Abba’s Greatest Hits (A Sermon on Romans 8:15-21)

A while back, during our “You Asked for It” sermon series a few requests didn’t get covered. We had more than we could get to. One we didn’t get is the basis for this reflection. Someone requested a sermon on Romans 8:16-18.

Rom. 8:16-18 must be understood within the broader context of Romans 8, but also of Romans as a whole.

This week I tried to challenge myself to summarize Romans as succinctly as possible- just one sentence. I put it out there on twitter and facebook for discussion. It’s really hard to summarize, but here’s the best I could get- Romans in one sentence: Jesus is God’s way of fixing everything that’s broken wrong with the world, so follow him and live like him.

It’s far more complicated than that obviously. But the one major theme of Romans is that of God’s restoration of all things through Jesus Christ. Romans is a sweeping look at what is wrong, what God’s solution is, and how we should respond to that. Here’s the “Reader’s Digest” version of Romans:

Romans chapters 1-3: People are sinful and the world is messy and broken. God is totally faithful, but we’re not. Everyone is included in this.

Romans 4: we are justified by faith in the one who justifies (Abraham being a model of this). Trust God’s promise and character and he’ll deliver. He is faithful and will justify those who trust in him.

Romans 5-7: we’re all guilty of something. We are all lawbreakers. On our own humanity is stuck in a never ending cycle of not measuring up to the bar set by Law. We can’t escape it on our own. But God in Christ brings life if we are joined to him. We have life through Christ who entered into and overcame brokenness and death on our behalf to set us free from it.

Romans 8: we are called to live by the Spirit, not the law. If we endure by and in the Spirit we will overcome the trials of living and dying in a broken world and experience New Life and victory and vindication.

Romans 9-11 is about how God will finally sort this all out (in particular the relationship of the Old Covenant people and the New Covenant people who are to be grafted together) and then 12-15 deals how we should live in the meantime. We are called to live lives of love, grace, compassion, obedience.

So, Romans 8 is about God’s provision of the Spirit to guide our way from brokenness to life, from slavery to glory. It’s about the process of us being drawn back to God by God.

So in the middle of chapt. 8 is this fascinating reference to adoption and sharing in the inheritance of Christ. The symbolism of adoption and inheritance has to be understood within this grand scheme of God setting everything right. God is reorienting creation back to himself, and adoption is part of that, and the end goal is making us heirs of God with a place of glory and participation in the household of God. So adoption is one step on the road of completing the rescue of creation from sin and death back to God.

Paul writes (Rom. 8:15) “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'”

We have been freed from slavery, and have become adopted by God. Adoption, esp. in Greco-Roman culture, required a end or repudiation of former parental relationship and a joining to the new one. This meant either death of one set of parents (or in some cases just the father) or the complete rejection (in Roman legal cases, the father being rejected would actually have to reject the child too, See “Adoption” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1993). To be adopted by God is to sever the ties to our slave master- sin. You cannot serve two masters. You can’t be God’s if you’re still enslaved by sin (which is the key theme back in chapt. 6- God is breaking the chains of slavery and bringing us in as “slaves to righteousness” which of course isn’t slavery at all). But of course, sin is not thrilled about being rejected as our slave master, hence this thing isn’t always a smooth transition. We still still stumble, because our old selves and our old master tries to cling to us. Which is why the Spirit is so important here in chapt. 8. We have to be led by the Spirit into this place where we can even accept our adoption. Notice that it is by the Spirit that we can cry Abba! The Spirit gives us the ability to enter into a relationship as sons and daughters, and reminds us that we are children of God.

And so we, by the Spirit, are moved from slave master to beloved Father. Our old master is being put to death, and instead of becoming orphans, we become sons and daughters of the most high, and co-heirs with God’s legitimate son, Jesus Christ. His exaltation will be ours. We will share in the glory which now belongs to Christ. When we follow Jesus that means following him to the cross, the tomb and back out again.

So we see a movement:

Slavery -> Adoption -> Heir -> Glory.

By sharing in his death we die to our old selves and are adopted by God. We also join with Christ in resurrection, which is not yet consummated, but will draw us from death to life in glory.

The Spirit which we have been given does not take us back to slavery, but brings into something very different. This new adopted relationship has no resemblance at all to enslavement. 1 John 3:1 says, “Consider what sort of love the Father has given to us, that we may be called the children of God. And that is what we are. We are the children of God.”

A slave has no rights. A slave has no prospects. A slave has no privileges. A slave is stuck in an unending cycle. Getting out of slavery is virtually impossible on your own. Someone can rescue you from it, but you can’t earn your way out.

A child, on the other hand, has prospects. A child has promise. A child can look forward to their future. A child has stuff on the horizon. A child is a participant in the family and participant in the household.

But a child still has more to learn.

