Adopted as Heirs

Scriptures: Genesis 28:10-19a; Romans 8:12-25

Romans chapter 7, the chapter right before this one, has that very famous verse that I love, that says “I do what I don’t want to do and I don’t do what I do want to do.” That little tongue-twister thing – except that he’s even more complicated – I trimmed it down.

He talks about the fact that we all stumble, we all fail, that we all really, even after our regeneration in Christ, are not perfect beings. But he goes on in the beginning of chapter 8 to say there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

And we spoke of that meaning that, because we have Christ’s blood shed for us, because we have Christ who intercedes for us, that even though we fail, as long as we are faithful and trying and running the race that has been set before us, that even when we stumble, God will pick us up again, and we can continue to move forward.

We need not worry about condemnation for eternity with that. But he uses that phrase “for those who are in Christ Jesus,” and in this passage here, he also uses “for those that live in the spirit.”

William Barclay said about this passage that Paul is using a metaphor to describe the new relationship that Christians have to God. And in it, Paul speaks of Christians being adopted into the family of God.

So we need to understand two things today, I believe. Number one, what it means that we were adopted, how serious that is; and secondly, then, the inheritance that we gain from it.

The passage here speaks of sons, and of inheritance. And I bring that up intentionally. It’s not because I want to be sexist or chauvinist or anything like that. It has to deal with exactly what I was just talking about, both the seriousness of adoption, and inheritance.

Ladies, I’m sorry, I know that it’s not fair, but in that day and age, women were not cared about as much as men. The line, the inheritance, went through sons, unless there were none. And the firstborn son actually had special authority, had special responsibilities, and got what’s called a “double portion” of the inheritance.

It’s the kind of thing that, even earlier in the Old Testament, with Jacob, with Isaac, we see how important it is. Isaac, if you remember, got his inheritance even though he was the second-born technically. Ishmael was first. Got had chosen Isaac, and he was the firstborn of Sarah and Abraham. and so he got the inheritance.

Isaac had twins, Jacob and Esau. And if you remember, when he was old, Isaac was nearly blind, and Jacob pulled a fast one in order to gain the blessing that normally went to the firstborn. Actually he pulled two.

First he pulled one on Esau, getting Esau, when he was just back from a hunting trip, to sell his birthright (which was kind of stupid) for a bowl of stew. And then, having that as his backup, and permission if you will, he then went and put goat’s hair on his arm, because his brother was a really hairy guy, and fooled his father into thinking he was Esau.

And Isaac gave the blessing to Jacob. Afterward Esau came in and he wanted his blessing, and Isaac said, “I can’t. I can only give this once. I already gave it.” That’s how important it was to be the firstborn, and we’re going to get into that in the second half of the sermon.

This letter is written to Romans, Christians in Rome, and we need to understand the significance of Roman adoption. It’s actually fairly similar, in my mind, to the conversion that occurs when somebody who is a Gentile actually fully converts to Judaism.

But first, the adopted person lost all their rights in their old family. On the other hand, they gained those same rights in their new family. They received a new name and a new family.

When we are adopted into the family of God, at the time of our confirmation or the time of our baptism, then we too receive a new family, and technically a new name. I know I’ve said this before, but when I baptize people, whether you’re adult or infant doesn’t matter, I only use what’s called your given name, your first and middle name. We never use the last name.

Why? Because the last name is assumed to be Christian, or Child of God. So I would be John Scott Child of God. Son of God. We receive the name Child of God in the family we became a part of, which is made up of all of those that have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

So we lose the one family but we gain the other in the Roman understanding. And by the way, this is not a fast process. This is not like the Muslim and Jewish form of divorce where they could say, “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you” and give you a writ and the women are out of luck.

This took time. Even today, has anybody ever tried to adopt anyone, or even been a foster family? It is expensive. It is time-consuming. You have to jump through a whole bunch of hoops and meet a whole bunch of standards that frankly, I think, in some ways are overly invasive.

I realize that they’re joining the family but if, when you’re trying to adopt someone, you happen to have a case worker who doesn’t like the fact that you are religious, then they can stop the adoption, if you’re going through a secular organization.

Fostering is the same way. I know that we looked at fostering when I was in Michigan, and that was actually a black mark, the fact that I was a pastor. Unless I was willing to be ascertained and write down and confirm that my faith would not influence the way I raised a child. Like that’s supposed to be possible.

So it was a serious thing. It took time. It took money. People didn’t just adopt folks because they though, “Oh, they’re so cute,” like adopting a puppy.

Now, when they did that, that person became a member of the new family, and the father who adopted them became their father. Likewise God becomes our Heavenly Father.

It is often hard to graft that picture of God as Father. Many of us have a tendency to compare or understand that God as Father relationship with us in relation to our own relationship with our own fathers.

Often this can help us picture God as a Father, but sometimes it’s a barrier. And the problem is, even with those of us that had a good relationship with our father, none of our fathers could ever come close to measuring up to God. No matter how good a natural father is, they still have shortcomings.

