A Biblically based commentary on current issues that impact you
Carried by the Comforter
An Exposition of Romans 8:14 that Shows What "Lead by the Spirit" Really Means.
by Bob DeWaay
“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God,
these are sons of God.” (Romans 8:14)
Romans 8 offers
profound, eternal comfort to Christians. In it Paul assures us that all true
Christians shall ultimately be glorified and conformed to the image of Christ
(Romans 8:29, 30) and that nothing in the entire created universe can
separate them from God’s love (Romans 8:31-39). After
the lament in Romans 7 that even the redeemed still battle with sin,
Romans 8 assures all Christians of ultimate victory.1 In the midst of this
chapter of hope, Paul tells us that “sons of God” are led by the Spirit of God.
In this article I will answer three questions that arise
from Romans 8:14.
1) Who are the sons of God?
2) What does it mean to be led by the Spirit?
3) Where are the sons of God being led?
If we stick to the context, the answers are clear. But
elitists often make false claims based on a misuse of Romans
8:14 and other passages in Romans 8. These false
claims I will address later in this article.
Who are the Sons of God?
Romans 8 begins
with this promise: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are
in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Condemnation means to be ultimately
condemned by God at the last judgment because of one’s sin. Paul assures us that
if we are “in Christ,” we are free from ultimate, eternal death. Here is the
reason: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free
from the law of sin and of death” (Romans 8:2). In the Greek, the
verb “has set” is in the aorist, meaning something that happened at a point in
time. That point in time is conversion. All who believe the Gospel, trusting the
finished work of Christ who died and was raised bodily from the grave, have been
set free! The “you” in “set you free” (Romans 8:2) is all true believers,
all who are regenerate.2 Condemnation, as we
will see later, does not mean, “feeling condemned,” but means being condemned
however one might feel. Freedom likewise is objective. Having been set free from
the penalty of sin, the believer stays in this state of freedom, even when
feeling “wretched” (Romans 7:24).
So far Paul has been talking about all true believers.
Let us see if he continues to do so. In Romans 8:5-8, Paul takes up a
discussion of the flesh and the Spirit. He speaks of the mind set on the flesh
and the mind set on the Spirit. Some have become confused at this point and
thought that Paul was speaking of two classes of Christians, the “carnal
Christians” and the elite, “spiritual” ones. For example, verse 6 sounds like
this may be the case: “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind
set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). They assume
that some elite Christians listen to the Holy Spirit’s inner promptings and thus
experience more life and peace, and other carnal Christians listen to the flesh
and experience “death” -- lack of spiritual vitality. However, the next two
verses show that this interpretation is untenable. The mind set on the flesh is
not just lacking inner joy, it is hostile to God and unable to
submit to His law: “[B]ecause the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward
God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able
to do so; [It gets even worse:] and those who are in the flesh cannot
please God” (Romans 8:7, 8).
Being hostile toward God and unable to please Him does
not sound like a description of born again believers. But it is a perfect
description of the unregenerate. Consider what Paul wrote elsewhere: “But a
natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are
foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually
appraised”(1Corinthians 2:14). The context of this passage shows that
the “things of the Spirit of God”
have to do with the message of salvation through a crucified Messiah which is
considered foolishness to the Greek mind. If a person cannot accept that
message, he or she is lost. The cross is the only way to salvation. So those in
the flesh who cannot please God are the unregenerate. The next verse in
Romans 8 says so explicitly: “However, you are not in the flesh but in
the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not
have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Romans
8:9). One either has the Holy Spirit and belongs to Christ, or does not have
the Spirit nor belong to Him. All true Christians are born of the Spirit and
belong to Christ. He calls us “His own” (John 17:9, 10).
