12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:12-15).
The freedom that Christ has given us is a powerful thing. Because of it, we have gone from deserving hell, because of the bondage of sin and the enmity with God because of that sin, to not owing our flesh anything. “We are not debtors to the flesh…” means that though we were once under sin’s authority, we now have the power to choose which path we will take. We still have the capacity to sin, and that does not go away until we are glorified with Christ, but as we walk down this sanctification path with Him, we do not have to succumb to its lure. In fact, there should be a natural response caused by the Spirit living inside of us that continues to build up towards a hatred of sin, especially our own sin. Our death to sin has killed its control over our lives and it has changed our allegiance. Justification will naturally lead to a war waged on sin by our spirit, the Spirit now living inside of us.
Once Paul tells us that this obligation is gone, then he hits us with the bombshell that is verse 13.
“For if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
I say “bombshell” because out of context theologians could argue that this verse is a proponent for there to be a possibility to lose one’s salvation. Paul is obviously talking about spiritual death and life here, because we all die a physical death, and some could and have argued that the killing of sin that he is referring to leads to our justification. Granted, if you look at this verse without reading anything else in this book that Paul has written, especially up to this point, one could draw a works based justification conclusion. This is simply not the case. Paul has spent ample time explaining that justification is God’s work in us and not our work for Him. The only qualification that we have to receive it is through faith. Go back and read Romans 3-6 if you don’t believe me. So now we must deal with this verse with the entire picture being painted.
If we are justified by faith (5:1), if we have died with Christ to sin (6:2), then the justification issue is settled. But, there is only one rational response to this free gift of justification; righteousness. We pursue righteousness not to make God happy, but because unrighteousness starts to make us sick. We now have God in Spirit form living inside of us and He hates sin. It only makes sense that as we continue to live with Him, we would grow a bigger and bigger disdain for sin as well. Paul is giving us a practical application here by instructing us to kill sin in our lives. This outpouring of righteousness proves that God has done a work in us and give us the capacity to live in the way that He has intended for His children.
In verse 14, we once again see that there is a qualification for being one of God’s children. We have addressed earlier that all are not God’s children, creation yes; offspring no. Now in verse 14, we see another condition showing what it takes to be in the family. “All those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons (children). Note that this condition is also a passive one. We cannot earn the right to be led by the Spirit, it is His doing. We kill off sin by living according to the Spirit, but He is still doing the work. We are just surrendering to His power. It is so freeing to know that The Lord of the universe loves me enough to justify me in order to be allowed back into communion with Him, then He sends me on a path to make me more and more like Him. My only response is to answer His call and follow His lead.
Paul goes on to end this passage with one of my favorite verses in the Bible.
“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!”(Romans 8:15).
There is so much going on in this verse as well. The usage of the word “receive” once again reiterates that something has been given, then the encouragement and the freedom that this verse conveys empowers us to be one John Piper would call a “coronary Christian”. A follower that pumps life’s blood into the world no matter the circumstances, because of the love that he/she feels for his/her Father.
There is a contrast here. The first thing; we do not receive fear caused by living in bondage. This truth empowers us to act out of response to His love and not as a motivation to appease a dreadful master. When that contrast is paired with what we do receive; adoption, we get even more welcomed in understanding that a choice was made for our soul, for our lives, for a relationship with us. We were handpicked by the Creator of the universe to be a member of His family.