Kill sin before it kills you

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12.) Paul expands this proverb in Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” A Christian is called to be a sin slayer.

The Bible is not ashamed of binaries. Life and death. Light and darkness. The Spirit and the flesh. There is no neutral or fluid space in between. We either follow the Father of lights and the source of life and peace (James 1:17Mal 2:5Rom 8:6). Or we serve Satan, the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning (John 8:44). We either live as children of the day or the night (1 Thess 5:5). For the apostle John, obedience to God is the first proof that we are born of God. Obeying God is key to sanctification, which is defined by the Westminster Shorter Catechism as “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” During the lifelong  process of sanctification we are freed from sinful habits and take on Christlike desires and character traits. Sanctification is real transformation from the inside out, not just a superficial change of behaviour. Although we are saved by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, there is  something active and ruthless about dying to sin and living to righteousness. Whether we like it or not, we are in a war with Satan, the enemy of God and of any person who bears God’s name. We need to kill sin before it kills us. Our texts today are from 1 John:

1 John 1:5-7: This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 3:4-10: Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

Sin is the ultimate wrecking ball

As children of a fluid, shifting culture, we tend to put sins into boxes labeled “Excusable”, “Serious”, “Naughty but nice.” But the unchanging God has no such categories. According to the apostle John, all sin originates with Satan, who makes it his business to lead us away from our Creator and onto a path of sin and rebellion against Him. That path may look innocuous and fun, but all sin is “lawlessness” and ultimately leads to death (1 John 3:4James 1:15). If you are a Christian, sin will always torpedo the joy Christ gives you (John 15:11). It will grieve God’s ‘seed,’ the Holy Spirit who lives in you (1 John 3:9Eph 4:30), and it displeases the Father who purchased you at a great price (1 Thess 4:1).

Just as darkness and light have nothing in common, God’s Spirit doesn’t mix with sin in our lives (1 John 3:7;9). When we ‘practice sin’, we are rebels against God and cannot have fellowship or peace with Him or others. We are even at odds with ourselves (1 John 1:6,7). Since sin is essentially placing ourselves on the throne instead of God, it is the ultimate wrecking ball. There is no unhappier person than a Christian chasing treasure and pleasure apart from God.

Burn the ships

When the infamous Spanish explorer Cortez arrived in the New World in 1519 with 600 men, he ordered them to burn all the ships. His message was clear, “There’s no turning back.” Two years later he conquered the Aztec empire. Likewise, every Christian must die to self before following Jesus and taking our place in God’s family (Mark 8:34-35Luke 14:27). This means turning our back on sin and those thought patterns which go against God’s commands and character. In the blink of an eye, the cozy familiar ships can take us back to our old habits and the old self which used to rule us. The byproducts of sin are dire, and that’s why we cannot play or flirt with it.

We are called first to own and then disown our sin. That means to confess our sin to God and then  turn against it so that it loses its grip on us, to stop excuses and blame, to leave ourselves no option but to trust and obey God going forward. It means hating not just the effects of sin, but the sin itself. It can be like a painful amputation or a violent struggle, but the alternative is even more painful: If you are a true child of God, sin steals your peace, it gives you a heavy heart, and you will have no rest while you are still serving it. That’s why burning the ships is not optional!

If ‘burning the ships’ is too dramatic an image for you, let me give you a more concrete example from my own life: One of the joys of writing The God Walk is that the Holy Spirit is first tattooing on my own heart what I pass on in my devotions. (Tattoos are painful but hopefully the effects are permanent!) Yesterday as I was writing this, I was feeling aggrieved by something and it made me too agitated to write, so I got on my knees and asked the Lord to show me why my response was so disproportionate to the offence. The Spirit showed me that the root of my heaviness was a false treasure, something I cared about too much, a source of satisfaction I was seeking and serving. So, as I confessed this particular idol, I asked the Lord to help me ‘burn the ships’ so I could not return to it. I asked him to change my heart so that I would despise it and throw it in the fire. It was a struggle that went on all day each time my mind raced back its stupid destructive obsession. I realized that deep down I didn’t really want to burn that ship completely and confessed that too. There is perverse pleasure in holding onto sinful thoughts and I am a chief self-saboteur! But I have learned the war language of 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” It is the internal battle of every believer, as Paul describes in Romans 7.

