Recently Added
to Exposition of Romans:

3:9–20—Conclusion: OT confirms that humanity is under sin’s power
(January 26th 2019)
Romans 8:15—The Spirit of adoption and the cry of the Father’s children.

15 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!”

In this epistle we have now seen Paul employ two biblical metaphors to convey vital truths about our relationship with God. In chapter 6 baptism illustrates our union with Christ. Now our exalted status as children of the Father and brothers of our Lord Jesus Christ comes into focus through adoption, a concept found only in the writings of Paul.

Whereas baptism is an ordinance repeated publicly each time we welcome a new believer to the body of Christ, adoption gets little or no recognition. With some imagination, churches could celebrate what J. I. Packer calls the “crowning blessing” of the Christian life.

Paul’s wording lets us imagine a moving ceremony as each new believer joins God’s family. At the moment of conversion, the Holy Spirit takes the person by the hand to the Father, who welcomes, “Come near, my beloved. I am your identity, your strength. Stay close always. Ask of me and you will lack nothing.” Thus the Spirit, serving as the agent of adoption, ushers each son and daughter to an intimate relationship with the Father.

“Abba, Father”
Sonship having been conferred, the believer is entitled to address “Abba, Father” as Jesus himself did (Mark 14:36) and as he encouraged his disciples to pray. The invocation to the Lord’s Prayer in Luke’s gospel suggests that when Jesus taught his disciples the prayer, “he gave them authority to follow him in addressing God as ’abbā,’ and so gave them a share in his status as Son” (Hofius, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology).

No Jew would have used “Father” to address God, and the Aramaic “Abba” would have outraged them. But for Jesus these names define important aspects of his relationship with the Father—intimacy, trust, obedience—as well as his unique status and authority.

As used in everyday life, abba expressed the warmth and familiarity of the father-child relationship. Although this Aramaic word is clearly a term of endearment, to translate it as “daddy” is not warranted. By the onset of the Christian era the meaning transitioned from its earlier childish character to a form of address also used by grownup sons and daughters. Its modern equivalent might be “dear father” (Hofius, NIDNTT).

The cry of our heart for help
In the verb cry we see the tenderest expression of the Father’s love for his adopted children. Charles Cranfield says the term “is best taken to denote an urgent and sincere crying to God irrespective of whether it is loud or soft (or even unspoken), formal or informal, public or private.” It is a cry with deep emotion. Our heavenly Father wants us to feel his love for us.

Aware of the many hardships we encounter in this life, our Father does not want us to interpret them as his lack of care or abandonment. Paul lists at the end of this chapter some of the things that might get in the way of feeling God’s love. Yet the conclusion—the bottom line of this chapter!—is that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ. The Father invites us to cry out just to be near him. We are especially likely to call on him in trouble—when the money is gone, when sickness hits, when someone attacks, when we fear, when sin entangles.

In the Gospels, it is the cry of the two blind men for mercy, the disciples’ cry of fear when they mistook Jesus for a ghost walking on the water, the cry of Peter sinking in the water, and the cry of Jesus on the cross when he yielded his spirit.

Yes, some of our hardships result from the Father’s discipline, yet even that is proof of his love and his commitment to build in us the character of his firstborn Son (see Hebrews 12:6–7). We will like how we look when at last we measure up to the stature of Christ!

Forever free of fear
We fear our Father in the sense of awe and respect for his majesty, but we do not fear him the way a slave would fear a taskmaster. Paul assures us that we “did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” Here, according to Douglas Moo, Paul appears to use spirit in a rhetorical sense to form an antithesis to “Spirit of adoption.”

We were once sons of disobedience and children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3), and were slaves of sin earning wages of death (Romans 6:20, 23). Now, as the sons of God, fear has given way to assurance of the Father’s everlasting love.