15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”
Verses 15 and 16 validate the point in verse 14 that believers are God’s children eternally.
This is the third verse in a row that introduces itself by a “for.” Paul was in the process of elaborating what it means to be a “son.” The “for” here harks back to verse 14. Verses 15 and 16 are an explanation of verse 14.
you did not receive [single, past event; aorist indicative]
The word “receive” harks back to the reception of the Holy Spirit from the Father constituting the beginning of the Christian life. This is the moment at which each person who became a Christian was marked as legally acceptable to God; it is the point at which believers are legally and irrevocably transferred into the status of sonship. It is an epoch event, an occasion that is no “spirit of bondage.”
the spirit of bondage [slavery]
A “spirit of bondage” is a spirit that brings about slavery of the soul. Non-Christians are slaves to sin by attempting to gain God’s approbation by works.
The coming of the Holy Spirit dispelled the spirit of slavery towards God. There is no way the indwelling Spirit in the believer brings him back to the legalism of the non-Christian state. Before salvation we were spiritual slaves, but after salvation we are free towards God.
Becoming a Christian does not put the believer into a legalistic system of slavery whereby he fears that he cannot measure up to the law or to God. There is no extrinsic code in that sense for the Christian life. The believer already has the status of acceptance with God because of the principle of “adoption” or sonship. Assurance of salvation comes from appreciation of what God has given.
The “fear” here is the fear of abandonment. Children of God have no fear of God abandoning them. A true believer does not shrink from God in fear. Instead of a spirit of fear, the believer has the spirit of sonship or son-placing. The believer has been legally placed into an adult status in God’s family. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (8:17). The seal of that adoption is the indwelling Holy Spirit (2 Co 1:22; Ep 1:13).
Christians are free from slavish orientation to God because of the work of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Christians do not live in a state of fear in reference to God. Instead of a servile, fearful spirit towards God, Christians have a filial attitude toward Him. We have a sense of relationship with God and are no longer outsiders to Him. More than that, we have status with Him. Our conscience is free from the attitude of slavish, legalistic attempts to please God by our own efforts.
There is always a tendency to revert back to the law as a system to please God. Wherever the church is subject to legalism, it is brought into slavery. There is always fear in legalism because of failure to measure up to a holy God.
2 Ti 1: 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
Grace and justification mean nothing less than that a believer is free from the obligation to measure up to God’s standards by his own means. We are indeed accepted in the Beloved (Ep 1:6).
Christians must know that, in the time of their greatest spiritual failure, the Lord is still faithful to them. They do not need to “fear” losing their salvation. We must draw on the promises of God when we enter into carnality and hit spiritual lows.
There is nothing we can do to lose our salvation. David, after he committed adultery and murder, did not lose his salvation, but he lost the “joy” of his salvation. He wrote Psalm 51 as a confession of these sins.
Ps 51: 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.