. Who are the sons of God?


Romans 8:14-16 (ESV)14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For 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!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,…”


The topic of this sermon is no small matter. It is so important that we read in Romans 8:19 (ESV) 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” CS Lewis made a profound statement when he said: “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”

The answer to the title of this sermon today is maybe one of the easy ones to answer at face value. Plain and simple it is easy to state that all Christians are the sons of God. We all know that according to John 1:12-13 (ESV) “12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” So, at face value, all those who received God, who believed in His name are sons of God, or children of God, because they are born from God.

Throughout the book of Romans or Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul is silent on the issue of sonship all the way till Romans 8:14. Throughout Romans Paul is not silent on the issue of salvation by grace, he is not silent on the power of the gospel to save, he is not silent about the benefits of being in Christ and he is not silent about the work of the Spirit in salvation and setting us free from the law of sin and death. But for the first time now he tells us something that is so intimate and that is the privilege of calling God our father. This reality that God is our Father snatches Christianity out of the realm of religion and puts it in the realm of relationship. It is more than knowing about God, it is to be known by God and there is an evidence that we are known by God.

We spent the last four Sundays on the whole issue of moving beyond the things of God to our involvement with the God of the things. For two weeks we clearly said that we do not want to play games in God’s Kingdom. Our desire is to hear the Word of the Lord as we want to be people of the Book, but even then we need to move beyond understanding and knowledge. We need to ‘interiorize’ the truths of Scripture, and that we can only do when we are in a right relationship with God, by which we can cry Abba Father.

So with the above in mind, we need to ask again ‘who are the sons of God?’ Is it people who simply claim to be saved? Is it people who belong to a church? Is it people who go through the motions of Christianity or religion? Who are the sons of God?

Let me give you four answers in the text before us, and in particular verse 14-16.

Point 1. It is all who are led by the Spirit of God.

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

Notice the little word ‘for’ in verse 14 which serves a very similar purpose to the word ‘therefore’ as it points us back to the preceding verses. Paul had already told us in Romans 8:2 (ESV) 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” He also told us in Romans 8:9 (ESV) “9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” So the word ‘for’ in part is linked to all of that, but it is more specifically linked to Romans 8:12-13 (ESV) “12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

So Paul, had just told the Roman believers that they must kill sin or it will kill them but the way to kill sin is by the enabling work of the Spirit of God in their lives. It is by the Spirit we put to death the misdeeds of the body. Now we saw all of this in our series: “experiencing the power of the cross.” Now remember, the Spirit is not the means by which you kill sin, as the Spirit is a person in the Godhead. We kill sin by the power of the Spirit as we develop the mindset of the Spirit as He convicts us of sin, and so we are in His hands as He convicts us and enables us to make dead the sin that is still in us. So the Spirit is not an instrument in our hands but we are an instrument in His hands.

So, taking verse 12-13 together and linking it to verse 14 with the word ‘for’ or as some translations state it as ‘because’, what Paul is saying is that the proof that you are sons of God is that you are led by the Spirit and the proof that you are led by the Spirit is because you are doing something very practical by the Spirit and that is to put to death the sin that still so easily indwells us. The Holy Spirit is the one who will move us and lead us away from sin. If we respond in obedience and kill sin, it means that we are led by the Spirit and are therefore sons of God. Now, why will we respond to the Spirit and kill sin. Is it simply just because we do not like sin, or it has a few bad effects on our lives? No, it is directly linked to sonship. I do not want to sin as sin overshadows the glory of our father in our lives, or to put it differently, sin eclipses the Fathers glory and it tarnishes our relationship with Him. The killing of sin has as its basis a trusting in the superior worth of God’s love as a Father.

