Romans 8:16&17 “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”
God’s gift of divine adoption into his family, to become his sons and heirs, is for us sinners an incomprehensible change of status, the Creator of the universe becoming our true, eternal Father and we becoming his own children. It seems unbelievable. This was not our decision; it was the living God who thought of it; he determined that he would do this, all by himself, before the foundation of the earth. In the very beginning, before the start of time and space, God chose to make us his own children. In other words there never was a time when we did not enjoy this status of God’s adopted ones. To make us his children was a holy, divine and personal decree of our Father’s predestinating love. That adopting affection homed in on every single one of those he planned to make his children. God was pleased to choose people like us in particular to become his sons, on four fishermen of the hundreds who worked the Sea of Galilee, on Saul of Tarsus breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the church; on an Ethiopian eunuch, on Lydia out of a group of women in Greece, on a Roman governor of a jail and his children in Philippi; God determined that they and millions like them would become his sons. He knew all about our lives before the worlds began; he had seen us at our worst; the things that we are most ashamed of, that we consider today to be an enormous barrier for any person becoming a child of God – he knew all of that, the most defiling, cruel and dirty things that we’d done. Yet in heaven, with the Son and the Spirit, and nothing and no one else, our Father still chose all of us to become his children.
Now you want more than my weak assurances in order to have faith in such breathtaking statements, and indeed you need more than my own words to believe that this is indeed so. So let me show you a most clear statement to this effect from another great chapter in the Bible. It is set out in Ephesians chapter one and verse five; here it is so transparently lucid; “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” So the decree to adopt us was determined by God before the foundation of the world. That is what Scripture says. It was God’s predestinating gift of sonship. We are the children of God today because at the beginning, before anything else that came to be made was made, the Father chose us to become his children. Do you understand what I am saying? If you’re a child of God today then one reason for this you’ll discover in going back and back to the beginning, to the decrees of God, to God’s predestination, that we have become his children in space and time because of a loving decision of God in eternity. God knew all about us rogues, but in the most baffling grace he determined that we would become sons. Why did he adopt us? Because he predestined us to become his sons. It is true that we can go back beyond his predestination to his love. Why did he predestine us to become his children? Because God loved us. I was loved with an everlasting love, and so were all of you who trust in Christ alone. But to go back a further step, beyond God’s love to anything more basic than that is impossible. The foundation of our adoption is God’s eternal love, but there is nothing under that love to support that loving decision. It is love all the way down from there, at the very beginning. Even before the foundation of the world he loved us and he determined that we should be his children. His adopting love is the fountainhead of our being the children of God today.
Then there is another way that we must consider our adoption, and that is in space and time, and again that is also one hundred per cent an act of God, as much as his decree to choose us to be his children before the world began, but I say this second act of adoption took place in your space and in your time. Maybe few of us can pin-point that moment with certainty; in other words not every Christian knows precisely, during his or her own history, when Jesus Christ was actually received as Saviour, when we first truly believed with a regenerate heart on his name, the name of the one who had become our prophet and priest and king, when we were given the right to become the sons of God. We do know that it took place during a certain period in our lives when we were brought out of the darkness of unbelief into his marvelous light; some of us believe we do know the actual date, as Saul of Tarsus did, but not every child of God knows that. Whether we know at what precise point in our lives or not there did come a time of being drawn nearer and nearer to trust in Jesus Christ receiving him into our lives and we publicly confessed it to be so. We no longer kept the Saviour at a distance from us; we received him in the embrace of love, and at that time we were adopted by God as his children. So now you don’t feel a hypocrite when you say to God, “Our Father which art in heaven . . . Abba Father.” Again you must have more than my feeble words to believe the wonder of this, and so I shall give you again some clear words about our adoption that have come from heaven. I am thinking of a familiar sentence in the opening chapter of John’s gospel; “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12).
So divine adoption is so crucial that it is doubly confirmed; our status as children of God was granted to all of us believers by God the Father before the foundation of the world, but it has also been given to us in our own histories when we received Jesus Christ into our lives as our Lord and Saviour. We were appointed unto adoption in eternity, and yet that same adoption was conferred upon us in time when we believed personally in the Lord.
