16. Growing in Sonship

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 3 – Making of Believers

16. Growing in Sonship

Gal 4:6,7  Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

Heb 12:7,8  God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.

Eph 1:5  he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ

Rom 8:15 the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (also 8:23)

Heirs:  In the previous study we considered the fact that the New Testament speaks of Christians, believers in Jesus Christ, as children of God.  Now there is another facet of this relationship issue and it is that of growing up and entering into what God has in store for is, referred to as our inheritance (see Eph 1:14,18, 5:5, Col 1:12, 3:24, Heb 9:15, 1 Pet 1:4) because as ‘sons’ we are also heirs (Gal 4:7 above). But that ‘inheritance’ appears to have two dimensions, first the life we have to live here on the earth, and then, second, the life we have in eternity with God.

The Life Today: If the problem we considered in the previous study was one of alienation, the one we face now is the problem of life purpose and meaning and possibilities of fulfillment.  Now you only have to look on the self-help shelves of any good bookshop and you will see that there are many means suggested of being fulfilled as a human being, but they are all focused on ‘doing’, but there is no motivation or reason d’etre beyond simply to feel good in yourself. It is a purely self-centred thing. However, when we come across this teaching in the New Testament we find it is focused in ‘being’ and about ‘identity’ and then out of that comes the ‘doing’. We ‘do’ because of who we are.

Sonship: That is where we come back to this concept. Without in any way being sexist, if we can observe life two thousand years ago in Israel, we  will see something very significant. Because of the way we are made, when girls grew up it was expected of them that they would get married, have children and put all their effort into raising a family. (Anyone who has witnessed the phenomenon of a Jewish mother will know that this is not a passive, subservient role but a powerful and strong role!) The role of the man was thus left to be the breadwinner. He either had a trade or business or worked for others. If he had a trade or business that trade or business would be the path that the son followed. Thus Jesus was a carpenter (Mk 6:3) because Joseph was a carpenter (Mt 13:55). The son would be trained up by the father and enter more and more into the business and eventually take it over when his father died. When ‘sonship’ is brought into the New Testament, we see that the picture is of one who enters into the father’s business and eventually inherits the father’s business.

Father’s Business? Now if we are implying that this is now a picture of what happens with us and God, the question has to arise, what is the Father’s business? Rather than making a long discussion out of this I will simply suggest that since the Fall (which the Godhead knew would occur) God’s ‘work’ ever since – at least in respect of this earth – has been a long-term project of restoring relationship with mankind, and thus restoring the life God originally designed for us in its many facets. So if we take this Old Testament picture of ‘sonship’ and bring it into the ambit of New Testament salvation we can suggest that the Father’s plan for us is to a) draw is into an ever-deepening relationship with Him, so that b) He can lead us into a place where we receive all of the goodness He has on His heart for us.

Crisis and Gradual Change: Of course we enter into this life by a crisis that we have referred to in shorthand as conviction plus repentance, which happens at a specific moment in time. Once that happens there is life to be lived out, a life in relationship with God, made possible through the finished work of Christ on the Cross but now enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Now we come to looking at what it means to have an ever-deepening relationship with the Father. It comes from first of all taking in what the New Testament says about our new life and this we find by reading and praying and seeking understanding and application (obedience) of what we find there. Sometimes there will direct commands to follow, for example Jesus said to his disciples and therefore to us, “Love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn 13:34) and we therefore have to see how we can do that in respect of other Christians. Another example would be, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,” (Col 3:12) and so we will consider how we can ‘put on’ those things as we relate to others. The new life involves us working out (with His help as we pray) these things we come across.

But then we come to learn, as we’ve read, that the Holy Spirit indwells us, and so what will happen is simply that we will get a sense that ‘this is what I should be doing’. For instance, as we’ve used this as an example before, I get a feeling I ought to ring up an old friend, and when I do they say, “Oh I was just thinking about you. I need help in….” and we find life becomes more than coincidences, it becomes ‘guided’ and so learning to be sensitive to the prompting of the Spirit becomes a very real learning process in this new life.

