No one gets to choose whether or not to be born. No one. Birth is an involuntary event in our lives. Our parents made that decision for us, and this also means that we didn’t get to choose our family.
We did not get to choose our father.
We did not get to choose our mother.
We did not get to choose our siblings.
Like it or not, we are stuck with our families for better or for worse. For those of us who were born into relatively stable, happy families, we can consider ourselves blessed. I was extremely blessed to have a family who loved and supported me–who gave me appropriate discipline but was never abusive; who knocked me down when I became too prideful and built me up when I was feeling down. After the typical sibling rivalries with my sister, we grew close and still maintain a very good relationship. I value highly my family.
But not every family is like this. In fact, there are some families where the exact opposite things happened. There are some families where people are abused physically and mentally. There are some families where children are ignored; unloved; and the minimum of care is given to them. There are some folks who have good relationships with their mothers but horrendous relationships with their fathers and vice-versa. There are some families where brothers and sisters war with each other for attention and affection and, if the parents die, for whatever monetary gain they can appropriate. When such things happen, the term family takes on a very, very negative meaning.
And it is with such matters in mind that some well meaning theologians and pastors have commented that the church should do away with any sort of language that talks about our community as a family. Because some folks have had negative experiences with families, we shouldn’t talk about ourselves as a family. Because some folks have had negative experiences with abusive fathers, we should not talk about God as the Father. To a lesser extent, the logic follows that because some folks have had a negative experience with mothers, we shouldn’t refer to God as Mother either. I know that the intent here is well meaning, but that then means we will have to disregard some very important pieces of scripture that reveal to us the nature of God and our relationship toward Him.
One of those pieces of scripture is in front of us this morning. It’s a very small paragraph from the eighth chapter of the book of Romans, but these few sentences are profound in what they say about our relationship with God in Jesus Christ. Paul begins with these words, “14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” This is not an inclusive statement. It is an exclusive statement. If you are not led by the Spirit of God, you are not a child of God. But if you are led by the Spirit of God; if you have Jesus as your representative; if you trust in Jesus’ actions instead of your own actions when it comes to being right with God; then you are a child of God.
These words hearken back to the story of the Exodus when God was leading the people of Israel by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. God adopted the Israelites as His children and was leading them to the Promised Land. They were under His care. They were under His provision. However, at this time in biblical history, the family was limited. Only those who were circumcised and descendants of Abraham were allowed in. No one else could be added. Until Jesus. When Jesus came into this world and made us right with God through His death and resurrection, the family of God became open. No longer was there any physical restrictions to entrance into the family. Didn’t matter if you were circumcised or not. There were no longer any blood line restrictions to entrance into the family. Didn’t matter if you were a Jew or not. Entrance into God’s family was not by physical birth–it was by spiritual re-birth. It was by a heart that came to trust in what Jesus accomplished in His life, death and resurrection. For all of us who here today call ourselves Christian, we became a part of this family because of Jesus; because we place our trust in Him.
What does this mean? Verse 15, “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ I heard a heart wrenching sermon illustration this week as I listened to a pastor preach on this text. A family had traveled to Russia to adopt two boys. When they entered the orphanage and were led to their sons, they were disturbed by what they didn’t hear. For you see, the orphanage was quiet. It was full of babies. Full of infant children laying in their cribs. But they made no noise. They rocked themselves back and forth, but there was no crying; no cooing; nothing. The pastor explained: whenever infants get no attention, they learn not to cry. They simply stay silent because their cries do no good. These children had learned that no one cared.
The couple were led to the two boys that they would eventually adopt. They spent several days with those boys giving them attention and affection. Finally, the day came that the parents’ dreaded. They would have to leave these two boys and return to the United States as they awaited the final paperwork to be handled. They hugged and kissed the boys and told them their goodbye’s. And as they walked back through the silent orphanage, one of their boys let out a blood curdling cry. For the first time in his life, their son-to-be knew he was loved; knew he was cared about; and he cried out for his family.
When we receive the Spirit of God, we do not fall back into fear and subdued quiet. We do not worry about whether or not we are saved. We do not worry about whether or not we will ever get to heaven. We have a Father who cares. We have a Father who loves. We have a Father who provides. We have a Father who grants us every right and privilege that comes with being His child. And so we cry out to Him. We yearn for Him. We yearn for His presence. We yearn for His touch. We yearn to experience holy time with Him. And so we cry out, “Daddy! Father!” For you see that’s what Abba means. Abba means Daddy in Aramaic. We have the privilege and honor to come before the creator of the universe with no need to use majestic language. We don’t have to pray saying, “Heavenly Father.” We don’t need to flatter God by saying, “Almighty Creator of the universe.” We can simply say, “Daddy.” This is the spirit of adoption that we have received.
