NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER EIGHT (Lesson XXIV)
Albert Barnes shares His insight concerning the witness of God’s Spirit with the believer’s spirit by noting that it is tied to the believer’s adoption as a child of Adam and being made a child of God. It involves the Holy Spirit furnishing evidence to our hearts and minds that we are truly part of the family of God.1 If someone were to ask how this is done, Barnes would answer: it is not by any revelation of some new, truth; it is not by inspiration; it is not by visible assurance; it is not being told that we are elected to eternal life; it is only by the appropriate effects of the Spirit’s influence being produced in us. When the heart is renewed, and the soul is sanctified, they blossom with love. Love then is transformed into, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, and self-control These are the basic elements of authority that you are a child of the King.2
Barnes goes on to say, if a person has these fruit of the Spirit they provide proof positive that the witness between their spirit and God’s Spirit is genuine. Without such evidence, there is no way of knowing. Some may immediately question: If I repeat the Sinner’s Prayer, go to church every Sunday, participate in the praise and worship, read my Daily Devotions and say grace over my meals, that’s not enough to prove that I’m a child of God? Barnes says that the best way to ascertain whether this witnessing of the Spirit to our spirit, is by going to God’s Word with an honest heart and open mind to inquire whether the fruit we see in our lives is, in fact, the fruit that buds, blossoms, and blooms because the Holy Spirit dwells in us. If we do not do this, says Barnes, then it will become clear that any confidence we have of being in good standing with God will be nothing but a wish. And all the visions, and spiritual ecstasies, and fancied revelations we may claim to have had will turn out to be mere delusions. Barnes also feels that the effect of these fruit of the Spirit on the mind is to produce a calm and heavenly attitude. So, when it becomes obvious this heavenly attitude leads to a holy life, then we may rejoice that this is sufficient evidence that we are God’s children. For some, this is hard to accept because they want to garner some credit for their being saved, when in fact it is totally attributed to the grace and sovereignty of God.3
Charles Hodge agrees that the Holy Spirit is not given to produce a submissive and anxious state of mind such as those who are still under the law. Instead, it produces the feelings of affection, reverence, confidence, and enables us, out of the fullness of our hearts as children, to freely call God our Father.4 Hodge goes on to point out that readers of the English text do not get the full impact of what Paul was saying here in his Greek composition. He was writing to the church in Rome that had both Jewish and Gentile members. Therefore, he uses both languages to show how both groups refer the God as “Father.” For the Jew, it would be Abba, and for the Greek, it would be Patēr. Hodge also notes that the repetition of these synonyms may be employed to give fuller utterance to a person’s feelings.5
Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), a Dutch jurist and philosopher, whose contributions to Armenian theology provided the seeds for such movements as Methodism and Pentecostalism, pointed out in his writing on this part of Paul’s letter that boys often imitate the voices of their fathers as a form of adulation and flattery to repeat what we read in Mark: “Abba, Patēr.”6 This interpretation has given some Bible scholars the opportunity to take these Aramaic and Greek words, put them together to form an endearing way of a child saying in English, “Papa Papa.” But it may also be understood as Grotius said, flattering because it repeats the same word in two ways. Here, it appears that Paul was wanting to emphasize how children call to their fathers when they see them come home after being at work all day.
