Romans 8:12-25

Why Do You Live Like An Orphan?

July 23 2017

            I can remember as a teenager feeling that I must have been adopted.  I wasn’t, but I felt like I was.  I felt out of place in my family. I felt that nobody understood me. I felt like my parents and my sisters were truly “out of touch” with what I wanted and the things I was interested in. Surely – I felt — I did not really belong to this family! I must have been adopted!

            Looking back on it I don’t think I was the only child to ever believe that.  In fact, as I studied Psychology in college, I learned about Erik  Ericson’s theory that every child goes through what he calls “self – differentiation” where they begin to see themselves as different from those around them and develop their own personalities, likes, and dislikes. This might start with a feeling that they are different from their families – and may for a while lead to feelings that they must have been adopted — before it eases into figuring out how to be themselves and still be a part of a family group.

            Did you ever have that feeling that you must have been adopted?   

            Well, I think there comes a time in every child’s life when he or she entertains two possibilities. Either your parents are from Mars – or you must have been adopted. Usually these ideas occur in tandem.  Maybe after a huge fight with Mom and/or Dad; or after a sibling beats them up or puts them down. These kinds of things can lead them to believe that that there is no way they could really be related to such mean, bossy, completely opposite people. They come to believe that the must have been adopted.

            You know, it wasn’t long ago when adoption was a highly confidential and even secretive process. What were called “closed adoptions” were the norm from the 1920s through the 1960s. The birth mother was not allowed to know who the adoptive parents were. The adoptive parents were not allowed to know who the birth mother was. The adopted child didn’t know anything — especially if their adoptive parents chose not to tell them. Even if they were adopted, they wouldn’t know unless their adoptive parents told them. In the 1970s, however, the legalities behind adoptions began to change. A massive shift toward we call “open adoptions” took place. In “open adoptions” all the parties know who they are dealing with and  there is the possibility for communication and connection between adopted children and their birth parents.

            Almost all ancient cultures had legal means whereby orphaned or abandoned children could be legally incorporated into a new family.  Both the law-loving environments of first century Judaism and the Roman empire had a long list of adoption laws, policies, rights, and regulations. Whether it was done for economic, political, or emotional reasons, in the world of the Apostle Paul, “adoption” was a very legal procedure.

In other words, when Paul used the language of “adoption” in the portion of Romans 8 we’re looking at this morning to describe the startling, new relationship enjoyed by followers of Jesus, he was speaking to an educated audience. First -century Romans, Jews and Gentiles knew the privileges and perks that came with the status of being legally “adopted”. The idea that those who followed Jesus were true “children of God” and included in the scheme of God’s plan of salvation by virtue of a “spirit of adoption” brought ideas of legal realities to the minds of Paul’s audience.

Paul is speaking in terms of an “open adoption” here – isn’t he? He has in mind an adoption where those being adopted and the ones doing the adopting know who they are. Those being adopted definitely know their own backgrounds. They know where they came from. They know how they had lived before they were “adopted” by God. They recognize their inability to live up to the standards demanded by the law and their need to be “adopted” by God. They know that their “flesh” — that is their life lived in the midst of this world and all its temptations – was falling far short of God’s requirement for righteousness. Yea – they know that they were spiritual “orphans” – but by God’s gracious act of “adoption” they embrace a new possibility and a new family of faith.

Paul’s news about their complete and utter “adoption”, their transformation from sinful folks into genuine “children of God” is indeed “good news” for them.  It is a indeed a “gospel” – and out of praise to God for their “adoption” they commit themselves to living as His children and acting like His children, for that is what they understand themselves to be. By God’s grace, they understand that they are adopted into God’s family and need to live in God’s ways instead their old ways of sin.

So here’s a question we all have to answer:  

If first-century Christians could “get it” – if they could understand what it meant to be “adopted” into God’s family – and the joy of living in a new way because they were God’s children —  why can’t we “get it” also? Why is it that we pray to God as “Our Father” but we behave as though we are abandoned, sinful, and unloved orphans?

Why is that?

