So far we have seen in just the first 4 verses of Romans 5 a number of evidences of the presence of God’s Spirit within: peace with God, joy, hope, perseverance, inward knowledge. But verse 5 adds perhaps the greatest one of all: “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
The greatest attribute God possesses is love. John even goes beyond that when he says simply, “God is love.” 1 John 4:8. Everything about His being longs to reach out, to embrace, to bless the objects of that unfathomable love. It is a love far beyond our ability to understand.
Listen as Paul tries to express the inexpressible to the Ephesian believers: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Eph. 3:16-19.
Once again, what Paul is describing here in Ephesians and also in Romans 5 is not mere religious knowledge of Bible teaching. This is a deep, personal, inward knowledge that only comes when God’s Spirit comes in. It is not just the “head” knowledge that God is love; it is the “heart” knowledge that God loves YOU. And it is a direct communication of that love, His heart to yours. There is no substitute for this. It is the beginning of a relationship that will last forever. Anything short of this is just religion. Has God poured out his love into your heart?
What an amazing love it is that God has shown towards His own! It is a love that is unearned, undeserved, yet bestowed upon us because it pleases Him to do so. It goes to the heart of God’s very character to faithfully seek our highest welfare, our highest good. I should point out, of course, that what constitutes our highest welfare is measured with eternity in mind and not by the natural self-centered values of this world.
There are different kinds of love. One kind might be called sort of a general benevolence toward others. This kind of love desires the welfare of others and yet is neither intimate nor personal. In fact, sometimes the oft-repeated humorous comment, “I love humanity; it’s people I can’t stand!” applies.
Another kind of love is the love of a friend. Here the relationship between the one expressing the love and the object of that love is very personal. Additionally it is very likely that such a love would go both ways as each friend desires the well being of the other.
It would be wonderful enough if God’s love for us was simply an expression of general benevolence and even more so if He regarded us as “friends” in a more personal sense. But it is far more wonderful than that! 1 John 3:1 says, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
Friendship is wonderful yet it does not begin to describe the relationship that salvation brings about. To be His child, literally “born” of His Spirit! That makes Him our Father.
Even here on earth, despite the ruin that sin has brought, fathers generally have tender feelings for their little children. They love them, provide for them, protect them, desire them to grow up to be strong and healthy. Yet the greatest fatherly love earth has ever seen pales beside the love of our Heavenly Father. It is that love that lifts the sinner from a hopeless prison and makes him His very own child!
I fear that we sometimes use such expressions as “Heavenly Father” and “child of God” so carelessly that they no longer amaze us — but they should. The knowledge that God is our Father should fill our hearts with peace and rest, knowing that His faithfulness guarantees our eternal destiny. It should fill our hearts with confidence to come to Him in times of need knowing that He cares about us.
I do not know if the following is just a story or if it actually happened but I remember hearing about an American president in the 1800s who had a young son. One day he was busy in a meeting with some of his top officials when in walked his little boy. The boy confidently walked up to his father who paused from his important business to speak lovingly to his son as all of the important officials respectfully looked on. To everyone else the man at the head of the table was “Mr. President.” But to the little boy, this was “Daddy” and he had a special relationship with and access to his famous father that others did not have.
Listen as Paul writes in 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.’” Here we see the truth of receiving God’s Spirit not just in general terms but rather specifically referred to as receiving “the Spirit of sonship.” The word “Abba” is an Aramaic word that expresses a special relationship like the one that existed between that president and his son. The great sovereign of the universe becomes not just “God” but “Abba.”
And furthermore Paul contrasts receiving the Spirit of sonship with receiving another kind of spirit — “a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear.” I fear that many religious people have received such a spirit, thinking they were receiving God’s Spirit. Paul knew all about religious spirits that bring slavery. His own background as a Pharisee was a prime example.
He had been taught that righteousness comes by obeying the law of Moses and so his life had been devoted to zealously living and promoting the religion of the Pharisees. In Christ, he came to see how desperately wrong he had been. In fact Romans 7:7-25 reveals something of God’s dealings with Paul in this matter.
I believe that God allowed Paul to experience in a deep and painful way the utter futility of trying to serve God by keeping commandments. No matter how much he wanted to do right and how hard he tried he met nothing but failure. Every illusion that righteousness could be achieved by zealous religious effort was stripped away — forever.
The more he tried with his own good intentions to serve God the more he experienced the awful power of sin to enslave him. He was finally moved to cry out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Romans 7:24. Of course, the glorious answer was Jesus Christ. By the way, have you ever seen yourself as Paul saw himself? Such a revelation is painful indeed, yet it is necessary if we are to cease from trusting in ourselves and to begin to trust in Christ alone.
That is why he describes the other spirit as one that “makes you a slave again to fear.” It is a terrible thing to know what God’s holiness requires of us, and yet to discover that our best effort continually falls short. What fearful bondage that is! How can a person under such bondage ever have any confidence toward God, any spiritual rest?