The fact that we are children of God and co-heirs with Christ has two main implications, one is a promise of good things, that we are loved and precious and we can participate in household of God. But the other is a challenge- a challenge to endure along with Christ who has made our inheritance possible and to grow up.

The Promise:

We are sons and daughters of God. That means something. We have a standing before God as his beloved children, not slaves with no access to the master’s riches. We are not in position where we need to fear the one in authority over us. We do not have an owner who withholds affection or demands obedience based on duty and obligation.

We have a loving father who invites us to share in all that is part of his household, to be participants in the household (and yes, participation in a father’s household does mean there’s work involved). We have privileges, we have access, we have love, we have provision. We have Abba, father. We are showered with love. We have been lavishly given love says 1 John (depending on your translation).

But with that comes responsibility and a challenge.

The Challenge:

We typically think of the “Child of God” status we have as that, a status. We tend to say, yep I’m a child of God, and always will be. I’m done.

Sorry folks, as with most things in theology, it’s not that easy.

Children have to grow up. Children are not yet finished developing character. We cannot be Spiritual Peter Pans. Children need guidance, teaching, direction, and sometimes even discipline. If we are children of God, we still have growing up to do. Yes, our faith is to be “childlike” but child-like faith is inquisitive, learning, open, developing.

Whether you’ve followed Christ for a week or a century, you still have more to do, and learn, and experience, and mature in. You’re not done yet. Until you’re perfect you’re not done developing yet. That’s why we’re called to be disciples (learners). Our identity as disciples and children of God are tied together. Being a child of God is not a call to be content where you are, but a challenge to grow.

That’s why prayer, worship, fellowship, Scripture reading matter. They are not the content of our faith, they are the tools of our faith- a means not an end. Our faith is in Christ, and being joined to him in crucifixion and resurrection. That’s the only thing which will truly produce anything fruitful for the Kingdom. Bible reading without sharing in Christ is useless. The other stuff we do are means to stay on course in our pursuit of Christ, these are the ways we ensure that growing up happens. It is only through persevering in our union with Christ that we reach that glory which is promised us.

We are not yet what we will be says John (1 John 3:2). Glory is in the future. But we will get there. We have not yet attained to that which we are called and set up to receive. We have not received our inheritance. Our inheritance is participation in the glorification of Christ. But just as Christ had to humble himself, and experience death and resurrection before his exaltation and glorification, we too must pass through suffering and death with Christ to share in his glorification. Our glory comes with Christ. When he comes and perfects us we will be glorified: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)

Right now, we are children. What our adulthood looks like is still unknown. Our glory is till on the horizon. And when he comes we shall be like him. That’s all we really know about it. Our inheritance becoming like the resurrected Christ. We will finally fully be Christ-like. We will share in his glory.

In the meantime we are here. Children of God, waiting for that final makeover; that moment in which death finally gives way to life. And for now, we’re here in this place where suffering and trials and pain and grief remain very real. Nobody is immune from that.

So why does suffering continue? Why can’t things just immediately now get fixed? How can God continue to allow pain and grief and death? How can we maintain that God is good in the face of all this brokenness? The whole creation groans Paul tells us. Trees, rocks, squirrels, dirt, cows, water, everything reflects a sense that things are not yet what they should be. Creation is longing for the final liberation from death and decay.

That’s because growing up is hard. There’s bumps along the way. Becoming an adult means leaving behind innocence and lack of responsibility. We are called to live by the Spirit, and mimic Christ. We live out Easter in our lives. Easter isn’t just an event or a date on the calendar, it’s a calling, an invitation- a calling and an invitation to follow him, die to sin and live for the glory which God has prepared for those who belong to the Kingdom.

Paul tells us: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

Notice that if. I hate ifs. When Paul says “if” it usually means I have to do something. Our inheritance is sure IF we share with Christ is his suffering. We must persevere. We are called to die with Christ, and in turn we will live with him. We find life through him by casting aside our allegiance to sin which is perishing and will be done away with, and binding ourselves to Jesus Christ.

But in being bound to Christ we must follow his path. We must not fear the places of suffering and grief and brokenness. God has told us the he will not call us to go where he does not also go. He suffered all we ever could and more. God is present in darkness.

Being a child of God means the road won’t be easy. But glory awaits us with open arms. And that future glory far outweighs any suffering we encounter now says Paul. The suffering now is very real. But the glory that awaits dwarfs the suffering of here and now.

So run the race set before you. It won’t be easy, but through it all the Spirit will walk with us, and God will continue to lavishly give love to us.

One Comment on “Abba’s Greatest Hits (A Sermon on Romans 8:15-21)

  1. Romans is my favorite book of the NT, by far. It sums up the story of the gospel in a way that is understandable even for those who don’t have the Jewish context of the four evangelists. Thanks, dude. Excellent stuff here!

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