A Proper Theology Proper
A Proper Theology Proper
In 2009 Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw both starred in a movie called The Blind Side. The film is a biopic about Michael Oher, who won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens, and is currently an offensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers. Oher grew up in the ghetto of Memphis. His father was gone, his mother was on drugs, and he was poor. But Michael Oher’s story changes when a wealthy white family, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, bring him into their own home. They feed him, they buy him clothes, and they even include him in the family Christmas card. At one point in the movie, if you have seen it you will remember, the Tuohy’s approach Michael about them becoming his legal guardians. At that scene in the film, Sandra Bullock approached Michael Oher and says, “we want you to become a part of this family,” and Michael’s response to her is that, “I thought I already was.”
Well as you know, Michael begins playing football, obviously, at the high school and he is incredibly talented. So much so that it seems like every school in the SEC begins recruiting him and he decides eventually to go to Ole’ Miss. This decision leads to an NCAA investigation into Michael Oher’s decision because the NCAA is concerned that this well-to-do family brought Michael Oher into their home just so they could get him to play football at the University of Mississippi, because the University of Mississippi is the alma mater of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy. The climax of the film comes at the NCAA hearing where they are trying to discern why Michael wants to go to school at Ole’ Miss. Michael’s response and when he testifies to the committee is that, “I want to go to school there because that’s where my family went to school.” By the end of the film the Tuohy’s are calling Michael their son, and he is calling them mom and dad. He had completely become a part of their family. They treated him like a son. He legally was their son. He had the rights and privileges of the Tuohy family. He had been adopted.
Adoption is something that has been an integral part of human history. Even currently in the United States of America there has been resurgence among conservative Christianity toward orphan care and adoption ministry. Many of you know, at different times in the life of our church we have had families go through the adoption process. When St. Paul wrote this letter to the church at Rome, he was writing in a Greco-Roman culture that also had certain adoption practices just like we do. In fact, the word that Paul uses in verse 15 that we read “adoption as sons” is υἱοθεσίας, refers to a very specific adoption practice in the Greco-Roman culture. Here is how it goes: In the 1st century when there was a wealthy family who had no heir that they could pass their wealth on to, they would adopt a male – sometimes a child, sometimes a youth, or sometimes even an adult. They would adopt this male so they could carry on the family legacy. When that happens, that specific act of adoption happens, four realities that would change for the family, both for the one who had been adopted and for the father and mother who had adopted: (1) All of the old debts of the young man would be wiped clean. He would get a fresh start with this new family. It would be paid; (2) The one who was adopted would get a new name and he would instantly become an heir to all the wealth that that family had; (3) The father, that had adopted the young man, would instantly be liable for all of his sons actions. Any crimes that he committed, any debts that he owed, subsequently any actions the father was now liable for; and (4) The son now had new obligations to please and honor his father. When Paul writes, “We have received the spirit of adoption as sons, that is what he is referring to in the first century.
Father’s Day is one of those potentially awkward services in the life of a church. For people like me, it’s celebratory. I’m grateful for the father that God gave me. I feel bad for my sons that they don’t have a father with the spiritual fortitude that I do. But I’m grateful to be a father. I’m grateful for my father. I’m grateful for my grandfather. This is a happy day for me. But that’s not true for all of you though. Some of you had despicable fathers. We can try to dress it up a little for Father’s Day and have some happy memories. But for some of you the truth is that you had a despicable father. Some of you never knew your father. Some of you have recently lost your father. Some of you in the room this morning may be struggling with the fact you’re a terrible fathers, and you know it. Regardless of your paternal circumstance, I want you to hear one simple truth from this text. I want you to be comforted and convicted this morning by one thing. That is this: when you trust in Jesus Christ, God becomes your father, and he’s a good father. That’s what this pericope is all about. Through the gospel of Jesus, God has adopted us into his family – he has transferred us from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved son.
