Holy Spirit as dove stained glassOn May 15, 2016, Christians celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, which is the Church’s birthday.

We call it the Church’s birthday because on the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and enabled them to spread the Good News from Jerusalem to Samaria. St Paul, who was not among the original number because he had not yet been converted, later called people to Christ in Asia Minor and Rome. These conversions, accompanied by miracles, are in Acts. Other apostles, such as Sts John and Peter, wrote letters to their converts. St John also wrote Revelation. Christ’s chosen spread the Gospel message far and wide throughout the known world at that time. Not all of it is included in Scripture.

Past posts on Pentecost are as follows:

Pentecost — the Church’s birthday, with gifts from the Holy Spirit

Lutheran reflections on Pentecost

Thoughts on Pentecost: the power of the Holy Spirit

Reflections for Pentecost — a Reformed view

This year we are in Year C of the three-year Lectionary used in public worship. The Epistle for Pentecost in 2016 is Romans 8:14-17:

8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”

8:16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

8:17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Earlier in Romans 8, we read that we have life in the Spirit. John MacArthur explains:

The Holy Spirit takes us all the way to glory … He does it by freeing us from sin and death.  We saw that in verses 2 and 3.  He does that by freeing us from sin and death through the wonderful work of…imputation, whereby our sins are imputed to Christ, and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us.  He has delivered us from the law of sin of death, because Christ has paid the penalty.

With the Spirit’s guidance, we turn from what is worldly to what is holy (verses 5 – 8). The Holy Spirit must dwell in us in order for us to belong to Christ (verse 9). Even though we have fallen short through sin:

the Holy Spirit maintains our no-condemnation status by empowering us in that new nature for victory.  It is according to the Spirit, verse 13, that we are able to put to death the deeds of the body and, thus, to live. 

This brings us to today’s Epistle which describes our adoption into God’s family through the Holy Spirit. MacArthur has a lot to say about the meaning of adoption, especially in the ancient world during Paul’s time. Paul’s message must have been exciting news to the Romans, as we will see.

All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God (verse 14). This explains the importance of receiving the Holy Spirit. The oldest Christian denominations have the ordinance — for Catholics, the Sacrament — of Confirmation. Receiving the Holy Spirit and reaffirming our faith takes us to the point in our spiritual life whereby we recognise He guides us to do what is right and good.

More importantly, however, receiving the Holy Spirit makes us adopted members of God’s family. We can now, with confidence, call Him ‘Dad’ — Abba (verse 15). We recognise Him not as a fearsome Father but as a truly loving one.

When we think of adoption over the past few centuries, it appears to us as a mixed blessing. Orphanages have been and continue to be, in some cases, depressing and brutal places where children wait for parents to come rescue them. Over the past 40 years, psychotherapy has, perhaps mistakenly, encouraged adopted children to talk and write about finding their natural mothers and disparage their adopted families. There is often a tinge of sadness when we discuss adoption.

By contrast, in the ancient world, adoption was a tremendous, positive step for both the adopter and the adopted. It really did mean a new life not only in a family sense but also a legal one.

In ancient Greece, a man who had no sons would seek out a well-bred young man to adopt. The young man would then inherit his adoptive father’s estate and business concerns.

The same custom existed in Rome. A man who had no sons — or sons whom he thought were unsuitable to inherit his estate — went out in search of a young man whom he could adopt. The adopted son had a higher status than the natural sons did.

It was a tremendous privilege to be adopted during that era.

In Rome, fathers had power over their children throughout their lifetimes. They could even kill their sons or daughters. It was legal. Children were under their father’s control — patria potestas — until he died.

