July 12, 2020
Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Children and Heirs of God
Patrick Henry said: “Give me liberty or give me death!” Francis Scott Key wrote his famous words “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Civil liberties are guaranteed under the constitution of the United States.
Liberty – a concept that all of us cherish and hold dear. Last week we celebrated Independence Day, our liberation from Britain! And with our political independence our founding fathers emphasized that life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are unalienable rights.
Did you know that the concept of liberty and even democracy has evolved and changed over the centuries? Our democracy and liberties are different from democracy and liberty in ancient Greece. Philosopher Ben Constant points out that the individual now has much more freedom in their personal lives.
Now it is an open question if the focus on individual liberty has gone too far? What about collective liberties? When does my individual liberty infringe on the liberty of my neighbor? And then of course there is the question about responsibilities? Certainly, liberties come with responsibilities? These questions have political, sociological, economic and perhaps even psychological implications. Furthermore, in a hyper-divided country, liberty itself has become political and nowadays a lot of energy and effort go into accusing others of restricting my liberties, or defending my liberties.
But liberty is also a theological one. And I am more interested in its theological meaning and implication! And Romans 8 gives us a unique and fascinating view on Christian liberation!
Romans 8 is one of the richest theological chapters of the entire Bible. It has been called the chapter of the Holy Spirit. We could divide this chapter in two parts: verses 1-4 which talk about liberated people and verses 5-13 which talk about Spirit-led people.
The chapter starts with an important word “now”. The present time stands in stark contrast to the past. Remember that the Apostle Paul last week talked about an unbearable inner conflict. This conflict led him to utter: “Wretched man that I am!” The time of him being a wretched man, imprisoned by the law and unable to do any good, is now over! A new time has arrived! He is liberated! He has been made new! He, who once was a prisoner is now free. And we share in his liberation.
What is he freed from?
He informs us that, first of all we are freed from the wrath of God – there is now no condemnation (verse 1). I wonder if we really comprehend the meaning of this statement? Let’s think it through. God is not angry with us anymore. I don’t have to wake up in the middle of the night wondering whether God is going to judge or punish me. There is no need to put myself down in guilt for poor judgment and decisions in my past. There is no reason to feel guilty about things that I did or the terrible thoughts that I had. I don’t have to live with the uncertainty and the burning question in my heart whether God has truly forgiven me. And knowing that God has forgiven me I can forgive myself!
We are not only liberated from the wrath of God; we are also liberated from the power of sin (verse 2). But what exactly is sin? It is hard to define. Sin is a mystery. It has been said that theology cannot give a rational explanation of sin without neutralizing it.
Most of us think of sin as a few bad actions that I do, or a few good deeds that I don’t do. Defined in this narrow way, we miss the serious nature of sin. You see, the Biblical view of sin is that sin is a very powerful force, yes even a cosmic one, that alienates people from God, from each other, from yourself, from nature and culture. Generally speaking, sin is a force so great that people, individually and collectively, are enslaved by it. Sin first pulls people in, then it controls them and then it enslaves them.
The result is what we see all around us: a world that was meant to be good, has turned into a desert of hate and hostility, a wasteland of suspicion and cynicism, a wilderness of distrust, blame, violence, and greed. Sin has turned this world, that was meant to be our home, into a place where love and compassion have become rare.
Romans 8 assures us that God stepped in and in Christ, God liberates us from the cosmic and destructive power of sin!
God also liberates us from our last enemy, death by giving us a new life here and now and life eternal when we die!
The theological implication of these words of the Apostle Paul is immensely rich. We are liberated people, not enslaved anymore, no need to be guilty, anxious or worried about the future, liberated from sin and its devastating and destructive power. These are theological truths, undeniably powerful, reliable and we can fully embrace them.
Unfortunately, we often question these theological validity. We doubt them! And when we doubt, we focus on worldly things what even though they do not really matter in God’s kingdom. Often, we care more about material things and not spiritual things.
And instead of embracing our spiritual liberty and living like liberated people, we actually return to the old, living the way that the Apostle Paul describes in chapter 7: “Wretched person that I am!” We return to the old, living as prisoners of guilt, sin and death, and not as people who are liberated by God’s loving act of sending into this world the Son.
So, in line with the message of this beautiful chapter 8 of the book of Romans I want to remind you now, that you are liberated, you are freed from the wrath of God, the destructive power of sin and death! Believe that these are true! Do not doubt them.
But there is more to liberation. The Apostle Paul does not suggest that we have now arrived, we have reached our destination and can feel content with our theological freedom!
Our liberation calls us to obedience. Our freedom has a purpose and is not the purpose in itself!
As people who are led by the Spirit of God we are people who are call to be obedient to God.
To emphasize how the Spirit of God leads us to be obedient, the Apostle Paul differentiates between those who are led by the Spirit of God and those who walk in the flesh.
Those who live and walk in the flesh are on a deadly track – living in the flesh leads to death. Those who are led by the Spirit on the other hand have life and peace! The Spirit of God leads those to righteousness. Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God, they do not fear and they are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
Being led by the Spirit of God means that they respond to the Spirit and do what the Spirit leads them to do. Walking with the Spirit means to live, behave and to act in a certain way. It means to be controlled by what the Spirit of God wants.
We know that one’s life is determined by that on which one focuses one’s thought! The contrast is between a life which is controlled by one’s own human nature and the life which is controlled by God’s Spirit. Once again, let me point out the contrast: if God Spirit lives in you, you do not live as your human nature tells you to.
The bottom-line is this: liberty is accompanied by responsibilities! The life lived under the leadership of God’s Spirit will show itself in the way that one conducts oneself! This conduct is not driven by human nature!
Our human nature is very selfish. Scholars have pointed out that like all animals, humans have instincts, genetically hard-wired behaviors that enhance our ability to cope with vital environmental contingencies. Our innate fear of snakes is an example. Other instincts are denial, revenge, tribal loyalty, greed, prejudice, and our urge to procreate. It is about survival. We often hear that people say: “I cannot help it- this is just who I am!”
Biblical theology says: No! We are not prisoners of our human instincts! We are not guided by our base instincts. I will not act on my instinct to be tribal and greedy. I will not take revenge and view the other as an enemy. I will not exploit others or dominate the weak even though these are the default actions of human beings. Instinct leads to a worldview of the survival of the fittest. And it results in a cold, harsh and soulless world that is nothing more than a killing field in the metaphorical and sometimes literal sense of the word.
Instead, we are guided by the Spirit of God. As children of God we are not driven by fear, but by love. We are children of God, joint heirs with Christ. What does the Spirit of God want us to do? From the Biblical witness we know that Spirit moves us to believe that Jesus is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3). God’s Spirit assures us that we are children of God. God’s Spirit is divinely generous: God’s Spirit gives us faith, hope and love. The Spirit gives us joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5;22, 23). The Spirit of God enables us to live as holy people (1 Peter 1:15-16). This means that the Spirit of God guides us to live lives that will show that we are images of the living God (Gen. 1:26), crowned with glory and honor (Ps. 8). The Spirit guides us to follow the example and words of Christ when he said: “Love one another!”
God in Christ, liberated us – we are completely free and there is nothing, anywhere that can imprison us again. However, our liberation comes with great responsibilities: we are to live as obedient people of God, guided by the Spirit! Amen