But there is one more thing about your adoption into the family of God that you need to know and it is this, that it took the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ into the world, and his being born of a woman, and living a blameless life and dying as the Lamb of God on Golgotha for this purpose, that we might become the children of God. In other words – theological words – divine adoption needs incarnation and atonement by the death of the testator. In other words you may not shrug your shoulders and say, “I’m a child of God? So what?” It took Christ’s agony and bloody sweat to give you that status. To make us God’s sons is why he hung and suffered on the tree; that is why he would not come down from the cross. He was determined to stay on the cross until every barrier to our adoption had been overcome, and we had become the children of God. For the pains that he endured our adoption has secured. That was the only way that rotters and rebels like all of us could become the sons of God, through his agonizing atonement. If you say, “Christ died for my sins” then you are saying, “Christ died for my estrangement to make me a child of God.” Again you need more than my assertion that this is
the case to believe it to be so, and so I have a word from God’s holy Book to show to you. It is a very clear word from God: “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (Gals. 4:4&5). The Son of God did a decent and good job of the work his Father had given him to do. He had said to his Son, “I have determined to make all these people my children, but I cannot adopt them without your going to the world, and laying down your life in order that their whole status be changed, from rebels to sons.” The Son went to do his Father’s will. He didn’t die to give us a hint of sonship . . . “maybe . . . one day yet to come . . .” No. He didn’t hang on the cross that certain limited rights of sonship should become ours. No. What does that inspired word say of his redeeming love on Calvary? He died there that we might receive the full rights of sons! So we are the children of God today because God determined it to be so before the foundation of the earth. We are the children of God today because when we received Christ God gave us the right of adoption. We are the children of God today because once on a green hill far away outside a city wall Jesus redeemed us from slavery to possess the full rights of sons; Christ merited the privilege of adoption for us by his royal death. Thus he became our Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace.
That is the foundation of our sonship, and now God sends me out today, and all his ministers, to proclaim the offer of adoption to whoever will leave following Satan, and will stop serving sin, and will no longer live like the children of darkness in this world. Come and receive Jesus Christ the Son of God and you too will become children of God also. That is the offer which today God is making to this world.
Now all of that is in the mind of Paul as he writes this letter to the Romans. All that, I say, he is taking for granted as he writes these words of our text. He is speaking here more particularly about how we know that we are the adopted children of God. The theme of these verses is the assurance of our sonship. Remember that God has done so much outside the Christian’s experience. Before the foundation of the world we did not exist, but then he predestined us to being adopted as his children. We were not born when Jesus hung on the cross; we were no help to him as he suffered there. He was terribly alone when he bought for us with his precious blood our right to be called the sons of God. Now, however, as we come into the orbit of the gospel it is experience time! Now it is time for this comfort to come into our hearts. Now it is time for some assurance and certainty about our relationship with God to become ours! Now it is time for the word of God about adoption to be spoken to our souls in order for believers like me to know that this is true, so that I may be sure that I have been adopted as his child. How does Paul describe what happens? This is what he says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Roms. 8:16).
- THE WITNESS AND TESTIMONY OF THE SPIRIT.
So God’s intention is that our adoption should not be a mystery to us or to any of the children of God. God wants to clear away anything dubious or uncertain about us being the sons of God. He gives us the Holy Spirit and four things happen . . .
i] The Spirit makes it clear what the children of God are to believe and we believe them. The prophets of the Old Testament, Moses and Samuel and David and Elijah and the writing prophets were borne along by the Spirit himself. They have told us on behalf of God who God is and what God is like. They have explained to us where the world came from and why men and women can behave so badly. They have told us about creation and the fall. The prophets have told us about the Messiah who one day would come, that he would be born of a virgin and that in his dying sacrifice the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. They have told us that God would not allow him to rot in the grave but that he would rise again. We believe what those Old Testament prophets wrote under the inspiration of the Spirit. That is the way we believe what all Christians are taught by God.
The Spirit also inspired the apostles of the New Testament to write the gospels and the letters, Acts and Revelation and they tell us in greater detail about the mighty accomplishments of Christ, and we believe what the Spirit caused them to write in the New Testament. “That is what I also believe,” you say. The writers of the New Testament tell us how we are to know that our sins are forgiven and that we are going to get to heaven, that it is only through the person and work of Jesus Christ. But you also believe the very same good news. So I am saying that it is the Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles who is also bearing witness to your spirit and heart and mind through the Bible that you can believe these things too. Only a new heart, created by the Spirit, can believe this message. Let’s be sure of this that no comfort can be given to a professing Christian who rejects the teaching of the Bible concerning the miracles and the supernatural, a person who calls himself a ‘liberal Christian.’ Unless you believe the biblical revelation that God has taken such pains to inspire you must not consider yourself to be a son of God at all. By your own testimony you are an unbeliever, and hence you are in great danger.
