Sunday, June 24, 2012
Sermon: Romans 8: 9-17 Children of God
If you had just one word, how would you describe God? Would it be a word like ‘creator’? Perhaps you’d be more likely to use the word distant, or fearsome, or judge. You might even jump in with a completely different type of word - non-existent; or (if it was Richard Dawkins) delusion?
How you think about God, how you describe him, probably says a lot about what you think of him, but also, reveals your relationship to him. If we were able to take the time and go around the church, you might have lots of words. Would you come up with this one? Daddy, or dad.
That way of speaking might seem shocking; it may seem overly familiar; even presumptuous, yet that’s exactly what the Bible tells us is possible - to call God our dad. In another part of the Bible, John says this: ‘See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.’ (1 John 3:1). In the Bible reading we heard today, the apostle Paul expands on that thought, and shows us that we too can call God father or dad.
It doesn’t come naturally, though. It’s not something we can presume to do by ourselves. You see, as we follow our own way, as we ‘live according to the flesh’ (13), we are separated from God; cut off from relationship with him; we face the due penalty for our sins. We say no to God, we do whatever pleases us, but it leads in the end to death. Left to ourselves, this is the course that each one of us is following.
But the good news is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came from heaven to live and die on this earth. As he hung on the cross, he took the death that we deserved; dying in our place. If you’ve been watching the Euro 2012 matches, Jesus is like the substitute who comes on in place of another - he took our place.
A Christian is someone who has heard this good news, and believes it. They accept the substitution; they recognise that Jesus took their place, and they live for him. You see, Jesus didn’t stay dead - he was raised to life by the Holy Spirit. As we trust in Jesus, we are given the Holy Spirit to live in us, to give us life, and to help us to live for him.
If you’ve ever been on Facebook, you’ll have seen the personality quizzes - what type of person are you? Which star wars character are you? (or which Twilight character are you?) There are lots of possibilities. But according to Paul, there are only two types of people. Only two categories of people in the whole world - those who live according to the flesh; and those who live by the Spirit.
But what does it mean to live by the Spirit, to have the Holy Spirit in your life? In verse 14, Paul says: ‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.’ To have the Holy Spirit is to be a child of God.
Our relationship to God has changed. At Primary School, one of our dinner ladies ruled the playground with an iron fist. Any mischief was quickly spotted and stopped. Her threats were enough: ‘“I’ll take you to the Master.” We were in fear of the principal. He was so much older and bigger and more fearsome (even if he wasn’t allowed to cane us - I’m not that old!). But is that how his children related to him at home? Not at all - he was their dad. They say him in a completely different light.
It’s the same with us and God - as we come to believe the good news, we receive the Spirit - not a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but we have received a spirit of adoption (or the Spirit of adoption). We who were on the outside have now been brought inside. We have been made to feel welcome, and been declared to be members of the family, at home with God.
It was with great joy that we heard of N’s adoption being declared - she is now at home with T and J; she has a new family. And because of that, things will never be the same again. She has new relationships, and a new inheritance.
You see, T and J are now legally and fully and finally dad and mum. It’s a cry they probably hear lots of times: Dad! Mum! and they scurry to see what’s happening, what N is up to!
It’s a picture of how each of us, as we believe in Jesus, are adopted into God’s family. When we’re in the family, we can call God ‘dad’. It’s the way that Jesus addresses God as he is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36). He was the only one who really could call God dad, yet the wonder of it all is that Jesus endured the cross to enable us to call God dad. When the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray, what is it he tells them to say? ‘Our Father.’
‘When we cry Abba! Father! it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.’ The God who made the whole universe is not distant; instead, he is (or can be) your dad - the one who hears your cry, the one who confirms that you are his child by the presence of his Holy Spirit, helping us as we cry out in prayer.
As if all that wasn’t enough, there is still more. You see, if we are children of God, then that means that we are heirs of God. I don’t know if T and J have much of an inheritance to pass on - but some day it will all be N’s. As we become part of the family, we become not only children, but also heirs.
We are joint-heirs with Christ - all that he inherits and receives from the father will also be ours, we will share it with him. As Jesus takes his place on the throne and rules over the universe, so we will share with him in the new heavens and the new earth.
As we look forward to sharing in the inheritance, Paul reminds us of the pattern that Jesus followed, which also lies before us: ‘if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.’ The suffering of Christ is finished - perfect; nothing can be added to his sacrifice to make us more acceptable to God; we are his children.
Yet we’re not home yet - we need to be putting to death the deeds of the body; fighting against our natural desires; saying no to temptation, in order to be led by the Spirit. We simply couldn’t do it on our own - but we’re not on our own! We’re in the family of God, given the Spirit of God who helps us, and enables us to call God our dad.
As we baptise N today, we call out to God on her behalf; we make promises for her, until she is of the age to make them for herself. It’s as if we’re writing a cheque, which one day she will have to cash in, to claim the promises of God for herself.
For the rest of us, the door is wide open; the invitation is there - come in to the family, make yourself at home. You too can be a forgiven, welcomed child of God. You too can call God your Abba Father, daddy.