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Frank Thielman: Paul wants the Romans to understand that God has adopted them into his family, giving them the status of highly privileged children within it (8:15). Their status as sons and daughters of God is similar in important ways to Jesus’s own status as God’s Son. When they experience physical and emotional suffering, just as Jesus did before his passion, they too can cry out to God as their Father (Mark 14:36; cf. Rom 8:15). Their status as God’s adoptive sons and daughters is a sign of God’s love and permanent commitment to them, both now, in the midst of their suffering, and in eternity when they will share the family “inheritance” of a fully restored creation (8:17; cf. 8:23).

Michael Bird: By v. 13 Paul has finished his demarcation of the two opposing forces of redemptive history, Spirit and flesh, where he placed believers on the side of the Spirit. Christians, therefore, are those who are indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, who have been set free from sin and death, and who are empowered to resist the flesh. What we find in vv. 14-17 is a transitional passage that uses the theme of adoption to move between the Spirit/flesh contrast of vv. 1-13 to the following section on the future dimension of Christian hope in vv. 18-39. The substance of vv. 14-17 is that those led by the Spirit are adopted as children of God. Such adoption brings a new status, it provides an intimate relationship with God, and it secures a glorious future as co-heirs with Christ in glory.


A.  (:14) Inclination to Please God

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”

Grant Osborne: The Jews already considered themselves to be “sons of God” because of their heritage; but Paul explains that sons of God has new meaning. True sons of God are those who are led by the Spirit of God as evidenced in their lifestyle. Believers not only have the Spirit (8:9); they are also led by the Spirit.

Frank Thielman: The passive verb “led” (ἄγονται) is a forceful term that Paul could use elsewhere of people “led” to stray after idols (1 Cor 12:2) or to give in to sinful desires (2 Tim 3:6). It was sometimes used in antiquity to refer to the compulsion to act on a particular inner feeling such as desire or pleasure (Euripides, Med. 310; Plato, Prot. 355a).  This does not mean that those “led by the Spirit of God” were forced by God’s Spirit to act in certain ways.  Paul could use the same term to speak of disobedient people being unaware that God was trying to lead them to repentance (2:4), and Plato, using the exact grammatical construction Paul uses here (the passive verb with a dative of means), could speak of desires that are “directed by calculation” (λογισμῷ ἄγονται).  Paul’s meaning is that the Spirit helps those in whom he dwells to make decisions about their behavior that please God rather than decisions that give in to the sinful desires of the flesh (cf. Gal 5:17–18).

John Murray: The connection between this verse and the preceding is as follows. Those who by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body are led by the Spirit of God. But those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. And, if they are the sons of God, that status is the guarantee of eternal life. Verse 14 is, therefore, to be interpreted as providing the basis for the assurance given in verse 13, namely, “ye shall live”, the specific consideration being that eternal life is the invariable issue of sonship. It is taken for granted that those who by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body are led by the Spirit of God and it is categorically asserted that as many as are led by the Spirit these are the sons of God.  “Led by the Spirit” implies that they are governed by the Spirit and the emphasis is placed upon the activity of the Spirit and the passivity of the subjects. “Put to death the deeds of the body” (vs. 13) emphasizes the activity of the believer. These are complementary. The activity of the believer is the evidence of the Spirit’s activity and the activity of the Spirit is the cause of the believer’s activity.

Douglas Moo: In popular speech, Christians often use language such as “led by the Spirit” to refer to guidance: “I was led by the Spirit to witness to her.” But this is probably not what Paul means here.  As in Galatians 5:18, where the same construction occurs, “being led by the Spirit” means “having the basic orientation of your life determined by the Spirit.”  The phrase is a way of summing up the various descriptions of the life of the Spirit in 8:4–9.

B.  (:15) Intimate Family Relationship of Privileged Position

  1. Not a Relationship of Slavish Fear

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again,

John Murray: The implications of sonship are now unfolded. . .  The reception of the Holy Spirit does not have the effect of a relapse into that slavish fear which characterized the pre-Christian state, and the reason for this is that the Holy Spirit is not the Spirit of bondage but of adoption, the Spirit whose activities are promotive of what is consonant with adoption, not with what is symptomatic of bondage.

