Allowing God’s Spirit to Lead You

Romans 8:12-17

August 6, 2022 | Brian Bill

For nine years, Kelly Walz kept a black bear she named “Teddy” as a pet, raising it since it was a cub.  One night, she went into Teddy’s steel cage, and the 350-pound bear turned on her, mauling her to death.  One friend commented, “She’s done it 1,000 times.  And, on 1,001, something happened.”  A supervisor with the Pennsylvania Game Commission commented, “Why this woman chose to go in the same area that the bear was in is beyond me.  It’s a fatal mistake.  These things are not tame animals; they’re wild animals.”

One pastor, when commenting on this, said: “I don’t care if you name it Teddy…sooner or later, bears do what bears do, just like sin will do what sin does.”

We must remember sin is a predator and Satan is on the prowl, seeking to devour us.  Instead of dealing severely with sin, some of us have made pets out of our predatory sins.  We’ve forgotten the warning from God found in Genesis 4:7: But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (NIV).  

John Owen, in his classic book, The Mortification of Sin, writes: “Be killing sin, or it will be killing you. Each of us is in a life-or-death battle with sin.  It’s a battle that can’t be won by willpower or works, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit, who brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with all its sin-killing power.”

That brings us to Romans 8:12-17: 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.”

This section begins with the phrase, “So then…”  This points us back to the amazing truth from last weekend found in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Here’s a summary of what we learned: Your position in Christ deals with the penalty of sin and your practice with the Spirit deals with the power of sin.  Today, we’ll dig into how the Spirit enables us to defeat the power of sin in our lives.  

How many of you have been reading Romans 8 and studying the handout called, “Who I Am in Christ?”  This week, a young adult told me he is memorizing Romans 8 and has been helped greatly by listening to music from Immanuel Worship which comes directly from this chapter. 

Today we move from what God has done for us to what is expected from us.  As a result of having no condemnation and having the companionship of the Holy Spirit, followers of Christ have a new focus, a new family, and a new future.

1. We have a new focus. 

You and I have been given so much, haven’t we?  With all we’ve received, God has given us responsibility.  Check out verses 12-13: “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to 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.”  Paul uses the word “brothers,” which literally means “from the same womb” to remind us of the closeness Christians have with each other because we are brothers and sisters in the same forever family. 

The word “debtors” refers to one who owes another and is therefore under duty to live a certain way.  If you’re a born-again believer, you are now someone you never were before as 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Too many of us fall back into flesh-living instead of faith-living.  

Sinful living is always inseparably linked to death but putting sin to death is inseparably linked to life

Brothers and sisters, we don’t owe the flesh any favors because it has never done us any good.  In fact, we feed the flesh way too much already!  Producing either self-indulgence or self-righteousness, living for the flesh leads only to death.  Sinful living is always inseparably linked to death but putting sin to death is inseparably linked to life.  I came across an acrostic for the word F.L.E.S.H. which I found helpful: 






Charles Ryrie called Romans 8:13 the most important single verse dealing with the spiritual life.  Because living according to the flesh leads only to death, we’re called to put the flesh to death.  Some translations use the word “mortify” which means “to kill.”  We must avoid being passive about sin in our lives.  To “put to death the deeds of the body” refers to “slaughtering sin” in your life.  Too many of us cater to the flesh when God tells us to crucify it.  

There are two aspects of putting the deeds of the body to death which appear at first glance to be contradictory.

  • It has already been done positionally.  Galatians 5:24: “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” 
  • We must do it experientially.  Colossians 3:5: Put to death, therefore, what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

Let me see if I can explain this.  We must apply by faith what God has already done in fact.  We see this in Romans 6:11: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”  You’ve been set free from the power of sin, but you still have to fight against it.  This is in the present tense meaning it’s not something we do once and then we’re done with it.  We must fight against the flesh continually, habitually, and actively.

This week, I read a provocative post by Tim Challies called, “The Utter Devastation of Sin.”  He explained how he struggled to find the right metaphor for sin.  He starts by comparing sin with the cartoon character Pepe Le Pew, who as a skunk, left behind an offensive cloud of stink wherever he traveled.  Sin is so evil it leaves its lingering scent behind.  In his search for another metaphor for sin, he suggested the wake left behind by a boat or the total devastation caused by a tornado, leaving wrecked lives behind.  

He wasn’t satisfied with this metaphor because tornadoes move on quickly, so he thought of the metaphor of a tornado which spawns hundreds of other tornados, each of which goes in its own direction: “The fact is that sin is awful, unbearably awful.  Sin is evil, horrifyingly evil.  And sin begets sin…and spawns off into a massive all-consuming storm.  Let this be just one more reason to put sin to death – to search it out, pray it out, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, to root it out.”

