, but…" Look out. Our answer needs to be "Yes" to the Spirit leading us. Just say "Yes" to what the Spirit of God says to your heart and you develop that SENSITIVITY as you walk with Him.

Romans 8:15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba ! Father !" (NASB: Lockman)

Greek: ou gar elabete (2PAAI) pneuma douleias palin eis phobon, alla elabete (2PAAI) pneuma huiothesias, en o krazomen, (1PPAI) Abba o pater;

Amplified: For [the Spirit which] you have now received [is] not a spirit of slavery to put you once more in bondage to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption [the Spirit producing sonship] in [the bliss of] which we cry, Abba (Father)! Father! (Amplified Bible - Lockman)

NLT: So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God's very own children, adopted into his family--calling him "Father, dear Father." (NLT - Tyndale House)

Phillips: Nor are you meant to relapse into the old slavish attitude of fear - you have been adopted into the very family circle of God and you can say with a full heart, "Father, my Father". (Phillips: Touchstone)

Wuest: For you did not receive a spirit of slavery again with resulting fear, but you received the Spirit who places you as adult sons, by whom we cry out with deep emotion, Abba, [namely] Father.

Young's Literal: for ye did not receive a spirit of bondage again for fear, but ye did receive a spirit of adoption in which we cry, 'Abba -- Father.'

FOR YOU HAVE NOT RECEIVED A SPIRIT OF SLAVERY LEADING TO FEAR AGAIN: ou gar elabete (2PAAI) pneuma douleias palin eis phobon:

  • Ex 20:19; Nu 17:12; Lk 8:28,37; Jn 16:8; Acts 2:37; 16:29; 1Co 2:12; 2Ti 1:7; Heb 2:15; 12:18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24; Jas 2:19; 1Jn 4:18
  • Romans 8 Resources - Multiple Sermons and Commentaries

For (gar) is a small word which is used over 7000x in Scripture and most often as a term of explanation especially when it is found at the beginning of a sentence. If you want to revolutionize your insights and discoveries of the rich treasures hidden in God's Word, then learn to focus on for (F.O.F.). Whenever you encounter for as term of explanation, "Stop! Look! And Listen!" (so to speak), asking your Teacher, the Spirit, to illuminate the text. One way is ask the question "What is the for explaining?" which will force you to slow down and ponder the passage, which will invariably force you to examine the preceding context to answer your question. As you begin to practice F.O.F. you will are in effect also beginning to engage in the blessed discipline of Biblical Meditation!

In short, here "for" is explaining our sonship and what role the Holy Spirit has in bring about our sonship.

Leon Morris agrees writing "This is the third verse in succession to be introduced by “for”. As Paul elaborates on sonship to God, he uses a closely knit argument (The Epistle to the Romans: The Pillar New Testament Commentary)

The great expositor Donald Barnhouse focuses on for (undoubtedly a discipline which contributed to his excellence in expositing Scripture) writing that…

our text begins with the word “for.” This word is a hinge that ties the whole passage together. We have been brought out of death and into life. We have been established in Christ as a new pivot around which all life is to revolve. When God raised our Lord from the dead He raised us up together with Him. Therefore we are debtors … because if we live after the flesh the Christian life will be defeat and not triumph. But the triumph is assured, because as many as are dominated by the Spirit of God (Ro 8:13), they are the sons of God (cf Gal 4:5, 6); because we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear. In the technique of motion pictures this would be called a “flash back.” There have been motion pictures which began with the presentation of an old person and then, in order to give the reasons why the person was in certain circumstances, reverted to earlier scenes in life, a “flash back” to things that have gone before. That is exactly what the Holy Spirit does in the clause we are studying. For there was a time when God brought His chosen people out of Egypt and put them into bondage under the law, and that spirit of bondage brought great fear to their hearts.

Our text states plainly that the believer in Christ is not to live in any such state of fear. We have received the life of Christ—the resurrection of our Lord—and thus we are to live in freedom from the fear that conscience inspires. The RSV renders our text, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” Is it not a great tragedy therefore, in the light of this great truth, that the church has been brought back under the law in so many cases? For whenever there is legalism there must, of necessity, be the spirit of bondage to fear. It is heart-rending to read the history of the church and to find the constant tendency to return to the bondage of the law. On the pages of the New Testament we discover that men followed Paul to tear down that which he was preaching. He would arrive in a community and proclaim the doctrine of grace. He would tell men that they could trust in Christ and know that all of their sins were removed, both those they had already committed and those that would be committed in future. For justification can mean nothing less than this, that a believer is received by God in the totality of his life span, and that he is instantly made accepted in the Beloved. (God’s Heirs: Romans 8:1–39)

You have not received - The word for "not" here signifies absolute negation! For this truth we thank God!

Received (2983)(lambano) means to take or grasp. It can indicate both benevolent and hostile actions, and have as object either people or things; e.g. take a wife, collect taxes, accept a verdict, take a road, and figuratively take courage.

Spurgeon - We did receive the spirit of bondage once. We felt that we were under the law, and that the law cursed us. We felt its rigorous taxation, and that we could not meet it. Now that spirit has gone, and we have the spirit of freedom, the spirit of children, the spirit of adoption. I suppose that the apostle, when he thus spake and said “ye,” felt so much of the spirit of adoption in his own bosom that he could not talk of it as belonging to others alone. He was obliged to include it thus, and so he puts it, “Ye have received the spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” He wanted to intimate that he himself also was a partaker of this blessed spirit. And woe to the preacher who can preach an adoption which he never enjoyed. Woe to any of us if we can teach to others concerning the spirit of sonship, but never feel it crying in our own souls. “Abba, Father.”

Slavery (1397) (douleia from doulos - see word study) means slavery, bondage, the condition of a slave, the opposite of freedom (see studies on this word group "free, freedom" = eleutheria, eleutheroo, eleutheros). Douleia describes that state of man in which he is prevented from freely possessing and enjoying his life, a state opposed to liberty. In the NT douleia is only used figuratively to describe a slavish spirit. The idea is that of an enslaved moral or spiritual condition characterized by fear of breaking rules and thus experiencing bondage and lack of freedom.

Douleia - 5x in 5v - Ro 8:15, Ro 8:21-note Gal 4:24, 5:1 (= those enslaved to the Law), Heb 2:15-note (= those enslaved to the fear of death)

BDAG says douleia is…

the state or condition of being held as chattel by another, slavery (the basic perspective of the ancient world that one can be owned by only one master is expressed Mt 6:24; Lk 16:13

Vine writes that douleia

is used in Romans 8:21 of that condition of the Creation into which it was brought by the Fall of man, its appointed head, and in Ro 8:15 of that fallen condition of man himself which makes him dread God rather than love Him, and, in Hebrews 2:15, that makes him fear death

Paul has been discussing the flesh, so this must have reference to those who are in the flesh (unbelievers) who are enslaved to Sin and the Law and receive the wages of Sin which is death (a cause of fear)

Paul is saying in essence…

The Holy Spirit, whom you have received, does not produce a slavish and anxious state of mind, such as those experience who are under the law, but He produces the filial feelings of affection, reverence, and confidence and enables us, out of the fullness of our hearts, to call God our Father.

No matter how cleverly they may manage to mask or deny the reality of it, sinful men are continually subject to fear because they continually live in sin and are therefore continually under God’s judgment for Jesus declared that…

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (Jn 3:18)

The lost, unregenerate men of this present evil age (Gal 1:4) are governed by a slavish and anxious apprehension of God's righteous punishment (and ultimately fear of eternal death in the Lake of fire, albeit they have no concept of its true "horrors"! Mk 9:48). Slavery to Sin brings slavery to fear, and one of the great and gracious works of the Holy Spirit is to deliver God’s children from both sets of shackles, setting the captives free (Lk 4:18, cp Col 1:13-note, Acts 26:18), for when the Son sets a man free, he is free indeed (Jn 8:36, 31, 32, Ro 8:2-note). All unconverted (unregenerate, not born again) men, whether Jews or Gentiles, are in this state of enslavement to their deepest, innermost (fully justifiable -2Ti 4:1-note, Jn 5:22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, Acts 10:42, 17:31, Ro 2:16) fears because they are all under the Law which kills (Ro 7:11-note). and the penalty for breaking that Law (which all do - cp Jas 2:10) is death (Ro 6:23-note), their ultimate enemy, which no amount of money or earthly power can avoid (cp Mk 8:34, 35, 36, Lk 12:16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, A certain rich man = Lk 16:19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31).

