Several years ago, we worked through a series on the book of Ephesians. The title of the series was Built to Last, and if you were here you may remember that I filled the platform with all kinds of items from the home including a storm window, a chair, and a mirror among other things – each representing some aspect of the house and/or room in the house. I even preached in my pjs one day when discussing the relationship of the husband and wife in Ephesians 5.
But I began that series in a way similar to how I will begin this message. I started by sharing about the idea of barbarism. I have touched on this idea since that time, but given today’s message it is important to understand this aspect of the culture in the first century.
Like today, many people then did not want the baby that was born to them. But the practice in that day was to take your unwanted child to a deserted place (often the side of a nearby mountain) and leave it there to die. To the conscious, this appeared to be more humane because you could not be certain of what truly happened to the child. Perhaps the child would die from the elements or perhaps a wild animal would find it. But perhaps someone would save it.
Some of the wealthier people would send servants out to the mountain to wait (or look for) abandoned children. If one (or more) was found, the child(ren) would be brought back to the master who would provide for its care until it was old enough to be a servant as well. While this situation may seem a bit far-fetched, it was a good way to obtain new servants for a relatively minor cost, and you had the opportunity to train them as you desired.
The reality is that all of us are like that abandoned child. The sin within us makes us worthless to many – and oftentimes even to ourselves. But God. God sent His servant – His Son – to the mountain to not only find us, but to die for us, to redeem us, and to give us a chance to live.
But regardless of how old we were (or are) when we realize what Jesus did for us, we find certain things in this life difficult to leave. The sin that would abandon us to death, still captivates us, and prevents us from realizing and becoming all that we are meant to be.
In Romans 8.12-17, we see this picture clearly. Our flesh leads us to death due to sin. But God has given us His Spirit that we can choose life. And by choosing life, we become God’s true children. And by becoming His children, we gain an inheritance – right beside Jesus.
This choice is what it means to live life in the Spirit. It is not just about being led by the Spirit, it is about being consumed by the Spirit. One who is consumed is led, but it is more than merely direction, it is being of the Spirit. And, verse 14 makes it clear, unless we have the Spirit of God, we are not true children of God.
But if we do have the Spirit of God, we gain more than we can imagine. We gain a Father unlike any father we could imagine – one that loves us, and one that provides for us eternally!
If, indeed, what I have said is true, then why don’t we live like it? Well, Paul’s words paint a clear picture of that answer if we are willing to look closely enough.
A Child of God?
Let me take us back to the side of the mountain. Metaphorically, it is sin that placed us there. If we trace Paul’s argument in reverse from Romans 7 to Romans 5, we see that our flesh deceives us (Romans 7), and that it is sin (in our flesh) that leads to death (Romans 6), and that sin comes as the result of Adam (Romans 5). So, it is sin that tempts us, and then traps us, but when it no longer has a use for us, sin puts us on the side of the mountain to die and leaves us to its partner, death (Romans 5.21, 6.23, 7.24).
Thus, if we have been saved from sin and death, then we do not owe sin anything. We do not owe the flesh anything. Paul makes this plain to his readers, which he calls brothers (which also means sisters in this context). He wants them to know that they owe sin nothing, and thus instead of holding on to some type of sin in their lives, they need to put that sin to death.
The Romans then (like us today) had (have) a choice. They can live according to the flesh or according to the Spirit. But to live according to the flesh means one cannot have the Spirit. That does not mean that Christians do not sin. It does not mean that we do not make mistakes. But it does mean that we do not seek to live a life of sin. In fact, as verse 13 says, the Spirit is working with us to put the sinful deeds to death. And we are to partner with the Spirit to that end. We are not to simply ask for forgiveness when we fail. We are to partner with the Spirit so that we do not fail. Yes, we are to let the Spirit have control, but as Paul wrote to the Galatians, a part of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control. So, self-control and Spirit-control work hand in hand – and both are to lead us away from the desire of the flesh.
So, to answer the question from above, if God, as the heavenly Father loves and cares for His children more than we can imagine, and has given His children the Spirit to help them put aside the things that keep His children from Him, the first reason they don’t live like God wants them to live is because maybe they are not His children after all. Paul has made the distinction clear since verse 5. As I mentioned two weeks ago, two paths are marked…one path is the one we will naturally take, but the other requires the Spirit to show. And we cannot have the Spirit without having God and if we do have the Spirit, then we have God – we are His children. An option for in between does not exist. It is like being pregnant. Either you are or you are not.
But Paul began by saying that we are debtors. If we are not debtors to the flesh, then what is the debt and to whom.
A Fearful Servant?
Once again we journey back to the side of the mountain. Sin left us there, but God saved us. In the first century, the persons who were saved would have become a servant (slave) of the one who redeemed them. As I have mentioned before, slavery in the first century was often far different than the slavery we consider in the 18th and 19th centuries. It doesn’t make it right, but slaves in the first century were often slaves because of the debts they had to pay. However, they were still free to marry, have a family, etc. without the fears of having their families stripped away from them that was prevalent in many areas during the chattel slavery system in America.
But first century servants did have fears. What if they could not pay their debts? What if they could not live up to the expectations? These are real questions with real consequences. But this cultural understanding is also where Paul turned the tables on the reader.
