“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 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. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:14-17)
Verses fourteen through seventeen present the Spirit as the Spirit of adoption. Biblical adoption has a much different meaning than modern adoption. In Roman society, a man's son was not entitled to his father's wealth and honor until the father had legally adopted that son. Until this process took place, the son was no different than a servant. He was surrounded by his father's wealth, but he had no legal right to it until the father chose to make it official. This is what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father (Galatians 4:1-2).” Should the father deem his son unworthy for some reason, he could choose not to adopt him, in which case, the son would forever be nothing higher than a servant. The father could choose to adopt a diligent servant over his own son if the son proved lacking in character. However, once the son was officially adopted, the process was irreversible. The father could never, by Roman law, reverse the status of adoption. Even if the son failed to meet his father's expectations, he would forever be his legal heir. Using this process of Roman adoption as an illustration, Paul explains how God's Spirit forever secures the believer's salvation by adopting him into the family of God.
He begins by once again qualifying the ones who have been adopted into God's family. They are, “...as many as are led by the Spirit of God....” as I John 3:24 says, “And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” He then says, “...they are the sons of God.” Amen! Through faith in Jesus Christ, the believer has been permanently adopted into the family of God as a true son. Even when the believer fails to live up to the Father's expectations, he is still secure in his position. He will experience God's chastening, but his salvation will not be revoked. He has been declared a spiritual son, and this position is irreversible.
Because of this, the child of God need not live in fear, but in faith. The fear of anything except God brings bondage. Fear is not a fruit of the Spirit. It is a manifestation of the flesh, as declared in II Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” Constant fear characterizes the one who fears death because he has no security in Christ (Hebrews 2:15). The Spirit's presence brings the assurance of a Father-son relationship that cannot be taken away. The word Abba, is the Aramaic form for father. It is a close and intimate term which characterizes a good relationship between a father and his son. It is the same term Jesus used for God the Father while He prayed in the garden (Mark 14:36). A believer's sonship is reassured by the presence of the Spirit as He causes the believer to crave fellowship with the Father. This trait is not present in the life of the lost. It is enjoyed only by the truly redeemed. God marks His sons by His Spirit as taught in Galatians 4:6, “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” This desire for fellowship is a great source of comfort to the believer, and its absence indicates a cause for alarm.
The Spirit also brings assurance by reassuring the believer's spirit that he is indeed God's child. No man can do this. People who consistently question their salvation should not be continuously encouraged that they are saved. It may be that the Spirit is absent, and thus they lack assurance. Lack of assurance may be due to a lack of biblical knowledge, but this should not be assumed. God's Spirit has a way of bringing a peace which cannot be explained. This peace must be experienced.
As the adopted Roman child was a full heir of all that his father possessed, so the believer is a full heir of unimaginable wealth in Jesus Christ. God's grace is unfathomable. To be redeemed from eternal damnation would be precious enough, but on top of this, God desires his children to have the full inheritance. The full extent of this inheritance will not be realized until glory, but a glimpse of it may be caught by a study of Revelation.
The last part of verse seventeen is interesting. It says, “... if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together...” This verse is not teaching that every person must suffer great tragedy and persecution in order to fully realize their eternal reward. Suffering with Christ can take on various forms and degrees. The things that vex God should vex His children. The believer should suffer to see and experience the failures of his own flesh. His spirit should be grieved, as Christ's would be, to see the unrighteousness and oppression of mankind. He should suffer with Christ as he experiences people reject the fear of the Lord and choose the ways of death. Suffering may take on the form of severe persecution, but it need not always be the case. The Spirit's presence will cause the believer to suffer with his Master as the Christian experiences the things that God Himself hates.