American Journal of Biblical
I was born one month and two days after my fourth birthday.
My early childhood did not exactly conform to the plan that most parents have for their children. My birth mother, at the age of 18 years, survived an extremely traumatic experience, as she watched her abusive husband shoot and kill her father, and then himself, after shooting and attempting to kill her. In her shock she turned to alcohol, and entered a relationship with another abusive man who would become my father. I spent my first nine months on this earth as an alcoholic, free of its influence when I was finally born. I spent those first years passed around various members of the family when my mother was too drunk or too disinterested to care for her children. With my father in prison for spousal and child abuse, my mother abandoned her five children to the New York State Department of Social Services and left the region to flee from her abusive husband, and to find another life. As a young child I spent the following time immersed in the dispassionate foster-care system, having lost both parents as if unto death, and living in that dark, slow-motion world of loss and loneliness.
It is certainly common for a newborn baby to find itself in a hospital room when it opens its eyes for the first time, though it has no means to interpret what the eyes are seeing or what the ears are hearing. However, it is probably not so common for that newborn to vividly remember it. My first memory in this life is that of lying in a hospital bed, a state that I have learned was consistent with the poor quality of my early-childhood care. A man and woman came to my right-hand bedside and showed me some new clothes, and I particularly remember a striped red, white, and blue polo-style shirt and a pair of pants that they proclaimed as mine. I recall that this concept of owning something was new to me. I was then told that I would be leaving with them, that I would be taken to their home, and they would become my new mother and father. It was on the morning of May 9, 1955; I was a little over four years old, and my life on this earth began on that day.
How does one draw a contrast between a life prior to such a rebirth to the one that is found after it? Never before had I known the experience of the true love of a mother and father. I found myself in a home that was at peace. In this new home was a bright joyfulness and an attitude of humor and laughter that was all new to me. If my life prior to adoption was a deep and dark prison, what I now experienced was far better than freedom. It was to experience the fullness of life and love for the first time. It was as if the sun shone for the first time.
I can still vividly recall the circle of family as we met in the small living room of our home, and included in the group was Mrs. Misenheimer, the social services counselor assigned to my case. It had been a few weeks since leaving the hospital, and she had visited our home to assess the placement. Of course, at my early age, I had no understanding of who she was or the purpose of the visit. Though the question that she posed is lost from memory, my response to the question was to go to my father, put my arms around his legs, and proclaim to all in the room, "This is my Daddy!" Apparently, that spontaneous proclamation contributed to the satisfaction of Social Services, and on December 2, 1955 the adoption became final.
With that adoption came some drastic changes in my life.
I would now be known by a new name.
I now had a father and mother who devoted themselves to my care.
I had an inheritance in this family that no court could ever take away.
There was never a moment in my life when I wanted to return to the darkness that I was immersed in prior to May 9th.
My new mother and father became my true mother and father, period. There are no others.
∑ Unlike many who are adopted in their infancy, I was old enough to clearly remember what my adoptive mother and father did for me, and though I was certainly as precocious and creative as any young boy could be, I made an early, personal vow that I would never cause them to regret their decision to bring me into their family. I would always honor them as the only parents in my life, and I would try my best to be obedient, at least to the extent that such a young and naive child could be.
Romans 8:15. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
It is literally impossible for me to read Romans 8:15 and fail to remember the day of Mrs. Misenheimer's visitation. That entire experience serves as a vivid metaphor for what God has done for all who place their faith and trust in Him. Paul is writing to those members of the church fellowship in Rome who also knew of the bondage that characterized their life prior to their salvation. However, as Paul writes, there are also those in the church fellowship who are trying to place the Roman Christians back under the bondage of the Jewish law, a law that is impossible to keep, leading only to utter failure or debilitating hypocrisy.
Paul uses this same metaphor of adoption when he explains the nature of salvation to these new Christians. Adoption was not a common practice among the Jews, but it was a common and accepted practice among the Romans. Roman law clearly specified a sequence of steps that would be required for the legal adoption of a child by a father, a process that illustrated and affirmed the new set of relationships that would be established by law. Some of the characteristics of this practice are worth reviewing:
Once the adoption process was completed, the original father (or mother) would have absolutely no influence in the life of the adopted child.
