Scripture: Romans 8:12-17
My mom loves to tell the story. I do not know my exact age, but I was young, somewhere in early elementary school. My family was visiting my grandparents. At grandma and grandpa Johnson’s there was some cleaning going on, and my grandmother had found a picture of my dad from his senior year of high school. While I do not remember this, my mom says that I asked “who is that?” My grandmother said it was my dad and she added, “you will look just like that someday.” According to my mom, my reply was “Oh God, I hope not!”
I do not know what happened to that picture, so I never compared it with my own senior picture. However, I imagine they looked fairly similar. For that reason, I really disliked going to my grandparent’s church growing up. This was the same church that my dad grew up in, so every time I went there, older people would call me “little Scotty”. It aggravated me so much. It aggravated me because I could not deny it. A DNA test is not needed to know who I belong to, a simple mirror will do. For better or worse, our parents help define who we are. It just is not just physical similarities. Even when we do not want to admit, the apple very rarely falls far from the tree. It is somewhat unfortunate, that often we realize this in less than positive ways. However, we forget to be thankful for our parents for our more desirable qualities as well. For instance, I believe that creativity is one of my strongest assets, and I know that I have my dad to thank for that. He is a very creative individual, and he modeled creativity and outside the box thinking for me daily. We are all more than just the combined sum of our parents, but for negative or positive it cannot be denied that our parents contribute greatly to who we are. If that is true, then this morning’s scripture should be both awe inspiring and humbling. This scripture reminds us that through Christ, we have a Father beyond our earthly Father. We have a Father in Heaven in Christ Jesus has claimed us, and our heavenly father also contributes greatly to who we are.
There is a common sentiment that all people are God’s children. I appreciate the concept. The idea is that all people are created by God and God deeply cares about each and every person. That is all true, but when scripture like this morning’s mention God’s children they do with a much more focused intent. Scripture’s like this morning speak about adoption. Verse 15 states, “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.”This would imply that before this adoption we are not truly God’s children, at least not in the sense this scripture is referring to. Paul is not making a poetic statement about being God’s children. He is making a legally binding one.
The ancient Greco-Roman world, had a slightly different understanding of family than we do today. Like for most of us today for them, family was everything. However, family was not traced strictly by bloodlines. In ancient Roman culture, it was understood that the son reflected the father. It was the desire of Romans to leave a lasting legacy, and it fell to the children to carry on this legacy from generation to generation. For ancient Roman families immortality was achieved through a strong family line. The son would inherit the father’s titles, roles, and responsibilities. It was the responsibility of the son to carry on where the father left off, and in doing so bring great honor to the father’s legacy. To ensure this adoption was a common practice. Adoption in the Greco-Roman looked different than today. Today it is most common for infants or very young children to be adopted. However, in the first century young adults would regularly be adopted. The most famous example of this, is Julius Caesar adopting his adult nephew Augustus. This adoption made August the son of Caesar, so when Julius was killed, Augustus had the right to take the name Caesar for himself and carrying on his adopted father’s legacy. It was also a known phenomenon that trusted and befriended slaves would be adopted. This adoption would instantly free the slave and elevate their social status to that of son. There are instance where in an instant, someone went from occupying the lowest rung of the social hierarchy to the highest because of an adoption. The former slave both legally and culturally became the son of their former master, and the adopted son received all of the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of a son.
The statement that Paul makes about being God’s children through adoption is truly profound. It was not uncommon for adults to be adopted but that did not make it any less special. Someone would not just adopt anyone to become their heir. The person they adopted was someone who meant a great deal to them, who they valued, and who they trusted completely to carry on in their name. If God is willing to adopt us as God’s children so that we can call out, “Abba, Father”, then that means God genuinely believes that we mean a great deal to God, that we are valued, and that God trust us to be God’s children. It means that the all-powerful creator and sustainer of the entire universe cherishes us enough to make us part of God’s family. This is not just a metaphor, but this scripture states that we are heirs. We have full ownership of God’s eternal and heavenly kingdom. It truly is an incredible statement! As we consider what it means to be God’s children I think we need to be aware of what that means for us.
