Text: Romans 8:12-17

Just over three years ago, in July of 2020 the Anglican world lost one of the giants of the faith when The Rev. Canon James Innell Packer died about a week before his 94th birthday. The author of many books including the classic Knowing God, J.I. Packer was one of the best-known Evangelical Anglican theologians of the last century. He was active both as a rector and as a seminary professor. In fact, Dr. Packer was both the teacher and pastor of our own diocesan bishop when Bp. Orji moved from Nigeria to Canada for his studies. He was the general editor of the ESV translation of the Bible and was one of the main architects of both the ACNA’s 2019 Book of Common Prayer and the ACNA’s catechism, To be a Christian. Dr. Packer was also a champion of the classical Prayer Book tradition; I’ve recently emailed many of you a copy of his little booklet on how the classical Prayer Book presents the gospel.

I mention him, not because we’ve just passed the 3rd anniversary of the Lord calling him home, but because Dr. Packer has a profound connection to this week’s epistle. Indeed, he considered this epistle to contain the one of most important bible verses on all of Christian doctrine when St. Paul says, “Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba Father.” Indeed, Dr. Packer considered our adoption to be an even greater privilege than justification itself! After all, as he writes:

To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater.

Elsewhere he says that adoption is a key summary of the gospel itself. He writes,

Were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be ADOPTION THROUGH PROPITIATION, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.

With its rich discussion of our adoption into God’s family, today’s epistle does indeed form a fitting capstone for our three-week Trinitytide mini-study through St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Two weeks ago, we looked at the beginning of Romans 6, in which we are pointed back to our Baptism, where we have both died and been raised again with our Lord Jesus Christ. We were reminded to walk in that newness of life because, like Jesus, we are dead to sin. Sin therefore has no more dominion over us because we are alive to God through Christ.

Last week, in the end of Romans 6, we were reminded of our former slavery to sin, which yielded rotten fruit, shameful deeds, and even more sin. We were exhorted to now live as slaves of God, servants of righteousness. This new state now yields holy fruit that leads of everlasting life. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Yet, St. Paul acknowledged last week that his slavery metaphor was not quite perfect. He was speaking “after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh.” By pointing us to our adoption into God’s family, St. Paul gives us a more complete and comforting picture. Indeed, it is a better picture of our relationship to God through Jesus. Yes, we are in his service. Yes, we own him fidelity. But ultimately, we are beloved sons and daughters whom he has chosen to become members of his family.

Writing around the turn of the last century, the Rev. Prebendary Melville Scott gives us a fourfold “statement of the happiness of the Christian position” in that relationship as found in today’s Epistle: a position of debt, a position of sonship, a position of confidence, and a position of expectancy. Let’s turn to our passage. Romans 8:12, page 200 in your Prayer Book:

Brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh ye shall die, but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

It may seem odd to include a discussion of debt in a passage that focuses on our adoption into God’s family. We naturally want to speak of a family metaphor in terms of love rather than what we owe. Yet even within our own families, we can speak of filial duties. We can speak of what we owe to our parents, spouses, and children. Indeed, St. Paul speaks of the husband as owing love to his wife, the kind of love that Christ shows to the Church. Similarly, the wife owes her husband a godly form of submission and respect, similar to that which the Church has for Christ. And the 4th Commandment speaks of children owing honor to their parents, a commandment that comes with a promise of “long life in the land.” Deuteronomy speaks of parents having a duty to teach the Lord’s word to their children, to constantly put the Lord before them. St. Paul adds to this a command to “provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”

All of this is rooted in the idea that the Christian Family is to be a picture of the Church and Christ. It is to be a microcosm of God’s people living faithfully with him. When the World sees a Christian family, it should be a witness to the love and goodness of God. That is, though the family duties can be spoken of in terms of what we owe each other, the ways in which we are indebted to each other, this is very different from the kind of debt we might owe to a creditor. This is a debt of love. These duties are rooted in the love that is to naturally come with the nature of the relationship. The same is true with our position of debtor to God as Christians. He is not a harsh creditor, but a loving Father.

