Paul densely packs these sentences with themes on family and sanctification. Messages on this passage could focus on powerful family illustrations, such as adoption, children of God, and being heirs. Even using the word “heirs” brings a sense of nobility, importance, and lineage to our imaginations, especially being an heir with the one in charge of this kingdom—Jesus Christ.
Still, the underlying point that Paul is making is not just that we are part of God’s family, but that is there is both significance to it and evidence for it. Anyone can go around saying that they are a part of a royal family, but if there is no proof or evidence to that claim, then it does not mean anything at all. While it would be ridiculous to conduct DNA tests to determine who is a part of Christ’s family, Paul makes it clear what the characteristics are. A child of God is someone who is led by the Holy Spirit. This person is someone who has a spirit of adoption. This individual is someone who is humble and cries for “Abba! Father!” in a time of prayer and need.
And although this person has a sense of identity in Christ’s royal family, he or she is still willing to suffer and carry a very heavy cross in Jesus’ footsteps. Rather than a combination of A, G, C, and T to show who is an heir of who, this type of humble attitude and spirit is the true DNA found deep in the heart, bones, blood, sweat, and tears that make up someone who is a true child of God.
In addition to the proof, there is also a deep significance. Paul reminds the church that they have received a new spirit. They are part of a new family! The spirit is slavery is gone. A Christian is not beholden to fear. We have a new heart and a new spirit that follows in the life of Jesus Christ. Salvation and sanctification have regenerated us and we live by the fruit of the Spirit.
Fear, in and of itself, can be a powerful shackle. It’s like putting a blindfold over your eyes on a beautiful and not knowing where you truly are. Of course it can be a fear of anything, from the obvious phobias—heights, tight spaces, speaking in public, jumping out of airplanes, snakes—to deeper fears that can affect the outlook of our entire lives, causing daily anxiety and worry—fear of the unknown, fear of other groups of people, or fear of what will happen to our children, siblings, and parents. This list goes on.
Sometimes overcoming what might seem like a surface fear can help a person overcome deeper fears in life. Parachuting out of planes or bringing dangerous snakes into church is not necessarily recommended for a Sunday morning message, but there may be other activities or ideas you can share to help people overcome fears and more fully understand their identity in Jesus Christ.
However, this is also one of the biggest challenges of preaching from these verses: people in our congregations struggle with fear, anxiety, and worry. The people sitting in the pews in front of you or around you, though they have giant smiles on their faces, may not have a warm cozy feeling bubbling up inside when it comes to talking about family, children, or adoption. While many people have good experiences to relate to, others do not. One of the challenges you must consider in preaching is how to compare and contrast adoption into Christ’s family with belonging to our earthly families.
Another challenge is that while many Christians know in their heads the truth that they are a joint heirs with Christ, this same truth may not have impacted their hearts, read more about that at http://actionac.net/. They might know it, but they might not feel it. A truth as profound as this can profoundly impact someone’s heart and change the course of entire lives. While illustrations and stories will help carry that truth, it will only be God’s Holy Spirit that can truly touch a person’s heart. Be willing to allow time and space for the Holy Spirit to work in your church. Be humble, cry out to “Abba! Father!”, and pray on behalf of others who will be there.
For those people who may not feel that identity in their hearts, or for those who may even feel guilty or anxious that they do not feel like they are a child of God, looking at themes of God’s grace, forgiveness, patience, and love can paint a picture of what being adopted into God’s family looks like. These are essential parts of the DNA of Christ’s heirs.
You and the people you lead are children of God. Give them that reminder and encouragement this Sunday. Being adopted into Christ’s family, being an heir with him, and being released from a spirit of fear are not necessarily easy and could potentially bring suffering with Christ. However, this ultimately brings hope, glory, and points to the witness of the good news of Jesus Christ for those around us.