By the time the sun set, I received that wonderful gift that only the Spirit can give. John calls it a “heart at rest” (1 John 3:19), an assurance that we belong to the truth. Those destructive feelings abated and I was released from their tyranny. John says we can have confidence before God and know our prayers are heard “because we keep his commands and do what pleases him”, starting with believing in his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 3:2223). We do what is right and then our feelings will follow. Keeping God’s commands is a daily struggle of confessing, believing Jesus and actively ‘burning the ships’ of our sinful desires, regardless of our feelings. Remember that John is not saying a Christian will stop sinning completely, but that we will not “keep on sinning” without a care.

John Owen (a Puritan) wrote a famous series of sermons titled “The Mortification of Sin in Believers” which he first preached to a youth group in 1656. Imagine the shock and horror of doing that to a group of millennials today! (You can read it here.) Owen’s plea inspired the title of this devotion:

“Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

If we are tempted to think John Owen was a little extreme, we must hear the words of our Saviour, who died to take away our sin and save us from death and judgment:

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matt 5:43-48)

There is nothing meek and mild about this command to kill sin! It’s like slaying a dragon and may cause some injury along the way. You have to get out of your hammock to do it. But there is one thing you can be sure of:

Sin leads to sorrow and death, but holiness leads to happiness and life.

Sin in disguise: Live it out!

What complicates matters is that Satan masquerades as an angel of light and sin does not always look like death and darkness (2 Cor 11:14):  ‘Self esteem’ may be a handy disguise for pride. Gossip and slander may be dressed up as ‘sharing prayer needs’. Greed and envy may masquerade as ‘ambition’. Cheating often hides behind ‘competition’; boastfulness behind ‘assertiveness’; manipulation behind ‘victimhood’. Bitterness and unforgiveness can lurk behind a legitimate ‘grievance’. Rudeness may be labelled ‘task driven’. Unfaithfulness or unkindness can be justified as ‘authentic’ and ‘being true to self’. If denying ourselves and taking up our cross is Christ’s command to every believer, we can be sure that burning our ships means killing every sneaky version of self promotion—self righteousness, self pity, self absorption, selfishness, self protection and narcissism….That’s the flesh. Pride may seem like a protective shell, but it makes us hellbent on destruction. Pride does not mix with God’s Spirit inside us. Pride blinds us to Satan’s schemes to destroy our faith, our relationships and our witness to the world.

Destroying the destroyer

If Satan has evil schemes, Jesus has a good mission— to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Satan’s name means ‘accuser’ and his modus operandi from the beginning has been to accuse, deceive and deface the image of God in us. Satan delights in leading humans into sin so that he can accuse us before God and demand judgment. But the gospel writes a different script for Christians: Sin is so serious that God’s own innocent Son had to come to earth as a man to die in our place, to take our sin away, so that we would not face the judgment of God (1 John 3:5). That’s how Jesus destroys Satan’s works on the cross. But whenever we tolerate sin patterns in our lives, we collude with Satan. Sin is treason against God, a foothold for the enemy to deface God’s image and glory in us. But when we live lives of holiness and obedience, we live under the blessing and protection of our heavenly Father. That is pure joy.

Joy in Jesus

No matter how hard our struggle is, there is incredible happiness for a Christian who walks in holiness, abiding daily in Christ (1 John 3:6). Sanctification is like the process of a worm transforming into a butterfly. It means dying to the old self and coming alive as a beautiful new creation. It is the only route to wholeness.

A third John– John Piper– concludes, “There is a preaching that almost never highlights the truth that Christ died not only to secure our forgiveness but to secure our sin-killing obedience to the commandments of the New Testament. [Christ] bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. (1 Peter 2:24) The beauty and power of the cross of Christ is seen and enjoyed in the blood-bought experience of obedience to Christ’s commands. Experiencing this is a dimension of joy that can be had no other way. A Christian Hedonist won’t be satisfied without it.”

Live it out:

  • Meditate on these commandments of God: 1 Cor 6:9-112 Cor 6:14Titus 2:12Eph 5:3-5Gal 5:19-21; Col 3. Which of God’s commands has the Holy Spirit convicted you of lately?
  • What sin are you slaying in your life right now?
  • Pray for the Spirit’s power to deal with the most insidious sin that underlies all other sin: Pride.