Therefore, in Romans 8:1-9 Paul is clearly
talking about all true believers. He is not writing about two classes of
Christians -- the carnal ones and the elite, spiritual ones. He is contrasting
the redeemed and the condemned, with the former having the Holy Spirit and the
latter not. Those who have the Spirit belong to Christ and are truly alive. They
all have the same hope, which is the resurrection from the dead and conformity
to the image of Christ. Paul continues his thought: “And if Christ is in you,
though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of
righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in
you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal
bodies through His Spirit who indwells you” (Romans 8:10, 11). The
fact of being indwelt by God’s Spirit assures us that these mortal bodies will
be transformed even as Christ’s was, He being the “first fruits” of those
to be raised from the dead.3 Those without the
Spirit mind the things of the flesh and cannot please God. The flesh in this
context means “all that one is outside of Christ, in his sinful nature.” It is
not an anatomical term, but describes the nature of the entire person.4
The answer to the question, “who are the sons of God?”
is “all true believers, all the regenerate.” Nowhere in the context of Romans
8 is Paul making a distinction between elite “spiritual, mature sons” and
“carnal, immature” ones. Romans 8:9 specifically says that one either has
the Spirit and belongs to Christ or has neither the Spirit nor Christ. There is
no two tier version of “have and have not” Christianity taught here or anywhere
else in Scripture. This goes for the entirety of Romans 8, all the way
through to the glorious “Christian’s Triumph Song”5 of Romans 8:31-39 . No blood
bought child of God is excluded. All who are justified shall be glorified
(Romans 8:29, 30
) and constitute the “sons of God.”
What Does it Mean to be Led by the Spirit?
The question of what Paul means by this statement:
“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of
God,” (Romans 8:14), must be
determined by the context, Paul’s grammar, and word usage. Paul uses the logical
connection “for” in each of the verses of Romans 8:13-15:
For if you are living according to the
flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of
the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God,
these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery
leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by
which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
The logical sequence is important.
Verse 13 begins by saying, “for if you are living
according to the flesh, you must die.” Having taught in Romans
6 that the “wages of sin is death,” Paul is again referring to the
unregenerate. Even those who teach the two tier “carnal -- spiritual” scheme of
the body of Christ rarely claim that those in the carnal camp are to end up in
hell. So they would have to either take “die” as meaning something other than
spiritual death (which makes no sense since even believers die physically) or
admit that Romans 8:13a is referring to the unregenerate, which is my
claim. This phrase, “living according to the flesh,” is antithetically parallel
to Romans 8:13b and Romans 8:14. This
means that the opposite of living according to the flesh is “by the Spirit
putting to death the deeds of the body” and “being led by the
Therefore the Holy Spirit provides the escape from
ultimate, spiritual death. This is true of all who have believed the Gospel and
been born again. “Putting to death” in verse 13 is in the continual
present tense in the Greek. This shows that the battle against sin is a life
long process, true for all who have the Spirit. We are not content to sin
continually and unremittingly; we trust God through Christ’s finished work and
lay aside the works of the flesh. There is no special “second blessing” or other
experience that puts sin to death once for all outside of the resurrection at
the return of Christ.
Paul then says that Spirit indwelt persons are “being
led by the Spirit.” Remember that in context this is the opposite of
“living according to the flesh.” Therefore it has to at least include the
idea of putting aside the old sinful practices of the flesh. The Spirit is
leading us in a lifetime process of putting to death the old “deeds of the
body.” So far nothing in the context would indicate that “led by the Spirit”
means, “gaining revelations and subjective guidance.”
Now we need to consult Paul’s word usage. The word
translated “led” is ago_ (long O for omega). It is a common Greek word in
the New Testament. It is a common Greek word in the New Testament and means
“bring or carry,” a much stronger word than the idea of, “gaining impressions
from.” Used elsewhere in the New Testament it can even mean, “being brought”
forcibly. For example, the word ago_ is translated “brought” in this
passage: “[A]nd you shall even be brought before governors and kings
for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver
you up, do not become anxious about how or what you will speak; for it shall be
given you in that hour what you are to speak” (Matthew 10:18, 19
). Notice that “brought” is synonymously parallel to
“deliver you up.”
