Living as Children of God through the Spirit of God.
A BACKGROUND TO THE LETTER
We find ourselves in Pauls pastoral epistle to the church in Rome. He was likely writing towards the end of his third missionary journey from Corthin. There is little explanation for how the church in Rome was formed – Paul was not involved with planting it – the most plausible reason is that some of the Jew’s who had made Rome their home were present in Jerusalem for the Festival of Pentecost when Peter had preached, the spirit of God had been powered out and over 3000 people had been saved. Paul is writing to the church in Rome for several reasons.
Paul was planning his next missionary journey to Spain and needed: a base of operations, financial, and spiritual support. Thus, he is writing to introduce himself to one of the few Church that has not been born out of missionary work or he has never even had contact with.
Paul is aware of division in the church between what he calls the ‘weak’ and the ‘strong’ in the faith. Two factions in the church who were trying to discern whether faith in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice was sufficient for Salvation or something more was needed: Did the church need to whether Christians must continue to observe certain Jewish practices. Paul was addressing issues that were a microcosm of the wider Christian church at the time. As the Gospel Spread and people were converted the faith become more gentile. Those who were Messianic Jews had felt that their culture and part of their identity religious identity had been under and sought to maintain the link to the Old Testament and define Christianity not as a new or separate religion but as a Messianic Sect within Orthodox Judaism.
Therefore, as Paul writes to address the division between two opposing factions: those who may have thought that Christianity had moved on from the Old Testament and needed nothing to do with it – Gentiles; those who wanted to cling to every part of it as if their Salvation was dependant on it – Jewish Christians. He seeks to find a middle ground between the two positions and in doing so develops a deep theology that has shaped the Church since.
THE THEME OF THE LETTER
This is the most important theological document of all time, and If I was to try and find an overarching narrative I would say: The Gospel. Paul repeatedly focused on how the God news shapes the lives of Christians and all, that it has nothing to do with the ethnic or tribal background. All come to the Cross Equally. The passage we are looking at is in the middle of the Letter, Paul had just talked about how Christians have been released from the Law and bound to Christ (Romans 7:1-6), The Law and Sin (Romans 7:7-25) then he has looked at how as Christians we live our life empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The Passage we are considering today finds itself looking at two issues: Firstly, our freedom to live because of the spirit and the effects that the spirit living in us has upon us. In this passage, we see signs by which to recognise the spirit at work in someone. Secondly, how our present reality will be used by God for his purpose and any past, present or future sufferings are shaping and preparing us for a future Glory to which they will not compare.
Heirs with Christ Jesus (12-17)
Our Freeing Obligation in the Spirit (12-13)
Verse 12, is a conclusion to the previous verses. The “therefore” (NIV) informs us that the verse is dependent on the previous few verses. In verse 11 Paul declares that the same spirit who raised Christ from the dead lives in us, not only does he live in us but he gives life to our mortal bodies. This isn’t life as we know it, it is a supernatural spirit empowered life, not bound to decay and death but greater than our minds can comprehend – it is life eternal. It is more than we deserve or can ever earn – it is grace – thus we are beseeched to live from it. We have a debt and an obligation. Though, the debt is not to the flesh or the now. If was simply to the flesh and we lived to that then we would live as if living to die; no, our debt is to the spirit because the Spirit gives us life (v11). So, because we live through the Spirit; for the spirit and by the spirit we seek to put to death the things of the flesh because they are not of the spirit. Only the Spirit brings life, anything else leads to death. That is the life that the spirit creates for us as believers are actively worked out when we use his power to conquer sin.
Living as Adopted Children of God (14-15)
In verse 14 we see that those who are led by the spirit are Children of God, meaning that when Christians live true to their grace-obligation it is proof that they are in God and he is in them. Paul is identifying them as people of God under the new covenant who are destined for life. A true desire to live in the spirit: to put to death the things of the flesh is a sign of someone who is a Son or Daughters of God. Then (in verse 15) Paul wonderfully expands the image of being children of God; No longer are we slaves to sin and the fear it creates as we try to earn our own righteousness and our own salvation, we are freed from that and given Sonship. Paul is expanding on the Roman practice of adoption by which any children were taken into a family where guaranteed the same rights and privileges as any “Natural Children.” He says you not only have you been freed from sin by the Cross of Christ, but, with the spirit working in us we have been fully adopted into the house of God as Children of God under the new covenant. We have the same rights and privileges as the Son of God – Jesus. When Paul uses the word Abba as the cries of our hearts it says to us that we have the same intimacy with God the Father as Jesus.
Heirs with Christ, his Cross and Crown (16-17)
Not only are we adopted as Children of God through the spirit. The same spirit of God works in us on our behalf (verse 16) to give us the assurance that we are Children of God. In doing so the spirit enables us to know the fullness of that new life in the depths of our being. The spirit helps us to understand God as friend and father who makes us his children by his own actions and then gives us the internal assurance of all that we have.
Verse 17 is a beautiful picture of the depth of what it means to be a Christian, but also the cost. With the reality of Sonship and the inward sense of assurance that we receive when the Holy Spirit is working in us, we are also heirs to all of Gods Promises on the condition that we are willing to live as equal with Christ. The Promises of present and future blessing – not blessing in some false sense of the Prosperity Gospel- are conditional on the fact that we are willing to at the same time (with the help of the Holy Spirit) receive the cross. The Crown of Gory given now and to come is dependent on our wiliness to wear it with the Cross and. Therefore, being willing to suffer in this present age, being willing to endure all that life has for us through the power of the Spirit working in us is another sign of being a child of God. Endurance is spirit empowered patience, as no matter what we face we can know the joy of the Lord that transcends all circumstance.
