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Up until Romans 8:13, Paul laid the foundations for one of his most important topics--Sonship. He showed how faith is the basis of justification, and how sanctification is a process of learning obedience. Obedience involves putting to death the flesh and being led by the Spirit. The flesh does not subject itself to the Law of God (8:7), while the mind of the Spirit serves the Law of God (7:25). Hence, sanctification is the time of training in which we learn to be obedient to the Law of God.
This time of obedience involves some discipline (Heb. 12:7), because discipline is one of the primary marks of being a son. This training period is also the mark of a son who is not yet fully mature, for Gal. 4:1 tells us that even sons are positionally the same as a slave while growing to maturity.
The huiothesia, "adoption as sons," (Gal. 4:5; Rom. 8:15) is the point of maturity. In Paul's day it was the formal ceremony proclaiming that the son was mature and could be trusted fully as the heir. He was then given power of attorney over the entire family estate, so that his signature was as binding as that of the Father.
Our training period is more than just a time awaiting the huiothesia (feast of Tabernacles). We are given incremental authority according to our training and maturity in order that we might learn the ways of our Father by exercising His authority according to the leading of the Spirit. For this reason, we are able to make decrees, heal the sick, and raise the dead while we are yet in training. Even so, we must do so as led by the Spirit. And do not forget that the Law itself is our tutor (Gal. 3:24) to bring us to the full measure of the stature of Christ.
The Sonship message is not merely an understanding that we are heirs of all things and co-heirs with Christ. It is more than a position. It is a time of training from birth to maturity. The evidence of sonship is being led by the Spirit.
14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons [huiothesia] by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!"
Paul was thinking primarily of the change from the Old Covenant to the New. The Old Covenant time period involved slavery, while the New Covenant brings us out of slavery into Sonship. However, there is another application of this, because the Age of Pentecost itself runs parallel to Israel's training in the wilderness prior to their entry into the Promised Land. Hence, the Age of Pentecost is also a time of "slavery" as we learn to be led by the Spirit.
Paul recognizes this fact, but he remains optimistic that the believers in his audience have largely come to a place of spiritual maturity, functioning in the authority of sons. So he tells the Galatian church in Gal. 4:7-9,
7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. 8 However, at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?
Paul's comparison is not between Pentecost and Tabernacles, but between idolatry and knowing the true God. In other words, men were enslaved to false gods until they came to know God by faith in Christ. Yet the Galatian problem manifests a further problem in the church itself. It shows that even believers can be enslaved once again by their belief system. And indeed, by extension we find that every believer starts out as a babe in Christ and needs to learn maturity, even as Israel had to be trained in the wilderness during their time of Pentecost.
The Galatian problem was specifically about the church returning to Judaism and its reliance upon the Old Covenant. The Galatian Christians had come out of idolatry, even as Israel had been called (birthed) out of Egypt (Hos. 11:1). But the comparison does not end there. The Galatians had followed the path of Israel to Mount Sinai as well, where they were in danger of placing themselves under the Old Covenant and its slavery.
So we can see that there are two forms of slavery. First, there is the slavery of Egypt; secondly, there is the slavery of the Old Covenant. Paul speaks of both forms of slavery in his epistle to the Galatians, so we know that Paul recognized both.
Conversely, there are also two forms of sonship. The first is that of Hosea 11:1, where God calls His son out of Egypt, making Israel a "son" from the day they were birthed out of Egyptian slavery. The second layer of sonship is in coming out from the slavery of the Old Covenant and into the sonship of the New.
There is, therefore, a slavery to the world through the worship of false gods; and there is another form of slavery under God Himself, which is reserved for immature Christians and is designed to bring them to spiritual maturity.
Paul assumes in Rom. 8:15 that the Christians in Rome are mature and have abandoned the Old Covenant as a method of salvation. Hence, they "have not received a spirit of slavery," but instead "a spirit of huiothesia," the adoption as sons.
16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.
Here Paul makes a clear distinction between the Spirit of God and our own spirit. He distinguishes the spirit from the soul in 1 Thess. 5:23, where he says, "may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." As temples of God, we are in three parts, having a Most Holy Place (spirit), a Holy Place (soul), and an Outer Court (body).
Our Most Holy Place is our spirit, and this inner room also houses the Spirit of God, even as the Shekinah glory occupied the Most Holy Place of the temple. Paul says that these two Spirits have a double-witness relationship. In other words, a marriage has taken place within us, where the two are "one flesh," so to speak. Our spirit has been united with the Holy Spirit, and even though these are yet technically separate, they are also legally "one flesh." By this holy union the Spirit of God begets "Christ in you, the hope of glory," which is the fruit of this union that God has intended from the beginning.
Hence, when Paul says that "we are children of God," he is building upon the foundations of his teaching in Romans 7. Paul had identified with his spiritual "I" that is his Christ-identity. We are sons of God, not on account of our identity as the carnal fruit of Adam's seed, but as a consequence of the holy seed of the Last Adam, who has begotten us by the Spirit of God.
This is what makes us sons of God. The Last Adam has successfully done the work that the first Adam was called to do--but who failed. Though the first Adam was called to be a "son of God" (Luke 3:38), he became "the man of sin" in need of a redeemer. The process of redemption, salvation, justification, and reconciliation is focused entirely upon the success of the Last Adam.
This is the basis of the Sonship message. No other religion has this truth, because coming into sonship and the huiothesia can only be accomplished through Jesus Christ. It is what makes Christianity unique.