Worship with music:

Burn the Ships (For King and Country–Click and listen here.) Download the whole album on Itunes. There is a personal story of sin-killing behind the song– a great reminder to step into a new day and kill sin… or it will kill you.

Next week we will explore God’s great command to love (and not to love). Love is the second mark of being born of God. We will continue in John’s first letter as we dig deeper into the doctrine of Sanctification.

A Holy Heritage

Being born again is a miracle that dramatically and permanently changes a believer’s trajectory. Through the gates of Radical Repentance we move from death to life; from darkness to light; from the orphanage to the family of the Triune God. In place of fear we have a Father, and the father of lies has no claim over our lives (John 8:44Eph 2:1;2;3). Last week’s devotion, “From Slaves to Sons” featured a picture of a person in a hammock overlooking the world. I loved that picture the minute I saw it! It suggested to me the joy of being a child of God:

No fear!

No longer a slave to fear but a beloved son/daughter of ‘Abba’ Father. No longer striving in my own efforts but resting in the perfect work of Jesus, my older Brother. Forgiven and free, secure in Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, with a new perspective and destiny. There’s no end to the blessings of being an adopted child of God, as we’ve been discovering the last few months on The God Walk.

But we cannot bask in the ‘hammock’ of these wonderful truths for the rest of our lives, hoping that the Holy Spirit will miraculously transform us! The gospel is only half a gospel if it revels in the wonder of justification, but never the lifelong process of sanctification. It’s like a runner who enters a trail race, hears the starter gun, and then sits beside the road to admire the view and the goodies in his hydration pack! The hydration pack equips and the view inspires us for the journey ahead, but we must use every muscle of our body to run all the way to the finish line. For a child of God, getting right with God is the starting line. Each day thereafter, we take active steps of obedience to the Father as we run in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ. As children who are ‘born of God’, we must take hold of our holy heritage. According to John’s first letter, there are three proofs that we are children of God —Obedience, Love and a commitment to Truth. We will be examining these three proofs over the next few weeks as we look at the doctrine of sanctification. Our text today is 1 John 2: 1-628-293:1-2:

The proof of obedience

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which Jesus walked…28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself, as he is pure.

Talk is cheap but the walk is costly.

The apostle John could not be more direct in his letter to all God’s children: A claim that we are God’s children is empty if not backed up by obedience to our heavenly Father. If we are truly ‘born of God’, we will ‘practice righteousness’ and walk the same path Jesus walked (1 John 2:529). It is matter of cause and effect.

John is in rapture as he reminds us of our identity as children of God and our heavenly family home (1 John 3:12). I love his affectionate words to motivate us to copy our older Brother’s example of purity (1 John 2:6293:3). Obedience to God’s moral standard is an expression of our love for the Father and the outflowing of His love for us (1 John 2:5). Obedience is an observable genetic trait which proves our holy heritage.

Peter and the apostles give us an example of how costly this obedience can be in a world that does not recognize Christ as Lord (1 John 3:1b). They chose to obey God rather than the world even though it cost them beatings, imprisonment and ultimately their lives (Acts 5:282941). We too are instructed to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him” (Col 1:10), to practice righteousness, not just to talk about it (1 John 2:29). Talk is cheap, but the Christ-walk is costly. Jesus teaches the identical message in John 15:14,

“You are my friends if you do what I command.”

Jesus doesn’t offer suggestions or wise words. He is not fooled by false spirituality or bold claims (Matthew 7:22;23). He is Lord over every inch of our lives, because He is God. There are no half measures. Living as a Christian means obeying the Father as Jesus did (1 John 2:5,6). For Jesus, the cost of obedience was death on a Roman cross.

Never perfect but ever striving

But knowing that we are just little children who don’t look much like our older Brother yet, the gentle Apostle first encourages us (1 John 2:1). He reminds us of his earlier promise (1 John 1: 8,9,10.) There is no such thing as a perfect Christian and we are fooling ourselves and calling God a liar if we hide or deny our sin. Every time we fall, Jesus is there to defend us in the court of heaven as He’s paid our penalty in full (Rom 8:1). We are a work in progress.

But after the acquittal, we must look our sin square in the face and own it. Every moment we actively ‘abide’ (or continue) in Jesus (1 John 2:28), we place ourselves under God’s standards, not man’s. In fact, John calls us hypocrites if we claim to know God but habitually do as we please (1 John 2:4).

