Romans 8:15 — 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!”

Recently, having read a sermon on Romans 8, a friend of mine asked: “Why do we so often forget to live as adopted sons and choose to live as only redeemed slaves?” It’s a good question. And it’s good to know I’m not alone in asking it. I wrestle with this question every day of my life.

Our adoption as God’s children is an essential element of the gospel. Yes, we’ve been redeemed from our bondage, and this is great news. But it's not all that Christ has accomplished for us. There’s even better news! It’s not simply that sin is taken from us; it’s that adoption is applied to us. 

We wrestle with this, though, because the kingdom we long for hasn’t fully come yet. Life is hard, and sometimes it's our fault. We’re still waiting for something (Philippians 3:20). And as we wait, we’re still figuring out who we truly are in Christ (Philippians 2:12). We are, at once, both sinners and saints (Romans 3:23; 1 Corinthians 1:2). We are both saved and being saved (Ephesians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 1:18). We are forgiven, and yet we still ask for forgiveness (Colossians 1:14; Matthew 6:12). And I’m convinced that we are incapable of wrapping up this tension in a tidy theological box. We will always struggle to understand how we are to live and obey as adopted children, chosen by a good and loving Father by no merit of our own.

In navigating this tension, though, Hebrews 12 is helpful:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? 'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives’ (Hebrews 12:5-6, quoting Proverbs 3:11-12, which echoes Job 5:17, Psalm 94:12).

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the Lord’s discipline serves a purpose in our lives. This reality provides a welcome relief from the ever-so-present feeling that because our lives aren’t all roses and daisies, we must be doing something wrong.

We are disciplined by our Father, and we should neither ignore His discipline nor regard it as punishment. Instead, we should see our struggle with sin as evidence that we are, in fact, legitimate sons of the living God. This discipline is not meant to drive us back into a spirit of slavery and fear, but at the same time, painting a “grace Band-Aid" over our sin will prevent us from seeing how God is refining us through the process.

When we feel shame over our sin, it should lead us to repentance, worship, and thanksgiving. When we suffer, we can live in joy in the inward heart, trusting that our sovereign Father is working all things together for good. When we are tempted by the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, we can instead cry out “Abba! Father!” Brothers and sisters, draw near to Him fearlessly, as dearly beloved children, eagerly anticipating the glorious inheritance that awaits us!

Galatians 4:6-7 — And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.