Christmas Is for Children
Imagine how much poorer any celebration of Christmas would be without any children. It’s not just children opening gifts, but sometimes children are more awestruck at what God has done in sending his Son into the world than adults are. When God brings about the reality promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden, he uses children. And, as you read Romans 8:12–17, in a real sense, he expects all who trust in Jesus to be children.
You are God’s sons and daughters. You have received the Spirit of adoption. You belong to God’ family. You have the right to come to God, verse 15. You have the right to come to him, even when you have grieved him with your sin. The Father is specifically the one who adopts you. He does this by Spirit (of adoption), who gives you hope. And you are adopted in Christ and on the basis of his redemptive work. Though you were an alien, dead in sin, you have been adopted into God’s family. In the Old Testament the focus is not on formal adoption, but on your status as God’s children. When Eve give birth to her fist son, she names him Cain, saying, “With the Lord’s help I have brought forth a man.” Adam is son of God (Genesis 5, Luke 3) as is Israel Exodus 4:22, Moses is to command Pharaoh, “Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’” After the plagues, God led his firstborn son through the desert by the pillar of cloud and fire (and that forms the background for Paul’s emphasis that you, as God’s adopted son or daughter, are led by his Spirit. Isaiah 7 and 9 focus on the coming of a promised child. The theme of God’s children being restored surfaces in Hosea 1 and again in Hosea 11, looking forward to the Messiah. Notice the emphasis on leading in Hosea 11. The focus on children carries into the New Testament. Luke’s Gospel opens with the news of the birth of a promised baby, John the Baptist, followed by the birth of the Child, the one who is Christ the Lord. He is born of the virgin Mary.
“[I]f we believe, s the Bible teaches, that all mankind are under an awful curse, then we shall rejoice in knowing that there entered into the sinful race from outside One upon whom the curse did not rest save as He bore for those whom He redeemed by His blood. How, except by the virgin birth, could our Saviour have lived a complete human life from the mother’s womb, and yet have been from the very beginning no product of what had gone before, but a supernatural Person come into the world from the outside to redeem the sinful race?”J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ, p. 395
Justification by faith alone does not reduce the importance of sanctification. As one who is united with Christ, as one to whose account the righteousness of Christ has been imputed, you must be led by the Spirit. Your adoption grows out of Christ’s. Christ is and was the eternal Son of God from all eternity. He is “Son” when God sends him in the likeness of sinful flesh, Romans 8:3. Yet, without in any way compromising that eternal Sonship, the Bible also talks of his becoming Son. His reward is glory with his Father, John 17:5, and the Lord is the portion of his inheritance, Psalm 16:5. In Psalm 2:7 the Father addresses the Messiah, “You are my Son, today I have become your Father.” Although you might initially take that of the incarnation, Paul associates it with the resurrection of the Messiah, Acts 13:32, 33. The resurrection has the effect of a constituting declaration that Christ is “Son of God with power,” Romans 1:4. Since Christ was raised as the second Adam, his adoption implies yours. The Spirit whom the Father and Son poured out on the church at Pentecost, the Spirit who dwells in you, is the Spirit of adoption.
You are no longer a debtor to the flesh. Parents teach children how to behave in their family. You and I need to learn how to live as children of God. You are no longer a debtor to the flesh. Financial debt can be overwhelming, both on a personal and on a national level. Debt can dominate your life. The consequence of living according to the flesh, the system into which you were born and under which you once lived, is death. But that enslaving power of sin and of the flesh has been broken. The enslaving power of sin is broken. You have been definitively sanctified, Romans 6, though you continue to struggle against sin this side of glory. You have a hunting license, a license to kill the deeds of the flesh. You may not, you must not tolerate the actions of the flesh. Israel in the desert, despite the leading of the cloud, kept being tempted to turn back to the slavery of Egypt. You have not just a cloud, you have the Spirit himself leading you! Follow him!
“It is indeed true, that we are justified in Christ through the mercy of God alone; but it is equally true and certain, that all who are justified are called by the Lord, that they may live worthy of their vocation. Let then the faithful learn to embrace him, not only for justification, but also for sanctification, as he has been given to us for both these purposes, lest they rend him asunder by their mutilated faith.”John Calvin, Commentary on Romans, at Rom. 8:13
Cry, “Abba! Father!” Listen to the witness of the Spirit that you are children of God. Jesus Christ is Son of God in a unique sense. But you and I are God’s adopted children. Verse 15 speaks of the testimony of believers. The Holy Spirit works in you. He enables you to address God as “Abba, Father,” a term that has the closeness of “Daddy.” While God can be called the Father of all because of creation, it is only as you trust in his Son that you have the right to call him Abba. Verse 16 speaks of the testimony of the Holy Spirit to you. The Spirit’s testimony is distinguished from the testimony of your consciousness. The two work together. Human adoption is a faint reflection of this. The Spirit doesn’t simply speak. He testifies. He makes a solemn, oath-bound declaration to you. The background is God taking an oath to be faithful to his covenant, Gen. 22:15–18. The testimony of the Spirit is many faceted. It does not include direct verbal revelation addressed to you but, the Spirit bears witness as he leads you in a life of covenantal obedience, verses 7–9. Those who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God, verse 14. Give thanks for growth in grace in your life and in the life of the church. Beware of a false assurance that ignores the Word. The Spirit works with Christ, assuring those that come to Christ (and those only) of the certainty of God’s promises, John 1:12. The Spirit seals to your heart the assurance of God’s love, 1 John 3:1. If he tells you that you are God’s child, you can believe him.
Live as children of the King, fellow heirs with Christ.Being a son or daughter of God involves living as a member of his family, rejoicing in the close fellowship, increasingly reflecting the character of your Father.
“[T]his ultimate goal of being conformed to the image of Christ is to the further end ‘that he might be the firstborn among many brothers’ (Rom. 8:29). Image conformity to Christ is essentially familial; adoption is in view. To be sure, adoption is forensic, a matter of legal identity and entitlement as heirs, nothing less than coheirs with Christ as God’s children (Gal. 4:5–6; Eph. 1:5; Rom. 8:14–17). Here, however, a further and more ultimate dimension comes into view: full Spirit-worked family resemblance to Christ. This is an adoption unlike any other; at the core of their being those adopted have been given the same Spirit-generated DNA, as it were, as their firstborn brother according to his exalted human nature.”Richard B. Gaffin Jr., Word and Spirit, p. 568
You share Christ’s glory! Christ in his suffering and death cannot be thought of apart from those for whom he died. So too, Christ in his glory cannot be separated from you, his people. You, in glory, cannot be thought of apart from Christ. You also share in Christ’s sufferings. There is no glory without suffering. That was true for Christ (Philippians 2:6–11) and is true for you. Paul is realistic. The connection between Christ and his people is so close that the church’s sufferings are what is left of Christ’s sufferings, Colossians 1:24.
Because your salvation rests, not on you but on Christ’s work, he has brought you into God’s family and you have the glorious privilege and right of addressing God as “Father.” Even when you are hesitant, you have the Spirit bearing witness with your spirit.