Romans 8v12-25 The Sixth Sunday After Trinity 19 July 2020
This morning’s reading from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, is one on which we could have a series of sermons. Our adoption as Children of God, What does it mean to cry ‘Abba, Father; the problem of suffering compared to the future glory; What do we mean by hope, etc. But I just want to concentrate our thoughts on v14-16:
‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry Abba! Father! It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.’
The Holy Spirit makes us God’s children. We are adopted into God’s family. We cry “Abba, Father”, the Holy Spirit bears witness that God is our Father.
In the verses in Romans just before todays reading, Romans 8:9-10, Paul tells us that Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. So the Holy Spirit is the one who makes Christ real to us. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin. It is the Holy Spirit who makes us more Christ like. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, which is why we should live holy lives, honouring to God. This is because if God’s Holy Spirit lives in us, then the results of his living in us should be seen. This is why our lives should show forth the Fruit of the Spirit, love joy peace etc. The Holy Spirit transforms or renews our inner beings. It is when we invite the Lord Jesus Christ into our hearts and lives that the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us. What else does the Holy Spirit do?
In 2 Corin 1v22 we read ‘But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first instalment. In Eph 4:30 we read “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the Day of redemption.” A seal suggests two things. First, ownership or belonging. Sheep have a seal branded on them to show which farmer they belong to. In Canada when the lumberjacks fell the trees, the first thing they do is to put a seal of ownership on the trunks and then they are floated down the rivers. When they get to the end of the journey they are identified by their seals. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit to show that we belong to Christ. Seal was a word that, by the second century, was used by Christians explicitly of baptism. The outward symbols of water and the sign of the cross signifying an inward sealing by the Holy Spirit. Every child of God bears the same seal, we are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit. We belong to God. Belonging is important.
Some 20 years ago I was at a meeting at Scotland Yard for Police Chaplains of the London Boroughs addressed by Sir John Stevens the Met. Commissioner, who is himself a Christian. He was talking about the police crackdown on children’s and youth crime. He was talking of how the closure of so many youth groups by local councils over the previous 15 years was now reaping its sad reward. He said words to the effect “often now it is only the Uniformed Organisations – Scouts, Guides, etc and Churches who run things for youth. But young people need to belong. Now they belong to their gangs which are into all sorts of crime.” As Christians we are sealed with the Holy Spirit who assures us that we belong to Christ. And of course we belong to one another in the family of the Church.
The second thing that a seal suggests is security. At the end of polling day the returning Officer seals the ballot boxes with good old fashioned sealing wax for security reasons. When the ballot boxes reach the place where the ballot papers are counted, the seal on the box has to be intact. Registered letters used to be given a wax seal for security reasons. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit of God not just to show that we belong to Christ, but also so that we can know for certain that we are eternally secure.
v 14-16 ‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry Abba! Father! It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.’
The Spirit makes us God’s children. We are adopted into God’s family. We cry “Abba, Father”. As children of God we belong to Him, as children of God we are eternally secure.
It was some years ago now that we had a surprise card from my nephew and his wife. They had just adopted a baby girl Chloe, and the card (so-say) from Chloe said ‘I have just moved in with my new mummy and daddy, I make them laugh and smile a lot. And just in case you were wondering my birthday is on the 10 June when I will be 2.’ Being a child of the 21st century, she had already got her own e-mail address. But she had been adopted into a new family. As Christians, we too have been adopted into a new family, God has adopted us into his family – we belong to Him and are eternally secure – ‘we have received a spirit of adoption’.
At the time that this passage in Romans was written, adoption was a very serious and complicated procedure. Far more so than it is today. A Roman son or daughter never came of age. They were under the absolute possession and absolute control of their father for life. They had no such thing as coming of age at 18 as we do today. That was why adoption was so difficult. Because at adoption they had to pass out of the possession and control of one father into the equally absolute control and possession of another. But once it had happened, four things ensued. First, the adopted person lost all rights to their old family and gained all the rights as being a fully legitimate member of the new family. Second, they became heir to the new father’s estate. Third, in law, the old life of the adopted person was wiped out. eg legally all debts were cancelled, wiped out as though they had never existed. The adopted person was like a new person entering a new life. And fourth in the eyes of the law the adopted person was regarded as literally and absolutely the son of his new father.