Just as children in a healthy family resemble their parents and try to please them, God’s children will take on the family likeness, even though we are not always perfect. Holiness is our distinct family heritage. But we do not strive in our own power. Remember that we are children of the Triune God and one of the members of the Trinity is the Holy Spirit, the guarantor of our adoption. He has made his home in our hearts. Only God’s Spirit can transform us into the image of Jesus ‘from one degree of glory to another’ (2 Cor 3:18). Only the Spirit’s conviction can help us to see our sin and ask for forgiveness (John 16:8). Only the Spirit can give us different desires (Phil 2:13). It is the Spirit of truth who opens our eyes to understand reality (John 16:12-15). Only the Counsellor empowers our prayers and helps us in our weaknesses (Rom 8:26). Only the Spirit gives us the power to exercise self control and say “No!” to sin (1 Cor 3:17). Only through the Holy Spirit can we produce good fruit (Gal 5:22;23). That’s why it’s impossible to please God unless we are born again and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5;6;8).

There can be no holy heritage without the Holy Spirit.

Burn the ships!

You may be wondering what the feature picture at the top of this devotion is all about. You’ll have to join me next week to find out! In “Burn the Ships!” we will look at what it takes to “continue in Christ” and the unbreakable link between holiness and happiness. Don’t miss it! As a sneak preview in the meantime, you can listen to our family’s favourite song Burn the Ships (For King and Country–Click and listen here.)

Live out today’s devotion:

  1. Be honest about your Christ-walk. Spend time thinking and praying about whether your walk matches your talk. Ask people close to you whether they can see the proof of obedience in your life in real concrete ways.
  2. What command of God the Father have you recently obeyed? Was there a cost to yourself?
  3. Worship as you meditate on the holiness of God and the work of the Trinity in your life. Click on here to listen the hymn, Holy, Holy, Holy sung by Shane and Shane. Only when we get a glimpse into the character of God can we truly appreciate our identity as Abba’s child and the Spirit’s work in our lives. Pray about what the words of this hymn mean to you.

From Slaves to Sons

Abba’s child

Romans 8:15-17 (ESV)

15 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!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Psalm 56:3-4 (NIV)

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
    In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?

No longer a slave to fear!

(Click on the song by Bethel music here)

I know without a shadow of doubt that I am a child of God, but if the truth be told, I still live in the shadow of feelings of fear and anxiety—sometimes even doom! It’s not just the ordinary kind of fear either. It’s irrational, debilitating and hits me from nowhere like an invisible assailant. My peace and joy are erased and I suddenly feel untethered, fragmented and panicky. At one time in my life, I used to have a fear of speaking, reading aloud and being with people in a social setting. Loosening the chains of fear, especially my fear of loss and failure, has been part of my journey of faith, but the most helpful question I can ask my own soul when in the grip of fear is this:

“What can anyone or anything in this world take away from me or do to me that God has not ordained?”

Of course, as a child of God I know the answer to that question, but I have to preach the truth to my fluttering heart over and over again. Personally, one of the most liberating and honest verses in the whole of Scripture is Psalm 56: 3-4. Here it is in the ESV:

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?”

I love David’s candid statements to express both his fear and his trust in God at the same time. God has used my fear to show me my own weakness and the power of Jesus to supply all my needs. My fear has driven me to hunger for my Father and the truth of His word. It has forced me to meditate on, memorise and hold onto his promises for dear life. I would never have understood the faithfulness and love of God if I had not been driven by the storm of my own fears to take refuge under his wings. Faith and fear are not mutually exclusive as long as we live in this world, in the period between redemption and the day we take occupation of our perfect home (Rom 8:2Rom 8:2122). Faith is believing the promises of God even when we cannot see or feel any evidence that they are true– Just because He said so. No matter what. There is a tension but not a contradiction in David’s prayer, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

In today’s devotion, I am going to call on you to click on a few worship songs, because music has been a great megaphone for preaching truth into my own soul.

Look up child!