Preacher Octavius Winslow preached against believers living with a spirit of bondage. Their relationship with God under the new covenant dispensation is not the same as that which a slave has to their master, but of which a child has with their father. Did not Paul tell the Galatians: “Because you are His children, God sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Patēr.’”7 And to the Romans: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God.”8 Thus he was able to tell the Galatians: “So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child”9 Now, with this new spiritual relationship with God, we must strive for a new spiritual motive. We will find it in that single but comprehensive word – LOVE. That’s how our Lord declared it: “If you love me, keep my commandments.”10 “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching…Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.”11
It is only after this love floods our heart through the Holy Spirit that we may expect to experience willing obedience. As a result of this Divine principle working in us, the believer does not work to get accepted into a new life. They were given a new life; they were not accepted. You don’t “get” new life, you are “given” new life. This will keep them from feeling compelled to live a holy, self-denying, cross-bearing life as some burden they must now carry as a slave. Rather, it is a joy and privilege as a loving, obedient child that springs from love and gratitude in their heart for what Jesus did that blessed them with having been adopted by God into His family.12
Also, preacher Charles Spurgeon says that the spirit of bondage is associated with servants, but not with sons. Our servitude to the law ended when we were ransomed and freed by Christ Jesus. So we are not afraid of the head of the house, we have reverence for Him as a family member, the same as a child has for their natural father. Spurgeon feels that we should all rejoice that we have been adopted into the family of God through the new birth and that the sweetest words which no slave would ever be allowed to pronounce can now be articulated by us when we look up to God and say, “Papa!” It is a child’s word, one of the first ones they learn when they begin to speak. and it runs the same both backward and forward. Oh to have a childlike spirit that, in whatever state of heart we may be, to still be able to say, in the excitement of an infant, “Papa, Papa!”13
Karl Barth comments on the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit by saying that ecstasies and illuminations, inspirations, and intuitions, are unnecessary in proving that we are the children of God. He is happy for those worthy to receive them! But misery may overtake those who wait anxiously for such things before they feel comfortable calling themselves a child of the King! We will soon be miserable if we fail to recognize that they are individual gifts. Everything that happens to us and in us can be no more and no less than what the Spirit Himself approves and does. Barth contends that the Spirit Himself can speak far beyond what we in our strength can articulate. The things God speaks about are immeasurably superior to the grandest of which our spirits can utter. He declares something to be true that we could never imagine without Him, He calls us His children.14
F. F. Bruce explains that the term “adoption” may have a somewhat awkward sound when we hear it mentioned as part of our relationship with God. We must remember that in the Roman empire of the first century AD when a man had no son to bequeath his estate to, he would often adopt a son deliberately chosen to perpetuate his reputation and continue the success of his estate. This adopted son was not one scintilla inferior in status to any son born in the ordinary course of reproduction. So he might as well enjoy his adopted father’s affection even more fully and reproduce the father’s character more worthily because he was personally chosen.15
John Stott adds to this by also pointing out the uncertainty of whether our “Abba, Patēr” should be said because we have received the Spirit of sonship, or that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children. He says that if the reasoning is correct, then, “by receiving a Spirit of adoption, it enabled us to cry ‘Abba, Patēr!;”16 If the second reasoning is true, then the sentence should read: “When we cry ‘Abba, Patēr!’ it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”17 The difference is not all that great. In the first case of saying “Abba, Patēr,” the expression results from our having received the Spirit of adoption. In the second case, it is the result of the Spirit’s inward witness that allows us to do so. In Stott’s mind, either way, the indwelling of the Spirit, the warm child’s greeting, and the witness belong together.18
Verse 17: If we are God’s children, we will get the blessings God has for His people. He will give us all that He has given Christ. But first we must suffer like Christ suffered. Only then we will be able to share His glory.
Here the Apostle Paul offers an interesting sequence on how our calling to be God’s children also gives us an opportunity to share in the glory Christ bestowed on His Father by being faithful. One such occasion was that by dying in obedience to God’s will, Jesus was glorified when His Father raised Him from death just as He promised to do. Likewise, says Paul, if we endure suffering and persecution for His sake we will also share in that same glory.
This was not a new thought with Paul, Jesus shared the same when He said: “Don’t be afraid, little flock. For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.”19 That’s why Paul could use the same reasoning when he testified before King Agrippa about his call to take the good news to the Gentile world.20 In fact, when he wrote to the Galatians he said: “Now that we are Christ’s we are the true descendants of Abraham, and all of God’s promises to Him belong to us.”21 Perhaps Paul included this here to remind the Jewish believers in Rome what he told the Ephesians: “This is the secret: that the Gentiles will have their full share with the Jews in all the riches inherited by God’s sons; both are invited to belong to his Church, and all of God’s promises of mighty blessings through Christ apply to them both when they accept the Good News about Christ and what He has done for them.”22
1 Mark 14:36; 2 Corinthians 1:22; 1 John 5:10-11; 1 Corinthians 2:12
2 Galatians 5:22-23
3 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 412
5 Ibid. p. 413
6 Hugonis Grotii: Annotationes in Novum Testamentum (Annotations on the New Testament) – Amsterdam and Paris, 1641–50, Vol. VI, p. 146
7 Galatians 4:6
8 Romans 8:16
9 Galatians 4:7
10 John 14:15
11 Ibid. 14:23-24
12 The Works of Octavius Winslow: op. cit., loc. cit.
13 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 Karl Barth: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 F. F. Bruce: Romans: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 6, p. 167). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
16 Rendered as such in the Revised English Bible (REB)
17 Rendered as such in the Revised Standard Version (RSV)
18 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
19 Luke 12:32
20 Acts of the Apostles 26:17-18
21 Galatians 3:29; 4:7
22 Ephesians 3:6