Sons of God

Sermon by David Felker on Jun 17, 2018

Romans 8:12-17

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Well happy Father’s Day, again. If this is a day that spikes in you gratitude, or if this is a day that spikes in you wounds, or if this is a day that spikes in you something in between, I am grateful for God’s kind providence tonight that we find ourselves in Romans chapter 8 verses 12 to 17. We are in a Sunday night series working through Romans chapter 8, a chapter that many have called the greatest chapter ever written. And so tonight we’re going to be looking – we’ll be reading verses 12 to 17; we’ll be focusing on verses 14 to 17.

And before we jump in and read, just something to consider. I want especially the children that are in the room, this is especially for you and also for the youth, if you’re in high school. I’m going to give you a list of names and I want you to think about the common thread. What do these people have in common? Here are the names: Mowgli, Mowgli from The Jungle Book and Annie; Batman and Robin; Anne of Green Gables and Jane Eyre; Luke Skywalker and Cinderella; Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, and Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. What’s the common thread? They’re all orphans, except for Luke Skywalker who thinks he’s an orphan – this is a spoiler alert! It’s thirty years late! If you’ve not seen it, this is thirty years late! This is a spoiler alert! A famous scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Darth Vader says to Luke, “Luke, I am your father.”

But it makes you wonder, “Why are there so many orphans? Why are there so many orphans in these stories that we love?” These characters – does this sound familiar to you? – these characters who wonder if anyone really wants them, they wonder if anyone really wants them, they feel restless and alone, they long to belong, they long to belong, to be loved, to be welcomed and wanted. They long for a home. Why are there so many orphans in the stories we love and why do these stories get so deep inside of us? I think it’s because all of us, in some measure, all of us in some measure feel like these orphans. I would suggest to you that these stories get so deep inside of us because all of us are orphans. We are spiritual orphans and we long to be adopted by God. We long to slide our knees up under His table. We long to be at home with Him, to rest, to really rest, to really rest in Him. And so that’s what we’re going to look at tonight. We’re going to look at adoption. And before we jump in and read, let’s ask for His help in prayer. Let’s pray together.

Our great God and heavenly Father, we pray that You would help us tonight, that You would convict those of us who are too comfortable, and Father, would You comfort those who are wounded. We pray that You would work through my lisping and stammering tongue and drive the good news of the Gospel deep into our hearts tonight. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Romans chapter 8, beginning in verse 12. This is God’s Word:

“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For 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. 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!’ 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.”

Amen.

I don’t know if you have caught this, but in the last few decades, international adoptions are getting more and more prevalent. If you travel anywhere across the United States, you’re likely to see families with parents that are very, just very Western and Anglo looking with a child maybe from Africa or from Eastern Europe or from Asia. And I think we know a lot of what is driving this. One child laws in China, poverty cycles across the globe where parents can’t care for themselves and that much more for their children, and so children in different places of course are just seen as dispensable. And so we’ve seen in the last few decades parents here in the United States that are wanting children going and adopting internationally. And when you look at an adoption like that and you know what’s driving that, you know what created the need for that, sort of the shallow way to respond is to say, “Well that’s neat.” Or like, “That makes sense.” Or, “That’s cool.” But if you really hear what some of these families go through to make that happen, these families are all in. If you hear what some of these families go through to make that happen, you will very quickly drop the word “neat.”

And I have had the occasion and opportunity to see that with a family I am close with. When I was in high school I was in Fayetteville, Arkansas and there was a staff member at my church, Shawn, and my parents got very close with Shawn and his wife, Anita. And they had, at the time, one child that was theirs by birth, Eli. They’re from Arkansas; they’re the biggest Razorback fans you know, but their child’s name is Eli – go figure! Their second child is Solomon. And they adopted Solomon twelve to fifteen years ago from an orphanage in Katmandu, Nepal. And Shawn said that from the time they decided that they wanted to adopt internationally, so from the time that Shawn and Anita made that decision, all the way to “We’re flying to Nepal to pick up our child,” was about five years. That seems to be a common timeline for families that are going through this process – about five years. Think, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”

To add to that, when they took the trip to Nepal to get Solomon, the first day they get to Katmandu – of course this is no easy trip; it’s a two-day trip; it’s not a cheap trip – the second day they were there they met with the staff at the orphanage, they learned a little bit more about Solomon. They learned that when the orphanage took Solomon in, he had been abandoned on the streets of Katmandu with his umbilical cord still attached. So the third day, they meet with lawyers. The fourth and the fifth day, they meet with government officials. The six and the seventh day, they fill out paperwork. The eighth day, Solomon had numerous medical exams. The ninth day, they got Solomon’s passport to leave the country. The tenth day, they get Solomon’s visa to enter the US. And for the next week, from the eleventh to the eighteenth day, they’re spending time with Solomon, trying to get Solomon comfortable with them, to somewhat adjust to who they are before they leave Nepal.

