The 8th Sunday after Trinity—25 July 2021
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 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!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (ESV)
Introduction: The spirit of slavery to sin
Today completes a trilogy of sermons on Baptism. Two weeks ago, we learned that in Baptism, we are united to Christ in an intimacy that is beyond human comprehension. Yes, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we now die to sin and live to righteousness. And then last week, we learned that in Baptism, we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves of God. We were born slaves to sin, with no choice but to do sin’s bidding. But now, being baptized into Christ and ruled by God’s grace, we are free to engage in the life-long battle against our sinful nature, the devil, and the world. We are now free to serve God in righteousness and purity. And today, we learn that in Baptism, [we] have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”[, the Spirit Himself bear[ing] witness with our spirit that we are children of God,… and fellow heirs with Christ.
All people live either under the spirit of slavery to sin or the Spirit of adoption as sons of God. It is either one or the other.
Those who live under the spirit of slavery to sin either reject God completely or they are motivated by the hope of reward or the fear of punishment. Those enslaved to sin, if they are not atheists, may be very religious people, perhaps even more religious than you. But their problem is that they think of God not as a gracious Lord but as a cosmic scorekeeper. This is a temptation we all face. In fact, the Old Adam in us is really good at building elaborate systems of scorekeeping: ”I have done a lot of good things this week, and so I’m counting on God to reward me.” Or “I’ve really messed up this week, and so I expect God’s going to punish me”. This way of thinking of God as a scorekeeper is what St. Paul means when he writes about the spirit of slavery. And such a spirit seeks to pull us all down to hell. This is what we see in today’s Gospel, when our Lord speaks about people boasting of the mighty good works they think they have done in the name of the Lord. But those who think that the Lord owes them a reward for their good deeds will be tragically disappointed, for the Lord will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.
You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons!
But you do not live under the spirit of slavery to sin. Rather, you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” In Holy Baptism, you have been made children of God, heirs of heaven. You are no longer motivated by the hope of reward, for you have already received forgiveness, life, and salvation in abundance, as a free gift by grace, through faith in Christ, apart from works. And you are no longer motivated by the fear of punishment, for there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Being baptized into Christ, you live and you die belonging to Christ’s holy flock, of whom He says: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand (John 10:27-29). As God’s adopted children, you live in the joy of being certain of God’s love for you.
Living as God’s adopted children
As God’s adopted children, you do not fret over winning your Father’s favour, for in Christ Jesus you already possess the undeserved favour of your heavenly Father.
As God’s adopted children, you do not fear being rejected by your Father. Oh, it is possible for you to abandon God in unbelief. But as you live in Christ, hearing His voice speaking through your pastor calling you to repent of your sins and to trust in God’s promise of forgiveness, you live in the certainty that God will never abandon you.
As God’s adopted children, you live in the joy of calling God a very intimate term of endearment—Abba! Father! And in calling God Father, you confess and acknowledge the deep, deep love of God for you. As St John writes in his first epistle: See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are (3:1).
As God’s adopted children, you gladly live as God’s servants. Everyone is a servant, either a slave to sin or a servant of God. Those enslaved to sin are captive to fear, the fear of rejection and condemnation and punishment. They may not be aware of that fear, but it will certainly be revealed on the Last Day as they stand before the Holy Judge of all the earth. But, thanks be to God, you and I are servants of God, and it is a service we gladly render. As we serve, we do so with no thought of reward. Oh, God has already given us all the riches of heaven, not as a reward but as a gift. And having already received heaven as a pure gift in Christ frees us from fretting over receiving rewards. Rather, we confess that we are unworthy servants, even beggars before God.
Seeing God not as a cosmic scorekeeper but as the God who forgives
Those enslaved to sin tend to think of God not as a gracious Lord but as a cosmic scorekeeper, who will either reward them for their good deeds or punish them for their bad deeds. But you, in Holy Baptism you have been set free from this devilish spirit; you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
You really cannot comprehend the glory that is yours through God adopting you. He loves you. He gave His only-begotten Son to be the world’s Saviour, dying in the place of sinners, bearing their sins, and then rising again in victory over sin, death, and the devil. And now, in baptizing you into Christ, He has set you free from your sins. He has even adopted you as His own dearly loved children and has made you heirs of heaven. How could you ever possible think of God as a cosmic scorekeeper? Rather, your calling in Christ is to confess with the psalmist: If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared (Psalm 130:3-4).
With God there is forgiveness, that He may be feared!
As God’s adopted children, you know that your heavenly Father does not keep score, He does not mark down your iniquities in His record book. If He did, you would be doomed! Rather, with God there is forgiveness, that He may be feared.
Now your fear of God is completely different from the fear produced by the slavery to sin. I think that one of the best illustrations of the fear of God we are to have comes from this stanza on “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”:
What language shall I borrow To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever! And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never, Outlive my love for Thee.
The fear caused by sin is a fear of God’s rejection and condemnation and punishment, but the fear of God’s adopted children is a fear that they themselves would reject God’s love through their own acts of unbelief and sinful vice. And so, as God’s adopted children, we cry out “O Jesus, we would rather die that abandon Your great love for us undeserving sinners. Please, O Jesus, deliver us from all evil that would lead us astray from Your love. Jesus, keep us faithful unto death that we may receive the crown of life.” Do you see? It is not that we fear God rejecting us, for that is something He can never do to those who are in Christ. Rather, it is that we fear that we might reject God through our own persistent unbelief.
How much more does God love you now!
But take heart, be of good cheer, even in your great struggles to remain faithful, for the Lord is good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon Him (Psalm 86:5). And remember, if God so loved you when you were His enemy, how much more does He love you, now that you are His adopted child. If God gave His Son to die for you when you were dead in your sins, how much more will He give you all that you now need to remain faithful unto death. Will God ever remove His love from you? No, a thousand times no! For He is your dear Father and you are His dear children. And all because of Jesus dying and rising for you, to save you for all eternity.
This morning, we gather around the family table, where we feast upon our Lord’s holy Word and Supper. And here, there is no fretting over what reward we might receive or what punishment we deserve this week. Rather, there is only joy, the joy of adopted children feasting on the forgiveness they do not deserve in the presence of their loving Father. Thanks be to God! Amen.