The exhortation “put to death” sounds extreme, but sin is a severe problem.  It defies God, it defiles us, and it destroys relationships.  We can’t afford to treat it casually; we must kill it.  One pastor says, “You don’t try to trick it, train it, or tame it; you must terminate it.  You don’t put it aside or put it in a drawer; you put it to death…sin is under a death sentence, and we are to take part in its execution!”

Here’s another caution.  While we are told to slaughter sin, we’re to do so “by the Spirit.”  One pastor said, “Fighting sin without the Spirit is like open-hand-slapping a bear; it isn’t going to go well for you.”  It’s not a matter of me alone doing it nor can I just sit back and wait for the Holy Spirit to do it.  I don’t have the power to stop sin on my own, but I do have the power to submit to the Holy Spirit.  I don’t trust my own power, nor do I just sit passively and wait for sanctification to happen.  It’s not an either/or but rather a both/and.  It’s a beautiful balance: I must do it by the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit chooses to do it through me.  These are complimentary, not contradictory truths.  

We see this synchronicity in Philippians 2:12-13: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”  I must do it…but it’s God who works in me to do it.  He has His role and I have my responsibility.  We could say it this way: I cannot do it without the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit will not do it without me.

I think of how God gave Israel the Promised Land [of Wisconsin], but His people had to go in and possess it to make it their own.  It was a gift, but they also had to go after it, claim it, fight for it, and settle in it.  This is stated clearly in Joshua 21:43: “Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that He swore to give to their fathers.  And they took possession of it, and they settled there.”  The same is true for salvation.  It’s a gift, but you must receive it to make it your own.  The is also how sanctification works.  We’re given all we need but we must by the Spirit “put to death the deeds of the body.”

Here are 10 practical ways to slaughter sin in your life.

  1. Declare your allegiance to Christ through baptism (Romans 6:4).
  2. Identify your spiritual soft spots (Jeremiah 17:9). 
  3. Recognize sin’s slippery slope (James 1:14-15).
  4. Confess quickly and repent immediately when you sin (Psalm 32:1-5).
  5. Turn from sin within the first five seconds of the temptation (Proverbs 4:15).
  6. Starve sin by making no provision for it (Romans 13:14).
  7. Place hedges between yourself and sin (Proverbs 5:8).
  8. Look for the way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).
  9. Fill your mind with good things (Philippians 4:8).
  10. Be filled with the Holy Spirit daily (Ephesians 5:18).

Jesus paid a debt He did not owe, and we owe a debt we can never fully repay…but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.  

Followers of Christ have a new focus, a new family, and a new future.

2. We have a new family. 

Look at verse 14: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” This promise is for “all” who are led by the Spirit, not just for a few.  We’ve been given the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us.  Our responsibility is to follow Him as He leads us.  The Greek word translated “led” means “to show the way, to bring, to carry.”  It also means, “controlled” and is in the present tense, meaning it should be a daily, moment-by-moment practice.  If you’re looking for a way to pray, use these words from Psalm 143:10: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!  Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!”

If you have repented and received Jesus Christ, John 1:12 says you are a child of God.  There are no naturally born children in God’s family, but as a result of the new birth, He now calls you “son” or “daughter.”  Allow Isaiah 43:1 to bring you comfort: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”  As one of God’s children, you are His.  Isaiah 49:16 says God has engraved you on the palm of his hand.  Listen to the intimacy the Almighty longs for in 2 Corinthians 6:18: “I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”  

In the parable of the Prodigal Son, after falling on hard times, the sinning son practiced his speech in the hopes he could be hired as a field hand in his father’s business.  The father didn’t let him finish because his boy was not a servant…he was his son.  

Brothers and sisters, as children of God, we can now live in freedom, not fear.  We see this in verse 15: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear…”  Servants need to fear but sons and daughters of the King have freedom.  Hebrews 2:15 says we no longer need to fear condemnation, separation, or death: “And deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” In the place of fear, God has given us fortitude as 2 Timothy 1:7 says: “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

The second half of verse 15 tells us we have been adopted into God’s family: “…But you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’”  Adoption is the process by which a person who does not belong to a given family is formally brought into it and made a full, legal family member with the rights and responsibilities of that position.  In that culture, adopted children enjoyed the same privileges as those who were born naturally.  

The word “adoption” means, “to set or place.”  This is much better than the common phrase, “put up for adoption” because this has horrible roots.  Beginning in the 1850s, “orphan trains” carried more than 120,000 children out of New York City and away from the families they were born into.  When the train would come into communities in the west, the children were “put up” on the platform waiting to be claimed.  If they weren’t selected, they were herded back on the train where they were put on display at the next platform.