There are tons of verses that are in Scripture that speak of how God is a Father. He’s a father to the fatherless, He cares for the widow and the orphan, He he does so much. But I think my favorite passage for God the Father does come from our passage today, when he says “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the spirit of sonship and by Him we cry, Abba, Father.”

What does it mean to cry, “Abba, Father”? Abba is the Aramaic word, which is an intimate family term for father. Every language has such a word. In Medieval Latin that word was papa. In French it’s dada. And I’m sure that my wife could tell me what it was in German. But the point is, here in America we call it Dad, or Daddy.

Abba was the word that was used most often by young children, in of the Jewish area, in the Middle East there, as they see their dad. Can you just picture it in your head? They go running forward, as you’ve had your children run. Abba abba abba abba! Daddy daddy daddy daddy!

And then they go jumping into your arms, or more often than not, with me at least, and my sons, they managed to body slam me right at the hip, and grab hold of your thighs and your knee and you almost fall over.

But the point is the amount of care and trust that is in that very phrase Abba, the understanding of the love that is there. Now, the Jews never used such an intimate term for God as Father. they didn’t use Abba. Except for Jesus, when he was giving the disciples what we call the Lord’s Prayer. And it says Abba Father as well.

That was radical, because the Jews understood this transcendent God as we do, but they didn’t understand the immanent God. They didn’t understand the intimacy of the relationship. They were afraid of God.

They had their chance to be close to God, as I’ve mentioned before, and when God spoke to them at Mount Sinai, they told Moses, “Don’t let God speak to us anymore. You listen, and then you just tell us what He wants to say.” They would never have been so intimate with God.

We see through Paul’s writings and the Lord’s Prayer that we have an intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father. We get to call him Daddy.

The second significance of Roman adoption was that the adopted child became heir to the father’s estate. Even if there were children born naturally to the father after that, the adopted son’s rights of heirship were not affected in any way.

Do you understand what I’m saying there? If they adopted first, and then they had their own kid, they were not allowed to displace the adopted child for their first natural-born child. No, their adopted firstborn was still firstborn, and was the heir in all of those ways.

Even if he wasn’t the first-born but was adopted after the first-born, but before the third or fourth (because they had bigger families in those days), his is rights of heirship were not affected in any way. He was a joint-heir equally with all of those siblings.

When we are adopted into God’s family, we become heirs of God and joint-heirs of Christ. This is why I insist on using the word sons and sonship, instead of children. I realize that in today’s age, anyone can become an heir. Heck, I’ve read an article where it was a dog that was named as heir.

But that’s not the way it was. And we need to understand the context that this is spoken in, to understand the depth of what we have gained, being adopted by God as our Father.

Verse 15 states “now if we are sons 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.” Our inheritance makes us a beneficiary of goods in which we would otherwise be deprived. Through our faith in Christ, we become joint-heirs with Christ, and as a result, we will be glorified together with Christ.

Now, it does note, in the second part of verse 17, that there is no sharing in Christ’s glory unless there is sharing in his suffering. And that is another thing that we gain, if you will, as adopted children of God.

Often in our earthly families, we share in good times and bad times. When someone gets sick, we don’t just walk out, and if somebody does, they are held in very low esteem.

There was an article I read recently (I don’t remember what the source was) about a woman whose husband accidentally (and it was an accident, they figured it out) set a fire that burned her over 40 percent of her body or something like that, it massively scarred her. And her husband walked out on her.

A lot of veterans, when they come home, if they’ve been physically disabled in some way, their spouses, that have been waiting for them to come home and been faithful perhaps through all that time that they were apart, then leave them, because the amount of care that they might have to give to their husband. The fact that they said “for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health” just seems to go by the wayside.

We have bad times as well as good times, and you stay with family. As believers, we are a part of a big family that is called to take the message of love and forgiveness to the world. In this there will be struggles, but there will also be victory.

The third significant part of Roman adoption was that the old life of the adopted person was completely wiped out, and they were regarded as a new person, entering a new life, which the past had nothing to do with.

That’s very similar to Jewish conversion. When somebody who was a God-fearer actually goes the whole way to become a Jew, gets circumcised and everything, they also get baptized. That baptism was supposed to wash away their old life, and they’re actually given a new name. Not just a surname but a whole new name and a whole new person. Debts were forgiven if they were not incurred personally, if it was, for instance, family debts and things like that, at least amongst the Jewish community.

They were considered to be a new person, and who I was before I came into the new family had no effect on a new identity. They inherited a history of grandparents and great-grandparents.

When we are adopted into God’s family through the saving work of Christ on the cross, our sins are past and are forgotten. We’re a new person, entering into a family with a clean slate. Our past is forgotten and we’re a new person with a new name in a new family.

