33. Sonship

Meditations in Romans : 33:  Sonship

Rom 8:14-15   those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

I am aware that, looking back over the ‘meditations’ that I have written over the years that they vary a great deal in length in terms of what they cover.  Sometimes we may cover ten or fifteen verses while at other times we only cover two or three. These present ones fall into that latter grouping and you may be excused for muttering, “Oh, not again. Why doesn’t he move on?” and the answer has to be, because Paul doesn’t. We have commented before that Paul is a good teacher and good teachers know that their pupils need to hear the same thing over and over again, often from different angles, before what they are teaching really sinks in.

So yes, we did conclude the previous meditation with starting to mention sonship but as Paul goes on and explains it, so we must stick with it and consider it. Now writing as a man I often wonder how women think about this subject of ‘sonship’. If the feminist lobby took notice of this they would no doubt want to shout, “What about daughter-ship?” Well, my answer to this has to be that the language being used is being used to convey certain truths and they are not gender based, even though they come out of gender illustrations. This is also true in respect of the fact that I am a man, but I am part of the ‘bride of Christ’.

So previously we concluded with Paul saying, those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (v.14) and we suggested that whenever ‘sons’ are being referred to in New Testament language, it is using the imagery of the Old Testament where in daily life, so often the son followed in the father’s footsteps and so if there was reference to ‘sons’ if was reminding us that we follow on in the Father’s steps, learning the Father’s business and becoming more and more like the eldest son in the family, Jesus. It’s all about family likeness and family inheritance and family business.

So then Paul makes another of his ‘contrasting statements, where he sets one thing of against another. He starts with a negative and then balances it with the positive to add to what he has already been saying. First the negative: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear.” (v.15a) We’ve just be noting him talking about the Holy Spirit coming in to us as new believers and so he now says, but there is nothing about this that creates fear. God isn’t doing all this to make us craven slaves, groveling before Him in fear. No, he says, it quite the contrary: “but you received the Spirit of sonship.” (v.15b) In whatever language and with however little knowledge we may have of the Old Testament, this must come over to anyone quite simply as, “He didn’t make you a slave but a family member.” Bear in mind all we said earlier about the implications of sonship, do that by all means, but just grab the simple concept of being a member of God’s family, a close member, not a distant cousin, but a son!

You may observe the note in your Bible that says an alternative to ‘sonship’ could be the word ‘adoption’. That conveys something even more strongly. When a child is adopted, they are taken into the family and become a real and genuine part of it. They were not born in it but now they have legally been made part of it. Legally they are now related to the parent and that by the wishes and intent of the parents. How else can it say it? You are now directly related to God, part of His family and you are not a slave or anything like it. It seeks to convey a sense of warmth, a sense of unity and oneness. God is for us!

But then the reality of this new relationship is revealed for we find ourselves, as the Holy Spirit within is urges us, crying out and addressing God as ‘Daddy!’ (which is what the Aramaic ‘Abba’ conveys): “And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (v.15c) and we don’t need to wonder about this for Paul adds, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (v.16) So often when I pray, I find myself praying, “Father….” In fact I invariably pray that. I don’t ask the Holy Spirit and I rarely ask Jesus, even though he is seated at the Father’s right hand. I pray, “Father….” because that speaks of family relationship, but Paul tells us that this is how the Holy Spirit prompts us.

For those of us who have not had good relationships with fathers, counsellors warn that we might feel negative about God being a Father, and yet I find that in God I find one who makes up for all the deficiencies I might have found in my own father, and who my children might find in me. When we consider human fathers, our own or our own role as a father, we will always find deficiencies. There may be many good things (and a good exercise is to sit and think what they are) but there will always be things where they do not live up to our hopes and expectations, or we find we cannot live up to the hopes and expectations of our children. That’s just how it is being part of the fallen human race. God will help us, but we still come from a position where we start with deficiencies. But when I turn to God, I do not find that. If there are deficiencies, I have found, they are deficiencies in my understanding of Him. When I can see through or past my own confusions and misunderstandings, I find a Father who is perfect in every way. If only I did not have those confusions and misunderstandings! But that is how it will be this side of heaven, and that requires me to open myself to the Holy Spirit to enable Him to allow me to catch and see the wonder of the One who has done everything that is possible to bring us to Himself, and to show us the wonder of who He is.

