Beloved, I wonder if you can relate. I remember praying, “Father, my transgressions are ever before me. I do the very thing I hate. Why do you call me ‘son’ despite this wretched body?” I felt hopeless, cursed, and unloved. I heard the gospel’s truth, but, as sexual sins poisoned me, my sinful heart persisted in lying about my identity.
Remember Truth: Our Identity in Christ
For me and for you, believer, the foremost remedy is remembering who we are in Christ. Please turn with me to Romans 8:12–17. I pray you may see the truth today.
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 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!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
The Apostle Paul begins verse 12 by drawing a conclusion (“so then”) from verses 9–11, which talk about union with Christ. In union with Christ, life is enabled by the Spirit even though our mortal bodies are bound to die in sin. This is why Paul says believers are “debtors” in verse 12—without Christ, death is the only thing at work in us. But with Christ, we are given the gift of eternal life because he paid the ultimate price on our behalf. Thus, in a deep sense, we have a tremendous debt before the Lord in light of our deserved death, the due penalty of the law of sin.
We are set free from sin and able to persevere in this broken world because the Lord is with us. Through him, we can look at our brokenness and have hope.
Remembering the truth of who we are in Christ—because of his perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection—changes how we live every day and leads us in perseverance against sin.
Remember Faith: Our Adoption in Christ
Death means complete separation from God (v. 13). The only way to avoid death is to abandon the flesh. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” But how can any of us accomplish this? Truly, we cannot! That is why Paul grounds our actions in this foundation: “by the Spirit.” In faith, we need to remember two things from this verse.
- First, believers can’t be only passive about their faith in Jesus. A movement needs to take place. Because of the cross, believers are enabled—or, perhaps, conditioned—to mortify sin. If you belong to Jesus, there will always be something in your heart telling you to fight against fleshly evil. You are simply no longer driven by sin but life in Christ. Coming to faith in Jesus is necessarily connected with actively fighting sin: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).
- Second, we don’t have the strength to fight the good fight on our own. We come short of being able to do anything about these deeds of the flesh—pornography, abusive traumas, torn families, and never-ending, painful days of suffering. We are utterly incapable of fixing it—it’s too much. This is why Paul exhorts us to put to death the deeds of the body “by the Spirit of God” (v. 14, my emphasis). We are set free from sin and able to persevere in this broken world because the Lord is with us. Through him, we can look at our brokenness and have hope. Though our sins are red like scarlet, we can proclaim “they shall be as white as snow” (Isa. 1:18). If you ever needed evidence about God, beloved, here it is. Your fight against sin is the very evidence of the Spirit of God moving in and through your life. He claims you as his possession, giving you belonging and status. God’s Word calls you his sons and daughters, a people led by his Spirit (Rom. 8:14). The world and the flesh have no claim over you, only the Spirit.
Verse 15 expands on this new identity in Christ. “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!’” Paul writes from the context of the Roman Empire, where the adoptee is removed from their previous state and placed within a new family. Old debts are transferred, a new life begins, and the head of the household owns the adoptee, with all accompanying liability. This child is born again into a new hope, receiving a unique name that grants privileges, responsibilities, and a belonging. Thus, adoption perfectly explains what it means to have newness and fullness of life through the relationship a believer is brought into with Jesus Christ.
This is how God embraced his people throughout history, like a father who takes an illegitimate child into his family.
Yes, it’s out of adoption that we call God “Abba, Father.” This expression of warmth and confidence that God is our heavenly Father carries a filial tenderness and reverence made possible by the Spirit, without whom such a declaration would be pretentious and false.
And this is how God embraced his people throughout history, like a father who takes an illegitimate child into his family. That’s the reality and beauty of adoption. Children of God now have full access to and relationship with him.
Remember Hope: Our Longing in Christ
But the Christian life is hard as we wait for Jesus to return. You’ve probably felt the weight of suffering prolonged, maybe for many seasons—your prayers feeling empty and silent. We are in pain while longing for the final day when our faith will be made sight.
Nevertheless, this longing is one critical way in which we experience redemption being applied in our lives. We are already the adopted children of God. However, there is a deep-seated ‘not yet-ness’ about this reality. We rejoice as God’s people. And yet, having received the Spirit of adoption, we groan inwardly, waiting eagerly for the resurrection of our bodies upon Christ’s return (Rom. 8:18–25).
The promise is that when he appears, we shall be like him, and he will transform these bodies of humiliation into glory. “But our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul says, “and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself (Phil. 3:20–21).”
This expresses the heart of our present and future condition and is an essential element for understanding the Christian life. The law alone is not enough. If we only had the law, it’d be challenging to understand the agony of the Christian life because those with the Spirit experience profound incompleteness. And it is within that context that we cry, “Abba Father.” Paul is not talking about an upbeat cry. The language for “cry” in Greek is typically used in times of immense pressure and opposition, portraying a violent atmosphere rather than a peaceful one. This cry springs from an anguish that leaves us fragmented, where the fullness of God-given privileges comes face to face with our brokenness and prompts us to cry, out of all unsettling weaknesses and earthly difficulties, ‘Abba, Father.’
Be comforted, hurting believer: the fact that you’re calling out to the Lord in your desperate longing reveals that you belong to him.
And we are not alone, for the Spirit is with us in our cry. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (v. 16). Our spirit and God’s Spirit express their mutual witness in crying, “Abba, Father.” It’s impossible to express this unless the Spirit is working in our lives. Be comforted, hurting believer: the fact that you’re calling out to the Lord in your desperate longing reveals that you belong to him. Beloved, I hope you see “what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).
Remember Love: Our Sanctification in Christ
Verse 17 defines the destination of God’s adopted children. Glory awaits us in the guarantee of eternal life! The adoptee is an heir of God and co-heir with Christ through the inheritance given by the Lord—this inheritance is our union and communion with Christ as his portion (in suffering and glory) is shared with us (John 17:5, 24). It’s not as if we contribute to redemption. No. Christ alone bore the cross and rose from the dead to reconcile the world to himself. But it’s about the call to obediently “walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8b) because “the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6b). This looks like partaking in the sufferings of Christ, filling up what is lacking in his afflictions (Col. 1:24), and yearning for future glory.
Oh, beloved, I pray you may see the Father’s love in all this. What else is there? Yes, “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). Because “God so loved the world,” millennia can pass but the gospel shall remain (John 3:16a).
And when breathless, suffocated by the lies of sexual brokenness, come as you are, oh, child of God, and cry “Abba! Father!”
Therefore, remember the call of Christ: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34b). And when breathless, suffocated by the lies of sexual brokenness, come as you are, oh, child of God, and cry “Abba! Father!” Fix your gaze upon Christ who promised, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22, my emphasis). Isn’t it worth waiting for such joy, my friend? Eternal life with Christ. Join me for one more day, just one more day at a time.
Yohan Huh Prudente
Director of Men's Ministry
Yohan is the Director of Men’s Ministry for Harvest USA, overseeing the direct ministry to men. Yohan grew up in South Korea and Brazil with missionary parents who labored with church plant ministries. He graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary and lives with his beloved wife, in the greater Philadelphia area.More from Yohan Huh Prudente