MARCH 27, 2017 – THE NEW MAN IN CHRIST IS A PERPETUAL MIRACLE

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

ROMANS 8:14

The man of God, the true Spirit-filled man of God, is a perpetual miracle!

He has come to his knowledge of God by the wonder of the new birth and the illumination of the Spirit. Therefore his life is completely different from the world around him.

Consider with me the words of 1 John 2:27: “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.”

John was a teacher and he says that your knowledge of God is not taught you from without—it is received by an inner anointing!

What are we going to do with this truth? Are we going to open the door of our personality—fling it wide?

Let us not be afraid of the Holy Spirit—He is an illuminator. He is light to the inner heart. He will show us more of God in a moment than we can learn in a lifetime without Him. He will not throw out what we have learned if it is the truth—He will set it on fire, that’s all! He will add fire to the altar.

The blessed Holy Spirit waits to be honored. He will honor Christ as we honor Christ. He waits—and if we will throw open our hearts to Him, a new sun will rise on us! I know this by personal experience in my own life and ministry.[1]


We Are Led by the Spirit

For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (8:14)

The first inner confirmation of adoption is the believer’s being led by the Spirit of God. A person who is truly experiencing the leading hand of God at work in his life can be certain he is God’s child.

It is important to note the tense Paul uses here. Are being led translates the present passive indicative of agō, indicating that which already exists. The phrase are being led does not, however, indicate uninterrupted leading by the Spirit. Otherwise the many New Testament admonitions and warnings to Christians would be meaningless. But the genuine believer’s life is basically characterized by the Spirit’s leading, just as it is basically characterized by Christ’s righteousness.

A merely professing Christian does not and cannot be led by the Spirit of God. He may be moral, conscientious, generous, active in his church and other Christian organizations, and exhibit many other commendable traits. But the only accomplishments, religious or otherwise, he can make claim to are those of his own doing. His life may be outstandingly religious, but because he lives it in the power of the flesh, he can never be truly spiritual and he will never have the inner conviction of God’s leading and empowering.

When someone confides in me that he has doubts about his salvation, I often respond by asking if he ever senses God’s leading in his life. If he answers yes, I remind him of Paul’s assurance in this verse: All who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

God’s children are secure in Him even when they are not as responsive and obedient to His leading as they ought to be. But that is not to say that a child of God will always feel secure. The Christian who neglects study of Scripture, who neglects God in prayer, who neglects fellowship with God’s people, and who is careless about His obedience to God will invariably have doubts about his salvation, because he is indifferent to God and the things of God. Even for the obedient child of God, doubts about his relationship to God can easily slip into the mind during times of pain, sorrow, failure, or disappointment. Satan, the great accuser of God’s people, is always ready to take advantage of such circumstances to plant seeds of uncertainty.

But our heavenly Father wants His children to be certain at all times that they belong to Him and are secure in Him. As Paul has just stated (Rom. 8:13), a person who is succeeding in putting to death sin in his life is not doing so in his own power, that is, in the power of the flesh, but by the power of the Spirit. Those who see victory over sin in their lives, who see their sinful desires and practices diminishing, can be certain they are sons of God, because only God’s Spirit can bring victory over sin. In the same way-when we begin to understand biblical truths that have long puzzled us, when we experience God’s convicting our consciences, when we grieve for the Lord’s sake when we sin-we have the divine assurance that we are sons of God, because only the indwell-ing

Spirit of God can instill such understanding, conviction, and godly sorrow.

Our finite minds cannot comprehend how the Spirit leads a believer, just as we cannot fully understand any of the supernatural work of God. We do, however, know that our heavenly Father does not force His will on His children. He seeks our willing obedience, which, by definition, cannot be coerced. It is when we are genuinely submissive to Him that our Lord supernaturally reshapes and redirects our will into voluntary conformity with His own.

God saves men through their faith in Him, and He leads those he saves through the same human channel of faith. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding,” the writer of Proverbs counsels. “In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5–6). The seeking, willing, and obedient heart is open to the Lord’s leading. David prayed, “Make me know Thy ways, O Lord; teach me Thy paths. Lead me in Thy truth and teach me, for Thou art the God of my salvation; for Thee I wait all the day” (Ps. 25:4–5). Later in that psalm he reminds us that God “leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way” (Ps. 25:9). In another psalm he entreated the Lord, “Teach me to do Thy will, for Thou art my God; let Thy good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Ps. 143:10).

