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Romans (Series 1)

The Family of God

Past, Present, Future

Romans  8:12-25

A Brief Review - Past

It is well, sometimes, to look back to where we have been. So let us review what Paul has brought to us so far:

·         In chapters 1 through 3, Paul stressed the theme that each and every one of are sinners, and that no amount of good deeds could change that fact.

·         We saw that the wrath of God is real, and is revealed by the moral degradation he permits a society.

·         We saw that each and everyone of us has a “law” -- the standards we proclaim with our own mouths (and don’t live up to).

·         We saw, triumphantly, that though we are all sinners, the just shall live by faith.

·         In chapters 4 and 5, he taught us the nature of the Christian “faith walk.”.

·         He showed us, by example (of Abraham) that faith must be completed with good works.

·         He taught us to rejoice in suffering.

·         He ended this section with a comparison of the old and new Adam.

·         In chapters 6 and 7, he took us along the steps of Christian living -- of sanctification.

·         He first proclaimed the principle of Identification with Christ.

·         He then described for us the difference between the spiritual and carnal natures.

So we are ready. We started this book as miserable sinners; we progressed through salvation and the first attempts at good works. We get deeper in until we reach the goal which God has planned for us all along: that we should become his children.

Under Obligation - Present

(Rom 8:12-17 NIV) Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation--but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. {13} For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, {14} because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. {15} For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." {16} The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. {17} Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Obligation. The word has a number of meanings, because we can be obligated in a number of ways:

·         There is the legal obligation -- a debt under a contract.

·         There is social obligation -- other people expect certain behavior from you.

·         There is moral obligation -- not just other people, but we ourselves, set up a moral requirement to do something.

·         Finally, there is the obligation of self consistency. This is the Popeye principle: “I am what I am, and that’s all what I am.” And I am a child of God!

We are the children of God! If you are led by the Spirit, you are the children of God. This means that

·         we are protected by our father, just as we protect our small children. As they grow, we loosen the “apron strings.” God will provide us with just the right protection.

·         we share his Spirit; it is a constant companion to us. Our correction, our encouragement are always with us. (The question is, will we listen?)

Paul says that we are adopted sons. Being a Jew of Roman citizenship, he could have referred to either model of adoption; I think he had both in mind.

·         The Roman model revolved around the legal system. If a person was adopted, he was literally considered a new person. His debts were canceled. There is actually an instance of a Roman emperor who adopted his successor (for political reasons). When the adopted one wanted to marry the daughter of his adopted father, the Senate was obliged to pass a law permitting it -- otherwise, it would legally have been incest.
The Roman model also involved that concept of patria potestas -- the idea that the father had absolute power over the son, even when the son was fully grown. There are instances of fathers executing their adult sons, and this was considered perfectly legal. Our father in heaven can be seen to have such authority over us.

·         The Jewish model is found in Esther, who was adopted by Mordecai. In a society where a woman who had no family ties to a man was likely to starve to death (or be forced into prostitution), Mordecai adopted her. That meant that he assumed all obligation for her daily needs -- including those for family affection. From a purely financial point of view, Esther was a 100% burden. Where the Roman model was in law, the Jewish model is in love.

It is interesting that Paul mentions that there are two witnesses to this transaction. The Old Testament required two or more witnesses[1] for conviction, and custom has it that all legal changes needed that. The principle is sound; even wedding certificates need such.

What, then, is the result of this adoption?

·         First, our relationship to God has changed. From the Old Testament times where only the priest, or only the prophet, could actually present anything before God, we have come to the point where we are children of God. Indeed, children to the point that we can call Him “Abba” -- roughly “Daddy.”

·         We are co-heirs with Christ. That means that in some sense we will receive what he received.

·         As he suffered in this world, so shall we.

·         As He was raised from the dead, so shall we be.

But there is more!

Of Things to Come - Future

(Rom 8:18-25 NIV) I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. {19} The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. {20} For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope {21} that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. {22} We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. {23} Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. {24} For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? {25} But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Paul touches here on the Second Coming. His first emphasis is upon our suffering here on earth. In many other passages he exhorts us to bear up under our suffering (the stiff upper lip message) but here he considers it trivial ! How so, Paul? Only because of what is to come when our Lord returns. In this particular section Paul gives us some of the details of the Second Coming.

To fully understand this passage, we must begin by understanding the relationship between Christ and creation.

·         First, Jesus is the author and sustainer of creation.
(Col 1:16-17 NIV) For by him {Christ} all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. {17} He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (italics added)

·         This creation is a fallen one. The theology gets a little deep here; but remember that the prince of this world is Satan -- who is the fallen archangel.

·         Christ himself is described[2] as the “first born” of creation -- if you will, a model of what we will be like. This is perfectly fitting for those who are now adopted into the family of God.

New Heaven and New Earth

·         That the heavens and earth were to be renewed by God was known well before this letter:

(Isa 65:17 NIV) "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.

·         Peter, in his letters, gives us the order of events:

(2 Pet 3:7-13 NIV) By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. {8} But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. {9} The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. {10} But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. {11} Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives {12} as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. {13} But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

·         We know very little about what this new heaven and earth will be like from the “physical” point of view (if indeed such a point of view would still be valid). We do know something about it from a spiritual point of view:

(Isa 11:6-9 NIV) The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. {7} The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. {8} The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. {9} They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

Our Response

All well and good, John, but what difference does this make to me? I submit there are three main points:

·         First, we must be watchful. It must be a daily commonplace thought that our Lord may return today.

(Mark 13:32-37 NIV) "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. {33} Be on guard! Be alert ! You do not know when that time will come. {34} It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. {35} "Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back--whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. {36} If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. {37} What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'"

There are some practical tests of this. Do you put off speaking to someone about Jesus, thinking there will always be time to do it later? Is there some act of charity about which you are saying, “next time?”

·         Next, we must be hopeful. We should not be looking forward to this event with fear, but with joy. Indeed, we are told to be ready with an explanation of this hope:

(1 Pet 3:15 NIV) But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

·         And what is this hope, if not the return of Christ? Note that in our text creation waits for the sons of God to be revealed. We are already children of God; creation is simply waiting for us to be revealed. This is nothing less than the resurrection of the righteous to eternal life. One of the questions most frequently asked is, “what kind of body is that?” (My own preference would be “good looking, sings tenor and dances like Fred Astaire.”) Paul answers the question thusly:

(1 Cor 15:35-49 NIV) But someone may ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?" {36} How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. {37} When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. {38} But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. {39} All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. {40} There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. {41} The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. {42} So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; {43} it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; {44} it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. {45} So it is written: "The first man Adam became a living being" ; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. {46} The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. {47} The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. {48} As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. {49} And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

And so I say to you: watch -- in hope.

[1] Deuteronomy 19:15

[2] Psalm 89:27

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