That’s what it means when it says, everyone who is led by God’s Spirit, these are God’s sons (vs 14). In the first century, this would’ve been a radical statement. Radical. Theologically radical. Everyone who is led by God’s Spirit, these are God’s sons. It would have been radical because for over two thousand years, the nation of Israel believed themselves exclusively to be the Sons of God. In the OT, only the nation of Israel is called the Son of God. Paul would’ve known that, for Paul was a Hebrew among Hebrews. Wasn’t he? Then why does Paul, trained Pharisee, say that everyone who is led by God’s spirit is God’s son, not just ethnic Jews? The answer, you know as you open the pages of your New Testament, is that Jesus of Nazareth has come. When Jesus came, he called himself the Son of God. Jesus is true Israel. Jesus did everything that Israel was supposed to do. Jesus succeeded on Israel’s behalf. Jesus died in the place of sinners and rose from the dead on the third day. Because of the gospel of Jesus, now all who trust in Jesus as savior and Lord, Paul says they are the Sons of God. In Galatians 6 Paul calls, us, the church the Israel of God. We are God’s sons.
Now, let’s pause for a minute because some of you might be getting a little uncomfortable with the masculine language that. Don’t you mean sons and daughters of God? Why do you just keep saying sons? But that’s not what Paul says. He doesn’t say sons and daughters here, he says all who are led by God’s Spirit, these are sons of God. And here is the truth, in this Greco-Roman culture it was male dominated. A girl would never be adopted in this particular situation that we are referring to. There would never be a wealthy family who needed an heir, to whom they passed on their wealth, it would never be a girl. It was always a son, it was always a young man. And that’s why Paul speaks only here of sons of God. But there in lies the beauty, you see. This is where Christianity turns every culture on its head. Because Paul says that everyone who is led by God’s Spirit is God’s son – Jew and gentile, poor and rich, male and female. If you’re here this morning and you are a woman and you’re led by God’s Spirit, then you are God’s son. Don’t let the masculine language offend you, just like I should not be offended by being called the bride of Christ. Everyone is who is a Christian is a Son of God and the bride of Christ.
Paul says, you can know that you are God’s son if you are led by God’s Spirit. Now, again this is something with which we need to think through because people get confused. People are prone to sentimentalize what “led by the Spirit” means. I’ll tell you this, being led by the Spirit doesn’t mean that you talk nice church talk all the time, like: “how are you? Well brother, I’m doing well, you know; my cup overfloweth; God’s blessings are abounding.” That’s all you do and that means you are led by the Spirit. That’s not what being led by the Spirit means. It also doesn’t mean that you speak in tongues, stringing together a bunch of unintelligible utterance. That has nothing to do with being led by the Spirit. Being led by the Spirit doesn’t mean that you never make any plans or decisions because you’re “letting the Spirit lead.” “Let go and let God.” None of those things have anything to do with those who are being led by the Spirit. The Apostle Paul tells us exactly what being led by the Spirit means. If you’ll notice, verse 14 begins with this conjunction “for (γὰρ).” It is an explanatory conjunction, when you see the word for it means he is going to explain was verse 13 means. He is almost going to restate verse 13 in verse 14. That is what the for is there for. Verse 13: For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Rom 8.13). Being led by the Spirit of God means that you crucify your sin. It means that you kill the flesh. It means that you don’t live for you, you live for Jesus. You fight for holiness.
And Paul says that all those who are led by the Spirit of God are the Sons of God. You can’t have one without the other. There is no one who is led by the Spirit who isn’t God’s son, and there’s no one who is God’s son, who isn’t led by the Spirit. Which means we ought to be examining our hearts this morning. Are you seeking to put your sin to death? Are you fighting for holiness? Are you led by the spirit of God? Because if not, you may not be God’s son. Everyone who is led by God’s Spirit is God’s son.
The text goes on to say that we did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall again into fear, but we have received the spirit of adoption as sons. Again, the apostle is reinterpreting the entire Israel narrative for us and he is doing it in light of the gospel of Jesus. Israel, they were the ones who were freed from slavery, remember, and with their freedom came sonship. When YHWH led Israel out of slavery in Egypt and brought them to the mountain, they became the sons of God. In the Old Testament, Israel was God’s son, they inherited the Promised Land in the book of Joshua. In the same way, Christian, through the gospel of Jesus you have been freed from the slave market of sin, and death, and hell. What Paul is doing here is taking all of the Old Testament promises, all of the promises you read that are given to Israel in the Old Testament, he is taking them and applying to us. To the sons of God – Jew and Gentile, poor and rich, male and female. All of the promises of God, in the Old Testament and new find their goal, their telos, their end in Jesus. We didn’t receive a spirit of slavery; we received a spirit of adoption as sons, and this is because of Jesus, He is the true Israel. Jesus is the Son of God. So we don’t have to be afraid. We didn’t receive a spirit of fear, Jesus is our victory. And you know it’s true because you cry, “Abba Father!”