Paul reminded Timothy that our heavenly Father

has not given us a spirit of timidity (fear = deilia [word study]), but of power (dunamis) and love (agape) and discipline (sophronismos) (2Ti 1:7-note).

John reminds believers of the truth that

there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love (1Jn 4:18).

Spurgeon - The spirit of bondage is the spirit of servants, not of sons; but that servitude is ended for us who are made free in Christ Jesus. We are no longer afraid of being called the children of God. We are not afraid of our own Father; we have a filial fear of him, but it is so mixed with love that there is no torment in it. Whether Jew or Gentile, we cry, “Abba, Father.” You did receive it once (the spirit of slavery). You needed it. You were in sin, and it was well for you when sin became bondage to you. It was grievous, but it was salutary; but you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear.

See related discussions - Anxiety, Fear

BUT YOU HAVE RECEIVED A SPIRIT OF ADOPTION AS SONS: alla elabete (2PAAI) pneuma huiothesias:

Sons (not slaves) - Gal 4:5 Ep 1:5-note, not slaves Gal 4:7. Paul explains in the next verse that…

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God (Ro 8:16-note)

Warren Wiersbe comments that…

To live in the flesh or under law (and to put yourself under law is to move toward living in the flesh) leads to bondage; but the Spirit leads us into a glorious life of liberty in Christ. Liberty (see word study on eleutheria = liberty) to the believer never means freedom to do as he or she pleases, for that is the worst kind of slavery! Rather, Christian liberty in the Spirit is freedom from law and the flesh so that we can please God and become what He wants us to become.

Adoption in the NT does not mean what it typically means today, the taking of a child into a family to be a legal member of the family. The literal meaning of the Greek word is “son-placing” —the taking of a minor (whether in the family or outside) and making him or her the rightful heir. Every believer is a child of God by birth (Ed: spiritual birth, Jn 3:3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) and an heir of God through adoption (cp heir in Ro 4:13, 14-note, Ro 8:17-note, Gal 3:29, 4:1, 7, 30, Ep 3:6-note, Titus 3:7-note, He 6:17-note, He 11:7-note, He 11:9-note, Jas 2:5, 1Pe 3:7-note). In fact, we are joint-heirs with Christ, so that He cannot receive His inheritance in glory until we are there to share it with Him. Thank God, the believer has no obligation to the flesh, to feed it, pamper it, obey it. Instead, we must “put to death” (mortify) the deeds of the flesh by the power of the Spirit (Ro 8:13-note, Col 3:9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15-see notes) and allow the Spirit to direct our daily lives. (Wiersbe, W. W. Wiersbe's Expository Outlines on the New Testament. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books)

Adoption as sons (5206) (huiothesia [word study] from huios = son + tithemi = place) literally means "to place one as a son". Huiothesia thus speaks of adoption or being placed in a position and rights as one’s own child. It means to to formally and legally declare that someone who is not one’s own child is henceforth to be treated and cared for as one’s own child, including complete rights of inheritance.

Adoption bears a relationship to justification in that it is declarative and forensic (inasmuch as it is a legal term). Adoption bestows an objective standing, even as does justification for like justification, adoption represents essentially a legal pronouncement that never needs to be repeated. Once we are adopted as sons, our adoption is permanently valid.

Also, like justification, adoption rests on the loving purpose and grace of God, not on any meritorious works of the one adopted. Paul writes that God the Father…

predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Ep 1:5-note)

Though the term adoption is used of Israel in relation to God (Ro 9:4-note, Hos 11:1), it is doubtful that adoption was practiced in OT days. Much more likely is the interpretation that Paul was drawing on the background of Roman law both here and in Galatians 4:5. The readers of both of these epistles, many of whom were Roman citizens, would be familiar with legal implications of adoption in the Roman Empire.

Huiothesia is not so much a word of relationship as of position. In regeneration a Christian receives the nature of a child of God; in adoption he receives the position of a son of God. Every Christian obtains the place of a child and the right to be called a son the moment he believes (Gal 3:25, 26 4:6 1Jn 3:1-note, 1Jn 3:2-note). The indwelling Spirit gives the realization of this in the Christian's present experience (Gal 4:6) but the full manifestation of his sonship awaits the resurrection, change, and translation of saints, "the redemption of the body" (Ro 8:23-note, Ep 1:14-note, 1Th 4:14, 15, 16, 17-note).

A formal definition Of what adoption means is found in the Westminster Confession (chapter twelve):

All those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for His only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption: by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God; have His name put upon them, receive the Spirit of adoption; have access to the throne of grace with boldness; are enabled to cry, Abba, Father; are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by Him, as by a father; yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.

Greg Ogden - As adopted children we can enjoy the same favor that Jesus has with the Father. We too are the apple of God's eye, the pleasure of his love, the delight of his focus. And if we didn't get all that we wanted or needed in our human fathers, we are invited even more deeply into the pleasure that the Father of heaven and earth takes in his Son, and us. We have been included in the family and hear the Father say, "You are my child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." We now have the Father we always needed and wanted. (Discipleship Essentials-A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ)

Sinclair Ferguson rightly says that…

Understanding adoption should mean that our own sense of the great goodness and love of God is immeasurably enriched.

John Murray writes that…

Adoption, as the term clearly implies, is an act of transfer from an alien family into the family of God himself. This is surely the apex of grace and privilege.

Marvin Vincent quotes a Mr. Merivale,

The process of legal adoption by which the chosen heir became entitled not only to the reversion of the property but to the civil status, to the burdens as well as the rights of the adopter—became, as it were, his other self, one with him … this too is a Roman principle, peculiar at this time to the Romans, unknown, I believe, to the Greeks, unknown, to all appearance, to the Jews… We have but a faint conception of the force with which such an illustration would speak to one familiar with the Roman practice; how it would serve to impress upon him the assurance that the adopted son of God becomes, in a peculiar and intimate sense, one with the heavenly Father.

John Piper

There are dozens of children and young people and adults in this church who have been legally adopted. You are all loved by your parents with a deep, true, unshakable love just as much or more than if you had been born into your family. And that is the way it is with God. This reality of adoption is a massive, firm, legal reality. And it is a deep, strong, full-hearted emotional reality. When the Holy Spirit is called in Ro 8:15 the Spirit of adoption the meaning is the Spirit confirms and makes real to you this great legal transaction of adoption. If you have trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior and Treasure, then you are adopted. John 1:12,

To all who did receive him, who believed in His name, He gave the right (authority) to become children of God.

If you receive Christ, you are adopted…

The Spirit is poured out into our hearts to confirm and make real our adoption. How does he do that according to Ro 8:15? He does it by replacing the fear of a slave toward a master with the love of a son toward a father. "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!" He is contrasting the fear of a slave with the affection of a son. The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to change our slavish fears toward God into confident, happy, peaceful affection for God as our father.

Now relate that to the leading of the Spirit in Ro 8:14. This is the other question I said Paul is answering in Ro 8:15: How does the Spirit lead? "All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." How does he lead? How does he move us and enable us to put to death the deeds of the body – to kill sin? Answer: "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons." The Spirit does not lead by stirring up slavish fear. He leads by stirring up family affection. He does not get you to kill sin by making you a slave who acts out of fear. But by making you a son who acts out of faith and affection…

The Spirit brings about a response in our hearts to the love of God that cries out, "Abba! Father!" The witness of the Holy Spirit that you are a child of God is not a testimony to a neutral heart with no affection for God's fatherly love so that your neutral heart can draw the logical conclusion that it is a child of God and then try to muster up some appropriate affections. That is not the picture. No. The witness of the Holy Spirit that you are a child of God is the creation in you of affections for God. The testimony of the Holy Spirit IS the cry, "Abba! Father!"

