Summary: Are you a child of God? That is the main source of assurance. But, how can you know if your faith is genuine? Is the Holy Spirit confirming to you the wonderful truth that God has adopted you into His family?
Opening illustration: When John F. Kennedy was president of the US, photographers sometimes captured a winsome scene. Seated around the president’s desk in the Oval Office, cabinet members are debating matters of world consequence. Meanwhile, a toddler, the 2-year-old John-John, crawls around and inside the huge presidential desk, oblivious to White House protocol and the weighty matters of state. He is simply visiting his daddy.
Do we really know what it means to be children of God? Let us turn to Romans 8 and find out …
Introduction: That is the kind of shocking accessibility conveyed in the word Abba when Jesus said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You” (Mark 14:36). God may be the sovereign Lord of the universe, but through His Son, God became as approachable as any doting human father. In Romans 8, Paul brings the image of intimacy even closer. God’s Spirit lives inside us, he says, and when we do not know what we ought to pray “the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (v.26).
Jesus came to demonstrate that a perfect and holy God welcomes pleas for help from a widow with two mites and a Roman centurion and a miserable publican and a thief on a cross. We need only call out “Abba” or, failing that, simply groan. God has come that close to us.
Who are the children of God?
1. Led by the Holy Spirit (v. 14)
Often when people speak of the Holy Spirit they associate it with an extraordinary or spectacular event. We tend to let stories like the tongues of fire that appeared on the heads of the apostles (Acts 2:3) or the dramatic conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus define our understanding of how God works in the world. And there is little question that many acts of God are astonishing.
But just as notable is the way God works in a mundane manner. When Paul speaks of the power of the Spirit in our verses he points to our inclusion in God’s family. The Spirit makes us “children of God” (8:14) and so intertwines our lives with Christ that we now understand God as a Father or even a “Daddy” (as Abba might be translated -- see 8:15). In addition, Paul suggests we are now “heirs” with Christ (8:17). In other words, all that the Son shares with the Father (peace, life, righteousness) has now been bequeathed to us as well.
In most cases the Holy Spirit usually does not try to draw attention to itself but rather works on us to strengthen our relationship of faith in Christ. This means the Spirit is very busy indeed. In our stumbling attempts at faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit is at work, overcoming our own desire to be in control. When we seek comfort, the Spirit reminds us of Christ’s seeking of the lost sheep and his forgiveness to a betrayer like Peter. When we need correction, the Spirit calls to mind Christ’s injunction against the love of money or the need to forgive - even those we classify as enemies.
Those who wonder about the Spirit’s presence in their lives need only look to their struggling faith in Christ and they will find plenty of evidence. Left to our own devices, we wander far from the source of light and truth. But the Spirit has other plans. God’s Spirit continually reaches out to embrace and encourage us.
Being led by the Holy Spirit may at times be a fearsome experience. The first thing the Spirit does after descending upon Jesus in his baptism is to drive him out into the desert for a frightening encounter with the devil (Mark 1:12-13). Think about that … the desert … a place traditionally identified with temptation and trial. People should be cautioned about associating the Holy Spirit with “playing it safe” or material abundance. As a wise, older pastor once told me, the “Spirit brings us to where the pain is.”
The Bible does not articulate that God wishes things like depression for his children. God can certainly work through depression to achieve God’s will, but preachers will caution against a passive acceptance of suffering in all circumstances. However, those caught up in the Spirit, that is, those joined to the zealous love of Jesus Christ, should not be surprised that it leads to conflict, struggle and trouble. After all, the Spirit not only drove Jesus to the desert; it also propelled him on a ministry that would eventually lead to the cross. Is your life, motives and agenda CROSS focused … that is truly being led by the Holy Spirit?