The Spirit of Adoption
Preached by Pastor Jason Abbott
Today we’ll be seeking understanding concerning what the Apostles’ Creed means when it states:
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints
Essentially, we’ll attempt to clarify what it’s saying about the Spirit of God and the people of God—the Church. What’s the relationship between these two? What does it mean for the Church to be led by the Spirit? Why does this all matter for me today; what difference does it make?
Natalie and I do devotions with our kids before we put them to bed at night. (Lest you hear this as a boast, we’re good for about 3 or 4 nights out of the week. And—some of those nights—we’re not simply doing the kids’ devotions but ours as well!) Often, during these times, it’s instructive to hear what the kids gather through our family Bible reading.
Recently, Josiah commented on the Trinity. (I can’t recall what spurred it.) But he said that, in the sermons, we talk about God the Father and God the Son, but we never really talk about God the Spirit. By “we” he meant Benjamin and me! So I felt the cold and bony finger of conviction from his innocent observation. And, I wonder if some of you don’t feel the same as Josiah—that the Holy Spirit is the undervalued person of the Trinity.
Today I’m going to remove my name from the “we” of Josiah’s observation and am going, in my preaching, to try and not undervalue the Holy Spirit anymore. So Benjamin, after today, you alone lay under my son’s righteous condemnation for undervaluing the Spirit in your preaching. (Repent brother, repent!)
Let’s read together the passage for today’s sermon while we actively listen for what it teaches us about the Holy Spirit and the establishment of the Church; and, then, we’ll pray for God to teach us about who he is and who we are.
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.
As we settle into this text, it’ll be helpful for us to explore both a short story and a long story. They’re really the same story, but one will provide our foundation and the other will build upon that foundation. In order to tell these two stories, we’ll ask the same question of this text two different times: What’s the relationship between the Spirit and the Church?
1. What’s the relationship between the Spirit and the Church, a shorter story (vv. 14-15)?
Without the Spirit, there’s no Church. The Spirit unites us in Christ to God. Look at the middle verses of this passage with me:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 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!” (vv. 14-15).
Notice that being part of God’s family entails being led by the Spirit of God. Notice that being part of God’s family entails receiving the Spirit of adoption. Without the Spirit’s leading, we do not call God Father along with Christ Jesus; without the Spirit’s adopting work, we are not God’s chosen children.
You can choose whatever biblical image you want to illustrate the Church (e.g. God’s family, Christ’s body, God’s house, Christ’s bride, God’s temple).1 Regardless of the image used, you don’t get there without the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes I wonder if we don’t often teach about God the Holy Spirit because he is so involved in our Christian lives, so present and active each day, that we take him and his work for granted.
For example, each and every one of us got up and did routine things today. When your alarm went off, you probably hit snooze at least once. (Be honest now! Don’t think I don’t see that there are twice as many of you by the 2nd praise song.) So you hit that snooze some; you make some coffee; some of you take a shower; you do what you consider routine things.
Yet, while each and every one of us got up and went through these routines, I’ll bet not one of us—perhaps not even one single person on the entire planet!—stopped to say: Thanks O2! Thanks Oxygen particles! I know you’re working hard. My every breath depends upon you. You’re the best!
In a sense, the Holy Spirit is to the Church what Oxygen is to humankind. He empowers us to do what would otherwise be impossible each and every day. “The Holy Spirit is the member of the Trinity whom the Scripture most often represents as being present to do God’s work in the world.”2 And, the Spirit’s work is to be most powerfully and clearly seen in the workings of the family of God. Everything about us has been transformed (and is continuing to be transformed!) by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Since he is working in and all around us, we tend to ignore the Holy Spirit. Living in his presence can become like living in the midst of the Rocky Mountains. We can begin to neglect the grandeur and power and beauty of our place in life because we’re in it day after day.
Brothers and sisters, if this is true of you, if you’re neglecting to praise God for the blessing and work of the Holy Spirit in your life, then I call you to wake-up. It’s not right for us to take the Spirit for granted!
- If you’re led by the Spirit, you’re a child of God—a son or daughter of God.
- If you’ve received the Spirit, you’ve been adopted into the family of God.
- If this is true of you, you can—by the Spirit—cry out “Abba! Father!”
- So, praise God for it!
This is the short but profound story that should make us praise Jesus Christ for sending his Spirit to us! However, there is more to the story than this.
2. What’s the relationship between the Spirit and the Church, a longer story (vv. 12-13, 16-17)?
The Holy Spirit does so much that we don’t have time to detail all his work. Let me just mention a few of these works of the Spirit. (If this wets your appetite, you can go to our website and pull up this sermon; and, there, you can find this list of the Spirit’s work with some helpful Scripture references.)
- The Spirit gives life to all creatures (Psalm 104:30; Job 34:14-15).
