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Fatherhood and Sonship in Romans 8

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Lesson 32:
“Overcome Evil with Good”




The ideas of fatherhood and sonship are used a few different ways in the scriptures, and it can be useful to have some idea which one we are dealing with in interpreting and understanding them. I will highlight two kinds of fatherhood and sonship: followership and genealogy. Respectively, one is considered a son because one is learning from or following another, and, one is called a son because of a genealogical relationship. In some cases, both relationships exist at the same time. I will then examine Romans 8 to see which applies in this case.

I will first illustrate the follower sense, then the genealogical one, then analyze a passage from Romans.

2 Samuel 7:14, wherein the Lord says concerning Solomon, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men:” is clearly making use of the adoptive sense. God indicates that he will be his father (so its being initiated by God, now, for the future). God was already Solomon’s Father in Heaven, so this can’t be the sense that he means. This is a relationship of Solomon following God and being mentored by God, which God has now formalized. I should add that this passage can also be understood as containing an implicit allusion to Christ, David’s preeminent offspring through whom these promises will be fulfilled in an additional and special sense.

2 Kings 2:15 gives an additional example of the followership sense of sons: “And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.” So in this case, the term sons of the prophets describes a group of people who are not necessarily related to the prophets by blood, but by actively diligently following their counsel and teachings. May we all be sons of the prophets in just such a sense.

Jesus likewise uses fatherhood in a similar sense in John 8:44, when he tells a group of men with murder in their hearts, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”

Of course Jesus knows that these men aren’t literally descended from the devil, but because they are going about diligently making themselves in his image in terms of their actions, thoughts, and destiny, it is an apt description.

Other passages look to our relationship to God as his children as motivation for why he treats us as he does and these seem to be considering the more genealogically motivated relational sense. Luke 11, for example, reads,

11 If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?
12 Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

So, here, it is because of the preexisting relationship of God to us as our Father in Heaven that he is interested in giving us good gifts including, prominent among them, the Holy Ghost. Now we do need to covenant with him in order to obtain that gift in its fullness, so there is an element of the followership sense here as well. But key to Jesus’s argument is that the relationship exists before the prayer, and is the reason we can look to him in prayer, so the genealogical sense seems to be motivating the passage. God loved us first because we are his children whom he loves with a perfect love.

So which sense shows up in Romans 8:14-21?

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

It looks like it is the followership sense rather than the genealogical sense because it is contingent on being led by the Spirit of God.

15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.

So by virtue of this adoption, similar to what Solomon received, we are enabled to call God our Father in a special covenant sense.

16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

So those who enter into the relationship with God and persist are also glorified and made joint heirs with Christ. Some may be surprised that Paul is not talking about the genealogical sense here, but this is actually consistent with the message of Romans as a whole. Much of Romans is devoted to making the point (see especially Romans 9:6-8). Just as not all of those who are descended from Abraham ultimately participate in the full blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, not all of those who are the spirit children of Heavenly Father will recognize the Messiah, covenant with him, follow him, and receive the blessings including glorification described. These blessings are instead reserved for those who as the passage suggests come to a state where they are lead by the Spirit of God, receiving the guidance, counsel, and correction which he gives to those who love and embrace the covenant with him.

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