Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
In our second lesson today, St. Paul is instructing the people of the Church atRomeabout the topic of sanctification. That is, a description of life lived in and under the Holy Spirit. We have been made Christians by our Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, and brought to faith in Him by the Holy Spirit. In this section of his letter, Paul begins to explain what it means to live the new life in Christ as we move toward the promised glorious life with the Father.
You will notice that our translation makes a distinction between sons of God and children of God. This correctly reflects Paul’s word choices in Greek; he uses the Greek words for both “sons” and “children.” At first glance, it might just seem that St. Paul is—like any good writer—simply varying his vocabulary choices to make the writing more interesting to the reader or hearer.
That might be true if the Bible were simply a humanly-generated document. We trust and confess, however, that the Scriptures are inspired by God and contain what He would have us read and understand. Therefore we know that the writers’ word choices are important.
It’s a distinction that is unfortunately often lost in poorer Bible translations and overly-simplified paraphrases, though. Some translators also feel the need to make Paul’s language politically correct, so as not to offend contemporary readers or hearers with gender-specific language like “sons.”
But although Paul is writing in a specific time and place, within a specific cultural context and indeed within a specific biblical history, he is also writing under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit. If we try to impose our own cultural prejudices upon Paul, we can miss the message while we’re busy shooting the messenger.
The use of the word “sons” is intentional, because of the history that the word “son” encompasses. It is not simply a historical artifact of some unenlightened patriarchal culture. “Son” is what God calls the people ofIsraelwho are descended from Isaac, the child of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12. Through the saving work of God’s only-begotten Son Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary and conceived by the Holy Spirit, each baptized Christian—male or female—is adopted as a “son of God.” Even the Greek word for adoption, which Paul also uses in v. 15, literally means “placement as sons.”
This certainly does not mean that the women and girls are left out. It really means that all those that have been chosen and cleansed by God in the washing of Baptism have been joined to Jesus, God’s Son, and through Jesus, to the promises made to Abraham and Sarah.
As Paul will later say in Galatians 3, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free in Christ Jesus.Allthe baptized people of God are sons of God through Jesus. We get our inheritance through Him. We have been adopted by a loving heavenly Father, the One whom Jesus calls “Abba,” which is a term of familiarity and closeness, similar to our term “Daddy.”
In Romans 6 and 7, the two previous chapters, Paul has dealt with what the Christian life is and is not. At the beginning of chapter 8, Paul makes clear the Christian life is not freedom to do whatever I feel like. We are not to be led around by our feelings or our bodily desires, for such is the way of death. The Christian life is Spirit-filled, immersed in God’s love, the kind of love that the Triune God shares, the kind of love that is embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son Jesus.
We who have been baptized into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection are now “sons of God.” We have a new status. We are no longer slaves to sin, death, and evil. We are “sons of God” who may call upon our heavenly Father, just as our brother Jesus does. When we pray, we may call our heavenly Father, “Daddy,” and cry out to Him in trust when suffering comes upon us as it came upon our brother Jesus.
It is the Holy Spirit that calls us to the waters of Holy Baptism. It is the Holy Spirit that creates faith and keeps us in faith in God’s saving work in Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit that brings us to the awareness that we are indeed adopted “sons” and now fully “children of God.” It is the Holy Spirit that teaches us children to pray trustingly to our heavenly Father as our “Abba.” It is the Holy Spirit who prays with us and for us. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us grace to understand that we are joint heirs with our brother Jesus.
One day we will share in the promised glory in which the resurrected and ascended Jesus now reigns, but today in this life we share in His sufferings even as He shares in ours.
Some might think that in a church and school like St. Paul, blessed as we are with nice facilities, a safe neighborhood, and plenty of affluence among our members, that there really isn’t any genuine suffering here. But we know that’s not true.
People don’t have to be living in poorer neighborhoods or in poverty themselves to be suffering the effects of the sinful world, their sinful nature, and the consequences of their own and others’ very real sins.