Paul uses the same word ago_ in a passage that is
similar to his thought in Romans 8: “But if you are led by the Spirit,
you are not under the Law” (Galatians 5:18). In this
parallel passage it is clear that “being led by the Spirit” is true of all
Christians because Paul denies that any Christian is under the Law (Romans
6:14). The form of the verb is passive. Paul uses the term to describe how
the Corinthians had been before they were converted: “You know that when you
were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were
led” (1Corinthians 12:2). It denotes being under their idol’s
control, not “gaining impressions” from them. C. E. B. Cranfield discusses the
use of ago_ in Romans 8:14:
Though the active participation of the Christian is
indeed involved [he references in brackets the Greek word translated “put to
death” in verse 13], it is fundamentally the work of the Spirit (hence the
passive agontai). For the use of agein [the infinitive form of
ago_] compare Lk 4:1; Gal 5:18: also Rom 2:4; 1Cor 12:2; 2Tim 3:6. It is
used by classical authors of being led, controlled, by reason, anger, desire,
“Led” is a strong term for the activity of the Holy
Spirit showing that He “brings us” somewhere. Where He brings us will be the
subject of the next section; but here is a verse which also uses ago_
that will give us a foretaste: “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all
things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory,
to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings” (Hebrews
2:10). “Bringing” is from the word (ago_) translated “led” in
Romans 8:14. Aside from the question of where we are being brought which
will be dealt with later, this passage shows the sovereign activity of God. It
does not mean that He gives us subjective directions and guidance as to
where glory is so we can make our own way there. He sovereignly brings His sons
Consider all of the other things Romans 8 has
told us the Spirit does: He indwells all believers (verse 11); He will resurrect
all believers (verse 11); He enables us to put to death sinful deeds (verse 13);
He causes us to be adopted as sons (verse 15); He gives us a witness within that
we are God’s children (verse 16); He causes us to long for glorification (verse
23); He intercedes for us (verse 26); and He brings us to glory and conformity
to the image of Christ (verses 28-30). In the midst of these strong statements
about the Holy Spirit’s powerful and sovereign work in the life of every
believer, are we to believe that verse 14 means that the Spirit is trying to
give subjective guidance but only certain elite Christians have figured out how
to hear this guidance and follow it? The context and grammar show that this
interpretation is in error, grossly contrived and far from Paul’s thought.
Therefore being “led” by the Spirit means that God the
Holy Spirit brings us along, toward God’s purposes for us. He “carries” us to
our proper destination. That we will get there is assured by His sovereign work
in our lives.
Where are God’s Adopted Sons being Led?
We have already hinted at the answer to the question
about our destination: all true believers are being carried by the Holy Spirit
to glorification. The proof of this is found in this passage:
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become
conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first‑born among many
brethren; and whom He predestined, these He also called; and whom He called,
these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
(Romans 8:29, 30)
We have answered the question of “who” is being led --
all true Christians. We have seen that being led means to be sovereignly carried
along to our destination by the Holy Spirit. The passage before us tells us what
we shall be like upon our arrival and that the destination is glorification. In
the process Paul gives strong assurance that every true believer will arrive
because the outcome is dependent upon God’s sovereign decision from all
The first thing Paul tells us about God’s adopted sons
is that they were foreknown. This idea needs to be understood in the Biblical
sense of “knowing” (yada in Old Testament Hebrew) that means “having a
relationship with.” God’s foreknowledge of His sons is not that He merely knew
that we would one day exist, nor can it be construed to mean He knew that we
would choose Him. God is the active party throughout Romans 8.7 This is not about
God reacting to our actions, but God acting to adopt sons and bring them to
glory. Foreknowledge in Romans 8:29 means that
God chose His own from before the foundation of the world.
