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The Spirit of Sonship

By David A. DePra

On the day of Pentecost, God poured out what Jesus termed, "the Promise of the Father." (Acts 1:8) This was, of course, the Holy Spirit. But have we ever linked this Promise of the Father with the promise God made to Abraham? The Promise of the Father – the Holy Spirit -- was actually THAT promise – completely fulfilled.


The promise of God to Abraham was the promise of SONSHIP.  Yes, God promised Abraham would have a son, Isaac. But God also promised Abraham that through his son Isaac, all the peoples of the earth would be blessed – blessed by a Savior. Furthermore, it was through this Savior that ALL could become sons and daughters of God. It was through Jesus that God would eventually, "bring many sons unto glory." (Heb. 2:10) The Holy Spirit of promise was therefore the Spirit of sonship – the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.


The Seed


Paul continually makes the point that Jesus Christ is the complete fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, indeed, of God’s promise of a Redeemer, going back to Adam. (Gen. 3:15) Jesus is the, "Seed of the woman," and, "the Seed of Abraham." Paul tells the Galatians that there are not, "many seeds," but ONE SEED – JESUS CHRIST. But then he shows that if we are baptized INTO Jesus Christ then we are OF HIM and IN HIM – and therefore of that ONE SEED as well, because we are one with HIM.


Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He said not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ (Gal 3:16)….For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you be Christ's, then are you Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal 3:26-29)


Christ is THE SEED. We are in Christ -- the Body of Christ. Therefore, because we are IN HIM, so are we of that one seed. Thus, in one passage, we see that we are NOT little gods, or little Christ's, walking around, as some try to teach. No. There is ONE CHRIST and ONE SEED – Jesus. But we partake of all that Jesus is because we are made one with Him through faith – and are in union with Him.


Get that. UNION WITH CHRIST is the key. We have nothing outside of Him. We have everything in Him. Everything depends upon our relationship with HIM.


How do we become ONE with Christ? The Holy Spirit is what makes us ONE WITH CHRIST. Paul tells us that, "by one Spirit we are baptized into one Body." (I Cor. 12:13) The Holy Spirit is therefore the agency by which we are made one with Jesus Christ, and thus become SONS and DAUGHTERS of God.


Again, this cannot be overemphasized: We are sons and daughters of God ONLY because we are in Christ – for HE IS THE ONE SEED. Jesus is the ONE anointed of God, the ONE elect of God, and the ONE Son of God. Everything we are called, and everything we are, is only possible because we are IN HIM.


In the Son


Sonship is the result of being in THE SON. When God sent forth the Holy Spirit – which was, "The Promise of the Father," He was bringing His promise of sonship – which as we saw goes back to Abraham – to pass in it’s fullness. This is a Truth revealed all through the New Testament:


But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal 4:4-7)


For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. (Rom 8:14-17)


The reason you and I are sons of God is because we have RECEIVED JESUS CHRIST BY FAITH. We are adopted as sons because we have become one with THE Son.


The Promise of the Father was the promise of sonship – that we might be given power to become children of God. This happened in fullness on the day of Pentecost in the upper room, and it continues today. But God not only wants sons and daughters, he wants more: He wants us to GROW UP to bear the image and likeness of Jesus. To this Truth we now turn.


The Purpose of God


To be a son or daughter of God is to be in the family of God. And individuals in the same family usually look like each other, don’t they? Sure. This is, in fact, the case with God’s family. He wants His sons and daughters to look like Jesus Christ. But not physically. Rather, He wants us to grow to bear the moral and spiritual likeness of His Son.


To be, "in Christ," means many things, not the least of which is that we are to grow to bear His image and likeness. This IS the purpose of God for this age -- that He might conform us to the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.


And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. (Rom 8:28-30)

Herein we see God’s intended outcome of being born anew as a son or daughter in Jesus Christ: TO CONFORM US TO THE IMAGE OF THE SON. God wants to present, "each man mature in Christ." He wants us to grow up in Jesus.


Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: (Col 1:26-28)


A Living Witness


This Truth of sonship, and God’s desire that we bear His image and likeness, is rarely taught today. Instead, many of us have been told that the purpose of God for this age is to be saved, and then to get others saved. Well, obviously, sonship is not possible unless that first happens! But we are saved FOR something, aren’t we? Sure. We are saved FOR a purpose, aren’t we? Yep. And that purpose, for this age, is that we might grow up to be sons and daughters who bear the image of Jesus, and thus, be WITNESSES unto Him.


The Promise of the Father – the Holy Spirit; the Spirit of sonship – is always working in us unto this end: That we might be conformed to Christ, and thus, be a living WITNESS to Him. Jesus told His disciples, "But you shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and you shall be witnesses unto Me." (Acts 1:8) That POWER is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit takes everything of Jesus Christ and makes Him real and articulate in and through us. The Holy Spirit – the Spirit of sonship -- makes us witnesses unto Jesus Christ.


John also said, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." (John 1:12) This is the same thought. Through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, God’s people would have the power to become sons of God – which would be a living witness unto Jesus Christ.


What is a WITNESS? A witness to Jesus Christ is someone who is defined by their relationship to Christ – a witness to Christ is someone who looks like Christ. This is God’s purpose for those whom He calls to Christ – He wants us to bear the moral and spiritual image of His Son.


Some Substitutes


Now, when you hear that God wants to conform you to the, "moral and spiritual likeness," of Jesus Christ, what do you imagine that to be? And how do you imagine He does it?


It is a sad fact that Christians by the thousands aren’t even concerned about God’s desire to conform them to Christ. For some, the idea that God would want to personally deal with THEM is quite out of the question – not even a matter of discussion. To them, Christianity is getting saved, and then doing the best you can to get others saved. Or – Christianity is, "going to church." If you disturb these people, they will think you are the Devil.


Personal growth? Well, to them, that is a matter of learning how to get along with folks, or how to be nice. Perhaps they think it is a matter of learning how to serve on a committee in church. It never occurs to them that yes, God has saved them, but He has saved them UNTO SOMETHING. There is a purpose beyond, "going to heaven," and a purpose beyond becoming nice, amiable people. What are we going to be doing for all eternity? What are we saved FOR? Such questions are never asked, and sadly, never answered by the leadership in such churches.


Does it sound selfish to you that personal growth would be God’s purpose? Then you don’t understand. For personal growth – the way God undertakes it – is never selfish. This is because they way you grow in Christ is by dying to yourself! – and becoming devoted to HIM. Dependent upon HIM. Personal growth is FREEDOM from selfishness. Until we understand this, we just won’t get it.


The reason for this is mostly that people are blinded today by false teaching. Or many are all wrapped up in other things they think is God’s will. Thus, there is a great need for adjustment. This is what the Holy Spirit would do if people would just let Him.


It is somewhat terrifying as to just how many people in churches today have virtually NO consciousness of the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. NONE. If you hang around such people, you find that they almost NEVER talk about Jesus, or about anything God is doing in their lives. They don’t seem to have any frame of reference for the realm of the Spirit at all. There is NO growth. No vocabulary for God.


What is wrong here? Well, at the risk of sounding critical or condemning, I would suggest that some of these people’s salvation is in question. Really? Yes. This doesn’t mean they are nasty or evil people. No. Or deliberately resisting God. Or wolves in sheep’s clothing. Not necessarily at all. Indeed, they might be nice, wonderful, outgoing people! Some of them may even have personalities that are more pleasing than those of some mature Christians! But this NEVER MEANS ANYTHING! EVER! The only question that is going to matter in the end is what we have done with Jesus. We are – and are ultimately going to be – defined by our relationship TO HIM.


We read above how the Bible says that, "The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." So what might we conclude when someone seems to have no consciousness at all that they are a son of God through the Holy Spirit? What are we to conclude when a person evidences no penetration of the Holy Spirit in their life, and displays no real witness to Christ? We would have to conclude that something – SOMEONE in them – is missing. If they are saved, something is keeping them from a great release of the Spirit.