William Barclay put it this way: It was Paul’s picture that when a man became a Christian, he entered into the very family of God. He did nothing to deserve it. God the Great Father, in His amazing love and mercy, has taken the lost, helpless, poverty-stricken, debt-laden sinner and adopted him into His own family, so that the debts are canceled and the glory inherited.

The final significant part of Roman adoption was, in the eyes of the law, the adopted child was seen as an absolute child of the new father. There were probably times when the father and mother were quite disappointed with the young man as a son. But they did not desire to give him back or wish him gone, nor really could they legally.

When the adopted son disappointed their father and mother, this didn’t mean that they didn’t suffer consequences. We’ve all raised children, and you know, there are times when they are not very lovable. There are times when they are really stretching the bounds of our patience. And there are times when they just simply do things that they know they’re not supposed to do.

There are consequences, but we don’t disown them. Disowning somebody is seen as something that really is unfair, that is looked down upon, even today, by society. My grandmother did not get along with her father. I like to say that it was like TNT and a match. She was on her own, basically, from the age of seventeen.

She married someone that her father didn’t want her to marry. She got divorced in a day and age when you didn’t get divorced. so she was a single mom raising two kids.

Now, her father was a wealthy man. When her father died, he left her ten dollars in the will. That was so that she could not claim estate as having been left out. Because really, to disinherit someone is very difficult and complicated, so he got a way around it. Even then, the rest of the family has always been appalled at that – for which I’m thankful.

But the point is that even when we are disappointed, we don’t disinherit. And God doesn’t either. When I was in college, I wandered away from my Christian values. Frankly, the only reason I went to church during my college years was that I was paid to do it. I was a stipended soloist for a large church in both undergraduate school and graduate school.

I worked nights so I managed to sleep through most of the services. (That’s why it never bothers me if somebody else sleeps through the service. If you need it, then my blessings upon you.) And I certainly had no personal spiritual life.

My parents were concerned for me, my mother in particular, and I’m certain they prayed for me. They were not happy with my choices and turning my back on my faith, but I believe they never gave up, and they certainly still loved me.

My heavenly Father was probably not very happy with my choices either, but He never gave up on me as well. I turned from him, walked away, but the Holy Spirit was constantly calling to me. When I was straying, the Holy Spirit’s voice was constantly calling me back to repentance and a relationship with the Father. And finally, one evening, in a story that is too long to recount now, I realized the emptiness of my life and rededicated my life to Christ.

How do we apply this in our lives, this adoption by God and the inheritance that we gain? First, in verse 13 it says “If you live according to the sinful nature you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live.” So we need to put to death the sin in our lives and live by the Spirit.

You may be here today and have problems seeking out the Lord’s forgiveness. But there is no greater time than now to do it. To realize and recognize your adoption as God’s child.

Secondly, we need to seek out our identity in Christ. I love to say it, it’s not just who we are, it’s whose we are. We need to be in the Word, because the Word is what tells us about who God is. We need to be thinking about it and meditating on it.

We need to be actively allowing others to disciple us in this area, but also helping others realize who they are in Christ and who they are in God’s big family. In other words, we’re supposed to support each other. Back when I did my series on “Being the Church,” there was the part about edifying and encouraging.

Thirdly, we need to see our role in our family. What role do we have in God’s family? Once again, we need to be building into others, loving those that are hurting, helping those that are in need, exercising our gifts (and everyone has at least one).

We need to see ourselves in relationship to this family, with God as our Father and Christ our Brother, and we can’t help then but view our fellow family members in a different light. I believe that if we even begin to grasp the reality of our situation, the family of God within the church would look a lot different.

And lastly, we need to press on toward our reward. We’re going to share in the glory with Christ. We’re going to gain the inheritance, of which it says the Holy Spirit is a foretaste of what we will gain in full.

And that should play out in our everyday life and in our witness. Last week I talked about every morning when you wake up, once you’re thinking straight, making a choice. To live in the spirit. To ask God, “What do you have for me today? What would you like me to do? Where can I see you today? Help me to see you today.” That’s also part of running the race to gain our inheritance, to gain the glory which is promised to us when one day we see Christ face to face.

It really is a joyful thing. Paul says that the sufferings we have here cannot compare in the slightest with the glory that awaits us. We should be eager for each and every day.

We’re not always. I admit that up front. This morning was one of those days. I had a bad night. We’re having problems with the dog, and I got to get up twice in the middle of the night to take care of things with her.

I got up this morning, and I’m not sure how zombified I looked, but I do remember I didn’t talk to my wife for at least the first ten or fifteen minutes. She asked if the night went well, and I said, “No, I’m tired.”

But then I got to see you guys, and it has been truly invigorating. It has been truly an uplifting experience, to see and feel your love and your care for each other and for me. And that’s the way it should be each and every day, as we think about the family which we belong to, the family of God.

And then together may we go forth, sharing the good news of the Gospel, helping others to understand what it means to be a member and to join the family of God, so that we can give God the praise and the glory for the wondrous things He has done.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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