(Click on this song by Lauren Daigle)

The key to living out our adoption in flesh-and-blood lives, is the Aramaic word “Abba” (Rom 8:15). Abba translates as dadda, the phonetic sound an infant would use before he can utter his first word. Think of a baby holding her daddy’s face and expecting to be fed, protected and loved. There is complete trust and dependency implied in the word. No question of earning Abba’s love or approval. No attempt to manipulate Abba. You and I “cry Abba” when we run like a child towards our heavenly Father to pray to him. We have direct access to Him because we have put our faith in the Lord Jesus, the one and only mediator between sinful people and a holy God (1 Tim 2:5). Like that trusting infant, we simply open our arms to receive God’s gracious gift of adoption. We don’t wear ourselves out trying to ‘make God’s team’ or prove our worthiness. We don’t fear being sent away. It is only because Jesus is worthy that you and I can boldly approach God’s throne of grace (Heb 4:16Eph 1:7). Our prayers to Abba are nothing like the ritualistic prayers of those who do not know God as their Father (Matt 6:5;6;7;8). We do not relate to Abbalike He is the Genie of the Lamp, with prayers to impress or demand His favour. We know we have it already, covered in Jesus’ robe of righteousness (Rom 4:4-6Isa 61:10). We are children, not slaves! Look up child, into your Father’s face instead of the face of your circumstances.

You make me brave!

(Click on You make me Brave by Bethel music). If you prefer hymns, click on  In Christ alone)

Children of God have a primal connection with their perfectly good, strong, faithful and loving Abba Father. When they run to Him for refuge, fear gives way to confidence, devotion and a desire to please Him. This boldness reminds me of my two dogs, Honey (the terrier) and Caspy (the retriever) below.

caspy and honey

When we adopted our no-name brand, “Honeydew” from the SPCA, she was terrified of everyone and everything. She had been rescued on the busy highway near Honeydew, hence the name! It was obvious that her early months of life had been scary if not abusive, and I often had to claim her at the vet’s rooms after she bolted from me in Delta Park. Her panic could be triggered by something as innocuous as a man riding towards her on a bike. Everything changed when we brought our golden retriever, Caspian (‘Lionheart’) home. My son chose him because he was the biggest and gentlest in the litter. Caspy soon outgrew Honey and claimed his spot as top dog. But something significant changed too: Gradually Honey transformed into a bolder, braver terrier than ever before as she hid behind her big brother, Caspy, the most friendly, fearless dog I know! After six years, Honey has become Caspy’s shadow, barking and wagging her tail as if she belongs to our family and proud of her role as guard dog! There’s no trace of fear as long as Caspy is near, but alone, Honey is timid and lost. It’s best not to bend this analogy too far or it will surely break, because trust me, Caspy is unruly and nothing like Jesus! But Honey’s transformation is a little like our own when we become Abba’s children. As we learn to trust and tuck in behind Jesus, our big brother, we start to believe that we do indeed belong to God’s family. We embrace our forgiveness and it dawns on us that we are truly at peace with God. The reality that we are in Christ trickles from our head into our heart and we start to live as though we are true heirs of the blessings that Paul describes in Ephesians 2. Little by little, fear and sin no longer have the power to control us and we relate to God as if He is indeed our Abba. In place of fear, we have a Father. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Which father do we believe? Our heavenly Father or the father of lies?

Whom shall I fear?

Click on Whom Shall I Fear by Chris Tomlin

Live it out:

Do you know that your heavenly Father delights when you love and take care of your spiritual brothers and sisters? Are you meeting with a small group regularly to remind yourself of your status as Abba’s child?

Join us next week in “Which father do you believe?”

From Orphans to Heirs

The Father’s love

One of my favourite books is Knowing God by J.I Packer. I especially love the final chapter titled “Sons of God”:

“What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father… Do I, as a Christian, understand myself?  Do I know my own real identity?  My own real destiny?  I am a child of God.  God is my Father;  heaven is my home;  every day is one day nearer.  My Saviour is my brother; every Christian is my brother and sister too.

Say it over and over to yourself first thing in the morning…and ask that you may be enabled to live as one who knows it is all utterly and completely true. For this is the Christian’s secret of – a happy life? –yes, certainly, but we have something both higher and profounder to say.  This is the Christian’s secret of a Christian life and of a God-honouring life, and these are the aspects of the situation that really matter. May this secret become fully yours, and fully mine.”

Packer is referring to the greatest mystery of the gospel– Adoption.

