Romans 8:12-17
Being Made A Child Of God

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

Re-Translated In January 2000

1.  Everyone has a time when their brattiness [or impertinence] is at its peak.  I had mine.  Last week while preparing this sermon I was reminded of my junior high days.  I think it varies from person to person, but the period as a junior-senior high school student frequently is a stage when one is critical towards parents, teachers, and adults around us.  Both of my parents are Christians.  My criticism at that time was directed towards my parents as Christians or more particularly to the faith they were believing in.  Also, since the adults closest to me were church people, I cast a critical eye at them too.  The biggest target of my criticism was the pastor.  What didn't I like?  I didn't like their words "let's pray" applied to everything.  "Let's have faith.   Let's turn it over to him.  Let's give it to him to take care of."  Those were the kind of words I used to hate the most.  I thought what they were saying was "totally irresponsible!"  Shouldn't people one way or the other take care of their own business in their own responsibility and in their own effort?  Even in hard times shouldn't a person make an effort and not say "It's something to pray about"?  It's not that I didn't think there was a God, I disliked "people who believe" in God.

2.  As I now recall, I truly feel ashamed.  I was an inexperienced young boy who truly never even made an effort nor ever even grappled with a life issue [but] who frequently was able to say "be responsible and make an effort."  As I look back, the one who had an irresponsible way of living more than any one else around me was no one but me.  In reality, I couldn't do a thing my lonesome self.  Though I said, "be responsible and make an effort," I couldn't manage a one of my own feelings or actions.  I could not overcome a single bad habit or sinful practice of mine.  Even though I criticized adults and society I too was actually doing the same low down things though on a different scale.  It wasn't until much later that I noticed I was such a miserable thing.

You Don't Have An Obligation To The Flesh


"So then, o brothers, we have one duty, it is not a duty to the flesh that we must live according to the flesh.  If you live following the flesh, you will die," (Romans 8:12-13).

4.  Many people live thinking of "the obligation to the flesh, that we must live according to the flesh."  I am repeating myself from last week, but this is not about "the duty to the lusts of the flesh, that one must live following the lusts of the flesh."  He who lives following all kinds of lustful desires is not living like that out of any sense of duty towards it.  What Paul is saying here about "the duty to the flesh" is entirely different.  It is the duty of living in an existence that pertains to this world.  As a person who lives in this world it is, namely, nothing other than living by taking responsibility yourself for your affairs that pertain to this world.  It is not an obligation that considers everything as God's responsibility, but a duty where one lives taking responsibility for everything on your own.  To be brief, it is not "let's believe," but "let's shoulder our responsibilities.  Let's do our best."  That's how many people live and think.

5.  Well, Paul addressed them as "brothers."  Paul was talking to Christians here.  This means that there were people in the church living with the idea deep in their minds of "the duty to the flesh that one must live by the flesh."  Actually, Paul had written a letter to people like this.  It is The Epistle To The Disciples Of Galatia.  It was not that the disciples of Galatia had not believed in Christ, but [that], as far as the conditions to salvation went, somehow they thought it was their responsibility to fulfill the requirements of the law and attain salvation.  They thought it was the person who was to secure his or her salvation.  What did Paul have to say to these persons who thought like that?  He said, "How poor is your understanding, though you began in "the Spirit" will you finish up in the flesh?," (Galatians 3:3).  That's true about us, in thinking of the duty to the flesh, we try to accomplish [our duty] in the flesh with what is derived from a human being, a rotting descendant of Adam.  That's how it is in anything.  Even in the situation in the church, including the situation in [one's] faith life it is like that.  We think everything is up to our own effort.  Even in so far as salvation, we try to accomplish it through the flesh.

6.  But, Paul makes a declaration against such persons.  "If you live in the flesh, you will die."  I don't think I understood these particular words at the time I was a junior high student because I thought human determination and effort was it all.  But, I understand clearly Paul's message which I now know that I am completely unable to do anything by myself.  As far as the problem of sin is concerned, I am physically powerless.  As long as I thought that that which came from a human being was all there was and I lived trusting in the self, I would not attain salvation.  The phrase "you will die" really expresses this particular harsh truth.

