The Evidence of Sonship by Milburn Cockrell – Page 1 THE EVIDENCE OF SONSHIP By Milburn Cockrell
The Evidence of Sonship by Milburn Cockrell – Page 1
THE EVIDENCE OF SONSHIP
By Milburn Cockrell
Published in the Berea Baptist Banner January 5 , 2001.
“And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth
the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba,
Father” (Gal. 4:6).
The work of the Godhead in man’s salvation is seen in
this text. Their harmonious co-operation is beautifully
set forth by Paul’s inspired words. The Father sent the
Spirit. It is the Spirit of His Son. The Spirit is the sent
One. The Galatians had been endued with the Holy
Spirit (3:2) because they were sons of God by adoption.
Here is seen the sovereign action of the Father sending
the Holy Spirit: “God hath sent forth.” In the context
there is seen two sending by the Father in Galatians
4. There is the sending of the Son by the Father to fulfill
His covenant engagements: “But when the fullness of
the time was come, God sent forth his Son. . .” (Gal.
4:4). Then there is the sending of the Spirit to fulfill His
covenant engagements: “God hath sent forth the Spirit
of his Son.”
The Holy Spirit is the promise of the Father: “Until
the Spirit be poured upon us from on high. . .” (Isa.
32:15). “. . .I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and
my blessing upon thine offspring” (Isa. 44:3). “And
it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out
my spirit upon all flesh. . .” ( Joel 2:28). In Luke 24:49
Jesus said: “And, behold, I send the promise of my
Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem,
until ye be endued with power from on high.”
The Father’s promise of the Spirit is one of the greatest
and most comprehensive of all promises. With the
exception of Christ, the Spirit is the best gift the Father
can give: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give
good gifts unto your children: how much more shall
your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them
that ask him?” (Luke 11:13). This promise of the Spirit
would enable them to stand before kings and speak in
the name of Jesus: “But when they deliver you up,
take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it
shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall
speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of
your Father which speaketh in you” (Matt. 10:19-
While the Spirit is the promise of the Father the Spirit
was also sent because of the prayer of Christ: “And I
will pray the Father, and he shall give you another
Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;
Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot
receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth
him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you,
and shall be in you” ( John 14:16-17). The Father would
send the Spirit to be a teacher, an assistant, and a helper.
The perishing world would not receive the Spirit in this
The Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son:
“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send
unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth,
which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify
of me” ( John 15:26). As I have already said, the Spirit is
sent in answer to the prayer of Christ.
Contrary to the opinion of some, the unsaved are never
told to go through some kind of experience to receive
the Spirit. Instead of the unsaved “getting the Spirit,” in
truth the Spirit must take hold of them by regeneration
and conversion. Otherwise, the sinner would never be
saved: “I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will
make known my words unto you” (Prov. 1:23; cf.
Acts 10:44). Our spiritual blessings are in Christ (Eph.
The blessing which the Father sent in His sovereignty
is “the Spirit of his Son.” This is the only place in the
New Testament where the title, the Spirit of His Son, is
used. We do read of “the Spirit of Christ” (Rom. 8:9;
II Pet. 1:11) and the “Spirit of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:19).
By faith we are one with the Son, and what is His is ours.
His Sonship ensures our sonship.
First, the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ because
He comes in Christ’s name: “But the Comforter,
which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send
in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring
all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have
said unto you” ( John 14:26). The Spirit came by Christ’s
authority to continue His work. He came to testify of
Christ, “not to speak of himself” ( John 16:13). The
Spirit came to glorify Christ ( John 16:14). It is through
the Spirit men are enabled to confess Christ: “. . .no
man can say that Jesus is the LORD, but by the
Holy Ghost” (I Cor. 12:3). A spirit which does not confess
Jesus Christ as Lord is an evil one (II John 7).