Also against the backdrop of all of this, international adoptions cost on average, depending on the agency that you use and the country where the child is from, somewhere between $20,000 and $50,000. You’re recommended to take an envelope full of cash when you go to pick up the child because you’re dropping money with government officials and with lawyers for the visa and for the passport, with the orphanage, with the doctors, the medical exams, and you just have to do it. If you want the child, it’s expensive and it takes energy, it takes time, it takes weeks and sometimes months to travel to get this child and to bring them back home. But again, these families are all in, and so they view it as a ransom and they joyfully pay it.

When we talk about God’s adoption of us, His people into His family, that He makes us children of God, there’s sort of a shallow way that we can talk about it and it’s kind of the “Isn’t that neat?” And that is shallow because it undermines something, and it undermines something very precious. It undermines that for God to make us His children is unnatural. He has one natural child and that is Jesus. It is completely unnatural and it is unbelievably expensive. And the high cost to go adopt a child across the globe is just a little dim picture, a pale comparison, to how expensive it is for God to make us His children.

And so we’re going to look at adoption tonight. To be a Christian is to be adopted by an act of God’s free grace, and we have a right to all the privileges, all the privileges of the sons of God. And so we’re going to look at this under two headings. First, “What is adoption?” And then second, “What are the privileges of adoption that we bump into that we find in this text?”

What is Adoption?

And so first, let’s start with this. “What is adoption?” If you look at verse 14, you probably notice that Paul uses the masculine word “son” to refer to all Christians, male and female. Verse 14, Paul says, "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are" – what? "Sons of God." And you may read that and want to correct Paul's language. Paul means "all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God," or, "all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God." But if you do that, if you are too quick to substitute Paul's language, you'll miss what he's getting at. This is not a gender-exclusive way of speaking. God doesn't just adopt men. No, this is a metaphor. And so just as men are included in the metaphor, "the bride of Christ," Ephesians 5, that God is making us without spot, without wrinkle, without any other blemish, so women are included in this designation, the "sons of God." The "sons of God;" it's a metaphor.

And what does the metaphor mean? Sinclair Ferguson remarked on this language throughout the New Testament and he said, “What are half of Jane Austin’s novels about? They’re about daughters who can’t inherit.” In that day and time, daughters can’t inherit and they’re going to be kicked out of the family home if they don’t get married. And so in the world of the New Testament, Paul, here and in other places, calls all of us "sons of God" because all of us, men and women, have this same privilege. We are all legal heirs. We have the same inheritance, the same inheritance which is the riches of God's grace to us in Jesus. 

And this word then that Paul uses in verse 15, “you have received the Spirit of adoption” – adoption. This word is only used five times in the Bible, every time by the apostle Paul, every time written to an audience under the rule of Roman law. And so this church, this congregation knows about adoption in a Roman legal system. In a Roman legal system in Paul’s day, adoption looked very different than it does in our day. In our day, we normally adopt infants. In Paul’s day, one usually adopted adults. And here’s why. Suppose a man owned an estate and he had no male children. And so he had no heir. And so when he died, his estate would be broken up. And so what he would do is, he would adopt a trusted male servant, he would adopt a trusted male servant. And so when you’re adopted, here’s what happened. You ceased to be a slave and you became a son with all of the rights, all of the responsibilities, all of the privileges of a son. More than that, all your debts were canceled. When you were adopted, all your debts – past, present, and future – they were canceled, they were crossed out because you were as wealthy as your new dad. And further, in Roman adoption, a natural born child could lose an inheritance. And so if you shame the family, you could lose an inheritance. But an adopted child legally could not lose an inheritance. You will always be a son; you will always be an heir. And so this is a metaphor of what God has done for you in Jesus. We aren’t naturally children of God. God has adopted children. And to be a Christian is to be adopted. That’s the first thing.

The Privileges of Adoption

I'd like to focus tonight, though, on the privileges. And so second, "What are the privileges that adoption brings that we bump into in this text that assure us on our doubts?" What are the privileges of adoption here that assure us in our doubts?

A New Father

The first privilege – you're given a new father. You're given a new father. You see the intimate language in verse 15. "Abba" – Father. Those words evoke in each one of us all sorts of different feelings. Maybe gratitude; maybe wounds. Maybe there's joy; maybe there's real pain. But all of us long for a father like this. These words assume affection. They assume access, warmth and welcome, care and concern. We all long for this.