I want to give a shout out to those of you who have adopted and to those of you who have made the loving choice to place your children in the home of someone else.  Those of us who stand up for the sanctity of life are often criticized for only caring for the preborn, but Barna Research has found that practicing Christians are more than twice as likely to adopt as the general population.  These findings also showed practicing Christians were more likely to adopt older children, children with special needs, and other children considered “hard to place.”

One Edgewood couple has done an embryo adoption and is in process of rescuing another child.  There are nearly half a million children in foster care in the U.S. and more than 100,000 are waiting and available for adoption.  We also celebrate those who serve as foster parents or with Safe Families for Children.  

Justin Taylor writes about an experience an American couple had when they adopted two children from Russia:

The creepiest sound I have ever heard was nothing at all. My wife, Maria, and I stood in the hallway of an orphanage somewhere in the former Soviet Union, on the first of two trips required for our petition to adopt. Orphanage staff led us down a hallway to greet the two 1-year-olds we hoped would become our sons. The horror wasn’t the squalor and the stench, although we at times stifled the urge to vomit and weep. The horror was the quiet of it all…these children did not cry, because infants eventually learn to stop crying if no one ever responds to their calls for food, for comfort, for love. No one ever responded to these children. So, they stopped crying.

The silence continued as we entered the boys’ room…we read them books filled with words they couldn’t understand, about saying goodnight to the moon and cows jumping over the same. But there were no cries, no squeals, no groans. Every day we left at the appointed time in the same way we had entered: in silence.

On the last day of the trip, Maria and I arrived at the moment we had dreaded since the minute we received our adoption referral. We had to tell the boys goodbye, as by law we had to return to the United States and wait for the legal paperwork to be completed before returning to pick them up for good. After hugging and kissing them, we walked out into the quiet hallway as Maria shook with tears.

And that’s when we heard the scream.

Little Maxim fell back in his crib and let out a guttural yell. It seemed he knew, maybe for the first time, that he would be heard. On some primal level, he knew he had a father and mother now. I will never forget how the hairs on my arms stood up as I heard the yell. I was struck, maybe for the first time, by the force of the ‘Abba’ cry passages in the New Testament, ones I had memorized in Vacation Bible School. And I was surprised by how little I had gotten it until now…his scream changed everything—more, I think, than did the judge’s verdict and the notarized paperwork. It was the moment, in his recognizing that he would be heard, that he went from being an orphan to being a son.

If you have repented and received Christ, you can call the Almighty “Abba.” Because born again believers are adopted into God’s Family, one of our delights is to cry out “Abba, Father.”  The word “cry” is emphatic, meaning to “call out loud, to shriek.”  We have the amazing privilege of calling the awesome, majestic, all-powerful God of the universe “Abba,” which is more than the name of the Swedish singing group from the 70s!  Actually, “Abba” is an untranslated Aramaic word meaning, “daddy.”  It’s an expression of familiarity and intimacy, used first by small children, but continued throughout life as part of the language of the home.  Interestingly, “Abba” communicates relationship and “Father” speaks of reverence.

This term of endearment speaks of an intimate relationship and was used by Jesus when He cried out in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14:36: “And He said, ‘Abba, Father all things are possible for you.  Remove this cup from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.’”  We can approach our “Daddy God” with confidence as we commit to do His will, whatever that might be.  I used to love it when our girls would call me “daddy” and God loves it when His children do as well.  

We have communion with God because of our adoption and we can communicate with Him because He invites us to call him ‘Abba.’  On top of that, according to Galatians 4:6, the Holy Spirit within us cries out to the Father: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”

If you’re like me, there are times when you may wonder if God really does care for you.  It’s at those times the Holy Spirit goes to work in yet another way.  Listen to verse 16: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”  Notice the phrase, “The Spirit Himself.”  This is very emphatic, and it shows us the Holy Spirit is not an inanimate object, or power, or some “Star Wars” kind of force.  We have a dual witness of our adoption into God’s family.  We cry out, “Abba, Father” and the Spirit echoes this, as He gives testimony that we are a child of God.

According to 1 John 4:13, one of the roles of the Spirit is to give us certainty about our salvation: “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit gives inner testimony with our spirit that we are adopted into God’s family as we see in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22: “And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put His seal on us and given us His Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”  Get ready to worship as you listen to Ephesians 1:13-14: “In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

The Holy Spirit confirms our adoption and therefore we can have confidence we are children of God.  He gives independent testimony and then he corroborates the testimony with our own spirit.  According to Deuteronomy 19:15, a matter can only be decided based on the testimony of at least two witnesses.  As one pastor put it: our human spirit says, “I am a child of God, ABBA FATHER!”  The Holy Spirit says, “Yes, she is a child of God, ABBA FATHER!”  And out of the mouths of two witnesses, it is established, settled, and sealed.

