Fifteenth Sunday of Pentecost,

Series on Romans:

Rejoice, Heirs of God!


Scripture reading: Romans 8:1-17.

Sermon text: Romans 8:18-39.

This summer, I finally watched a movie many people had recommended — actually, insisted — that I see: “The Ultimate Gift.” In this movie, a young heir learned he would inherit nothing until he finished a series of tasks arranged by his grandfather. In the process, he found the tasks better prepared him to inherit the fortune his grandfather left him. Each task taught the heir a major lesson he would need to accomplish the goals his fortune made possible.

Many times in life, we hear people ask, “Why is this happening to me?” “Why do bad things happen to God’s people?” “If I’m a Christian, why didn’t God keep that from happening?” In Romans 8, St. Paul addressed these questions in the context of Romans chapters 5-7. We learn in chapter 5 that Jesus’ death and resurrection brought us peace with God. In chapter 6, we learn that our confession of Jesus as Lord results in our freedom from enslavement to sin. In chapter 7, St. Paul tells his readers that believers can find forgiveness when we repent of our sins and persevere in the salvation lifestyle.

Today, St. Paul’s words in Romans 8 tell us that God’s heirs can rest assured that every event in our lives will work to His purpose. What is God’s purpose? From the Fall in the Garden of Eden, God has worked to redeem His creation from the effects of sin. Everything God does in our lives leads to His new creation. When Christians patiently bear suffering and work to bring others to Jesus, we fulfill the tasks of God that point to our future inheritance: The new heaven and new earth that will last eternally.

St. Paul opened chapter 8 with a wonderful statement that encourages us after the end of chapter 7: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” At the end of chapter 7, we learned that God’s grace extends beyond our conversion to work in our sanctification, our “setting aside” to God’s purposes. When the law condemns us for our sins, the “Spirit of life” brings us freedom “from the law of sin and death.” As we read in chapter 6, believers “die” to sin to rise again to a new life. Chapter 7 reminds us that our death to sin also means a death to the law. Instead, we follow the law of Christ, to love God and to love others.

Through Jesus’ death, “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.” God “condemned sin in the flesh” through the life of Christ, His only-begotten Son, who lived a perfect life to demonstrate “the righteous requirement of the law.” Jesus conquered sin in His human body to give us an example of godly living.

This should comfort everyone who confesses Jesus as Lord and receives the Holy Spirit, but it should also challenge us as well. We must live above the standards of the world to demonstrate the presence of the Spirit in our lives. We must demonstrate our loyalty to Christ by overcoming the temptation to sin. As St. Paul said, “Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.”

What does it mean to “set our minds” on the Spirit? We’ve all heard the saying, “you are what you eat.” I’d extend this to say, “you are what you think.” What subjects occupy your mind during the day? Do you obsess about certain topics? Christians, St. Paul challenges us to set our minds on the “things of the Spirit.” Actually, we must set our minds on the Spirit. Christians, we cannot allow the flesh to occupy our minds; we must train our minds to think on the law of the Spirit, the law of godly love.

“Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” We cannot expect the world to follow God’s law, because, as St. Paul stated, “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” In the Greek, St. Paul states that those “in the flesh” literally hate God; they consider Him their enemy and lack the power to please Him.

We, however, “are not in the flesh but in the Spirit;” therefore, we know that Christ is “in” us through the Holy Spirit to guide us through the trials and suffering of life. Since the Holy Spirit lives within us, “He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Through the Spirit, we know what God expects of us in situations. We also learn, “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” When we confess Jesus as Lord and accept the Holy Spirit into our hearts to guide us, we receive a benefit: We become known as “sons” of God. We receive “the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” This phrase tells us 2 things about our salvation.

First, God “adopts” us in His family when we confess Jesus as Lord. In Roman law, any person adopted by a superior received all the benefits of the legitimately born children. Roman emperors often adopted generals or other competent leaders to succeed them as emperor to insure the continuity of the empire. Likewise, God adopts us as His children, promising us that we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.”

Secondly, we receive the benefit of calling God “Father.” While this brings great benefits to us and should comfort us, I should also point out that the Aramaic word “Abba” does not mean “Daddy.” While we can address God as “Father,” we must never forget His sovereignty over the entire universe.

Why did God give us this great gift, to be known as an heir? St. Paul answered this question in the next passage, verses 18-25: to demonstrate God’s redemption of His creation.

We tend to forget that all creation suffers for the fall of humanity. Death intruded into more than our lives; it affected everything on the planet. All animals in the Garden of Eden would approach Adam as he named them (see Genesis 2 for details). The Fall of humanity introduced the “law of the claw” into nature. God promised in the prophets that the new Creation would restore peace among all nature (Isaiah 65:17-25).

