************ Sermon on Romans 8:15 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 8, 2014
"The Spirit of Adoption"
George Burns once said, "Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family IN ANOTHER CITY." I think he learned that families and family relationships are strange and wonderful and dangerous too. The people that we love the deepest are probably part of our family. In the family we find the most fulfilling and closest relationships that are possible here on earth. But with all that closeness comes a danger. If trust is broken or if bitterness arises, those relationships that bring the greatest joy can also cause the deepest wounds. Nobody can hurt you like a member of your own family.
There is one relationship, however, in which we will never be hurt – no matter how shameful we act or how much hurt we give. On this Pentecost Sunday I am talking about our family relationship with God.
Our text speaks to us about this relationship. In his letter to the church at Rome Paul writes,
(Rom 8:15) For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."
I A Spirit of Fear
A We visited the Fresno Zoo two weeks ago for Alexander's one year birthday. Some of the children were scared stiff of feeding the giraffes. Other children stuck out their hand without a thought and were delighted as the long tongue of the giraffe sucked up the leaf they were holding.
Some people go through life fearful and afraid of what might happen. Others are bold and confident and seemingly without a doubt or worry.
On this Pentecost Sunday Paul talks about the spirit of fear. What does he have in mind? He has more than fearful situations in mind. He goes way beyond trips to the zoo where we see lions, tigers, and bears. Paul has in mind the fear of sin and its consequences. Paul has in mind the fear of condemnation that he mentions in verse 1 (Rom 8:1).
"Condemnation." Our attention is directed to a court-room setting. The judge has heard the case. Now he renders the guilty verdict and pronounces the sentence.
As Paul makes clear in the first seven chapters of Romans, the Divine Judge has every right to render a guilty verdict against each and every one of us and to pronounce upon us the sentence of eternal death. He can do this for we are all under guilt and remain under the power of sin. As Paul writes earlier in Romans:
(Rom 3:10-18) As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; (11) there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (12) All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one." (13) "Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit." "The poison of vipers is on their lips." (14) "Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness." (15) "Their feet are swift to shed blood; (16) ruin and misery mark their ways, (17) and the way of peace they do not know." (18) "There is no fear of God before their eyes."These words are applicable not just to the most evil on this earth. They describe the natural but sinful state of all men. In common with all other humans, we too are conceived and born in sin. We too are wicked and perverse, so corrupt that we are totally unable to do any good and inclined toward all evil – unless we, in Christ, are born again.
Condemnation is what we deserve and condemnation is what we fear.
B Paul uses the word "slave" in our text to talk about this fear. Slave. Bound. Not free. Subject to the will of another. Think of an addict craving his drugs. Think of an alcoholic craving his next drink. Think of the human body shaking in withdrawal pains.
Now, apply this image to the sinner standing before a just and holy God. The sinner is paralyzed in fear. Frozen. Scared stiff. He knows he deserves hell. She knows she deserves the everlasting fires. When ten thousand years have gone by, ten thousand more await. The tongue is dry, parched, stuck to the roof of the mouth. Like the rich man in hell, it craves even one single drop of water.
This calls to mind the infamous sermon of the great Puritan, Jonathan Edwards. The sermon's title: "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Let me read six quotes:
1. "Yea God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth, yea doubtless with many that are now in this congregation ... than He is with many of those that are now in the flames of Hell."
2. "The God that holds you over the pit of Hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire abhors you ..."
3. "…there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor anything to take hold of; there is nothing between you and ... Hell ..."
4. "…if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly ... plunge into the bottomless gulf, and ... your own care ... and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of Hell, than a spider’s web would ... stop a fallen rock.”
5. "The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready to string and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God ... that keeps the arrow ... from being made drunk with your blood."
6. "Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering."
Jonathan Edwards was interrupted many times before finishing the sermon by people moaning and crying out, "What shall we do to be saved?" (Cf Acts 2:37). Why? Because it is a scary thing, a fearful thing, a dreadful thing, to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31).
Sinners rightly fear the condemnation of God.
II A Spirit of Sonship
A On this Pentecost Sunday Paul indicates that the spirit of fear should be a thing of the past:
(Rom 8:15) For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."Instead of the spirit of fear we receive the Spirit of adoption. That is the message of Pentecost for you and me: that by the Spirit of Christ we have been adopted as sons and daughters of God.
I started my research for this sermon by looking at what the Old Testament says about adoption only to discover there is no Jewish adoption law. Then I turned to the book, "Slaves, Citizens, Sons" – the name of an excellent study published in 1984. This work shows that it is Roman adoption law – not Jewish, not Greek – that lies at the heart of what Paul teaches in our Bible reading.
Among the Jews children were not adopted because the family line must be continued. Nor does a man die childless because his brothers or other male relatives have a duty to continue his line. By way of contrast, among the Romans the reason for legal adoption was to preserve the family because it allowed a man to create an heir from someone who was not a blood relative. See the difference between the Jews and the Romans? Jewish children were not adopted in order to preserve the family line of their birth father. Among the Romans children were adopted to continue the family line.
