Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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Led by the Spirit

Rev. Cornelius Hanko (no date given)


For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God (Rom. 8:14).

Are you a child of God? I know this question is very personal, but this is also what it is intended to be. Do not brush it off with a shrug of the shoulders, some vague "I surely hope so." Do not content yourself with a false complacency, trying to assure yourself by saying, "Of course I am; I was born of Christian parents; brought up and baptised in the church; made confession of faith; attended church, etc. No, the question is, Are you indeed God’s child? Are you conscious of that every moment of your life? Are you happy to be that? Does it become evident to those who are around you that you are just that and nothing else? Do you rejoice in that blessed privilege?

One of the chief benefits of Pentecost, you know, is the fact that we are sons of God through the Spirit in a richer sense than the church of the old dispensation could ever experience.

This eighth chapter of Romans, as you well know, is Paul’s victory song. Throughout this entire chapter he rejoices in the blessedness of the saints and the assurance of our eternal security. He wants to assure the believers of their salvation. And therefore he approaches that subject from various points of view, always to reassure us of the riches and the blessedness of our salvation.

That is also evident from our text. Paul begins with that emphatic "as many as." Now that means, first of all, only those, no others. But it means also in the second place, every one of those, not one excluded. And then he goes on to say that as many as are led by the Spirit of God—those specifically, and every one of those—can be assured, that they are sons of God. Are you? Are you a son of God? Are you led by the Spirit of God? That we may have that assurance and be strengthened in it, let us hear this Word of God.

Led By The Spirit
I. The Spirit Who Leads
II. The Leading of the Spirit
III. The Blessed Assurance


I. The Spirit Who Leads

Besides being Paul’s song of triumph, this chapter is also unique in this respect that it tells us so much about the work of the Holy Spirit within our hearts. Throughout this chapter the Holy Spirit is mentioned time and again, sometimes as the Spirit of God, sometimes as the Spirit of Christ, and also as the Spirit of adoption.

In our text Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of God. This emphasises for us the fact that the Holy Spirit is indeed God. So often, almost thoughtlessly, we consider the Holy Spirit as nothing more than a power. O yes, it is a power of God all right working in our hearts, but still it is only a power. And yet that is so very wrong, especially because thereby we fail to realise the importance of His presence in our hearts.

The Holy Spirit is God. He is one with the Father and the Son. He possesses all the divine attributes. He is sovereign, eternal, unchangeable, holy, righteous, love, truth, and grace—yes, all that God is. He thinks and wills, speaks and works even as God. That simply means that He is God dwelling in us, making our hearts His dwelling place. And it is especially from that point of view that the apostle is speaking of the work of the Holy Spirit in our text.

That, of course, implies that this Holy Spirit is also at the same time the Spirit of Christ. When Christ ascended to heaven He received that Holy Spirit from the Father. The Holy Spirit came upon Him to fit Him to His work in heaven, particularly to rule over all things, to pray for us, and to bless us as our mediator in heaven. With the Holy Spirit, God bestows upon Christ all the blessings of our salvation. And thus on Pentecost Christ poured forth this Holy Spirit upon the Church as the Spirit of our risen and exalted Lord. He comes to dwell in us. Christ speaks to us through Him and blesses us through Him. Yes, Christ returns to dwell in our hearts through Him.

But, especially in the verse immediately following our text, this Spirit is also called the Spirit of adoption. This reminds us of what Paul wrote to the Galatians: "because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts" (Gal. 4:6). We do not become sons only after the Spirit enters our hearts. No, we are sons, even from eternity. And it is to the sons that God sends His Spirit, just because we are sons.

He comes to assure us of our adoption. For the adoption papers have actually been made out in eternity, and have been sealed long ago with the seal of Christ’s own blood on the cross. That adoption is an established fact, but now the Holy Spirit comes to assure us of that adoption. No, He does still more. He adopts us. He not only assures us that we are adopted, but He also gives us all the rights and privileges of sons in the house. He makes us sons, so that we are also heirs, and eternally remain sons in God’s house. He is in the fullest and richest sense of the word the Spirit of adoption.