Followers of Christ have a new focus, a new family, and a new future.

3. We have a new future. 

Just this week, the iconic musician Prince was in the news, or at least his estate was.  Prince died from an overdose in 2016.  He did not leave a will which has made everything messy.  His entire estate is worth over $156 million but his surviving relatives will split less than $6 million.

Those who are related to Jesus through the new birth, won’t just get a portion, but will inherit the full amount of His inheritance.  Check out the first part of verse 17: “And if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…”  Galatians 4:7 says something similar: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Our spiritual inheritance works differently than inheritances on earth.  Here we get an inheritance when someone else dies, with God you get your inheritance when you die.  As an heir of God, you are in God’s will, and you share in God’s family fortune.  Ephesians 1:18: “Having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”  1 Peter 1:4 says this inheritance is guaranteed: “To an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” 

A “fellow heir” is a “co-participant or sharer.”  If you know Jesus, then everything He has is yours!  Hebrews 1:2 says God “appointed His Son heir of all things.”  You don’t just get a portion; you get it all!  Being a fellow heir with Christ means everything Christ has, you have.  A fellow heir is different from multiple heirs.  Multiple heirs receive a share of the estate, but joint heirs inherit all the estate together.  Everything Jesus has, He gives to you.  And Jesus has everything! 

God has given us so much, hasn’t He?  It would be easy to think life is just going to be easy now.  Check out the last part of verse 17: “…provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”  These are not ordinary struggles but the suffering that comes from being identified “with Him.”  Every Christian will suffer with and for Christ because sonship and suffering go together.

One pastor puts it like this, “When you start putting sin to death and following the Spirit, the world does not like that, and you will suffer accordingly…your sufferings with Christ do not call your sonship or heirship into question.  Rather, they are a necessary part of your journey to heaven.”

Our present grief prepares us for promised glory

This theme will be developed in greater detail in the verses to follow but suffice it to say we must go through grief before we enter glory.  We are heirs of God but the full benefits of this will not be poured out on us until eternity.  Our present grief prepares us for promised glory.  In the meantime, we will share in the sufferings of the Savior.  Since Jesus suffered, we should be prepared to suffer ourselves.  Suffering doesn’t necessarily mean that something is the matter; rather it is a mark of our sonship.  

Elisabeth Elliot passed along what she learned through hard times: “Suffering is an irreplaceable medium through which I learned an indispensable truth.”  Philippians 1:29 is a good corrective for us when we wonder why we’re going through stress or sickness or mockery or outright persecution: “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for his sake.”  Acts 14:22 is another passage to claim when you have problems – a passage you won’t hear a prosperity preacher expound: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

Suffering doesn’t get the last word.  We’ve read the final chapter – the story of God ends with glory!  Because we suffer with Him, we will be glorified with Him.  In Revelation 3:21, Jesus says, “I will grant him to sit with me on my throne.”  Revelation 20:4 says, “Martyrs came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.”

The Voice of the Martyrs is one of our Go Team partners.  In this month’s magazine, they focused on persecution in Nigeria (go to for a free subscription).  One story caught my attention.  After three dozen Fulani Islamic militants burst into a pastor’s house, they kidnapped him and his family, telling him, “You are going to suffer in the bush, and if we like, we might kill you.”  Pastor Emmanuel was unfazed by the militant’s threat: “I have given myself over to God, and I am ready to die.”

After walking for many hours, Pastor Emmanuel finally arrived at the kidnapper’s camp, where he began the most difficult month of his life.  During the daytime, he was bound, blindfolded, and guarded by armed militants.  And at night, he and other kidnapping victims slept on the ground, where maggots crawled around their hands and feet.  

Emmanuel trusted God to sustain him through whatever the militants had planned, saying, “I had faith that God was there with me.”  His message for his brothers and sisters in Christ around the world is the same truth that sustained him during those long days in the militants’ camp: “Depend on God in every situation.”

You don’t owe your flesh anything, but you owe God everything!  Followers of Christ have a new focus, a new family, and a new future.

Listen to these words from the song called, The Family of God.

From the door of an orphanage to the house of the King,
No longer an outcast, a new song I sing;
From rags unto riches, from the weak to the strong,
I’m not worthy to be here, but PRAISE GOD! I belong! 

I’m so glad I’m a part of the Family of God,
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His Blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod,
For I’m part of the family, the Family of God. 

As we celebrate communion, we get to put the sermon into practice.

  • Let’s focus on what Christ has done for us.
  • Let’s remember the family of God right here and around the globe, especially those who are persecuted.
  • Let’s lock into the future return of Jesus Christ.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?