Exploring the Scripture
Several weeks ago, the text discussed the conflict between good intentions and poor decisions regarding two slaveries (Romans 5:15-23). Paul makes the point that we are never really free. We are slaves to either sin or righteousness, depending on where we place our loyalty and focus. But in today’s passage, Paul changes the metaphor from slavery to adoption.
He begins by repeating that those who live according to the flesh (selfish, possessions, superficial goals) will die. But if we “put to death the deeds of the body,” we will live. Paul’s meaning is not limited to the physical excesses of bodily wants and passions, but all the activities and attitudes that are self-centered instead of God-centered. When we let our selfish nature die, we live as children of God, led by the Spirit. There is no room for fear of sin’s hold over us in the new life of faith. We are no longer slaves because we have been adopted into the family of God.
Kinship was the foundation of a society that governed every part of life. Your kinship group determined who your friends and enemies were, whom you would marry, with whom you could share table fellowship. Your life values, occupation, social status, and religious beliefs came from your family. Jesus called God “Abba,” a word which is usually translated as “Father” but is better translated as the endearing, familiar term “Papa.” Those who followed Jesus used “Abba,” and it flavored how they understood their relationship to God. Paul deepened the meaning by saying they have been adopted into God’s kinship group.
If God adopts us, we share the same values, beliefs, goals, and fellowship that Jesus embraced. We become “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” (v. 17). We inherit both Christ’s suffering and Christ’s glory—the resurrected life God gives. They are inextricably linked when we truly live in Christ, but there is no need for anxiety. Paul considered suffering far less important than the glory which God would reveal.
Creation itself has suffered bondage, decay, and futility. Nature yearns for God’s kingdom to be revealed, groaning with labor pains as it awaits the promised transformation. Labor before childbirth is an apt symbol for Paul’s presentation of life’s pain, mingled with hope. A woman’s labor pains are accompanied by anticipation and joy for the newborn child’s arrival. Like humans, nature has experienced distress, pain, lack of harmony, and imbalance as it awaits God’s new creation. When human beings realize their true identity as children of God and act accordingly, all of creation will rejoice in freedom.
Hope for God’s new creation, like a child not yet born, cannot be seen. If we could see the form and details it would take, we would know, not hope. We live with a foretaste of the coming glory and “kin-dom” of God, waiting patiently for the full expression to occur. The love and mercy of God we experience in this life are only the first fruits of the Spirit, but they are enough to carry us in the hope for what is yet-to-be. We lean into the future, cherishing hope with patience.
Project Zion Podcast
Co-hosts Karin Peter and Blake Smith consider how this week's scripture connects to our lives today.
- When we let our selfish nature die, we live as children of God, and there is no room for fear of sin’s hold over us.
- If God adopts us, we share the same values, beliefs, goals, and fellowship that Jesus embraced.
- We inherit both Christ’s suffering and Christ’s new life, which are inextricably linked, like a woman’s labor pains and hope for a newborn child.
- Nature has experienced distress, pain, lack of harmony, and imbalance as it awaits God’s new creation.
- Hope cannot be seen. We expect the fullness of God’s “kin-dom” and live with the first fruits of our trust and hope in Christ.
Questions to Consider
- How well does the symbol of adoption into God’s family fit our current culture? What meaning does it suggest today compared with Paul’s time?
- What life examples combine suffering and hope, distress, and new life, besides childbirth?
- How is the church today about to bring forth new life out of its labor pains? Give examples.
- Where have you witnessed the “first fruits” of God’s “kin-dom” in the lives of people? Where have you witnessed it in creation?