Cranfield comments on this passage: “The -egno_
[to know] is to be understood in the light of the use of yada in such
passages as Gen. 18:19; Jer 1:5; Amos 3:2, where it denotes that special taking
knowledge of a person which is God’s electing grace.”8 This is an
important observation. Consider for example Jeremiah 1:5: “Before I
formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I
have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Foreknowledge in the context
of God calling forth a people means more than “have knowledge of in advance,”
but means to “choose for a covenant relationship.” In the Amos passage, the verb
yada, known, is actually translated “chosen” by the NASB: “You only
have I chosen among all the families of the earth;” (Amos 3:2a).
The Hebrew use of “know” in a relational sense is also
seen in the New Testament. For example, consider the miracle workers in
Matthew 7:21-23. Jesus said to them, “I never knew you; depart from
Me, you who practice lawlessness” (verse 23b). “Knew” here means, “I
never had a relationship with you.” Here is another instance of such usage,
“[I]f anyone loves God, he is known by Him” (1Corinthians 8:3).
Obviously, “known by Him” means “have a relationship with God.” So “foreknown”
means choose ahead of time for a relationship.
This leads to the question of the meaning of
“predestined” in Romans 8:29. Some argue that if “foreknown” means choose
in advance, then “predestined” is a redundancy. However, in this passage Paul is
using predestined do describe the final state of all of the redeemed,
“conformed to the image of His Son.” All of God’s adopted sons are
predestined to be conformed to the image of the One unique Son, Jesus Christ.
Cranfield explains the meaning of the Greek words: “Whereas proegno_ [to
foreknow] denoted God’s gracious election, proo_risen [predestined]
denotes His gracious decision concerning the elect, the content of which is
indicated by the words which follow.”9 These ideas are also
taught in Ephesians: “[J]ust as He chose us in Him before the foundation of
the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He
predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to
the kind intention of His will” (Ephesians 1:4, 5). Remember that in
Romans 8 adoption as sons is seen as already (verse 15) and not yet (verse 23).
The adoption process begins with our redemption and ends with our glorification.
All God’s elect are predestined to adoption in the fullest sense, conformity to
the image of Christ.
The journey from what we are now as redeemed sons to
what we shall be is characterized by sufferings: “For I consider that the
sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory
that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits
eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:18, 19).
Present sufferings are true for all of God’s adopted
sons, but so is future glory. The “revealing of the sons of God” happens at the
return of Christ and the resurrection, which is called “the redemption of our
body” in Romans 8:23. Romans 8:29 tells us
that this means being conformed to the image of Christ. This is the destiny of
all the redeemed. This passage teaches the same idea: “Beloved, now we are
children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that,
when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He
is” (1John 3:2). The “already -- not yet” tension is found throughout
the New Testament. Both Paul and John tie the completion of the change God is
working in His sons to the return of Christ.
continues the “golden chain” argument saying that all the predestined are
“called.” Foreknowledge and predestination are from before the foundation of the
world. Now Paul addresses what happens on the scene of history. God’s elect are
“called.” This has to mean “effectively called,” because those thus called are
glorified. Romans 8:28 describes
the redeemed as “called according to His purpose.” The good end to which
all things are being directed by God’s sovereign purpose is the honor that will
be brought to His own name through the glorification of the Son and all the sons
He is bringing to glory.
Those effectively called actually respond. Cranfield
comments, “When God thus calls effectively, a man responds with the obedience of
faith. Indeed, calling in this sense and conversion might be likened to the
obverse and reverse of the same coin: they are the same event seen from two
different points of view.”10 This call is properly
distinguished from the universal call of the gospel. The universal call goes out
to all people through the preaching of the gospel. Those chosen by God actually
respond to it, being effectively called. Jesus describes this: “For many are
called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). The
many “called” in the parable of the wedding guests all received an invitation.
Most rejected it. God is commanding everyone to repent and believe the gospel
(Acts 17:30). The effectively called do repent and believe. This
must be true otherwise Paul would not say that they are predestined to be
conformed to the image of Christ and glorified. The distinction between what is
often described as “the outward call and the inward call” or, “the universal
call and the effective call” is necessary to make sense of the terminology of
the New Testament.