And the reason Paul uses the word "cry" and the Aramaic word "Abba" is because both of them point to deep, affectionate, personal, authentic experience of God's fatherly love. He didn't say that the testimony of the Spirit was that we affirm doctrinally that God is father. The devil knows that doctrine. Doctrinal affirmations, as important as they are, don't make children. What he said was that the testimony of the Spirit that we are God's children is that from our hearts there rises an irrepressible cry – a cry, not a mere statement, a cry: "Abba! Father!"

We don't infer logically the fatherhood of God from the testimony of the Spirit. We enjoy emotionally the Fatherhood of God by the testimony of the Spirit. The testimony of the Spirit is not a premise from which we deduce that we are children of God; it is a power by which we delight in being the children of God.

Don't Wait for a Whisper – Look to Jesus!

If you want to know that you are a child of God, you don't put your ear to the Holy Spirit and wait for a whisper; put your ear to the gospel and your eye to the cross of Christ and you pray that the Holy Spirit would enable you to see it and savor it for what it really is. Romans 5:8, "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

The testimony of the Spirit is that when we look at cross we cry, "Jesus, you are my Lord!" (1 Corinthians 12:3), and "God, you are my Father!" So look to Christ! Look to Christ! (The Spirit-Led Are the Sons of God)

C H Spurgeon

We are regenerated, by the Holy Spirit, and so receive the nature of children; and that nature, which is given by him, he continually prompts, and excites, and develops, and matures; so that we receive day by day more and more of the childlike spirit. Now, beloved, this may not seem to you to be of very great importance at first sight; but it is so; for the church is never happy except as all her members walk as dear children towards God. Sometimes the spirit of slaves creeps over us: we begin to talk of the service of God as though it were heavy and burdensome, and are discontented if we do not receive present wages and visible success, just as servants do when they are not suited; but the spirit of adoption works for love, without any hope of reward, and it is satisfied with the sweet fact of being in the Father’s house, and doing the Father’s will. This spirit gives peace, rest, joy, boldness, and holy familiarity with God. A man who never received the spirit of a child towards God does not know the bliss of the Christian life; he misses its flower, its savor, its excellence, and I should not wonder if the service of Christ should be a weariness to him because he has never yet got to the sweet things, and does not enjoy the green pastures, wherein the Good Shepherd makes his sheep to feed and to lie down. But when the Spirit of God makes us feel that we are sons, and we live in the house of God to go no more out for ever, then the service of God is sweet and easy, and we accept the delay of apparent success as a part of the trial we are called to bear.

Now, mark you, this will have a great effect upon the outside world. A body of professors performing religion as a task, groaning along the ways of godliness with faces full of misery, like slaves who dread the lash, can have but small effect upon the sinners around them. They say, “These people serve, no doubt, a hard master, and they are denying themselves this and that; why should we be like them?” But bring me a church made up of children of God, a company of men and women whose faces shine with their heavenly Father’s smile, who are accustomed to take their cares and cast them on their Father as children should, who know they are accepted and beloved, and are perfectly content with the great Father’s will; put them down in the midst of a company of ungodly ones, and I will warrant you they will begin to envy them their peace and joy. Thus happy saints become most efficient operators upon the minds of the unsaved. O blessed Spirit of God! let us all now feel that we are the children of the great Father, and let our childlike love be warm this morning; so shall we be fit to go forth and proclaim the Lord’s love to the prodigals who are in the far-off land among the swine.

F. F. Bruce says that…

The term “adoption” may smack somewhat of artificiality in our ears; but in the first century A.D. an adopted son was a son deliberately chosen by his adoptive father to perpetuate his name and inherit his estate; he was no whit inferior in status to a son born in the ordinary course of nature and might well enjoy the father’s affection more fully and reproduce the father’s character more worthily.

Matthew Henry

The Spirit of adoption works in the children of God a filial love to God as a Father, a delight in him, and a dependence upon him, as a Father. A sanctified soul bears the image of God, as the child bears the image of the father. Whereby we cry, Abba, Father. Praying is here called crying, which is not only an earnest, but a natural expression of desire children that cannot speak vent their desires by crying. Now, the Spirit teaches us in prayer to come to God as a Father, with a holy humble confidence, emboldening the soul in that duty. Abba, Father. Abba is a Syriac word signifying father or my father pater, a Greek work and why both, Abba, Father? Because Christ said so in prayer (Mark 14:36), Abba, Father: and we have received the Spirit of the Son. It denotes an affectionate endearing importunity, and a believing stress laid upon the relation. Little children, begging of their parents, can say little but Father, Father, and that is rhetoric enough. It also denotes that the adoption is common both to Jews and Gentiles: the Jews call him Abba in their language, the Greeks may call him pater in their language for in Christ Jesus there is neither Greek nor Jew. (Romans 8-14)

William Barclay has a detailed discussion of adoption in Paul's day writing that…

Roman adoption was always rendered more serious and more difficult by the Roman patria potestas. This was the father’s power over his family; it was the power of absolute disposal and control, and in the early days was actually the power of life and death. In regard to his father, a Roman son never came of age. No matter how old he was, he was still under the patria potestas, in the absolute possession and under the absolute control, of his father. Obviously this made adoption into another family a very difficult and serious step. In adoption a person had to pass from one patria potestas to another. There were two steps. The first was known as mancipatio, and was carried out by a symbolic sale, in which copper and scales were symbolically used. Three times the symbolism of sale was carried out. Twice the father symbolically sold his son, and twice he bought him back; but the third time he did not buy him back and thus the patria potestas was held to be broken. There followed a ceremony called vindicatio. The adopting father went to the praetor, one of the Roman magistrates, and presented a legal case for the transference of the person to be adopted into his patria potestas. When all this was completed, the adoption was complete. Clearly this was a serious and an impressive step. But it is the consequences of adoption which are most significant for the picture that is in Paul’s mind. There were four main ones.

(i) The adopted person lost all rights in his old family and gained all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family. In the most binding legal way, he got a new father.

(ii) It followed that he became heir to his new father’s estate. Even if other sons were afterwards born, it did not affect his rights. He was inalienably co-heir with them.

(iii) In law, the old life of the adopted person was completely wiped out; for instance, all debts were cancelled. He was regarded as a new person entering into a new life with which the past had nothing to do.

(iv) In the eyes of the law he was absolutely the son of his new father. Roman history provides an outstanding case of how completely this was held to be true. (Barclay, W: The Daily Study Bible)

Puritan Stephen Charnock writes that…

Adoption gives us the privilege of sons, regeneration the nature of sons.

Puritan Thomas Watson writes that…

Adoption is a greater mercy than Adam had in paradise… God has made his children, by adoption, nearer to himself than the angels. The angels are the friends of Christ; believers are his members… Since God has a Son of his own, and such a Son, how wonderful God's love in adopting us! We needed a Father, but He did not need sons.

How binding was "adoption" in Rome? Nero's father died when he was about 3 years old. After Caligula confiscated their family wealth, he and his mother found themselves quite poor for a time. Things changed dramatically when Agrippina married her uncle, the emperor Claudius. That marriage was the means of Nero's rise to power. Agrippina managed to get Nero adopted not only as a son of Claudius, but the heir to the throne before Claudius' actual sons. As believers adopted into God's family as God's children (Jn 1:12 Ro 8:16) we are "heirs of God & fellow heirs with Christ" (Ro 8:17).

