Romans 8.12-25 – Freedom in Life
Up until now Paul has hammered us with the knowledge of our sinful nature. We have heard from Paul that at our core we are selfish human beings in need of salvation grace. And, that salvation comes by Christ Alone.
In our text today Paul’s letter takes a turn toward our spiritual home. He moves us from thinking about ourselves – our brokenness, our sinful nature – to a relationship with God the Father. Up until now Paul’s letter has been a horizontal discussion. And it’s been all about me and you. Up until now Paul has focused on the “what about me?” character inside every human being. His focus has been in revealing our inward selves, our inward intentions to please ourselves. Paul wants to make sure we understand the detriment of our human condition.
He wants us to grasp our brokenness. But he doesn’t leave us there in our brokenness. He wants us to move on into our sanctification. He doesn’t leave us ruined and devastated by our condition. He offers us a remedy. And that remedy is The Holy Spirit. And it is through the Holy Spirit we are enabled – empowered – to live into a freedom in our lives that we would not otherwise have known had the Spirit not come to us.
Half way through our text today Paul has turned our attention from ourselves to our Heavenly Father – the One whom Paul affectionately calls “Abba Father.” “Abba” may be a strange word to our ears. If we’ve been in church all our lives, we may have heard it from time to time. “Abba” is an Aramaic word meaning “Father.”
While Jesus very likely spoke Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek languages, Aramaic was likely the language Jesus spoke the most of the time. Aramaic was the common or everyday language in Israel during Jesus’ time. Hebrew would have been spoken primarily by the religious people — like Paul. On the other hand, Greek was the universal language in Jesus’ day. Greek was the language of the Romans — the political power of the day.
“Abba Father” – this ancient Aramaic word – is found only three times in the New Testament. This use of language expresses a warm affection relationship of the child the parent. This language expresses confidence that the parent will respond to the child’s voice. Each use of the words “Abba Father” was filled with deep emotions, and emphasized a trusting relationship. This naming of God as “Abba Father” holds together both the little child’s love of a parent and the mature adult love for a parent.
Paul teaches us that the Spirit we have received does not make us slaves to fear. We do not live in fear but rather live in the Spirit of freedom – freedom in the all of our life. This imagery of slavery calls to mind the Hebrew Exodus experience. During the mass exodus of Egypt, God’s Spirit traveled along with the Israelites and Moses as they left Egyptian bondage toward freedom in the promised land. The Spirit moved with the Israelites — as a fire by night and a cloud by day. The fire and cloud were set before the Israelites to guide them from slavery to the promised land of freedom. Through the fire and cloud God continually affirmed His relationship with His chosen people of Israel.
But in our days God has sent his Spirit to live inside of each one of us to offer us that same sense of assurance that he offered the Israelites on their journey. The Spirit no longer functions as an outward sign but an inward grace. The Spirit affirms inside of each one of us a blessed assurance that we belong to God. We belong to his family.
The Spirit we have received has brought us into God’s Kingdom family. Our text today begins very clearly with affectionate family language. Paul speaks to the Romans as his brothers and sisters! Paul explains that when we are led by the Spirit of God we are adopted as Sons of God, and heirs of a Kingdom inheritance. Paul announces that our adoption has been completed – we are adopted as “sons” in the Kingdom of God. And, it is by the Spirit that we can affectionately call out to God as our Father – Abba Father.
The Greek word for adoption is a term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Jewish and Roman cultures. To understand the adoption process Paul is talking about —we must look back into history to a story about a woman named Naomi. Naomi and her husband had two sons together. Because there was a great famine in the land this family finds themselves living in the country of Moab, and among a people not their own. The two sons marry Moabite women, one was named Ruth. After some time passed, all three men died not have any children.
Eventually Naomi hears that the famine has eased in her homeland of Judah, and she prepares for her return to her people. Ruth decided to join Naomi’s family tree, and Naomi adopts her as her own. But alas there are no heirs to carry on the family name! Soon Ruth is joined with Naomi’s family heir, “a kinsman redeemer named Boaz. They have a son together, and that son redeems Naomi’s family tree and ensures that the family will not die.
The Book of Ruth is a good example of how God brings people into the His family. We can read in the Book of Ruth how important it was to continue the family line – to always have an heir so that the family tree would not perish – that it would not die out.
In the Book of Ruth the widow Naomi has lost all the men in her family tree, and there are no grandchildren to carry on the family name. Her daughter in law Ruth is in line to bear a child but must seek the aid of a kinsman redeem – someone in the family who will take on the responsibility of maintaining the family tree. A man named Boaz chooses to take Ruth as his wife, and Naomi is given the adoption rights to claim the child Obed as her grandson and the heir in her family.
Throughout Biblical history, the lineage of Abraham has often been threatened. But over and over again God has proven how important adoption is to God. If we look at the genealogy of Jesus we see several people adopted into the lineage. Jesus is understood to be our kinsmen redeemer – the one who adopts us and takes us into his family tree when he has no physical heir to his lineage. Jesus creates his own family tree through this process of redeeming, or adopting.
From time to time in the Biblical narrative women like Ruth and Naomi rise to the surface as important figures in redemption history. And, it is through Jesus redemption and adoption of all people, the role of women has been dynamic shifted.