MacArthur describes how Roman adoption worked, given patria potestas (emphases mine):

Now obviously this…made adoption into another family very difficult and very serious unless the person was … an illegitimate child or an orphan.  And if a man saw a son that he wanted and that son belonged to another father he had to go through a very formidable operation to get that person to pass out from under patria potestas into his own control.  There were two stepsThe first one was called mancipatio from which we get the word emancipation.  And mancipatio was carried out about a symbolic sort of sale.  If the father would agree to let this son be adopted by another man there was this symbolic sale they went to; they had some scales and some copper and they used this symbolism to carry out sort of a transaction like I’m selling this young man to you.  They did it three times.  Twice the father symbolically sold the son and twice he bought him back and then the third time he didn’t buy him back and the patria potestas was broken.

After the sale there was ceremony called vindicatio and the adopting father went to the Roman magistrate and presented a legal case for the actual legal transference of the person to be adopted into his own patria potestas.  And when all this was complete the adoption was done. 

Adoption in the Roman world signified four things. We can reflect on them the way the Romans who heard Paul’s letter did and relate them to adoption by God the Father through the Holy Spirit. MacArthur says:

First thing that happened was the adopted person lost all relationship to his old family. Everything was gone and he gained all rights to the new family. It’s a beautiful picture of salvation, isn’t it?

Second thing, it followed that he became heir to all the father’s, the new father’s estate. And even if the other children were blood born, it did not affect his rights. He was inalienably the co-heir with them and perhaps even exceeding above them, if that was in the prerogative of the father.

The third thing that happened, according to Roman law, was that the former life of the adopted person was completely wiped out. All his legal debts were cancelled. They were wiped out as if he had never existed. And the adopted person was given a new name and it was as if he had just been born. Sound familiar? When you came to Jesus Christ and were adopted into the family of God, all your past debts were what? Cancelled, and you became a co-heir of all that the born son, the Lord Jesus Christ, possesses.

The fourth thing was in the eyes of the law the adopted person was literally and absolutely the son of his new father. And so, when we were adopted, all these things, no doubt, are in the mind of the apostle and the Spirit, and we know they took place in our adoption. We have cut the cord with the past. We have become co-heirs to God’s kingdom. All the old debts are wiped out and we are absolutely and legally and forever the son of God.

Verse 16 refers to regeneration via the Holy Spirit. MacArthur explains:

Adoption gives us the title to the inheritance. Regeneration gives us the nature of sons and gives us the fitness for that inheritance. Both are important.

This regeneration starts our path of sanctification as the Holy Spirit guides us to do what God wants us to do. We turn away from sin towards accomplishing His will and purpose for us.

Knowing we are full members of God’s family through adoption gives us assurance that we are heirs with Christ, our heavenly Brother. As marvellous as that is, with the promise of eternal life with Him, it also means that we may suffer in this transitory life. We may be called to suffer as He was called to suffer (verse 17). MacArthur tells us:

Suffering is a necessary part of the preparation for glory.

For some Christians this might mean physical persecution or, in the case of death for the faith, martyrdom. For most of us, however, it might mean losing family members or longtime friends. We might find it difficult keeping or finding a job if our managers are set against Christians.

Ultimately, however, we will be glorified as Christ was glorified because we are heirs to the kingdom of God. And the Holy Spirit is with us from now through to life eternal.

MacArthur leaves us with this reflection on the Holy Spirit as Romans 8 describes:

The Holy Spirit frees us from sin and death.  We looked at that in verses 2 and 3.  The Holy Spirit enables us to fulfill the law, verse 4.  The Holy Spirit changes our nature, verses 5 to 11.  The Holy Spirit empowers us for victory over sin, verses 12 and 13.  And then last time, the Holy Spirit adopts us into God’s family as sons, verses 14 through 16.  All of this is the ministry of the Holy Spirit for which we give Him praise and thanks

Now we come to the final point:  The Holy Spirit secures our eternal glory.

In the second half of Romans 8, Paul describes how the Holy Spirit accomplishes His work in us then tells us of God’s everlasting love. These verses are familiar ones:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us?

33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

May we reflect on these realities and powers of the Holy Spirit and give thanks, not only at Pentecost but every day.

Let us also remember to pray to the Holy Spirit for daily guidance. He will help us in all that we do.

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