See unlike the servant who could not please a master, the people God saved from the side of the mountain are not just servants, they are children. Beginning in verse 14, notice the frequency of the words identifying those who are in the Spirit, and living according to the Spirit, as children of God. In verses 14 and 15, we are called sons (which includes daughters as well). In verses 16 and 17, we are called children.
In verse 14, Paul says we need not fear, we are sons and daughters. The allusion throughout these six verses is of Israel and God. God saved Israel from slavery, and indeed, Israel is referred to as God’s Son in multiple passages in the Old Testament. But after they escaped from Egypt, they originally feared being captured and taken back (before walking through the Red Sea), and later desired to turn back to Egypt because they had food and water there.
Likewise, we turn back from God far too often. Whether it is fear or desires of the flesh, just like the Israelites, we rely on ourselves rather than crying out to God as Paul wrote in v. 15. This cry is similar to what Jesus did in Mark 14.36 while He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. And just so we are clear of the parallels, a loving God will hear the cries of His children, but like what happened with Jesus, He may not answer our cries as we want Him too. We must learn to cry out, but we must also say, “not my will, but yours.”
So, to answer the question from above, if God, as the heavenly Father loves and cares for His children more than we can imagine, and has given His children the Spirit to help them put aside the things that keep His children from Him, the second reason they/we don’t live like God wants us to is because we do not trust Him as we should. We resort to being fearful instead of faithful (i.e. full of faith). We forget that He is more than a master (Lord), He is our Father. And thus, we rebel against Him, just as we rebelled against our parents. Sure, some rebel more than others, but as Paul wrote previously – all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23).
But once again, Paul mentioned that we are debtors (v. 12), and although we can now begin to consider who we owe (the God who saved us), what do we owe? We are not quite ready to answer that – yet.
A Loving Father
One more time we go back to the side of the mountain. Now, a baby who has been abandoned would not know any better, but for the sake of this example, let us say that the person who was redeemed from that mountain was a youth, or even an adult. If someone claimed older children or adults from the mountain and took them back to the master, the person might be thankful, they might consider that they have a second chance. But they would not consider the possibility of becoming an actual child. And, if they did, they would not expect anything more than that.
But those possibilities did exist. Although Jews did not have any real practice of adoption, the Romans did. In fact, we see this idea portrayed in the movie Ben Hur when Arrius completes the “formalities of adoption” and makes Judah Ben Hur as his son in order to become his heir. The movie may be fictional, but the reality of adoption, even for this purpose, is historical truth. Now, the analogy breaks down because Ben Hur saved Arrius previously, but the idea of adoption is certainly parallel with what Paul was covering in these verses.
See, we have nothing. We deserve nothing – except death. But God saved us. This passage seems to be about those who are children of God, but the reality is that the passage is about God, because without Him, we would not, and could not be His children.
This passage is about a loving father who saved us from death. He gave us the Spirit so that we could live according to His design. He now calls us children. And to top it all off, He has included us in the inheritance He has planned (but that part must wait until next week).
So, to answer the question from above, if God, as the heavenly Father loves and cares for His children more than we can imagine, and has given His children the Spirit to help put aside the things that keep His children from Him, the third reason we don’t live like God wants us to is because we do not think that what He has for us is better than what we can get on our own. Or maybe we might know that God has something for us later, but we want stuff now.
If that is your philosophy, notice the end of verse 17. Our becoming heirs is dependent on our suffering. Paul does not explain that here, but he does share about different types of sufferings elsewhere. In fact, in a rather challenging verse, he wrote to Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3.12). Paul did not write maybe, he wrote will. Now persecution and suffering are not the same thing (he mentions them as separate items in 2 Timothy 3.11), but they certainly can overlap. (I will share more about suffering in Wednesday’s video.)
So, we have answered the question posed at the beginning. In fact, we have seen three possible answers from this text. The question was: If we have the Spirit of God, and a Father unlike any father we could imagine – one that loves us, and one that provides for us eternally, why don’t we live like it?
The answers were:
- perhaps you are not really a child of God
- perhaps you do not trust Him as you should
- perhaps we don’t think what God has for us is better than what we can do/get on our own.
Or maybe the answer is all of the above.
But having arrived at the end of the passage, even though we have answered that question, we still need to determine the truth about the debt we owe (v. 12). Some might claim it is the suffering, but that idea really flows into the next set of verses. It is easy to see that the debt is owed to God, but the focus of this passage is not just on a God who is transcendent. The focus is on a God who is personal. The focus is on the God who sent His Son to take our place on the side of the mountain. The focus is on a God who loves us. The focus is on the Father.
Now, I will grant you that no father is like God, and many fathers reflect very few, if any, of the attributes of the kind of Father God is. But that is not God’s fault; that is their choice based upon any number of factors including, perhaps, the example set by their father. But God, the Father, is a loving God, and what He wants from us is love.
Love is our debt. Of course, it is a debt that can never be fully paid, but love is what grateful children do. They love their parents. They show appreciation with their parents. They want to spend time with their parents. Yes, children need their space and want their independence from parents too. And we do that with God too. But when we want independence from God, it never ends well.
Maybe my independence from my earthly parents was beneficial, but I can think of countless times when I have tried to be independent from my heavenly Father and it has turned out miserably.
If you are a child of God, love Him. Thank Him. Appreciate Him. Not for what He will do, but for what He has already done. And then determine a way that you can not only say “I Love You, Dad” but show Him your love as well.