This article discusses the meaning of Romans 8:15, where Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of sonship, by whom we cry, "Abba, Father!"

2 pages.

Romans 8:15 – The Spirit of Sonship

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship.

Romans 8:15

Romans 8 is clearly a climax in the letter the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome. After Paul spoke extensively in the previous chapters about the redemptive work of Christ, he now in chapter 8 draws a conclusion. Whoever believes in Christ may glory in his victory. They are no longer under the power of sin, the law and death, but may live under the dominion of the Spirit. The Spirit of Christ now governs them. That means a turning point, a radical change that makes the apostle sing for joy in this chapter. Slaves of sin are going to walk as children of God!

In this context Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Sonship. The apostle does not mean that we become children of God through the working of the Holy Spirit. The Lord has already adopted us as his children in Christ (cf. Gal 4:5). The “status” of our sonship is anchored in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (cf. Eph 2:13).

But Paul wants to proclaim to us that it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us to live in accordance with this gracious privilege: as sons, as free children of God.

When someone who has been imprisoned for many years, is suddenly released, he is indeed free, but now he still has to learn to live as a free man.

It is true that we as believers have been redeemed by Christ from sin, the law and death. But every day again we have to learn to stand in the freedom with which Christ has set us free. This is where the Holy Spirit comes to our aid. He is the Spirit of Sonship who teaches us to live as free and joyful children of God.

The apostle warns us about a misunderstanding. When the Holy Spirit leads us, it does not mean that we again bear a yoke of slavery with rules and regulations. The Spirit is not a spirit that makes us a slave again to fear. The Christian Jews in Rome should realize that life in the Spirit is not a life of scrupulous observance of the law. Whoever lives like that, lives contrary to the lifestyle of the sons of God!

When the Holy Spirit holds the reins of our life in his hands, it means the end of all slavery and fear. For then there is freedom (cf. 2 Cor 3:17), and joy (cf. Rom 14:17). Life by the Spirit is a walk of life as joyful children of the heavenly Father (cf. Gal 5:16).

That walk of life is the miracle that the Spirit works in God’s children. It is the Spirit who renews us more and more after the image of Christ. People who let themselves be guided by the Spirit are being changed into the likeness of Christ (cf. 2 Co 3:18). In all their words and deeds they more and more look like their Savior. Their delight is in the law of the Lord. They present their bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God (Rom 12:1).

The Christian walk of life and the guidance of the Spirit are inseparable. Paul continually proclaims the new life as “to be in the Spirit,” to “live according to the Spirit,” to “have the Spirit” and “being led by the Spirit.” Juliana van Stolberg was wise when she advised her son William, “My son, pray for the Holy Spirit every day.” Only where the Spirit governs the hearts, the glory of the sonship of God’s children manifests itself; there people begin to show the image of the Lord Jesus. In verse 14 Paul says it very concisely: “because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Perhaps a somewhat different translation is preferable: “because those who let themselves be led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” If we really want to be known as children of the Lord, we will have to continually place ourselves under the dominion of the Spirit. Then also the daily prayer for his powerful guidance may not be lacking!

We should note Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:15 that it is the Spirit of Sonship who teaches us to cry out, “Abba, Father.”  Paul emphasizes that prayer is the benchmark of the sonship of God’s children. That we conduct ourselves as the heavenly Father’s redeemed children becomes evident first of all in our prayers. When people address the exalted, holy God as Father, then the sonship of God’s children sparkles! It is fully Scriptural when the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 45 calls prayer the most important part of thankfulness.  All part of being children of God is the fight against sin, obedience to God’s will and denying yourself every day; but prayer is first and foremost.

It is the Holy Spirit who teaches the children of God to cry out, “Abba, Father” before anything else.

Some commentators were of the mistaken opinion that the Aramaic “Abba” is a word for small children, something like our “Daddy.” We should note that the apostle does not write “Abba, Daddy” but “Abba, Father.” This shows us that the word “abba” very simply means “father.”

In our text Paul writes two words, one in Aramaic and one in Greek, probably because of the composition of the church in Rome. This congregation must have consisted of Christians from the Jews as well as from the Gentiles. The former were used to addressing God as “Abba” and the latter as “Father.”

By using these two words, the apostle emphasizes that the Holy Spirit teaches all God’s children to pray in childlike trust. God is not a stranger to them, a God who is far away, but a loving Father on whom they may call with confidence.

By him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  If it depended on us, praying in faith would not amount to much. There is so much that shakes our confidence. Sin, little faith and temptation are all enemies that are aiming at our childlike trust in the Lord.

But Paul comforts us. We have been given the Spirit of Sonship. This Spirit, time and again and in all circumstances, puts the Father’s Name on our lips. He continually teaches us to call upon our Father and to seek shelter in his throne. It is the Spirit who makes us become like little children and awakens in our heart the childlike fear and reverence so that we can really pray.

In Christ we have access to the throne of God (cf. Eph 2:18; 3:12). It is the Spirit who teaches sinful men-of-little-faith to approach God with boldness and confidence.

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