All relationships with the previous family would be forever severed.
The adopting father would, by law, become the only father of the adopted child, and he would have full and complete authority over the child.
The child would take on the name of the adopted father,
The child would be in line to receive any inheritance that would be due this child if he/she were born into the family.
In addition, unlike any natural siblings, this inheritance could not be taken away.
The adopted child had the unique protection, under the law, that he/she could never be disowned by the adopting father.
When one comes to God in faith, a similar transformation takes place in one's life. Prior to salvation, there is truly no hope. One is ensnared by evil, in bondage to sin simply because that sin serves to separate one from God. Just as one who is convicted of a crime is separated from society and placed in the bondage of prison, one who rejects God is separated from Him, choosing instead to live under the authority of this sinful world and its impotent prince to whom we give that undeserved authority. Those who have turned to God in faith have been set free of that bondage to sin.
Though people of faith still struggle with the temptations and consequences of their own sin, God has forgiven them of all of that sin that would otherwise serve to separate them from Him. Sin no longer has authority over one who has placed their faith and trust in God. It is God who is now given authority in the heart of a true Christian. To turn to God in faith is to accept God as one's authority, much like that exchange of authority that is demonstrated in a Roman adoption as one father is exchanged for another. The bondage of this world no longer has control over the life of one who has been saved from it. That authority has been given to God, and to God alone. This is what Jesus was referring to when He said, ďIf any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.Ē
Having been adopted into the Family of God, the LORD now serves as our true father. The prince of this world no longer has any authority over us. It is God who loves us, and it is to Him that we surrender our own lives. When we realize what God has done for us, and when we relate to God within the scope of His unconditional love for us, we are given the gift of access to Him. God is no longer a dispassionate judge who condemns one to death (note it is unforgiven sin as illuminated by the Law that condemns). The relationship that a Christian has with God is more like that a child has with a loving father, and when a child comes to realize and experience the true love of God, he/she can call Him by that name: Father. In fact, Paul uses the endearing form of the name, "Abba," which in our culture might be most accurately translated, "Daddy" or even more accurately, ďPapa.Ē Abba is the endearing Aramaic name that a young child develops for its father, and is a proclamation that comes only from the heart.
This is where the social worker's visitation comes into play. When I went to my father, I confidently proclaimed him as "My Daddy!", as "My Abba." This proclamation was made to all in the room, a proclamation that was sincere, spontaneous, and from the heart. In this same way, Christians are called to confess their faith and trust in God in the same simple, sincere, and spontaneous manner. Had I denied my father at that meeting, the social worker could have denied me before the courts, and the adoption could have been delayed or denied. Those who deny God in this life will also be denied access to Him in death.
Though God is deserving of all glory, honor, and praise, and though He is recognized as of infinite power, He still desires that we would approach Him as we approach a loved father. God would not have the Law stand between Himself and His faithful children any more than a loving father would want a wall placed between himself and his own children. Paul is proclaiming to the Romans that this wall of division is broken down. Christians are to approach God as an endeared father.
Romans 8:16. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
When I found myself in that room with my new family and the social worker, I did not need the social worker to tell me that this was my new family. It was a 4-year old child who told the social worker that this was my family. As a young boy, I knew nothing of the laws and details of adoption. Likewise, when one comes to the Lord in faith, they are adopted, by God, into the family of faith. God is our father, and true Christians are brothers and sisters in Christ. Christians do not need degrees in theology to tell them that they are now in the family of God. It is the indwelling Holy Spirit that bears witness to this truth. I knew I was part of the family when I was fully accepted by my mother, father, and sister. I knew I was part of the family because of the relationship I had with them. Likewise, when we open our hearts to God, we establish a relationship with Him that needs no witness to defend it.