A C Gaebelein commenting on the Holy Spirit in Ro 8:14-16…

Here the Spirit of adoption, of Sonship is made known. They are the sons of God, who are led by the Spirit. The Spirit of God is in the believer as a Spirit of adoption. We have not received a spirit of bondage to be again in fear, as it was with the Old Testament believers, but a spirit that answers to our sonship in Christ, and by that Spirit we cry, Abba, Father. He is called a Spirit of adoption because He produces in the believer the reality of divine Sonship as well as all which appertains to this relation- ship. The Holy Spirit does not make believers sons, but He is given to them, and is in the believer as the Spirit of sonship, because they are sons. It must be noted that believers are spoken of as children of God and also as sons of God. In our relationship we are children, born into the family of God; in our position and future glory we are sons.

Indwelling the believer the Holy Spirit bears witness "with our spirit, that we are the children of God." The witness of the Spirit is in the Word of God, and because the believer has accepted His witness as to redemption he knows therefore that God is His Father, and, being born again, that be is in the family of God. He produces in the believer the consciousness of being a child of God, as well as the affections of a child. "We have this testimony in our hearts in our relationship with God; but the Holy Spirit Himself, as distinct from us, bears this testimony to those in whom He dwells. The true believer knows that he recognizes in his heart God as his Father, but He also knows that the Holy Spirit bears the same testimony to him. That which is founded on the Word is realized and verified in the heart." The witness of the Spirit is more than "a good feeling," it is the deep consciousness produced by believing the Word in the power of the Spirit of God that we are the children of God. (The Holy Spirit in the New Testament)

William E Brown writes that…

The present reality of the believer's adoption into the family of God is release from the slavery of sin and the law and a new position as a free heir of God. Entering into salvation brings the rights and privileges of free sonship: "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father'" (Ro 8:15). Paul tells the Galatians that Christians were redeemed from the law so that they might receive adoption as sons. As a result the Holy Spirit comes into the believer's heart crying, "Abba, Father" (Gal 4:5). The intimacy of a relationship with God the Father in contrast to the ownership of slavery is a remarkable feature of salvation.

Like many aspects of salvation, there is an eschatological component of adoption. Believers "wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Ro 8:23-note). The full revelation of the believer's adoption is freedom from the corruption present in the world. Being a member of God's family includes the ultimate privilege of being like him (1Jn 3:2-note) and being conformed to the glorious body of Christ (Php 3:21-note). This is part of the promised inheritance for all God's children (Ro 8:16, 17-note). (Adoption - Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology)


ADOPTION. Ge 15:3.

Of Children

Instances of:

Of Joseph's sons, Gen. 48:5, 14, 16, 22.

Of Moses, Ex. 2:5-10; Acts 7:21; Heb. 11:24.

Of Esther, Esth. 2:7.


Ex 4:22, 23; Nu 6:27 Dt 14:1; 26:18; 27:9; 28:10; 32:5, 6 2Chr. 7:14; Isa. 43:7; 2Sa 7:14; 1Chr. 22:10,28:6. Pr 14:26; Isa 8:18; 43:6; 63:16, 8; Jer 3:19; 31:9, 20; Hos 1:9, 10; 11:1;

Mt. 5:9, 45; Mt 13:43; Lk 6:35; Jn 1:12, 13; 11:52; Acts 15:17; Ro 8:14, 15, 16, 17, 19, 21, 29; 9:8, 26; Heb 1:5. 2Co 6:17, 18; Gal. 3:26, 29; 4:5, 6, 7; Eph. 1:5; 2:19; 3:6, 15; Phil. 2:15; Heb. 2:10, 11, 13; 12:6, 7, 9; 1Jn 3:1, 2, 10; 4:4; Rev 21:7


in Israel, Ex 4:22; Hos 11:1; Ro 9:4.

BY WHICH WE CRY OUT ABBA! FATHER: en o krazomen (1PPAI) abba o pater:

  • Mark 14:36; Luke 11:2; 22:42; John 20:17
  • Romans 8 Resources - Multiple Sermons and Commentaries

True believers are impelled
to cry out Abba! Father!

By which we cry out - That is, on the basis of the incredible truth that sinners otherwise destined for eternal separation from God (see 2Th 1:7, 8, 9, 10), have now been brought near (Ep 2:13-note) by the blood of the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29, 1Pe 1:18, 19-note), by grace through faith in Christ's full atoning, substitutionary sacrifice (Ep 2:8, 9-note). God's Holy Spirit now "fills" our lungs (spiritually speaking [Ep 5:18-note], as well as physically) with the air we breath and which allows us to exclaim Abba! Father!, words we heretofore had no right or claim to utter. Amazing, holy love, how can it be that God has saved such wretches as we!

Moule on "we cry" - Whether in supplication, or in praise. Observe the change again to the first person, suggesting St Paul’s sense of the holy community of the family of God. (ibid)

Cry (2896) (krazo) refers to a loud cry or vociferation, and is a strong word expressing deep emotion. Krazo is one of those onomatopoeic words, the very pronunciation of which imitates the hoarse cry of the raven (listen), and can be an inarticulate and brutish sound or an exclamation of fear or pain. Abbott-Smith says "generally used of inarticulate cries, to scream, cry out (Aesch., etc.)"  It is used of the cry of an animal, the barking of a dog and two men in a quarrel, trying to bawl each other down (so Aristophanes, Knights, 1017)" 'The prophet in awful earnestness, and as with a scream of anguish, cries over Israel' (Morison)" Krazō was also a technical, rabbinic term to refer to the loud summons of a prophet, needing to be heard. In Lk 18:39+ the blind beggar cried  "to cry clamorously; to scream or shriek." (You can almost hear hid shrieking! He is motivated because he is blind and thinks this Man might help him see!)

Krazo - 55x in 54v -

Mt 8:29; 9:27; 14:26, 30; 15:22f; 20:30f; 21:9, 15; 27:23, 50; Mark 3:11; 5:5, 7; 9:24, 26; 10:47f; 11:9; 15:13f; Luke 9:39; 18:39; 19:40; John 1:15; 7:28, 37; 12:44; Acts 7:57, 60; 14:14; 16:17; 19:28, 32, 34; 21:28, 36; 23:6; 24:21; Rom 8:15; 9:27; Gal 4:6; Jas 5:4; Rev 6:10; 7:2, 10; 10:3; 12:2; 14:15; 18:2, 18f; 19:17.

Krazo is translated (NAS) - cried(20), cries(2), cry(5), crying(12), screaming(1), screams(1), shout(1), shouted(4), shouting(8).

Matthew 8:29 And they (demons Jesus had just called out) cried out, saying, "What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?"

Krazo - 88v in the Septuagint -

Gen 41:55; Ex 5:8; 22:23; 32:17; Num 11:2; Josh 6:16; Jdg 1:14; 3:9, 15; 4:3; 18:24; 2 Sam 13:19; 19:4, 28; Job 6:5; 19:7; 30:20, 28; 34:20; 35:9, 12; 38:41; Ps 3:4; 4:3; 17:6; 18:6, 41; 22:2, 5, 24; 27:7; 28:1; 30:2, 8; 31:22; 32:3; 34:6, 17; 55:16; 57:2; 61:2; 65:13; 66:17; 69:3; 77:1; 86:3, 7; 88:1, 9, 13; 107:6, 13, 19, 28; 119:145ff; 120:1; 130:1; 141:1; 142:1, 5; Isa 6:3; 14:31; 15:4; 19:20; 26:17; 31:4; 42:2; 65:14, 24; Jer 4:5; 11:11f; 22:20; 25:34; 33:3; 47:2; 48:3, 20; 49:3; Lam 3:8; Ezek 27:30; Hos 8:2; Joel 1:14; Mic 3:4; Hab 1:2; Zech 7:13

One sign of a child is that he or she knows their earthly father (tragically this maxim is far from true in post-Christian America [circa 2009] where out of wedlock childbirths are the rule rather than the exception and are ravaging the nation, leaving many children without "on site" fathers! I understand for my own testimony is integrally intertwined with the truth of an "off site", unknown father!) One sign of the child of God is that he or she knows their heavenly Father.