Isaiah assures us that if we truly seek the Lord’s will, He is already standing beside us, as it were, ready to say, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isa. 30:21). The prophet was not speaking necessarily of an audible voice, but the voice of the believer’s God-directed conscience, a conscience instructed by God’s Word and attuned to His Spirit. Isaiah also assures us that the Lord is continually ready and eager to lead His people in the right way. Prophesying in the name of the preincarnate Christ, the prophet declared, “Come near to Me, listen to this: from the first I have not spoken in secret, from the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord God has sent Me, and His Spirit. Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; ‘I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go’ ” (Isa. 48:16–17). Jeremiah acknowledged, “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself; nor is it in a man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). Even the child of God cannot discern divine truth by his own intelligence or obey it in his own power.

God’s Spirit sovereignly leads His children in many ways, sometimes in ways that are direct and unique. But the primary ways by which He promises to lead us are those of illumination and sanctification.

In the first way, God leads His children by illumination, by divinely clarifying His Word to make it understandable to our finite and still sin-tainted minds. As we read, meditate on, and pray over Scripture, the indwell-ing Spirit of God becomes our divine interpreter. This begins with the conviction of sin that leads through saving belief into the whole of the Christian life.

Although Joseph was not indwelt by the Holy Spirit as are believers under the New Covenant, even the pagan Egyptian ruler recognized him as a man “in whom is a divine spirit.” Consequently, “Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are’ ” (Gen. 41:38–39).

The Old Testament saint who wrote Psalm 119, which so eloquently glorifies God’s Word, knew he needed the Lord’s divine help both to understand and to obey that Word. Every believer should continually pray with the psalmist: “Make me walk in the path of Thy commandments, for I delight in it” (Ps. 119:35), and, “Establish my footsteps in Thy word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me” (Ps. 119:133).

During the Upper Room discourse, shortly before His betrayal and arrest, Jesus told the apostles, “These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:25–26). That promise had special significance for the apostles, who would become Christ’s uniquely authoritative witnesses to His truth after His ascension back to heaven. But the promise also applies in a general way to all believers after Pentecost. From that time on, every believer has been indwelt by Christ’s own Holy Spirit, whose ministry to us includes that of shedding divine light on scriptural truths that otherwise are beyond our comprehension.

During one of His postresurrection appearances, Jesus said to the eleven remaining apostles, “ ‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:44–45). Again Jesus’ words had unique significance for the apostles, but in a similar way the Lord opens the minds of all His disciples “to understand the Scriptures.”

On behalf of the Ephesian believers Paul prayed that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might” (Eph. 1:17–19). Later in that epistle Paul offered a similar prayer, asking that God “would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God” (3:16–19).

Paul assured the saints at Colossae that “we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col. 1:9). His devotion to them was again expressed in the loving words: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (3:16).

Perhaps the most definitive passage on the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit is in Paul’s first letter to Corinth. “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God,” he asserts; “for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no man. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:14–16). In other words, even God’s own children could not understand their heavenly Father’s Word apart from the illuminating work of His Spirit within them.

The second major way in which the Spirit leads God’s children is by their sanctification. The Spirit not only illuminates our minds to understand Scripture but divinely assists us in obeying it, and that obedience becomes another testimony to our salvation. The humble child of God knows he cannot please his Lord in his own power. But he also knows that, when he sincerely labors in the Lord’s work in accordance with the commands and principles of Scripture, the Holy Spirit will bless that work in ways far beyond what the believer’s own abilities could have produced. It is then that our heavenly Father is deeply pleased with us, not for what we have accomplished but for what we have allowed Him to accomplish in and through us. It is not our work in itself but our spirit of obedience to Him and dependence on Him as we do His work that brings joy to our heavenly Father’s heart. It is through our faithful obedience that we experience the gracious working of the Spirit in our lives. And, as with His divine illumination, His divine work of sanctification gives us assurance that we are indeed sons of God.

“I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh,” Paul admonished the Galatians. “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal. 5:16–17). And because “we live by the Spirit,” he goes on to say, “let us also walk by the Spirit” (v. 5:25).

As with illumination and all other divine works, we cannot understand exactly how God accomplishes His sanctifying work in us. We simply know from His Word, and often from experience, that He performs spiritual works in and through us that are not produced by our own efforts or power. Often we become aware of the Spirit’s activity only in retrospect, as we see His sanctifying power bearing fruit in our lives from seeds planted long beforehand. We also have the blessed assurance that, although we are not consciously aware of the Spirit’s work in us at all times, He is nevertheless performing His divine work in us at all times. He not only gives and sustains our spiritual life, He is our spiritual life.

