Holy Trinity LSB #’s 507, 435, 650
Text – Romans 8:15-17
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, & if children, then heirs – heirs of God & fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.
THE SPIRIT OF ADOPTION
One of the cute stories that’s been around the Internet has to do with a teacher leading a class lesson on the subject of adoption. One of the students comments that she knows what adoption is. It’s where a child is born in her mother’s heart rather than in her tummy.
The story illustrates the point that, in the process of adoption, the parents choose to love someone that they’re in no previous way connected with. For the girl, there’s comfort in the knowledge that her parents purposely chose her. She’s confident that her parents love her. That confidence sets her free from the anxiety & fear caused by wondering if anyone loves her.
The 8th chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is one of the great chapters in the Bible. Its teaching, about the way the Holy Spirit enables believers to defeat the forces of fear, has been recognized as of the utmost importance. In this chapter, Paul is saying that a new & wonderful life opens out before those who have confidence in Christ’s love for them.
This new life depends upon the work of the Spirit of God. Paul is talking about a life in which that Spirit guides so constantly that there’s no need for a string of commandments. The 1st verse of the chapter begins, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
That being in Christ is an entirely different existence than any unbeliever experiences. The sermon text for today explains: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons...” No condemnation, no fear. Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy contains a similar statement: “…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power & love & self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV)
Consequently, we may ask why our lives are so full of fear? Why are so many of our decisions made with anything but power & self-control? So often we act as if we’re the black sheep of God’s neighborhood rather than children adopted by Him purely out of His love. As we read the bible, however, we find that people have always acted out of fear.
It began already in Genesis 3: “But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, & I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
Today’s Gospel reading from John records how one of the Pharisees came to ask Jesus a question, at night. It’s likely he was afraid of being seen talking to Jesus. In addition to that, in the Gospel of John, the word night is used to convey the idea that the person involved has completely missed the picture.
They’re living in the dark. They don’t understand the message of God’s love for them. That lack of comprehension is what allows fear into their lives. Have you been living your life in the dark, rather than the light? Is fear a factor in the decisions you make, or in the decisions you put off?
For five months I’d been helping with Bible study for the inmates at the Pierce County jail. To start, I was a bit apprehensive, a bit afraid. People in jail aren’t always nice guys. However, there’d always been someone else there who’d been doing it for longer than I had. Then, one night, I arrived at the jail to find that I would be the only leader there that evening.
Guess what my first reaction was? Fear! I don’t want to do this! “I’ll just leave,” I thought. Fortunately, that reaction passed & I followed the urging of the Holy Spirit instead. I thought about the young man I would visit, & how he’d been locked up the entire week since I’d last been there. I thought of how I was free to travel about & do as I please. I thought how I would very much appreciate a visit if I were in his shoes. The Gospel of Matthew clearly states that our visiting those in prison is the same thing as visiting Christ Himself. But fear is right there at the doorstep of our heart, waiting for us to cave in & allow it to control our actions.
I’d been to that jail on at least 15 different occasions. I’d benefited from & even enjoyed many of those visits. Nevertheless, temptation was calling, but God was calling as well. God was challenging me to step forward in my faith, to grow stronger in it, by taking the focus off of my fears, & by placing my focus on Jesus Christ.
Fear can play a very subtle role in our decision-making such that we’re not even consciously aware of it. For that reason, many of our decisions are made based upon our fears, rather than upon our faith in Christ. Foolishly, we too prefer the darkness to the light. We prefer to hide our sins away, hoping that somehow they won’t be noticed.
Someone shares their problems with us & we chicken out when it’s time to tell them how Jesus Christ has blessed our lives. Someone comes to us for advice & we shy away from telling them that their actions are sin. Instead, we help them rationalize & make excuses, because we’re afraid of taking the heat; we’re afraid of rocking the boat.
We might personally believe that abortion is wrong, yet fearfully we acknowledge the words, “Every woman has a right to choose.” Our conscience might tell us that going to the lakeside cabin instead of church harms our spiritual life, but our fearful nature says, “If I don’t go to the cabin this weekend, I just won’t be able to unwind from all the stress of my job.”
