Romans 8:12-17 In God’s Word to us today, we hear one of the most important, instructive, (and sadly) ignored teachings of the New Testament: our adoption as God’s children. The incredible Good News that having been purchased and set free from slavery to sin and death by the blood of Jesus, the Holy Spirit has brought us to faith and made us sons and daughters of the heavenly Father, adopting us into God’s family.
Just think about that for a moment! You are a child of the living God of the universe—and that royal status, as God’s adopted children, shapes how we understand: God- and our own lives- and our purpose in this world. The Bible says that: We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.
In the first eleven verses of chapter eight, Paul very carefully lays out just exactly what God has done for us and our salvation: that he sent his Son Jesus so that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled--that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in our lives to empower us in a new way of living—and that when this life is over, we can look forward to being raised from the dead. And so then…
Because of what God has done for us, we Christians have an obligation—a debt we owe—not to our flesh—not to our old way of life —but an obligation—a debt we owe to the Holy Spirit-- for bringing us back to our heavenly Father when we were lost and adopting us into God’s family
To him—we owe our very life in time and eternity—a debt that the child of God is glad to pay. Normally, we don’t like being indebted. We are relieved when our car and home are paid off.
But the obligation we have to God, for what he has done for us in Jesus, and the place the Holy Spirit has made for us in his family—is something altogether different! That debt is not a burden-- but a pleasure to pay and the purpose of our lives. To live for God—not the flesh is life as God designed it. The Bible says that:
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.
There really are only two ways to live life here on earth: to gladly serve our heavenly Father who has done so much for us at so great a cost—or to live our lives indulging ourselves. The first way leads to life—the second way, to death.
And so rather than living this way, the child of God puts to death the deeds of the body.
Putting to death the deeds of the body is not a one-time action! It has to be done again and again so that we do not return to a life of sin and forfeit our place in God’s family through disobedience. And so what exactly does that mean—to put to death the deeds of the body?
First of all, it means that we accept the judgment and verdict of the law regarding our sin. The activities and behaviors that God calls sin—are sin-- and will remain sin until the end of days. God has not changed his mind about right and wrong. Secondly, it means that we recognize that sin leads to death and so we are quick to repent when we have done wrong. And finally, it means that we ask the Holy Spirit to help us live a holy life and that we make regular and faithful use of God’s Word and Holy Communion to that end.
This is how the Holy Spirit works repentance in our hearts (moment by moment- and day by day) so that sin does not get the upper hand and destroy our faith and our life with God.
Please understand, dying to self—crucifying the flesh-- putting off the sin that overtakes us at times—cannot be done in our power-- but has to be done in the power of the Spirit who lives in us, guiding us into the way that leads to life.
In fact, it is only those who are led by the Spirit who can count themselves a part of God’s family. The Bible says that: All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. When we hear those words, we must ask ourselves: Am I led by the Spirit?
Since it is only those who are led by the Spirit who can count themselves a child of God, am I a person who is led by the Spirit? Do I share God’s perspective on life? Are his values and his purposes and his priorities my own? Is the testimony of the Spirit more real and compelling to me than the voice of the world and the desires of my flesh?
Christians get confused about this ‘leading of the Spirit”. It is not some mystical experience that the Bible is talking about. Instead, it is the voice of God as he speaks to us in his Word, and impresses that truth upon our hearts, so that we know the direction that we should go in life because we are God’s children and we know our Father’s heart.
That is the leading of the Spirit-- and if we find ourselves going in a direction other than the way that he leads, we know that direction in life doesn’t lead to the glorious freedom of the children of God—but is return to the slavery from which Jesus set us free. That must not happen! The Bible says that:
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 world is full of people who think that they are free because they are doing what they want, when they want. But they are not free at all! They are slaves! They are either enslaved by their flesh- or they enslaved by what others think about them- or they are enslaved by the devil.
They are anything but free and they live in fear: fear of growing old, fear of not having enough money, fear of not being pretty enough or handsome enough, fear of being rejected by others, fear of being alone. Lives of fear.
But that is not what God wants for his children! He has laid claim to us in Holy Baptism and made us his own dear children. Our adoption into his family is the pinnacle of our life with him: that we would know him as our Father—that we would have such an intimate, loving life with him that we would address him as Abba—the name that little children called their father in the days of Paul.
God has created you and redeemed you and adopted you into his family to have this kind of life with him. You are his child. He loves you. You do not have to fear him as a slave—cowering and trembling before him, afraid of being punished. Respect him to be sure! Stand in awe of him, certainly!
But even then our respect and awe shouldn’t make us cower in fear-- but lead us to trust him and come to him no matter how difficult the situation—no matter how great the obstacle—to cry out to him in our need, knowing that the living God of the universe is our Father and he loves us and will help us.
This is who you are. This is the kind of life that God wants to have with you and this Father/child relationship is what shapes our lives of faith and leads us in the paths of holiness and obedience.
We do not obey God because he is going to strike us down. We do not obey God so that we can make a place with him on our own. Jesus has already been punished for us. The Holy Spirit has already adopted us into the family of God through faith in Jesus.
We are God’s children and it is because this is who we are that we WANT to know what pleases our heavenly Father! We WANT to know what his wisdom says is best for us! We WANT to talk to him in prayer, confident that he is listening. We WANT to worship him and WANT to spend time with him and we expect blessing and protection and provision from him because he is our Father and we are his children.
This is not my opinion—this is not wishful thinking—this is what God himself says about us. The Bible says that:
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.
Everyone who has Jesus Christ for their Savior has God for their Father and his message to you today is this: Dare to believe what the Holy Spirit says about you in the Bible! Know that the promises of God are true! Rejoice in the place that the Father has made for you in him family—not only as his child—but as an heir of all that he possesses! The Good News for us is that…
God does not treat his adopted sons and daughters any differently than he treats his only-begotten Son Jesus. The fellowship they have together—the life they share—the eternal future that is theirs—the place in heaven they enjoy—this inheritance of grace-- is for all of God’s children who have faith in Jesus and follow him as his disciples—even when that means hardship and suffering.
Jesus’ journey back to the Father went through suffering and the cross and how can it be any different for we who are God’s adopted children than it was for Jesus? But the promise that is found in Jesus’ life is also true of our own—that the way of the cross leads to glory for all of God’s children. Amen.