Too often and in particular in some Christian circles, the statement in verse 14 that those ‘who are led by the Spirit of God’ is too vague and disjointed from the context here. Many believers ignore the issue of sin and link the leading of the Spirit purely to other stuff, supernatural stuff etc. that is not in the text. Now, in part that is true, but the emphasis here is different. It is very much the same as we saw previously in Galatians 5:18-25 (ESV) 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. So here in Galatians those who are led by the Spirit are not under law. They have been set free over the condemnation that the law has brought to us due to sin. They are a people who enjoy the fruit of the Spirit, and who live by the Spirit, and how do we live by the Spirit?  Verse 24 starts with the word ‘and’, but it could just as well have started with ‘for’ those who are led by the Spirit, who live by the Spirit or who belong to Christ Jesus, or who are children of God have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  I trust you see the similarities with Romans 8.

So again, the evidence of our son-ship is that we are led by the Sprit, and the evidence of being led by the Spirit is our fight against sin through the enabling of the Spirit. Or in the Galatian terms the fighting of the flesh.

Are you a son of God, or a child of God? Are you led by the Spirit? Then I must ask, how are you doing on the sin level? Scripture is not interested in anything else here.

And Paul means for you to enjoy this. He is telling us these things for our joy and our triumph over the adversities and fears of life. This becomes really plain in verse 15.

Point 2. It is all who are adopted by God the Father.

Paul now makes a jump from dealing with sin as evidence of being led by the Spirit to son-ship. Romans 8:15 (ESV) 15 For 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!”

So the question we must ask is how does being led by the Spirit of God in any way prove that we are sons or children of God?

Well, the very simple explanation is because of one of the titles of the Holy Spirit revealed in this section. We all know well that the Holy Spirit is our comforter but here He is the Spirit of adoption. Now we know that according to John 1:13 that we are born from above, that according to John 3 we are born again as children of God. Paul now introduces us to another angle of our born-again experience where he says we are ‘adopted as sons’ which is evidenced in our receiving of the Spirit in His fullness. This is literally a legal transaction executed by the Father.

Now the Roman Church would understand what Paul is saying here, as adoption was very much part of their social life. Many men would die in the battle field, and when mothers passed away for whatever reason you had orphans left behind. One of the commentators FF Bruce tells us about it in such a beautiful way: “In the Roman world of the first century AD 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."


Now think about it for a moment. Paul writes this in that context. Now, any child born into a family is a product of what? Is it the love and acceptance expressed towards a child or is it the love expressed between a husband and wife? My parents to put it plain and simple, did not do window shopping, fall in love with me and say we take him. If they had the choice they might not have chosen me. An adopted child is no less loved by parents than those who have been born into a family. And that is the way it is with God.  Adoption by God is not just a legal reality but it is backed up by the Father heart of God which is a loving heart.  The Holy Spirit is the one who makes this legal transaction real as we are sealed in the Spirit as sons of God. Let me remind you again of the second part of Romans 8:9 (ESV) “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” And of course we know John 1:12 (ESV) 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” So son-ship or receiving Christ and adoption by the Spirit and having the Spirit are all one and the same parcel.

I hope that you can say today that you have received Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour?

Point 3. It is all who acknowledge God as Father.

Romans 8:15 (ESV) 15 For 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!”

So we are not only adopted as sons by the Holy Spirit, but it is by the Holy Spirit that we cry ‘Abba Father’. Earlier I referred to Paul’s teaching in Galatians as far as being led by the Spirit is concerned. But in Galatians he tells us more that fits with this point. Galatians 4:4-6 (ESV) 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Do you realise just how intimate the work of the Holy Spirit is in our lives? Without the Holy Spirit you cannot cry Abba Father. Now, how does the Holy Spirit do that? Too often we want to experience strange stuff as evidence. I need this experience or that experience to know that the Spirit of God indwells me. Now we have already seen under the first point that the simple process of making dead sin is evidence that we are LED BY THE SPIRIT.

The simple answer under this point is that true children of God do not exhibit a spirit of slavery but a confident, happy, satisfied, loving affection towards God as their Father Father. Let me just say this. There is no truth in what some say that the Aramaic word means daddy or papa father. It is not the expression of a little child. It is simply the Aramaic word for Father. This affection in our hearts is stirred up by none other than the Holy Spirit.