ii] The Spirit also makes it clear how the children of God live and we live like that. How do Christians live? They seek to keep the ten commandments. They desire to do this from their hearts, inwardly. Their longing is that whenever they are provoked they won’t retaliate, that they don’t do evil when evil has been done against them, rather they seek to overcome evil with good. They would give a gentle answer that turns wrath away. They try always to turn the other cheek; they seek always to go the second mile. They’d love their enemies. They want them to come to repentance and trust in Christ and go to heaven not hell. They would never say about a man who has done something terrible to them or to someone they love, “I hope he rots in hell for ever.” No Christian could say that. We say, “I hope he will come to repentance and be saved from the pit.” Christians present their bodies to God as a living sacrifice. They want to be filled with the Spirit so that he controls all their lives. They try to put on the armour of God day by day. They think that such living is beautiful, and they long to live like that themselves. They love to be in the company of people whom they consider to be living like that. That is how Christians live; now you are trying to live like that, not perfectly, but you would perfectly live like that. It is the Holy Spirit who has taught you that this is the way to live who is also energizing you to live a godlier life.
iii] The Spirit also makes it clear what affections and feelings the children of God should have and we feel the same. How do they feel? They don’t
have feelings of shame about the gospel, but they do repent with godly sorrow for their sins. They are not ashamed to tell people that they believe the gospel. They are contented with what God brings into their lives. They are able to say, “Not my will but thine be done.” They have feelings of trust in God; they are able to cast their cares upon him – not perfectly but they are thankful that they can bring their fears and concerns to him. They love to hear the Lord Jesus Christ well spoken of. They are not offended when they hear a preacher saying that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. In fact they have peace with God knowing that through the Saviour all can be well for every Christian. They have a sense of longing to know God better. They don’t possess those desires and affections and feelings as purely and strongly and constantly as they know they ought to have them, or could have them, or will one day have them, but they are not strangers to them. That is how the true Christian has been taught by the Spirit to feel. The fruit of the Spirit are these high feelings, love, joy and peace.
iv] The Spirit also makes it clear that children of God meet together and we meet with them. The first day of each week is the Lord’s Day, and they don’t neglect to be present morning and evening wherever the children of God gather. To be absent all the time would be like a person who claims to be a great believer in education who never goes to school. There can be no solitary religion. The Holy Spirit baptizes us into one body and makes us drink of one fountain of life. So the children of God gather with other Christians and they do what God has told them to do, meet to hear the Bible preached, and pray to him, and break bread, and be baptized, and sing his praise, and give money to keep the church going, and find out how other Christians are. Are there burdens that some are carrying that they can yoke themselves to, get under alongside them, helping and supporting them? Are there matters they need to pray about with this person or for that person? Is there any outreach they can help with? No Christians can be loners. If a child of God has the Lord for his Father then he can’t refuse to have the church for his mother. We go to our own church each Sunday as though that occasion were the first time, and as though it were the best time, and as though it might be the last time. To stay away from church is to spit in God’s face. So the Christian is someone who has been taught by the Spirit to meets with other Christians every Sunday.
So through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration the Bible gives us such descriptions as those four that I’ve mentioned of how each child of God lives. The Spirit tells us what we are to believe and we do. The Spirit tells us how we are to live and we live like that. The Spirit tells us how we are to feel and those are our affections too, and the Spirit tells us not to neglect meeting with other Christians each week and we don’t. We are in our place on Sundays. So how do you respond to that? Do you say, “I want to believe all those truths, and I seek to behave in all those ways. I also feel those sorts of joys and sorrows. I’m never absent from the Sunday services”? When you respond like that you are responding like a person who is indwelt by the Spirit and is an adopted child of God. Now here is a bird with a beak who paddles across the lake. It looks like a duck. It quacks like a duck. It waddles like a duck. It lays duck eggs. It is a duck. Here is a person who considers the inward evidences of the work of the Holy Spirit in his or her own heart, and that person discovers that he or she believes what a Christian believes, behaves as a Christian behaves, feels what a Christian feels, and meets whenever Christians meet. Our conclusion is that that person is also a Christian. That person is certainly not a perfect Christian, is not a mighty and powerful Christian, but that person is a real credible Christian. The Spirit of God who describes in Scripture what a Christian is also unites your conscience to believe and do those identical desires. The Spirit of God is saying to him or her, “In my estimation (and that is the only judgment that matters) then you come up to my expectations and desires. Well done! Go on! Keep overcoming unbelief and keep growing in understanding and obedience and love, and never stop.”
