Children of God
John 14.8-17, 25-27
I love chapter 8 of St Paul’s letter to the Romans. There’s so much in it—for example, verses 15 & 16. Here, St Paul writes:
When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Holy Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…
We have sung ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ today. We have prayed, ‘Come, Holy Spirit.’ When the Spirit comes, she assures us that we are God’s children. I want to talk about two things today that stop us realising within our spirits that we really are children of God. Those things are (1) listening to accusing voices; and (2) pain.
Listening to accusing voices:
What voice do you listen to? Remember when Jesus is baptised, the Spirit comes upon him and the voice from heaven says,
You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.
God says, Jesus, you are my Son. And God’s Spirit witnesses to this great truth by coming upon Jesus.
Then what happens? Jesus is immediately led by the Spirit into the wilderness. We might think he should have a really long mountain-top experience; but no, God’s way is to lead him into the wastelands of Judaea. In actual fact, it’s more like God drives Jesus out there.
It’s not a good place out in the Judaean sticks. It’s inhospitable, and the great Accuser is there. Satan says to Jesus,
If you are the Son of God…
God says at his baptism, ‘You are the Son of God.’ Satan says, ‘If you are the Son of God…’ ‘If’ is such a little word, just the two letters; but ‘if’ makes the world of difference. Who does Jesus listen to? Who do we listen to?
You see, God also calls us by name and says to us, You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter.
Many of our problems in life come because we listen to the accusing voice and not to God’s voice. How could I possibly be a child of God, we ask ourselves!
- Nothing I do will ever be good enough
- I’ve made too many mistakes
- My life’s a mess
- It’s all my fault
- It’s too late for me
- They’d be better off without me—
But you know, these accusing voices do not come from God.
God calls us by name and says, You are my beloved daughter. You are my beloved son.
Many of us need to hear a dozen affirming voices for every accusing voice. You know how it is—people tell you you’re looking well, what a good job you’ve done, what a good friend you are… Then one person comes along and makes it clear they don’t appreciate you, and your day is ruined. Isn’t it so?
How can God get us to hear those wonderful words, those life-transforming words: You are my beloved child. How can we hear these words over the clang and clamour of all the other voices?
It would be a great start if we were to listen to the words of Jesus, to the voice of Jesus, in John 14.26:
…the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
‘The Advocate…will teach you everything…’ The Spirit within is our Advocate who teaches us and reminds us of the truth that is in Jesus, the truth that is Jesus.
An advocate is someone who’ll stay in our corner when the going gets tough. An advocate will see to it that we aren’t left alone. In Richard Rohr’s words, an advocate is a ‘compassionate witness’. We all need an advocate. We all have an advocate, who is the Advocate, the Compassionate Witness of our lives, the Holy Spirit of God.
The Spirit is in our corner. The Spirit reminds us that we are children of God. The Spirit never accuses us. Let’s recall what St Paul says:
…you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…
We can only call God ‘Father’ because the Spirit of God assures us that we are adopted children, daughters and sons, of God. The Spirit is with us, on our side, in our corner, reminding us who we are and whose child we are.
How much unnecessary money do people spend on counsellors and therapists that could be saved if they were to remember this one great truth?—I have been adopted as a child of God, and God is my Father. God is my Mother. God will never let me go.
It doesn’t matter what language I speak. I am a child of God. It doesn’t matter where I was born. I am a child of God. I may be educated or unschooled. I am a beloved child of God. The Spirit tells me so.
But we so often forget this wonderful truth when we are in pain. Let’s listen once more to what Paul says in that Romans reading. The whole thing this time:
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. [that’s good news!] For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. [isn’t that great?] When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ [how wonderful!]—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. [hang on a bit—what’s that part about suffering?]
Those of us who are parents have seen our own children suffer, and we know what that does to us. To have children is to open yourself to suffering more than ever before. So how much more must the fatherly-motherly heart of God grieve when we suffer?
Yet suffering must happen in life. Let’s keep it simple; let me just suggest that whenever we are in pain, we are suffering. Wherever there is pain, there is suffering. And pain may give us amnesia for being children of God.
When our children suffer, they remain our children. When our children suffer, we want to hold them all the more. How much more does God wish to hold us when we are in pain? How much more does the Spirit yearn to remind us that we are God’s daughters, God’s sons?
St Paul talks about suffering with Jesus. What does that mean?
It may mean suffering because you are a Christian. You may feel pain in others because your eyes have been opened to it by the Spirit. You may have to raise ethical issues in the workplace because of your faith. But we also suffer through other causes—illness or grief for example.
Sometimes, people say that we can give our suffering to God. What could that mean? Can that help us suffer with Jesus?
I think it can. I think it’s like this. It’s easy for some of us to go into our heads when things go wrong. We try to figure out why, and work things out. We try to avoid the pain through our thinking. Some of us are very good at that.
Others of us feel the pain too much. We may feel it as fear or panic, and get easily overwhelmed. We can’t escape the suffering.
God wants us to invite Jesus into our place of pain. To ask him to be there with us, to be with us in our pain and our suffering, to walk with us on what may be a very difficult journey. The pain may not go away. But we have someone to share it with us.
And why would he not share it with us? We are children of God! Jesus is not only our Saviour and Lord, but also our big brother! He wants to share our pain. He doesn’t want us to keep it all to ourselves.
One last look at that little bit of Romans 8:
…we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
We have a great hope, a hope of being ‘glorified’ with Jesus, because we have been adopted by a great God. We are joint heirs with Christ. Everything God has in store for his people is promised to us.
Not only that, but the greatest thing we are going to inherit is this: we shall be like Jesus Christ. We need to go to 1 John 3.2 to be reminded of this. As you listen, ask the Holy Spirit to make it plain to you. John writes:
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we shall be like him, for we will see him as he is.
We live in a great mystery. We are children of God. And we have a great destiny. We will see God, and we shall be sharers of God’s nature. A child is like the parent. That even applies to an adopted child. We don’t adopt puppies; we adopt children. God adopts such broken, frail things as you and me and declares that we are children of God. And one day we will be like God.
This is the voice we need to listen to: the voice of the Spirit assuring our spirit that we are children of God. That we are like God, and God is making us to be like him.
In pain, in suffering, we need to hear that voice too. We don’t suddenly get un-adopted when we encounter difficult times. In those times, we need to connect even more strongly with God, to continue in prayer. Or to start praying, if we’d stopped.
We are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
The News is good: God is great! And we are God’s children! Amen.