John Toews: A slave is not in control of life, but lives at the mercy, and thus fear, of someone else.

Michael Bird: Many of the Roman Christians, who were either slaves or former slaves, knew all too well that slavery was a state of living death. Slavery meant being treated like a piece of furniture with a soul, yielding up one’s body to whatever task or torment that a master demanded. Although the fortunes of slaves were mixed depending on the household and the particular purpose of the slave, generally speaking, slavery was defined by servility and suffering.

  1. But a Relationship of Confident Sons

but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons

by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’

Westminster Confession (chapter 12) – Definition of Adoption:

All those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for His only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption: by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God; have His name put upon them, receive the Spirit of adoption; have access to the throne of grace with boldness; are enabled to cry, Abba, Father; are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by Him, as by a father; yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.

Douglas Moo: What is most important is that the Spirit enables us to experience the same kind of intimate relationship to the Father that Jesus did, who also called God “Abba” (Mark 14:36). Not only does the Spirit confer on us this status; he also is the one who, testifying with our own spirits, gives us the inner certainty of knowing that we truly are God’s dearly loved children.

Frank Thielman: In the Roman world, social elites often used adoption to procure successors to carry on the family name and cult.  The adoptee frequently received a higher social status and increased honor through the adoption.  Paul’s audience in Rome, many of whom probably occupied the social status of slaves, freedmen, and foreigners, would have heard as good news indeed that they were the adoptive sons of the one true God. Only a few years prior to Paul’s letter, in AD 50, the emperor Claudius had adopted eleven-year-old Nero, and Nero had been proclaimed across the empire as “son of the greatest of the gods, Tiberius Claudius.”

The Spirit enables believers to “cry” (κράζω) to God for help in the midst of difficulty, just as any child might appeal to a loving father for help, and just as Jesus appealed to God shortly before his arrest, torture, and execution (Mark 14:36; cf. Gal 4:6).  The use of Aramaic, which was Jesus’s native tongue, and the immediate translation of the term into Greek imply that Jesus’s use of “Abba” to address God was a widely known characteristic of his familiar relationship with God. Paul now says that believers have this same level of familiar access to God (cf. 5:2; Eph 2:18).

John Murray: In Rom. 8:15 “the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” is the Holy Spirit.  He is called “the Spirit of adoption”, not because he is the agent of adoption but because it is he who creates in the children of God the filial love and confidence by which they are able to cry, “Abba, Father” and exercise the rights and privileges of God’s children.

Marvin Vincent [quoting Merivale]: The process of legal adoption by which the chosen heir became entitled not only to the reversion of the property but to the civil status, to the burdens as well as the rights of the adopter—became, as it were, his other self, one with him … this too is a Roman principle, peculiar at this time to the Romans, unknown, I believe, to the Greeks, unknown, to all appearance, to the Jews… We have but a faint conception of the force with which such an illustration would speak to one familiar with the Roman practice; how it would serve to impress upon him the assurance that the adopted son of God becomes, in a peculiar and intimate sense, one with the heavenly Father.

F. F. Bruce: The term “adoption” may smack somewhat of artificiality in our ears; but in the first century A.D. an adopted son was a son deliberately chosen by his adoptive father to perpetuate his name and inherit his estate; he was no whit inferior in status to a son born in the ordinary course of nature and might well enjoy the father’s affection more fully and reproduce the father’s character more worthily.

William Barclay:  It is the consequences of adoption which are most significant for the picture that is in Paul’s mind. There were four main ones.

(i)   Adopted person lost all rights in his old family and gained all the rights of a legitimate son in his new family. In the most binding legal way, he got a new father.

(ii)  It followed that he became heir to his new father’s estate. Even if other sons were afterwards born, it did not affect his rights. He was inalienably co-heir with them.

(iii)  In law, the old life of the adopted person was completely wiped out; for instance, all debts were cancelled. He was regarded as a new person entering into a new life with which the past had nothing to do.

(iv)  In the eyes of the law he was absolutely the son of his new father. Roman history provides an outstanding case of how completely this was held to be true.


