Children Of God
A Faulty View
In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 35a of 83

14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. 16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:14-16a).

The book of Romans is centred on the theme of Justification by grace alone through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. All man are sinners, but those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are given a spiritual garment to cover their sin. When God looks at us, He does not see the horrible things that arise out of our old man crawling all over us. He looks at us as a people covered with the white cloak of Christ.

This is the doctrine of justification. But remember that God justifies us not merely so that we might be justified persons in His sight. No, no; God justifies us, in order that we might be adopted as His sons and daughters. This is what Paul is demonstrating in this chapter. This is the apex of the book of Romans.

How does God adopt us as His children? He adopts us not only by declaring us to be His children, but also by making us His children. Justification clears the legal papers. Then God sends His Spirit to work grace in our hearts.

What does the Spirit do? He gives us a new birth and He indwells us. He works from within us so that we will become more and more like God.

In human experience, when a couple adopts a child, they can never make the child share their nature. The child will always, —by nature, — be someone else’s child. They may bring him up as one of their own children, but the child (1) will be genetically different, (2) will look different, and (3) will often have temperaments that are totally different from them.

But God, in the process of adopting us as His sons and daughters, not only justifies us in Christ, but also gives us a new birth and sends His Spirit to dwell in us to make us more and more like Him.

What does God’s Spirit do in us? In our previous study, we saw that He leads us. He leads us gently from within by using the Word of God as a road map and the Church as our vehicle.

Now, as we concluded the study, we noted that if we are being led by the Spirit of God, we can be assured that we are the sons or daughters of God. We can be confident that we are no more children of wrath, but children of God. This assurance arises directly out of Paul’s inspired words:

14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

If you are being led by the Spirit of God, you are a child of God. But why? What is Paul’s basis for this conclusion? Does it mean that if I hold the hand of a little boy and lead him across the road that he is my son? Even if I do it every day, even if I hold his hand everywhere I go, does it mean that he is my son? Obviously not! So what is the basis for Paul to conclude that if you are led by the Spirit of God, then you are a son of God?

Paul answers this question in verse 15—

15 For [because] ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby [i.e. by whom] we cry, Abba, Father. 16 The Spirit itself beareth-witness-with our spirit, that we are the children of God…

What is Paul’s argument? His argument is that the Spirit does not lead you from without. He leads you from within. If you have received the Spirit, He dwells in you. If the Spirit leads you from without, then His leading you proves nothing. But the fact that He leads from within, proves that you are a child of God!

Now, this explains the connection between verse 14 and 15. But Paul says much more than that. Indeed, his argument brings us right to the apex of this book,—namely the doctrine of adoption. If you want to know anything about the doctrine of adoption, you must not miss out Romans 8:15-17.

For this reason, these verses have often been quoted. But it is not easy to understand at first reading. Indeed, many strange ideas have arisen out of these verses.

We do not have time to look at all the different interpretations. But we must look at one common error.

1.  A Faulty View

This is an error that was held by some of the Puritans[i] and many Arminians. John Wesley, for example, preached that these verses show us that there are three classes of people.

·        Firstly, there are the ‘natural men.’ These do not care about God or His Law.

·        Secondly, there are the ‘legal men.’ These are those who are ‘under the law’ or those who have been given the spirit of bondage and fear. These are concerned about keeping the Law,—but out of a slavish fear.

·        And thirdly, there are the ‘evangelical men.’ These are those who are ‘under grace’ or those who have exchanged the spirit of fear for the Spirit of love. These are those who are born again.

Every believer, according to him, must pass through these three stages. They must first receive the Spirit of Bondage before they receive the Spirit of Adoption.

The problem with this interpretation, however, is that nowhere else in the Scriptures are we told that there is an intermediate step before we are born again! It is true that some Christians will struggle intensely under the burden of the Law for a period of time. Martin Luther and John Bunyan are well-known examples. But certainly, it is neither the biblical norm, nor necessary. Indeed, I wonder how many of us had such a period of intense struggle before we were born again.

Sadly, there are, —even today, — churches which would deny that a person is a true Christian unless he first experienced the spirit of bondage to fear.

Perhaps this error is not as bad as the error of easy-believism. But I believe it is a painful error nevertheless. I wonder how many genuine children of God who are weak in their faith have been told that they are still in the bonds of iniquity and therefore have been denied church membership and the Lord’s Table.

But if this interpretation is wrong, what is the right interpretation?

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim



[i]  Such as Robert Bolton, Richard Greenham, and Thomas Hooker