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
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
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.