12 So then, brothers and sisters, 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 children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ -- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified. (NRSV)
This passage contains what is probably the most diverse collection of fictive family metaphors. Included are:
- brothers and sisters v. 12
- children of God vs. 14, 16, 17, 19, 21
- adoption vs. 15, 23
- “Abba, Father” v.15
- heirs v. 17
- brothers and sisters of Christ v. 29
In a very loose sense, there are images of the compassionate father with the prodigal son. The younger son is in bondage to his flesh and unable to see the love of the father. He comes back into the father’s presence and is shaken to the core by the demonstration of costly love the father shows toward him. He realizes he cannot repay the debt for the relationship he has broken. His heart is transformed and he enters the house as fully his father’s son. He is thoroughly in debt to his father but it is a debt of love not fear. One can easily imagine the son crying out “Abba! Father” to his father.
Here Paul cast us as those who were in bondage to the flesh but redeemed by God. We also come into his presence crying “Abba! Father.” But Paul adds an extended eschatological spin to this image as well. Christ will one day return reign over the Earth with justice and peace. It is his inheritance. God has made us Christ’s brothers and sisters and we share in that inheritance. Verses 18-25 give testimony to the coming reversal of the consequences of sin and the arrival of the new creation. Implied in this is the restoration of man and woman as the restored image of God in the world acting as co-regents of the new creation with Christ. The Holy Spirit in us is a down payment on the inheritance we will fully receive as royal siblings of the King of Kings.