“So then, brothers, we are not obligated to the flesh to live according to the flesh, for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. All those led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “ Abba, Father! ” The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs — heirs of God and coheirs with Christ — seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:12-17 HCSB)
The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.
In a sense, the world is getting smaller and smaller. Not that long ago, the idea of traveling great distances and across vast oceans was a task that was undertaken by only the most adventuresome traveler and pioneer. To travel across the United States was a journey that would take from 4 to 6 months on the Oregon Trail in a wagon with a team of oxen and it took 3 to 4 weeks to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a sailing ship. Now, we jump on a plane and can be just about anywhere on the globe in less than 24 hours. It no longer takes months to travel by wagon from the east coast to the west coast, but only a few days if we choose to drive. In addition to travel, we can now pull a small electronic device from our pocket or purse, punch a few buttons and quickly find ourselves having a video call with someone on the other side of the world.
For some, this seems to have resulted in building distance between families. We feel separated by the miles and struggle to connect. Throw in the challenges of a global pandemic that requires social distancing to ensure a moderate hope to control viral spread and you end up with a people who are feeling more and more distanced from each other. We’re growing weary of the Zoom meetings and working from home. We long for things to “get back to normal” and we just hope and pray that this isn’t the “new normal”. Yet, others have found ways to stay connected and “in touch” with one another. Instead of decreasing communication, some have used it as a means of increasing communications and the perfect opportunity to use technology to overcome a persistent problem. Some rise to the challenge and find creative ways to overcome them while others feel overwhelmed and collapse in frustration under the stress and weight of them.
In today’s focal passage, Paul begins to give us a glimpse of what happens in the lives of those who rise to the challenge of Christian faith. So far, he’s shown us the crushing weight of sin as he cries, “who shall deliver me from this body of death?” But he quickly gives us enduring hope with the resounding response, “NO condemnation exists for those who are in Christ.” In this passage, we get a glimpse into the benefits of being in the Spirit and, thus, sons of God. God has taken the vast distance between heaven and earth and made it possible for us to experience His presence and power in a very personal and intimate way. Let’s take a look…
Have you ever had an obligation that felt difficult or even impossible to meet? Perhaps it was a school assignment or work assignment and you just didn’t feel like you had enough knowledge or skill to successfully complete the task. I’ve had a few of these. One of the most frustrating assignments I’ve ever had was to develop a set of electronic dashboards or visual reports that presented some key data for decision making for a group of executives. The problem, they didn’t know what they wanted. They knew that they wanted some data that would help them make decisions, but they weren’t entirely certain what data or information was needed. I failed because I didn’t have enough information. I couldn’t build it without more detail but nobody could provide the details. I had an obligation but I was unable and ill equipped to satisfy the obligation.
In our passage, Paul says “we are not obligated to the flesh, to live according to it.” We don’t have an obligation to do what it (the flesh: our human needs, desires and passions) asks, requires, or even demands from us. Why? Because it will destroy us, kill us. But, as we saw last week, if we are willing to deny and, even, kill these desires then we can begin to find a life of freedom and joy by following and aligning our lives with the guidance and teachings of God’s Holy Spirit.
This week, I want you to notice another AMAZING benefit of this process – you will be God’s sons. Let that sink in, a bit. When we are led by God’s Spirit, we are God’s sons. I know, some of you ladies are thinking that is a bit sexist. Why can’t you just say, we are God’s children. Just so you know, God isn’t sexist and there are reasons scripture uses these terms. In fact, we are also called “the bride of Christ”. Ok, so back to being God’s sons. Why a son? Because the son was the heir.
Today, we tend to think of heirs as all of the children and everything will be split evenly – generally speaking – in the event of the death of both parents. In America, most inheritance laws are built around this precept. However, that was not biblical culture or law. The family holdings would not be split, they were kept intact and operational and would be inherited by the eldest son (eldest daughter, if there wasn’t a son). The family’s land was their greatest asset and would be passed from generation to generation. It would only be lost if the current owner (or father’s son) became obligated under an unpaid debt and then it would pass to the debt holder. That is the basis of Paul’s argument. Under our former debt or unpaid wages to sin, our part or inheritance in the Kingdom of God would be lost to the debt holder – Satan. But we are no longer obligated under that debt, it has been paid in full by Christ’s gift if we have surrendered authority and ownership of our life to Him and are living according to the Spirit.