Now that Spirit leads those who are sons. Paul is plainly using a figure here. The figure is of a way, which leads to a certain goal, and there is a guide who accompanies us and leads us ever onward along that way, until we reach our goal. That is the figure.

And the meaning is obvious. There is one way, and only one, that leads to life eternal. This is what Jesus calls the narrow way, in distinction from the broad way that leads to destruction. Now to get up on that narrow way, and to remain on it, we need a guide. And the Holy Spirit is such a guide. He walks at our side, as it were, and leads us all the way to bring us to glory, even into life everlasting. From the time that He begins to work in us, even until our dying day, to the last breath we breathe, He is our guide.

Only it should be understood that He does not actually walk along side of us. He is within us, even in our hearts. That makes a great different. He is not a power outside of us. But a power within us, even Almighty God is working within us. What is more, He does not show us the way and then expect us to walk it, but He is the guiding controlling power in our lives to keep us on that way. No, He does not compel; He impels us. He so works in us that we are sincerely willing to walk in that way that leads to life, that we never forsake that way, and that we also attain the goal of eternal life which He has set before us.


II. The Leading Of The Spirit

It is certainly important that we look at this particular work of the Spirit within us a little more closely, to see how He operates in our lives, even to know of a certainty that He is working in us.

First of all, Paul makes the comparison in the next verse between a slave master and the Holy Spirit. A slave master drives his slaves; the Holy Spirit leads His own, His sons. The apostle writes, "For we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear" (Rom. 8:15). Paul teaches that the Spirit that is in us is not a Spirit that puts us in bondage under Him as a slave. But Paul says more than that. He says, "Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear." Once you had a power like that in your lives, but not any more; that is not the way the Holy Spirit works.

What Paul means is plainly this. When we were in our sins, we were under the bondage of sin and death. Sin is a cruel tyrant, who enslaves her victims. She enmeshes her slaves in the snares of sin, so that they cannot escape. She leads them ever on from sin to greater sin. For sin is a breeder of sin, and he who sins becomes sin’s slave. And the outcome of it all is that we end up in death. Unless God mercifully delivers us, there is no escape. We become so completely enslaved to sin that our whole heart and mind and soul and body become involved. There is no escape. We are hopelessly lost. We are headed to hell, under the just judgement of an angry God! What a cruel tyrant sin is, as we all know from our own experience. It fills us with fear.

But the Holy Spirit does not deal with us as a tyrant. He is, let us not forget, the Spirit of adoption. He loves us, and He works in us from the principle of love. He is God, who is a merciful and compassionate Father to us. He does not drive us. He draws us and leads us to Himself, so that all fear and terror are banished and we look with longing for the glory that He has prepared for us. The Spirit always leads.

In the second place, we must bear in mind that this leading takes place all through our lives, from the moment of our regeneration until the time of our glorification. It is the Holy Spirit, who makes us spiritual and heavenly minded, to seek the things above. He even makes us new creatures, who spontaneously turn to God for our life. We cry to Him; we yearn after Him; we learn to confess Him as our God.

Therefore that leading, as the apostle says in the verses just preceding our text, is a process that creates in us a daily conversion, a daily mortifying of the deeds of the body.

We are debtors, Paul says. Yes, debtors we are. But debtors not to sin. Once we were debtors to sin. We were her willing victims. We owed her our allegiance, we worshipped her, found our delight in her and could not live without her. Life didn’t mean anything unless we paid our debt to sin. And that debt always grew bigger, for sin became more demanding, and we tried all the harder to meet that debt. Until we realised what fools we were, and how wicked it is to be enslaved and indebted to such a tyrant. Now we owe sin nothing. What obligation do we have to her that we should serve her? We have absolutely none. She cannot even make demands on us. For we have a new power within us who overcomes that power of sin, even the Spirit of Christ.

