Sunday, April 15, 2018

Adoption as Sons

In this next section of his letter to the church in Rome, Paul continues to explain something of the Spirit's ministry in the life of the saints. And that's good because it's something that we would do well to ponder. We need to do more work to understand who the Spirit is, and what it is that He does. Today, we'll be looking at one particular act of the Spirit in His application of redemption to us. Listen to what Paul taught.

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!” Romans 8:14-15

So, what is it that we are supposed to see here? Paul's point is pretty obvious and not at all complicated to understand, but it is very profound - something I hope that the Spirit will greatly impress upon you. Paul's point is that, by the Spirit, we have all been adopted as sons of God.

Now, in this day and age there will be those who, upon reading what Paul wrote, will be a little embarrassed by it. After all, it sounds a little sexist, no? Didn't Paul realize that there were women in his listening audience? Sons of God? Are you sure you want to say it that way, Paul?

This embarrassment shows up in some translations that want to help Paul out of what could be an awkward situation. Instead of using the language of 'sons', which is the actual word that Paul used, they use the word 'children'. Here's one translation.

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.

Not 'sons' but 'children'. And did you notice that this translation even left out the word 'sons' after the word 'adoption'? But it has gotten rid of the offensive language that limits things to males.

Good, huh? Well, not really. Once again, the wisdom of the world misses the point. Paul was not some patriarchal yahoo. He was actually making a profound point in using the language that he did. His point was that each of you has the status of a son. But don't think about that in terms of what it means that some guy is a son of his parents. Think of it in terms of what it means that Jesus is a son of God.

Now, that is something to stop and think about. The Father thinks of each of you in the same way that He thinks of Jesus. Yes, Jesus is a natural born son, and you are all adopted. But in any loving family, that will make no difference. All enjoy the same relationship with the parents whether natural born or adopted. So, whatever it is that Jesus enjoys in His relationship with the Father, that's what you can enjoy.

Now, I think that that is simply astounding. Think about it. The Father's loving attitude toward Jesus is no different from the Father's loving attitude toward you. No different! Thanks be to God for such a blessing! And as you learn to believe this part of the Gospel more and more you will find it to be a game changer for how you are able to understand yourself and your life. As your faith here grows, it will transform how you live.

It seems to me that this part of the Gospel is especially critical in our day. And I say that because one of the big problems that so many face these days is the lack of a father. There will always be some man with the title, but that doesn't mean that he fills out the role. And the role of a father is huge. There is a place in each person's soul that should be filled to overflowing with the many experiences of a father's love. But for so many, there is a gaping hole there instead. Maybe they know what the real problem is or maybe they don't, but they know that something is missing. And this isn't a problem for just a few. There are many who suffer in this way.

So, that's why I want to stress this part of the Gospel. God is your father. And He can fill to overflowing that role in your life just as He fills to overflowing that role in Jesus' life. And if you take just a moment to consider that, you'll understand why I see this as something that can change your life so dramatically.

We need to dig into this to get a better feel for what it means. Let's start with these words of God.

How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. Hosea 11:8

Do you hear the anguish God was feeling as He watched His children wandering away?

This is no distant, unfeeling father who cares little for his children. He loves them - He loves you - deeply and that even when you turn aside from Him to follow some fleeting pleasure of sin. He gets emotional.

My heart recoils within me.

Consider, now, how He will gush with His love over His children. Listen to Jesus describe His - and your - Father.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:11

Then, there's this.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Matthew 6:30

And one more.

…cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

You have a Father who loves you - deeply and in many different ways. He loves you to the same extent that He loves Jesus. He fills the role to overflowing. This is the Gospel. Believe it.

Ah, but this is where a question pops up. And it goes something like this. 'If all of this is true, then why is life so hard, especially at times?' And we need to admit that there are times when life gets hard, sometimes very hard. Is this some failure in God? Is He like so many human fathers that we know?

Let's consider the love that the Father had for His natural-born Son. Listen to what the Spirit wrote.

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. Hebrews 5:8

Isn't it fascinating to think that Jesus had to learn obedience? That doesn't mean that He was disobedient. We know that He wasn't. But there are some things that you can't learn by reading about them in a book. You learn them through suffering. There were things that Jesus had to learn through suffering some hard times of life.

