Scripture: Romans 8:12-17
Bad news has always been easy to find, but that feels a little more true these days. In part it is our culture. Studies have found that American news media tends to have a much stronger bad news bias than other countries have. It does not matter if your news source is the Internet, television, or even an old fashioned newspaper, bad news seems to lead more often than not. Given all of the negativity we are bombarded with daily, you might also find yourself sometimes just needing a little positivity interjected into your day. If you find yourself in that situation, then I have a recommendation for you. Try to find “gotcha” day videos. “Gotcha” day is a term used to refer to a day that an adoption becomes official. While not everyone in the adoption community celebrates or is wild about the idea of a “gotcha day”, the day that an adoption is finalized can be a momentous day in a family and often the videos that people record and upload of these days are pure joy. They show a family that is already full of love become official and they almost always have a judge smiling from ear to ear. The adoption process tends to be one that is a journey and one that always has snags and slow ups along the way. That is often why the videos are so great, because they capture a day that was a long time coming and that everyone is thrilled has finally arrived. For families that celebrate “gotcha day” it is a day where the long desired outcome becomes reality and they find that an event worth celebrating and commemorating.
Watching videos of adoption stories is a good way to break through the cloud of bad news, but I think watching them can also be instructive to our faith as well. This morning’s scripture is one of several we find in the New Testament that frames our relationship with God in the terms of adoption. As this morning’s scripture points out It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that we are incorporated into God’s family. In the bible and in places like this morning’s scripture being a child of God is not a metaphor but a literal concept. The Spirit’s work in our lives makes us a literal child of God and that should be one of the defining cornerstones of our faith.
This morning’s scripture reading kind of picks up in the middle, and that is sort of by necessity. Romans is written in an intentional systematic way where it keeps building on itself. Going all the way back to chapter one of Romans Paul begins working on and building an argument for how humanity relates to God. For chapter after chapter Paul makes the point that the Jewish law has merit because it points out to us these sinful ways, but we fall short of the glory of God, we cannot follow those laws perfectly so they are not our salvation. Paul makes the case that it is only through Jesus Christ that we are saved, that our sins are forgiven, and that we are reconciled with God. Being justified by Jesus mighty acts of salvation is referred to by Paul as “living according to the Spirit.” Starting in verse 7:7, Paul bears his soul a bit and acknowledges that even those who are saved by Christ continue to have this pull between the ways of the flesh and living according to the Spirit. This morning’s scripture is the conclusion of his exploration of the back and forth pull between the flesh and the Spirit. This morning’s scripture also builds upon all he has previously written to explain what our relationship with God should look like.
In this final summary of living according to the flesh vs. living according to the Spirit, Paul brings out an unusual but powerful word when he writes, “Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation.” I cannot speak for you, but that word obligation catches my attention and not in a good way. I think it is fair to say that we do not like obligations. Obligations can feel constraining, they can feel like something we are forced into. Fortunately, Paul goes on to write and quickly clarify what this obligation is. We have an obligation to God because God has adopted us. Again, this is not a metaphor for Paul. When he writes of being adopted by God he means it in the most legal sense.
When we say yes to God’s yes, when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior who died for our sins, then we are reconciled with God. We are adopted into the family of God. The day we choose Jesus is our eternal “gotcha day” and we are connected to God just as much as an adopted child is connected to their adoptive parents. A human adoption is a matter of law, it is backed by the legal codes and made official by a judge. Our spiritual adoption by God is a matter of heart and soul. As this morning’s scripture states, “the Spirit himself testifies that we are God’s children.”
Often the process of adoption can be slow with multiple steps to make sure the final outcome is the best outcome. Once an adoption is finalized it is finalized, and this is true of of being adopted by God. This is the good news of grace. Grace is not just about getting God to not be mad at us. Grace is being so radically accepted by God that God says, “You are now my child. You are one of us.” In this morning’s scripture Paul makes this point strongly, almost scandalously. He did this by writing, “The spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship, and by him we cry Abba, Father.”