14. God far off


Psa 10:1 Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Small children, child-rearing experts tell us, need the presence of their mother. As they grow, we’re also told they do best when they have the presence of a father around as well. The reason is fairly obvious; you hardly need an expert to tell you this, but we get comfort and security as children when a loving adult is there for us, to protect us, care for us, and encourage us. It’s all fairly obvious really. As God’s children we naturally feel the same. Something within us expects God – especially when His word tells us that as Christians He has become our Father – to be there for us. This especially comes to the fore when we find ourselves getting ‘beaten up’ by the enemy. It may be in the form of direct Satanic attack, or it may come in the form of people oppressing us, abusing us, attacking us, or generally harming us. At that time we want to run to ‘daddy’ and cry for Him to do something and redress the situation. Sometimes when this happens it seems like God is miles away.

The experience of God seeming like He is standing far off, is not uncommon. On a bad day it seems like He is in another universe and we are left with a sense of loneliness. Where is He, why doesn’t He appear? These are the natural cries of the young children when troubles come. Where is my dad?

In this psalm, the reason for this cry is spelt out in the following verses all about the wicked who “hunts down the weak” (v.2), boasts about what he wants and speaks out against God (v.3) is proud (v.5,6), has a mouth full of abusive language (v.7), ambushes the innocent weak (v.8,9), knocks down his victims (v.10) and declares that God is helpless to do anything (v.11). This is the playground bully at his worst. But he’s also the bully at work, or over the fence, or at college. This person is bigger and stronger and more powerful than you, and they abuse you, and so, as a Christian you pray and cry out to God, but He doesn’t seem to answer. It doesn’t seem like He’s around, in fact it feels like He must be off visiting another universe! For some reason He’s doesn’t seem to care. He seems to stand at a distance. Why Lord?

Now the psalmist, frustratingly we might think, doesn’t come up with an answer, and in this he is being absolutely true to life, for at the time at least we often don’t seem to get answers. It is almost as if the Lord is waiting for us to declare truth anyway, which is what the psalmist does: “The LORD is King for ever and ever.” (v.16). Whatever the circumstances appear to be saying, he knows that ultimately God is THE ruler who is over everything. He may not understand why these things are happening or why God seems to be standing at a distance, but one thing he is sure about, one thing he is certain hasn’t changed, and that is the God is the ruler of all things. There is a sense here of needing to declare trust in who God is, even when we don’t understand His apparent reticence to turn up on our behalf. I am personally convinced that when we get to heaven, if the Lord allows us to look back over our lives and see perfectly what happened and why it happened, we will not be able to find anything over which to criticize Him. Nothing! If the Lord allows the sky to drop on me, I am convinced He will be allowing it for a reason. I am realistic enough to be sure that I will cry out, “Why Lord,” and feel deeply distressed by it all, but coming through the other side will know, He is “King for ever and ever.”

But the psalmist says more: “You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry.” (v.17). He may be standing afar off (at least that’s how it seems) but He still hears and He will encourage us. Somehow in the midst of it, His quiet whisper will come through in an encouraging way. We may not have a great sense of His presence, but somehow in ways we cannot define or even anticipate, He will speak to us and it will act as an encouragement to us.

But he adds more: “defending the fatherless and the oppressed” (v.18). Somehow in the midst of it all He will actually be defending us. We may not be aware of His presence, we may not have the comfort of His strong arm around us, yet He will defend us. ‘Defending’ speaks of standing against the enemy to protect us. ‘Fatherless’ speaks about the loneliness, the absence of relationship we feel. We feel we have no one there for us. ‘Oppressed’ speaks of the action of an enemy coming against us. When we feel lonely, without loving relationship, and in the sights of the enemy, somehow in some intangible way, the Lord will come through for us and defend us against these attacks against our vulnerable state. Have you noticed how these things seem to come upon us when we are feeling particularly weak and vulnerable?

So, the Lord may seem distant, but our role is simply to speak the truth: He is the Lord – still – nothing has changed, even though it feels like it. This is a time for speaking out in faith! Moreover, even though He seems to be miles away, that doesn’t stop Him whispering simple words of encouragement into our hearts in the midst of it all, and it doesn’t stop Him standing against the enemy and defending us while we feel down, weak and vulnerable. Thus far and no further! Take comfort in the truth.