Ours is now a debt of love to God. To Him we owe our hearts, our lives, our all! And we know and confess that according to the new life of Christ within us. True, that old man of sin still turns to sin. Every time the Spirit withdraws His power just for a moment, we turn back, back to the old lures and attractions of sin. How readily we stray from that straight and narrow way that leads to life, and find ourselves back on the broad way that leads to destruction.

The worst that can happen to us is that the Spirit withdraws for some time and leaves us on that sinful way. One evident example of that is the sin of indifference. Spiritual indifference is like a disease that takes hold of us. It is hardly noticeable at first, but it is working like a deadly cancer. Soon the disease spreads, for it seems to be the most contagious thing in the world. It spreads to our family, it spreads through the congregation, it serves as an opiate putting everyone to sleep in cold indifference. Then the preaching of the Word becomes a hollow sound; the Lord’s Supper becomes a mere formality. We do not care about spiritual things, we do not read, we do not study and we do not talk about spiritual matters. Even our Bible reading is a habit and our prayers are hollow sounds. The tragedy is that even though we escape, our children are often swept away and we perish in our generations.

Therefore we so sorely need that guidance of the Spirit, always leading us back, cleansing us, strengthening our faith and sanctifying us unto a new and holy life. We must kill the work of sin, and put on the work of the Spirit.

Let it be added also that the Holy Spirit works this always only through the Word. Christ is that Word. And Christ has bound Himself to the Scriptures. Even more particularly, Christ has bound Himself to the preaching of the Word. There is no inner voice. Therefore our spiritual laxity often begins right there. We fail to listen and to heed the Word that is preached. And then we become spiritually anaemic, sick, even to the point where the Word makes no impression upon us any more. But that is all the more reason why we need the Word, and the pure preaching of the Word, even the truth in all its fullness, not only for ourselves, but for our children unto the generations to come. We surely cannot want it for ourselves and not for our children! The Spirit leads in our heart through the word.


III. The Blessed Assurance

This also has a very positive assurance for us. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. The "they" in the original is the most emphatic. It has a double emphasis. It means, as I said in the beginning, that they and only they are sons. You and I cannot claim to be sons unless we have that leading of the Spirit. It means in the second place, that they surely—all of them—have that assurance that they are sons.

This is true in a twofold sense. First of all, the Spirit is the Spirit of adoption who assures us of our adoption. Foster parents make sure that the adoption of their children is legal. But they also assure those children that they are theirs. They want them to know beyond a shadow of doubt that they belong, that they belong to those parents in that home, and that all the privileges and rights of children are theirs as if they were their very own.

Well, God does just that. He assures us by His Spirit in our hearts that we belong to our faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, and that all the rights and privileges of children belong to us. All the blessings of salvation are ours. Even when we wander away, He remains faithful. He says, "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord and He will show him mercy. Seek me while I may be found, call upon me even while I am near." He forgives not once, but every day anew. He continues to lead and draw, to cleanse and save, even unto our dying breath.

But that is always only when we are led by the Spirit. We can often be so filled with doubts and fears. Our salvation seems so uncertain. Our assurance is so completely lacking. This is brought on by nothing else than sin. What follows is that we are so far from God. We feel as if God is far from us. Our prayers are so cold, so lifeless, so meaningless. God does not seem to answer. God does not seem to care. Sin does that too. Sin always brings separation between God and us. God’s hand is never shortened, but our sins stand between us and God so that our spiritual life becomes ever more dormant.

Therefore we must seek the Lord in prayer. And seeking Him, we must turn from every evil way. Then we discover that even in that it is the Holy Spirit who leads. Seemingly He had left us, yet He had not forsaken us. He draws us back to God, back to the throne of grace and to the mercy seat. Always again we experience abundant mercy.

Then we experience the blessedness of being sons. We cry, we cry aloud, even from the depths of our souls saying, "Abba, Father." In love we turn to God to call him our Father. In devotion we put renewed trust in him. In fear we worship Him. In thanksgiving we commit all our way to Him. And He gives us His peace. Amen.

The life of Rev. Cornelius Hanko, the author of these devotional sermons on Romans 8, is covered in his memoirs, Less Than the Least.