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The Best Chapter in the Bible (5): Lovers of Abba

Series: The Best Chapter in the Bible

Sermon by Derek Thomas on Jul 12, 2009

Romans 8:14-17

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The Lord's Day Morning

July 12, 2009

Communion Sunday

Romans 8:14-17

“Lovers of Abba”

Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel who alone does wondrous things. Let us worship God. All honor and blessing with angels above and thanks never ceasing for infinite love. Our Father in Heaven, we come before you this morning desiring to mingle our voices with the angels above, to worship you and adore you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We come in the name of Jesus Christ and by the strength of the Holy Spirit to worship you, our one true and living God. We thank you, O Lord, that you have rescued us, delivered us, saved us from our sins and iniquity, brought us into union and communion with Jesus Christ, indwelt us by your Spirit, granted to us the Spirit of adoption so that now we are heirs and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. We pray, O Lord for your blessing upon this worship service that in all that we do, your great and glorious name might be exalted. Come Holy Spirit and through the reading of your Word and the signing of your Word and praying of your Word and preaching of your Word, and as we behold the visible Word in the sacrament, Lord may all that we do this morning enable us more and more to love our Savior Jesus Christ. We ask it all in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Now turn with me, if you would, to Romans chapter 8 as we continued our exposition of this chapter this summer in a series that we have called “The Best Chapter in the Bible.” We come this morning to verses fourteen through seventeen and we will be concentrating just on some of the aspects of these glorious verses this morning.

I once conversed with a man, a father, who had adopted a little child and, in the first few months of that process, things evidently had gone reasonably well but it was the moment, he told me, when this little child came up to him and said, “Daddy, can you help me with my shoe laces?” that he realized the significance of adoption - that this little child had called him for the very first time “Daddy.” Well, adoption, the spirit of adoption, adoption as sons, that we are the children of God is the theme of this passage that we are about to read and it is one of the works or attributes of the Holy Spirit. Now, before we read the passage together, let's look to God in prayer.

Father, we thank you for the Scriptures. Thank You that men wrote as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. We thank You this morning for a Word that is able to make us wise unto salvation through faith, which is in Jesus Christ, our Lord. We ask for Your blessing. We pray, Lord, that as we read this passage that the Holy Spirit, Himself, might illuminate what we read. Help us to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest and all for Jesus sake. Amen.

Verse fourteen of Romans chapter eight:

“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.

And may God add His blessing to that reading of His word.

Now, as we look at this passage this morning, you will notice that several things are said about the Holy Spirit. We are told in fact four things about the Holy Spirit.

1. The Spirit of holiness.

He is the Spirit of holiness. In verse fourteen, all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God; that leading is not the leading of guidance — should we be a lawyer, should we be a doctor, should we be a brain surgeon or a bus conductor — that is true the Spirit does lead and guide us but that is not the intent of the apostle in verse fourteen. He is saying this is a consequence of what he said in verse thirteen. In verse thirteen he has been talking about mortification, putting sin to death. How do we know that we are children of God? Because the Spirit leads us to put sin to death. He leads us into holiness. He is the Spirit of holiness.

II. He is the Spirit of Grace.

Now the second thing that is said about the Holy Spirit is found in verse fifteen and it is put in the negative. He is the Spirit of grace. He is the Spirit of grace. Now look at verse fifteen. It is in the negative. You did not receive the Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. There is an issue here with the translation. In the ESV the pew bible, you will notice the spirit of slavery as a small “s.” If you are using the King James Version you will probably find that that is a capital “S.” Not so much the spirit that is within us, not so much our spirit, but the Holy Spirit. You did not receive the Holy Spirit as a spirit of slavery. What would Paul mean by that? Actually there is a word that has been dropped out of the translation here. There is a word in the original which says “again.” “You did not receive the spirit of slavery again to fall back into fear.”

What is Paul talking about? Well, there is a time in our experience as Christians when that is precisely what we do receive. There is a sense in which the spirit is a spirit of slavery. You go to the Scriptures, you go to the Bible, you see the law of God, you see the commandments of God, you see that injunction that you find in the Scriptures: do this and live. It was the experience of Martin Luther as he began to try and find out the answer to the question “What must I do to be saved?” What he discovered, of course, that the more he did, the more into bondage and into slavery he found himself. By doing, by trying to obey the commandments of God, he found himself in a position of slavery and bondage. Now what Paul is saying here is that you have not received the spirit of slavery again that drives you into fear but at one time you experienced the spirit in that way.