Friends – you can be “adopted” by God and can now be a part of God’s family!  You don’t have to live in sin or be a part of the family of sin – you have been adopted by God and can live in His ways. The early Christians were thrilled to be “adopted by God” and to live in the new ways God called them to live.

Why aren’t you?

You have been adopted by a righteous and loving God. You have been adopted into God’s family. Why would you choose to continue to live like you are still an abandoned, sinful, and unloved orphan?

Charles Dickens’ classic novel Oliver Twist  tells of an orphan’s life in 19th century London. In the movie version you may remember Orphaned Oliver’s naive, plaintive plea to the abusive authorities — famously remembered as, “Please sir, may I have some more?” Here’s the thing — the “world” — what Paul calls in today’s text “the flesh” shouts to that plea: “No! . . You are inferior, unacceptable, and unredeemably bad.” Jesus, however,  said something else. Jesus said “Yes! You are loved, forgiven, and redeemed.” Jesus spoke “Yes!” to human need and encouraged the weakest, healed the most sickly, and invited the most sinful people to repent of their sins and follow Him.  To every spiritual orphan who asked: “Please, sir, may I have some more?” “Please, sir, may I be forgiven” “Please, sir, may I live a new life?”  Jesus said: “Yes!” Jesus realized that everyone He encountered and everyone He spoke with was an “orphan” who needed “more.” And He gave them the “more” they needed, every time. And every time they felt that Jesus was responding their needs, they followed Him.

Jesus is still speaking “Yes” to those who come to Him. He is still responding  to the needs of “spiritual orphans”. He still heals, loves, and redeems those who come to Him.  And what’s more – He still makes them “children of God” He makes them a part of God’s family, and offers them a new way to live. But like those who first responded to Jesus or the early Christians Paul addressed, we have to  come to Jesus, let Him touch our lives, ask Him for the “more” He offers, and accept His “Yes” – the adoption into the family of God and the life God wants us to live.

You have been a “spiritual orphan”, but you have been given your “adoption papers.” So why, even after you receive your “adoption papers,” do you continue to behave as if you are still “orphaned”? Why is it so difficult to live in the ways of God – your “adoptive parent” – and proudly tell others that you are His adoptive child by your words and your actions? Why choose to live in the “ways of the world” when you can you can live as a “child of God”? 

It doesn’t make sense, does it?

But that is what so many people who claim to be following Christ – who claim to be a part of God’s family — do. They may try to live in God’s ways — sometimes. They may bear the likeness of their heavenly “adoptive” Father —  sometimes. They may be able to sit in Church – when it suits them – and look like they have turned their lives over to God and are so glad they are a part of His family.  They may even be able to sit in Church every Sunday and look like a part of the family of God. But they don’t do anything to grow as Christians – or grow as a member of God’s family.  Instead of choosing to truly live as the forgiven, blessed children of God that they are – they choose to continue to live in sinful ways and act more like spiritual orphans than adopted sons and daughters of God.

Is that how you live?

Would that describe your life?

The truth is that it does not have to. You can understand that God has brought you into His family and you can live in His ways. The truth is that you are not a spiritual orphan – you are not like Oliver Twist having to listen to the berating “No!” when you let your needs be known — but God has answered all your needs with His “Yes!” The truth is that God has adopted you into His family – and you can truly live in His ways. The truth is you can grow in your faith and in your resemblance of you Heavenly adoptive Father.

But it’s your choice.

You can choose to go back into the “family of sin” if you want to do that. You can choose to never grow as an “adoptive child” of God and never really experience the love God has for you – the love that is so great that you can call the great creator of the world “Abba” – or “Daddy” and live in a loving relationship with Him. You can choose to turn away from your adoptive family – God’s family – and to continue to live like a “spiritual orphan”.

Or – you can choose to grow in your faith – grow in your relationship with your “adoptive Father” God – and grow as a child of God by talking to Him in prayer, listening to Him by reading a studying His word, and “hanging out” with your “adoptive” brothers and sisters in Christ here at Edgewood as together we strive to grow into the children God would have us be in worship, study, and fellowship.

It is indeed your choice.

You have been redeemed by God and are His child. Why live like a spiritutal orphan? Amen.