People always seem to have reasons why they should not come to Christ and be saved and live forever: and one of the commonest that is felt or expressed is this, that somehow in leaving the flesh and beginning to walk in the Spirit we shall lose something of our freedom of thought or action, perhaps, or our happiness in living. Most people realize, you see, that the Christian who is a Christian indeed must begin to live a new life in Christ Jesus: but in our fallen, sinful state we cannot understand rightly what this means. It seems like a life of rigid self-discipline without pleasure or rewards, and the devil does all that he can to convince us of this so that we will not leave his service for that of Christ. The truth, however, is far, far different, as every true Christian will confess. Christ’s service is not restriction, but freedom; and it is not misery but joy; and the reason for it is what I have called today THE STATUS OF THE NEW LIFE IN CHRIST, or our adoption as the sons of God. This truth is set forth in the 15th verse of chapter 8, and in these familiar words…
“For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”
- It appears to you all, I am sure, that Paul’s description of the Status of the New Life here assumes that we have, as Christians, received some kind of spirit, for he speaks of our not having received one kind of spirit, and our having received another kind of spirit – and from the context of his statement here, we realize, I am sure, that he is speaking of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit sent from the Father and the Son who dwells within believers.
Now in Acts 19, there is a passage which almost always comes up whenever we discuss the matter of Christians having received the Holy Spirit. Paul, on his third missionary journey, had re-visited the churches of Galatia and Phrygia, and came to Ephesus, and he found there certain disciples- people who were under the instruction of the church in that place, desiring to follow Christ, and (according to the translation as it stands in the authorized King James Version) he asked them: “Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?” And their reply (again in our common Version) was: “We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.” And from this little incident there have been some, and they are particularly numerous today in some areas of the church, who have concluded: “See, it is possible for people to be believers and not to have received the Holy Spirit,” and with this introduction they seek to inform us how we may experience a second work of grace, or how we may be baptized with the Holy Spirit.
This approach, I regret to say, is mistaken. For one thing, it is based on an unquestioning acceptance of a mistranslation and there are some of these in the King James Version as in every other version of the Holy Bible. Such mistranslations are indeed few and far between in the KingJames Version: and this is one of the reasons why it has retained its place among all other English translations for so many centuries now, but because it was the work of fallible men, they do exist, and this is one of them. Instead of “since ye believed,” it should be “when ye believed,” as every fair-minded scholar agrees: so that the situation is not Paul inquiring after a second work of grace, but that, as a pastor, meeting for the first time a group of people claiming to be Christians, he is simply asking about the genuineness of their conversion. And he soon finds that these people are not yet Christian believers at all but disciples of John the Baptist, who had borne witness to the person of Christ and to his purpose in coming into the world, but had been silenced by imprisonment and then by death before that purpose had been realized, and so Paul instructs them more perfectly and then they are baptized and received the Holy Spirit, not as a second blessing but as part and parcel of their conversion to Jesus Christ.
This passage, then, confirms and does not deny the statement that I have often made and which is the common teaching of the New Testament that every believer in Jesus Christ who is a believer indeed has received the Holy Spirit. He is dwelling within you: and if He is not, then you are not a Christian at all. You do not need to receive the Holy Spirit if you now trust Christ for life and salvation: you need to be filled with His presence and power for the living of the new life that you have in Christ.
Nor should you look for stance or unusual signs in your life for the proof that you have received Him! Strange and unusual signs did sometimes accompany the coming of the Holy Spirit into the lives of some believers in the New Testament. That is undeniable. Strange and unusual signs MAY even today accompany His coming into the lives of some. I will not say that it cannot be so. But even in the Book of Acts, if you read carefully, you will see that the strange and unusual signs were that – strange and unusual – and not the normal thing at all! They accompanied the giving of the Holy Spirit to the first fruits of certain groups as a rule – the original disciples, for example, or the former disciples of John the Baptist, or the first Samaritans to believe, or the first Gentiles, and so forth. But thousands and thousands apparently heard the Word of God in those days and repented and believed without such strange and unusual signs and wonders, and they entered into the fellowship of the Church and began to live a new life in Christ, for all had received the Holy Spirit.
So here, too, in addressing the Christians of Rome Paul takes it for granted, and a thing not to be questioned, that all of them have received the Holy Spirit when he says here: that they did not receive Him to be enslaved again, but that they did receive Him to be adopted as the very sons of God.
2. In the second place, then: although Paul assumes here that all of the believers to whom he is writing these words have received the Holy Spirit (or they would not be believers at all in any genuine sense of the word) he does not assume that all of them rightly understand the Status that He confers. Therefore he corrects a misapprehension that might have arisen with some when he writes: ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear! Or perhaps in so writing he is not so much correcting their misapprehension as that of others who are claiming that Christians, by believing on Christ, have descended to the status of slaves.
Paul has already said, of course, that we have obligations as believers. Look at verse 12. “We are debtors,” he wrote there. We are under obligation to forsake the wrong direction in life and to follow the right direction, to “mortify the deeds of the body” and so to live the new life in Christ.
No godly individual whose aim in life is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever can ever claim that he or she can live in any way. No, we must live and please God, that’s obvious. The wise preacher Solomon put it succinctly in Ecclesiastes, 12, “let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” And the whole Bible, New Testament as well as Old, would confirm this teaching beyond the shadow of a doubt.
