We continue today to look at the covenant of grace, and now especially the work of the Holy Spirit in the covenant. You may remember that we have defined the covenant of grace as that relationship of friendship and fellowship that God establishes with His elect people in Jesus Christ. There are two human relationships that mirror God’s relationship to us. There is the intimacy of our marriages. There, the love between a husband and a wife. There is also, in Scripture, the Christian family, where father and mother and children dwell together in love.
In our passage of Romans 8 we have a picture of God with His children. I read from Romans 8:14-16:
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.
What this passage is teaching regarding the Holy Spirit in the covenant is this: the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, assures us that we are children of God. We read in Romans 8:16: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” We cry out: “Abba, Father.” Where does that cry come from? That cry comes from, it is originated by, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, poured out on the church. We have received the spirit of adoption. Assurance that we are God’s children is evidenced in that cry: Abba, Father.
There are churches that have replaced in their Bibles and in the Apostles’ Creed the words “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son” with a new phrase: “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s one and only Son.” What is incorrect about that? The truth is that God has many sons and daughters in His covenant. They are adopted sons and daughters. Through Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, God graciously adopts to Himself many children. What a family He has! God is our Father. Jesus Christ is our elder Brother. And we are, by adoption, made sons and daughters. The cry from our lips, “Abba, Father,” is the evidence that we are children of God.
As little children who, when they see their father, cry out, “Daddy,” so the child of God, in excitement, in love, or perhaps in trouble, cries out, “Abba, Father!” Where did that phrase come from? We find it three times in the Bible. First in Mark 14:36, where the Lord Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, cries, “Abba, Father.” Then, in Galatians 4:6, the Spirit Himself cries, “Abba, Father.” Now in our passage, Romans 8:15, God’s children say it. It apparently was used by the early church because Jesus Christ used it. But also the church, made up of Gentiles and Jews, uses the Aramaic word for father. It is a very intense expression of the word “father.” As a little child spontaneously cries out to his father, so also a child of God spontaneously cries out to his Father in heaven.
This is not just a cry from his lips, but it is a cry from his heart. By saying “Father,” we are expressing our assurance that God loves us. We are expressing the confidence that God forgives our sins. For we cannot say and we cannot feel that God loves us unless we know that He has forgiven our sins. It is the confidence that God says of us, “Mine! My children whom I love.” It is also the expression that we love God. Oh, the smile on the little child’s face when he sees his father. He loves him. He wants to be held by him and be cared for by him. And since God has many sons and daughters in His family, as we love God our Father so also we love our fellow brothers and sisters. One cannot say, “I have a relationship with God in Jesus Christ, but I have no need for the church.” No, no, no! God saved a church, God has a family. All those who love the Father, love those who belong to Him. We read in Romans 8:14: “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” And in verse 15: “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” This is a fact. So, the question comes to you and to me: “Do you say this, do you cry out, ‘Abba, Father'”? It is not a question whether we belong to the church or whether we have been baptized. Those are not the questions. This is the heart question: In your heart, do you have the assurance that God loves you? That God says of you, “Mine! My son, my daughter.”
Perhaps you say, But I am a terrible sinner. But God has forgiven you by the blood of Jesus Christ. Just as when children in our human families disobey or are rebellious, their parents do not disown them. Their sins do not break the relationship of a parent and a child. So also our sins do not break God’s eternal covenant with us. God has chosen us to be His children in eternity. God sent His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus, to redeem us. And God gives us His Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of adoption, to dwell in our hearts. We have received that Spirit, and He works in us.
Notice from our text: “Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear.” What does that mean? By nature, we were under the spirit of bondage, trying to do something to appease God, trying to do something for God, not because we loved Him but because we are afraid of Him. If you look at all of the non-Christian religions, you will see that they are afraid of their gods. They try to appease their wrath. They try to work for them so that they can, hopefully, not endure their wrath in this world or the next. Paul writes: “We have not received that spirit again. Once apart from Christ? Yes. There is fear. But now we have the Spirit of adoption.”