Does your spirit cry in that way to-night? Even if you be in the dark, yet if you cry for your Father, you will soon be in the light. There is no need to be distressed with any form of doubt so long as the Spirit makes this continual breathing, “Abba, Father, show thyself to me. Do what thou wilt to me. Let me taste thy love. Let me at least bow under thy hand.”

Abba (0005 - click to listen to pronunciation accentuating second syllable) (Abba) is transliterated as Abba into English from the corresponding Aramaic word which was used in the everyday language of families as a term addressing one's father. Children, as well as adult sons and daughters, used Abba when speaking to their fathers. And so Abba conveys a warm, intimate sense just as with our expression "Dear father."

Abba is used only 3 times in Scriptures and each use is the identical phrase "Abba! Father!" which in Greek is "abba ho pater", literally "Abba, the Father", so that "the Father" serves to "translate" the Aramaic word "Abba" to any readers unable to understand Aramaic. In addition, each use is in the context of calling on God in prayer.

The combined use of the Aramaic Abba and Greek means something like "dear Father", "Daddy" "Papa." Remember that in the Roman Empire of the first century, adopted sons enjoyed the same privileges as natural-born sons. So, instead of cowering in slave-like fear, all sons and daughters by the new birth can confidently, boldly (and yet humbly) approach God in an intimate way, reverentially calling Him Abba, Father. Hallelujah! Amazing grace indeed!


Oh, blessed, blessed state of heart to feel that now we are born into the family of God, and that the choice word which no slave might ever pronounce may now be pronounced by us, “Abba”! It is a child’s word, such as a little child utters when first he opens his mouth to speak, and it runs the same both backwards and forwards,—AB-BA. Oh to have a childlike spirit that, in whatever state of heart I am, I may still be able to say, in the accents even of spiritual infancy,” Abba, Father”!

Scott Grant

The Spirit makes Jesus’ prayer our prayer, enabling us to address God intimately and trustingly, even in dire circumstances. This cry is the Spirit’s answer to the cry of Paul, speaking for conflicted Israel as a whole under the law in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” Answer: Christ, who clears the way for the Spirit, who inspires the cry of free sons, not frustrated slaves. In this way, by enabling and inspiring us to connect with God as our Father, the Spirit witnesses to us that we are children of God. As children of God, we cry “Abba,” not always, of course, using that word, but with a sense that we are sons and daughters of God. (Sermon)

God the Father
of Believers

God is the Father of all who believe in Christ in a special sense not shared by unbelievers. God is called their Father because they have a new standing before Him. To be sure all unbelievers are the offspring of God because He created them (Acts 17:28, 29), they do not have the standing as sons of God. Their standing is rather that of condemned sinners before God the Judge (John 3:18; Rev 20:11ff-note). When we believe in Christ as Savior, our estate is wonderfully changed from grim condemnation to privileged sonship. This new standing grants to all believers the legal right and spiritual privileges of divine sonship: “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Ro 8:17-note). God is the Father of believers also in the sense that He gives them new life through the new birth by the Spirit (John 3:3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). Their new relationship is a family relationship and by analogy conveys many of the same realities that exist between an earthly father and his offspring -- birth of the child (John 3:3); partaking of the father’s nature (2Pet 1:4-note), the father’s care for the child (Mt 6:32, 33-note; Mt 7:9, 10, 11-note) and the father’s discipline of the child (Heb 12:5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11-note). Furthermore, this new spiritual family brings into our live new brothers and sisters (Heb 13:1-note). I was just talking with a worker on my house, and within minutes it became clear that he, though a man of color, was more my brother, than my own physical half-brother, who is not saved. Amazing grace breaks down all barriers (or it should) in God's family.


According to ancient traditions no slave might say, “Abba, Father,” and according to the truth as it is in Jesus none but a man who is really a child of God, and has received the adoption, can truly say, “Abba, Father.” This day my heart desires for every one of you, my brethren, that because Christ has been born into the world you may at once come of age, and may at this hour confidently say, “Abba, Father.” The great God, the Maker of heaven and earth, is my Father, and I dare avow it without fear that he will disown the kindred. The Thunderer, the ruler of the stormy sea, is my Father, and notwithstanding the terror of his power I draw near to him in love. He who is the Destroyer, who says, “Return, ye children of men,” is my Father, and I am not alarmed at the thought that he will call me to himself in due time. My God, thou who shalt call the multitudes of the slain from their graves to live, I look forward with joy to the hour when thou shalt call and I shall answer thee. Do what thou wilt with me, thou art my Father. Smile on me; I will smile back and say, “My Father.” Chasten me, and as I weep I will cry, “My Father.” This shall make everything work good to me, be it never so hard to bear. If thou art my Father all is well to all eternity. Bitterness is sweet, and death itself is life, since thou art my Father, Oh, trip ye merrily home, ye children of the living God, saying each one within himself, “I have it, I have it. I have that which cherubim before the throne have never gained; I have relationship with God of the nearest and the dearest kind, and my spirit for her music hath this word, ‘Abba, Father; Abba, Father.’ ” (The great birthday and our coming of age)

Barnhouse commented that…

“A tree is known by its fruits. (Ed: Cp "A son is known by his daily walk.") This is an infallible criterion, both in the natural and spiritual realm. ‘Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit’ (Mt. 7:17). The test for love of Christ is obedience to His commandment. Profession is proved or disproved by the daily walk. If a man has no love for spiritual things, he is devoid of a spiritual nature. If a man is in an utterly prayerless state, he has not received the spirit of adoption whereby the saved cries ‘Abba, Father.’ If a man is thoroughly wrapped up in the things of this world, then his eyes must be closed to the glories of Heaven, ‘For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’ (Mt. 6:21). If a man prefers the company of worldlings to that of God’s people, then he is a worldling himself. If a man lives to please self rather than God, he is yet dead in trespasses and sin. (God’s Freedom: Romans 6:1–7:25)

Wayne Barber explains that…

The family tree of Adam had nothing but sinners and the destiny of each of them was eternal separation from God (2Th 1:9). But we as believers in Christ have a brand new family tree and it begins at the Cross where Christ died (Ed: And then rose as the first fruits from the dead - see 1Co 15:20, 21, 22) . Now that we as believers are in Christ (see in Christ and in Christ Jesus and in Christ - pt 2), we look back at the Cross and turn and look ahead and all you can see is eternal life and living with Him - what a marvelous family God has birthed us into! He took us out of the family of Adam (Ed: cp our state in Adam = Eph 2:1-note) and placed us into the family of God, into Christ.

Do you know beyond a shadow of doubt that you are a part of the family of God? One way you can tell is that this new relationship conveys a new disposition. Paul says we have not (ou = absolute negative = no possibility) received a spirit of slavery. Spirit in this context is spirit with a "small s" and some people take this to be "demonic". Absolutely no way! The word spirit in context means disposition, mindset or temperament. For example in Romans 11:8 (note) Paul says God gave Israel a spirit of stupor, which speaks of an attitude or a disposition, something so deep on the inside of one's being that it translates outward in one's attitude and disposition.

In Adam we were subject to fear (phobos [word study]), where phobos is a word used for lost people. What do they fear? They say they don't fear God (Ed: And in a sense that it affects their actions or behavior they don't according to Ro 3:18) but we know that their "fearlessness" is a façade and that there is a sense in which all men do fear God. Why? Because they fear death and if you fear death you fear God because you know there is something on the other side of death that you don't understand.

Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil and might deliver those who through FEAR OF DEATH were subject to slavery all their lives. (Heb 2:14, 15-note)

Death brings separation and is the end of everything that they hope for and want. In Christ we are no longer slaves from a spirit of fear but out of a spirit of love (cp 2Co 5:14). There is a new kind of fear that manifest itself in reverential awe and devotion (cp 1Pe 1:17-note, Job 1:1). Now you are a child of God and a child does not fear his parent (usually this is true). There is a new disposition toward God we never had before. We trust Him.

