Have you written your obituary? Have you thought about what you would say in a obituary?
What did you say? How did your describe yourself?
Family, education, birthplace, vocation – these are but a few common identifiers that describe our story. St. Paul is writing to the young Romans Christians about who they are – about their story that is our story, too.
Paul begins this Chapter with a “Now, Therefore” like a lawyer putting the final touches on his argument that describes our new life with Christ. A “new” life is given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The atoning work of Christ on the Cross has justified you and me with God.
The moment on the Cross secures our salvation. We are saved. Our sins have been forgiven. The Judge has looked down on the guilty and declared us innocent. We have been given new life or a rebirth. Plain and Simple. Now What?
“Now what” is the precise question that Paul is addressing in this chapter. What is to become of our new life within the bubble or halo of salvation? It is in this answer that the real folly and ridiculousness of the Gospel is exposed. For us to see clearly this new life and our new identity, Paul places a Spirit of Slavery in tension with a Spirit of Adoption.
We know all too well the harshness of Slavery in this Country and throughout the world and it existed in Paul’s times as well. In Roman Times Slaves were owned and obligated to a master – and unless they were able to purchase their freedom they held zero standing in the family. It was a joining without full inclusion.
The Bible speaks of slavery, too. The laws in Leviticus describe the transactional relationship with slaves, The Israelites themselves were enslaved, and humanity has been enslaved to sin since Adam and Eve ate the fruit.
We do not think about jobs in the master – slave lens, but they often manifest that way through the prism of a transaction. Once we are hired we usually begin to do something different – almost always in obligation to the person hiring us – this is the way that the world works.
I was a congressional intern, and I was so proud the day that the congressman gave me a tape – what’s tape? It was a cassette that he had dictated over the weekend, and it was full of letters about mail being delivered incorrectly, government bureaucracy and Eagle Scouts. I was so proud because it marked my growth in the office. Getting a tape was an honor. Well, this lasted for about two weeks then one day I stopped getting a tape…my work was gone. Something had happened, and I asked where’s my tape? You do not have one; I was told.
I was facing the harshness of the transactional relationship of employer to employee. Anything that is earned through obligation or merit can be taken away through just as easily as it is earned.
We so often think the same way about our relationship with God, I know that I do. I think about the halo of being saved, and I want to secure my place so I search for obligations and places that I can perform transactions to hold onto what I have been given.
During our jail bible study last week we were talking with a friend, someone who we have gotten to know quite well and he has felt and experienced the Gospel over the last few months. You can say that he has been saved. His Mountaintop Moment has been incarceration.
We were talking about what next and the Holy Spirit is clearly filling this man with love and compassion, and he was talking about becoming a master of sin. He would take control over his life and master all things. We need to be perfect he said. Never fail.
Another friend in the room leaned over and said, “…you will fail…when you get out of here you will fail – maybe worse than ever maybe not” but you will fail. The key to the Gospel is that God will love you all the same.
These words pointed to the understanding that Paul clearly gets because we have not received a spirit of Slavery – a transactional Spirit – but a Spirit of Adoption.
Adoption: all of us know people and families who have been on one side of an adoption or another. My cousin recently adopted their 2nd child, a beautiful baby girl, and we know of the joy that comes with this moment. It is transcendental: a moment when a helpless baby is absorbed by a new family, full of love and hope.
In Paul’s era adoption was used as a primary vehicle to ensure that inheritance – land and coin – would transfer to the next generation if a family lacked a proper male heir. A bit more utilitarian then in our time, but a moment of a new person entering into a family and receiving all of the rights and privileges afforded to anyone naturally born of that family.
Biblically Adoption does not have an antecedent; Paul is staking new ground.
Mirroring God’s words through the Prophet Isaiah, “I am doing a new thing.”
Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!“
Adoption is new ground and presupposes that the adoptee has zero rights and privileges pre-adoption and full inclusion post adoption. The one who is adopted is in a relationship that is secure, indissoluble and impenetrable. This acceptance can never be undone.
Pastor John Piper writes “Adoption is a grace beyond and above justification. In justification, God acquits sinners of all the charges against them. Indeed, he goes further still and declares that in Christ their righteousness meets the highest possible standards.”
This is the unbelievable Good News of our adoption and the reason for the ridiculousness and foolishness of the Gospel! It is that God had an heir, he did not need one, but he gave up his heir up so that we might all become co-heirs with him. He found us innocent of the charges against us and told us to call him, Abba, Father, and he invited us to his house, where there was a room waiting for us. Against all rational thought of transactions and obligations, God choose to give up everything, his only son, so that we might have life and life everlasting and feel this everyday as a member of God’s family – adopted into his family without a transactional obligation for us. God bore the cost with his Son.
Paul, in fact, is writing a line for your obituary and mine, that you are a beloved, and accepted member of God’s family, loved unconditionally and given full rights, and access to the father. You are a Child of God and in a deeply personal relationship with Abba, your father in heaven.
An article from the Washington Post provides a crystal clear illustration of what it means to be an adopted by God.
Sgt. Joseph Serna, a former Special Forces soldier did four combat tours in Afghanistan over a nearly two-decades-long career with the U.S. Army. Serna was almost killed three times…When he returned to the States he suffered from PTSD and alcoholism.
“Vet Serna has fought to stay sober, appearing before Judge Olivera 25 times to have his progress reviewed. He confessed to Olivera that he lied about a recent urine test last week, according to WRAL.
In response, Olivera sentenced Serna to one day in jail.
The judge drove Serna to the jail in a neighboring county.
“We’re going to turn ourselves in,” the judge said.
As Serna sat down on the cot in his cell, WRAL reported, he heard the door rattle open again and saw Olivera standing before him. Olivera sat down beside him. Someone came and locked the door.
“This was a one-man cell so we sat on the bunk and I said, ‘You are here for the entire time with me?’” Serna told WTVD. “He (judge) said, ‘Yeah that’s what I am doing.’”
The two passed the time trading stories of their experiences in the military. Serna told WRAL: “It was more of a father-son conversation. It was personal.”