Our text is Romans 8:12-17

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 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!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

From Orphans to Sons

In another letter, the apostle John calls us to open our eyes and “look at what kind of love our heavenly Father has for us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are!” (1 John 3:1).

Our heavenly Father’s love is a kind of love only explained by the gospel. It is nothing like the sentimental ‘love’ we see on romantic comedies or Valentine’s cards. It is a far cry from the ‘love’ that leaves when my needs are no longer met. It is the kind of love which goes on a journey in search of orphans faraway and brings them home, giving them a name, a destiny and writing them into his will as heirs. It is the kind of love that fiercely protects, defends, delights and grieves over his family. It is the kind of love that stays for the long haul.

We are those orphans. God our Father came in search of us while we still scorned and rejected His love (Rom 5:8). But His love was so persistent, so unfailing, so fierce, that He gave His own life to pay for ours.

Let me paint a picture of the Father’s love for his children: When we receive Jesus the Son as our redeemer, the Father adopts us as if we were his natural born children, (John 1:12-13). We exchange orphan rags for Christ’s robe of righteousness (Isa 61:10Rev 19:8). Our shame is replaced by bold confidence. (Rom 8:1Heb 4:16). Our fear is traded for assurance of the Father’s provision. We surrender anxious striving for a permanent position in God’s eternal family. We will never be returned to the orphanage for bad behaviour. The signed adoption papers are God’s Spirit who comes to live in our heart as proof of our status (Rom 8:16). We are given a new identity card (Isa 43:1), a family mission statement (Matt 28:16-20) and a new wardrobe of clothes to wear (Col 3:12). We receive a personal tutor, the Holy Spirit, to help us live beyond the doors of the orphanage where we used to scrap for food and lived only for ourselves (Rom 8:1214). We now have a secure family and a home. Paul says we have received (not earned) adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba, Father!” (Rom 8:15).*

Adoption is the ultimate unearned, undeserved privilege that every Christian inherits when we repent and believe in Jesus as Lord. There are no super-star children or runts in God’s family! No child is invisible or overlooked by this Father. No child is belittled, rejected or abandoned by this Father. This Father cannot be fooled or manipulated. He is the only perfectly good father.

It is hard to take on the world without the secure love of an earthly father who protected and cherished you. This vacuum can become a terrible handicap on the journey of life. But King David tells us that even if “my father and mother have forsaken me, yet the LORD will take me in” (Ps 27:10). No matter what your human heritage, no matter how wonderful or deficient your earthly father is, the father vacuum in our soul can only be filled by the Lord, our perfect Father. He will take you in.

As children of the most high God, we must knead the Father’s love into our minds every day so that even our subconscious dreams start to believe it! Seeing the beauty of this love and guarding it with all our might will prepare us for whatever we may need to suffer for Christ now and to share in His glory when he comes to take his children to our eternal home (Rom 8:17). Our Father’s love is not a mystical secret we can master through theories, books or religious practices. Nor is it a body of knowledge we can learn like maths or history. The Father’s love is something we can only know by experience as we walk in relationship with Him, just as the love of a husband or wife can only be known through the journey of marriage. It is a mystery that reveals more of itself day by day as we learn to walk like a child, in trust and obedience, with our Abba Father. “As a father shows compassion on his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are but dust.” (Ps 103:13-14)

Live it out!

  • Take a rain check on your soul: Are you wearing yourself out trying to prove yourself, earning your place in the world or the family of God? Do you sometimes feel like an orphan? The root of your weariness may be that you are not living as a child of the Almighty, in the shadow of your Father’s great love for you.
  • Take time now to meditate on God as your Father and the love he has lavished on you throughout your life, even when you didn’t want Him. Think of how he pursued you and called you his own. Re-live your journey from orphan to son or daughter as you pray to your Father. Thank Him right now, express your praise and devotion as his beloved child. Pour out your heart and ask Him to reveal Himself to you as ‘Abba’ Father.

Worship your Father as you listen to The Father’s love (Sovereign Grace Music) and Good Good Father (Chris Tomlin).

Join us next week for part 2 in the same text, as we dig deeper into what it means to be “Abba’s Child.”

*Note: In the Roman empire, it was only the firstborn son who could inherit his father’s estate. Daughters were not heirs. When Paul calls us sons and fellow heirs with Christ, he is conveying great status to our position in the family (Rom 8:17).