June 3, 2012

Children of God, Heirs of Heaven - Jun 3, 2012

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The Gospel message is the simplest of messages.

We were born sinful. Enemies of our Creator. Because we were born sinful, we were doomed to die, and to spend eternity apart from God. That's not the Gospel message. That's the law which tells the truth of our condition.

The Gospel message tells us that God has given us a new destiny. Because God's Son suffered our sin's punishment when He was crucified, we are now forgiven.

The first verses of Romans 8 tell us...
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:1-2 ESV).
This the comfort we have as Christ's believers. The is no condemnation left for us. Regardless of our past sins, regardless our daily sins, regardless of what sins may stain our years to come, in Christ, there is no condemnation left. In Him we stand forgiven.

This is the Gospel message. It is as simple as that.

In his letters, the apostle Paul describes the Gospel in "family terms". It's like this, Paul says - we were born into the family of sin. A messed up and dysfunctional family. The pervading emotion of this family is fear. It's not a good place to be. The future of this family is dark. In the family of sin, all we are set to inherit is disappointment, guilt and eternal suffering.

But then along came God the Father, and changed all that. He sent His Son Jesus and opened the door to a new home. He sent His Holy Spirit into our hearts through the Gospel, and brought about our adoption, by faith in Christ.

By faith in Christ Jesus our Savior we are part of God's family. And this family is not dysfunctional. The pervading feeling of this family is peace. The future of this family is bright. In the family of God, we are set to inherit eternal life and glory in heaven.

Here's how Paul put it in Galatians 4...
"...when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God" (Galatians 4:4-7 ESV).
In our sermon reading for today, Paul revisits this way of expressing the Gospel. It is adoption into God's family. Paul does this for a number of reasons. First of all, it's true. Second, it's a truth that our sinful heart has a hard time accepting. We think it's too good to be true.

In our sermon reading for today, Paul comforts his fellow Christians in Rome by reminding them of this simple and powerful truth - In Christ, you are God's children, and heirs of heaven.

Romans 8:14-17 (ESV)

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.

What's your comfort food? Chocolate? Pale ale? Chicken noodle soup? What do you curl up with on the couch after a long and stressful day?

The words that we just read from Paul's letter are like comfort food. Each verse another bite of soothing peace. There are different flavors there, but it's all comfort food.

Look at verse 14 again. Paul writes...
"14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Romans 8:14 ESV).
Paul says, hey guys, fellow Christians, is the Holy Spirit leading you? I know He is. Your life isn't based on following the ways of the sinful world. You don't base your decisions on what the TV says. You don't define your morality on what society claims is right. Your life is based on what the Holy Spirit says in the Bible. Right? Yes. I know you mess up all the time, but I'm not talking about your stumbling, I'm talking about what road you're on. You're on God's road. And the Holy Spirit is guiding you by His Word. Right? Well, guess what. Those who are led by the Spirit of God, are sons of God. Be comforted.

The fact that the Holy Spirit leads us shows that we are the children of God.

Paul's not talking about some mystical leading by the Spirit. Some deep feeling that, I think... I really feel... that God... wants me too... fill in the blank _____________.

The Holy Spirit leads people with His concrete, readable, specific WORD. It's found in the Bible. The Bible is the same when our emotions are high, and when they are low. It is the same when our faith feels strong, and when it feels weak. The leading of the Spirit doesn't change because the Bible doesn't change.

Paul tells His fellow Christians that if the Bible is your one immovable guide in life, that means the Holy Spirit is your guide. And that means, you're a child of God.

Paul then describes the change of emotional tone that comes to sinners adopted by God. Fear dissipates. It is replaced by peace. By acceptance. By forgiveness. By open communication with God the Father.

Look at verse 15 again. Paul says...
"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!" (Romans 8:15 ESV).
When I was in seminary we had some special classes with a physiologist to help us understand different personalities and personality disorders that we might face in our ministries. One of the things that we learned about was dysfunctional families. Dysfunctional families follow rigid, destructive and predicable patterns.