Now I can’t speak for you, but it is easier for me to conceive of the Christian life as one of discipleship, as being a disciple. Likewise, if you tell me that the Christian life is about service, that I am a servant of the great King, I get that. I can get behind that. But it is difficult for me to be a son. It’s difficult to not live like an orphan. Pray then like this, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” That prayer is so easy to pray. That is so difficult to believe. Why is it so difficult to get this grand and glorious truth, “You are a beloved child, you are a beloved son, you are a beloved daughter,” why is it so difficult to get that from our head down into our hearts? A Teacher? Sure. A Master? A King? Yes. A Father? I think we don’t know what to do with that. And I think it’s because it requires empty hands. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children, children of God.” This grand and glorious truth, “I am a beloved son,” but I can live like a slave. I can fall back into fear. But why? The restlessness, the restlessness, the longing to belong, to be welcomed and wanted. Why?

Adoption is a legal act. It’s a legal act, and that’s important because it’s not a change in nature; it’s a change in status. And so an adopted child, I think we get this, an adopted child with a new father and a new home and a new family, a new room, a new bed, the paperwork is in, an adopted child still has to grow into the experience of being a son or being a daughter.

My daughter, Finley, is almost two. She is just kind of getting the hang of walking, and so she still falls and will scrap her knee on a regular basis. And it does not matter who she’s with, if she’s with her grandparents that she loves, if she’s with our neighbors that we love, if she’s with friends that we love, if she scraps her knee, who does she want? She wants mommy or daddy. And I think we can remember this. I think we can remember this from when we were children. That when you’re in pain, what do you do? You run to mommy and daddy and you sit in their lap and what do you say? “Will you kiss it? Will you kiss it?” As if that’s the magic formula. What really helps is this. You know that you are in the hands of someone who loves you.

And that’s the kind of Father the Scriptures are saying is yours. “As a father has compassion, as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord, so the Lord has compassion on you.” And so your Father is not just waiting, but He’s watching. And He’s not just watching, He’s running. And He’s not just running, but He embraces you. He embraces you and He says, “Kill the fattened calf.” And He puts a ring and a robe on you. And so when you are wounded and when you are afraid, when you’ve been hurt, you know that you have this kind of access and this kind of affection – Abba Father. You have a new Father.

A New Family

The second thing, you’re not only given a new Father, you’re given a new family, and specifically an elder brother in Jesus Christ. Verse 17, “If children then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” A number of years ago there was a family that went to an orphanage in Eastern Europe to adopt their new little boy. And they hadn’t ever met him; they had only written letters. They were so excited to see him and they could not wait. And when they got to this orphanage it just broke their heart because there were all these children, there was so little space, and there were no mommies and daddies. But then they met their little boy and this was the day that they had been waiting for. It was the best day of their life. And they were so happy to meet their son. Until it came time to leave the orphanage, at which point this new son sprinted away from his new parents, they could not find him anywhere, they searched the entire facility, the entire orphanage, and they finally saw him in a room with another boy. And when they went in, they tried to get their son away and they thought, “This is sweet. He’s going to miss this friend, but it’s time to go.” But their new son put his arm around this boy and he said, in Russian, “I’m not going to leave.” And so the parents tried to get their son and that didn’t work. And then the director of the orphanage came and tried to get their son and that didn’t work. And the boy kept saying, “I’m not leaving. I’m not leaving.” And then finally he said, “I’m not leaving without my brother. I’m not leaving without my brother. I’m not leaving without him.” And he didn’t. And they adopted them both.

You know, the Bible says in Hebrews chapter 2 verse 11 that Jesus is not ashamed, Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers. Jesus is not ashamed. That He too, when faced with leaving, He wrapped as it were Himself around you and said, “I’m not leaving without my brother. I’m not leaving without my sister.” And the Father did not have to be persuaded, but He loved us first. You’re given a new Father. You’re given a new family.

A New Witness

Third privilege – you have a new witness. You have a new witness. Verse 15, “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Verse 16, “The Spirit bears witness with our spirit. The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” This is legal language. So the Holy Spirit, what is He going to testify to? Because the Spirit knows it all. The Spirit knows your past and your present and your future. Is He going to be the witness who says, “There are all these secret sins, there are all these secret sins that no one else knows about. There’s his past. There’s her shame. There’s this rap sheet and I will testify all the evidence I have against them, against him, against her.” Is that going to be what He witnesses to?

I think everyone in this room knows what it is to walk around and to have these crazy internal dialogues where the tape plays. And some of what the tape says is true and some of what the tape says is a lie. And in those moments, Satan, in our vulnerability, will remind us of our sin and our broken cisterns and all of the ways that we spend money, all the ways we spend money on that which isn’t bread; all the ways we labor on that which doesn’t satisfy. And he will tempt us to despair, he will tell us of our guilt, and this is what he’ll say. He’ll shine the spotlight on this. “You are an orphan. You’re an orphan. And what are you going to do? What are you going to say?”