Second, the Third Person in the Godhead is denominated
the Spirit of Christ because Christ sent the Spirit
as well as the Father: “This Jesus hath God raised up,
whereof we all are witnesses. Therefore being by
the right hand of God exalted, and having received
of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he
hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear”
Third, Christ made adoption the end and purpose of
His redemption: “To redeem them that were under
the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons”
(Gal. 4:5). “Receive” in the Greek implies the suitableness
of a thing long ago predestinated by God. The Spirit
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must regenerate all whom the Son redeemed, for our
adoption is the consequence of Christ’s redemption.
In the covenant of grace the Son and the Spirit took a
subordinate position to the Father. This can be seen in
both of these being sent by God the Father. The Sender
is greater in authority than the Sent. This is inferiority of
office in the covenant, but it is not inferiority of persons.
The Father is said to send the Son. Our Lord said:
“My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and
to finish his work” ( John 4:34). Again He declared:
“For I came down from heaven, not to do mine
own will, but the will of him that sent me” ( John
6:38). “. . .the Father sent the Son to be the Savior
of the world” (I John 4:14).
The Father is said to send the Spirit: “Thy sendest
forth thy Spirit” (Ps. 104:30). “. . .God hath sent forth
the Spirit of his Son into your hearts. . .” (Ga. 4:6).
The Spirit took a subordinate position to both the Father
and the Son in the covenant of grace. There is a
sense in which God the Father and God the Son sent the
Spirit. “. . .for if I go not away, the Comforter will
not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him
unto you” ( John 16:7). This truth must not be pressed
too far (Isa. 48:16).
We are given the Spirit of His Son to correspond to
our status as sons. His only begotten Son was given the
Spirit without measure (Isa. 11:2; Matt. 12:28; John 3:34).
Even so the adopted sons must be given the Spirit.
“Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in
us, because he hath given us of his Spirit” (I John
4:13). “And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because
the Spirit is truth. . . .He that believeth on
the Son of God hath the witness in himself. . .” (I
John 5:6, 10). There is no son of God who does not have
the Spirit (Rom. 8:9), and every son of God has the Spirit.
Natural parents can adopt a child and give him legal
status, but they cannot give their spirit to the boy or girl
which they select. “God is greater than man” ( Job
33:12), for He imparts the Spirit of His only begotten
Son to His adopted sons: “But we all, with open face
beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are
changed into the same image from glory to glory,
even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Cor. 3:18). The
Holy Spirit by progressive sanctification changes us into
the image of Christ’s glory (Rom. 8:29; I John 3:3). By
beholding Christ in the Word, we are changed from one
glorious state of spiritual growth to another.
The recipients of the blessings and benefits are seen in
the words: “. . .ye are sons. . .” This is a name often
given to the people of God in both testaments. “And
thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD,
Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto
thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me. . .” (Ex.
4:22-23). “I will say to the north, Give up; and to
the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far,
and my daughters from the ends of the earth” (Isa.
43:6). “You are sons to Jehovah your God” (Deut.
14:1 Heb. text). “For ye are all sons of God through
faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26 Greek text). I John 3:2
says: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God. . .” (I
The Bible gives a number of titles to God’s people.
We are sometimes said to be subjects of the Sovereign,
servants of the Master, soldiers of the Captain, sheep of
the Great Shepherd, etc. These relations do not go far
enough. The Scriptures teach we are sons of God by regeneration
and adoption. Among humans a person does
not adopt those begotten of him, but it is not so with
First, we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit to make
us sons of God by nature. “Whosoever believes that
Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (I John 5:1
Greek text). As a rule natural birth gives life and nature.
When we are born of God we receive His life—eternal
life: “He that heareth my word, and believeth on
him that sent me, hath everlasting life. . .” ( John
5:24). By means of the new birth we receive the nature
of God: “And that ye put on the new man, which
after God is created in righteousness and true holiness”
(Eph. 4:24). II Peter 1:3-4 discloses how the “divine
power” has made us “partakers of the divine
nature.” Like God, the believer is given a sinless nature:
“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit
sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot
sin, because he is born of God” (I John 3:9). Hebrews
12:10 tells us we are “partakers of his holiness.” This
spiritual birth gives us a family relationship.
Second, we are adopted by God to give us the legal
status of sons. A child by ordinary generation can be
disinherited, but an adopted child can never be disinherited.