Again, this is not to judge or condemn. But we do need a wake up call today. The average Christian today is someone who goes to church on Sunday, perhaps serves at church, and may even try to live a Biblically oriented life. But generally there is no real DEPENDENCE upon Christ. No real DEVOTION. And since those are the two fundamental earmarks of a relationship with Christ – traits that ought to DEFINE us as His witnesses – you can see the problem.


What is the solution? A complete overhaul. Leaders getting themselves right with God. Jesus Christ being lifted up. The "machine" known as CHURCH being pushed aside for the LIVING CHRIST. The Holy Spirit being given place in our churches and in our personal lives – NO MATTER WHAT THE COST TO OUR AGENDA. You can see that this would not be easy. It is exactly why God will likely sidestep completely the churches as they are today, and begin a NEW thing in this end time. God will not trash people, or write them off. But He may do a NEW thing – and call people out from the religious darkness in which they live, to His Son.


There is also another group of Christians who, having understood that God wants to conform them to Christ, get it wrong along another line. They read about the fruits of the Spirit, and about the need for righteous character, and spend their lives trying to, "build character." For some, this becomes almost a legalistic thing. They are constantly evaluating their spiritual character to see where it is, "on the meter." And some even have that attitude towards others. The whole thing becomes a big bondage, and a rather self-centered kind of Christianity. It is not of the Truth, and produces little more than self-righteousness.


This is also wrong. We need to get a grasp on what the moral and spiritual likeness of Jesus looks like, and how God accomplishes this. Then we can walk in Truth and grow up to be the sons and daughters God intended.


Bearing Fruit


God wants to conform us to Christ. This means Christian character. The character of Jesus Christ – the image and likeness we are to bear – is certainly summarized by the fruit of the Spirit. Paul gives us the list of these fruits:


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. (Gal 5:22-23)


So how do we grow to bear these fruits?


First of all, you will never manifest the fruits of the Spirit by trying to manifest the fruits of the Spirit! You cannot say, "Ok. One of the fruits of the Spirit is love. So I will now love." No. This will never work. The best you will end up with is a religious façade. You will end up trying to act like you think a Christian is supposed to act, but there will be nothing real behind it.


The list of the fruits of the Spirit is not a list of commands of conduct. God does not say, as He does with the Ten Commandments, "Thou shalt manifest joy!" Nope. Rather, we are simply told what the fruits are. This alone ought to give us a clue as to how fruit does come to be seen in our lives.


Ask: Does a tree have to grunt real hard and TRY to bear fruit? No. A tree bears fruit as the OUTCOME or PRODUCT of a process – of a LIFE PROCESS. This tells us how we can come to bear the fruit of the Spirit: Abide in the Source of life.


Jesus said this exact thing. He said:


Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. "(John 15:4-5)


According to Jesus, bearing fruit is the OUTCOME of, "abiding in Him" – just as a branch abides in a Vine, and then bears fruit. But what does it mean to, "abide in Christ?"


"To abide in Christ," means to live in Him, and from OUT OF Him. It means to DEPEND upon Him for everything – to RELY upon Him for your very life. Isn’t that how a branch is related to it’s vine?


I mentioned earlier that a true witness unto Jesus Christ is DEFINED by their relationship to Him. Here we see one of the specifics of that relationship: DEPENDENCY UPON CHRIST. Or, to use a more familiar word: FAITH!


A son of God has a relationship of faith – dependency and reliance – upon Jesus Christ. But not just for the event of salvation. We rely upon Jesus Christ for everything.


In your day to day life, who do you rely upon? Who do you depend upon? Yourself? Money? Some loved one? Or do you live from OUT OF a faith in Jesus Christ? If you open yourself up, and begin to live from out of a dependency upon Jesus Christ, for everything, as God shows you how, God tells us that the result of this, "abiding in the Vine," is going to be FRUIT.


Get that. Fruit is the result of living from a dependency upon Jesus Christ for everything. We put our faith in Christ, and walk in that faith, and live from out of that faith, and the fruits of the Spirit will grow to be made manifest through us. Why? Because if we are living by faith, we are allowing Jesus to have us, and live through us. How can his image and likeness not shine through? IT MUST SHINE THROUGH.