The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

John Murray: Now in verse 16 it is the witness borne by the Holy Spirit himself. And this latter witness is conceived of as working conjointly with the witness borne by the believer’s own consciousness. The Spirit’s witness must, therefore, be distinguished from the witness of our filial consciousness. It is a witness given to us as distinct from the witness given by us. The witness thus given is to the effect that “we are children of God”.

John Toews: In Judaism, two witnesses were needed to establish something. Here the two witnesses are the Spirit of God and the spirit of believers.


A.  Promised Future Heirs with Christ

and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,

Douglas Moo: Paul reminds us, we Christians must still await the consummation of that new status. One day we will enter into the inheritance, following the Son who has gone ahead of us. We will share in his own glorious state. In the meantime, however, we must follow him in the road he himself walked on the way to glory—the road of suffering.

Stan Mast: In the rich language of verse 17, Paul goes on to elucidate just how near and dear we are.  It’s conceivable that adopted children would not be treated the same as natural born children.  Blood can be thicker than legal papers.  We’ve all heard of adoptions that never work, that go bad and are terminated because adoptee and adopted parents cannot bond.  Then the adoptee is cut off from all the rights and privileges of being part of that family.  That cannot happen to followers of Christ, says Paul.  The adopting work of the Triune God is effective and permanent.

B.  Present Suffering with Christ in Anticipation

if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

Frank Thielman: A condition is implied (those who do not suffer with Christ are not his coheirs), but that is not where the emphasis lies. Instead Paul emphasized that those who, because of their commitment to the gospel, share the physical pain and public shame that Christ endured when he was crucified will also experience the vindication and release from pain that he experienced when he was raised from the dead (cf. 2 Cor 4:10–11; Phil 3:20–21). Paul had said earlier in the letter that all had sinned and lacked “the glory of God” (3:23). Now he shows that through their union with Christ this lack will be supplied. This is the “hope of glory” that Christian suffering instills in the believer according to 5:2–4.

John Murray: “If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him” is the condition upon which the attainment of the inheritance is contingent (cf. vs. 9). There is no sharing in Christ’s glory unless there is sharing in his sufferings. Sufferings and then glory was the order appointed for Christ himself. It could not have been otherwise in terms of his messianic undertaking and design (cf. Luke 24:26; Phil. 2:6–11; I Pet. 1:11). The same order applies to those who are heirs with him. It is not only, however, that they must suffer and then enter glory; it is more than a parallelism of order. It needs to be noted that they suffer with him and this joint participation is emphasized in the case of suffering as it is in the case of glorification. This is both the reason for and the import of the emphasis which is placed in the New Testament and particularly in Paul upon the sufferings of the people of God as the sufferings of Christ (cf. II Cor. 1:5; Phil. 3:10; Col. 1:24; II Tim. 2:11; I Pet. 4:13; cf. Mark 10:39). Believers do not contribute to the accomplishment of expiation, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption. Nowhere are their sufferings represented as having such virtue or efficacy. The Lord laid his people’s iniquities upon Christ alone and in him alone did God reconcile the world to himself. Christ alone redeemed us by his blood. Nevertheless there are other aspects from which the sufferings of the children of God are to be classified with the sufferings of Christ himself. They partake of the sufferings which Christ endured and they are regarded as filling up the total quota of sufferings requisite to the consummation of redemption and the glorification of the whole body of Christ (cf. Col. 1:24). Again union and communion with Christ are the explanation and validation of this participation.

John Toews: Paul adds a shocker in v. 17b. The glory of the inheritance is qualified by a strong “if” clause (lit., “if indeed”). The if indeed we suffer with in order that we may be glorified with takes up an established link between child status and suffering in Judaism, and applies it to Christians. Jews know that they suffer because of their unique relationship to God. Paul asserts that the reality of suffering goes with the privileged inheritance of being a child of God. The term to suffer with means to suffer the same thing as. Just as Christians die with Christ in baptism (ch. 6), so also they participate in the suffering that characterizes the current age of the rule of Sin. Furthermore, the suffering is life-long (the verb is present tense). The purpose of the suffering is defined by a purpose clause, in order that we may be glorified with. Suffering with Christ is not optional; no suffering, no future glory. The future glory describes the radiance of God. It characterizes God’s original creation, which was lost by Adam and will be restored in the end-time through Messiah Jesus.