Nothing to Fear
James C. Denison
On June 6 of last year, a 21-year-old man named Ben Carpenter had a day he’ll never forget. Ben has muscular dystrophy. On this day he was driving his electric-powered wheelchair down the sidewalk in Paw Paw, Michigan. He then crossed the street at the corner of Red Arrow Highway at Hazen Street, in front of a semi truck waiting at the stop light.
The light turned green. The driver somehow did not see Ben in his wheelchair. The engine roared to life and the truck started ahead. It struck Ben’s wheelchair, turning it forward with the handles stuck in the truck’s grill. The wheelchair kept rolling, Ben held in his chair by his seatbelt. The driver continued down the road, oblivious to Ben pinned to his truck.
The truck reached 50 mph. People who saw what was happening called 911 and waved their arms to get the driver’s attention. Two off-duty policemen began to pursue the truck. Still the driver was oblivious. Finally, after two miles, he pulled into a truck company parking lot, clueless that Ben Carpenter was pinned to the front of his truck. Fortunately, Ben was unharmed after the ride of his life.
I’ll bet you know something of the feeling–being pushed by forces more powerful than yourself in a direction you cannot control. You know the name of that truck this morning. The good news is that God has a word for us, whatever fears we’re facing.
No matter the powers against us, the power for us is greater: “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship” (Romans 8:15). That is the solution to every fear you’re facing today. Today it is my privilege to show you why.
Are you a slave to fear?
Let’s begin by understanding the bad news, so we can appreciate the good news. Psychologists say that our society deals with fear on a level unprecedented in history.
We live in a nuclear age. The United States and Russia together have the power to destroy the human race 47 times. North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon. Pakistan may be the most unstable country in the Middle East, and is a nuclear power. Most observers believe that the president of Iran wants such a weapon.
For the first time in American history we are dealing with an enemy who has attacked us on our soil. Except for the Civil War, all our battles have been fought in other lands. Now our enemies have come to our streets and cities, and threaten to continue to do so. In a letter to America composed in 2002, Osama bin Laden warns us, “Leave us alone, or else expect us in New York and Washington.”
News about the economy has not been good this week, as retail and housing continue to decline. The bird flu scare in Southeast Asia continues to make the news. The death of actor Heath Ledger has been ruled an accident, the result of combining six kinds of painkillers and sedatives, illustrating the depression which continues to rage at unprecedented levels today.
But our issues with fear go even deeper than the news and the circumstances of our world. Our Western culture has produced a mindset, a worldview which has made insecurity an epidemic.
Our society judges us for what we do, how we look, how many people we impress, what we own. And none of these things are permanent. After I preach this message today I have to start tomorrow on next week’s sermon. I’m only as good as my last message. Our possessions can be taken from us in an economic downturn; popularity and appearance are fleeting; health is uncertain.
No one loves us unconditionally. As much as my family loves me, there are things I could do this morning to fracture our relationship. As kind as you have been to me and my family over these 10 years, there are things I could say right now which would end my ministry here and forever.
We continue to search for stability, predictability, assurance. But there’s only one place to find the security our souls crave. Only one.
Are you the child of God?
Here’s the question which makes Romans 8 relevant to you or not: are you the child of God? Have you asked Jesus Christ to forgive your mistakes and failures and made him the Lord of your life? If you have, verse one says that there is no condemnation for you. Verse 3 says that sin is condemned in you. Verse 6 says that you can live in the Spirit and experience “life and peace.” Verse 10 says that “your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” Verse 11 promises that you will live forever when his Spirit gives life to your mortal body.
As a result, you have no “obligation” or debt to the sinful nature. Now there is no sin you must commit (v. 12). Rather, “by the Spirit” you can “put to death the misdeeds of the body” (v. 13). When you bring your temptations to God’s Spirit and ask for his help, you have it. God’s Spirit wants to lead you as a shepherd leads his sheep, because you are God’s child and God loves you (v. 14).
Now comes the point, the key, one of the most significant statements in all the word of God: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’ (v. 15).
You are no longer a slave to fear. There is literally nothing in this world of which you need to be afraid. You don’t need to fear death, for it is the gateway to paradise. You don’t need to fear Satan and his demons, for they are defeated foes. You don’t need to fear people, for their worst cannot compare with God’s best.