Dr. Russell Moore is the head of the ERLC of the SBC and he used to be my Dean, Professor, and Pastor when Bethany and I lived in Louisville. Dr. Moore tells the story of when him and his wife Mariah adopted their 2 oldest sons from a Russian orphanage. Dr. Moore says the thing that shocked him the most when he walked into that orphanage in the former Soviet Union wasn’t the smell, though he said had to fight the urge to vomit when he walked in, but the smell wasn’t what shocked him the most. It wasn’t the living conditions, though they were beyond deplorable. Dr. Moore said the thing that frightened him the most, as he walked into that Russian orphanage, was the silence. They walked into an orphanage filled with infants, toddlers, and children, and it was dead silent. You see, the babies learned that if they cried, no one was coming for them, so eventually they stopped crying.
Well, Dr. Moore and his wife spent a week there in Russia, every day they would go spend time with those two boys, so that they could get acclimated to each other. They would play with them, hug them, kiss them, and feed them for a week solid, and change their diapers. Then, on the last day they were there the director of the orphanage took them and said, “Now you need to go back to the US until we can get all of the paperwork finalized and finished, and then you can come back and take your sons home.” So they went to get up and they went to leave the nursery where the boys were, and as they were walking out the door one of the boys ran to the edge of the crib, stuck his arm out the side of the bars, and let out a primal scream. Not because he had hurt himself when he ran into the bards, but because his mom and dad were leaving. He knew from this past week, when he cried he says that that is the most beautiful sound that he’s ever heard. That’s the picture here, church.
Brothers and sisters, we are the ones that cry out, “Abba Father.” We know that when we cry out to our father that he hears us. In the first century, Abba for those who spoke Aramaic would have been one of the first words that a baby spoke. You guys know when a baby starts putting sounds together and they start, you know Sophia starts making sounds and then all of a sudden, at some point, it sounds like “dadadadadad,” and she notices that you respond to that. So then eventually it clicks with her, if I say “dada” he is listening. Or “mamamama.” That is how baby speaks English. Of course, we have four children out of utero, of the four, three of them said, “dada” first (Alex, Haddon, and Sophia), so just saying. Jack was the only one that said “mama”. But that is kind of how it was in the first century. Babies would start making sounds and eventually it would be “abbaabbabba” and dads would respond to that, Abba is daddy, poppa, and father. It’s less formal than father, its like dad, daddy, or poppa. So that is what was going on, but Paul doesn’t merely say that we say, “Abba,” or we ramble Abba or we sweetly whisper Abba, he says we cry out (κράζομεν) “Abba!” We cry out, we cry out to God as our father. You need to hear this this morning if you are here and you are a follower of Jesus. This is only true of those who follow Jesus. We like to talk because all people are image bearers. Some people like to talk about the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. There is a sense in which that is true, in terms of social responsibility, but when it comes to what Paul is talking about here, it is not true. If you are not a follower of Jesus, God is not your father. God is only father to those following Jesus. Because this is true of Jesus. Jesus is the one who reveals God as father. Jesus is the one calls the Father, “Abba” (Mark 14.36). Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father.” And here’s the gospel reality, the adoption reality of the gospel, it is only, it’s only, it’s only, it’s only through Jesus that you can know God as father.
If you’re here this morning and you haven’t trusted Jesus, hear this right now, today is the day to cry out, cry out to your father and he will hear you. Some of you are sitting here in these theater seats this morning, and you are too prideful to hear what I’m saying, and if that’s the case, then you’re not ready for Jesus. Because God doesn’t hear the smug mumbling of the proud, he hears the cry of the humble. God is only Father to those who desperately cry out for Jesus. God will not be your Father until you’re at the point of desperation, until you are at that point to let out that primal scream. But if you do, your father hears you. Are you desperate for Jesus? Do you want Jesus like that Russian orphan wanted his mommy? The comfort this morning for you Christian, if you’re already a believer, you can know that your Father hears you every time you cry out for him, not just the first time. Because you have God’s Spirit, because you’re a son and not a slave, you can cry out to your Father in heaven. You don’t need to make an appointment, you don’t need to sacrifice an animal, you don’t need to pay a copay. All you have to do is cry out.