The phrase "adoption as sons" is one word in Greek (huios = sons) and (tithemi = to place). Son means fully grown and mature with full privileges in the family. All of the privileges and sonship are in Christ Jesus. Never separate privilege and position from the Lord Jesus Christ for we are nothing apart from Him (cp Jn 15:5, Col 3:4-note). When we surrender to Him out of a love relationship, we enjoy the Son's privileges to the fullest! (cp Ro 8:17)

Abba is Aramaic and comes from the first word that a little child ever says…like our English "Da Da". The disposition of fear of punishment is gone and replaced by a reverential awe. And now our spirit can cry out "Abba…Father…I need help. Daddy…I'm going through a difficult time." This is a beautiful picture for every son (and daughter) of God. This truth ought to affect your attitude (and acceptance) regarding whatever the Lord is allowing to transpire in your life (cp 1Th 5:18-note, Jas 1:2, 3-note). You are a child of God and He is control of everything (cp El Elyon: Most High God - Sovereign Over All) that you are experiencing…and you can cry out to Him (cp Heb 2:18-note, Heb 4:16-note) and run to Him and He is always there (Heb 13:5-note) (Romans 8:12-17: Rights of the Holy Spirit )

Octavius Winslow on "The Spirit of Adoption"…

"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." Romans 8:15

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." Romans 8:15

So you should not be like cowering, fearful slaves. You should behave instead like God's very own children, adopted into his family—calling him "Father, dear Father." Romans 8:15

It is most distinctly affirmed in this passage, that the children of God are emancipated from the spirit of bondage- the present and mournful condition of all the unregenerate.

The question here arises, what is the spirit of bondage of which the Apostle speaks? It exhibits itself in various forms, yet, essentially, it is the same spirit. The world, for example, holds in cruel bondage all its devotees. It enslaves the intellect by its opinions, the heart by its pleasures, the imagination by its promises, the soul by its religion- leading it a willing captive, a victim garlanded for the sacrifice. They are described as "walking according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience." But it is the moral law- the spirit of bondage which genders fear- to which the passage particularly refers. Its commands are exceedingly broad, and the obedience upon which it insists unqualifiedly perfect; and yet, with all the breadth of the precept, and the rigidness of the requirement, it offers no helping hand.

It shows a man his sin, but not his pardon.

It teaches him his weakness, but tells him not where his great strength lies.

It thunders in his ear his misery and condemnation, but whispers not a word of mercy and of hope.

Emancipated, as the justified believer really is, from the condemning power of this law, yet, alas! how much of its bondage spirit does he still retain! How few of the sons of God realize the possession and largeness of their birthright! How few rise to the dimity and the privilege of their adoption! How few see their completeness in Christ Jesus, and read the sentence of their pardon written in the heart's blood of Immanuel! How few walk in a large place, and by the sunny joyousness and lofty aspirations of their spirit, evidence that they have "not received the spirit of bondage again to fear!"

"But you have received the Spirit of adoption." The Spirit of adoption is the same as the Spirit of God. There are two essential features which identify him as such.

The first is, he imparts the nature of the Father to all the children of the family. In this there is a wide difference between a human and a Divine adoption. Man can only confer his name and his inheritance upon the child he adopts. But in the adoption of God, to the name and inheritance of God is added the Divine nature imparted in regeneration; so that, in the words of our Lord, we become manifestly the "children of our Father who is in heaven."

The second feature is- having begotten the nature of the Father, he then breathes the spirit of the child into the heart. He inspires a filial love. The love which glows in the believer's heart is the affection of a child to its parent. It is not a servile bondage, but a filial and free spirit. Oh, sweet and holy emotion! How tender and confiding, how clinging and childlike is it! Such ought to be our love to God. He is our Father- we are his children. Why should not our love to him be marked by more of the exquisite tenderness, and the unquestioning confidence, and the calm repose of a child reclining upon a parent's breast?

A childlike fear of God is another inspiration of the Spirit of adoption. Love and fear are twin graces in the Christian character. The Spirit of God is the Author of both; and both dwell together and co-operate in the same renewed heart. It is not the dread of the servant, but the holy trembling of the child, of which we speak. It is a filial, loving, reverential fear.

A childlike trust in God also springs from the Spirit of adoption. The trust of a child is implicit, affectionate, and unquestioning. Upon whose counsel may he so safely rely, in whose affection may he so fully confide, upon whose fidelity may he so confidently trust, as a parent's? God is your Father, O child of a divine adoption, of a heavenly birth! Let your trust in him be the result of the relationship you sustain. It admits you to the closest intimacy, and invites you to the most perfect confidence. You have not a need, nor an anxiety, nor a grief which is not all his own. His adoption of your person- an act of his spontaneous and most free grace- pledged him to transfer all your individual interests to himself.

To these we must add a filial obedience: "If you love me, keep my commandments." (Jn 14:15) Obedience, whether to the Savior's precept, or to the Father's law, is the test of love; and love is the spring of obedience. "All that the Lord God has spoken to us will we do," is the language of that heart where the Spirit of adoption dwells (Ed: Unfortunately Israel's expression of willingness to obey in Ex 24:3, 24:7 was their intention but not their practice). Such are some of the features of adoption.

"Whereby we cry, Abba, Father." The Apostle employs in the original two different languages. It may not be improper to infer, that in using both the Syriac and the Greek form- the one being familiar to the Jew, and the other to the Gentile- he would denote that both the Christian Jew and the believing Gentile were children of one family, and were. alike privileged to approach God as a Father. Christ, our peace, has broken down the middle wall of partition that was between them; and now, at the same mercy-seat, the Christian Jew and the believing Gentile, both one in Christ Jesus, meet, as rays of light converge and blend in one common center- at the feet of their reconciled Father. The expressions, too, set forth the peculiarity and intensity of the affection. Literally, "Abba, Father," signifies "My Father." No bond-servant was permitted thus to address the master of the family; it was a privilege peculiar and sacred to the child. And when our blessed Lord would teach his disciples to pray, he led them to the mercy-seat, and sealed these precious words upon their lips- "Our Father, who is in heaven." And after his resurrection, with increased emphasis and intensity did he give utterance to the same truth. Previously to his death his words were, "go to the Father." But when he came back from the grave, every truth he had before enunciated seemed quickened as with new life. How tender and touching were his words- "I ascend unto my Father, and to your Father; to my God, and to your God." No longer a bond-slave, but a son, oh, claim the dignity and privilege of your birthright! Approach God as your Father.

"Abba, Father!" How tender the relation! how intense the affection! what power it imparts to prayer! What may you not ask, and what can God refuse, with "Abba, Father" breathing in lowliness and love from your lips? Remember, it is an inalienable, unchangeable relation. Never, in any instance, or under any circumstance the most aggravated, does God forget it. He is as much our Father when he chastises, as when he approves; as much so when he frowns, as when he smiles; as much so when he brims the cup of adversity, as when he bids us drink the cup of salvation. Behold the touching display of it in his gracious restorings:

"But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck and kissed him." (Lk 15:20, context = Lk 15:11-19)

In all his wanderings, that father's love had never lost sight of his wayward child (Ed note: Beloved reader, perhaps you like me have a "wayward child" who is a "great way off" and you too like me have not manifested the heart attitude of the father Jesus describes. May God's Spirit grant us amazing grace to love our "wayward child" with genuine agape love in Christ. Amen). It tracked him along all his windings, followed him to the very swine-trough, hovered around him even then, and waited and welcomed his return. We may doubt, and debase, and deny our divine relationship, yet God will never disown us as his children, nor disinherit us as his heirs. We may cease to act as a child, he will never cease to love as a Father. To him, then, as to a Father at all times repair. "Have faith in God." Confide in his heart to love you; in his counsel to guide you; and in his power to sustain you. Cast from you the fetters that enthrall, and pray to be upheld by his free Spirit. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." (The Spirit of Adoption in the book entitled NO CONDEMNATION IN CHRIST JESUS by Octavius Winslow)

Dr Ray Pritchard ( has an instructive sermon on Adoption: Plenty of Room in the Family

January 2007 - When Leslie Lynch King, Jr. died earlier this week, it made headlines around the world. Commentators talked about his legacy, and in the United States flags were lowed to half-staff in his honor. That always happens when a president dies.