So do you understand what I have been doing? I have been showing you how the Holy Spirit describes in the Bible the marks and characteristics of children of God. The same Spirit then works in the lives of every Christian to attain the very same graces he has described through the writings of prophets and apostles, but gradually, first the bud, and then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear. Then the Spirit helps us to feel and recognize those same graces in ourselves. He helps us to compare our hearts and our lives with what is shown to us in the Bible to be the fruit of adopting grace. He helps us to judge whether we sincerely have these same graces. Remember how Paul tells these Christians later on in this letter to think about themselves, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Roms. 12:3). I am not exhorting you to demean yourself and put yourself down at every opportunity, but I am saying don’t inflate your ego that you’re a child of God. Without Christ you’d still be of your father the devil. How are you maturing as a child of God? Are you growing in the knowledge that God has given to apostles and prophets? Do you fight against falling into patterns of pride and lust? Are you showing too much worldly enthusiasms? Are you getting cold or superior towards gatherings of Christians? Think of yourself with sober judgment! Before you take the Lord’s Supper we are always to examine ourselves, and we often silently confess to God that our love for him is cold and faint. Then you go ahead and take the bread and wine. The Holy Spirit helps you to come to the right conclusion about your spiritual state. But don’t think of yourself more self-disparagingly than you ought. Glory in the electing love of the Lord! One result of your hearing me today is that you should be thinking, “Yes, by the grace of God I can say that I do believe what the children of God believe; I do seek to behave as they behave; I do feel thanksgiving and joy as they do; I can never be absent from the gatherings of these people whom I think of as my brothers and sisters. But I know that they are the children of God, and so I have to come to the conclusion that I too have been adopted into God’s family. Then I must go on and live a holier life than I’ve been living.” So in spite of all your self criticism and doubts you are experiencing some of the favour of God, a witness to your heart that you are Christ’s and he is yours, a growing assurance that you are a child of God, and a determination to become a better child of God. The Spirit is continually testifying to your spirit that you are a child of God.
2. MAY THE SPIRIT ALSO BEAR WITNESS MORE IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY WITH OUR SPIRITS?
There have been many Christians who have gone further than I have in interpreting this text, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (v.16). They would not disagree with anything that I have said, but I suspect that they would say something like this, &
ldquo;There is more here than what you’ve said. If the Spirit himself is testifying with our spirits that we are God’s children then surely we’d expect something more heavenly with a touch of glory. What you have said is a bit too cerebral and logical!” They tend to base that on verse nine where you are taught very firmly that the Spirit indwells every single Christian; “If anyone does not have the Spirit of God, he does not belong to Christ.” So as I know I am trusting in Christ as my Lord and Saviour then so I know must also have the Spirit of God. But now from our text in verse sixteen you get more than an inference or deduction that this is so, so it is said. You can hear, as it were, the Spirit speaking on behalf of God and saying to you, “You are a child of God.” What can we say about this? It is a very interesting and holy debate. Two things.
i] Life in the Spirit of God is a deeply experiential life. The truths of the gospel are so breath-taking, and the reality of God himself as Father and Son and Holy Spirit, so overwhelmingly glorious that at times a Christian is caught up in this and can be lost in wonder, love and praise. He can be filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory, so says the apostle Peter. We are told in the book of Acts that the disciples were full of joy and of the Holy Spirit. That is surely more than telling us that they were regenerate men. Oh that all of us had times when God met with us in such ways as these that there is joy and glory, maybe for me during times when I am preaching or saying the benediction, or when the deacons are moved as they pray at the Lord’s Supper, when we are hearing the Word of God preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, while we are singing a hymn – “Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings.” There are times when God seems nearer than ever before and everything changes. The late farmer William Morgan of Pontarfynach was one day driving along in his tractor seeing the mountains, the sky, the trees and was overwhelmed with the majesty and glory of the Creator so much so that he had to stop the tractor for a while. Such experiences can occur. A mother is sitting early in the morning looking out over herr garden seeing the birds and horses and sheep and she gets a similar peak experience. There are some Sundays that are better than good Sundays, and on such occasions we may say that the reason for the feeling of blessedness is that the Spirit of God is bearing witness with our spirits that we are children of God. Preachers and congregations can be revived by such experiences. There are many stories that could be told of men and women being deeply moved, almost unable to stand on their feet, as God comes very near to them. Life in the Spirit of God is a deeply experiential life.