When I first started dating my wife, Lauren, I was living here in Jackson, I was in seminary, I was working here at the church with college students. Lauren was working with RUF at Oxford at Ole Miss and so we started dating long distance. And I remember still, especially as we were just starting to go on dates, this was the fall of 2009, I remember that every time I called her, she answered. Every time I asked her out, she said “Yes.” When I was trying to kind of get a read on how it was going, you know, she would say that she was grateful for time together, that she had a great time. But I remained, even though all of the lights were green, like everything was a “go,” I remained incredibly insecure. And so this is where, at the time as a seminary student, I should say that I prayed more and I read the Bible more, but instead what I did was I enlisted all of my Oxford friends to get all of the secret intel that they could and to report back to me. So basically what a seventh grader does in dating! And again, I’m telling you, every time I called she answered, every time I asked her out she said, “Yes.” The DTR, the define the relationship talk was good. Like all the signals were a “go.” All the signals were a “go.” But having other people say to me, “David, listen, chill out. She really likes you,” that was the game changer for me. It didn’t give me new information, but it confirmed the information that I already had.

That’s a pale comparison. But Christian, Jesus came to seek and to save you. Jesus came to seek and to save you. He pardoned you. He has removed your guilt. He has made you clean. He has accepted you. He’s robed you in righteousness. He’s robed you in His righteousness. He adopts you. You are His beloved son. You are His beloved daughter. And then, He puts the third person of the Trinity inside of you to remind you of those Gospel truths. The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. God has sent the Spirit of His Son back into our hearts crying, “Abba! Father!”

A New Vision

And so last, the fourth privilege here. We’ve seen that we have a new Father, we have a new family, we have a new witness. The fourth privilege – we have a new vision. Just in case you didn’t notice, there’s a tension in Romans chapter 8. The tension is between who God says that we are and how we experience life. Who God says we are and how we experience life. So on the one hand in verse 15, Paul says, “You have received the spirit of adoption.” A couple of verses later, the same author, Paul, verse 23 says, “We groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons.” And so what we have already been given, the spirit of adoption, we have not yet fully experienced. And so our question, “How will this grand and glorious truth drip down? How will it get from our heads down into our hearts?” I think the answer is in verse 17. Paul says, “If children then heirs, heirs of God, fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer, provided that we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.”

Now Paul is not saying that if you want adoption there’s a currency for that. He’s not saying that if you want adoption there are things that qualify you for that. Adoption is an act of God’s free grace. But Paul is saying that God does bring suffering into our lives and He even uses it as our dearest Father. And what he’s saying is, that the suffering, like with Jesus’ suffering, the suffering is a servant to glory. Your suffering in your life is a slave to your future glory. Just as Jesus’ glory is crafted, His glory is crafted and forged out of His suffering, the same is true for us. And you can see this in the lives of Christians. You can see this in the lives of people in our community and in our church – the glory in their lives, the quality of their character, the fruit is married to their suffering. That’s why John Piper says that we don’t deserve the gift of Christian suffering. We don’t deserve it. We don’t deserve to see it. But God gives is anyways. And so we too, we can open the front door to suffering, we can open the front door and we can say, “I suspect that God has brought you here,” and be changed by it.

Paul’s going to explore that link between suffering and glory in the next section, but for now, we follow in the path of our elder brother, Jesus. And so His life’s pattern becomes our life’s pattern. The cross before the crown. The way down before the way up. Suffering before glory. But what Paul is saying is that the relationship between suffering and glory is not just chronological. Again, it’s causal. It is married. Your suffering and your glory are interdependent and interconnected according to Paul. And even though you have trials in your life and you have thorns and you have tears, you are still God’s beloved child. You’re still His beloved son, His beloved daughter. And God’s promise is that He will not fail at your glory. He will not fail at your inheritance. He will not let you slip. He will hold you.

My son, Marshall, is four. And this past week he started swimming lessons. And when a child is starting to swim and comes into deep water and can’t touch the bottom anymore and they’re afraid, then what do you do? You hold them. And he paddles as hard as he can paddle, he kicks as hard as he can kick, he’s slowly getting it, but you’re holding him. You’re holding him. Samuel Rutherford, the 17th century Scottish Presbyterian, said of Christ, “Christ takes the children in His arms, He takes the children in His arms, and when they come into deep water” – maybe you’re in deep water tonight – “when they come into deep water and when they lose ground, when they lose footing and are put to swim, His hand is under their chin, His hand is under their chin and He is holding them.” This beautiful picture that the Father, through Christ, by the Spirit, He carries us as His dearest children. And so when you are afraid and when you are in need, He carries you all of your life and when you feel that you are going to drown, when you think that your suffering is going to sink you, He lifts up your chin and He carries you. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God, and so we are.” Amen, let me pray.

Our Father, we pray that You would help us to hear Your pronouncement over our lives, “My son, My daughter.” We pray that You would press that truth deep down tonight and we pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

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