Present Preparing for Future Glory (18-25)
Present Suffering (18)
As we Go on, Paul presents a hope that is so real and so substantive that Creation is longing for it. Paul Starts verse 18 by stating: “I consider” or as JB Philips would put it “In my opinion.” If we were in a court room Paul would be facing the Judge and saying “I have weighed the evidence that has been presented thus far and I am confident to say that whatever the Church faces now it bears no comparison to all that God has for her” Paul declares that whatever it is we will endure for Christ – past, present or future that combined and multiplied by 10 its sum worth will not even be worth comparing to what is ahead. The frankness of this verse can seem quite startling especially because we exist in a context where we don’t really “suffer.” we might even think that this honesty is for brothers and sisters of the faith who live in different parts of the world and face this reality every day – “it can’t really be for us” we might try to convince ourselves. Rubbish. Paul’s frankness is refreshing because the reality is that regardless if we call ourselves Christian or Atheist life is hard and people suffer. The difference being that Christian’s believe in something greater than circumstance, they believe in God who is in control of all things and bending all things to his purpose and Glory. Therefore, no matter if we are in the middle of a season of joy or sorrow we believe that there is meaning behind it and God will be glorified in it. We always have hope.
Creation Hope and Creation Groans (19-22)
It is a wonderful picture that Paul paints in the mind of the reader as he writes poetically how all of the animate and inanimate objects in creation are an eager audience waiting. They are waiting for the children of God (Christians) to inherit all that has been given to them. In verse 19 the phrase “waits for eager longing” comes from a group of words that would make the original reader imagine someone straining their neck or stretching forward. Like someone in an audience of a pop concert so animated and excited that they are straining their neck to look up and almost falling out of their seat as they lean forward because their idol has just come on stage. Such is their expectation of what is to come, see how JB Philips puts it:
The Whole World is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own.
Feel the intensity of the imagery Paul is using. Creation is longing for the day of liberty, but why? because it has been subjected to frustration – not by its own choice – but by the will and actions of Adam who chose sin over God. Once the earth was kind to herself and to her master, then after the fall it suffered in the same way we suffered: futility, decay and death. Creation wants to be free and seems to know that only way for it to be free is through the cross. Such is the reality of today that Creation is both a place of beauty and of bloodshed in equal measure. It suffers in the same way we do, so if we were to look only to it for the hope we would find no hope. However, there is hope.
In verse 21 and 22 we see that hope. We are given the picture of Creation being liberated from its bondage and decay when the Children of God inherit that which is promised to them. Such will the overflow and renewal be that creation will share in it. Paul moves on because the groan for Glory is all about us. Paul is using creation as an Image of the Christian life so he quickly moves onto the personal application. We see (in verse 22) the imagery of creation in labour. What parents remember from that process is not the labour but the aftermath when out of the beauty comes beauty. A child is born. So too is it the same for Christians we have joy in suffering because we know there will be a joyful outcome in the end when all things will be made new, even creation.
The Church cries out (23-25)
Paul moves on (verse 23) with the same imagery and applies the groans and pains of Labour to us who have the first fruits of the spirit. Even though we are fully with God – we are his Children – we still long for the fullness of all that we are to receive in eternity when all will be made new and our bodies will be redeemed. We are stuck between the ‘Now’ and the ‘Not Yet.’ In the same way, creation stands on its tiptoes we to wait with the same intensity for all things to be made new. Verse 24 and 25 are an extension of the reality of the passage to this point as Paul underlines the hope that we as Christians have.
Conclusion and Application
Let’s look back to see what it means to live by the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and from that the evidence of true saving Faith in Christ. Firstly, there is a commitment to the things of Christ and a desire to become more like him: Someone (12-13) who walks in faith, will be seeking to put to death the things of the world with the help of the Holy Spirit. Secondly, there is an assurance that even though they may stumble and fall that they are loved by the God of the Universe regardless of it. God does not look upon us as Judge but as a Father. We no longer live as people enslaved to the fears of this world, we live as free and as people who know who has set them free. Thirdly, there is intimacy with the Father, an assurance that the God of the universe is not a judge but Abba. Fourthly, there is stick ability or endurance: Those who are truly saved are committed through thick and thin. Not by their own strength but because the spirit empowers them; additionally, because they know Jesus endured for them and they want to endure for him. They are willing to receive the cross as they wear the crown.
In the second part of the text we see the reality of now and what it truly means for all the above to be true, and, the reality of what is ahead – The Glory of what is to come. As Paul uses the imagery of creation suffering, groaning and waiting as a Mirror for the groaning’s and longings of the believers. We wait with patience for what is to come because the Spirit of God empowers us to do us. We see that the one day God is going to restore not only our souls and our physical bodies but the entire universe. All that Adam put Wrong will be put right.
The most important question today is simply: Are we truly walking with Christ? Then for us today who are walking with the Spirit: what are the things we need to put to death, what are the things of the flesh that through the power of the spirit working in us we need to put to death so that we can become more like Christ? Do we rest in the assurance that God does not call us to do this alone that the Holy Spirit – God himself – within us empowers us? Thirdly, do you know God as Abba? Sometimes even as Christians such is our picture of God that we think he loves us but is not quite happy with us that he will love some future version of ourselves better, because we think we have grown or matured in our faith and only then can we call him Abba with confidence. Rubbish. God loves the ‘you’ of today as much as he loves whatever version you might think will be better. it’s not about us or anything we can do, he loves fully because of what he has done through the cross. It’s about what he has done. So, if we truly live in the Spirit then we must know the fullness of God’s love for us and that right now we can know him as Abba. All of this only makes sense if we are one with Christ if we truly have acknowledged our sin and need of a saviour. Only can we endure with patience and wait with confidence as all things are made new when we are one with Christ.