Romans 8:17. And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
When my father chose to adopt me, he established an agreement with the State of New York. He was required to sign a contract that bound him to his choice of fatherhood over this parentless child. For the protection of the child, the records are sealed by the court, and that contract cannot be broken. It contains no termination date or escape clause. As a result, I am an heir of my father. My part in the estate of my father was permanently established, along with that part apportioned to my sister which, under the law, carries no future guarantee. From the day that the contract was signed, I would share in all of the experiences of this new family. I would share in their sorrows and be fully engaged in those experiences that characterize the tough times. I would also share in all of the joys that we would experience. What we share, we share together under the responsibility and authority of my father.
Likewise, Christians are adopted by God into His family. The call to faith is a call to be part of a family that is quite separate from the world-view of this pagan and secular world culture. We are given a new Father, as well as new brothers and sisters with whom we may find fulfilling relationships. If we are called upon to suffer, it is to suffer at the hands of this godless culture for the cause of the kingdom of God. However, Christians will also experience the joy and peace that comes from their salvation, and will ultimately enjoy the experience of glorification when their residence in this age comes to an end. True Christians will spend eternity with God, along with Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Creator and Judge. This is an inheritance that no power on earth can take away.
Romans 8:18. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Paul notes that there is no reasonable way to compare the sufferings of this present time with the glory that will be experienced in the heart of all Christians at the end of the age. Again, I see the same metaphor surrounding the events of May 9, 1955. One cannot compare the darkness of my life prior to that date with the light that shone afterward. How does one compare an immersion in dark and evil misery with the experience of Holy-Spirit enlightened joy? Such a comparison requires the experience of both, and those who have not yet placed their faith and trust in God also have no context from which to form such a contrast.
Ignorance of true joy can make misery seem like the best that there is. How, as a young, abused boy, could I have possibly known what life would be like after that hospital visitation? Paul's point is simple: the life that is found in Christ is the life that has a value and worth that is so far greater, that there is no point in drawing a contrast at all. The old life is gone. That old life has no hold or authority over the new.
For me to contrast life before and after adoption is impossible. God has been gracious and has allowed my mind to repress, or forget, every nuance of memory prior to the hospital visitation of May 9, 1955. I certainly have no interest in returning to those years. Even after meeting and establishing relationships with that birth family, observing photographs, and listening to the retelling of those circumstances, none of that memory has returned.
Likewise, when one comes to faith in God, there is simply no point in returning to the spiritual state that we knew prior to our salvation experience. There were those in the Roman church who tried to influence its membership to return to many of the bonds that they knew prior to their salvation. Paul clearly argues that to return is inappropriate; it is contrary to Godís purpose of grace. We will experience pain and suffering, even after our adoption as children of God, and we certainly will experience joy, but we do so together with God. We will not face them alone, but rather with the hope of our eternal salvation, and the promises of Godís blessings upon those who place their faith and trust in Him.
Romans 8:19-21. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. 20For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, 21Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Because of my background, I have always had an emotional challenge with the state of orphans and of orphanages because I identify myself with them so closely. My wife and I once visited an orphanage near Chernobyl, next to the border of Belarus and Ukraine, ministering to children who were living in what were certainly marginal conditions. Most of these were abandoned to the government by healthy, working parents who simply did not want to pay for the expense of raising them.
We were given the opportunity to select a child (or a small group of children) and bring them home to America to live in our house for the summer, receiving the commensurate medical and dental care that such a visit could afford. Rather than bringing orphans to our home, we chose to bring children from two established homes, from families that we had come to know, to trust, and to love. When these children would end their visits to our home, they would have something worth returning to, and though they thoroughly enjoyed the opportunities and the experiences that they had with us for the summers that they spent with us, they were always eager to return home to their families.
Had we brought orphans to our home in America, they would have had a response to the dramatic life changes that would be similar to my May 9th experience. They would not have that desire to return home, and their knowledge of what life can really be like would have certainly served to bring them discontent upon their return to that cold, dark, damp, and heartless orphanage, back to a life that garnered no hope. For us to take them from the orphanage and show them a glimpse of what their life could have been like, only to return them to its cold and dark halls was to me only a form of heartless cruelty.