ii] Such experiences need to be tested by the Bible as much as our doctrine or our ethics. We do not question the authenticity of the experiences of gospel Christians, but as a ground of assurance they are only normative for that person himself. Test the spirits, we are told. Men or women may have religious experiences in a cult meeting, or on a pilgrimage to Mecca, or recovering from an operation when they had an out-of-body experience in the ward when they thought they saw a golden staircase and a man in white waiting at the top. They may have had it while kneeling before an altar at the mass, or they saw a vision of a lady dressed in blue, or they’d been singing for an hour with a lot of others when they swooned. A verse can come with unusual power to some people, and that may be of God, but the devil can also quote Scripture. What people call ‘spirituality’ is everywhere today. Jonathan Edwards, the great American theologian and pastor, wrote a very important book on this theme entitled ‘Religious Affections,’ evaluating and weighing up such experiences. Their value must all be measured in the light of those four areas of which I have spoken to you. Religious experience abounds and we must ask whether these experiences lead men to greater love for all the teaching of the Bible or for Jesus the great Bible teacher himself? Do they lead men to more holy and obedient living? Do they result in the true spiritual affections of being poor in spirit, and mourning for your sin, and hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and being pure in heart, and being a peacemaker? Does the experience result in your delight in a gospel fellowship where the Word of God is central and you are searched Sunday by Sunday? That is what we find in the Bible, and the testimony of the Spirit is always tied to and never contradicts the word of God. Without Word and Spirit at work all spiritual experience is counterfeit and results in mysticism, emotionalism, introspection and antinomianism.
I would think that the best Christian experiences are those that give us a clearer sight of the beauty of Christ. “I see him now more clearly than ever as God and man, as prophet, priest and king, as humbled and exalted. I love him more than ever.” No harm can come from that. That is the joy of all the saints and angels in heaven. I call it ‘a single smile from Jesus;’ that is a sweet enough name for the experience that satisfies me. Such a sight of the beauty of Christ can lift a drooping soul to heaven; it can make the person who receives it as happy and as blessed as any creature in heaven or earth. You can change the wording or the label and take the words of our text and say that the Holy Spirit testified to our spirits that we were children of God. It was a special favour of God. He was sovereign to give it. Gold, silver, diamonds, and earthly kingdoms are given by God to people whom the Bible can call ‘dogs’ and ‘pigs’. But this great gift of beholding Christ’s beauty is the special blessing of God to his dearest children. Flesh and blood cannot give this gift: only God can bestow it. The witness of the Spirit to our spirits was something that Christ died to obtain for his elect. To see by the help of the Holy Spirit the beauty of the Son of God causes Christians to shine more brightly as lights in the world. It gives them strength to resist temptation and boldness in evangelism.
- IF WE ARE CHILDREN THEN HEIRS, JOINT HEIRS WITH CHRIST.
The size of a child’s inheritance depends on the riches of his father. How rich is our heavenly Father? Illimitably rich. The cosmos is a speck that floats on his vision. So our inheritance is glorious beyond our imagination. Like children dancing on the toes when their father tells them he has a wonderful secret to tell them so we yearn to know what we have inherited. Paul tells us that we are heirs of God. In other words we are not simply heirs of what God has made, or what he has promised, but that we are heirs of God himself. We are going to inherit God from God. The Lord told Abraham that he was Abraham’s very great reward. Millionaire’s children all get left millions each and that is wonderful, but what is that when it is the Lord God himself who is the portion of every one of his children. Every perfection of God’s nature is ours now and eternally. We are inheritors of God’s own peace, and God’s own patience, and God’s own pity, and God’s own strength. What more can we ask than that? If God is ours then all that is God’s is also ours. The substance of every other blessing is ours. The security of all the other ble
ssings is ours. God is all-sufficient. We will never find anything lacking if we have him. The riches of the divine glory in Christ will supply all the needs of his heirs. We have an all-sufficiency of every virtue and grace in our God. That is why we can do all things through the God who strengthens us. He has made over his inheritance to us.
Then Paul tells us one thing more, that we are “co-heirs with Christ.” In other words, what Christ God’s only-begotten Son has you also have. He does not have more than you – can you believe it? God treats all his children as joint-heirs with his Son. There is not priority of order or favour among those who share his inheritance. In the opening words of the letter to the Hebrews he is described as the one who has inherited all things, and in him we are heirs of heaven and earth too. What he has as a matter of right we have as a matter of grace. He suffered the cross for the joy that was set before him, and he says to his brothers and sisters, “Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” We receive the identical joy that he has received because we are in him. We are meek in him and so we inherit the earth because of him. We are seated with him in the midst of the throne. Are we God’s children? Yes. Then we are also God’s heirs. Our inheritance is incorruptible, undefiled and it does not fade away. Its fulness is reserved in heaven for us, but much we enjoy today and every day.
13th May 2012 GEOFF THOMAS