As noted by the other devotional writers previously, Paul’s letter to the Romans was extremely deliberate. That is certainly the case with these passages.
There are three words which Paul uses in these verses which are really steeped in Jewish custom and understanding of the time – slavery, adoption and heir.1 These terms had precise legal meanings in those days. Paul, as a Pharisee, who practiced the letter of Jewish law, knew these terms well and used them to convey a specific meaning beyond what our current understanding of those words would be.
The word “slavery” here is used to refer to several different types of bondage. Paul is using it to mean any state of being other than that as a fully devoted follower of Christ. Specifically, he is referring to the bondage that Jews had to the laws of their faith and also to the lusts of the flesh. Since being a slave meant something very specific in those times, all free Jews would never think of themselves as being enslaved. Yet, Paul was making the point that they, in fact, were.
The word “adoption” is also used quite deliberately. An adoption is an act of grace by the adopter to the adoptee. It is not something earned by the adoptee nor is it inherent grace. It is only by God’s grace that we receive forgiveness of our sins and everlasting life.
Similarly, the word “heirs” used along with the word “adoption” refers to the gift of God himself. We cannot be heirs naturally as Christ is the only natural heir to God and we have no standing to be God’s heirs. But rather this gift is given freely to those who accept the invitation to suffer with Christ so that we may receive the inheritance God so generously offers as a co-heir with Christ.
1These words are used in the New Revised Standard Version of the bible and may not be the exact words used in all biblical interpretations.