“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom 8:12-13)
In Proverbs it is written: “the borrower is the slave of the lender.” (Prov 22:7) Paul urges Christians to be wise debtors, not to our old nature, which was crucified with Christ in baptism (Rom 6:6), but to the Spirit. This is because if we live according to the old nature, we return to slavery to sin, damned by debt we cannot repay. On the other hand, debt to the Spirit makes the Christian a wealthy heir. This is because if we live according to the Spirit, He will lead us to everlasting life as adopted heirs of our Father in heaven and fellow heirs of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
One of the fruits of Spirit debt is “sanctification” (Rom 6:22). The word, “sanctification,” means to be set apart. The Spirit’s ongoing work in the life of Christian is to separate the old nature from our new life in Christ. He works our sanctification (or separation) through confession and prayer.
“if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Rom 8:13)
The Spirit works through God’s Word to reveal the deeds of the body. This includes everything in our old nature which is hostile to Christ and the Gospel, including unbelief and distrust, carnal security and presumption instead of the fear of God, coldness and laziness with respect to God’s Word and prayer, impatience and murmurings under suffering, anger and vindictiveness or envy and hatred against our neighbor, greed, sexual immorality, etc.
The Spirit then enables us to mortify sin (i.e., put it to death), first by recognizing sin, at once repenting of that sin, and then, remembering the Gospel and through faith in the forgiveness of sins, strengthening ourselves against sin, so that we can resist it in order that we do not consent to it or permit it to manifest itself in deeds. This putting to death of sin is a lifelong, daily, work of the Spirit.
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Rom 8:14)
The Spirit separates our new life in Christ from our old nature by leading us in an entirely different and new direction. The Spirit gives us a heart which gladly hears God’s Word and believes that in Christ it has grace and the forgiveness of sins; a heart which confesses and proves its faith before the world; a heart which seeks, above all things, the glory of God, and endeavors to live without giving offense, to serve others and to be obedient, patient, pure, humble; a heart which, though at times will stumble, soon rises again by repentance, and ceases to sin. All these things the Spirit teaches one if he hears and receives the Word, and does not willfully resist the Spirit.
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom 8:15-17)
The Spirit separates our new life in Christ from the old nature by taking the promise of adoption made by Christ and teaching us to pray as children of God. But why is it a cry to “Abba! Father?”
- At times it may be a cry of dereliction, as though God has deserted us in our suffering. The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children, enabling us to persevere in prayer, like the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8), until God comes to our aid. “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.” (Ps 22:24)
- At other times it may be a cry of suffering from dying to old habits, or extricating ourselves from damaging relationships. Martin Luther said that the first death – the death to sin – is the most painful death, and that the second death is by comparison just a going to sleep in anticipation of the resurrection of our bodies.
- A third type of cry may be one of fear of the unknown. Being led by the Spirit, trusting in God’s grace, at times may feel analogous to Noah floating alone on the sea with no land in sight, or the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, not knowing who or what was on the other side of the next hill or mountain. Will there be food or water? Are there unfriendly people or poisonous serpents? Has God finally had it with us?
The prayer of faith takes the promises in God’s Word and uses them to call on Him for help and, through the Spirit, strengthens us to suffer with Christ in the Spirit’s work in our lives.
Heirs of God and Fellow Heirs with Christ
The Spirit’s separating (or sanctifying) work is toward one purpose: to make us heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. This is the highest honor of the Christian. Should we not marvel at this, that a poor, miserable sinner should obtain such honor with God as to be called, not a slave nor a servant of God, but a son and an heir of God? But Paul declares here that we who believe in Christ shall be not God’s servants, but His own sons and daughters – His heirs. Who can sufficiently magnify or apprehend God’s grace?
Therefore, may the Spirit of adoption keep us steadfast in Christ and His Word, in confession and prayer, and uphold us with a willing spirit, while He leads us as “children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ”. Amen.
Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those
who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom
and the power and the glory
forever and ever. Amen