Therefore, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.
In the previous section we have found "Paradise restored," through the Spirit destroying sin and thereby death within us, first in the soul and then in the body. But this experience of spiritual-mindedness is realized on the line of God's adopting love. The emancipating Spirit is the Spirit of adoption. Let us notice the stages as here presented by the apostle.
I. OUR OBLIGATION IS NOW TO THE SPIRIT, AND NOT TO THE FLESH. (Vers. 12, 13.) The Spirit of Christ has freed us from every condemnation; he has secured a measure of sanctification, and death is defeated in soul and will be in body. Such a work carries clearly obligation with it. We are his debtors. We realize accordingly:
1. That we are not bound to live after the flesh. To do so would only be to court death. It would be to return to our vomit, like the filthy dog; it would be to wallow once more in the mire, like the once-washed swine.
2. We are bound to mortify the deeds of the body, and so live. Mortification of fleshly desires and lusts is the great duty the Christian owes to the Spirit who condescends to dwell within him. It is a painful process, but passes into a painless one. When we earnestly set about it, it abundantly rewards us. And we find that mortification of the deeds of the body is the very secret of life. It is thus evident that the struggle of the latter part of the seventh chapter is also found in the eighth. Christian progress, as we have seen, is through antagonizing our sinful desires and tendencies, and so largely discharging our obligation to the pure Spirit who condescends to dwell within us (cf. Shedd's 'Commentary,' in loc.).
II. SONSHIP IS REALIZED IN THIS SUBMISSION TO THE SPIRIT. (Ver. 14.) God's adopting love is realized within. He can give the family spirit as well as the legal standing as sons. Sonship among men, and especially adoption, may be destitute of the becoming spirit. The children may despise their parents or their foster-parents, and treat them inconsiderately. But in God-given sonship there is as its essence submission to God's Spirit. The adopted soul abandons himself to the Divine inspiration; the right filial attitude is reached; and life becomes the outcome of inspiration. They only are sons of God who are led by his Spirit.
III. ALL GOD'S TRUE CHILDREN PROVE PRAYERFUL. (Ver. 15.) The spirit of bondage which leads souls to fear like stricken slaves before God gets cast out by the Spirit of adoption, and there is within us the divinely prompted cry, "Abba, Father." Just as true children love to have fellowship with their earthly parents, so God's children love to hold fellowship with their heavenly Parent. Prayerfulness is one of the best tests of our relation to God. It is the instinct of an adopted child. In this way the spiritual relationship is realized. Just as fellowship is the essence of family relationship, so is it with the family of God.
IV. THE PRAYERFUL CHILDREN RECEIVE THE SPIRIT'S WITNESS TO THEIR SONSHIP. (Ver. 16.) The witness of the Spirit is something distinct from the testimony of our own consciousness, as the verse implies. The latter concurs with the former. What is it, then? If we consider Jesus in his baptismal prayer, we shall find that he received not only the gift of the opened heaven, that is, all needful revelation, and the gift of the descending dove, that is, the perfect inspiration, but also the audible assurance of his Sonship, when the voice came from heaven to say, "Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." The Father assures the Son of his ineffable relation. Now, this passage shows that there is something corresponding to this assurance granted to God's sons. They are enabled to hear the Father's voice, and are reassured thereby. It is not, of course, an audible voice, as when they said, "It thundered;" yet a voice which speaks home to the spirit within. It comes through God's Word. Up to a certain point the Bible is a splendid literary treasure; but the Spirit comes, and the Bible becomes a child's book, with a Father's voice ringing lovingly through it all. These spiritual tones are found to coincide with experience, and we have the witness within. It is thus that we are enabled to examine ourselves through God's Word. We begin to read it as children should to whom a father is faithfully speaking, and we are reassured and comforted thereby.
V. THE PRAYERFUL CHILDREN THROUGH LISTENING TO THE FATHER'S VOICE COME TO REALIZE THAT THEY ARE HEIRS OF GOD, AND JOINT-HEIRS WITH CHRIST. (Ver. 17.) Heirship succeeds the sense of sonship, Now, in earthly inheritances the sad condition now is the parent's death; but it was not so under the ancient law. Then, as in the parable of the prodigal son, the inheritance could be divided in the father's lifetime, and either enjoyed with the father or away from him. Thus the father says to the elder son, "All that I have is thine;" and the promise to God's children is clear, "All things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; and ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's" (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). When we realize, therefore, that God is to us "all in all," then have we entered into our inheritance with him. And what adds to its preciousness is the fact that it is a joint-inheritance with Christ. It is through him that it has become ours. What he gets we get. He has raised his brothers and sisters through adoption to the platform of his own inheritance.
VI. FELLOWSHIP IN SUFFERING IS THE SIGN AND PLEDGE OF FELLOWSHIP IN THE COMING GLORY. (Ver. 17.) Now, we must remember that fellowship through suffering is the closest fellowship of all. It is when hearts are together in the fires that they are welded or rather melted into one. Now, life gets sooner or later for the true son of God like Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace, with one like unto the Son of God in the fire along with him. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Hebrews 11:6, 7). It is to this fellowship in his sufferings that we are providentially called, that so we may become in due season conformable unto his death (Philippians 3:11). We should reconcile ourselves to our inheritance of suffering, seeing that it is through it we, as a rule, reach our inheritance of wisdom, And as a suffering with Christ is the sign and pledge of being glorified together with him, we should hail it as the birthright mark, and rejoice in hope of the glory. - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.