Those who have not come to faith in God are, in many ways, like the children in that big, dark, and cold, Russian orphanage. They were only aware of their immediate surroundings, and like children everywhere, they laughed and played. Yet they did so amongst the most mean of conditions, and did so through the hollow eyes of hopelessness. Most knew that once they reached a certain age, they would be cast out on the streets with no support or assistance, becoming little more than hopeless and homeless vagrants until they would finally succumb to the harsh Russian winters. Yet, there were some who held deep inside a hope that someday they would be rescued, that some day a mother and father would come and take them away.
Those who are lost, who have not experienced the embrace of Godís loving arms, are laughing and playing in that dark orphanage, separated from the love of a family that some do still hold some hope for. However, unlike those Russian children who have almost no true hope of salvation, God offers salvation to all who will simply place their faith and trust in Him. It is as if God were to enter the orphanage and offer that abundant life to every child there. It would be as if loving parents were lined up at the door, offering a May 9th experience to every child.
In reality, some of those children would probably prefer to stay in the orphanage, afraid of the dramatic changes that adoption might bring. Likewise, many who are lost find it difficult to make that decision to submit their hearts to the LORD. Their refusal is not because of their vanity, any conscious rebellions against God, nor because of their unwillingness, but rather because of their lack of hope, and their resistance to the gospel, a state that has been seared into their world view by a lifetime of hopelessness, informed only by the spiritual ignorance of those who surround them.
God does not desire that we would wallow in our hopeless state. God's plan is that we would be delivered from our bondage to hopelessness, a hopelessness that is the very nature of sin's consequence. God offers a glorious liberty as members of a new family, His family. Like the thrilled and expectant parents that approach the massive orphanage doors, God approaches the heart of the lost person. All the child needs to do is to meet the parents and submit to their grace.
The process of adoption starts long before the parent meets the adopted child. The deliverance of the child from the orphanage had nothing to do with the child, and everything to do with the love that the parents had before they ever met the child. I did not choose my father. My father chose me. I was sick and infirmed, exhibiting the characteristics of a failure to thrive. Yet my father reached into my hospital bed, lifted me from the sheets, and took me home. Likewise, God's love for the people of His creation precedes their knowledge of Him. God came to us when we were still sinners to deliver us from death. All we need do to receive life was to allow Him to put His arms around us, lift us up, and carry us home.
Romans 8:22. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
The state of the lost, the un-adopted, is one of groaning and travailing. Many may think that they eat, drink, and are merry, yet in their heart they know their lost state. Like the children who play in the orphanage, they know deep in their hearts the hopelessness of their future. What people seek in the depths of their heart is what is found only in the grace of God. People search for peace, yet they cannot find it in the myriad of things that they fill their lives with in the searching. People try to find happiness in the gratification of worldly and sensual desires, only to find emptiness and exhaustion. Some may find a temporary and rationalized happiness in some of the events of an apostate life, but that life will always lack the illuminating joy and deep, abiding, peace that only the power of the Holy Spirit brings.
Prior to the coming of the Messiah, the person of YAHWEH incarnated in the life of Jesus, creation did indeed groan and travail with little hope. Israel had been given the knowledge of God, had experienced His powerful presence, and still rejected Him and chose apostate paganism. When Israel was destroyed as a nation, a period of about 400 years of spiritual darkness ensued when there was no prophet with a new prophesy. The Glory of the Lord that had illuminated the Temple had departed Jerusalem during the Babylonian exile. All creation awaited the Son. Without the Messiah there was no hope, so it was in the Messiah that the Jews placed their hope.
Romans 8:23. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
The lost are not alone in their expectation. Christians have realized the benefits of adoption as God's children, and as they continue to grow in their faith and in their knowledge of the grace of God, they do find more of the peace and joy that a relationship with a loving God offers. However, as adopted children we also remain in an un-adopted world. We are immersed in a world that is depraved and in rebellion against the one true God. We are touched on every side by this apostate and pagan society that would seek to draw us away from our faith. Because of this, Christians also have a future hope, a hope for at time and place where we will be freed from the consequences of our immersion in sin's continual presence. Christians look forward to that time when the fruits of faith will be rewarded with sight: the full expression of witnessing God in His Glory.