As the adopted sons of God, we have “received
the promise of eternal inheritance” (Heb. 9:15). This
inheritance consists of everlasting life (Matt. 19:29), a
kingdom (Matt. 25:34), a blessing (I Pet. 3:9), and all
things (Rev. 21:7). Peter writes: “Blessed be the God
and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according
to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again
unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ
from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible and
undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in
heaven for you” (I Pet. 1:3-4). The Holy Spirit dwells
within us as a pledge “of our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14).
How thankful we ought to be for this inheritance: “Giving
thanks unto the Father, which hath made us
meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints
in light” (Col. 1:12).
To be a son of God by regeneration and adoption is a
great privilege: “Behold, what manner of love the
Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be
called the sons of God. . .” (I John 3:1). How gracious
such an act is on God’s part! Here is unearthly love beyond
all human description. Sonship is a pure gift of
God’s grace. There was nothing in us to merit it, or call
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it forth. We have been born again, born from above,
born of God!
This privilege is not extended to all men without exception.
It is enjoyed only by those born of God: “He
came unto his own, and his own received him not.
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: Which were born, not of blood,
nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man,
but of God” ( John 1:11-13). In what sense are men given
the “power to become the sons of God”? The word
power is exousia in the Greek, and it means “authority,
privilege, strength, or right.” The alien sinner has no
power of his own to make himself a son of God. God
must give him the power and the privilege of being a
son of God.
Three negatives are given as to the cause of our spiritual
birth. “Not of blood” which means not of superior
human descent or national consideration. “Not of the
will of the flesh” means not through rites and ceremonies
of religion which man’s fleshly will might seek to
do. “Not of the will of man” shows that regeneration
is not due to man’s supposed “free will” (Rom. 9:16). We
are born not by man’s free will, but by the free will of
God: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of
truth. . .” ( Jas. 1:18). “Of God” implies miraculous creation.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and
that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” ( John 3:6).
My text does not say: “And in order for you to be sons,
God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son. . .” This would
be true in the sense of regeneration, but this is not the
truth Paul seeks to stress in my text. Listen carefully to
the words of the text: “And BECAUSE YE ARE SONS,
God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your
hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” The word “because”
indicates the reason God has given us His Spirit. It is
because we are sons that God sent forth the Spirit of His
Son into our hearts! Sonship existed in the mind and
purpose of God from all eternity. God designed in the
before-time covenant that we be His sons: “According
as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation
of the world, that we should be holy and without
blame before him in love: Having predestinated us
unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to
himself, according to the good pleasure of his will”
Galatians 4:6 speaks of how we are sons in God’s elective
purpose. This was an act of fatherly love by which
He took us into His family (Heb. 2:14). God had one
only begotten Son, yet He was pleased by His own will
and for His own glory to choose out of Adam’s lost race
many to become His adopted sons. John Adams, the
hymnwriter, so well wrote in the 1700s:
Sons we are through God’s election,
Who in Jesus Christ believe:
By eternal destination,
Sovereign grace we here receive.
In Romans 8:29 it is written: “For whom he did foreknow,
he also did predestinate to be conformed to
the image of his Son, that he might be the first
born among many brethren.” I do not know how any
true believer can detest the doctrine of predestination,
for it tells us God determined to have many sons just
like His only begotten Son. The purpose of predestination
is that many might be conformed to the image of
Jesus Christ. At the rapture the believer’s body will be
fashioned like unto Christ’s only glorious resurrection
body (Phil. 3:21). This must be so; otherwise, Christ will
not have “many brethren.” Christ is coming at the rapture
to bring “many sons unto glory” (Heb. 2:10).
In our Christian experience we come to know our
sonship when we believe the gospel: “Received ye the
Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of
faith?. . .For ye are all the children of God by faith
in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:2, 26). Having received Christ
as our Lord and Savior, and relying on Him alone for
salvation, we see our happy relationship to God. We see
Him as our covenant Father. “Whosoever believeth
that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (I John 5:1).
In John 1:12 those born of God “receive Christ” and
are given authority and ability to become the sons of
God. They are also said to “believe on his name.”