The fact that the call is effective is further shown by
the next term that describes the same group, “justified.” Paul is using what is
known in logic as a chain argument. The foreknown, predestined, called and
justified are the same group of people, and all of these things are true of
every member. Paul’s grammar is clear and logic inescapable. If there was one
person foreknown, predestined, and called, who was not justified, then God’s
word here in Romans 8:29, 30 would be proven false. God cannot lie and
His Word is inerrant. These are the people who are described throughout
Romans 8 as having received the Holy Spirit who is at work in them. These
are justified by faith as Paul argued in Romans 3:28-30.
The final link in the golden chain is glorification. All
the justified are glorified. Herein lies rock solid proof of the doctrine of the
perseverance of the saints. All God’s adopted sons will be glorified. They are
being led by the Spirit to glory. As we have seen, they are being powerfully and
effectively carried along by the Holy Spirit to glory. The Holy Spirit who
regenerates all true believers will never “drop the ball” and allow one of His
to perish. Our hope lies in the electing love and sovereign power of God and not
in the feeble powers of man.
So certain is glorification that Paul uses an unexpected
verb tense, the aorist (point in time action in the past). Leon Morris comments
on the use of the aorist here: “[I]t is used of set purpose to bring out the
truth that our glorification is certain. So certain is it that it can be spoken
of as already accomplished.”11 The “not yet” is
The conclusion of Romans 8 is a beautiful description of
the security of all believers in God’s love. This beautiful assurance of God’s
love overcoming any and all opposition to it is given to us as our ultimate
comfort and hope. What amazes me is that though these verses offer hope and
encouragement, many Christians apparently want neither. Some are so wed to the
ideas of free choice and human ability, that they refuse to see the security of
the believer in Romans 8. For example, consider Paul’s list of things that
cannot separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:36-39). Using
pairs of extremes, which is a common Biblical way of including everything (like
our phrase “from A to Z), Paul lists all the possible things that could separate
us from God’s loving purposes. He denies that any can. God’s adopted sons have
Yet I have seen a number of people argue that the list
actually is not comprehensive. They say, “but the list does not include our own
selves, we can remove ourselves from God’s love.” I was thinking about that
claim one day and reading the text again. I saw this conclusion to the list:
“Nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to
separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”
(Romans 8:39). Not only do the pairs of extremes show that Paul
intends his list to be comprehensive, but he explicitly says it is with the
phrase, “nor any other created thing.” The human will is a created thing.
Only God is not created. We will not separate ourselves from God’s redeeming
love if we are those who are justified. We will stay in God’s love not because
we are incapable of gross sin or even blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, but because
God’s grace is effectual and the Holy Spirit has promised to lead (carry)
us to glory. God will insure that we will not become apostate by all the
considerable means at His disposal. God keeps his promises: “If we are
faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself” (2Timothy 2:13).
Elitist Interpretation of Romans 8
There has been a long history of the misuse of Romans 8
by those who hold to various elitist understandings of Christianity. What they
have in common is the idea that Romans 8 is not about what God is doing by His
Spirit for, in, and through all true Christians, but that it is about two types
of Christians: carnal and spiritual. The problem starts with the King James
translation of Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation to
them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the
Spirit” (KJV). The phrase “who walk not after the flesh, but after
the Spirit” is not in the best Greek manuscripts. Because it is so poorly
attested in the Greek, new Bible translations do not include it because of the
strength of the evidence suggesting it was not in the original manuscript.
However, this phrase makes the verse sound like it may be talking about two
different types of Christians. The idea would be that elite Christians who walk
by the Spirit do not experience feelings of condemnation, but “carnal
This interpretation is wrong for a couple of reasons.
