“The Spirit of Adoption as Sons” (Romans 8:12-17)

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
July 10, 2011

“The Spirit of Adoption as Sons” (Romans 8:12-17)

Romans 8 is one of the great chapters of the Bible. It is certainly one of the most familiar and best-loved chapters in the Bible. So many memorable passages in Romans 8! The chapter opens with the great assurance, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” It goes on to say, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” And it closes with the great crescendo, “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life,” and then a whole series of things, concluding, “nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is how most Christians come to know Romans 8, through these famous and very comforting verses. And rightly so.

And there is even much more that we find here, when we begin to explore this beautiful chapter. For example, there are more references to the Holy Spirit in Romans 8 than in any other chapter in the Bible. And so it is that we will be spending some time in Romans 8, today and over the next couple of Sundays. Three straight weeks with the Epistle reading coming from this chapter. Besides that, we had the first part of the chapter, Romans 8:1-11, as an assigned reading back in April. So today we pick it up again with verses 12-17; next week, verses 18-27; and then after that, verses 28-39. And so I encourage you to read through this chapter, Romans 8, and to meditate on it, several times over the next couple of weeks. You will be blessed as you do.

As I say, there is quite an emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit running through Romans 8, and our text today is no exception. And so our theme this morning centers on what it means for our lives that you and I have received “The Spirit of Adoption as Sons.”

That’s what St. Paul says has happened to us, we who have become Christians. He writes: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”

Now before we go any further, let me make clear: When the Bible says that we are “sons” of God, this by no means is discriminating against women. No, all Christians are included in this status as “sons.” As Paul writes elsewhere, in Galatians 3, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” So, gals, you are sons, too! And that’s a good thing. This designation as “sons” applies to all of us Christians, whether male or female.

Now how did this sonship come about? It did not happen naturally. No, according to our flesh, we were not sons but slaves. We did not have the access or standing that sons have. Instead, we were outside the family of God. We were stuck as slaves. Slaves to sin. Stuck in fear, the fear of death. That’s who we were, according to the flesh, that is, according to our fallen, sinful human nature.

But something happened. Something happened to change our status from slaves to sons. We have been brought into the family. We have been made sons. You didn’t volunteer for this new standing. You didn’t earn it, by working real hard as a slave to sin. No, that would be ridiculous. You didn’t do anything to make yourself a son.

No, rather, God acted. It’s God’s doing, his decision, that has made us his sons. God adopts us; we don’t adopt him. God makes the decisive move, and he changes our status entirely. He takes us on as his sons, declares it to be so, brings us into his family, and gives us this whole new standing, a whole new identity.

We become God’s sons because of God’s one and only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He has removed the barrier of our sins by his death on the cross. Christ has redeemed us, set us free from our slavery to sin and death. From fear to forgiveness–our Lord Jesus has brought us slaves out of our bondage. From death to life–Christ leads the way by his resurrection from the dead. From slaves to sons–this is what God has done for us through his Son, our Savior.

Our standing as sons is effected, brought into being, when we are joined to Jesus. Again, this is God’s doing, not ours. In Holy Baptism we are joined to Jesus. And by being connected to God’s own Son by faith and baptism, we too become God’s sons. Our status is changed. Through Christ, we gain access into God’s household. We share in all the benefits that Christ has won for us. We now have the great privilege of calling on God as our Father. And what’s more, God has given us the great gift of the Holy Spirit, to lead and guide us and to testify to our spirits that we are indeed God’s sons, his children. That’s what Paul is saying here in Romans 8: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

These two terms, “sons” and “children,” can be used interchangeably. But Paul also uses each term for its own special emphasis. “Sons” emphasizes our standing, our status–our legal status, you could say–the rights and privileges we have as sons. The term “children” emphasizes our relationship to the Father, that we have a new nature, that we share in his character, that we can call on him as dear children call on their dear Father–in other words, the warm intimacy that children have with their father,

And so Paul even uses the intimate form of address that children in his culture would use to call their father: “Abba.” “Abba” is the term in the Aramaic language that would be sort of equivalent to our “Daddy” or “Papa.” It’s what little children would call their father that outsiders wouldn’t. “Abba,” “Father,” “Daddy”–we have that kind of intimacy, that kind of relationship, with the God who created the heavens and the earth.

What a great thing, to know God in this way, to know that we can come to him like this! We’re no longer outsiders. We don’t have to worry that God doesn’t care about us in all our trials and difficulties. No, God cares about you very deeply, my friend. He gave his Son to die for you. He gives you the Spirit so that now you know you are God’s child. When you are suffering, when you are hurting, call out to him as children call on their loving father. “Abba, Father.”

God has given us the Spirit of adoption as sons. This changes the way we live now. Since we have received the Spirit, now we are led by the Spirit. And the Spirit will lead us in ways that are pleasing to our heavenly Father. There are real changes in the manner of life that we lead, in the decisions we make, in what we do and think and say. This is how the Spirit leads us, that now we live as sons who want to do their Father’s will. To do otherwise is to go against the Spirit’s leading, and that is very dangerous.

In fact, it’s a matter of life and death. St. Paul writes: “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 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.” Did you catch that? If you live according to the flesh, you will die. If you put to death the desires of the sinful flesh that are played out in the deeds of the body, you will live. Or to put it more briefly: If you live, you will die. If you die, you will live. It’s like Jesus himself said: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

What is the living according to the flesh that you need to die to? What are those sinful deeds of the body that you need to put to death? The Spirit is calling you today to repent. And the Spirit is leading you today to live, to live as God’s child, as a son who wants to please his Father. The Spirit will lead you in the way of righteousness this week. Walk ye in it.

God has given us the Spirit of adoption as sons. This changes the way we live now. And it also changes the way we will live forever. And that is because the sons share in the inheritance. Now the thing about an inheritance is that you don’t cash in on it right away. You have to wait for it, often for many years. But the inheritance is yours, there’s no question about it. You can count on it. We’ve got that legal standing as sons, remember.

That’s how it is for us as sons of God. We are heirs, awaiting our full inheritance. Paul writes: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

For right now, we wait. Our time of waiting will even involve suffering. It comes with the territory as followers of Christ. But because God has adopted us as sons and connected us to Christ, that makes us sons in line for the inheritance. We are heirs, joint heirs, co-heirs with Christ. What Christ came into, we will come into. Christ was raised from the dead. We will be raised from the dead. Christ lives forever in his heavenly kingdom. We will join him, living forever, in eternal glory. This is your inheritance, my friends. It’s a sure thing. You have it–all that, and more–you have it to look forward to. We will be talking about that inheritance to come much more next week, as we continue in Romans 8.

But for now, take comfort in knowing that you are the sons of God, his dear children. “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs.” This new status that we have as sons changes the way we live now–we know we have a heavenly Father who cares for us, and we want to please him. And our status as sons changes our eternal future, as well, which gives us great hope even now in times of suffering.

God the Father has changed our status from slaves to sons, through his Son, Jesus Christ. And he has given us the Spirit, so that we would know this new reality and so that the Spirit now will lead us through this life and into the life to come.

Published in: on July 9, 2011 at 10:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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