Jesus seeks to bring women into the family tree just like Ruth and Naomi. Jesus did not look down upon the female gender as one that was subservient, but sought to reconcile the hearts of men and women to one another in mutuality, just like the relationship between Boaz and Ruth. In fact as we follow the family tree we find that this grandson – Obed – becomes King David’s grandfather. You can read about it in the genealogies in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
But for us today – the adoption of God’s children in the Spirit of Sonship is significant. We can’t exchange the word “children” for “son” or we would miss the meaning entirely. If we say “sonship” is a wrong translation, or even that Paul was mistaken on his choice of words, we would miss the spiritual importance of what Paul is saying to us.
We need to hear what the text is saying. We need to understand why Paul chose this language. It’s important to note that Paul’s word “son” is the same word he uses for “Son of God.”
Paul never used child in this context the way some use “Child of God” today. That’s because Paul’s culture understood the language of sonship as one who was heir, agent, or image of the father. If you and I were to study the Jewish history we would find that the family culture was very patriarchal – the father was the head of the household. Today that is not always the case.
There is significance to our “adoption in sonship” because it lines us up with Jesus who is God’s Son. Our legal rights are now in alignment with God through His Son Jesus. We are grafted into the Kingdom through the rights of Jesus’ Sonship.
Sonship was important in the traditions of the Jewish people. The first-born son was the heir to the family lineage. The first-born son would receive a double portion – twice as much as the others – for his inheritance. This double portion was given to the first-born son to ensure that the family would continue and not die out.
As the adopted people of God we are brought into this relationship to ensure that God’s family tree will continue. We are all given equal standing in the family through the blood of Jesus on the cross. Because we have been bought and paid for on the cross, you and I have a debt to pay. And, that debt is to God himself. We owe God for saving our lives, and restoring our relationships with one another across genders. And, Paul suggests the way we pay God back for this grace gift is to live in the Spirit. If we continue to live in the flesh, we will surely die. It is life in the Spirit that God requires from us now.
But Jesus clearly illustrates for us that there are times when we will struggle with the places God calls us to. When Jesus was awaiting his arrest, he was deep in prayer when he called to his Heavenly Father, “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will (Mark 14.36).” And when Jesus called to his Father like a little boy seeking support from his daddy, he was not excused from his difficult task of dying. Jesus even experienced his Father turning is back on him so that all righteousness could be fulfilled in Jesus’ death. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem like good parenting. Yet, the greater plan of God succeeded.
Paul explains to us in Galatians that God sent the Spirit of his Son Jesus into our hearts, and it is only by the Spirit can we call out, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4.6). In this way our own human heart is assured that we belong to God. Sometimes it just feels good to belong – that no matter what you think or say or do – you can always come home to your Heavenly Father and He will receive you with open arms.
That blessed assurance is the seal of the covenant of God’s faithfulness to his people. The cry of our heart to God seals the covenant relationship that we have with God Himself. The Spirit of Jesus comes along side our own spirit to bear witness that we are God’s children.
John Wesley in his sermon “The Witness of the Spirit” suggests… that trying to understand this adoption and assurance is impossible. It is only the divine testimony that lies with a person that makes manifest the reassurance of God.
For Wesley true Christian cannot doubt being a child of God. One simply knows …he has full assurance of his salvation just as he knows that the Scriptures are God-breathed …and his love of God is an inward proof, which is nothing short of self-evidence. Thus, the testimony of our own spirit in intimate conviction is manifested to our hearts in such a manner that all reasonable doubt is gone …nothing can convince us differently of the reality of our sonship.
For Wesley the manner of divine testimony is manifested in every believer’s heart, according to Wesley, and it is impossible to explain. Such knowledge is too wonderful and excellent for us and we cannot attain it. The wind blows, and we hear the sound of it; but we cannot tell where it comes or where it goes. No one knows what’s inside a person except the spirit of a person, and no one knows the manner of the things of God except the Spirit of God.
For Wesley the Spirit of God gives you and me a testimony of our spiritual adoption. When the Spirit attends our soul, we experience the reality of this “sonship.” It’s as real to us as the heat of the sun in summer when the sun stands at full blaze upon our skin.
Wesley confirms for us the truth of the manifestation of the Spirit of God inside of each one of us. Wesley inspires us to embrace the mystery of our adoption and assurance. For Wesley our vertical relationship is as real as sunshine on a beautiful summer day. There is not doubt in Wesley about the spiritual reality of his salvation. Wesley knows the heart’s cry of “Abba Father.”
In our text Paul explains that Jesus gives us vertical access to a living relationship with the Godhead, the Trinity. We are called to live a life in relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… and God has provided the opportunity for that relationship in the coming of His Spirit.
Jesus points us to a vertical relationship with God the Father. Jesus guides us into a horizontal relationship of embracing the world through His prophetic act of outstretched arms nailed to the Cross. And, it is through the outpouring of God’s Spirit that both kinds of relationships can be experienced in love – both vertical love with God and horizontal love with one another.
Paul teaches us that because we have received the Spirit, we can have freedom to build a relationship with our Heavenly Father. Paul teaches us that we are now considered children of God, and heirs with Christ. Paul teaches us that when we accept Jesus as God’s Son and we receive the Holy Spirit, then we have life in the Spirit that joins us to God in a special way.
Those of us who have been baptized into Christ are now adopted as sons of the Living God. We are given a life of freedom in the Spirit. We no longer live in bondage to the sin of the flesh … neither spiritual death nor physical death holds us captive. We are no longer bound in slavery. It is important that we keep our focus on the Spirit… to keep our gaze on the Kingdom of God… and the things of the Spirit. Then and only then can the Spirit set us free to have a vertical relationship with our Heavenly Father.