7.  Of course, this does not mean be irresponsible.  Humans are beings that carry responsibilities.  As long as we live we have obligations.  But, it is not an obligation to the flesh, that we must live according to the flesh.  That is not it, rather, it is a duty to the Spirit of God, that we must live according to the Spirit of God.  Paul made this matter quite clear from both negative and positive perspectives.

To Abstain From The Works Of The Body Through The Spirit

8.  Please note verses thirteen and fourteen.

"If you live according to the flesh, you will die.  But if you abstain from the works of the body by the Spirit, you will live.  All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God,"  (verses thirteen and fourteen).

9.  What kind of definition does "to abstain from the works of the body by the Spirit" have?  We had to be reminded here again of the fact that there is a serious division between one's will and one's behavior, which was recorded in this epistle in chapter seven.  "I know that in me, that is in my flesh, good does not dwell; for, I have a will to do good but I cannot put it into practice," (7:18).  I try to carry out good deeds with the me who wants to.  But, with the me who does the actions I don't carry them out.  Thus, Paul says more on this in the following manner:  "With 'the inner man' I rejoice in the law of God, but there is in my limbs another law, it wars with the law of my heart and I see that it makes me a captive to the law of sin which lies in my limbs," (7:22-23).  So if we try, we will understand that what Paul calls "the works of the body" are the works of the limbs which have in them the law of sin.  Or, it means the works of "the I who does the action."  "The I that wills" cannot keep under control the "I that does the action."  We are helpless in our own strength.  This is definitely a universal experience of humanity.  Thus, Paul does not just say, "please abstain from the works of the body."  He says, "If you abstain from the works of the body by the Spirit, you will live."  That's right, abstaining from the works of the body which is ruled by the law of sin comes by the Spirit of God which is given to us.

10.  But, we should make no mistake here.  Even though the text says "by the Spirit" the Holy Spirit is not a tool which we use to overcome sin.  If we think of the Holy Spirit as a kind of magical power or energy force which a person receives and can freely use, we fall into a gross error.  The Holy Spirit is God, a being fully deity.  In [our] relationship with God, God is always "the  Lord" and we are "the subjects."  So in verse fourteen [the text] continues with "the person who is led by the Spirit of God."  Because it says "to be led," we are passive recipients.  Though it says, "to abstain from the works of the body," we cannot accomplish that in the active sense of the verb.  We are passive and become persons who are led by the Spirit of God and this matter comes to realization through the work of the Holy Spirit.  So then, the right way we should be when it comes to God is to be worshipful and prayerful more than anything else.

11.  We know this well from our own closest experiences.  When we quit worshipping God and seeking him in prayer, we start living in the flesh.  The fleshly "I" becomes the center.  If we quit being passive before God like this and lose our daily life of being led by the Spirit of God, no matter how hard we try, we will not abstain from the works of the body because that is a life style that adheres to the flesh.  We come to be controlled by sin. We go farther and farther away from the God of life and start heading towards death.  "If you live following the flesh, you will die," says the scripture.

Living As A Son1 Of God

12.  So that's how Paul discussed from a negative perspective "living by following the Spirit, the duty to the Spirit."  I repeat, it meant "to abstain from the works of the body by the Spirit."  Also, Paul speaks further on the same [topic] but from the positive perspective, which is, "living as a child of God."  Let's read from verses fifteen to seventeen.


"You have not received a spirit which traps a person in fear again as a slave, you have received a Spirit to make you a son of God.  By this Spirit we call out, 'Abba, Father.'  This very Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God.  If we are [his] children, then we are heirs as well.  We are heirs of God and what's more we are joint heirs with Christ.  If we suffer with Christ it is because we will receive glory with him," (verses fifteen through seventeen).

