14 February 2014

Romans 8:12-17

“When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” (vv. 15-16)


We now have another illustration to explain our new relationship with God, if indeed we choose to live in Christ. This relationship is described as being a child of God by adoption and is offered in contrast to a spirit of slavery and fear. In Paul's time this would mean an expectation of obedience, just as a slave is expected to be obedient, whilst the crucial difference between a slave and a child is that of an expectation of an inheritance from the Father. The parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32) seems very pertinent to this section with its story of inheritance, son-ship, sin and forgiveness.

Paul uses the Hebrew term "Abba" which means 'Father' in verse 15. It is a phrase that would have been used by children within the context of a family. However, Paul's use of the Hebrew is probably meant to emphasise the word. Indeed, the word is found on Jesus own lips in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14:36 when he cries out to God. This is one of the few occasions in which we hear Jesus quoted in his own language in the Gospels.

We are invited therefore, as children of God, to share in this intimacy with God that Jesus himself had. But we should also notice that this status as children and heirs of God comes with the condition in verse 17 "if, in fact, we suffer with him ...". But if we do suffer with him, we are living in Christ and we can see ourselves as coheirs and therefore brothers and sisters of Christ. It is no accident that Paul uses the words uttered by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

How do we know we are truly heirs of God? If we are recipients of a will, witnesses are needed. For us, as children of God, Paul tells us that it is the Holy Spirit that bears witness with our spirit that this is the truth.

To Ponder

  • What does it mean to you that you are an heir of God and joint heir with Christ?
  • Do you find the image of God as "Abba" a helpful one? Why?
  • To what extent are you able to relate to Jesus as your brother?

Bible notes author

The Revd Jonathan Mead

Jonathan is a Methodist minister, who works part time in the London NW Mission circuit and part time as a learning and development officer in the London District. He enjoys keeping fit, reading history and visiting Mediterranean destinations..