April 14, 2024


Passage: Romans 8:12-17

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 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. 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.
— Romans 8:12-17, ESV

Whether we like to admit it or not, children tend to become like their parents.  This is a good thing if the parents are possessed of Christian faith, good intellect and education, and marketable skills.  It is not so good if the parents are reprobate, derelict, and given to addiction or crime.

Exceptions to the rule do exist.  Children from good homes can become prodigals who never return, belittling the proverb, bending the parable, and breaking our hearts.  Likewise, or otherwise, kids born into bad situations can become members of good and godly families through the glory of adoption.  We have wonderful examples of this in our own church.

Adoption is a Greco-Roman concept that Paul applies here for the first time to Christianity (ref. also vs. 8:23, Galatians 4:5, and Ephesians 1:5).  Adoption, on earth as it is in Heaven, is meant to be a glorious change for the better.  Through “spiritual adoption” (vs. 15, five words in English but only two words in Greek), a person receives an infinitely better parent, resulting in an abundant life, producing a glorious destiny.

Better Parents

When you are not a Christian, the chief influences that govern and shape your life are like bad parents.  They provide an abundance of awful examples to lead you astray.  Specifically, they are an unholy trinity commonly referred to in Scripture as the world, “the flesh” (vs. 12-13), and the devil.

Paul warns us about the world, the human system in rebellion against and opposed to God that tries to squeeze us into its mold (ref. Romans 12:2).  He speaks of “the flesh,” here, which is our sinful nature, our total depravity, our propensity to put personal pleasure above all that is holy, right, and true.  The Apostle’s warnings against “the devil” are legion (ref. 1 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11, 11:14; Ephesians 4:27, 6:11,16; 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 3:3; 1 Timothy 5:15; etc.).

As if we owed them something, we cling to them and serve them consciously and subconsciously, like a codependent child.  We want to be worldly, rich, and famous.  We want to please our flesh with excessive food, drink, and sex.  And whether we know it or not, we do this because we are by nature children of the devil rather than children of God (ref. John 8:44; Ephesians 2:3).

When “spiritual adoption” takes place, however, we receive better parents.  The unholy trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil are replaced by the Holy Trinity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  These three parents are the one true and living God.

With “spiritual adoption” we become a true children of “Abba, Father,” and we can call on Him night ant day.  We are “fellow heirs with Christ” the Son, with spiritual abundance in this life and unimaginable riches in the life to come.  All of this is because we have been regenerated and “led by the Spirit” of God, thus proving to be “sons (and daughters) of God.”

In “spiritual adoption,” it is God who chooses His child (ref. Romans 8:28-30; Ephesians 1:4ff; etc.).  It is His grace, His gift of faith, His Son, and His Spirit, that seals our “spiritual adoption.”  God is the supremely better parent who gives us a substantially better life.

Better Life

The non-Christian life can have its benefits.  Worldly fortune and fame can be a lot of fun.  Fleshly pleasures are, well, pleasurable.  Sell your soul to the devil and you can play the guitar, beat the Yankees, star in motion pictures, rule Wall Street, and any number of other fantastic feats.

Through the years I have seen a number of portraits of four of the most famous lives in the world.  Sometimes they are in a diner, sometimes shooting pool, sometimes playing poker.  But it is the same four: Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Elvis Presley, and James Dean.  They epitomize the fabulous life this present world has to offer.

If their lives were so good, why did they end so badly?  Marilyn took sleeping pills to commit suicide.  Bogie drank and smoked himself to a cancerous death.  The King died on the throne of a Graceland bathroom when his heart stopped due to excessive drug use.  And James Dean, tortured by his own sexuality, crashed his sports car and dead-ended his life at age 24.

“Spiritual adoption” offers a much better life.  It may be devoid of fortune and fame.  But, it supplies an abundance of things money cannot buy.  Paul mentions at least three: true freedom, blessed assurance, and godly passion.

“All the world over, it’s so easy to see, people everywhere just want to be free” (The Rascals).  But the only people in the world who are truly free are people who have been freed from the world by “spiritual adoption.”  Our wills are no longer slaves to sin, but free to know and love God, obey and serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and be empowered and led by the Holy Spirit.

Lost people live in fear of what will happen to them when this life is over.  Those of us who have been “spiritually adopted” by God know where we are going.  “The Spirit bears witness with out spirit.”  In other words, when we resonate with the word of God and the gospel, when we hunger for public and private worship, when we choose the commandments of God over the cravings of the world, we receive “the peace that passes understanding” (ref. Philippians 4:7) that “we are children of God.”

And only the recipients of “spiritual adoption” can know the privilege to “suffer with Him.”  “Suffer” is the Greek word “paschō,” from whence we derive the word “passion.”  John Stott commented on this passage as proving genuine Christians, adopted children of God, live lives with a passion for Christ, a “desire, determination, and disciple” for God.  Is there any better way to live?

And, oh, the longevity!

Better Destiny

“Spiritual adoption” is permanent.  “Glorified” is forever.  Such is the superior destiny of the true sons and daughters of God.

In every culture since the first coming of Christ, adoption has been used to move children from a inferior to superior life.  And in every culture, such adoption is legally permanent.  It is easier to disown a birth child than an adopted child.

“Spiritual adoption” is even stronger, because it is bound by the saving grace and imputed righteousness of Almighty God.  Remember Romans 8 begins with “no condemnation” and ends with no separation from God and His children.  Once you are His by adoption, you will always be His!

Also remember the overall theme of Romans 8 is glorification.  It is guaranteed for the Christian, truly saved by grace through faith in Christ.  Adoption justifies, adoption sanctifies, and adoption glorifies, guaranteed.

I began this sermon by pointing out members of our church who have engaged in the grace of adoption here on earth, providing an apt illustration of our “spiritual adoption” in Heaven.  I want to close by introducing you to one more who has been adopted, twice.

Neither adoption was legal, strictly.  The first was paternal, the second, spiritual.  Both provided a better parent, a better life, and an eternally better destiny.

My mother, when she was just a teenager fresh out of high school, became pregnant in 1961.  The young man who was the biological father got the news and got out of town, literally.  Abortion was not an available option, thank the Lord.  But a boy born to an unwed mother in the cultural and financial poverty of the Deep South was not a charming life to look forward to, either.

In pursuit of the young man who put her into this situation, my mother met his roommate.  He would do what the lesser man would not.  He married my mother, taking away her shame, and mine.  And when I was born, the birth certificate listed the father as Charles Franklin “Wink” DeVane, Sr.

He was a better father, by far, than I otherwise would have had, because I could have had none.  He gave me a better life, bestowing upon me an appreciation for good books and good character.  He put me on the path I’m on now, a follower of Christ, a faithful pastor, with a future in Heaven.

Of course, I truly owe all of this and more to my second adoption, which occurred in 1982.  That is when God became my Father, through the person and work of Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior, by the regenerative power and adoptive act of the Holy Spirit.

Better parent?  Infinitely, I’d say.  Better life?  Not fancy, but good, meaningful, purposeful.  Better destiny.  Let’s just say I hope to see you in our true home in Heaven one day, if you, too, have experienced the grace of “spiritual adoption.”

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