Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation–but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For 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, for those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit of Adoption that you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now 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. Romans 8:12-17
Our text for today includes the word “adoption” at least in most English versions. Paul even refers to the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of Adoption”. What does he mean…and what can we draw from this analogy? Many of you have experienced the adoption of a child in your own families. Our family, too, has experienced adoption. We are a “mixed” family of both adopted and biological children. So when Paul uses the word adoption, my ears perk up and I am interested in the way in which he describes our relationship with God using this word.
Three of our four children have come to us through adoption. Those of you who are also adoptive parents will immediately recognize the brief conversations below:
- On one occasion I was playing with my two adopted sons (both Japanese by birth) in a park in Seattle when another parent, seeing that I was caucasian, assumed correctly that I was an adoptive parent. “Are they brothers?” she asked about the boys. After a slight hesitation I answered, “Well, they are now.” She continued, “But, you know, are they real brothers?” to which I answered “Yes, they are now real brothers.” She had a slightly perturbed look on her face… and I felt slightly defensive inside. Both of us knew what she meant – are they connected biologically? – did they have the same parents?, etc. She didn’t mean to offend, and I didn’t mean to feel defensive. It’s just a common occurance in these kinds of conversations.
- On other occasions people, having heard of our adoptive children, might ask “And do you also have children of your own?” Again, the same uncomfortable pause, but we would generally answer, “these ARE our own children…” Sometimes our answers would vary, depending on whether our children were in earshot of the conversation or not.
- In more extreme cases, the “do you have children of your own?” question might even be phrased as “yes, but do you have real children?” (This often happened during a conversation in Japanese, where the word “honto” – 本当 -literally means “real”).
- On one comical occasion I even had a check-out gal at the supermarket in Japan ask me “whose children are you watching today?” as if I was shopping while babysitting for some neighborhood family. I can’t remember exactly how I answered but after years of these questions, one tends to get tired of educating the world one person at a time – so I most likely just smiled and admitted that they were some neighborhood children I was looking after.
In all of these cases the real issue revolves around how one defines a family, or prioritizes various things. Are DNA and our biological connection more important and deeper than other familial relationships, such as adoption?
As we proceeded with our international adoptions through the Japanese family court in our prefecture, we became aware of one important fact. In Japan, there are two distinct types of adoption. One is called “ordinary or common adoption” (futsuu yoshi-engumi), and the other is called “special adoption” (tokubetsu yoshi-engumi) In Japanese culture it’s not unusual for couples who can’t have children of their own to simply adopt a nephew or niece – an “extra” child of one of their relatives. It’s usually a boy and this child would come to carry on the family name and take over the family business, etc. This kind of ordinary adoption is quite simple to do – requiring merely a change on the citizenship register of all involved. It can also be quite easily undone if things don’t work out as smoothly as one wished. With a “special adoption”, it is a completely different process. In this case, the child cuts ALL ties with the original family, including any right of inheritance, and actually joins a new family, becoming a “real” child with all the rights of inheritance – an actual heir. Of course, we realized that this is the only kind of adoption that we have in our American system and so we were required to follow through with a “special” or “tokubetsu” adoption.
So what does all of this have to do with today’s text? What does Paul say that the Spirit of Adoption does for us? The Spirit of Adoption….
1. Brings us INTO a new relationship with God (verse 15)
- We are adopted as sons and daughters ( a “special” adoption!)
- Now, we can refer to God not just as our creator, but as our Abba / Father!
2. ASSURES us of that relationship (verse 16)
- Adopted children often seek assurance of their status and situation. Here it says that the Holy Spirit provides that confidence that we need and assures us of our standing!
- The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children!
3. COMPLETES that relationship (verse 17)
- If we are true children, then we are heirs
- If we are heirs, then we are co-heirs with Christ
- What is it that we are inheriting? Suffering and glory!
A discussion of our inheritance being both suffering and glory… would be another entire sermon! But back to adoption – if we are adopted, and become REAL brothers and sisters, and share the SAME Abba / Father – we are no longer able to view brothers and sisters of other nationalities, ethnicities, political divides… as somehow OTHER – not connected to us. We are all a NEW family, a real family, a tokubetsu adoption! And if we extend that circle to include not just other Jesus-followers, but all humanity – the implications become profound. How many of our present wars and struggles would become impossible if people truly understood that with the same heavenly father, we are all siblings?
(the above is a summary of the message shared on May 30, 2021 during our zoom worship session.)