First, the term “condemnation” is not a reference to guilt feelings, but is
forensic terminology concerning a legal sentence. Leon Morris writes,
“Condemnation is a forensic term which here includes both the sentence
and the execution of the sentence. But for believers there is no condemnation at
all.”12 The passage is
simply stating that all who are “in Christ” will not be condemned at the final
judgment, as I noted earlier in this article. People are in Christ because they
have been justified by faith ─ Paul’s theme throughout Romans. Justification and
condemnation are antithetical. Jesus did not come so that the more advanced
Christians who have learned to follow the Spirit will not have “guilt feelings.”
He came to deliver all who trust in Him from the final judgment, God’s wrath
Second, even if one accepted the King James text here,
the rest of the context rules against an elitist interpretation. The elitist
idea is that “carnal Christians” are lesser in both experience and practice.
They supposedly have not had a full experience of the Holy Spirit’s power and do
not know the secrets of the spiritual life (or “deeper life” as elitists
sometimes call it). Is this what Paul means by the term “flesh” in Romans 8 ─
“that which characterizes Christians who have not had a secondary experience or
learned to walk in the deeper life of the Spirit”? Let us examine the issue in
Consider these verses: “For what the Law could not
do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the
likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the
flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do
not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit”
(Romans 8:3, 4). The previous chapters of Romans make it clear
that what the Law could not do was make a person right before God through “law
works.” The Law shows us how sinful we are. Those who try to make themselves
right before God by works of the Law shall fail every time and remain in their
lost condition. Sinners can only be justified by faith ─ trusting God through
the finished work of Jesus Christ. So when Paul says, “[T]he requirement of
the Law might be fulfilled in us,” he is speaking of those who have been
justified by faith and therefore have right standing before God on that
basis, not law works. Therefore “us” in Romans 8:4 is all true believers.
Therefore no true believer can be said to “walk according to the flesh” in the
sense the phrase is used in this passage.
That Paul considers no Christian to be “walking
according to the flesh” can be clearly demonstrated from Romans 8:6-9
which I expounded earlier in this article. These verses show that those who
“walk according to the flesh” are “hostile to God.” Sinners are hostile to God
and remain outside His kingdom, but surely not redeemed Christians. Consider
Paul’s terminology in Romans 7; “For while we were in the flesh, the
sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of
our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law,
having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the
Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:5,6). Again he
speaks of the difference between being unsaved and unjustified and being in
Christ and free. Paul includes himself when he says, “when we were in the
flesh.” Clearly this is not true now. The Christian life is serving God “in
newness of the Spirit.” The phrase “oldness of the letter” denotes seeking to
keep the law and please God through works righteousness.
As mentioned earlier Romans 8:9 shows
conclusively that Paul is contrasting the lost and the saved and not two
different types of Christian. Here is what Paul writes, “However, you are not
in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But
if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him”
(Romans 8:9). To not belong to Christ is to be lost. To belong to Christ
insures that one will be His for all eternity. Listen to what Jesus said about
those who belong to Him:
All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and
the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. For I have come down from
heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. And this is the
will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but
raise it up on the last day. (John 6:37, 38)
Carefully follow the logic here; this is very
Those who belong to Christ are given to Him by the Father. All of those given by
the Father to the Son actually come to Jesus. Christ accepts all the individuals
given to Him by the Father. None of these will be lost. All of these will be
raised up on the last day. The category of persons described here is true
Christians. This is what we also learned from Romans 8:29, 30
discussed earlier. We also know from the passage before us (Romans 8:9),
that all who have the Holy Spirit belong to Christ. Therefore, according to
Romans 8:9, all true Christians are in the Spirit and none are “in the
flesh.” There is no third category called “carnal Christian” discussed here,
just the regenerate who have the Spirit and those in the flesh who do not.