Of course, some may ask, “How do you know? How do you know that this is true?” Paul answers, “16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” There is no scientific proof for this occurrence. There is no legal document that is produced to show that God has adopted us. The sign and seal of this transaction takes place in the very depths of our hearts. The Holy Spirit and our own spirit testifies to whether or not we are children of God. Deep down in the recesses of your heart, you come to sense the Spirit’s presence. You come to sense the Spirit’s affirmation. You come to realize your adoption into God’s family as the Spirit of God confirms and affirms you.
Now, you may say, “Pastor, I haven’t felt this. Am I a part of God’s family? Am I a Christian? If I don’t sense the Spirit of God in me, am I doing something wrong?” There are two things to consider: first, I think we must all ask ourselves what we are trusting in at any given time in our lives. We must examine deep within our hearts and ask ourselves, “Am I putting my trust and faith in Jesus and His action? Am I being led down the path to trust the things of this world? Am I looking to Jesus for my safety, security, and hope, or has money, possessions, the government, or some other such entity clouded my thinking?” The world will try to pull us away from Jesus, and during these times, we oftentimes lose our conviction that we are indeed children of God. Secondly, if we have examined ourselves and found that indeed we are trusting in Jesus, we must be patient and be quiet to hear the Spirit’s voice. Patience is not a virtue that many have these days in this world of instant gratification. Quiet time and space is a rarity. Turn off the television. Take a walk without your phone or MP3 player. Let your heart and mind turn toward Jesus. Practice being in Him with quiet, and you will hear the Spirit confirm you as a child of God.
And now, let us turn to the final verse: 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. As we look at this verse, let me first make a disclaimer. We will be dealing with the concept of suffering next week, so I am going to give that part of this verse short shift this week. My apologies for those of you who may not be here. I am not ignoring what Paul says. I just know where he is going. What I want to focus on here is that Paul says we become heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
We are so divorced from the ancient world that we don’t grasp the radical nature of this statement. You see, when it comes to the inheritance of property in our culture, we believe in splitting things evenly with our children. I have three kids. When Dawna and I wrote our wills, we gave 1/3 of our property and money to each child. We believe in the concept of fairness and that each child should receive an equal share. Most of you probably have done the same thing with your property and money. This was not the way things were done in the ancient world. Let me repeat that: the concept of equally splitting an inheritance was not the practice in the ancient world.
In the ancient world, a family’s power was tied to the amount of property and wealth that the family accumulated. Therefore, when an inheritance was left, one heir was designated–usually, it was a male. That heir received the vast majority of the family’s property and wealth. Let’s say a family had six children. The heir would receive 90-95% of the property, and the rest of the children would divide the remaining 5-10%. The heir got almost everything. Period. In this fashion, the family could retain its power and influence in the ancient world.
Paul says that when we enter into the family of God, we become co-heirs with Christ. Whatever Christ inherits, we inherit. Doesn’t matter if you became a part of the family a long time ago or if you just came into it. Doesn’t matter if you are male or female. Doesn’t matter whatever kind of status you had in life. You are an heir. You have access to the inheritance. This is how much God loves you and cherishes you as His child. Eternal love. Yours. Eternal provision. Yours. Eternal life. Yours. And not only do these things happen when you die. No. You begin to experience them right here and right now. When you are made a part of the family of God you can count on God’s love, provision, and fulfillment right now.
Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this family? Who wouldn’t want to have a Father like this? We all know that our families in this life are imperfect. Even if you had the greatest parents in the world, they still die. I cannot tell you how many times friends of mine on Facebook post a statement that reads, “Post this if you would like to talk to your dad or mom one more time.” I cannot tell you how many times I have heard children–even spouses–say, “I was so mad at my parents or spouse when they died on me.” Yes, most of these folks worked through such things, but the point I am trying to make is this: our families at some point will let us down. They will not bring us the fulfillment that we oftentimes place on them. They will not always be around to love and care for us. And so we should not put our ultimate trust in them. Hear that again because for those of us who have good families, I am not telling anyone to stop trusting their families. What I am saying is that we should not put our ultimate trust in them. We should put our ultimate trust in the one family unit that will not disappoint. We should put our trust in the one Father who will never let us down. I am saying that we should put our ultimate trust in being a part of the family of God with God as our Father, Christ as our brother, and the Spirit of God who leads us into our daily lives. It is this family and this family alone who will never disappoint. Claim your inheritance. Trust in Jesus. Be a child of God. Amen.