What a beautiful picture adoption is. A family or a couple chooses and takes a child who was not their own, and legally makes that child their child. What a wonderful thing for that child! Well, usually it is. Stories are told, of course, of the orphan trains—children sent on a train hoping to find homes and families for them. Sadly, some of those children were chosen by farmers who wanted a son or sons who could work hard for them. They became virtual slaves. What fear for those children. But, how happy when a couple wants, in love, to take in a parent-less child or a child whose parents were not capable of caring for him.
God makes us who were no children His children. He says: “Mine!” Adopted in His eternal counsel, realized in the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The blessing received by faith, and it will be completely fulfilled when Jesus comes again and God says before all, “Mine.” That, beloved, is the covenant of grace. We receive that Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, poured out on Christ’s church on Pentecost. The Spirit comes and gives new life and new hearts to those who were dead in sin. The Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ, causes us to know and live for Christ.
What mission was given to the Spirit? To tell us that we are children of God. God sends His Spirit, through Jesus Christ, into the church to assure His children that they are His children.
You may want to ask, How does the Holy Spirit do that? He uses tools. As the gardener in the garden has tools, as the farmer on the farm has tools,as the carpenter or the plumber has tools; so also the Holy Spirit has tools to work and strengthen faith. They are called the means of grace. What are those tools, what are those means that the Holy Spirit uses? Beloved, He uses the preaching of the Word. It is directed to our ears. The Holy Spirit does not, in some mystical way, speak to each person. Sadly, there are people who believe that only when they get old, somehow the Spirit whispers mystically in them. Then only, by that experience, can they be assured that they are children of God and saved. What a terrible, terrible life—if for seventy, eighty years they live in fear, not daring to say or believe that they are God’s children or saved. Those who believe that refuse to allow their children to pray the Lord’s prayer. They may not call God their Father. What a false, false teaching. What lack of assurance. Also, what stinking pride of some. I remember an old lady whose husband just passed away. She lamented: “Oh, I hope he’s saved. We don’t know at all if he is saved because he didn’t have the kind of experience I have had. I’m saved.”
The Spirit comes and speaks to us by the preaching of the Word. Not only by the outward call of the gospel, but also by working inwardly in God’s children, giving them illumined minds so that they understand spiritual things, have open ears to hear Christ Jesus, and spiritual eyes to behold their Father in heaven and their Savior Jesus Christ. It is through the preaching of the Word that we have personal assurance that God has chosen us, redeemed us by the blood of Jesus Christ, so that we can joyfully cry out, “Abba, Father!” Joyfully we fight, then, against our sins, and we strive to live as children of God. We call that “sanctification.” The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
The Holy Spirit also uses the sacraments. Those are directed to our eyes, so that we see pictured exactly what is taught to us by the preaching of the Word. The blood of Jesus Christ washes away our sins.
That means that we live together in the church—brothers and sisters who are sons and daughters of God. As we love the Father, as we have fellowship with Him, so we love also our brothers and sisters and have fellowship with them. Do you see why it is impossible to say, “I have a relationship with God, but it is private. I do not need the church”? When we are adopted by God, the Spirit applies that relationship to us so that we have fellowship with God and with one another.
Perhaps you know or have sung that beautiful hymn: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.” Do you have that assurance? That is what true faith is, is it not? A certain knowledge of all that God has revealed in His Word and also a hearty confidence—that not only to others, but also to me is freely given, for Christ’s sake, forgiveness of sins, righteousness, and eternal life.
The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. By grace, children of God. He says: “Mine!”
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we thank Thee for the work of the Holy Spirit whereby He works in us so that we know that Thou dost love us. We know that Thou hast forgiven our sins. We know that, by grace, we are Thy children, and we conduct ourselves, then, as children of God. Bless this work. Bless also this message to strengthen our faith and our assurance. Amen.