- The Spirit makes known the things of God (2 Peter 1:21; John 16:13).
- The Spirit teaches us the way of truth (Ephesians 1:17-19).
- The Spirit empowers God’s people for service and ministry (Acts 1:8).
- The Spirit unites God’s people for service and ministry (Philippians 2:1-2).
Even this list, of the Spirit’s works, merely scratches the theological surface. There’s still much, much more that the Spirit does in our daily lives as Christians. Yet, in the remainder of our time, let me jump into the longer story of today’s text and into one profound activity of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.
It’s a story about murder! So, I hope it won’t feel too incredibly long to you. I hope it captures your interest. Look again at the first two verses with me:
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 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 (vv. 12-13).
Too often we (as believers) neglect this part of the story of being Christian. There’s a life and death struggle taking place. There will, most certainly, be death. And Paul here very clearly explains that it will either be your death, your murder, or the death and murder of your sinful rebellion against God.
In the end (Paul says) whether it’s you or your sinfulness that’s put to death depends completely upon the power and work of the Holy Spirit in your life. Believers are called to put sin to death by the Spirit (v. 13). We are called to be led, by the Spirit (v. 14), in this endeavor.
At this point, I must ask you—if you’re a believer—are you at war with sin? Are you being led by the Holy Spirit’s work in your life to abolish sin in your life? This isn’t merely a part-time activity. Again, it’s a fulltime, life or death struggle. The believer, led by the Spirit, must constantly be waging war against sin.
It might surprise you that I am most encouraged, as a pastor of a church, when someone comes to me and confesses they’re struggling with a particular sin. I find such confessions far more encouraging than all the “Doing fine!” confessions in the world. Let me say that another way because it’s important that you hear it. When someone tells me they’re struggling with a sin—an addiction to pornography or idolizing material possessions or insert your sin here—I’m far more encouraged than if someone regularly tells me they’re not struggling at all.
Why? Because in a sinful, fallen world there is no “Doing fine!” position. There’s no “I’m not struggling with anything!” position. Such a confession, at best, means you don’t see the sin you have that you need to, by the Spirit, put to death or, at worst, means you see your sin but won’t follow the Spirit’s lead by putting it to death. Do you see?
Friends, when we take our sins seriously enough to confess them and battle against them, it shows we’re the Church—that we have the Spirit of adoption in us. This is what Paul says:
…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. For [because!] all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God (vv.13-14).
The leading of the Holy Spirit—to battle against and kill our sin—assures us that we are God’s children, that we are the family of God, that we are the Church because people who, by the Spirit of God, do such things are the people of God. Thus when, as a pastor, I see someone do something that, in the eyes of the world, is foolish (like humbling themselves to confess their secret sins), I am encouraged that the Holy Spirit is at work and that he or she must be, therefore, a true follower of Jesus Christ.
It’s my conviction that the primary work of the Spirit is, in the Christian life, to see sin put to death and to see Christ’s holiness resurrected.
Yet, I rarely hear Christians speak about the Spirit’s work in this main way. For example, I got a message from a friend in the church I served in Missouri. He’s in a college ministry and wanted to know how to best deal with a coworker, from that ministry, who regularly says things like—The Holy Spirit really put red on my heart today so I feel I should talk to someone who’s wearing the color red. Then God brought me to a table for lunch, and there was a girl wearing red there. We ended up having a really great talk. Isn’t God amazing?!
Friends, I’m not about to say that God the Spirit doesn’t work in this way, but I will say—with great conviction—that this isn’t the normative way he works, at least, according to the Bible.
Rather than working primarily through apparently random associations—like a color that comes to mind—God the Spirit always leads very intentionally. The Spirit leads believers strategically into battle against sin and evil in their lives and in the world. The Bible makes this clear—not mysterious (Galatians 5:13-26)! Let me encourage you, if you’re a follower of Jesus, if you’ve received the Spirit, to follow the Spirit’s lead—not as it comes randomly into your daily thoughts—but, rather, specifically as it comes out of God’s word in the Bible.
I began our time by telling you there was a short story and a longer story. Yet, if you are really sharp and were really paying attention, you would’ve noticed that the short and longer stories really occupied fairly equal parts of the sermon. The telling of each took the same amount of time so how was one story shorter and how was one longer? The answer is the gospel—the good news.
You see, when you hear and believe that because of your sin against God that—rather than visiting his wrath upon you—he loved you and sent his Son, Jesus, to live the life you should have lived, to die the death you should have died, and to rise from the grave defeating death forever, then the Spirit of Adoption comes upon you—you’re eternally a part of the family of God. (Story over!)
Yet, for the rest of your life, you must be—by the power of the Spirit—working out the fruit of the short story of your adoption into the family of God. And that, of course, is a much longer story. Be encouraged by the short story—you’re God’s child and heir! Be led by the Spirit in the longer story—bear fruit!