Pay attention, because this is where it gets really good…
We are bought out of slavery by Christ’s death and when we begin living in accordance with and under this new “ownership” of the Spirit, then we are no longer slaves but are adopted sons. What? Yes. Exactly! In reality, we live as slaves to whomever we obey (see Rom. 6:16). Even though Christ’s death paid for our freedom, most never appropriate this payment to their “spiritual” debt, surrender to His Lordship and begin to live in accordance to the Spirit of Christ. Those who do, they ARE God’s sons…
“He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, yet the world did not recognize Him. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:10-13 HCSB – emphasis mine)
Then Paul reminds us, “you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father!” You’re not slaves to sin, afraid of what the future might hold when your debt comes due and everything gets very serious. You are now sons, adopted and set free from that enslaving debt that carries a death sentence, and the fear that accompanies it. You are able to cry out, “DAD!” Here’s the key to this, a son doesn’t have to fear or question the status of his relationship or inheritance. He has an irrevocable position in the relationship and property. A slave’s relationship is always in jeopardy, a son’s relationship and position are never in jeopardy. Our position, place and acceptance in God’s Kingdom are assured because of the Spirit’s presence in our lives which is the proof of our adoption. There’s no need to fear because we are sons and have the Father’s seal upon our hearts – the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor. 1:22, 5:5).
How can we be certain? The Holy Spirit testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children. There are times when our spirit doesn’t always lead us into truth. But when the Holy Spirit comes alongside and confirms what our spirits tells us, we can be certain it is the truth. I want to be clear, though. This testimony of the Holy Spirit is not a “feeling” or emotional state or condition. It is much, much deeper than that. Paul makes it very clear that the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer has outward, visible signs and evidence. When someone is “walking in accordance with” or being led by the Spirit of God will give evidence of His leadership through their actions, attitudes and attention. They will have actions that are in agreement with and consistent with the teachings of Christ and the commands of God (see John 14:15, 21, 23, 26). They will have attitudes that reflect Christs’s (see Phil. 2:5, Gal. 5:22-23) and they will give attention to the purpose of God and the pursuit of the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33).
Finally, I want to you to notice the privilege we inherit as children of God and coheirs with Christ – “we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” Yes, you read that correctly – we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. In God’s kingdom, suffering and glory always go together. Why? Because this world is at odds with God’s kingdom and His glory and to pursue it will inevitably lead to conflict with culture and a clashing of kingdoms. This is hard for some to believe, but our world does NOT want the same things that God wants. That’s hard for some believers to grasp, but non-believers simply CAN’T grasp it. Their minds are simply incapable of realizing how much they – their goals, their plans, their desires – are at odds with God. Even as believers, we try and take our needs and desires and baptize them, put coat of glossy paint, dress them up in Sunday School clothes and language and then convince ourselves that what we want and what God wants are the same thing. NOT. If you’re not getting that, go back and re-read the first seven chapters of Romans because that’s what it was ALL about.
“for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13 HCSB)
Pay attention to those words. They are IMPORTANT! Suffering can and will take on many forms as you try to follow Christ. It manifests itself in “forsaking your nets” as Christ calls you to abandon your dreams and goals in order to pursue His. It can often manifest itself as “get behind me Satan” when God’s Word or His Spirit rebukes your thoughts, actions or words because they are at odds with God’s will and plan. Most often it manifests itself as “everything that was important to me, I now consider to be worthless and a loss because of Christ” as His Spirit comes alongside to “put to death the deeds of the body” in your life. It can also be manifested as “the world hated them because they are not of the world” as we find ourselves at odds with cultural values, principles and direction. While I am very hesitant to suggest that American Christians are suffering any persecution on par with the Apostles, at this time, disciples of every generation and every culture have suffered because of these conflicts I’ve just cited.
My words might come as a shock to some of you. You’ve always thought that following Christ and pursuing God’s will are synonymous with American culture and patriotism. That’s simply a lie that Satan would like you to believe. The world and its various cultures have ALWAYS been and will always be at odds with God’s will and purpose and that includes yours and mine. At odds with the world, but sent into it with the love of Christ and the gospel as our message and method. Does it work? You bet it does, it sets the captive free and gives sight to the blind. It brings hope to the hopeless and lifts up the oppressed.
How? By making us sons of God and allowing us to suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified WITH Him. Christ suffered for us, now we are privileged to suffer alongside Him with the hope of bringing many sons to glory (see Heb. 2:10). Why suffering? Why not glory without suffering. Jesus came and walked among us – the incarnation – to show us that God cares about struggles, loves us in spite of our failures, and is willing to get dirty and die in the process of redeeming us. He calls the church to do the same, to model His methods – to show them that God cares about them in the midst of their struggles, loves them in spite of their failures and is willing to get dirty and even die to self in the process of bringing the redemption story to them.
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24 HCSB)
What are you waiting for? Let’s go…