NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XXII)
Presbyterian Bible commentator Albert Barnes sees the Holy Spirit represented here as the influencing, guiding, and motivating factor. The first sign of holiness at work is a willingness to yield to that influence and submit to His guidance and motivation. When such evidence is lacking because there is an unwillingness to submit to that influence, Paul calls that resisting the Holy Spirit and grieving Him.1 When that happens then holiness has little chance of permeating the believer’s life. The influence of the Spirit, if heeded, leads those who follow toward higher spiritual ground and sets them on the path to heaven. But when the Spirit’s guidance is neglected, rejected, or despised, the road they follow goes toward hell. Therefore, all glory belongs to the work of the Spirit when a person is saved. But when anyone is lost, all fault belongs to them who resisted.2
Charles Hodge summarizes what Paul said here concerning those who allow themselves to be led by the Spirit as true children of God. This is exhibited by their own brotherly love and the inner testimony of the Spirit. That’s because the indwelling Spirit of God raises those in whom He dwells into the status of being easily identified as God’s children. By regeneration, through a new birth, they are already transported into a form of divine living. That’s because they have been made partakers, as the Apostle Peter says, “divine nature.”3 As such, through and in Christ, the source of their new life and the objects of divine love, they become new heirs in His kingdom.4 And because of this, says Hodge, believers will enjoy eternal life, not just because they have been made alive by the Spirit, but because they live under the governance of the Spirit.
Charles Spurgeon says that not everyone who claims to be a child of God is one unless it can be seen that they are led, influenced, and guided, by the Spirit of God. Although believers may still have many weaknesses and infirmities to deal with, if they follow the divine leadership of the Spirit of God they are His children and eligible for help and healing. Therefore, no matter how many may refer to God as their Father in heaven, unless they are led by the Spirit they really have no relationship with Him. Furthermore, for those who claim they are led by the Holy Spirit but are still subject to doubt, how can they be sure that the Spirit of God really dwelling within them? It is only when His Spirit is in agreement with our spirit that we can be sure and that only comes by surrendering completely to His will.5
Frédéric Godet has an interesting way of explaining the role of the Holy Spirit in proving our credibility as children of God. He writes that the explanation given in this verse may be understood in two ways. First of all, does Paul mean that by living according to the Spirit this is proof that we are in fact a child of God? If so, then it must be attributed to the grace received in justification. Also, the subsequent indwelling of the Spirit would be to seal this glorious status in Christ. In favor of this view we might quote Paul’s words where he said: “Because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!”6 But for Godet, we must not forget that Paul is not speaking of the infilling of the Spirit, but of the believer’s surrender to His indwelling influence. The infilling of the Spirit, therefore, must indicate a more advanced stage of the Christian life for service.
Godet says that the second possible meaning could be that you have been given the right to be called the children of God as soon you show it by letting yourselves be led by the Spirit. Though someone becomes a child of God by justification, they do not possess the family relationship through adoption unless they really enjoy being submissive to the operation of the Spirit. The meaning, therefore, is this: If you let yourselves be led by the Spirit, you are in fact children of God.7 Look at it this way: a child may be adopted into a family and even be given the family name. But unless and until they fully integrate into that family and submit to the full control of the parents, they will never really be thought of as being part of the family. So it is with the family of God. I find that neither one of these two views can be ruled out completely. The difference between the two is that we become a child of God at the new birth, but as we grow and mature we become an obedient child of God by following the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit.
Charles Ellicott has a long article on this verse, and it is worth looking up in his commentary. At the end, he writes that this life in the Spirit implies a special relationship with God – that of being His children. Ellicott says that he chose the term “child” because when one first receives the indwelling of the Spirit, it is not a spirit of bondage that unleashes a reign of terror on you. Rather, you were brought into a close family relationship with God. This family relationship is attested to by the Divine Spirit who endorses the evidence in your own consciousness that resembles the closeness someone has as a son or daughter. All of which is to the glory of God through Christ who is Himself pre-eminently the only begotten Son of God.8 This factor of a family relationship with God is important since it is only the heirs who will inherit their father’s estate.
