Therefore, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.
The apostle in these verses makes a high claim for believers - the claim of being children of God. In this eighth chapter he unfolds, as in a panoramic view, the whole plan of salvation. He begins with the idea that those who are in Christ Jesus are delivered from condemnation. But salvation is something more than that. It means sonship also. And step by step, verse by verse, the apostle advances, at each step unfolding some fresh view of the Christian's privileges, till at last, as he surveys the whole field of sin and sorrow, of joy and suffering, of trials and temptations, of time and eternity, he grows stronger in the confidence of his sonship, and exclaims, "For! am persuaded, that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
I. THE PRIVILEGES OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD.
1. God is their Father. They can say that in a special and spiritual sense. In one sense all human beings are the offspring of God. We are all the creatures of his hand, and are dependent continually upon his bountiful care. But sin has come in and separated us from him. It has made us prone to disobey rather than to fulfil our Father's commands. Jesus came into this world that he might bring us back again into the relationship of God's spiritual children. He became a child of humanity that we might become children of God. He became "sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." All who believe on him are born again. They are by creation God's children; now they are his by a spiritual birth. Now they receive "the Spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father" (ver. 15). Oh, the greatness of our heavenly Father's love! He has not cast us off. He has sent his own Son to bring us back, to restore his image in our hearts, and by-and-by to have us sit down with him in his everlasting kingdom.
2. Jesus Christ is their elder Brother. "If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (ver. 17). The inheritance which Christ has we have, if by receiving him we become children of God. It is almost too great a privilege to conceive, but it is plainly revealed to us by God. If we are Christ's, all things are ours; for we are Christ's, and Christ is God's. Christ's own prayer was, "Father, I will that those whom thou hast given me be with me where I am." And then there is a family likeness between the children of God by adoption and their elder Brother. If children of some humble rank were adopted into a noble or royal family, there would be a great dissimilarity between them and the children of that family. There would not be community of feeling. It seems a wonderful thing that we, poor, weak, sinful creatures, should be adopted into the family of God, and made the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. How can there be any likeness between us and him? But God has provided for this. Those are remarkable words, "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the Firstborn among many brethren" (ver. 29). Thus God has provided that as we are to be the brethren of Christ, we shall be like him. "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him: for we shall see him as he is." This likeness to Christ is a gradual growth. It is the development of the Christian character. It is not in the infant lying in the cradle that much likeness to its parent can be detected. But as the body matures, as the features become more marked, as the individuality of character begins to show itself, then we see the likeness, and we say, He is his father's son, She is her mother's daughter. Those beautiful statues of the Louvre or of Florence, which are the admiration of the world, did not spring by magic from the sculptor's hands. He had his ideal. He had his plan. With that ideal before him, he took the rough material, and on it he gradually worked out his plans. He first modelled his figure in clay, and then took the rough, shapeless mass of marble, in which no one could see any traces of the future statue's loveliness or symmetry of form. But the sculptor's love for his work, the skill of his hand, the patience and perseverance of his mind, the hammer and chisel which he wielded, slowly but surely accomplished his purpose, until at last the statue stood forth in all its beauty. So God has his ideal for the Christian - likeness to Christ, the image of his Son. He has his plan, the plan of redemption, of sanctification. With that ideal before him he takes our human nature, and, by the slow and sometimes painful discipline of Christian experience, he develops the Christian character, until at last the believer is found meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light.
3. The Spirit of God is their Helper. There are three ways mentioned by the apostle in which the Spirit helps us.
(1) He shows us the path of duty. "As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (ver. 14). The Spirit uses the Word of God, and applies it to our conscience and our heart.
(2) He gives us assurance of our sonship. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (ver. 16). How does he give us that assurance? By producing in us the fruit of the Spirit. "Hereby do we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments" (1 John 2:3). If our delight is in the Law of the Lord, if we are striving, however imperfectly, to walk in his ways, to follow in the footsteps of Christ, then this is the Spirit's testimony to us that we are the children of God.
(3) The Spirit also makes intercession for us in prayer. We are more accustomed to think of Jesus as interceding for us. But the Spirit's work of intercession is here described in very forcible words. "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what to pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, for he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (vers. 26, 27). Christ intercedes for us in heaven; the Holy Spirit intercedes in us on earth. We know not what we should pray for aright. But the Holy Spirit reveals to us our need. He helps our infirmities. He creates within us high and holy aspirations; and even when we cannot rightly express our wants, be that searcheth the hearts knows what our desires are; for the Spirit expresses them better than we can. Let us avail ourselves more of this threefold help of the Spirit of God, that we may be guided in the path of duty, that we may receive a stronger and clearer assurance of our relationship as children of God, and that we may be assisted in the prayers we offer at the throne of heavenly grace.
4. Heaven is their home. "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (ver. 18). While enjoying the fellowship of our earthly homes, let us think of the better home on high, the only home that shall never be broken up.
II. THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE CHILDREN OF GOD. They are summed up in the apostle's brief words, "Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh" (ver. 12). "If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live" (ver. 13). We are to remember that we are debtors. We are to reflect how much we owe. We are to realize God's claims upon us. We are to think of the claims of that heavenly Father who has condescended to adopt us as his children, and who is constantly caring for us. We are to think of the claims of that loving Saviour who gave himself for us. We are to think of the claims of that Spirit who has quickened us from the dead, who has been enlightening our minds, and who is renewing us after the image of God.
"All that I am, e'en here on earth,
All that I hope to be
When Jesus comes, and glory dawns,
I owe it, Lord, to thee." C.H.I.
Parallel VersesKJV: Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.