130526 Romans 8:14-17

Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 May 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Romans 8:14-17
Theme: We Believe In The One True God

In the rhythm of life there are certain events that come around only once a year, and we are happy when they do. Up to a certain age we look forward to our birthday. We count down the days to Christmas. We anticipate the "alleluias" of Easter morning. There will be lots of smiles on students' faces (and teachers' faces too) next Friday because it will be the last day of school.

There are other annual events, however, that don't cause the same kind of excitement. We don't look forward to them. We might even dread them, days like April 15th (tax day) or the yearly job performance review or our annual health exam.

This morning we observe another one of those once a year occasions in the church year. Today is Trinity Sunday, traditionally the one Sunday every year we confess our faith using the words of the Athanasian Creed. I wonder if your feelings about this ancient creed are anything like the member of my previous congregation who came out of church on Trinity Sunday a few years ago and said to me: "I'm glad that's over."

The Athanasian Creed is a bit long. That's true. The language of the Athanasian Creed can be a bit confusing (by the way, I encourage you to read the background information on page 6 of the service folder to get a better understanding of and a deeper appreciation for it), but it has stood the test of time and it stands as a witness to the timeless truth we celebrate today.

We don't believe that there are many gods like the Hindus do. We believe that there is only one God, but not the same way the Muslims or the Mormons do. With St. Athanasius, with St. Paul, along with billions of living saints around the world...

WE BELIEVE IN THE ONE TRUE GOD

I. We believe in the Holy Spirit, who made us God's children
II. We believe in the Father, who hears our prayers
III. We believe in the Son, who will share with us his glory

Today's sermon text is taken from the middle of a chapter in the middle of Paul's letter to the Romans. Why? Why were these transitional verses chosen to be read on Trinity Sunday? One reason, and it is a legitimate reason, is because the three persons of the triune God are mentioned in the span of four short verses. But if our only goal is to check off the names there are other Bible passages, much shorter passages (like Matthew 28:19 or II Corinthians 13:14) that do the same thing.

This text was chosen to be read on Trinity Sunday, and it is worthy of deeper study today because the apostle Paul does more than identify who the true God is. He goes on to explain what each person of the triune God does. And he begins with the work of the Holy Spirit: "Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (14).

The Spirit of God leads people to believe in God through the Word of God. We saw 3,000 examples of that last Sunday. On the day of Pentecost that's how many people believed the apostles' message and were baptized. This miracle, the miracle of faith, changes everything. It changes our relationship with God. It changes our attitude toward God. And as Paul points out it changes our status before God: "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship" (15a).

Contrary to what the devil wants us to believe, freedom from God is no freedom at all. Jesus said that everyone who sins is a slave to sin (John 8:34). Paul adds that people who try to liberate themselves from God's law are also slaves to fear, fear that what their conscience is telling them might be true, fear of the consequences of their actions, fear that they will be punished for their sins.

But Paul told the Romans, and today he tells us: "That's not you. That used to be you, but not anymore. Thanks to the work of the Spirit you don't have to live your lives in fear. You don't need to be afraid because you have received the Spirit of sonship." In the NIV there is a footnote on that word, "sonship." An alternate translation is "adoption." If we insert it in the verse it sounds like this: "you received the Spirit of adoption."

In the family of God the Father has only one natural Son, and we will be talking about him a little later. The rest of us have been adopted. Is that a good thing? Even today isn't there still a bit of a stigma attached to being adopted? In a blended family you have the biological children and the adopted children, and parents have to work very hard to treat them all equally.

What can be a challenging family dynamic becomes a beautiful picture when we apply it to our spiritual family. When a husband and a wife have children, they are obligated to take care of them. In a way you could say that they have to love them. Our relationship with God is different. God is under no such obligation. God doesn't owe us anything. He doesn't have to love us. He chooses to love us, and through the work of the Spirit he chose to adopt us as his children.

That means you are a child of God. It's a fact. It says so right here on the page. But if you are like me you might not always feel that way. Sometimes you can see the evidence of your faith in your life, but you can also remember times when you said things or did things that directly contradicted your claim to be God's child.