There are many preachers who pay lip service to the truth that we are saved by grace yet, by spirit and precept, convey to their people that the Bible is a book of rules. Keep the rules and you get to go to heaven. Their sermons are filled with rules about how people must dress, wear their hair, what ornaments they can and can’t wear and other such legalistic precepts. Hellfire is dangled over the heads of those who would dare to violate their rules.
If a woman so much as cuts her hair she had better pray that Jesus doesn’t come before her hair grows out or she will be left behind! I’m not making that up! Bro. Thomas and others actually heard a preacher say that on one occasion. This is a false gospel. Paul felt so strongly about it that he actually expressed the wish that such preachers would go to hell!
In Galatians 1:6-9, Paul wrote, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”
That is strong language — but the issue is just that important. Either we are saved by what we do or we are saved by faith in what Jesus Christ did. No one knew better than Paul how men can be saved. He saw all too clearly how damnable it was for preachers to send their hearers down the road to hell under the guise of preaching truth.
All the law can do is to bring a curse upon us because no one can keep it. That goes for any commandments and precepts that are presented as pathways to righteousness before God for those who keep them. That is why our only hope is based on the fact that Jesus became a curse for us, redeeming us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13). What He did for us opens the door for us to receive the promise of the Spirit by faith alone. As Paul said earlier in Galatians 3:2, “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?”
Apart from the gospel, all men are in slavery to the basic principles of this world (Galatians 4:3). But in Galatians 4:4-7 Paul writes these glorious words: “But 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. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”
That is the same kind of language that we find in Romans 8. In verse 15, which we quoted above, we note that it is by the Spirit of sonship that “we cry ‘Abba, Father.’” How else could a guilty sinner do such a thing? It is the same Spirit that convicts of sin and coming judgment. It is the same Spirit that testifies to us of God’s holiness and shows us the blackness of our hearts. When such conviction comes we see God as anything but Father! Judge, Executioner, maybe. How could such a sinner ever hope to call a holy God, “Father”?
Yet it is not out of anger and condemnation that this conviction comes. Rather it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). And once we are brought to a true repentance in our hearts the very Spirit that presses upon us our need now comes in with such love and assurance that we are indeed able to call Him, “Father,” not just as a kind of religious profession, but as a true expression of the heart. The sense that we are God’s children comes, not from religious doctrine, not from the preacher, not from a book, but from a personal inward witness. Paul further elaborates in verse 16, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Notice that this a joint testimony by God’s Spirit and our spirit. It is evidence that we are at peace with God.
If you are trying to find peace with God by any means other than simply believing from your heart the gospel of grace Paul preached then you are attempting the impossible. There is only one way and it is through faith in Christ alone.
When God’s Spirit comes in the relationship between us and God changes forever. The great terrifying God of the universe becomes “Abba,” Father, and His love begins at once to dispel fear. As John says in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” The barrier of sin that once separated us from God is gone and we begin to sense the new relationship. It is not that we suddenly experience a full-blown revelation of all that this new relationship will become. After all, we are but spiritual infants. Still, there is a beginning—and it is very real. It is as real as is the bond between a newborn and loving earthly parents, and yet the heavenly bond is infinitely greater than the earthly.
And what amazing privileges come with this new relationship! Romans 8:17 says, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” There is a cost involved in following Jesus. His followers turn their back on the world and cast their lot irrevocably with Him. That is why Jesus warned us to “count the cost.” Luke 14:28-33. Abraham did not have the option of staying with his family in his native land and still being God’s heir.
Not everyone suffers in the same way. Paul — and many of those to whom he wrote — suffered severe persecution and even death for the cause of Christ and many today suffer in the same way in various parts of the world. Others, however, may never be literally beaten or thrown into prison for their faith yet all are called to the same radical choice: it is either this world or it is Christ. You cannot simply add Christ to your life. Choosing to follow Christ is a choice to reject the world — and also to give up our very lives for Him, as He gave up His life for us.
Jesus is our example. He gave up everything this world had to offer — and gained all that heaven has to offer! But the wonderful thing is that He didn’t gain heavenly glory for Himself alone but also for us. What we could never earn or gain by any personal effort we may receive as a gift. But that gift is not given to those who mean to cling to their lives and continue in sin; it is given to those who repent, turning away from sin, self, and the world to follow Christ for time and eternity.
Moses faced a clear choice between identifying himself with God’s people and continuing on in a life of luxury in the palaces of Egypt. He chose God’s way. The rich young ruler was faced with a choice between his riches and following Jesus. He sadly turned back to his riches. I believe that everyone who truly follows Christ, in one way or another, faces the same choice. He is made aware of the promise and the hope of the gospel but he is also is made aware of the cost. God may put His finger on a specific issue as He did with the rich young ruler but at the very least following Christ means surrendering our lives to Him.
The gift of the Spirit of sonship that results from that surrender is the down payment on the glorious inheritance of which Paul speaks. As 1 Peter 1:3-5 puts it, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade — kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” Peter saw something, didn’t he! It was something so wonderful that nothing could turn him aside from following Jesus.