And this gives us an answer to our question, 'Why is life so hard?' It's hard because there are things for us to learn, things that we can learn only through suffering. So, that's why there are broken arms, employers that abuse their employees, health problems, overbearing parents, children who frustrate and the many disappointments of life. Our Father sends us these painful parts of life because He loves us and wants us to learn how to live well, how to understand Him, ourselves and others.

And it's when you hit a wall, and hit it hard, that you find out what's really going on deep within your soul. That's when you get to see the real you. It is so very encouraging when what you see is actually quite good. And in that situation, you learn something about yourself. You're doing well. You really are believing the Gospel. And it's also good to see where you're not doing so well at that.

On top of that, it's when life gets really hard that you can get to experience the presence of God in ways that you hadn't before, that you couldn't before. He becomes more real to you.

So, you see, there are lessons to be learned, very helpful lessons to be learned, in the midst of the hard parts of life. This too is part of God's fatherly love. That was true for Jesus, and it's true for you.

And please remember that it's fine to say, 'Father, this hurts. I really don't like it. I really don't like it.' Isn't that what we see in so many of the Psalms? And yet, at the very same time, you can also tell yourself that your Father is bringing all this suffering into your life because He loves you. He wants you to develop into a whole person. So, even as you cry out in pain, you can also hope. Good will come out of the suffering the Father sends you, just as good came out of the suffering the Father sent Jesus. Knowing that - or better, believing that - makes such a difference when you find yourself in those situations.

There's something else in what Paul wrote that I want you to see. Listen.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear…

Back in the first century certain slaves were part of the household. They lived with the family and enjoyed certain benefits of living with the family. But they weren't members of the family.

How many Christians today assume that kind of situation for themselves. Yes, they are a part of God's household, and there are some good things to enjoy. But only Jesus really enjoys being a member of the family in that intimate sense. He enjoys a kind of affection of the Father that we will never experience. Really?

One sign that someone lives this way is fear - the fear of life. This person thinks that just as the head of the household may have some concern for his slave, God will have some concern for him as a believer. But only some. It's not like Jesus. So, there is this undercurrent to life. It isn't anything big. But it's there, the trace of worry, the fear of what just might be waiting around the next corner.

We sense this fear, but we tell ourselves that we can handle things. We plot and plan so that the possibilities are anticipated. We can handle things. There are, of course, those times when it becomes clear that we can't handle things. The fear is no longer just a trace of worry. Those are the times when life begins to feel almost impossible.

But what is happening then? Why do we begin to feel overwhelmed? It's because we aren't believing the Gospel. How could the Father possibly neglect you? What terrible thing could He let get past Him to do you harm? Why this fear? You're not just some household slave. You're a member of the family. You have the status of a son and enjoy the same affection that the Father has for Jesus. What is there to fear? Believe the Gospel, and you will find that there is nothing to fear.

There's one more aspect of God's fatherhood that I want to include here. I've referred to this before, but it bears repeating. You'll remember when Jesus heard these words from His Father.

You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased. Mark 1:11

Just as the Father said this to His natural born son, He says it to His adopted sons. And let me repeat His words a little differently, in a way that more fathers need to say it to their children. 'You're doing well. I'm proud of you.' That's what the Father thought of Jesus, and that's what He thinks of you.

There is one word that captures well one result of believing what Paul taught here. It's the word 'confidence'. Believing this part of the Gospel will result in confidence. Not a confidence in yourself. That's another scheme of the devil, something that never works when it really needs to. No, I'm talking about a confidence in your Father, a confidence that results in a great peace and great boldness. What can happen that will change the affection and care that your Father has for you? What could ever change that?

Oh, there will be times that you will not understand what's going on, times when you've asked for what seems an obviously good request, only to hear 'No' in response. But isn't that what Jesus heard in Gethsemane? And remember how He began that prayer.

Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Mark 14:36

Abba, Father. Isn't it interesting that Paul uses that same language.

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!” Romans 8:15

Even when He says 'No' He is still our caring, loving, affectionate Father.

So, here’s the point. You can say with complete assurance: 'My Father loves me. He cares for me. He is ready and eager to shower me with the good things of His love. And nothing can ever change that.' Someone having confidence like that - confidence in the love of God his Father -  can face whatever comes his way. Pray to grow in your believing the Gospel, believing this part of the Gospel, and you will be granted that confidence. And out of that will come a life that reveals the beauty of a Father's love to a people who have never actually experienced anything like that.