B Roman adoption was not done randomly. It was taken seriously and had to be done legally. And, it had five legal results.
First of all, the adopted person lost all rights in his/her old family. In fact, the old life was completely wiped out, gone, removed. This included things like debt, name, obligation. The past was gone.
Second, the adopted person was regarded as a new person entering into a new life.
Third, the adopted person gained all the rights of a legitimate child in his/her new family. They had the right to food and clothing, to living in the family home, to worship with the family, to celebrate with the family.
Fourth, the adopted child got a new father. He/she was absolutely the son/daughter of the new father. And, he/she got a new family.
Fifth, the adopted child became an heir to his new father's estate. Even if there were natural-born children in the family, it did not affect his/her rights. He/she became a co-heir with them.
C Congregation, instead of a spirit of fear you have received "the Spirit of adoption." So, on this Pentecost Sunday let us apply these five results to what happens to you and me because of the Spirit of Christ.
First, when we receive the Spirit of adoption our old family of sin no longer has any hold on us. The fear of condemnation and hell – gone. The debt of sin – paid for. The sinful nature – dying away. All of that is part of the life in which we once lived (cf Col 3:7).
I am saddened whenever a Christian dies without the assurance of salvation, when a Christian dies fearing condemnation. Because that is nothing but a denial of our adoption as sons and daughters of God. And, I am saddened when Christians backslide into their old life. You rarely see them in worship. They live for weekends and parties rather than God and His glory. That, too, is a denial of our adoption as sons and daughters of God.
Second, when we receive the Spirit of adoption we are regarded as a new person entering into a new life. Listen to what Paul writes:
(Rom 8:5-6) Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. (6) The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;Those who have received the Spirit of adoption have entered a new life. They are new people with a new life.
(Eph 5:8) For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light
(Col 3:9-10) ... you have taken off your old self with its practices (10) and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
(Rom 6:11) In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Third, those who receive the Spirit of adoption have gained all the rights of a legitimate child in the family of God. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ they are welcomed to all the privileges of full communion. They are welcomed to full participation in the life of the church. They are welcomed to its responsibilities, its joys, and its sufferings too.
Fourth, those who receive the Spirit of adoption get a new father – the Father in heaven. And, in the Spirit there is intimacy with this Father. Paul says we get to call God "Abba, Father." Abba is the intimate Aramaic word for "dad." It is comparable to the English word "daddy" or "papa." "Daddy" implies familiarity – you say it only to your dad and not to another man. Daddy loves me. Daddy cares for me. Daddy looks after me. Daddy holds me. If I have a problem, I can go to Daddy and he will help me. Daddy. Abba. That's the kind of relationship we have with God in Christ when we receive the Spirit of adoption.
"Abba." "Daddy." It almost sounds disrespectful to refer to God in such common and familiar language. We tend to be comfortable with more formal language – like, "Our Father." But thanks to the Spirit of adoption the almighty creating God of heaven and earth and everything in them is our Daddy, our Pappa, our Abba. I can call Him my God and Father because of the Spirit of Christ. I trust Him so much that I do not doubt He will provide whatever I need for body and soul. And, I know He will turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this sad world.
With a new Father also comes a new family. When we receive the Spirit of adoption we become part of the family of God. Jesus becomes our Big Brother. Other believers become our brothers and sisters. Spiritually, this means that no believer can claim to be an only child. And, no believer can claim to be without family. And, no believer can consider themselves as orphans.
Fifth, those who receive the Spirit of adoption are heirs to their new Father's estate. Says Paul,
(Rom 8:17) Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ ...We have problems fully understanding and appreciating this. I say that because in modern law we do not become heirs until someone dies; which means according to our law we cannot be God's heirs until He dies (which will never happen). We need to look at this from the point-of-view of Roman law. In Roman law, all the members of a family held the property jointly. All children of any age – natural or adopted – were already heirs even while their father was still alive. With their father they had joint control of the family's property.
We have received the Spirit of adoption. We are heirs of God. Meaning what for you and me? All the blessings of salvation are already ours. Our old inheritance was death and hell. Our new inheritance, with Christ the natural Son, is life eternal with God.
On this Pentecost Sunday we celebrate that we don't have a spirit of fear. Instead, we have the Spirit of adoption. We celebrate that we are part of the family of God.
Now, let me end with a challenge to be like our Father.
When our children and grandchildren are growing up, many times people see genetic similarities to a father or mother. "He looks just like his father." Or, "She is the image of her mother."
When a child is adopted, however, any similarities are accidental or imagined. This should not be case, however, with our spiritual adoption. When we have received the Spirit of adoption, when we enter into the family of God, people should be able to look at us and say, "Just like the Father." People should be able to see the family resemblance. They should see the same common traits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We should be reflections of God. People should be able to see Jesus in us, our behavior, our actions, our words. So, on this Pentecost Sunday I challenge you to live as a child of the Father.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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