But who was President King? You can’t find any record of a man by that name occupying the White House. But he did. Leslie Lynch King, Jr. served as president during a crisis moment in American history. He is remembered as a decent and honorable man whose solid Midwestern values guided his political career. You can’t find any record of President King because no one by that name ever served as president.

Leslie Lynch King, Jr. was born on Monday, July 14, 1913 in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents separated sixteen days after his birth and were divorced the following December. According to press reports (cited by Wikipedia), his father was abusive and had a drinking problem. His mother took her baby and moved back to her parents’ home in Grand Rapids, Michigan where she later married Gerald Ford, a paint salesman. He later adopted young Leslie and gave him his own name. Thus Leslie Lynch King became Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the United States. As I write these words, he is lying in repose in California, awaiting the formal state funeral in Washington next week.

I never knew he was adopted until he died, and therefore I never learned his birth name until I read it in the news reports. Born Leslie Lynch King, by adoption Gerald Ford entered a new family and was given a new name.

  • One man.
  • Two names.
  • Two families.

Adoption is not a subject we talk about very much in church. We don’t often think about it from a biblical point of view. But as I begin this message, I realize that there are many people who are intimately acquainted with adoption. You may have been adopted, or you may have adopted a child yourself, or perhaps you were raised in a family that included adopted children. If any of those things is true about you, you probably have a better understanding of the biblical teaching than those who have never experienced adoption first hand.

I. Adoption Defined

Many Christians don’t realize that adoption is a profoundly biblical concept. It is one of the key words that the Apostle Paul uses to describe our relationship to God. Let’s begin with a simple definition.

Adoption is the legal act of permanently placing a child with a parent or parents other than the birth parents. Adoption results in the severing of the parental responsibilities and rights of the biological parents and the placing of those responsibilities and rights onto the adoptive parents. After the finalization of an adoption, there is no legal difference between biological and adopted children in most jurisdictions (from Wikipedia on adoption).

We can summarize this further in three statements:

1) There is a person who is not a member of your family by birth.

2) There is a legal process.

3) There is now a new member of your family as a result.

In a number of places, the New Testament uses the word adoption to describe how we come into God’s family (Romans 8:15, 23, 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). However, the meaning is not exactly the same as our common English usage. The Greek word for adoption means to place as a son within a family with full family privileges as an adult member of the family. That’s the background of Paul’s thought in Galatians 4:1-7.

The heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Verses one and two describe a common situation in the first century. Imagine a son whose father is extremely wealthy. One day the son will inherit the entire estate for himself. Under Roman law, because he is a minor child, being raised as a minor child, he is treated no differently than a slave. He is heir to all that his father owns, but while he is growing up he has no more rights than a slave does. Although he will one day inherit the whole estate, he is subject to guardians, nannies, babysitters, tutors, helpers, hired people and trustees who watch over him until the time set by his father. Although he is an heir, he is treated as a slave until the time his father decides to set him free.

In verse four we see what God did by sending his Son to the world (vv. 4-5):

1) God sent him to redeem those under the law.

2) That we might receive full rights as sons.

When we come to Christ, God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts to give us new life and the assurance that we are God’s children. This is the “still, small voice” of God that speaks to the soul and whispers, “You are now a child of God.” That same Holy Spirit within us cries out “Abba, Father.” The word “Abba” comes from an Aramaic word that little children would use to speak to their fathers. It is an intimate, personal word of endearing affection. In English you might say “Dad” or “Daddy” or “Papa” or “Dear Father.” It’s a very tender way of talking to our Heavenly Father. No longer is he some distant God up in the sky. Now he is our “Heavenly Daddy.”

In all the world there was only one person I called “Dad.” When I or my three brothers Andy, Alan and Ronnie said, “Dad,” our father would turn and listen to our voices. The privilege of calling him “Dad” was given to us and only to us. The same is true of my three sons. Josh, Mark and Nick are the only people in the world who have that unique relationship with me. Others may call me “Dad,” but it doesn’t mean the same thing. I was one of my father’s four sons; I am the father to my three sons. They have a unique claim on me that other children don’t have. So it is in the spiritual realm. If we know Jesus as Savior, God is now our Heavenly Father and we can come to him in prayer anytime, anywhere, for any reason, and he will never turn us away. When we are in trouble, when the world has turned against us, when we are so discouraged that we feel like giving up, when we are confused about what to do next, the Holy Spirit whispers, “Talk to your Father in heaven. He’s waiting to hear from you.” The Spirit within us brings us back to our Father again and again and teaches us to say, “Abba, Father.”

Here are six blessings Paul mentions in Galatian 4 that flow to us because Christ came.

1) We are redeemed (Gal 4:5a).

2) We are adopted (Gal 4:5b).

3) The Holy Spirit now lives within us (Gal 4:6a).

4) We call God Father (Gal 4:6b).

5) We are now God’s children (Gal 4:7a).

6) We are the heirs of God (Gal 4:7b).

Gal 4:5 is the heart of the matter. Christ came “to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” The NIV uses the phrase “full rights of sons” to bring out the meaning of adoption. Christ came to redeem us and to adopt us into God’s family. To redeem means to set free from slavery by the payment of a price. You redeemed a slave by paying the purchase price and then setting him free. Now suppose that in addition to freeing that slave, you also said to him, “Come with me to my home and live with me. I want you to legally join my family, take my name, and take an equal share in my inheritance.” As amazing as it sounds, that’s what God did for us the moment we trusted Christ. He set us free (redeemed us) from the slavery of sin with the purchase price of the blood of Christ. Then he brought us into his family and gave us “full rights” as his own children. The concept of “full rights” means that no matter how badly we may have sinned before conversion, there are no second-class children in God’s family. God has no stepchildren. In the Jewish culture, young boys are considered men by going through a ritual called a Bar Mitzvah. You might say that when we come to Christ, we are “Bar Mitzvahed” into God’s family. We come in as full members of the family with rights and privileges equal to those who have been there for 40 or 50 years. We can pray and claim God’s promises on the same basis as everyone else.

Let’s suppose that one of my three sons does something wrong and later feels bad about it. So he comes to me and says, “Dad, I’m very sorry for what I did and I’m going to try to do better in the future. I’m going to try to be more of a son to you from now on.” When I hear those words, I’ll say something like this, “Son, I love you and I’m glad you feel bad about what you did and I know you want to do better in the future. But I want you to know that no matter what you do, you could never be more of a son to me than you are right now. Being my son has nothing to do with what you do or don’t do. You are my son by virtue of being a part of my family. Nothing you do can ever change that fact.” Think about that for a moment. If one of my boys should rebel against all that I have taught him, and if he should move to some distant place and change his name so that no one will know he is my son, and if he should adopt some way of life that is far removed from what I believe is right, I will be heartbroken and perhaps I will be angry, but no matter what he does, he will always be my son and I will always love him. Once a son, always a son. Nothing my boys can do can ever change that fact.

The same is true in our relationship with God. Our standing isn’t based on our performance. That’s good news because we all fail sooner or later. Our standing is based on God’s grace, which means it doesn’t depend on us. Once a child of God, always a child of God. We may do things that displease our Heavenly Father. If we persist in disobedience, we will be disciplined by the Lord. But that discipline, painful though it may be, comes to us because we are God’s children (see Hebrews 12:4-11). It is a mark of our salvation. We are disciplined because we are the children of God, not in order to stay in God’s family. Our standing is secure because it is not based on our performance.

II. Adoption Explained

Where did Paul get his concept of adoption? He did not get it from the Old Testament because there is not much about adoption in the Old Testament.