But isn’t this bondage? some would say. We will have none of it – for we want to live free, untrammeled, unrestricted. This is the only possible happiness. So say many people today: and not only, may I remind you, a certain type of youth who put it quite bluntly, but people of every age and condition who at the point of testing where they must choose between something that they want for themselves and something that God wants for them will still say: No- but I want to have my own way after all! I’ll not be bound by man or by God!
“We want to be free,” such people say. “Only in such freedom can we be happy. We don’t want anyone, not even God – telling us what to believe or how to live, and we don’t believe all those old warnings of dire consequences which the priests of all religions have invented to keep people under their thumbs:” or so they say or think within themselves, perhaps, not quite daring to say it openly still.
The Lord Jesus once told a parable about such “free” and “happy” men, and you’ll find it in Luke 12. “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully,” He said, “And he thought within himself, saying, “What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?” How happy he must have been! “And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for years; take thine ease, eat, drink and be merry.” What glorious liberty! Had he not achieved what worldly men are always looking for?
But you know the rest of the story, don’t you? “But God…” The one thing that he had forgotten in life, you see! “but God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee (not just taken, but taken and judged). Then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” Was this man free? Was he happy? He thought so, but God called him a fool. He has grossly miscalculated, you see and he had lost all.
Yet this is the freedom of the unbeliever, a grand error! And this is his happiness still, a fool’s paradise! Who then is really in bondage – the believer who worships and serves the eternal God, or the unbeliever who is dreaming that he is free and will at last be so rudely awakened? Who really has something to fear – the believer whose condemnation has been taken away through Christ’s work, or the unbeliever who must still give answer to God for his sinful works? Have we, as Christians, received the spirit of bondage again to fear?
Clearly Paul is right in denying it – and gloriously right when,
3. In the third place, he says “But ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”
Adoption today is a beautiful thing, but far less significant than in the ancient world. Today it means mostly to take into our families as our very own a child or children who by accident sometimes, or by negligence or sin at other times, are left without parents of their own. Happy and fortunate indeed are such children, and the happiness of their parents by adoption is often the case, too.
But most adoptions today take place when the adopted one is a mere infant, having had little or no knowledge of his former status and no knowledge of what his new status is going to be. But in the ancient world the adoption of infants was rare indeed and their destruction was much more common. Any day in the dumps outside any large city you could find babies set out to be ripped apart and eaten by the dogs and other scavengers that infested the place. Adoption was an affair of adults where a rich or noble man bestowed upon some poorer or less exalted youth or maiden his name and his inheritance as his or her inalienable right – and it was accompanied by definite rites and ceremonies. The original father, or guardian publicly offered the one to be adopted three times in what was called “emancipation,” and then the new father publicly received the adopted one in what was called “vindication,” and a complete change of status occurred. The poor boy of common parentage became a rich boy of noble parentage fully and completely received into his new family just as if he had been naturally born.
This is your status in the new life in Christ. Paul here tells us. When you received the Spirit and believed on Christ, you were adopted by God. You were mere slaves before though you may not have known it. You were slaves to your own passions. You were slaves to sin. You were slaves to the devil who deceived you and kept you deceived and would have done so to the day of your death. But now you are not slaves, but sons: think of it. God has brought you into His own family. Jesus Christ acknowledges you as His own brothers and sisters.
And you can cry, Abba, Father! The greek here says “the father,” indicating still greater intimacy. Luther translates it – getting the feeling of it correctly – “Abba, Lieber Vater,” that is, “dear father”, not merely the common, childish “daddy” that some have advocated here , but the combination of love, gratitude and respect of of a mature filial relationship begun in childhood and growing with the years, my dear, good father! Is there obligation there? Of course there is! Is there duty? Yes, Yes.
That’s the status in the new life through the Holy Spirit whom you have all, who believe, received, not slaves in misery as the world supposes, and not fools rebelling in a delusion of freedom either, but sons and daughters happily bound in covenant love to a dear Father in heaven for time and for eternity alike!
A word of warning, however, before I conclude. The adoption of sons and daughters of God is not something that you can presume upon or take for yourself whenever and however you may please, so many people would like to think today. The very idea of it gives the lie to the widespread idea that God is everyone’s Father alike and that all are without exception His children. It also should make clear to us that He cannot be “adopted” by us on whatever terms we please, or on whatever occasion! Ah, no, He must make the choice and He must initiate the process. It is from Him by His sovereign grace that we have received the Spirit of adoption. No one who will not repent and believe can call himself a son of God! No one can call himself a son and live an alien! God is not unwilling to receive anyone who comes to Him in truth!
There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over 99 just persons which need no repentance! But like the prodigal of the parable – you must arise and go unto your Father: and if you do so, you can be confident that He will receive you for He has drawn you to Him already with the cords of love. Are there some of you today to whom God is speaking about this? Come to God today through His Son Jesus Christ and learn what it is to be His children in truth. And then say so – in public confession of your faith and uniting with the church. Consider and take to heart what it means to have received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, ABBA, FATHER – and so dispose your affairs and put your house in order that when the Father looks around on the day of His triumph, He will see you in your place at His table, all present and accounted for, prepared and ready to receive that life eternal which He will surely GIVE!
Sermon written by: Rev. Charles W. Krahe, Seventh Reformed Church