It was the same for Paul. In Romans 8:18 he said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Yes, living for Christ in this world means turning our backs on the world — and even our own lives — but how can you compare the little that is given up with the eternal glory that is gained? And the same Spirit that bears witness that God is our Father also bears witness concerning the sure hope of that glory to come. And by the same Spirit we are made to know that it is worth everything to belong to Him.
In “Bible belt” sections of America it is often hard to convey just how radical the choice to give one’s life to Christ is. We are surrounded by religion, a lot of it just a powerless form. People have “gone forward,” “accepted Jesus,” and joined churches without ever being born of God’s Spirit. Their interest in Christian faith tends to be centered in the needs of this present life. Some even “try” Jesus, hoping that if they adopt a “Christian lifestyle” He will help solve their earthly problems and make their lives smoother and more meaningful. The idea of going to heaven is a bonus but their real focus is on life here.
But the one that is brought to godly sorrow and repentance and has been indwelt by God’s Spirit has a different view of things. He begins to see the vanity of this life, the corruption that sin has brought, the downhill course of this present world, and its certain end. His vision looks beyond this world to His true home. The sufferings of this present world will often turn aside the mere religious professor but God’s child is given strength and vision to keep on trusting in Him, knowing that all will be right in the end.
In Romans 8:19-22 Paul spoke of the creation itself that is in “bondage to decay” as groaning, yet having to wait in hope for God to finish what He is doing in His sons before being released from that bondage. How sad it is that men blindly live and die as slaves to sin in a world that is careening towards destruction. And yet, how interesting it is that Paul is able, by the Spirit, to see in this present creation a kind of mirror of what is taking place in God’s sons: suffering, longing, and hope of deliverance to come.
And so, having spoken of the creation, Paul continued on in Romans 8:23-25 to say, “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Here we see some of the same themes regarding hope that we saw in Romans 5. But here the hope is characterized as much more than a confident expectation of something in the future. Here we see a desire so intense that the believer is said to “groan inwardly,” and to “wait eagerly.”
The presence of God’s Spirit within provokes a deep longing for our salvation to be complete. It is not enough just to be “saved” and expect to go to heaven someday, rather our very affections are more and more turned away from the world and towards our true home. Particularly as the believer grows older this world becomes less and less attractive, more and more of a wearisome place. The body grows more infirm and the sense of the utter vanity of this life grows more pronounced. He longs for the day when he can leave it forever behind. Death for him is not a fearful precipice from which he will be hurled headlong into the unknown but rather a joyful step into the presence of the Lord.
Hope is at the very center of salvation since most of what God has for us lies in the future. God’s Spirit within enables us to look beyond what we can see with our natural eyes and to stake our eternal future on God’s promises. Notice the seeming paradox in what Paul says above about that hope. On the one hand we are made to desire the object of that hope to the extent that we “groan inwardly” and “wait eagerly.” And yet “we wait for it patiently.” Think about that! Human beings aren’t naturally built like that. If we want something to the point of “groaning inwardly” we are generally not very patient! This is one indicator as to just how supernatural salvation is. It takes divine enablement to be able to combine intense desire with patience. These are marks of the Spirit’s presence in a life.
Contrast that with so many religious people who “try Jesus.” They embrace a kind of belief in Him based on certain expectations—usually centered in earthly desires. When their carnal expectations aren’t met their “patience” quickly runs out and they are gone.
In Romans 8:26-27 Paul continued, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” The inward longing that the Spirit imparts for God and also for deliverance from this present evil world is itself a form of prayer, prayer that God understands perfectly. Just as He hears and understands creation’s groans under the bondage of suffering and death, so He hears and understands the longings that rise from the hearts of His children even when words fail. His ears are tuned to pick up the faintest cry of one of His little ones. Think of how attuned an earthly mother is to the cry of her baby. She rushes to see what is the matter. Yet how can even her loving attentiveness be compared with that of our Father in heaven?
And what a wonderful scripture follows! Romans 8:28-30 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
Here, again, is one of those things we “know” because God’s Spirit dwells within. We have the inward sense that we are not merely careening through life, helplessly caught in one whirlpool of random circumstances after another with no meaning. Rather we sense that the God in Whom we have put our trust is orchestrating our lives according to His loving purpose for us. Often, we do not understand things as they happen, yet we still have that sense of purpose that God knows what He is doing.
In this wonderful scripture we not only see that there is a purpose in a vague general sense but we also are made to see a glimpse of what that purpose is. This is a good subject in its own right but for our present purposes it is appropriate to take note of God’s great plan: many sons, all made like Jesus in their character, all brought to a place of great glory. And we see not only the divine purpose, but also the certainty of the divine plan. It is so certain that Paul even expressed the end result in the past tense. In other words, it is as certain as if it has already happened! Why not? God, Who cannot lie, has declared His plan and purpose. Who can stop Him from carrying it out? And that is exactly what verses 31-39 express.