It’s the devil who convinces us that too much religion will make us unstable or turn us into misfits. It’s common to act as if too much religion will prevent us from enjoying all the benefits that life has to offer. However, what we’re actually afraid of is not too much religion, but the light. The light of God’s law reveals our sin, so we fear that light, & the revelation that it brings. We’ve grown accustomed to the dark & the light hurts our pride.
Looking at things honestly, it’s not too much religion that scares us. It’s the fear that we’ve become so accustomed to our sins that we’re no longer worthy of God’s love. To our eyes & to our faint heart, it looks hopeless, because God’s law reveals more than we can bear.
Yet, even crucifixion on the cross did not look hopeless to our Savior. And since He endured that cross in our place, He calls us to bring our sin out into the light where it can be forgiven & rendered harmless. Only when our sin has been forgiven can it no longer destroy, & we must admit our opposition to God in order for sin to be removed from us.
In the first verse of the Epistle reading, Paul says that we are led by the Spirit. We are not driven. We are not possessed against our will. We are not slain by the Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit gently calls & leads us to Him. Becoming a child of God is not a matter of compulsion, but one of freedom. We are not slaves who need to fear our Master’s will.
Our Father in heaven has adopted us as His children because of His love for us. He has no desire to force us to do His will, even though He could. He wants us to willingly obey Him out of love for what Jesus has done. That love is both a gift which God provides, & a response to the gift that God has given us.
We were dead in our sins when God came to us, called us through Baptism & made us alive. We had no rights of our own, yet God the Father admitted us to the heavenly family. He adopted us & made us His heirs along with His begotten Son, our Savior. In us, His Spirit has given birth to spirit, & by that spirit we are now brothers & sisters with Christ. PAUSE
Fifteen years ago, I attended a Women’s Missionary League convention & we were blessed to hear from three very excellent mission speakers. The first was an American Indian pastor who described how they’ve been making inroads into reaching the Indian culture. The 2nd was a young woman who’d just completed a 2.5 year mission in Taiwan where she taught English & led bible studies.
But the speaker who made the biggest impression for me was the pastor who spent 8 months in Ghana, West Africa. There, he worked among deaf people who had never heard of Jesus Christ.
Now the drinking water in Ghana must be treated before Americans can safely drink it. One of the threats is something called the Guinea worm. If some eggs are in the untreated water you drink, in 9 months you can have a three-foot long worm inside your body. Yet, when you visit a family at their home the first thing they do is offer you a drink of water.
If you don’t take it, you’ll offend them & never get anywhere sharing the gospel with them. So, for eight months this pastor, his wife & two children were subjected to the fear of drinking contaminated water. Yet, they endured that fear for the sake of spreading the message that God the Father wants to adopt each one of us as His very own child.
Pastor Reinke began the close of his presentation by stating that he’ll probably never again meet those brothers & sisters in Christ on this earth. They’d never been told the story of Jesus Christ until he arrived, & you could tell it had to be an extremely difficult thing for him to leave those people behind.
He was afraid that they might slip back into their old lives of ignorance & fear. Yet confidence in Christ’s promise is able to drive out fear. The hope that Pastor Reinke has, & that his new-found family in Christ has along with him, is that Jesus will one day return to take all of God’s children home to be with Him for eternity.
What a wonderful reunion that’ll be. It will make worthwhile all the risks that are taken & all the sacrifices that anyone makes in the name of our Savior. All the fears that anyone has ever faced will be forgotten as we gather together, from all times & all places, with the children that our heavenly Father has adopted to be His own.
While earthly parents adopt their children exactly as they are, our heavenly Father changes us by His very act of adoption. In Baptism, our Father creates in us a new & clean spirit. By His adoption we are remade & recreated into that which God desires us to be, children not only of flesh, but also of spirit.
That new spirit created in us is the same whether we are Indian, Chinese, American or Ghanaian. On the day when Christ returns, we’ll meet, or be reunited with, our brothers & sisters from the American Indians, from Taiwan, from Ghana & from every other country of the world. And, as pastor Reinke signed it, we’ll be taken home to our Savior for eternity.
Jesus will return to take us to heaven. Amen.
Yet to all who receive Him, to those who believe in His name, He gives the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. Amen. (John 1:12-13 NIV)
Pastor Dean R. Poellet