And the beautiful thing is that when we do cry out, we can have assurance. Isn’t that beautiful? We can have assurance! We are protestant, we are reformed, and we have assurance. We don’t have to wonder, we don’t have to be scared. We didn’t receive a spirit of fear; we received a spirit of adoption. We can genuinely know that we are God’s children. Verse 16: The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Paul says that the Holy Spirit is a witness, a martyr, a testifier with us that we are God’s children. The image is that of a courtroom. Imagine this, paint a mental picture. You’re being prosecuted for a crime that you didn’t commit. You are sitting there, you are on the stand, but you are getting prosecuted. They are bringing evidence against you. You have testified, under oath, that you were not at the scene. And, here is what the Holy Spirit does; your attorney brings in a different witness. This witness can confirm your story; he can testify that you weren’t at the scene because he was. He is testifying with you. You see that? You are both testifying to the truth. That is what Paul is saying here, that the Holy Spirit bears witness with us that we are God’s children. That is what the Spirit does. He is a witness alongside us that we are God’s children. As you examine your life and your heart in a regular way, you do it at the table every week, you do it at different times when it is impressed on you, am I growing? Am I following Jesus? What does my life look like? Am I bearing? Do I have the presence and growth of the fruit of the Spirit? Is there love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control? Do I see that in my heart and life and home? As you see those things you can be assured that you are God’s child. But there are those times, aren’t there, those are those times where you really don’t feel like you are God’s child. You have those days where you wake up and you say to yourself, “Am I even a Christian?” It’s in those times that the Spirit testifies. He gives you that inner peace. He tells you that you know you are God’s child because you are the one who cries out “Abba Father.” God loves you. God’s saved you. Jesus died and rose for you. Church there are times, because of our sin, because of our weakness that we have to confess truths that our sinful, dark, black hearts don’t always believe. We need to that! That’s why we sing these songs, that is why are different times we confess different creeds, or different liturgies, because we need to verbally confess some things that our dark hearts don’t always believe are true. We struggle to believe. Lord, I believe help my unbelief.
Paul then gives us a gospel logic lesson. He says, if we are children, then we are heirs. It is only logical. Heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ. When you love, and trust, and follow, and obey, Jesus becomes your brother and God becomes your Father. In the gospel, be comforted by this, in the gospel everything that’s true of Jesus is now true of you. You have died to your flesh, you have been resurrected as a new man. You will be resurrected when Jesus returns to raise the dead, judge the world, and make all things new. You can believe that a man will be raised from the dead because your brother Jesus has already done it. You are God’s beloved son, and he is well pleased with you.
But here’s the kicker of the gospel. Paul says if we’re co-heirs with Christ that means we must suffer with Christ. NT Wright says of the Christian life, “Don’t be surprised if the way is hard and stony. It’s always like that when you go from Egypt to Canaan.” There is no glorification without suffering. There is no kingdom without a cross. Isn’t that what we’ve seen throughout Hebrews 11? Jesus said, “Don’t be surprised if they kill you because they killed me.” Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” The gospel doesn’t promise health and wealth, it promises resurrection. And the hope of the gospel is that the present suffering, whatever suffering you are experiencing, whatever pain comes with father’s day in your heart and in your home, that present suffering is not worth comparing to the glory that is going to be revealed to you when you see Jesus as he is.
When The Blind side was released 8 years ago, it was a major success. I don’t know if you guys remember that. The world, Hollywood, loved it. Sandra Bulloch won an Oscar for her role as Leigh Anne Tuohy. It wasn’t just the academy that liked the movie, Christians loved the film too. On one occasion, at our little church in Kentucky, we even watched it for a church movie night one night. We watched The Blindside. There’s a reason why Michael Oher’s story tugs on the heartstrings. There’s a reason why people love to see a wealthy family adopt a poor kid and lavish upon him riches that he’s never imagined. There’s a reason why we get emotional when we see a child who didn’t have parents, brought into a family with loving parents. Church, you love that because that’s your story. You have been adopted into God’s family. He is now your Father. Jesus is now your brother. And all of the riches of the heavenly places have been lavished upon you. There’s still going to be trials, there is still going to be persecution, and pain, but you will never be alone. Because of the gospel of Jesus, God is your good good father, that’s who he is. And you’re loved by him, that’s who you are.