Legal adoption was not prescribed in Jewish law or practiced by the Israelites. In fact, the term “adoption” does not occur in the Old Testament. While there are several possible allusions to adoption, such as Moses (Exodus 2:10), Genubath (1Kings 11:20), and Esther (Esther 2:7), the incidents recorded take place in foreign societies (Egyptian and Persian) and there is no evidence that legal adoptions were enacted (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology).

When Paul talks about adoption, he is not referring back to the Old Testament. He is referring to the Roman law of his day. Wealthy childless couples often practiced adoption to provide a legal heir for their wealth. They would adopt a slave and bring him into their family so that their wealth could be passed on to another generation.

There are three keys to understanding Roman law regarding adoption.

1) The absolute right of the father.

Under Roman law fathers had absolute right over their entire estate. They had rights over all that they owned, and their children were considered to be their personal property. In fact, a father in ancient Rome had the power of life and death over his children and in the early days of the Roman Empire, if a father wanted to put his children to death, he could legally do it and nobody could say anything to him about it. So great was the power of a father under Roman law that the son would never be out from underneath his father’s authority as long as the father was alive. A son could be 70 years old and the father could be 93 years old, and under Roman law he was still under his father’s authority.

2) The right of the adopted son.

If a son was adopted into a new family, he was guaranteed legal rights to his father’s property. That is always one of the questions if you have biological children as well as adopted children. How will it all work in terms of the family inheritance? Roman law made it clear that an adopted child had exactly the same rights as all other children and no one could come before the adopted child–not the biological children and not other adopted children. He gained full inheritance rights with all the other children of the family.

3) The disappearance of the old life.

Adoption not only gave you a new name and a new family, it also mean your old life was gone forever. So complete was the transformation that if you were adopted into a new family and you had old debts, at the moment of adoption all those old debts were canceled, wiped away forever. The adopted son in Rome was regarded as a new person, entering a brand-new life.

Scholars tell us that the adopted son went through a very serious and impressive ceremony. Because the father had absolute power in that situation, if the biological father was going to give up his son for adoption, the biological father would go into a public place carrying copper and scales. He would three times go through an action that signified he was selling his son. The first time he would buy him back. The second time he would buy him back. The third time he would sell his son, but he wouldn’t buy him back. That would signify the father was giving up his absolute right over his son. Then the adopted father would go before the magistrate and present papers proving he had the right to adopt the son

Here are the words of William Barclay:

It is Paul’s picture that when a man became a Christian he entered into the very family of God. He does nothing to deserve it. God, the great Father, in his amazing love and mercy, has taken the lost, helpless, poverty-stricken, debt-ladened sinner and adopted him into his own family, so that the debts are canceled and the glory inherited.

III. Adoption Distinguished

To speak of adoption in these terms leads to a logical question. Doesn’t the Bible say we are born into God’s family? The answer is yes (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3). If that is true, how can we be adopted?

Are we born again or are we adopted? The answer is yes.

Both are correct because we are both born again and adopted into God’s family. Here is the difference. The new birth establishes a new relationship with God. That is why Jesus said to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3 NIV). The new birth emphasizes how we come into God’s family—as helpless children who are born into the family only by God’s sovereign grace (John 1:13).

John Fok helps us understand the difference between adoption and other key salvation terms:

As the Greek word indicates, adoption (read Romans 8:15, 23; 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5) is literally “placing as a son.” Regeneration has to do with our change in nature; justification, with our change in standing; sanctification, with our change in character; adoption, with our change in position. According to Paul, the chief advantages of sonship are deliverance from the law (Galatians 4:3, 4, 5) and the possession of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption and sonship (Galatians 4:6; cf. Romans 8:15f).

We are born into Gods family through the new birth and through adoption we are immediately advanced to a state of full privilege and responsibility. From the moment of salvation God treats us as full adults, not as little kids. The following chart makes the difference clear:

New Birth

New Life

From Spiritual Death

Children needing growth


New Standing

From Slavery

Full rights and privileges

When you graduate from a college or university, you receive a degree that is conferred with “all rights and privileges pertaining thereto.” It means that when you graduate, you get all the rights that go with having the degree.

When you become a citizen of the United States, you become a full citizen. There is no second class citizenship. If you are a citizen, you have the same rights any other citizen has. If you become a citizen, it doesn’t matter whether you were born in the United States or whether you are a naturalized citizen, by law the same rights apply to everyone. It is the same way in terms of adoption and the spiritual realm.

Adoption guarantees the following seven things to every believer:

1) You are a full member of God’s family.

2) You have full rights and privileges in heaven.

3) You have immediate access to God.

4) You belong to his family.

5) You bear his name.

6) You have a full share in the inheritance he promises his children.

7) Satan has no claim on you because you are no longer a part of his family and he is no longer your father.

IV. Adoption Applied

1) Adoption means that you have a new family. The old family is gone forever. The old master is gone forever. The old name is gone forever. God is your Father, the Lord Jesus is your Savior, and the Holy Spirit lives within you.

2) Adoption means that you have a new privilege. You have the same right as the oldest saints of God. In our world there are exclusive clubs with members dependent on who you know and how much money you have. There is a children’s membership, a family membership, associate membership, blue-level membership, green-level membership, silver-level membership and for the hoity-toity people on the top, there is a gold-level membership. But God only has one level of membership. Everyone who comes into the family of God comes in the same way because the ground is level at the foot of the cross. He only has one class. Everyone in God’s family has gold card standing. Everyone is born again. Everyone has full rights. Everyone is at the head of the class. Everyone comes in at the best possible level.

3) Adoption means you have a new responsibility. What God says to any believer he says to every believer. The same Holy Spirit who is given to the gray-haired Christian is given to the new Christian. No one need feel like a second class citizen. No believer can use that as an excuse. You can never say, “Well, I don’t want to read my Bible. I am just a new Christian.” That won’t wash with God. Nobody can say they can’t pray because they are just a new Christian. God will not accept that excuse. You can’t say you won’t testify for Christ because you have recently been born again and aren’t as good as those who have been saved for a long time. That is not a biblical thing to say because what God says to any of his children, he says to all his children. The responsibility that is laid on one is laid on all.

There are great advantages in being born again at an early age. If you have been saved for a long time, you ought to have a deeper understanding of God. You should be more skillful in walking by grace. But God does not give anything to the oldest saint of God that he doesn’t also give to the newest Christian. The moment you come to Jesus Christ, all the resources of heaven are put at your disposal.

What does all this mean?

You are rich now. Don’t live like a pauper.

You have the Holy Spirit. Don’t live in the flesh.

You have access to God. Use it.

You have brothers and sisters. Lean on them.

You have spiritual gifts. Put them to work for Christ.

You have been set free from Satan’s power. Don’t mess around with the devil anymore.

You have a new family. Stop living like you belong to your old one.

Earthly adoption offers a wonderful picture of God’s gift to us because for adoption to happen, the parents must be willing to do it and they must be able to do it. They must choose to do it. To those of you who are adopted, God bless you. To those of you who have adopted children, God bless you. Thank you for modeling for us what God’s great love really looks like.

If they understand this truth, adopted children can say, “Someone must have loved me very much.” Adoption never just happens. There is no such thing as an accidental adoption. It takes trouble, time, expense, effort, sweat, heartache and tears. Somebody has to open their heart and their home for children to be adopted. In the very same way, biblical adoption is only possible because God is willing to add more children to his family. That is one of the sweetest thoughts I have ever come across.

On earth, adoption gives a child a new name, a new home, a new address, a new history and a new destiny. The same is true with God’s adoption. It gives the child of God a new name, a new home, a new address, a new history and a new destiny. The poet Robert Frost defined home as “the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in.”

Brothers and sisters, God is our true Heavenly Father because he chose to add us to his family. Because of adoption, when we go to him, he always opens the door and says, “Welcome, my child. This is your home forever.” Amen. (Adoption Plenty of Room in the Family - sermon by Dr. Ray Pritchard - January 2007)