Let me illustrate it this way: in the Scottish Presbyterian Church, there was a question that was asked by the elders when somebody wanted to become a member of the church. To become a member of the church you had to make a profession of faith. This would assume now an adult seeking membership in the church and making their profession of faith. How would you know that that profession of faith is genuine? One of the questions that the elders would ask this prospective member of the church was this — it's a wonderful question — have you been to Sinai? That was the question they asked. Have you been to Sinai? Not have you been to the Peninsula of Sinai in the Middle East but have you been to Sinai — namely have you experienced the work of the law that drives you into bondage? Have you understood that by the works and deeds of the law no man can be saved? Do you know what it is to experience conviction of sin? Have you been to Sinai? What will you see if you go to Sinai? You will see thunder and lightning. You will see the threats of the covenant God against those who do not perform and do the works of the law. Now, what Paul is saying here is we haven't received the spirit of bondage. We haven't received the spirit of slavery again to fear but, on the contrary, and this is a third thing he says about the Holy Spirit, we have received the Spirit as a spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry “Abba, Father.”

III. He is the Spirit of adoption.

He is the Spirit of adoption. I will never forget walking down the streets of Jerusalem. I was — this was twenty years ago — I was leading a tour. It was the one and only time I will ever lead a tour anywhere in the world. But, I was walking down the streets of Jerusalem and heading in the direction of the Wailing Wall and, just in front of me was a Jewish man and his little son. He was all dressed in black. He was of the stricter sect of Jews. He had the typical Jewish black hat on and phylactery on his forehead and the strings hanging from his waist and so on, and his little boy was dressed identically to him. The boy looked, I don't know, five or six years of age and he was late or at least he was walking very quickly, and the little boy was taking a few steps and then skipping a few because he was trying to catch up with his father. And he kept saying over and over and over, “Abba, Abba, Abba, Abba” and then the father turned to him, bent down, picked him up and carried him.

Now, I knew — because I had studied Hebrew and Aramaic — I knew that little boys referred to their father in Hebrew by the term “Abba.” I knew that. I knew that in my head. But, when I saw this little boy referring to his father as “Abba” a light went on because that's the term that we use to refer to our God in heaven, the God of creation, the God who is holy. No, more than that, the God of Sinai, the God who threatens, the God who thunders that those who do not do the works of the law will be condemned — that God–that there is a way in which we can come before this holy God there is and call Him “Abba, Abba, Father.” It is the greatest blessing of the new covenant.

If I were to ask you this morning what is the distinctive feature that distinguishes the new covenant from the old covenant. What is it, as you step from Malachi into Matthew, as you go from the old covenant into the new covenant, what is the distinctive feature that makes the new covenant, new? Now that is a question worthy of a seminary student to answer for sure, but it is a question that every Christian needs, in some way, to answer. Let me answer the question for you by saying that the distinctive feature of the new covenant is that we call God “Father.” Abraham would never have called God “Father.” Moses would never have called God “Father.” Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos would never have called God “Father.” It is the distinctive blessing of the new covenant that we have this most intimate close fellowship in the family of God. We, who are the fallen sons of Adam by nature, have by the Holy Spirit been brought by new birth into a new family, the family of God. We use the same word and — think about this — it should take your breath away — that we call God by the same term that Jesus called God. When He addressed His heavenly father it was this word, Abba, that he employed. We are in the same family in which Jesus is our elder brother.

Now you may be proud of your families and I know that you are. You like to talk about them. I like to talk about mine. I like to show pictures of my grandchildren and bore you to death. But the greatest privilege of all of every single Christian this morning is we belong to this extraordinary family. Our older brother is none other than Jesus Himself. Now, isn't that a privilege? Isn't that a blessing?

I once was an outcast, stranger on earth,

A sinner by choice, an alien by birth

but I've been adopted, my name's written down

an heir to a mansion, a robe and a crown.

I'm the child of a king!

I'm the child of a king, with Jesus, my savior,

I'm the child of a king!

A tent or a cottage, why should I care?

They are building a palace for me over there.

Though exiled from home, yet still I may sing

all glory to God, I'm the child of a king.

I'm the child of a king!

