“All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ (Romans 8:14-15).
When we look at Romans 8:14-15 in light of the full context of Romans 8, we discover that God the Father sent the Spirit into our hearts to cry “Abba! Father!” so that He might intensify our longing for the day when we will live on a renewed earth as His children. If you think about it, “Abba! Father!” is a cry that leads us through the wilderness of this life (Hebrews 3-4) to the future when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
One of the great temptations we face each day as Christians is to live for the here and now. The world (not the material world but the “world system” as John speaks of it in 1 John 2:15-17) is a seductress.
All of the world’s energy is devoted to seducing us into thinking that what we can see and touch now is ultimate. It wants us to live without eternity in view, to make decisions each day without reference to the glorious future that God has in store for his creation. If the world can get us to feel content with pursuing the “good life” here and now, it’s content (at least for a few seconds). To borrow from C.S. Lewis, the world too often seduces us into thinking that we are now enjoying our “holiday at the sea.”
The World Seduces. We Forget.
In Romans 8, the “Abba! Father!” cry (Romans 8:15) is surrounded by strong Exodus imagery. God’s deliverance of Israel out of Egyptian bondage is the story that echoes behind the Grand Story of Romans 8. We find evidence of this fact all throughout the chapter: “set you free” (v. 2); “led by the Spirit of God” (v. 14; see Exodus 13:21); “the spirit of slavery” (v. 15); “subjected to futility” (v. 20); “will be set free” (v. 21); “bondage to corruption” (v. 21); “obtain the freedom” (v. 21); “groaning together” (v. 22; see Exodus 2:23); “redemption” (v. 23); and “firstborn” (v. 29; see Exodus 4:22).
If you recall, one of Israel’s great struggles after God delivered them from Egypt was the temptation to return to Egypt. Yes, God’s deliverance opened up a whole new world and future for them (i.e., the opportunity to enjoy being God’s children in the Promise Land, a second Eden of sorts), but Egypt was the only “world” they knew.
As great as God said the Promise Land was, it was still an unknown commodity as far as they were concerned. Getting to this second Eden required that they continue to believe and follow the God who delivered them; and for people who are prone to forget God’s great deeds (Psalm 106:21), believing is not easy, especially when it means defeating giants. So while Egypt worked to seduce Israel with its promise of familiarity and predictability, the people repeatedly forgot God their Savior—the God who delivered them from the “mighty” Egyptians. That’s a dangerous combination.
So what did God do? He graciously continued to lead them “by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night” (Exo. 13:21). This pillar not only daily reminded them that God had redeemed them from Egyptian bondage with his outstretched arm, it also led them forward to the land of their inheritance as God’s firstborn son, the second Eden. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night led Israel away from Egypt’s seduction into the glorious future that God had prepared for them.
Crying Into the Future
As I mentioned earlier, the “Abba! Father!” cry of Romans 8:15 is surrounded by strong Exodus imagery. God’s deliverance of Israel out of Egyptian bondage is the story that echoes behind the Grand Story of Romans 8.
Just as God led Israel, his son by adoption, into the future he had prepared for them, by the Spirit of adoption he now leads us, his sons by adoption, into our promised inheritance (Romans 8:14-15). When we by the Spirit of adoption cry, “Abba! Father!”, we show that we are groaning for the day when ”the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9).
As Paul writes in Romans 8:23, we “who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” By the Spirit of adoption God is leading us to long increasingly for the day when the entire earth will become our happy home, to be enjoyed with God our Father and our Elder Brother, Jesus. Paul calls this great day our adoption!
Be encouraged: the presence of the “Abba! Father!” cry in our hearts is evidence that we are actually beginning to imagine “what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.” We are learning not to be easily pleased.