It is our heavenly Father’s great desire for His children to submit to the leading of His Spirit, for the sake of His glory and for the sake of their spiritual fruitfulness, well-being, and peace.[2]


The Family of God

Romans 8:14

… because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

One of the things I have said about Romans 8, as we have been working our way through it, is that basically Paul is not teaching anything new here but is instead reinforcing what he already stated. The general theme is assurance of salvation, but that doctrine was laid out in chapter 5. And, as I have explained, chapters 6 and 7 were a digression to answer several important questions growing out of chapter 5, after which the apostle picked up where he left off earlier.

But true as that is in general, we find something new when we come to Romans 8:14. This verse tells us that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God,” and here the idea that we are “sons of God” appears in Romans for the first time.

This is not merely an incidental thought, although it would be possible for a new idea to appear at some point simply by accident, as it were. There is nothing accidental about this reference. Paul is talking about assurance of salvation and is arguing that one basis for this is our new relationship to God, which is a family relationship. Moreover, having introduced the theme in our text, he then elaborates upon it in verses 15–17, speaking of such related concepts as “sons,” “sonship,” “children,” and “heirs.” Some of the words reappear later on in verses 19, 21, and 23. The idea is so important that a number of commentators, such as John R. W. Stott, treat verses 14–17 as a separate section, in spite of the fact that verse 14 is linked to the preceding verse by the word because, or for.

Technically, verse 14 is introduced as proof of what has gone immediately before. Calvin saw this and said, “The substance … amounts to this, that all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God; all the sons of God are heirs of eternal life; and therefore all who are led by the Spirit of God ought to feel assured of eternal life.” Therefore, Romans 8:14 is meant to be both a test of spiritual life and a comfort.

Verse 14 is one of those amazing verses, found often in the Bible, which is literally loaded with important teachings. I want to list five of them.

Two Fathers, Two Families

The first point is a negative one: Not everyone is a member of God’s family. The reason this is important is that we have an idea in western thought, a product of older liberalism, which said that human beings are all sons or daughters of God and that therefore we are all members of one family. The popular way of putting this has been to speak of “the universal fatherhood of God” and “the universal brotherhood of man.” I am sure you have heard those expressions.

There is a sense, of course, in which all human beings are brothers and sisters, having been created by the one God. This is the way the apostle Paul spoke in Athens when he quoted the Greek poets Cleanthes and Aratus to say to that particularly intellectual audience that “we are [all] his [that is, God’s] offspring” (Acts 17:28). But that is not the way the words “sons of God” are used in Scripture, and it is certainly not the way the apostle is speaking here. When Paul writes of “those who are led by the Spirit of God,” he is distinguishing between those who are led by the Spirit and those who are not led by the Spirit, which means that only a portion of humanity are God’s spiritual children.

The clearest statement of this important truth is from the mouth of Jesus Christ. The relevant passage is John 8:31–47. Jesus had been teaching the people and had made a statement similar to what Paul has been saying in Romans: “If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

This offended his Jewish listeners, because they did not like to think of themselves as enslaved. “We have never been slaves of anyone,” they said.

Their statement was absurd, of course. They had been enslaved by many nations during their long history, and even then were under the domination of the Roman Empire.

But Jesus ignored that point and answered instead that he had been speaking spiritually. “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. … I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father” (vv. 34, 38).

They answered that Abraham was their father.

Jesus denied it, saying that if they were Abraham’s children, they would be like Abraham and would not be determined to kill him, which they were. He said again that, instead, they were acting like their true father.

They then replied that God himself was their only Father, at which point Jesus became most explicit: “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. … You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. … The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (vv. 42, 44, 47).

It cannot be said any clearer than that. In these words Jesus made clear that there are two families and two fatherhoods, and that only those who love and serve God are God’s children.

Born of God

This leads to the second important teaching of this verse. In fact, it is the main one: All Christians are members of God’s family. This involves a change that is radical, supernatural, and far-reaching.

  1. It is radical. To become a child of God means that the individual has experienced the most radical or profound change possible. This is because, before a person becomes a son or daughter of God, he or she is not a member of God’s family but is a member of the devil’s family (to use Jesus’ terminology in John 8) or is merely “in Adam” (to use Paul’s earlier teaching in Romans). We do not need to review Paul’s earlier teaching in detail, because it was covered thoroughly in our studies of chapters 5 and 6. To be “in Adam” means to be in sin, a slave to wickedness, under divine judgment, and destined for eternal death. To be “in Christ” is the reverse. It means to be delivered from sin and its judgment, to be growing in holiness, and to possess eternal life. The change is as radical as passing from a state of slavery to freedom or from death to life.
  2. It is supernatural. This change is not only radical. It is supernatural, too, which means that it is done for us from above by God. Here again we are helped by the very words of Jesus Christ, as recorded in John 3. He had been approached by Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, and had told Nicodemus that he would never be able to understand spiritual matters unless he was “born again.”