And the child of a king, with Jesus, my savior,

I'm the child of a king!

He is the Spirit of adoption.

IV. The Spirit of witness.

Now there is a fourth thing. Not only is He the Spirit of holiness and not only is He the Spirit of grace, not only is He the Spirit of adoption, but He is also the Spirit of witness. You see that in verse sixteen. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.

Now, how does the Spirit bear witness with our spirit? Go back to verse fifteen. By whom we cry “Abba, Father.” Now focus in on that word cry. It is a very specific word in the original Greek. It is not used that often but it is used of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He cried “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” As we are coming to the Lord's Table, let us remember that cry of our Lord. It is not, you see — we might be tempted to think that the Spirit witnesses with our spirits when we are on the mountain top. I've been on the mountain top this week. I was on the mountain top. I had the greatest honor and privilege that I think I shall ever have. Now, it is an honor to be sure to be in the pulpit of First Presbyterian Church — do not get offended by what I am about to say. But on Thursday evening on the eve of Calvin's 500th birthday, I was given the privilege of preaching in Calvin's pulpit. Now, that may not mean a whole lot to you but to a Presbyterian preacher it doesn't get bigger than that. That is a great honor. Ligon did it on Tuesday night. I felt the witness of the Spirit. At least I felt something. I was all goose pimply, but that is not what is being said here. Actually, what is being said here is more — and I'm going to use the word precious — because it is in the depths of despair and darkness, when we are at our wit's end, when all we can do is cry “Father” that is the witness of the Spirit. When you are conscious that there is no one else that you can turn to except your Father in heaven, it is at that point, not on the mountain top so much, but in the deepest, darkest valley, there is the witness of the Spirit with our spirits that we are the children of God. What a great blessing that is.

I don't know where you are this morning. You may be in that dark valley because of circumstances, because of trials and difficulties too numerous to mention this morning, and right there, you do not need to climb to the mountain top, right there in the valley where you are this morning, you may turn to your heavenly Father. And the Holy Spirit who indwells you witnesses with your spirit and says He will never leave you. He will never forsake you. He will never abandon you. He will never deny you. You are mine. You are mine. He is the Spirit of witness.

Now next Lord's day we want to see how the Spirit of witness functions in the midst of suffering. You notice there in verse sixteen and seventeen that we are the children of God and, if children, then heirs. And, catch this, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Jesus Christ.

Where is Jesus this morning?

Now, when we celebrate the Lord's Supper, we tend sometimes wrongly and mistakenly to bring Jesus down. Rather, the Lord's Supper should remind us that Jesus is actually in Heaven. He is not only crucified, he has risen from the dead. He is sitting at God's right hand. He has in His flesh and blood, gone to be at God's right hand and this morning let us, in the Lord's Supper, lift up our hearts and fellowship and feed upon Christ who is sitting at God's right hand. Because we are heirs. Heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.

A tent or a cottage — why should I care?

They are building a palace for me over there.

“In my Father's house are many mansions, if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am there you will be also.”

Where I am — at the right hand of God, beholding the beatific vision of God, there every child of God who trusts in Jesus only will be also. What a blessing! What a blessing that is.

Let us pray together.

Father, we thank You now for this word of Scripture. We pray that You would hide it within our hearts. We pray that You would help us now as we prepare to come to the Lord's table. Help us to relish, to joy in our souls, at the prospect that now are we the sons of God and it doth not yet appear what we shall be. We ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

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The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper

As we come to celebrate the Lord's Supper, let's give our attention once again to the Words of Institution as we find them written by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, “This is My body which is for you, Do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way, he took the cup also saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks of the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. A man must examine himself and in so doing, he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup, for he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.

The Lord's Supper is a sacrament. It is one of two sacraments, along with Baptism, God has given us these “visible words,” as Augustine referred to them, bread and wine, two common items of an ordinary meal, at least in Jesus’ day. They remain bread and wine. We will pray a little prayer in a minute, in which, in Presbyterian language, we “set apart these common elements for holy use.” Well, that's just jargon of course, meaning, that we want God to bless our fellowship together as we celebrate the Lord's Supper, but it remains bread and it remains wine–or grape juice. They are pictures. They are meant to remind us or draw us to the Lord Jesus.

