Children or Sons?- Romans 8:14-17

In Romans 8:14, we read that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God”. The word “are” here is the present active indicative of eimi- the verb “to be” in Greek. This tells us that those who are led by the Spirit are sons of God as a statement of fact, so are we to conclude here that our status as God’s children is dependent on our behavior? If this were so, this would contradict everything else we read in the New Testament, which teaches everywhere that our status as God’s children is based only on our faith in Christ and never on our behavior. So what exactly is Paul saying here, do we have to behave a certain way to be God’s children? An examination of verses 15-17, and a subtle difference in the Greek text not seen clearly in the English translation, will provide the answer to this question. We find, in verse 15, that Paul is talking to believers here, for He tells us we have received “the Spirit” and are able to cry out “Abba, Father”. We then find, in verse 16-17, that the spirit “Himself” testifies that we are God’s children, and because we are God’s children we are “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”. We notice a transition here in the English text from “sons” in verse 14 to “children” here in verse 16 and 17. This is because two different Greek words are used here, and it is in the usage of these two words that we find the answer to our question. The word translated sons in verse 14 is the Greek huios, while the word translated children in verse 16-17 is the Greek tekna. The Greek language has several words used to describe children, and we will mention four here. The first three are similar in that they all describe the same thing, all describing a “child” in a different way. All three of these terms refer to a child as an offspring, as “one who has been begotten”, with the difference being the age of the child mentioned. The first is nepios, which refers to an infant, one too young to speak intelligible words. The second is pais, which refers to a child older than a nepios, but not yet to adulthood. The third is tekna, which refers a child who has reached maturity, to a grown child. The fourth word is huios, which does not focus on the child as an “offspring” or as one “begotten”. This is what the word tekna is used for, and we find here (in verse 16-17) that all believers are God’s tekna, His “offspring” and His heirs. The term huois can represent the male offspring, but its more common usage was to refer to a son not as an offspring, but as one who does what his or her father does. This usage in seen throughout the New Testament (John 5:19, John 8:39, John 8:44), and an understanding of its usage in this way here makes clear exactly what Paul is saying here in Romans 8:14-17. He is telling us here that all who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ are God’s tekna, while it is only those who are “led by the Spirit”, those who do what the Father does, who are about the Father’s business, who are God’s huios. A huios is a child who is about the Father’s business, who seeks to do the will of His or Her father, and it is God’s desire that all of His tekna would become huios, that all of His children would seek to do His will and be about His business, that all of His children would be led by His spirit. So we find here that our status as God’s children is not based on our behavior, but only and always on our faith in Christ, but that our status as God’s “sons” (and daughters) is based on our behavior, that we become more mature sons (and daughters) as we are led by the Spirit and seek to do as our Father does, as we seek to be about His business. In returning to verse 14 then, we find that the statement of fact there is not that we are God’s children because of our behavior, but rather that because we are God’s children we will behave in certain ways. Our status as God’s children is based solely on our faith in Jesus Christ, but we become God’s “sons” (and daughters) by being led by the Spirit, and we grow to be more mature “sons” as we seek to be about His business and learn to be led by His Spirit. May we all seek this in our lives, that all of God’s tekna would become mature, obedient huios, children who are always about their Father’s business.

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