So, what is the issue here? Let me tell you the story of three young boys sitting behind the stable wall. One of the boys took out some cigarettes and offered some to his two friends. One of the boys declined. When asked why he declined, he simply answered that his father will not approve. The other boy reminded him that his father was more than 1000 km away, to which the boy responded. “Even if my father was a million km away, I love him so much that I will do nothing that will break his heart.” This young boy was not driven by fear, or slavery to some laws of his father like, ‘thou shalt not smoke’, the issue for him was not a spanking or hell, the issue for him was that inner commitment towards – and inner love for his father.

So, in each of God’s children there is a reality. If you are led by the Spirit, you are a son of God. How do I know you are led by the Spirit? Very simple, you love what God loves and you hate what God hates and you therefore kill that sin in you before the sin in you kills you. Why do you kill sin, because you are afraid of hell? No, you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a Spirit of son-ship. Ultimately those who are adopted as sons and live by the Spirit kill sin because God is their daddy Father and they love Him.

Let me ask a question. Why do you not fall back into sin? Why do you deal with any sin? Is it simply because you are afraid or because you love? Let me put it in the opposite. If you are not dealing with sin, can I ask you this morning? Just how much do you love God?

Point 4. It is ALL who experience the love of the Father and who love Him in return.

We have already looked at the text. We are adopted by God by His Spirit and we cry out to God by His Spirit.

Let’s look at this love. In another section to the Roman church Paul writes in Romans 5:5 (ESV) 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Do you see here that the Holy Spirit is the one who poured the Love of God into our hearts? Church family, this is a real, present experience, not just an idea or a future promise. From the moment you are born again, the fullness of the Holy Spirit indwells you and God’s love is poured into your heart by the Holy Spirit. So, you are not only adopted but you are loved.

So, the Spirit brings the Father’s love to us, but as the point indicates he also turns our affections towards God.

One of my problems with dead orthodoxy, where people claim to be people of the Book as we have studied over the last two weeks, but they do not claim to be people of the Spirit is that it is in stark contradiction to what the Spirit does in us. If you are simply by the book then you fit the category of what we spoke a few weeks ago namely playing games in God’s Kingdom, busy with the things of God and not the God of the things. Did you know that you can actually love the things of God without loving God? We can be like children who are more excited to ‘clap handies when daddy comes home, because of the things in his pocket for the children alone’.

I have for four weeks now challenged us to love the Word of God, but do we realise that for many churches today the Holy Trinity has become ‘Father, Son and Holy Book’ instead of Holy Spirit.

Let me put it in clear terms today. The Spirit does not testify with your spirit that you are a Baptist or Presbyterian or Methodist, or Dutch Reformed. The Spirit does not testify with your spirit that you are a church member of note to be looked up at by everybody else. The Spirit does not testify with your spirit that you have finally arrived and are now fully Holy with no room for improvement. The Spirit testifies with your Spirit that you are a son of God and because that is so your cry “ABBA FATHER”.

I love the way John Piper puts it. He says: “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!"”

Now, as we draw to a close, I want you to take note of two words, the one is ‘cry’ and the other one is ‘Abba’. Paul could have said that by the Spirit we call God Abba Father. As I said before Abba is simply the Aramaic Word for Father. So it is kind of a double father outcry here. I believe both words are do imply deep emotion, it is to imply a deep, affectionate, personal, authentic experience of God's fatherly love. The fatherhood of God is not simply a statement of faith or a doctrine we believe in. It is a power and ability given to us by the Spirit by which we delight in being the children of God.

The testimony of the Spirit, the leading of the Spirit and true living by the Spirit will always cause us to cry, "Jesus, you are my Lord!" and “God you are my Father!"

So, by the Spirit we make dead sin, and by the Spirit we love our heavenly Father intimately because it has become part of our spiritual nature.

So, who are the sons of God? Those who are led by the Spirit of God. Who are they? I end with Galatians 3:26 (ESV) 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”


Logos Community Church: - 13 April 2014




Does Abba mean 'Daddy"