Freedom from Slavery to Sonship (May 27, 2018)
Freedom from Slavery to Sonship
Welcome to the second half of the church year! Every year the services, Bible readings, and sermons focus on two major themes. First, what has God done for you. And now, second, what does God do through you. Trinity Sunday stands at the transition between those two times. Now that you know what God has done for you, culminating in the death and resurrection of Christ, what does God do through you? The text we are looking at today perhaps makes us ask an introspective question. How do I know if I am being led by the Spirit of God? It says, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Rm 8:14), but how do I know if I am being led by the Spirit of God?
Many look at their own performance in this matter. Am I acting like a child of God? Am I pursuing godly things and living according to his will? Am I actively fighting against sin in my own life and in the world around me? But the problem with all of that self-analysis is you are always left with the question, “Am I doing enough?” How do I know if I am doing enough? And the thought that perhaps really weighs on you, “What about all the times why I fail? What about when I don’t pursue godly things, or when I do give in to sin?” There seems to be so much subjectivity – so much wiggle room. How can I ever be certain?
Well, if there’s anything that God wants us to know from this Bible reading today it’s that you have certainty! And that certainty comes not from looking at ourselves, but from looking to God. That’s the very reason God gave his law – so we look away from ourselves. That’s the very reason God sent his Son – so that we look to him and the complete and perfect way he accomplished your salvation. And today you will see that you can be certain of your relationship to God because of what he has done for you. It’s all traced through the different words used for “children” here. There are three different words that give you complete certainty in your adoption to sonship.
The first of these words is just that: “sons” or “sonship”. And just a quick note on the translation. In Greek, the same word is used both in verse 14 and 15. In English it has been translated as “children of God” and “adoption to sonship.” But it is the same Greek word.
We weren’t always “sons of God.” A little bit earlier in this chapter of Romans you see a contrast between the mind controlled by the flesh and the mind controlled by the Spirit. Can you guess which mindset we were born with? We were born of flesh, with a mind enslaved by the sinful flesh. And the Bible says, “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires… The mind governed by the flesh is death… is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God” (Rm 8:5-8). Yet despite all of this, God chose you to be his child – to be his sons and daughters. “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” (Jn 15:16) Jesus said. Despite being enslaved to the sinful flesh, despite being hostile enemies of God, he chose to completely change that relationship with you. He adopted you to be his son or daughter.
Now, I said the words chosen were important right? The word used here for “children of God” and “adoption to sonship” has an emphasis on the close relationship that children share with their parents. There is a closeness. There is an intimacy. There is vulnerability and trust. And even though children may not always be at their best behavior, that love from their parents never goes away. And even if we aren’t always perfect at loving our children, God, our heavenly Father, is. Because God is love. And he’s the one who chose you for this relationship with him!
Because you are children of God, you can cry out to him, “Abba, Father” (Rm 8:15). There’s a lot packed into that small little word “Abba.” It’s actually just the Hebrew word transliterated into Greek and for us into English. It doesn’t mean “Lord” with a capital “L,” it doesn’t even mean “sir.” It means “father,” but yet, in the way that a little child would address their father. “Daddy” is really what it means here. You have been adopted into God’s family. He chose to have this kind of a relationship with you – a relationship in which you can call the Almighty God, “daddy.” Wow!
Now think of what exactly that means. God invites you to approach him as a little child approaches their own father. There’s confidence in that relationship – “I can go to daddy for anything I need and he’ll take care of it.” In fact, I remember my daughter, Neriya, saying one time, “Just give it to daddy, he’ll fix it!” There’s trust in that relationship – “Daddy is never going to do anything to hurt or harm me.” There’s even a boldness to it that says I can go to daddy any time I need, ask him anything I want, and keep asking until I get it. As parents we call that pestering, right? When your child comes up to you and says, “Daddy, daddy, daddy, daddy. Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy.” But God, your Father, actually invites that! He said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Php 4:6). This is your God! This is the relationship that God chose to have with you when he called you to be his own!
And the confidence doesn’t end there! He didn’t just choose you to be his own. He also saw to it that you were born into his family. And that’s what the second word for “child” emphasizes. So, we had “children of God” and “adoption to sonship.” Those are actually from the same Greek word that emphasizes your relationship with God. Now we have in verse 16, “God’s children” which comes from the Greek word “tekna.” The emphasis there is that you were born into this family. You don’t just have the relationship of being a child of God, but you were born into this family! You have the family blood, the family DNA – or, I guess in this case it would be, you have the “Spirit” that this family shares.
