God’s adoption agency – Monday 30th week in ordinary time – Romans 8:12-17
Today’s text begins with the words “so then,” It almost seems the passage of today begins in the middle of an extended argument which it does! These opening words therefore suggest that what follows is a conclusion or outcome to whatever has been laid out prior to our hearing.
So far, what Paul has described is a fundamental dilemma facing humankind. The power of sin, dwelling within us, prevents us from doing what is good and right despite our best intentions (7:14-25). We feel powerless against the clutches of sin. Often, people do not even realize how thoroughly trapped they are in the grip of such forces. Hence we must rely on the Spirit rather than the flesh. Therefore, Paul begins Romans 8:12-13 by making a contrast between two ways of living, which consequently have two outcomes. To live according to the flesh ends in death, while living by the power of the Spirit leads to life. Paul doesn’t give a list of ten tips for righteous living, but rather calls believers to continually let themselves be led by the Spirit who dwells in them (verses 9, 13-14).
Paul is not talking about flesh that adheres to one’s bones. He uses the term “flesh” (sarx in Greek) as a metaphor for the human tendency to seek and to possess that which is transient, pursuing self-interests at the expense of others, and ignoring the presence of God. Paul constantly reminds us that living after the flesh ends in death. The flesh gave us nothing good. So we have no obligation to oblige or pamper it. Our debt is to the Lord, not to the flesh. We need the reminder because we are often deceived into thinking that the flesh offers us life.
Paul reminds and affirms us that the Christian is a child of God by adoption having been claimed by the Spirit of God. “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:15). Adoption into God’s family is the work of the Spirit: it is the Spirit that leads us (8:14) that bears witness with us when we cry, “Abba! Father!” (8:15-16), that dwells within us (8:11). No one can acquire this status through observance of the law or any merit of their own. It is the Spirit who enables us to cry out in intimacy to God as “Abba! Father!” (verse 15), using the same expression that Jesus used when he cried out to God before facing his crucifixion (Mark 14:36). We don’t have to wonder if we are really Christians or not; God’s children know who they are because they receive the spirit of adoption. Under Roman adoption, the life and standing of the adopted child changed completely. The adopted child lost all rights in his old family and gained all new rights in his new family and the same is with the Christian.
Finally, Paul ends this text in verse 17 with two conditional clauses beginning with the words “if”. “If” we are children then we are heirs with Christ and ‘if’ we are suffer, as Christ did then we will be glorified with him. For many people suffering is a punishment, a kind of separation from God. In fact, the suffering of a disciple arises out of one’s loyalty to Christ in all circumstances. Suffering is not evidence of separation from God, but a sign of living in the conflict zone between “this present time” and the “age to come.” Because we are in Christ, we are also called to share in His suffering. God’s children are not immune from trials and suffering.