Seward United Methodist Church
Friday, September 21, 2018
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Life In The Spirit

Romans 8:12-25

Since I chose to preach on this passage this morning, I’ve had some regrets about it. Usually when I have regrets about a passage, it’s not because I can’t find anything meaningful to say about it, but because I have so much to say about it that I have a hard time doing justice to the passage. That is the case with today’s lesson.

Let’s start off by going back two Sundays. Two weeks ago, we were looking at Romans chapter 7, and we ended by talking about the indwelling Spirit. Last Sundays’ first Scripture lesson was Romans 8:1-11, which is all about the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit inside of us. Today, we’re going to unpack that and talk about what it means to live in God’s Spirit.

First, by the Spirit, we put sin to death in our lives.

We have no obligation to sin any more as Christians. All of our “debt” to sin was paid in full by Christ on the cross. We have now been set free from the power of sin, which was something we touched on two Sundays ago. Sin still tempts us, but it no longer has power over us. It is not our master.

If you live by sin, you will die. This is a warning. While we are set free from the mastery of sin, we are still free to choose sin. We can go on sinning if we want to. But if we do, it will eventually lead us away from Christ. I’ve known Christians over the years who have wandered away from Christ because they allowed a particular sin to take hold in their lives. Sin is still dangerous. We have good reason as Christians to want to flee from sin.

But, if by the power of the Spirit, not on your own, but if by power of the Spirit, you put sin to death, you will live. There is a fancy theological term for this: Mortification, from the Latin word for death. To practice mortification is to put sin to death by the Spirit. And there is a counterpart called vivification, from the Latin word for life. To practice vivification is to bring to life goodness in all you do. That’s what we are called to do by the Spirit: To stop sinning and start living a holy life.

Second, by the Spirit, we are adopted as children of God.

This is very powerful idea, but one that only becomes clear to us if we understand the practice behind it. Paul was writing to the Roman church, and so he used a picture from Roman custom, adoption.

Roman adoption law was very different from ours. In our society, only children are adopted. And, of course, both girls and boys can be adopted. But in Roman society, only sons were adopted. And in Roman society, a son never “came of age” until his father died. As long as a man’s father was still alive, he was subject to his father’s will. A 70 year old man could tell his 50 year old son what to do, and by golly, his son would do it. A consequence of that is that Roman adoption could happen at any age. A 50 year old man could be adopted.

And when adoption happened in Roman society, the adopted son became a completely new person in the eyes of the law. Any debts he owed or legal charges against him were dropped. Literally, a man could go out and borrow a million dollars and commit murder, but if he was adopted the next day, all of it was dropped. And this adopted son lost all the rights he had in his former family, but gained all the rights of a son in his new family.

Paul uses that as a picture for what God does for us in Jesus Christ. We have been adopted as children of God. Literally, we have been adopted as sons of God, whether we are male or female, the Bible says we are adopted as sons of God. There were two reasons for that. One is that in Roman society, only sons were adopted. The other is that in most ancient cultures, only sons became heirs to their father. We can modernize the language now and say children, but literally we are called sons of God.

What does it mean to be a child of God?

First, as children, we have confidence. We are not slaves. We do not need to live in fear. God has set us free from slavery. We are not slaves of God. The Holy Spirit is not a new slave master to us, rather, he is our shepherd, leader, but he doesn’t force us to follow him. We have the confidence of children. We know our Heavenly Father loves us.

Second, we have intimacy with God. We call him Abba, Father. Abba was the Aramaic word for father that was a term of endearment. It’s the equivalent of our word, “Daddy.” It’s how Jesus addressed God, and it became the custom of early Christians to follow his example, such is our intimacy with God.

Third, we are heirs of God together with Christ. All that belonged to Christ also belongs to us: eternal life, glory, and also suffering in this present life.