If we look around, we see that suffering isn’t always just brought on by poverty or social inequality. We have many among us who are hurting, ranging from children to teens, to young adults, to the middle-aged, to the elderly. Those who single, married, separated, widowed, and divorced can all be struggling with missing, damaged, or broken relationships.
Many are caring for relatives that are sick, suffering, and dying, too. Some have undergone significant financial setbacks, are living with major illnesses or injuries, or are grieving the loss of loved ones.
But Paul isn’t really talking about that as he describes for us what it means to be led by the Spirit and to share in Christ’s suffering! He’s writing about the suffering we undergo not simply as fallen sinners in a fallen world, but as redeemed sinners connected to the Redeemer, Jesus, the Lamb of God.
In another few weeks, we’ll have several young people in theSt. Paulparish family received into communicant membership through the rite of confirmation. That day, they will make a public confession of their faith before our congregation. They will be reminded at that time that they are all—both boys and girls—adopted “sons” through Jesus. They are children of God in whom the Holy Spirit has been working since their Baptism.
Confirmation is the time in which young people begin the transition to adult faith life and Christian responsibility. The old joke about how to get rid of pests at the church sadly too often holds true. All you need to do is to confirm them, and then they’ll go away. Such cultural religion, a mere “check off the box and move on to ‘real life’” mocks the Affirmation of Baptism, which is what Confirmation really is.
That’s not the life that St. Paul is describing. That’s not the life one lives under the Holy Spirit. Worship is not optional for children of God. Growth in biblical and theological knowledge is not a matter of choice or subject to the fickle, changing winds of this age. Bible study is not a matter of sitting around ioffering up opinions that conform to what we’d like God’s word to say. It’s healthy that we have a degree of godly fear about falling away from the Church, because Baptism and Confirmation are not like some heavenly fire insurance policy that we store away in a safe deposit box until our funeral.
Life lived in and under the power of the Holy Spirit looks like the Son of God, Jesus Christ, in whom we have sonship. Just as Jesus spoke intimately and constantly with His heavenly Daddy, so ought we as children of God to pray in the same way. Just as Jesus listened to and obeyed the voice of God, so ought we as children of God to listen to His voice speaking through the Holy Scriptures. Just as Jesus reached out to the lost sheep ofIsrael, so ought we as children of God to reach out to those who have fallen away. Just as Jesus gave His whole life away in humble service, so ought we as children of God to follow Him through suffering and death. Just as the Lord Jesus identified His sheep as those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, and visit the sick and imprisoned, so ought we children of God to go and do likewise.
How very different is life in the Spirit from the kind of cultural Christianity that too often is observed in many congregations.
The Holy Spirit is here, calling all of us to be renewed in godly fear and rededicated toward lives of active worship, humble and willing service, and generous giving. The Spirit calls children and parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins and in-laws—indeed, all people, regardless of our vocations in family, career, and citizenship. The Holy Spirit is calling us to recognize what it is to be an adopted “son” of God, a brother or sister of the Lord Jesus, a son or daughter of Jesus’ Daddy. The Holy Spirit is calling us again, to get outside of ourselves, out of our preoccupation with our own feelings and bodily desires. The Holy Spirit is calling us again to remember the waters of Holy Baptism, to be buried once more with Christ Jesus in our repentance, and raised in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness to the joyous life of being a “son” of God, now and for eternity.
The new life in Christ, the new life lived in and under the Spirit of God, is about growing and deepening in our prayer life, in our devotion to Word and Sacraments, in our self-sacrifice out of love for others, and in abandoning ourselves to our heavenly Abba, regardless of the present circumstances of comfort or suffering in our life. The Spirit of God is working on us and in us, so that we may know with certainty that the promised glory of heaven is already ours, even when we are up to our ears in earthly muck and mire. The Holy Spirit is praying for us and with us so that we can say that all will be well. We know how the story turns out!
Let us, then, rejoice each day in our adoption as “sons” of God through our Baptism into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection. Let us celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, who has not left us as orphans, but has come to make us children of God. We are heirs with Christ forever!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son (X), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.