The word Abba is Aramaic. This is the language that was spoken by first century Jews. Now if you are looking in the pew bibles or likely your own bible there will be a little note that says Abba is Aramaic for father. That is technically true, but it does not give the whole picture. Abba is the informal word for father. Perhaps the better translation for abba would be daddy or even da-da. Abba is the word that children use to refer to their father. This was scandalous, because Paul was taking this informal term and applying it to God. In the Hebrew Scriptures the name of God is so holy it is not written out. That is why in our English translation the Hebrew word for God is written as LORD. God was the holiest being in existence and to be treated with the utmost solemnity and respect. It would have been shocking for Paul then to use such an informal word as daddy to refer to the Great I AM. Yet is the best way to get across just how radical God’s love for us is. Because we followed the ways of the flesh we were cut off from God our creator, but out of God’s great love, the acts of Jesus, and the receiving of the Holy Spirit we have been adopted into God’s family. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and God’s family is our forever family. When we think of our faith, or even more core than that, when we think of our identity, the person we understand ourselves to be, we should identify as a child of God.
This morning’s scripture is a traditional reading for Pentecost. Pentecost is the day that we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, and talking about the Spirit can always be tricky because the Spirit is not a force of nature that can be quantified, measured, and validated through reproducible experiments. The Spirit is a force of God and so when the Spirit shows up in the scripture it does so in supernatural ways. Apostles’ talk in tongues, miracles happen, spiritual gifts are given, and spiritual fruit bloom. It can be hard to talk about the Holy Spirit in any kind of quantifiable way, but this morning’s scripture does give us a slightly more tangible way that we can know we experience the Spirit. This morning’s scripture states in verse 14, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” It is the Holy Spirit in our lives that leads us to adoption by God. Before we ever know God or respond to God, God’s love is there for us. The Holy Spirit is active and makes God’s love known to us through previenent grace. It is by the working of the Holy Spirit that despite being lost in sin we are enabled to say yes to God’s yes. It is the Holy Spirit’s working that we can be justified by grace and reconciled with our Creator. It is then the Holy Spirit that enter in, empowers, and guides us to live as God’s children. It is not by our own power but by the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit that we are able to uphold our obligation to our Father to be God’s faithful sons and daughters. We cannot quantifiably measure the work of the Holy Spirit, but if you consider yourself a Christian then you should be able to see the evidence of the Spirit throughout your whole life working to bring you into relationship with God as a child of God.
This morning’s scripture also points out another way that we actively experience the Holy Spirit in our lives. Verse 16 states “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” We believe that we can have an assurance that we are forgiven. We believe that we can know to the depths of our being that we are reconciled with God, that our sins are erased, and that our souls are clean. We can know that we are God’s children. This morning’s scripture points out that it is the Holy Spirit in our lives that makes this so. Throughout our lives our relationship with God will grow and change. There will be times when we feel like we have never been closer. There will be times when we push off on our own, test the boundaries, and find that God feels more distant than we had planned. There will be days where our faith thrives and there will be days where it survives. In all instances though, the Holy Spirit is there. It is present. The Holy Spirit of God whispers to our very essence that we are God’s children, and no matter what we go through in life that assurance does not go away and if we listen for it we should be able to find that still, small voice whispering the great truth of grace.
It does not matter if your eternal “gotcha day” was recently or long, long ago. You are still a child of God, you are part of God’s eternal family and heir of God and a co-heir with Christ himself. Even if God feels distance, even if it feels like you are just going through the motions, if you believe Jesus is your savior then God is your Father, and the Holy Spirit is in you speaking to your that you are God’s child. May that be a core part of your identity. When you stare yourself down in the mirror may you see a child of God staring back at you. May you listen to the voice of the Spirit and be assured that you loved by God so much that God adopted you forever, and secure in that love may you be able to cry out Abba, Father. But not only may you know that you are a child of God, but may you live as a God’s child, representing your father and sharing his holy love with everyone.