As is typical in Romans, this is contrasted with our lack of debt to the flesh. Indeed, we are told to “mortify,” that is, put to death, our bodies. This is, of course, speaking of the flesh in the terms we use when we speak of our threefold enemy of the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. St. John Chrysostom notes that when it comes to our physical bodies, we do indeed owe them proper care and nourishment. Indeed, even our physical desires are not evil in of themselves. Rather, they are there to remind us of the nourishment our bodies require! But when those desires and appetites are in the driver’s seat, when they are in control of our lives, we fall into grievous sin. This is why St. Paul tells us not to “live after the flesh.” We were meant for much more than animalistic appetites. It is no evil for an animal to be driven by the instincts of their flesh; that’s what animals are for! But even animals must be disciplined and trained if they are to live in harmony with humans through domestication. Every creature has a purpose, and ours is to live in loving and faithful family relationship with our creator.

Thus, the Spirit of God must be in the drivers’ seat of our lives. And our spirits must be transformed by the Holy Spirit and God’s love if we are to conform to God’s Word and thus live how we were meant to. Verse 14:

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 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.

Notice the contrast between the spirit of bondage that leads to fear, and the Spirit of adoption that leads to fellowship with God. Even when we speak of our service to God, it is not one of bondage. God does not hold us in prison. Again, the debt to God is not like that of a creditor. In ancient times, a creditor could indeed throw you into debtor’s prison. Nowadays, a creditor can hold you in economic bondage. How many college students have found that out the hard way when they get into debt that can never be repaid for the sake of a degree that may never provide a return on the investment?

But God is not like this. He frees us from our sins, giving us his Spirit, bringing us into his family. While this does not change the fact that we do indeed serve God and work in his Kingdom, it does change the nature of that work. Dr. Scott writes:

The son works not for what he can get, but because he has received a son’s birthright and a father’s care. The son works not because he must, but because he shares his father’s desires and longs to finish his work.

When we work for and in God’s kingdom, it’s because it’s also our kingdom! We have a share in the inheritance. What is his has become ours. He looks at us, his adopted children, in the same way that he looks at his only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. What an amazing privilege! Our adoption into God’s family is so overwhelming because it is so undeserved. We rightly look at God’s amazing grace and wonder how we could ever have received such honor. Dr. Packer writes:

We are not fit for a place in God’s family; the idea of his loving and exalting us sinners as he loves and has exalted the Lord Jesus sounds ludicrous and wild – yet that, and nothing less than that is what our adoption means.

Lest this sound too “ludicrous and wild” and we be tempted to think of it as presumptuous, God gives us assurance of that favor in the Word and in the Sacrament. Indeed, as verse 16 notes, the Holy Spirit himself tells us so:

The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

When a child has a loving father, he knows that he is loved. I pray that my children will never doubt my love for them, even when there are times when I have to discipline them or be away from them for work and ministry. And this is why I often remind them that I love them. I remind them that they matter to me. St. Paul speaks in our passage of the subjective witness of the Holy Spirit to our spirit. But we also have the objective promises in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments that God does indeed love us. In fact, whenever we look to the Cross, we have objective proof of God’s love.

Our assurance and confidence in God’s love and good favor towards us, then, is not presumptuous any more than it would be presumptuous for my children to believe me when I say, “I love you.” They simply believe that I mean what I say. And I pray that my actions have proved that what I say is trustworthy. Similarly, to have confidence and assurance in God’s love for us as his adopted children is simply to believe what he tells us in the Word and Sacraments. It’s to count God as trustworthy, as he has proved to us again and again.

With that confidence comes expectation. We do indeed have an inheritance. We do indeed have something to look forward to. This is part of our union with Christ. Because he has an inheritance, we have an inheritance. The Kingdom of God does indeed belong to all of those who have been united to Christ by faith and baptism. Having that expectation impacts our lives here and now. We can indeed suffer with him, knowing that we will be glorified with him.

Sometimes that suffering is part of the birth pangs of the World to Come. We don’t have time to move further in the chapter, but St. Paul goes on to speak of creation groaning in expectation of our redemption. All of creation looks forward to our inheritance. Other times that suffering is due to the World, the Flesh, and the Devil rebelling against Christ’s lordship. But we know that he has won the victory and shares it with us. Other times that suffering is because our own battle with our own sins can seem overwhelming. But we can look forward to the ultimate freedom from our sins when we have the final victory in the World to Come. And thus we can fight manfully under Christ’s banner, as we say in the baptismal service. We can work, pray, and give for the spread of Christ’s kingdom, as we say in the Offices of Instruction. After all, as those who have been adopted into God’s family, through the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have an inheritance, a share, in that kingdom. Come soon, Lord Jesus.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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