As we eat bread and as we drink wine, we are to be reminded of the fact that Jesus gave His life for us. He didn't just come to the world to be a good example. He died for us. He shed His blood for us. He endured God's covenant curse for us. And in God's great mercy and goodness, by the Spirit of Adoption, has brought us into the family of God. We are Sons of God, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ.

Now, this isn't just the Supper of First Presbyterian Church. It is for every believer. If you are not a believer this morning, if you are not trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, then observe. Observe and be convicted about your need of salvation and turn to Jesus Christ. Don't come to the table; come to Jesus. But all of those here this morning, not just those that are members of First Presbyterian Church, but to all who are members of evangelical churches wherever that might be, we invite you to fellowship along with us as we feed on Jesus Christ for the nourishment of our souls.

Let's pray together.

Father, we thank You now for the Lord's Supper. We thank You because these are elements that remind us so very forcibly that we are not our own, but that we have been bought with the price- the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray, O Lord,, that as we eat and drink this morning, that we might do so, looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Encourage us, challenge us, convict us, draw us to Jesus. Help us to be able to say this morning, “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Help us O Lord, as we struggle with sin. Help us as face all kinds of suffering and sorrow and trial, to know that You have promised never to leave us nor forsake us. We are in union with Christ and nothing can change that. So grant your blessing. We ask it all in Jesus' name, Amen.

The Apostles’ Creed

Since the Lord's Supper is for professing believers–those who have trusted in Jesus Christ for their salvation, it is appropriate that as we gather together to commune, that we confess our faith together. You will find the Apostle's Creed in the back of your hymnal. Christian, what do you believe?

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ,

His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell. The third day, He rose again from the dead. He ascended into Heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting, Amen.

The Ten Commandments

By reciting the Ten Commandments, directly adjacent to this Gospel ordinance of the Table, we are reminding ourselves of several biblical truths. One of those truths is the fact that we are forgiven of our sins through the sufficient work of the Lord Jesus Christ. So if you are a believer here today, you can gather in confidence, in confession of your sin, and in repentance, seizing upon Christ in faith, knowing that He has fully atoned for all of your sin. And so it reminds us of that forgiveness.

And secondly, it reminds us of the reality that we are to be holy. Those who commune with the Lord Jesus Christ and have received Him in salvation, have also been called into a life that is worthy of the Gospel. We are to be those who like David, can now read this law and delight in it. That we would walk this very character, the character of Christ, conformed into our very hearts and lives.

But most of all and thirdly, it reminds us of that perfect obedience. As we stare into the face of Christ, as we lift up our hearts to that glorious presence, right now, around the throne of God, we know that we have a Savior, in whom His sufficient work will cover all past, present, and future sin, so we can put our knees as it were, up underneath this table, and know that He has by His work, made it so.

So in your bulletins, you will find the Ten Commandments. Please recite them with me.

1. You shall have no other gods before Me.

2. You shall not make for yourself an idol. You shall not worship them or serve them.

3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

5. Honor your father and your mother

6. You shall not murder.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

8. You shall not steal.

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

10. You shall not covet.

The Words of Institution of the Lord's Supper

On the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus took bread and broke it and said, “This is My body which is for you. Take, eat, this do in remembrance of Me.”

(elements distributed)

In the same way, after supper, the Lord Jesus took the cup and said, “This is the new covenant in My blood. As often as you drink it, do this in remembrance of Me.”

(elements distributed)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son. That whosoever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life.”
“I've been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and delivered Himself up for me.”
“God demonstrates His own love towards us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Let us pray together.

Our Father in Heaven, we do bless You and thank You for communing with us in this supper. We remember the great and glorious promises — covenant promises which You have extended to us in the Word and have made true, have fulfilled, and indeed have made beautiful before our hearts today. Father, we recall all of those who have come to this table throughout history, who have had a foretaste and have enjoyed communion with you. And yet Lord, many of those we have loved, have passed from this place into Your loving arms and do now know in full expression, of what that communion would be. Father, we look forward to that day in which we will, with Your Son, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, partake in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, for there, we will know all of the joys of the heavenly places. Help us now, O Lord, by grace, to continue to persevere, to walk the walk of faith, to have and to hold the Lord Jesus Christ with full assurance, knowing that He will carry us until the end. It is in that promise and with that hope we pray, Amen.

Let us conclude our communion together by singing our hymn of response, number 252, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.


Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, be with you all, Amen.

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