“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For [the Spirit which] you have now received [is] not a spirit of slavery to put you once more in bondage to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption [the Spirit producing sonship] in [the bliss of] which we cry, Abba (Father)! Father!16 The Spirit Himself [thus] testifies together with our own spirit, [assuring us] that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:14-16)
These verses are filled with wonderful words of blessings and truth as well as needed applications that will probably take us several lessons to unpack. The overall picture is that our loving Father (Abba or “Papa” – God the Father) through the very personal leadership of the Holy Spirit (God the Spirit) Who always reminds us of what Jesus (God the Son) said when He was on the earth (both by word and example); that this Triune God Who loves us passionately and perfectly is leading us through this dark and dangerous world for His pleasure and glory and for our highest good, especially our eternal good as we “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2) For the joy set before Him (for all eternity) Jesus was led and humbly followed God’s leading all the way to the cross. “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11)
God’s loving leadership is contrasted to the image of a taskmaster (the world, the devil and the flesh all say – “perform or else”) who whips and drives us (“spirit of slavery”) and we follow out of fear of loss and consequences versus out of love for the One Who loves us passionately and perfectly. Satan drives; God leads.
Divine/human collaboration – Yet we hear many Christians say they do not feel “led” by the Holy Spirit and that God’s will for their lives is not clear. But Romans 8:14 makes it clear that God does lead and guide us so the problem must be that we are not following (the human side).
Yes, God actively guides us and He uses multiple ways to reveal His loving will for our lives: 1) His Word (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 12:2); 2) prayer (Philippians 4:6–7; Romans 8:26-27); 3) the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4); 4) personal counsel from many (not just one) mature Christians (Proverbs 15:22); 5) teaching and preaching (Ephesians 4:11-12); 6) through the many spiritual gifts He gives to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12-14; Romans 12:3-8); 7) providential circumstances (Romans 8:28); 8) the modeling and leadership of elders and leaders in the body of Christ (Hebrews 13:7, 17).
So the question is not God’s leadership but our willingness to actively seek His leadership and submit to His will as He clearly guides us. This is where some commentators distinguish between children of God and sons of God. All born again believers are children of God (we have our Father’s spiritual DNA; John 1:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17); but the image here in Romans 8:14-16 is adoption as legal heirs or as adult children who represent their Father as responsible sons and daughters and like Jesus want to be about “My Father’s business.” (Luke 2:49) Scripture calls immature Christians babes or infants in Christ who cannot eat meat (which means to know and obey God’s Word) but can only drink milk (as babies do). (See 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Hebrews 5:12-14.) In his book Conformed to His Image by Dr. Ken Boa, Ken comments on how many believers drop out of the faith race or finish poorly and what it takes to finish well:
[“Once we have committed our lives to Christ, there should be no turning back—indeed, if we think about it, there is nothing of real and lasting substance to which we can turn apart from Him. In spite of this truth, there is an epidemic of believers who drop out of the race during their middle years. Many begin well but finish poorly. It can be gradual erosion through a series of small compromises or a more sudden point of departure, but any number of things can divert us from the course on which we are called to run. What does it take to finish well? How can we run in such a way that we can say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7; Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27)? A number of observers have considered the characteristics of people who “run with endurance the race that is set before [them]” (Hebrews 12:1). I have arrived at a set of seven such characteristics:
1. Intimacy with Christ
2. Fidelity in the spiritual disciplines
3. A biblical perspective on the circumstances of life
4. A teachable, responsive, humble, and obedient spirit
5. A clear sense of personal purpose and calling
6. Healthy relationships with resourceful people
7. Ongoing ministry investment in the lives of others.
Barriers to Finishing Well
It is obvious that when we reverse these seven characteristics of people who finish well, we arrive at a corresponding list of barriers to running the course. Instead of doing this, let me observe that a failure to sustain the first characteristic (intimacy with Christ) is the key obstruction to progress in the other six. Indeed, the others contribute to our intimacy with Christ, but regression in our relationship with Jesus will soon erode fidelity in the others. The real question then is, “What causes us to drift away from abiding in Jesus?” In some way or another, the spiritual sin of pride and autonomy usually heads the list.
1. Pride and autonomy
2. Ego-driven ambition (often inspired by insecurity)
3. Unwillingness to learn from others
4. Comparison and envy
5. Refusal to submit to authority
6. Strategies designed to avoid pain and vulnerability
7. Bitterness with God for allowing personal affliction and loss.
The more visible sins of moral or ethical compromise and failure are generally the byproducts of inner spiritual disintegration—the loss of the clear eye (Matthew 6:22-23) and the pure heart (Matthew 5:8; 1 Timothy 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:22). Declining passion for Christ eventually subverts calling and character.”]
Another good book on finishing well is The Making of a Leader by Dr. Robert Clinton. [“In his book Clinton identifies the patterns God uses to develop a leader. By studying the lives of hundreds of historical, biblical, and contemporary leaders, Dr. Clinton has determined the six stages of leadership development, and he establishes checkpoints to clarify where you are in the process. As you examine these principles and case studies, you’ll begin to recognize that the ministry of leadership flows from a person’s being. And that’s something God continues to mold throughout a lifetime.” http://www.amazon.com/The-Making-Leader-Recognizing-Development/dp/B00AK3KDA4] As I have heard it said, we are human beings not human doings.
Passion (intimacy with Jesus) leads to Vision from God (Purpose) and the Power from God to carry out the vision. But what can and does happen, as Ken Boa and Robert Clinton both point out, is that once we receive a vision for ministry through an intimate relationship with the Lord, we can make the mistake of then making the ministry more important than Jesus Christ. This leads to the loss of intimacy/passion and the power to carry out the very vision God Himself gave us. Jesus rebuked the church in Ephesus for this very reason: “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:1-4) Jesus rebuked Martha for putting her ministry to Him before her time of intimacy with Him. (Luke 10:38-42)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1. How can you discern if you are being led by the Holy Spirit; i.e., how do you intentionally carry out the human part of following?
2. Out of the eight ways God guides us, which do you avail yourself of the most? How has this helped you follow God’s leadership?
3. Out of the ways eight ways God guides us, which do you avail yourself of the least? How may this have hindered your following His leadership?
4. Do you ever feel like God is a taskmaster that puts you under bondage to fear in His leadership of your life?
5. Which of the seven characteristics listed needed to finish well from Ken Boa’s book do you feel you have in your life? Which do you think are missing?
6. Which of the seven barriers that hinder us from finishing well do you feel you have in your life?
7. Passion (intimacy with Jesus) leads to Vision from God (Purpose) and the Power from God to carry out the vision. Why did Jesus rebuke the church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-4) and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) and what is the lesson we need to learn?