If you have ever questioned your worthiness to stand before God, if you ever have doubts about your relationship with God, when you need assurance that you are a child of God, listen to the Spirit of God: "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children" (16).

The Spirit won't come to you in your dreams. He doesn't communicate via text messages or emails. The Holy Spirit speaks through the Holy Scriptures. These pages are filled with promises, and God always keeps his promises. He promises to forgive your sins, and when he forgives he forgets. He promises that nothing will separate you from his love. He promises that he will never leave you alone. And Paul reminds us that he will hear our prayers, like a father listens to his child: "By him we cry, 'Abba, Father'" (15b).

We remind ourselves that God is our Father every time we pray the Lord's Prayer, but here Paul adds something new to the equation, "Abba." "Abba" is the Aramaic word for "father," a word that suggests closeness and familiarity. To get this idea across I remember one of my seminary professors saying that "Abba" can be translated "dear daddy."

Perhaps Luther had this in mind when he wrote in the catechism (in the explanation of the address of the Lord's Prayer): "With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that he is our true Father and that we are his true children, so that we may pray to him as boldly and confidently as dear children ask their dear father."

When children need something, they usually don't wait to ask. When children want something, they usually aren't afraid to ask for it either. They don't hesitate to ask because they know their parents love them, because they trust that their parents will take care of them.

Jesus reasoned that if imperfect parents can be trusted, if they won't give their children snakes instead of fish or scorpions in place of eggs (Luke 11), how much more boldly can we pray to our heavenly Father. How much more confidence can we have that God will hear and answer our prayers. We can pray like Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he called God his "Abba" (Mark 14:36). Jesus entrusted himself to his Father's care, and so can we. Jesus trusted his Father with his life, and so can we.

Speaking of Jesus, he is the only person in the Trinity we haven't talked about yet. Paul brings him and his work into the picture in the final verse of our text: "If we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory" (17).

Because the Holy Spirit testifies that we are God's children (see verse 16), we can change that "if" to a "since." Since we are children of God, we are heirs. Since God is our Father, we have the right to an inheritance, the same inheritance that belongs to his Son Jesus.

This is not at all like the reading of a will, with greedy family members sitting around a table with their attorneys, hoping that they will be given the lion's share of the estate, prepared to fight if they don't get what they think they deserve.

Here there is only one natural born Son. He has done everything. He deserves everything. He doesn't have to give the adopted siblings anything. But he isn't selfish. He isn't greedy. Jesus is willing to share what is rightfully his. The eternal glory that is his will be ours. The perfection that is his will be ours. The heavenly perks that he enjoys will one day be ours.

If it sounds too good to be true, if you need to be pinched to make sure this is real, if you are looking for one more piece of proof that God is your Father and Jesus is your brother and that you will live with them and the Holy Spirit forever in heaven, here it is: suffering.

Jesus suffered. Jesus suffered more than any other human being who ever lived. Jesus suffered a painful death to rescue us from eternal death. Jesus gave up his life on the cross to give us the hope of eternal life. But before we get there, before we get to live with our Lord in heaven, we will suffer like him on earth.

Peter explained it this way to first century followers of Jesus: "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed" (I Peter 4:12,13).

Even though it defies all human reason, even though it contradicts conventional wisdom, God's Word says that Christians shouldn't consider suffering to be a burden. Suffering isn't something to be avoided at all costs. Suffering is to be expected. Suffering for our Savior is a blessing because it connects us to Jesus. The pain we suffer in this world keeps us from getting too attached to the things of this world. And when God asks us to endure suffering we rely on his promise that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with our future glory (Romans 8:18).

When Paul talked about suffering he wasn't talking about suffering through another reading of the Athanasian Creed. This ancient statement of faith deserves our respect, and it deserves to be confessed on Trinity Sunday because it defines and defends the truth about the triune God. With Athanasius and Paul and Christians around the world we believe in the one true God, the Spirit who has made us God's children, the Father who hears our prayers, the Son who allows us to share in his sufferings and who one day will share with us his glory. Amen.

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