Here we see the need for practical choices. You and I are presented with choices all the time as to whether to believe and trust God, or to go another route. If you do believe God, against all that might contradict or oppose your faith, there is something in you that DIES. Have you ever noticed that? It just DIES. That is because there is a control over yourself that you are relinquishing – and this surrender allows the power of resurrection to rush in and take control. What ends up coming forth is not only the will of God in your situation, but the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, in the form of spiritual fruit.


This is why our power of choice is so important. All of our choices really boil down to faith verses unbelief. They boil down to WHO we are going to belong to through our moral surrender. Faith is always an unconditional moral surrender of myself into the hands of God. And as I said, when you really do that – really do it – something of your natural life DIES. By definition, your control over yourself dies to another degree, because that control is really what you are surrendering if you place your trust and dependency upon HIM.


Herein we see why God uses TESTINGS to conform us to Christ. This is because He needs a venue through which we might be given the choice to surrender ourselves – and put our dependency upon Him. Certainly it is possible to do this through blessings. But for most of us, it takes a trial. The natural man will not easily respond in any other way.


So what we see here is that instead of going on a, "character building campaign," wherein we try to make ourselves spiritual, we need to retire to a position of resting in, and depending upon, Jesus Christ. Then His life, the fruit of the Spirit, will eventually shine through us. But it won’t be because of our efforts. It will be because we rested from our efforts and simply began to abide in HIM.


One rather humorous way to illustrate the futility of trying to bear fruit is to take, for instance the fruit of MEEKNESS. The moment you, "try to be meek," you are being proud. Lots of people take pride in their supposed humility. But meekness is never the product of me doing anything. It is the product of me being so focused upon Jesus Christ in faith, that meekness comes forth.


Dependency upon Christ is the gateway to spiritual fruit. But dependency will strip us of all that we are, and focus on everything that He is. Ironic? Such is the way it is with the things of God.


So what we now see is that the image and likeness of Jesus Christ is accomplished only if I decrease and He increases. I give God the freedom to conform me to Christ if I lose my life in Christ. Then I find it. If I become defined by my dependency upon Christ, not only will this relationship be a witness unto Christ, but it will also result in spiritual fruit. I will be abiding in the Vine.




Dependency upon Christ will result in us bearing the fruits of the Spirit, and in us growing to bear the image and likeness of Christ. We will begin to look like sons and daughters of God. But a true witness to Jesus Christ will also be defined by another characteristic of his relationship to Christ: Devotion. A true witness will be dependent upon Christ, but will also be unconditionally devoted to Him.


Just as dependency is faith, so is devotion another word for WORSHIP. Devotion means to be unconditionally committed to Jesus Christ. No matter what. It means to belong to Him. But not because we have to. Because we want to. Devotion carries a reverence for God. It means we KNOW Him.


Devotion to Christ, should be our relationship with Christ, as we emerge from our conversion experience. If you are saved, you got that way by not only depending upon Jesus’ death and resurrection, but because you wanted to be devoted to Him. You gave yourself to Him. None of this is supposed to go away once we are saved. It only begins there. It should grow.


Devotion to Christ results in living for Christ. It results in a growing worship of Christ with our lives. Again – a relationship of devotion for Christ is supposed to characterize a witness unto Jesus. It is supposed to be a trait of a son or daughter of God.


Sons and Daughters


Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knows us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)


There is a great purpose and work which God is doing in His people today. He is trying to conform us to the image of His Son. But GOD must do this. We cannot. All He asks of us is that we abide in the Vine by faith (dependency). All He asks is our unconditional devotion to Him.


When John says that, "every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as he is pure," he is not talking about mere WORKS. He is talking about a pure and unpolluted faith and devotion to God. This is the meaning of true holiness. God has given us His Spirit of Sonship, and now He wants us to grow up to look like THE SON, for we are going to be spending all eternity living with Him.*

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