I have been through much transition lately; this is why I have not posted as often as I’d like. I’ve moved cities, changed “jobs,” and my daughters have started school. Nevertheless, I am wanting to shift gears some with this blog to include other parts of my life. I will continue to post about the American Civil War on here, but I’m wanting to also include more of what I’m chewing on in my life. I hope you enjoy Hardtack Rat: Gnawing on Life One Bite at a Time.
I am a pastor at Lakewood United Methodist Church in North Little Rock, Arkansas. I preach every week on different passages of Scripture, studying each passage thoroughly. I struggle not to include all that I am learning about a passage, myself, or Jesus Christ revealed through Scripture and my life. I’d like to share some extra thoughts I had from this Sunday’s sermon that didn’t make it into my sermon. The passage of Scripture studied was Romans 8:1-6, 11-17. This sermon was first in the series “Awkward Family Photos: Becoming God’s Children.”
I have always sucked at writing papers in school, college, and seminary. I could never nail down my thesis; I wanted to start unpacking in the first paragraph instead of waiting to do so in the body of the paper. The apostle Paul does better than I ever could. In his letter to the Romans, he lays out his thesis in Romans 1:16-17 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” (NRSV)
We find in Romans 8 that Paul begins to reach the climax of his argument. In fleshing out how someone lives by faith, he lands on pointing out that such a person will have the Holy Spirit at work in and through their lives. This is a spiritual birthmark, if you will, representing that someone has believed in Jesus Christ for salvation and has become a child of God. I found it telling that in chapters 1-7, Paul only uses the term “Spirit” five times and only eight times in chapters 9-11 (significant for other reasons), however in chapter 8 alone, “Spirit” shows up twenty times!
The Holy Spirit’s presence in my life has certainly been significant in how I better understand living by faith and being a child of God. There’s more going on here though. Paul uses the analogy of adoption to help the Romans better understand what this means for them if they choose to believe in Jesus Christ. Adoption during the 1st Century was important to the Roman Empire and happened frequently. It was a way for someone to live a better life and belong to a family, where they were guaranteed an inheritance (limited good & resources mentality back then was the thing).
Paul points out that the Spirit bears witness that we are children of God. The Roman audience reading (more likely hearing) this, would have understood more fully what he meant by this, where we may not get it at a face value reading. Basically, when a child was adopted back then, there were witnesses present at the ceremony (with the old father present) and the trial before the legal officials (with the new father present). In the case of the new father’s death, these witnesses would step forward to vouch for the adopted child, making sure that she/he would receive the inheritance due her/him as a full heir. Likewise, the Holy Spirit currently bears witness to whom are children of God and will one day vouch for us before Christ Jesus when he returns.
This is profound furthermore since the children of God will receive their inheritance, which is the new heaven and new earth, where God, our Father, will dwell with His people, wipe every tear away, cause death to be no more, along with mourning, crying, and pain. (Revelation 21:1-8) But, Paul doesn’t stop here. For him, this is on the one hand. He doesn’t want the Romans or us today to just think of the hope of our inheritance as children of God; he wants us to live into that promise right now.
“On the other hand,” as some Bible translations put it, we are “joint heirs” or “co-heirs” with Jesus Christ, “if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17) This is a hard word to swallow, even for me. How often do we hear people say, “Believe in and follow Jesus Christ; you’ll suffer…”? I think this would scare most people away, among other scare tactic sayings Christians have said through the years (which I don’t subscribe to btw). However, what Paul is saying here, I think, is what children of God can reasonably expect to experience in their life with God. Of course there are so many positives I can think of for following Christ, which I would encourage would-be followers to consider.
But, like Paul, I think I too would lay out the truth for folks. However, inviting people to suffer means nothing without filling them in on the end of the story: there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more pain, tears, or death, but in order to fully appreciate that, would you expect not to have to suffer through it first? Actually, I think that these three things are a part of every human’s life; children of God face it in a different light though: with God by our side.
I’m glad Paul does say that we can CRY out to God, our Father, as children of God.
Last Nugget: In Romans 8:15, Paul slams together two similar terms that mean all the world to children of God. “Abba” is an Aramaic term that early Jewish Christians used, and “Father” is the Greek term early Gentile Christians used to understand their true family orientation. Paul has come full circle on explaining that salvation is available to “everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also the Greek.” (Romans 1:16) He is also setting the stage for Romans 9-11, where he teases out the details of God’s salvation for these two parties, i.e. all the known world.
This passage of Scripture meant so much to me when I became a child of God, and still does, because I’ve never met my biological father. The truth is that I’ve been redeemed by Jesus Christ’s actions for me and you and all the world to deal with sin and help us live by faith (Romans 8:1-4; Romans 1:16-17). I also have a heavenly, spiritual Father who has adopted me as his own. The Holy Spirit witnesses to me that I belong to my Father and that I will see Him face-to-face one day in heaven and for the rest of all eternity.
I hope you know that whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you believe or don’t believe about God revealed through Jesus Christ, you can have this relationship too.
Until next time, LIVE on…