14 June 2017

Romans 8:12-17

“When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (vv. 15b-16)

Psalm: Psalm 73


ABBA is not just a Swedish pop group. It's an intimate Aramaic word for father. It's a word Jesus himself used to speak to his Father in heaven (Mark 14:36). Most people didn't dare to talk about God with such familiarity. As a father myself, I know that there's nothing quite like that moment when your children start to call you 'daddy'!

The Letter to the Romans is Paul's masterpiece. I'm not going to try giving the full background and context! But this short passage comes at the high point, which gives us a wonderful view over the glorious landscape of the benefits we find as Christ's people. Paul has just been wrestling with the problems of sin in the present age, and chapter 8 contrasts this with the life of the Holy Spirit for those who are 'in Christ'.

'Putting to death the deeds of the body' is a strange phrase which perhaps needs some thought. The physical world and the human body are not seen as bad things - rather, all of God's creation is a gift to be celebrated and one that will be renewed in the New Creation. This pattern is seen in the resurrection of Jesus, who returned with a renewed physical body - the first sign of the new creation to come. So when Paul writes of the deeds of the body, he's speaking in reference to chapter 7, where 'the flesh' seems to have a mind of its own. Our human lives are conflicted by the influences of things we have wrongly worshipped and idolised: thus, habits, selfish mindsets and addictions are very powerful. Paul is inviting us to bring those things under the Lordship of Jesus, who is even more powerful. He seems to be saying: "Don't let the unhelpful ways of this world lead you down a dead end. You were created for more than that. With Christ as Lord, don't be slaves to these things any longer. Recapture the image of God in you, and live for him instead!"

But the ways of God are even better than simply exchanging one form of slavery for another. Yes, we may be called servants of God, but God doesn't keep us against our will. Rather, he is constantly inviting us into a more wonderful relationship: Led by the Spirit and under the Lordship of Christ the King, we are given the gift of adoption into the family of God. Of this, Paul is emphatically sure. Strange though it seems, God the Trinity, bestows on us the status of his sons and daughters. He has signed the adoption papers, and we are truly God's children, even heirs of the kingdom with our brother Jesus. The Spirit confirms in us that intimate relationship with God the Father, and we might even call him 'Daddy'.

Once again, this Trinitarian passage gives us the sense of being drawn into God's purposes. There is room in God's eternal relationship for us! But please note: this is not all rapture and joy. At the present time, God suffers. God suffers because the world he loves is not yet completely healed or redeemed. When we are drawn into this relationship, there are great blessings, but we cannot ignore the suffering God, and so we must be prepared to suffer with him for the world, until that glorious completion.

To Ponder

  • Do you think of yourself as a child of God? What does this relationship mean to you?
  • All of Paul's writing was in the context of a period of great suffering and persecution for the churches. When we accept Christ, do we expect things to be easy, or are we realistic about the suffering that can come?
  • If human life always involves times of suffering, what are the benefits of suffering 'in Christ' (or with him), as opposed to suffering without him?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy is married to Emily and they have two children, Phoebe (aged 4) and Benjamin (aged 18 months). Andy is the superintendent minister of the Market Harborough Circuit (a small circuit in the south of Leicestershire, and over the border into Northants). Previously, Andy’s ministry was based in Barwell in the Hinckley Circuit for eight years. And before that, he trained at the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, close to his home-town of Consett. Andy has a passion to help God’s people grow in faith, and occasionally writes hymns, sketches and songs. Spare time includes trips to play parks, watching Disney films or Postman Pat, reading Mr Men books, visiting Middle Earth, and reminiscing over the good old days of supporting Newcastle United. In the picture, Andy is the one in blue (and the snowman’s name is Olaf)!