Increasing Understanding: But this new relational life we have been talking about, when we see it in the ‘father and son’ terms we considered earlier, we find is also a life where we are learning to understand how the Father works and, consequently, how He wants us to work in harmony with Him. But it is a life of learning, of growing and maturing, and of testing and training, and changing us (of course when we refuse to be changed, it stops!).  In other words we start learning the strategies of God, how He works. Possibly contrary to our previous beliefs, we come to learn and realise that He loves us, is for us, and is always working for our best. (There are so many verses I will not use quotes to make the point). We will learn that although sometimes we seem to lose a sense of His presence, He never leaves us. We learn that although we are sometimes in a hurry for change, He is never in a rush and takes His time. And so it will go on, a lifetime of learning!

But there will also be things that we are slow to learn because they come more with the knowledge of Him rather than just by learning some rules. Knowing Him is more important than knowing the rules, for the more we seek Him, read His word, pray, and are obedient to His promptings, the more we will learn to sense His presence and that will change us more than anything else. Within that relationship we will learn how important His word, the Bible, is to us.  Within that relationship we will learn how important prayer is to us, or worship is to us. Initially they will be simply things we do because other Christians seem to do them, but as we grow in maturity and in understanding and in our knowledge of His presence, the more these things will become essential realities for us which we cannot do without. So, is this the Christianity we know – you know?  If not, may it become so.

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.

6. Believing the Unseen

Meditations in 1 Peter : 6 :  Believing in the Unseen

1 Pet  1:8,9 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Now I have to confess that these two verses have a very special place in my life. In the early months of my Christian life I was working with a youth evangelism team and one Saturday evening was having a good conversation with a non-believer, and prayed and prayed for him to respond positively to the Lord. He didn’t and, in my immaturity, I went home that night muttering to the Lord, how can I believe in you if you won’t turn up and answer simple prayers? The next morning I went to church and the preacher spoke on these two verses. I took note. In the afternoon I attended a young people’s organisation where I regularly taught Bible (yes, within my first year as a Christian) and it was their birthday and there was a visiting speaker – who spoke on these two verses. I sat up and took notice. Twice in one day! In the evening I went to a little mission hall where the youth evangelism team took Sunday evening services and the group leader spoke on these two verses. Three times in one day! I took serious note!

Verse 8 challenges the very core of faith. It is about believing in a God who you cannot see and often cannot hear, yet His word has come to us and convicted us and we now live in response to it and to what His Spirit says today. This is the hardest thing about the Christian faith – you cannot see God! Peter was writing to believers in Asia Minor who had come to the Lord after Jesus had ascended to heaven. They had never seen him. They had heard about him as the Gospel was preached and so now they were in the same position that we are: they believed in one who they had never seen. The writer to the Hebrews started out his famous chapter on faith with these words: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1).

This is the reality of the spiritual life; we believe in a spiritual dimension and a spiritual God and a spiritual heaven – all of which exist just as much as anything else exists – yet we cannot see them with our physical eyes; we only discern them in our spirit, and that is a faith issue. When Jesus had been on the earth, the apostle John had been able to write,That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched.” (1 Jn 1:1).  That was true for those earliest believers and so today we believe in their testimony, today we live a life of love for the unseen One who died for us and who is now seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven ruling. But it is all faith because we do not actually see him. This is what I had to learn as a very young Christian and I am naïve enough to believe the Lord prompted three preachers on the same day to preach this message – purely for me (and no doubt for a number of others as well!!)

Now you may have known the Lord for a long time and so perhaps I need to remind you what it was like in those early moments, those early days, those early months. There was this inexpressible and glorious joy that you felt as a witness to something wonderful that had happened to you. In the passing of the years it tends to become a more deep-seated joy that is more there in the background but it is still there. It is the reminder and recognition of the wonderful thing that has taken place and continues to take place –  the establishing of a relationship with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords whereby He grants us forgiveness and cleansing and Sonship and eternal life with the presence of His own Holy Spirit.

This, says Peter, is us receiving the goal of our faith. It is both the reason why we have faith and it is also the outworking of our faith. As we’ve noted previously, it all comes from us believing God when He has shared the Gospel with us as He convicted us of our need by His Spirit. We believed he came to give us a new life and we grabbed it like a drowning man grabbing at a straw, and we found that it was real, it was true, and we were saved. This we came to realise was what salvation was all about, about Him saving us from our sins and from death so that we could live with Him for the remaining years on this earth and into eternity. Oh what a glorious thing it was! What joy!