If you have accepted forgiveness of sins through Jesus, then you have received the spirit of adoption and are God’s child. According to this morning’s scripture this is not just in the metaphorical sense, but in the literal sense: “We are heirs-heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” This means that we have ownership in the kingdom of God. The story goes that a farmhand worked a farm owned by an aging older couple. As the years past and the couple got older they could not do as much and some of the upkeep on the farm started to fall to the wayside. The paint on the barn started to peel, the fence slats were loose, the gravel road had growing potholes, and the list went on. As the farmhand did his hired list of jobs like milking the cows, he would regularly notice the growing list of things that needed to be done. However he thought, “What is that to me? It’s not my farm.” Then one day the farmer and his wife invited the farmhand to dinner and told him how much he had meant to them over the years. They told the farmhand since they had no children of their own, they wanted to give the farm to him when died. The next day as the farmhand was going to milk the cows he noticed the paint on the barn, but this time he REALLY noticed it. In a few days he painted the barn, a week later he fixed the fence, and by the end of the month all of the potholes in the road were filled. He was now an heir to the farm, and his treatment of it changed. He was now invested in how it went because he knew that it was his.
In the same way we are heirs to the Kingdom of God. This means that we have an eternal home and salvation prepared for us, but we also have ownership of God’s kingdom on earth. When the sick are cared for in the name of Christ, when the unloved are embraced in the name of Christ, when the lost are found, when the enslaved to sin are freed, and when lives are transformed that is the kingdom of God on earth. When love wins and hate loses, that is the kingdom of God. When evil is opposed and justice flows, that is the kingdom of God. If you are consider yourself a Christian, then your relationship with God, is not just about you and your personal salvation. You are an heir to the kingdom. It in part belongs to you. Just like the farmhand took ownership in the farm, we need to take ownership in the kingdom. That means it is our job to be the one who comfort the sick, love the unloved, share the freedom of the gospels, make disciples of the nations, and transform the world. How are you doing at being an heir to the kingdom? This is more than a rhetorical question. We are God’s children. By our behavior and by our actions, do we honor our Father in heaven or shame him? Do we value our inheritance of the kingdom or are we squandering it? We need to consider these questions in the depths of our soul. We are God’s children, by the grace of God and the power of his Spirit, may we act like it.
Remember, we are our parent’s children. In the way we think, the way we act, and the things we believe every single one of us bear the indelible impression of our parents. We are shaped and influenced by them. Through our relationship with Jesus Christ, we should also be shaped and influenced by our heavenly Father. Our thoughts, our actions, our beliefs, and our words should bear the indelible impression of Jesus. We should have compassion for others the way that Jesus did. We should seek to honor God in all we do, seek to live an authentic faith, and we should seek to love the least of these. When I went to visit my dad’s home church, the people there knew who my father was just by looking at me. In the same way, we should live our lives in such a way that when people interact with us they know we belong to our Father in heaven. As God’s children, our heavenly Father should shape and mold us. The best parts about ourselves should be reflective of Christ. The parts of us that are most loving, most compassionate, most patient, and most gracious should come about in our lives because we are molded and shaped by our heavenly Father. As God’s children one of the goals of our life should be able to look into the mirror and see reflected back a true child of God.
We should be mindful of how we should honor the inheritance that we are heirs to, but we should also consider how being adopted by God defines our relationship to God. Paul wrote that as the children of God we can cry out “abba, father.” Technically Abba means father in aramic but it is the more informal version of the word. A better translation of abba is daddy. In this morning’s scripture Paul makes the incredible bold claim (the scandalous claim?), that we can approach the creator of the universe, the being of ultimate power and authority, who holds the powers of creation and destruction, a God who is beyond our comprehension and understanding. We can approach this God and say, “I love you daddy.” Not only that, but we can fully expect to fill in the depths of hearts and the fullness of our souls that God’s response is “I love you too child.” By the Spirit of God and the sacrifice of the son, we ARE God’s children. Thanks be to God.
For years I hated being told that I looked like my dad. However, it is a resemblance that I cannot deny. Through our words, the way we care for others, and through our actions may we so resemble our heavenly Father that we cannot deny to whom we belong. As this morning’s scripture states, “The spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” May we claim that we are God’s children and may we fully embrace a relationship where God is our heavenly dad.