This puzzled the Jewish ruler, so he asked, “How can a man be born when he is old?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (vv. 5–8). In these words Jesus made clear that becoming a child of God is a matter of spiritual birth and that this is something only the Spirit of God can do. The Greek word translated “again” implies that this birth is “from above,” rather than from below, which means that this new spiritual life is divinely imparted.

  1. It is far-reaching. This point will be developed more as we proceed through this section, but it is important to say here that the end of this spiritual rebirth is not only deliverance from sin’s judgment—or, as many in our day seem to think, happiness now—but glorification. This is where chapter 5 began, and it is where chapter 8 will end. It is the point of this section of Romans: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (v. 17).

In his exceptional study of these verses, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones stresses that the apostle’s interest “is always in glorification,” bemoaning the fact that the interest of today’s church has settled on sanctification “because we are so miserably subjective.”

A Practical Result

Not every characteristic of our age is bad, however, though super subjectivity undoubtedly is a troublemaker. One potentially good characteristic is modern-day practicality. We are a down-to-earth people and want to see results. So I ask, what is the practical result of this important change that has happened to us? What does being a Christian mean in one’s daily life?

Here is where Romans 8:14 provides us with a third important doctrine: To be a Christian means to be led by God’s Spirit. Up to this point the doctrines I have been explaining might be thought to refer to a change of status only—before, we were “in Adam”; now we are “in Christ.” Before, we were under condemnation; now we are delivered from condemnation. Before, we were spiritually dead; now we are spiritually alive. All that is true, of course, and Paul has taught it. But it is not the only truth he is teaching. Because our change of status has been accomplished by the Holy Spirit, who lives within every genuine Christian, being a Christian also means that we will be led by that same Spirit. Or, as I have said in different words, it means that we will be growing in holiness increasingly.

This is the way verse 14 is tied to the preceding one. Verse 13 said that we will live spiritually, now and forever, “if by the Spirit [we] put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Now verse 14 adds that we will indeed do that if the Spirit is within us, for this is the direction the Holy Spirit is leading.

A Test of Spiritual Paternity

From time to time we read in the papers of a “paternity suit,” in which a mother sues for support of her child on the grounds that a certain man is the father though he denies it. In earlier ages this was a matter usually impossible to prove, which made a situation like this extremely difficult for the woman. But today a test can be made of both the alleged father’s and the child’s genetic makeup, and the relationship can be established (or disproved) with nearly 100 percent accuracy.

This introduces the fourth important teaching in this verse, which is, we might say, a test of paternity. It tells us how we can know we are in God’s family. We are in God’s family if the Spirit of God is leading us in our daily lives.

Do you remember what I said earlier about this being a new idea and a new section of Romans 8? Here I have to confess that it is not such a new idea after all, since we have really been noting this point all along. It is only another way of saying that those who are Christians will necessarily live accordingly. They are on the path of discipleship. Therefore, although they may fall while walking along that path, they also inevitably get up again and go forward. They grow in holiness.

A big question still remains: How does the Holy Spirit lead us?

People have a lot of ideas at this point, many of them unbiblical. Some answer in terms of outward circumstances, suggesting that God orders external events to direct us in the way we should go. Others look for special intimations or feelings or perhaps even special revelations. Some think of guidance almost magically, expecting God’s Spirit to direct them to some verse supernaturally or to let them overhear some human remark that is actually from God. We have to be careful in this area since it is futile to deny that God does indeed sometimes lead in “mysterious” ways. Saint Augustine was converted by hearing a neighbor’s child singing the words, “Tole lege (Take, read).” He received it as a word from God, picked up a Bible and, turning to a passage at random, fell upon verses that spoke to his specific need, and so was converted. We dare not say that this was not from God.

But is that sort of guidance what we are to expect normally? If so, the majority of us have not experienced it. If being “led by the Spirit” is what it means to be a Christian, and if that is what it means to be led, then most of us are not Christians! Of course, this is not what Paul is saying.

The place to start is by recognizing that the Holy Spirit works within us or, as we might say, “internally.” Everything in the passage indicates this. Paul has been talking about our minds being set on what the Holy Spirit desires and about our having an obligation to live according to the Spirit rather than according to the sinful nature. In the next verses he will speak of an internal witness of the Spirit by which we instinctively call God “Father.” God can order external events, of course, and he does. He orders everything. But that is not what is being discussed here. In this verse Paul is talking about what God’s Spirit does internally within the Christian.