A dysfunctional family is one in which conflict, bad behavior and abuse is commonplace. One member of the family has something wrong. Maybe alcohol addiction. Maybe drugs. Maybe some untreated mental illness. The other members of the family adapt and begin to fulfill very definite roles within the family's relational structure.

For example, dysfunctional families often have a "golden child" and a "scapegoat".

The golden child can do no wrong, even when the golden child does wrong. The family makes endless excuses for the bad behavior of the golden child.

The scapegoat on the other hand, can do no right, even when the child does something very honorable.

The counselor who was teaching us gave one famous example of a "scapegoat". Brett Favre. The former quarterback for the Green Bay Packers grew up in a dysfunctional family, and he was the scapegoat. His brother was constantly in trouble with the law, but it was "never" his fault.

On the other hand, when Brett called his dad to tell him that he had won most valuable player for the whole NFL, his father replied something like, "Well, it's about time." He didn't mean it in a good way.

Apart from Christ, we sinners are like dysfunctional families. Messed up. Stuck in rigid relational systems which only cause more pain. Like a dysfunctional family, we might not even see how messed up we really are inside.

But through the Gospel God changes us. He puts us into HIS family. One that works. A family of forgiveness. He enables us to break free of our rigid sinful patterns, and embrace a life of peace instead of constant fear and conflict.

The Heavenly Father whom we pray to, pays attention to our prayers, and responds with loving care. He is not broken and need of fixing. He is the fixer. He is the healer. He is the perfect Father whom the best fathers of this world can only hope to resemble in part.

Paul reminds his fellow Christians that if we are sons of God, that means that God is our Father, and we don't need to be afraid anymore.

Paul goes on to explain that our adoption into God's family has astounding implications for our future.

Look at verse 16 again. Paul says...
"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," (Romans 8:16 ESV).
In ancient Rome a childless man might adopt a son to carry on his name and rule over his estate. One of the most famous adoptions was done by Julius Caesar, after he died.

Julius Caesar had no apparent heir to carry on his name and take power over the Roman Empire when he was assassinated by the senate. You remember, the senate stabbed Julius Caesar to death in the senate floor itself. "Et tu, Brute" and all that.

But when Julius Caesar's final will and testament was read, it contained the clause that he was posthumously adopting his grand nephew Augustus as his own son. All the sudden Augustus was elevated to a place of wealth and power as the heir of Julius Caesar.

Through faith in Christ, you and I have been adopted by God. Paul encourages is to connect the dots. If we're children of God, then we're heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ! Our inheritance - is heaven itself!

This is the frame of mind that the Holy Spirit wants us to see the world through. The Gospel of Christ is all about comfort.

But Paul finishes our sermon reading with one final thought to chew on. Look at verse 17. It says...
"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" (Romans 8:17 ESV).
When you buy into some investment, you have to be ready for ups and downs. All the investors who buy some stock suffer and rejoice together as that stock rises and falls.

Or think of the human body. It's got lots of parts, but they're all part of the body. When one part suffers sickness, the whole thing feels it. When one part is healed, the whole part feels it.

Or think of a family. A family has different members, but they exist in a relational system. When one member experiences a painful situation, the others feel it. When one member has success, the others feel that too.

Our Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered in this world because this world is sinful and opposed to God. And as His brothers and sisters by faith, we too will suffer in this sinful world. As C.S. Lewis put it, we're living in enemy territory.

Jesus warned His followers that following Christ would lead to suffering in life. The night before Jesus was crucified, He told His disciples....
"20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you" (John 16:20-22 ESV).
As Christ's family, we will suffer in this world because of our faith. But our suffering will not last forever. And when Jesus returns to draw us to His side, NO ONE will be able to take that joy away.

Dear Christians, this is the family you have been adopted into. Or as the Bible says, this is the family that you have been re-born into. The family of the three-in-one God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So, rejoice in the Gospel message. Rejoice in the grace which has covered your sins with Christ's pure blood. Rejoice to suffer in this life because of your faith. With your new family. For the glory to come will FAR OUTSHINE the suffering we experience on this earth.


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