In what almost seems to be a passing comment at first, Paul tells the Romans that if they are mortifying sins by the power of the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:13), it indicates that they are being led (controlled and indwelt) by the Spirit and since the Spirit only indwells believers, then they “are sons of God.” We might have expected Paul to say that they “are justified,” or “are saved,” or “are believers in Christ.” But instead he introduces a new term in Romans and says they are “sons of God.”
If one isn’t reading carefully, he might initially gloss over those words. Don’t.
For a believer to be called a “son of God” is unique. The term, while used frequently of Christ, is used only four times of believers — Matthew 5:9, Romans 8:14, 9:27, and Galatians 3:26. It is great, significant, and awe-producing for a believer to be called God’s son.
Using a similar term, the apostle John writes that believers are “children of God” (1 Jn. 3:1-2; cf. also Jn. 1:12; Rom. 8:16; Phil. 2:15). There he also notes that to be called a child of God is an expression of the greatness of God’s love — “see how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God…”
John, by using the command “see” is inviting and compelling us to examine the love of God in adopting believers as His children. So, just how great is God’s love to make you His children?
It is a love that is unsurpassed. God’s love could not have been greater than it was and is (Jn. 15:13; 1 Jn. 4:9-10, 16, 19; Jn. 3:16). Because His love was unsurpassed when He saved us, His love for us can never grow. It is a fully “mature” love that never regresses or diminishes. When He saved us, He saved us out of the fulness of His love, and His love always remains full and infinite. In fact, since His love is infinite towards us, by definition it cannot diminish, or it would be less than infinite love.
It is a love that is undeserved (Jn. 15:12-14; Dt. 7:7-8). As with making Israel His chosen people, God does not love us because there is something great or meritorious about us. We are not loved because of any accomplishment we have done that necessarily evokes His love. He loved Israel when they were weak and the least of all the nations. And He loves us because we are pitiable (and helpless, Rom. 5:6). We were weak and incapable. There was nothing in us to move Him towards us in love. And actually, His love is even greater than that.
It is a love that is inexplicable (Rom. 5:8; Tt. 3:4-5). Not only were we helpless when He saved us, but we were His enemies — and He not only invited us into His home as His slaves, but He also made us His children and then also gave us His inheritance by making us His heirs (Rom. 8:17-18). Our past condemned us and He still adopted us.
It is a love that is permanent (Rom. 8:37-39). What will diminish the love of God? Nothing on earth, no circumstance, no demonic power, nothing in the past, present, or future, and not even death will inhibit or diminish the love of God for His own. It is a permanent, eternal love. Nothing unlovely that we do will incite Him to stop loving us and nothing lovely that we do will compel Him to love us more. If we are His sons and children, He loves us with the fulness of His being, for all eternity.
It is a love that is assuring. It is a reminder that we are not saved on our own and we are not kept on our own. Our salvation and our assurance are not rooted in our abilities, but they are founded on the gracious love of God. We are saved and are sure of that salvation because He loves.
“…the choice [of adoption] lay entirely with the Father and was motivated only by his nature of love. Adoption is a legal action by which a person takes into his family a child who is not his own, who has no rights within that family, in order to give that child all the privileges of his own children.…What might motivate someone to do that, potentially at considerable cost to himself? Perhaps there might be something attractive about the child, or there might be an old friendship with his or her parents, who had died. But the basic motivation would be pity, compassion, love. Love gives. So it is with God, who ‘sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights as sons’ (Gal. 4:4-5). In our case there was nothing attractive or even deserving in us to draw out that love, but God chose to love us, because he is love. This has always been so.” [David Jackman]
When our children were little my wife and I used to play a game, “How do you know we love you?” If we were to ask that question of God, He would answer in part, “because I adopted you into my family and made you my child and heir.” This adoption not only is a means by which God removes the consequences of our past and our sin, but is the great expression of His love.