When did that happen? Jesus talked about it in the gospel reading from today (Jn 3:1-17). Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (Jn 3:5-6). You all were physically born – obviously, because you are all here in the flesh today. But in that physical, fleshly birth you also inherited the sinful flesh that all humankind has shared. You have also been reborn spiritually! When you were baptized with water and the word, the Holy Spirit enters your heart. In fact, there’s an image of death, burial, and new birth all attached to baptism. The Bible says you “have been buried with [Christ] in baptism, in which you were also raised with him” (Col 2:12). The mind enslaved to the sinful flesh died with Christ on the cross, and through your baptism you have been reborn in the Spirit! So not only by your relationship are you children of God, but also by your birth!
And the Holy Spirit testifies to this rebirth. It says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rm 8:16). So, it’s not that we are simply proving ourselves to be such. It’s not at all that I have to spend each and every day proving and testifying that I am a child of God by what I think, say, and do. No! Ever since you were born again by water and the word, ever since you were born again by the Spirit through your baptism, you have the Holy Spirit testifying with you each and every day that you are indeed “God’s children” by birth! Who can argue against two witnesses? That’s one of the reasons why God had Old Testament Israel establish matters by at least two witnesses. Who can argue with it? More than that though, who’s going to argue your birth into God’s family when God himself – the Holy Spirit – is testifying with you? No one can! You have absolute certainty! And that’s one of the reasons why we find it so important to preserve the practice of infant baptism. There is such confidence, such assurance, such certainty God himself gives that this child, born of the Spirit through baptism, is indeed a child of God!
You have the close relationship of being “children of God.” You have the Spirit’s testimony that you were born into the family as “God’s children.” And now we have one more form of the word used for “children.” “If we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rm 8:17). This final term emphasizes that there is a binding contract upheld by the law that states that you are indeed “children of God” and “heirs” of his family. That contract was drafted up by God himself. It was his plan to legally adopt you as sons and daughters. And he jumped through all the hoops – so to speak – to make that so.
You see, it wasn’t an easy adoption process. God is holy. And in order for him to be holy and remain holy, he cannot tolerate anything that is unholy. If he did, he wouldn’t be holy anymore, and he can’t become something that he isn’t! Well, as you well know, you and I are not holy. We are not very worthy for adoption – especially not adoption by the holy and perfect God. We are corrupted by sin and that sin has such a hold on us, it locks us up in the slavery of sin. But God still loved you and wanted you to be his own. God is also love, after all. And in an act of great wisdom, great love and justice he finds a way to legally adopt you as his own.
I say legally, but understand that God is not bound by any kind of man-made laws. I use the term “legally” because it fits well with the term “heirs” and because I’m using it to show that God found a way to make you his own without changing or becoming something that he is not. Your adoption into his family, the forgiveness of your sins, is not because God gave up his holiness. He adopts you in a way in which he remains completely holy and just, and yet completely loving and merciful.
Sin had to be paid for. Since God is a holy and just God, sin had to be condemned to death. And since he didn’t want to lose you, he placed your sin and your death onto his own Son, because he knew that his Son, Jesus, could completely pay the full condemnation of all sin and truly die on the cross, yet come out alive. All your sin has been paid for already at the cross. Jesus himself attests to that and signed it in his own blood. Having been made worthy for adoption, being righteous through Christ, you are now legal heirs of God. Not because you have paid for your own sin. Not because your sin was disregarded. But because Christ paid the just punishment for sin and clothed you with his own righteousness. In baptism you shared in his suffering – you were crucified with Christ – in order that you may also share in his glory.
You are “heirs” of God and “co-heirs” with Christ. That’s a tough one to really wrap our minds around. We honor and revere Christ Jesus as our God and Lord, but yet, in the same way that we can call the Almighty God, “daddy,” so also we can truly call Christ Jesus our brother! And what that means is that everything that Christ inherits after his resurrection from the dead, you also inherit! You have the right to call God, “Abba” as Jesus did. You have “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade… kept in heaven” (1 Pt 1:4). You will be physically resurrected like Christ! You will reign in heaven with Christ. It’s true! 2 Timothy 2(:12) says so! Because God kept his covenant, “you are no longer a slave, but God’s child” (Gal 4:7). No one can refute that status.
You’ve maybe heard children – or maybe you’ve done it as a child – claim that the youngest sibling was really adopted and therefore doesn’t belong in the family. The child might run to his parents and cry out, “Mommy, Daddy, was I adopted?” “No, of course not” the parents will reply. They testify to the relationship of that child. They could also take out the birth certificate and prove that the child is a legal part of the family. And, finally, if there was still any reason to doubt, they could even get a DNA test if they wanted to. And with all that evidence, that threefold proof, you couldn’t attack that child’s place in the family from any angle.
That’s what your God does for you as well. You have the relationship of a child of God because he chose you and he adopted you. You have the DNA or the Spirit of God’s family because you were born into God’s family through baptism. You are his offspring. And finally, you are legal heirs of God by his own binding covenant. He drew up the terms, and Christ sign it in his blood. No one can refute your place in God’s family because he has sealed you in from every angle.