So we reduce the earlier question to this one: What does the Holy Spirit do internally in Christians to lead them? Let me suggest three things.

  1. He renews our minds. The first area in which the Holy Spirit works is the intellect, and he does this by what Paul will later call “the renewing of your mind.” This comes out very clearly in Romans 12. There, having laid down the great doctrines of the epistle, the apostle begins to apply them to the believer’s conduct, saying, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:1–2).

The person who discovers, tests, and approves what God’s pleasing and perfect will is obviously is being led by God. But the key to this, according to Romans, is the mind’s renewal.

How, then, are our minds to be renewed? There is only one way. It is by our reading and being taught by the Spirit from the Bible. That is what God has given the Bible to us for—to inform us, enlighten our minds, and redirect our thinking. I hold the Bible and the Holy Spirit together in this, however, as the Reformers were particularly astute in doing. For alone, either is inadequate. A person who considers himself to be led by the Spirit apart from the Bible will soon fall into error and excess. He will begin to promote nonbiblical and therefore false teachings. But a person who reads the Bible apart from the illumination provided by the Holy Spirit, which is true in the case of all unbelievers, will find it to be a closed and meaningless book. The Christian is led by the operation of the Holy Spirit and the Bible together.

Here is a test for you. Has the Holy Spirit been leading you by enlightening your mind through Bible study? Have you discovered things about God, yourself, the gospel, and the ways of God that you did not know before? Do you realize that they are true? Are you beginning to live differently? Unless you are crazy, you will begin to live differently. Because a person who realizes that one way is true and another is false and yet takes the false path must be out of his or her mind, irrational. If your mind has been renewed, you will show it.

  1. He stirs the heart. Figuratively, the heart is the seat of the emotions, and the Holy Spirit works upon it by stirring or quickening the heart to love God. In the verse that follows our text Paul speaks of an inner response to God by which we affectionately cry out, “Abba, Father.” This verse does not actually mention the heart, but in a parallel text in Galatians Paul does, showing that he is thinking of the operation of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts explicitly. He writes, “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’ ” (Gal. 4:6). In other words, the Spirit of God leads us by making us affectionate toward God and his ways. It is the Spirit who causes us, as Jesus said, to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt. 5:6).

This brings us to another test of whether or not you are a Christian. I mentioned it in an earlier study. Do you love God? I do not mean, “Do you love God perfectly?” If you think you do, you probably do not love him much at all. I mean only, “Do you try to please God? Do you want to spend time with him through studying the Bible and praying? Do you seek his favor? Are you concerned for his glory?”

  1. He directs our wills. Just as the Spirit leads us by renewing our minds and stirring our hearts or affections, so also does he lead us by redirecting and strengthening our wills. Paul speaks of this in Philippians, where he writes: “Therefore, my dear friends … continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12–13).

God gives us a singleness of purpose—to do his will. It is the way God works. Has your will been redirected in that way? When you look deep inside, do you find that you really want to serve God and act according to his good purpose? God does not force you to be godly against your will. He changes your will by the new birth so that what you despised before you now love, and what you were indifferent to before you now find desirable.

John Murray had it right when he wrote, “The activity of the believer is the evidence of the Spirit’s activity, and the activity of the Spirit is the cause of the believer’s activity.” If you are trying to please God, it is because the Spirit is at work within you, leading you to want and actually do the right thing. It is a strong reason for believing you are in God’s family.

Our Brothers and Sisters

There is one more important teaching in this short but potent verse, and it comes from the fact that the words we are dealing with are plural: “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Therefore: Those led by the Spirit of God are our true brothers and sisters. We are part of the same divine family.

The older, King James Version started this verse with “For as many as …” and I am almost sorry this has been changed, since it emphasized the inclusive nature of God’s family better than “those” in the New International Version. Yet it is the same thing. And the problem is not so much our understanding the point as practicing it. There are many differences between believers within the church of Jesus Christ—differences of class, personality, background, economic status, temperament, abilities, drive, sensitivity, and thousands of other things. They have led to divisions in the church, for not all divisions (perhaps not even the majority) are doctrinal. Many divisions exist that should not exist, and sometimes these lead Christians in one camp to suspect and even fail to associate with those in another.

This should not be, for the text teaches that what makes other believers our brothers or sisters in Christ is not what denomination or movement they may belong to, but whether or not they are being led by God’s Spirit. Anyone for whom that is true is our brother or sister in Christ, and we should recognize it and be willing to work with that person to fulfill God’s purposes.[3]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (pp. 429–434). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Boice, J. M. (1991–). Romans: The Reign of Grace (Vol. 2, pp. 829–836). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

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