What Paul does is transfers this picture of Roman adoption to the family of God. Once we were under the control of our old sinful nature, but God has brought us out of that. The old life has no more rights over us. We begin a new life with Christ, heirs of all the riches of God. The past is cancelled, the debts of the past are wiped out, sin is forgiven. When we become Christians we become members of the family of God. We didn’t earn it, we don’t deserve it. God in his mercy takes us and adopts us into his family. Our debts to sin are cancelled. Unearned love and glory are inherited. It is as though our adoption present is the Holy Spirit. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit. We belong to Christ, we are eternally safe with Christ, he is God’s guarantee assuring us of our inheritance in glory to come. So we cry ‘Abba! Father!’
There were two early confessions of faith. The first was addressed to people. ‘Jesus is Lord’. The second was addressed to God, ‘Abba, Father’. As Christians we live under the Lordship of Christ and we proclaim ‘Jesus is Lord’, and because we know that we are children of God and that he has adopted us as his children into his family we say ‘Abba, Father’.
‘Abba’ was the Aramaic word for ‘Father’, that was the language that was used in the home and in everyday life at the time of Jesus. ‘Abba’ was the word used in the closeness of the family circle for ‘Father’, not just by children, but also by grown up sons and daughters. But ‘Abba’ is a word which conveys the idea not just of closeness, but also of obedience. A deep and trusting obedience. It was eg the word Jesus himself used when praying to his Father in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest and crucifixion. ‘Abba, Father’, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’. And that final act of obedience on the cross ‘Father into your hands I commend my spirit’.
We are children of God, adopted into God’s family, an enormous privilege, but our relationship with God our Father brings with it trusting obedience at its very heart. ‘When we cry Abba! Father! It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.’ God is ‘Our Father’. We as the family of God are brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus taught us to call God our Father. He didn’t say when you pray say ‘to whom it may concern’, he said when you pray say ‘Our Father’.
Having said that there are problems.
For some, the concept of God the Father has a problem in terms of the limitations of the name Father as being one that we associate with the male sex, and so a father model as a way of describing the relationship between God and human beings brings difficult overtones for them. This might not be a problem for all, but it is for some. The image of God as Father is an image that Jesus himself uses and is an important key in understanding the teaching of Jesus as to who he is.
Then it is sadly true that there are some children who have a father who either they do not know (perhaps through bereavement or a failure in a relationship, a marriage breakdown), or a father whom they do not respect (perhaps they have been abused by their father). And for some it can make for a sad or difficult relationship. For people like this the idea of God being a loving Heavenly Father, who is near to them and always there for them can be a difficult one to grasp, because their own experience may be so different.
At the Committal in the funeral Service a set passage is some verses from Psalm 103. ‘The Lord is full of compassion and mercy: slow to anger and of great goodness. As a father is tender towards his children: so is the Lord tender to those that fear him. …’ I think a Minister has to use those words with great care and caution. They are not always appropriate. Not everybody has a picture of father, from their human experience, as one provoking the idea of tenderness, of love, security, stability, warmth, nearness. This is where comparing God our Father with a human father today is totally inadequate and serves only to highlight the problems. Our heavenly Father simply does not have the imperfections that every human father has.
There is a true story about the daughter of Karl Marx who once told a friend that she had never been brought up in any religion and had never been religious. ‘But’, she said ‘the other day I came across a beautiful little prayer which I very much wish could be true.’ ‘And what was the prayer?’ asked her friend. Slowly the daughter of Karl Marx began repeating in German ‘Our Father, which art in heaven …’ We can thank God that that prayer is true. As human fathers we often fail. Our heavenly Father never does.
Abba, Father, let me be
yours and yours alone.
May my will for ever be
more and more your own.
Never let my heart grow cold,
never let me go.
Abba , Father, let me be
yours and yours alone.