Christians have been adopted into the family of God, so it is not this adoption to which Paul refers to in this passage. I might draw the metaphor of adoption out to a second date: December 2, 1955. This is the day that the adoption that started on May 9th was declared complete, the case was closed by the courts, and all records were sealed forever. One can only imagine the expectation that was held deep within the hearts of this mother and father between May 9th and December 2nd. On that date, their status as parents of this orphan would be made complete. There would be nothing standing between them and their adopted child. Likewise Christians look forward to that day when there will be nothing standing between themselves and the God who loves them.
Romans 8:24-25. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? 25But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
What does it mean to have hope in something that is not seen? How can one of those Russian orphans who is surviving in marginal circumstances have any hope of a better life? If one only reads the first few words of this verse, one might come away with a heretical position that it is your hope that saves you. Hope does not save any more than a child's desire to be adopted will empower the adoption. Paul describes "saving hope" as that hope that has confidence in what is yet unseen. Paul speaks specifically of a hope that patiently accepts as truth that which is unseen and unexplainable. What Paul is speaking of is a hope that forms the foundation of true, saving faith.
Paul clearly teaches that salvation comes only from faith in God, and that salvation comes only as a gift of God's grace, something that we do not deserve, yet something that God offers. It is not something that we can earn, but is rather something that God freely gives. It is faith in God that accepts this gift that saves one from the condemnation for their sin that they truly deserve. What good would it do if we know of God's grace, if we believe that all of what Godís Word says is true, yet we never take that step of faith by trusting in Him? This is the stand that is taken by satan. It is our faith and trust in God that gives us a hope in Him that cannot be compromised. Satan knows God and knows of God far better than we, but it is we who have been adopted as His children, we who have placed our faith and trust in Him.
Romans 8:26-27. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
As Christians, our knowledge of God is still not entirely complete. God has adopted us as His children. We have accepted Him as the Father and authority of our lives. Still, we struggle with the consequences of our own temptation with sin, and we suffer the consequences of the expression of sin by ourselves and others. We truly desire to be obedient to God, yet we still transgress against God and against the Holy Spirit by our attitudes and actions as we struggle to balance a deep and sincere commitment to God with a necessary commitment to the world. If we were fully submitted to our commitment to God, no such conflict would exist. However, we still fail.
We can praise God that He understands our struggle, and despite our infirmities, He is always there waiting for us in the quiet recesses of our heart. We lack the wisdom to be fully obedient, and we lack the wisdom to be fully expressive of our desires for obedience. However, as frustrated as we may become, the Holy Spirit, the seal of salvation, never leaves the heart of the Christian. What we lack in wisdom the Spirit fulfills. When we cannot even come up with the words to pray, the Spirit knows the true nature of our heart and the details of our circumstance, and His presence alone literally fills that prayer for us.
Just as there was a May 9th that brought me safely into a new home, the process of my own salvation was not yet complete. The home that God brought me to was one that was also a home that was founded on Christian faith. It was a home where attendance in church was more than a tradition, and it was in that consistent attendance that I became to learn of another Father who had been waiting for me for a very long time. When I looked back at my worldly adoption I realized that God's plan for all people was for the adoption of those who would turn to Him in faith.
Just as I fully immersed myself in this new family of my childhood, and just as I proclaimed my allegiance with my new "Daddy!", God calls upon the people of His creation to submit themselves to Him as their loving Father, and to proclaim aloud their decision to follow Him. When I made this profession of faith at the age of twelve years, doing so in front of my church fellowship, the proclamation of this new life of adoption was clearly on my mind, and was aware of the part that my faith in the LORD played in it. Why would I want to go back to the life I had prior to my adoption? Why would anyone want to return to the darkness that they knew before they came to God in faith?This is the message that Paul had for the Roman church. Being tempted by heretical interests to turn from their faith and return to bondage, the Roman Christians needed to hear the solid doctrine of grace that Paul proclaimed. Rather than return to the bondage of the law, Paul encouraged them to return to the truth that they knew, and to listen to the Holy Spirit that dwells in their hearts so that they can really come to know and realize the peace and joy that comes with the undeniable and unshakable inheritance of God's family.