John Stott accepts this verse as part of Paul’s teaching on sanctification. He writes the kind of leading by the Spirit referred to here is that which is a characteristically experienced only by God’s children. As such, it is much more specific than the way it sounds. It is not just letting someone lead you by the hand, not knowing where you are going and what you are going for. Stott believes it consists of or at least includes as one of its most substantial features, the prompting, and strengthening which enable those being led to disable the body’s sinful tendencies. Stott is certain that the hourly and daily putting to death of the conniving endeavors of the sinful flesh by means of the Spirit is a matter of simply being willingly led, directed, motivated, and controlled by the Spirit9.10
Verses 15-16: The Spirit that we received is not a spirit that makes us slaves again and causes us to fear. The Spirit that we have makes us God’s chosen children. And with that Spirit, we cry out, “Abba, Father,” because the Spirit Himself speaks to our spirits and makes us sure that we are God’s children.
We have a beautiful illustration of the difference between the spirit that binds and the Spirit that frees when Jesus went into the region of the Gerasenes11 and was confronted by a man possessed by evil spirits. As soon as these demons saw Jesus, they began to scream, begging Jesus to leave them alone. But as soon as Jesus cast those demons out, that man was seen sitting quietly at Jesus’ feet, clothed and of sound mind.12 Before the demons were exorcised, the man was compelled to do their bidding, but after he was liberated from their control, he voluntarily sat at Jesus’ feet as a sign of obedience and reverence for Him.
Then we have another example of this contrast of binding and freeing when Paul and Silas were jailed because of preaching the Gospel in Philippi by city leaders who opposed them. As they sang and worshiped God, an earthquake freed them. As soon as the jailer, who had chained them to the wall, saw what happened, and it was explained to him, he and his family wanted to become Christians. So here we see where Paul and Silas were forced to serve the lawless actions of their accusers while the jailer and his family freely submitted to the word and authority of Christ.13
Then Paul contrasts the two spirits: One that binds and one that frees. It is similar to what he told the Corinthians, “God has actually given us His Spirit (not the world’s spirit) to tell us about the wonderful free gifts of grace and blessing that God wants to give us.”14 He then told young Timothy: “The Holy Spirit, God’s gift, does not want you to be afraid of people, but to be wise and strong, and to love them and enjoy being with them.”15 This should give any believer a sense of confidence knowing that God not only loves them and wants to take care of them but has chosen them through adoption.
Jeremiah got a preview of this when God explained to the children of Israel that He had chosen them for a particular purpose. He said: “I planned to give you part of this beautiful land, the finest in the world. I looked forward to your calling me ‘Father.’”16 Likewise, Paul tells the Galatians: “When the right time came, the time God decided on, He sent His Son, born of a woman, born as a Jew, to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law so that He could adopt us as His very own sons. And because we are His sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, so now we can rightly speak of God as our dear Father.”17
Paul uses a term translated here as “Abba, Father.” This was a respectful, endearing phrase that we could also translate as “Papa Father.” But it has more meaning than that. Among the Jews, there was a tradition that neither male nor female slaves were allowed to refer to their parents as “father” or “mother.”18 This was granted only to children of freemen. So it is that the Apostle Paul sees those who were slaves to sin being freed by the grace of God and adopted into His family and can now openly refer to Him as their heavenly Father as Papa.
However, Paul is quick to remind the Romans that to call God “Father” is only valid when the Holy Spirit confirms it. He explained it to the Ephesians this way: “Because of what Christ did, all you others too, who heard the Good News about how to be saved, and trusted Christ, were marked as belonging to Christ by the Holy Spirit, who long ago had been promised to all of us Christians. His presence within us is God’s guarantee that He really will give us all that He promised, and the Spirit’s seal upon us means that God has already purchased us and that He guarantees to bring us to Himself.”19 Because of this, Paul warned the Ephesians not to grieve the Holy Spirit by the way they lived. He says, “Remember, He is the one who marks you to be present on that day when salvation from sin will be complete.”20 And the Apostle John agrees by saying: “We will know for sure, by our actions, that we are on God’s side, and our consciences will be clear, even when we stand before the Lord.”21
1 Ephesians 4:30
2 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 See 2 Peter 1:4
4 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 411
5 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Galatians 4:6
7 Frédéric Louis Godet: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 Charles Ellicott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 See C. E. B. Cranfield: Commentary on Romans, Vol. 1, p. 395
10 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Some manuscripts Gadarenes; other manuscripts Gergesenes (NIV)
12 Luke 8:26-35
13 Acts 16:19-33
14 1 Corinthians 2:12
15 2 Timothy 1:7
16 Jeremiah 3:19
17 Galatians 4:4-6; Ephesians 1:5
18 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Zera’im, Masekhet Berachoth, folio 16a
19 Ephesians 1:13-14
20 Ibid. 4:30
21 1 John 3:19