For now, we await the time when “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” As St. Paul informed the Romans, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Sin affects more than us; it affects everything else in creation as well.

St. Paul told the Romans, however, that while the creation “groans” for its freedom from sin, we, too, longingly await “the redemption of our bodies.” When we rise again from the dead into the new creation of God, we will experience the final “redemption” as we receive new bodies that will never know the effects of sin. “For in this hope we were saved.”

For now, unfortunately, we find ourselves still suffering. Christians still fall ill. Christians still lose their jobs. Christians still die. We find ourselves praying for God to release us from suffering or to protect us from suffering, but St. Paul wrote, “We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” When our spirits are broken by the suffering caused by sin, the Holy Spirit prays for us, helping us to pray “according to the will of God.”

We know God’s will; St. Paul has already told us that God wills the redemption of His creation. For this purpose, St. Paul assures his readers, “For those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Beginning with this passage, we must go forward with this warning: “welcome to the deep end of the pool.”

St. Paul told the Romans that everything works “together for good” to those who “love God.” He then continued by stating, “For those who are called according to his purpose.” St. Paul clearly understood that God called certain people in history for great privilege, but also for great responsibilities.

St. Paul then went further: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” According to St. Paul, God knew in advance those whom He would call and “predestined” — in other words, decided beforehand — that those He knew He would call would be “conformed to the image of his Son.” These are the ones God both “justified” and “glorified.”

First, I would caution anyone reading this passage to avoid getting caught in an obsession with predestination. People who fell into this obsession litter the pages of Church history.

We need to understand that God’s omniscience clearly implies foreknowledge. We cannot deny that God knows the future; Scripture records far too many examples of God’s foreknowledge for us to ignore.

Scripture also clearly tells us that God has chosen people throughout history. St. Paul will say more about this in chapters 9-11. This shouldn’t surprise us; we see people chosen every day for tasks, in our homes, on the job, and in school. Angie and I chose each other to date and then to marry. Shelton State Community College chose me to work as a server administrator and as an instructor. You’ve chosen people before, and you’ve been chosen before. When you have a job to do, you choose someone to do it.

There’s one difference here. We tend to choose people based on their qualifications for the task at hand. God, on the other hand, chooses people solely on the basis of His grace. No one deserves to be chosen by God, but He chooses people to accomplish His divine will.

The question for most people revolves around this dilemma: Am I chosen? Has God chosen me?

At this point, I’d give you a few Scriptures to read on your own:

•John 3:16-17

•John 12:32

•1 Timothy 2:3-4

•2 Peter 3:9

You can find numerous other Scriptures in both Testaments that attest that God clearly calls all people to repentance. You’ll also find lots of Scriptures that attest to God’s act of choosing people for specific tasks.

Personally, I find it difficult if not impossible to believe God would call people to repentance if He believed they had no opportunity to repent and believe. In some way no human can understand, God’s foreknowledge and our choices interact in our salvation. If you know God has called you to repent and believe in Jesus, you’re chosen. If you want to repent and believe — if you sincerely desire to confess Jesus as Lord and then live according to that allegiance — you’re chosen.

When you confess Jesus as Lord, believing in His resurrection; when you know you have received the Holy Spirit (1 John 5); you know that God has chosen you for a special task.

When God chooses you, you then come to know the real purpose of God’s love. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” As God’s heir, you know that anything that happens to you in life will work to your benefit. Any circumstance in life can work to prepare you for God’s purpose in your life.

What can anyone accuse God’s people of doing that can make Him throw us from His family? “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” As God’s children, our right to stand before God — our justification — will not be shaken by anything anyone can say. No one can condemn us because God has already declared us innocent.

You should know that salvation doesn’t bring immunity from the trials of life. Christians still suffer persecution around the world. Christians still suffer the effects of sin in this world; we still suffer illness, injustice, hardship, and death. The lesson still applies. “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’”

However, we know “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” We conquer everything that happens to us because God, in His mysterious way, turns everything in our lives to His perfect will.

This leads us to St. Paul’s glorious ending of chapter 8. “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” What can you imagine can separate you from God that this list doesn’t cover?

God’s recreation of this fallen world began with Jesus’ resurrection.  As an heir of God, you can know that He will work everything to your good. You’ll inherit a new creation one day. Rejoice, Child of God, for He has chosen you in this creation to participate in the greatest miracle humanity will ever witness: the redemption of those around through the witness you live in life’s trials and joys.