God the Father sends the Holy Spirit into our “hearts.”
Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks
on the heart (I Sam. 16:7). In regeneration God gives a
“new heart” and a “new spirit” (Ezek. 36:26). The
Father sends the Spirit into our hearts to implant the
habits of grace. The Spirit is put in our hearts because
out of the heart are the issues of life (Prov. 4:23; 27:7).
Principle and practice go together. A tree is known by
its fruits: “A good man out of the good treasure of
his heart bringeth forth that which is good. . .” (Luke
I would not believe it, if the Bible did not say it. But
my text plainly states that the Holy Spirit takes up His
residence in the believer’s heart. This is the common
mark of all the sons of God, which separates us from the
mass of false professors. This is the earnest Christ gives
to all true disciples, while we are in the body, as a pledge
of the full redemption yet to come on the morning of the
Those who have the Spirit of adoption in their hearts
have “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine”
delivered unto them (Rom. 6:17), and they believe with
all their heart in Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:9-10). Those whose
hearts are established with grace (Heb. 13:9) take pleasure
in “doing the will of God from the heart” (Eph.
6:6). If the Spirit has filled our hearts, we will make
melody in our hearts “to the Lord” (Eph. 5:18-19). When
the indwelling Spirit moves us to prayer we “call on
the Lord out of a pure heart” (II Tim. 2:22). When
the Spirit leads us to worship God we “draw near with
a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22).
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The sons of God glory in heart, not appearance (II Cor.
What does the Spirit of adoption cause us to do in our
hearts? He causes us to cry: “Abba, Father.” Here the
tense is a present continuous. In Galatians 4:6 the Spirit
is said to cry, but in Romans 8 we are said to cry: “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
beareth witness with our Spirit, that we are the
children of God” (Rom. 8:15-16). It is the action of the
Spirit of the Son on the spirits of the sons that enables
them to cry: “Abba, Father.”
“Abba” is an Aramaic word similar to our English
word “papa.” “Father” is a translation of a Greek word
(pater) which is the equivalent of “Abba.” Some would
translate it: “Father, Father,” or “Abba, our Father,” or
as the Reformer Becon rendered it: “Dear Father.”
“Abba” is the word by the feeble lips of an infant, while
“Father” is a word of maturity uttered by one conscious
of relationship. Christ used this in the hour of His suffering
(Mark 14:36), and now it is the privilege of all the
sons of God. “Abba” is a word which belongs to sons.
In the time of the New Testament no slave could use
God has no stillborn children—no sons void of the faculty
of speech. Those who have the “Spirit of grace”
also have the Spirit of supplication (Zech. 12:10). If there
is no prayer, there is no sonship. God’s own elect “cry
day and night unto him” (Luke 18:7). “The righteous
cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them
out of all their troubles” (Ps. 34:17).
1. By adoption God gives us a new nature (II Pet. 1:4),
a new name (Rev. 3:12), a new inheritance (Rom. 8:17),
new relations (Rom. 8:15-16), and a new hope (I Pet.
2. Men generally adopt when they have no children
of their own. But God had a Son and angels were his
sons by creation ( Job 38:7). Men generally adopt such
as they think deserving; God adopts enemies, sinners,
and criminals. Men adopt living children; God adopts
those that are by nature spiritually dead. Men generally
adopt only one child; God adopts many, for He is determined
that Christ have “many brethren” (Rom. 8:29).
3. Because we are sons of God we are objects of God’s
peculiar love ( John 17:23; Rom. 5:5-8; Tit. 3:4; I John
4:7-11) and special protection (Ps. 125:2; Isa. 66:13; Rom.
8:35-36). Sonship also includes fatherly chastisement for
our good (Heb. 12:5-11).
4. Do you resemble God? Do you have family communion
and family fellowship with the Godhead? Do
you enjoy family privileges? Does the Spirit of His Son
dwell in you? Romans 8:9 declares: “Now if any man
have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” II
Corinthians 13:5 reads: “Examine yourselves, whether
ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye
now your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in
you, except ye be reprobates?”