The incredible news is that “you received the Spirit of sonship.” “Sonship” translates the Greek word hiothesias, meaning “to be adopted.” You are now the adopted child of God. There is no greater honor, no greater security in all the universe than this.
Why? Here’s the background.
In Roman society, the father had absolute authority over his children from their birth to their death. This was called patria potestas, the “power of the father.” The father could command the mother to abandon the newborn child to death, and she must comply.
We have a letter written from a Roman soldier to his pregnant wife with these instructions: “If it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, throw it out.” The father could order his biological children to be killed, or sold as slaves, or disinherited. If you were working for a despotic boss who might fire you or even take back your wages at any moment, for any reason, you’d have a sense of life under Roman fathers.
Unless you were adopted. In that situation, everything changed. An adopted child could never be disinherited or harmed. An adopted child must be given all the rights and privileges due to an heir, no matter what he did. Once you were adopted, you must be the child of the father forever.
At that moment, your old life was gone. You might have been a slave before–now you are free. You might have owed enormous debts, but you owe them no longer. You might have committed all sorts of crimes, but your record is clean now. You have started over as the child of your new father. It’s as if you have been born again.
The Jewish people had no practice such as this. They sometimes accepted slaves or servants into the family, but they never treated them as equal with their biological children. Adoption with the full rights of heirs was a Greek and Roman custom. And it served to illustrate precisely what God has done for us.
God had to adopt us because we broke our “biological” or spiritual relationship with our Father when he sinned against us.
Thus Israel became the first to be adopted by God: “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises” (Romans 9:4).
Then when we made their Messiah our Lord, we joined their family: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29).
Now “the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (v. 16). The adoption ceremony was carried out in the presence of seven witnesses, so that any questions in the future could be resolved by their testimony. The fact that the Spirit lives in you is proof that you are the child of God.
Now we have the incredible privilege of calling God, “Abba, Father.”
“Abba” was the Aramaic word for “Daddy.” It was never used by a Jew to refer to God before it was used in this way by Jesus. Now we can come to the Lord of the universe in the same way: “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:4-7).
Because he is our Abba, we are his heirs: “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (v. 17a). We inherit all that Jesus inherited: “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” “If” should be translated “since.” Jesus warned us: “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). We inherit opposition to our faith: 200,000 Christians died for Christ last year, 45 million in the 20th century. If people slandered Jesus, they’ll slander us. If they rejected his faith, they’ll reject ours.
But we also “share in his glory.” We live forever in God’s perfect paradise, where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). We will receive eternal crowds of reward for our faith and faithfulness. We are the children of God now, and will be for all time.
Here’s what it all means for you and me today: God loves us absolutely, unconditionally, and always will. Because we are his adopted children, we will be his children always. No matter what happens to you this week, you need never wonder if God loves you. You need never wonder if God has abandoned you. You need never wonder if God sees your problem and cares about your pain; if God is listening to your prayers and giving you whatever is best. You need never wonder if you are alone or if you are loved. You are loved by the God of the universe right now, and you always will be.
Return to the adoption metaphor for proof. Not all biological children are wanted, expected, or planned. But no one adopts a child by accident. No one becomes an adoptive parent by random chance. All adopted children were wanted by the parents who adopted them.
Here’s an example. The Kibbys are one of my favorite families in our church. They teach Sunday school here; Rob is chairman of our finance committee; they have raised three wonderful daughters. Then several years ago, the Lord laid on their heart the desire to adopt a Russian infant.
This week I asked Leslie for some facts about their experience in adopting Joshua. Here is what I learned. The process took 14 months, with an additional 12 months of legal proceedings in America. They stood before a judge in Russia, speaking Russian, and a judge in America. They completed enough documents to fill two three-inch binders completely; one of them was 18 pages long and took six days to complete. They took two trips to Russia, the first lasting nine days and the second lasting five days. I didn’t even ask about the financial costs of their process.
There will never be a day when Joshua will need to wonder if he was wanted by Rob and Leslie Kibby. There will never be a moment when he will need to wonder if they love him and want him to be their child for the rest of his life. Because they chose him and adopted him, he is theirs and they are his for all time.
That’s how your Father in heaven feels about you today. This is the word, and the promise, of God.