And fourth, to be a child of God means that we have received a high calling on our lives. This is not something that’s expressly stated in this passage, but it is important to understand. In the culture of first century Judaism, to be a child of something was to be like that thing. So

to be a child of God means to be like God. We should live into our identity as children of God by behaving like God.

There’s an old question about what is the best way to manage people. Some people say that you should assume the worst of people and watch them closely, expecting them to mess up. Others say that you should assume the best of people, and they will live into your high expectations. It seems God adopts the second philosophy. He gives us a high praise. He calls us his own children, then invites us live into that identity.

To have the Spirit in us means we are children of God. We have a unique relationship with God, and a unique relationship with each other. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are the family of God. And so we should behave like it.

An interesting little side note: A few months ago, there was a controversy when a Southern governor talked about being a child of God. He was speaking to a church audience, and he told them that if they believed in Christ like he did, they were his brothers and sisters. And if they didn’t, they were not. Well, it was quite a controversial thing to say, and the talking heads on the nightly news said, “So what, if you don’t believe the same as him, you’re not his brother?!?” The thing is, what he said was theologically correct. And I think it was appropriate for his setting. He wasn’t speaking to a press conference. He was speaking in a church. And it was true. As Christians, we should have a special bond with each other and a special love for each other, if we’re truly going to be children of God.

Third, by the Spirit, we are given assurance of our salvation.

Technically, this could have been included in our discussion of what it means to be a child of God, but I wanted to lift verse 16 up on its own because it is a distinctive, Wesleyan emphasis. John Wesley believed strongly in Christian assurance, that we can know that we are saved, that we can feel it in our hearts.

There was a prescription in the Old Testament that said, “By the testimony of two or three witnesses, truth is established.” Well, there are two witnesses to our salvation. The first is God’s Spirit, and the second is our own spirit. Now this is an internal witness. It’s not as if someone else could look at us and “know” that we are saved. But I join with Paul and Wesley in affirming that we can be assured of our salvation. We can know that we are saved.

And fourth and finally, in the Spirit, we look forward to a new creation. The new creation will be an entirely new creation. This world will be recreated, and there will be, as the

Scriptures say, a new heaven and a new earth. And this new creation will be free from death and decay.

Paul is looking back here to the very beginning of the Scriptures, the creation story and Adam and Eve’s fall from grace. Those stories are found in Genesis chapters 1-3. Some people seem reluctant to talk about those early chapters of Scripture because they seem to be incompatible with a scientific view of the universe that most people hold today. The problem with that approach is that ignoring that story cuts away the foundation of a Christian view of the world.

The story of creation and Adam and Eve’s sin is a myth. Now before you jump on me for saying that, let me explain what I mean. A myth is a story that explains something that we experience in our lives. To say that something is a myth does not mean that it is untrue. A myth can be false or true, and I do believe the creation story is a true myth.

I say it’s a myth because it explains something that we all experience. We rebel against the thought of death and decay. We don’t like to think about death, least of all our own deaths. We dismay over the decay of our bodies. We’re all getting older, and we don’t like it. I don’t know about you, but my mind isn’t what it used to be. Also, my mind isn’t what it used to be. We rebel against the thought of death and decay, and yet they are inevitable.

Why do we rebel? The creation story tells us that we rebel because we were not created to die. We were created to live. Death entered this creation through the rebellion of humanity against God. Death is a curse, not something God intended. And now all of creation is in a state of death and decay.

But a new creation is coming! And the sufferings of this present age are like the birth pangs of the new world coming. The birth pangs are bearable because we know the new is coming. Suffering becomes bearable if we know it’s temporary. The worst kind of pain is the kind that doesn’t go away. But we are assured in Scripture that the pains of this world are temporary.

In the meantime, the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in us is the foretaste of things to come. Literally, it is the firstfruits of the new creation. In Scripture, the firstfruits are God’s assurance that the rest of the harvest is coming.

So what we experience in Christ now is just the beginning. New life, assurance, confidence, intimacy with God: Those things are just the beginning. The best is yet to come!

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