14.  Paul said in verse fourteen, "Everyone who is led by the Spirit of God is a son of God."  Verse fifteen explains the dynamic of verse fourteen.  It says that, the reason we are made a child of God is the Holy Spirit who is given to us and who leads us is "the spirit that makes a son of God."  "The spirit that makes a son of God" means "the spirit that makes [one] an adopted child."  That there is this idea of an adopted child means, in parallel contrast, that there is the idea of one's true child [by nature].  The true child is Christ.  Therefore, being made an adopted child means that we too are invited to the relationship which had only been between God the Father and Christ the Son.

15.  It is also expressed in the words of the prayer "Abba, Father."  The words of the prayer "Abba, Father" were originally the words of the prayer which Christ used with God the Father.  We can see the record of that in the Gospels.  On the night before he was crucified, Christ prayed like this in the garden of Gethsemane.  "Abba, Father, you can do anything.  Please take away this cup from me.  Yet, let it not be what I wish for but that it be done as it suits your will," (Mark 14:36).  "Abba" was an Aramaic term which the Lord used regularly and it was a term full of deep affection used as an address by children to call out to their fathers.  The Jews at first never used this address for God.  So, it meant that the words of this prayer expressed a special loving relationship between the Son and the Father.  Christ had really walked in the plans of his father, continuously guided by the Spirit in the midst of this loving relationship.  Furthermore, Paul says that now the same Spirit is making us persons too who will walk in a loving relationship with God the Father.  The prayer "Abba, Father" is also given to us.

16.  This matter supplies us with two important sensitivities.  First, the walk whereby one is led by the Holy Spirit means a person does not live like a slave who obeys out of fear of getting punished.  Please give some thought to Christ's Gethsemane prayer.  When Christ prayed "that what matches your will be done" it was not because he was being disobedient and being punished by God the Father.  It was an obedience based on a loving relationship of father and son.  Even more so, because of his love for his Father the Lord thought it right to undergo judgment upon the cross.  It's the same for us when walking led by "the Spirit that makes [us] as a child of God."  We did not receive "a spirit which traps a person in fear again as a slave."  An obedience out of fear of being convicted [in sin] is a walk that goes by the flesh and not a walk that is Holy Spirit led.

17.  Secondly, a walk led by the Holy Spirit means a walk of going to a sure hope.  To be made a child is to be made an heir.  If you ask what [it is] we will inherit from God the Father, it will be the glory of God and it will be eternal life.  As revealed in the resurrection of Christ we will inherit together the glory of God and eternal life.  I think we ought to keep in our hearts what Paul boldly says here that "If we suffer with Christ, it is so we will receive glory with him."  Faith is not a doctor's prescription for eliminating suffering.  Living as a child2 of God does not mean a guarantee of a tranquil life.  Because Christ, the son of God, walked the path of suffering.  When we too are led by the Holy Spirit and walk as sons of God we will also be led to an obedience that will include suffering because of a love for God.  Because of [our] love for God we will not be able to avoid saying "Yet, let not what I wish for be done but let what suits the will [of God] be done."  However, suffering and struggles are not for ever.  [Their] end is on the way.  Furthermore, suffering does not fall to the earth in vain.  If we suffer with [him], we will take part in glory with [him].

18.  There is one duty for us.  It is not a duty to the flesh, that we must live according to the flesh, but a duty to the Spirit, that we must live according to the Spirit.  It is to be led by the Holy Spirit, trust in the Holy Spirit, and live as a child of God and while we call out his name "Abba, Father" [our duty] is but to live facing the hope that we will inherit the glory of God and eternal life.

End Note

1 Literally, the word "son" is used, but today we would tend to use the word, "child" as in son or daughter.  There is a fine distinction being maintained here by the Greek words for son and child and in the Confucian oriented mind where the son is the most important child.  The point is that as a believer a Christian gets all the status, rights, and honor as a son as understood within patriarchal milieus ancient and modern.

2 Same as end note 1.

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