Elitist Answers to Romans 8:14
In the first part of this article I raised and answered
three questions from Romans 8:14: who are the sons of God?, what does it
mean to be led by the Spirit? and where are they being led? Let us consider how
elitists who claim that Romans 8 is about two classes of Christians (the
carnal “have nots” and the spiritual “haves”) typically answer these same three
According to elitists the “sons of God” are not all
Christians, but just mature ones. Ignoring Paul’s obvious meaning of “son” as
“those adopted into the family of God” (Romans 8:15), they claim “son”
means “mature son” because of the use of huios in the Greek (the common
term for son) rather than a word that would denote a small child or young
person. This is bad doctrine and shoddy hermeneutics. At issue is neither the
relative age nor the relative degree of development of the persons, but whether
or not they belong to Christ. The context will allow no other interpretation.
All who are His as “sons” by adoption shall always be so. Future growth and
development all the way to conformity to the image of Christ is assured for all
(again see Romans 8:29,
The second question also has a different elitist answer.
They claim that “being led by the Spirit” means that certain people have learned
the secret of “hearing God’s voice” and are willing to follow the subjective
guidance they receive. As I showed earlier, the term “led” does not mean, “gain
subjective guidance,” it means to “bring or carry.” The elitists think that
“being led” is a spiritual capability that certain advanced Christians have
learned and developed over the years. Those who have the most remarkable stories
about “guidance miracles” are considered the truly advanced
There was a time in my life when I believed these
elitist’s interpretations. I spent five years trying to be a “mature spiritual
son” who “followed the leading of the Spirit.” I listened to hundreds of hours
of tapes from spiritual leaders who told amazing stories about having visions of
Jesus, talking to angels, hearing God’s voice in their spirits, etc. When these
great men of God followed the special guidance they received God did tremendous
miracles. I wanted to be one of those men, desperately so. I joined a group
founded by a man who had huge repertoire of “miracle stories of divine
guidance.” I was trained in spiritual elitism. I read books about how to be a
“spiritual man” by following my spirit, which I was told was already perfected
by being one with God. I was taught that my soul was caught in a “twilight zone”
between my body and the outward world of sense perceptions, and my spirit and
the inward world of God’s revelation knowledge. If only I could get rid of the
influences of the body and its perceptions and get my mind attuned to the
Spirit, then I would be one of those miracle-working men of God. I tried the
“spiritual disciplines” prescribed by various elitists who knew the secrets of
the deeper life. When I read the Bible, however, rather than get revelations
like they did, I could only see what the words said and meant. My revelatory
abilities seemed muted compared to their claims. I never got good at preaching
anything but what the Bible said. I was told that the problem was my education
and logical mind.
After several years living in a Christian community
totally dedicated growing past “carnal Christianity” to a deeper, purer form of
living by faith and following the Spirit, I was confronted with the truth of
Colossians 2:8: “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize
by delighting in self‑abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand
on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, . . . These
are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self‑made
religion and self‑abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no
value against fleshly indulgence” (Colossians 2:18, 23). The “deeper
life” did not make us more spiritual. Problems that plague the world were still
evident in us. I began to notice that the real changes evident in certain people
happened because of their conversion. God changed their lives through the
Gospel. But the troubled Christians who sought special answers through a higher
order of spirituality became more troubled, not less so.
Eventually I found help from the comfort and the
encouragement of the Scriptures. The Scriptures are God’s revelation to
us, not the means to a subjective personal revelation somehow hidden in
them. As I am writing this I am thinking of what would have happened if this
article had been written by someone else and handed to me in 1976, given who I
was then. Would I have allowed the Scriptures to correct me and free me, or
would I have pushed this aside as the writings of someone “not Spirit filled,
not following the Spirit ─ too educated”? It is impossible to know the answer.
However, bringing the Scriptures to bear on important issues that trouble the
saints is always the best thing to do. The Scriptures led me out of the error I
There is one last question to be addressed from the
elitist perspective: where are we being led? When I was an elitist myself I
hoped to be led to a glorious manifestation of the Kingdom of
God now on
earth that everyone could see in external, supernatural power. I thought that if
we could just follow the leading of the Spirit, all the sick people would be
healed, miracles would be common events, and our group would so obviously have
something superior to everything around that many, many people would want to
There are many forms of elitism. I have not offered a
catalogue of them in this article. I have given the basic ideas common to
elitist spirituality. They all offer some form of over-realized eschatology.
That is, they are promising “the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19)
now in a way that goes beyond the Scriptures.14 The elitists think
they are being led to some sort of heaven on earth before the return of Christ.
This ranges all the way from perfectionism (that we can be sinless now), to
claims that we can get immortal bodies now, to dominionist teachings that
prescribe world rulership for Christians before the return of Christ and others.
There are many versions. One thing they all do is belittle us “ordinary
Christians” who long for the return of Christ and future glorification. They
call us “defeated.”
I have presented two radically different understandings
of Romans 8:14. The text of Romans has to determine which is from God.
The evidence is clearly against elitism. Most of us who realize that we are
“ordinary” Christians ─ “sinners saved by grace,” know people who think we are
quite pathetic. We have not reached the plane of spirituality they claim to have
acheived. Paul offers hope to us ordinary Christians who stumble in many ways,
but hope fully in Christ. He assures us that by the finished work of Christ and
justified by faith, we are adopted into the family of God. In God’s family it
does not matter where you stand in someone else’s estimation of being a “great
person of God.” In God’s family the “least shall be the greatest.” We have no
reason to fret over others who judge us as being not very spiritual. We are
trusting Jesus and because He has given us His Spirit, we shall never be
separated from His love and shall surely be like Him one day. Let us be
encouraged by that.
Issue 76 - May/June 2003
- See CIC Issue 60 for an overview of Paul’s teaching in Romans 7 and 8.
- See Titus 3:4-6
- See 1Corinthians 15:20 and Colossians 1:18.
- For proof of this see Paul’s list of the “deeds of the flesh” in Galatians 5. They include bodily activities (such as sensuality and drunkenness), mental or soulish activities (such as jealousy and anger), and spiritual activities (such as idolatry and sorcery).
- So called by Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans; (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1988) 334-342.
- C. E. B. Cranfield, “Romans” in The International Critical Commentary; J. A. Emerton and C. E. B. Cranfield ed. (T. & T. Clark: Edinburgh, 1975) Vol. 1; 395.
- Leon Morris makes an important observation, “An interesting feature of the chapter [Romans 8] which is not always noticed is that there is not a single imperative.”; Morris 299. An imperative is a command. Romans 8 is not about what
believers ought to do, but about what God will do.
- Cranfield, 431.
- Ibid. 432.
- Ibid. 432, 433.
- Morris, 333, 334.
- Ibid. 300.
- see James R. White, The Potter’s Freedom; (Calvary Press: Amityville, NY, 2000) 154-159, White provides an great exposition of John 6:37-40.
- There was a movement called “The Manifested Sons of God” whose ideas are still taught by some in the Charismatic movement today. This heresy can be traced back to a 17th century mystic, Jane Leade. Her teachings include first
person citations of “Christ” who tells her that elite Christians can achieve not only perfection, but deification now. She is apparently the source of what later became the Latter Rain Movement. Here is a direct citation of Jesus from Jane Leade: “This should be achieved by dying out of creaturely sensation, causing a vacancy for the Holy Ghost to rise and spring and move as one entire spiritual body within. For so it will be whenever there is a cessation and a rest from the whirling
thoughts and motions, which are from the outward astral birth. This will be the manner of My coming in this latter day to stand upon the earth which is thus emptied and refined by the fire that never dies. This fire is that seed of God that shall multiply itself to bring your Christ forth to numerously overspread this world until all shall be formed anew. Thus shall each one become a Christ (or anointed) from this Deified root opening within his own soul.” cited from http://www.sigler.org/shofar/janeleade/enochianpart2.htm from The Enochian Walks with God.
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