The Gift Of SonshipErwin W. Lutzer | February 7, 2016
Selected highlights from this sermon
From before the foundation of the Earth, God chose to adopt us as sons and daughters through the redemptive work of His Son, Jesus Christ. When we believe in Christ and His work on the Cross for our salvation, we enter into the benefits of our adoption.
The Father welcomes us and brings us into a new and personal relationship with Him. The Son shares His inheritance with us. The Spirit grants us assurance, reminding us that we are children of God.
This is the fourth in a series of messages entitled The Inheritance of the Redeemed, blessings that are given and belong to all those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. If you missed the first three messages I encourage you to listen to them (predestination, the righteousness of God and the ministry of the Holy Spirit). And today we come to a topic that is so mind-boggling that near the end of this message you may be saying, “I can scarcely believe this.”
A couple of words by way of introduction! First of all, the topic is sonship, but even though I’m going to be using that word, and the Bible uses it, I want all of the women to know that they are included in this with all the rights, privileges and opportunities that are available to you in Jesus Christ. The Bible uses that kind of terminology, but of course, women are included and children are included. It’s the inheritance of all those who have put their faith in Christ.
Second, if you’re the kind of Christian who says, “Well, you know I’m not a very good Christian. I hope that I can just kind of sneak into heaven. I’ll sit in the back row.” And for some of you that’s the way in which you do it here at the church, so you’ll be used to it. “If I sit in the back row and just make it, I want to be anonymous in heaven.” Boy, are you in ever in for a surprise. Front center, sitting with Jesus on the throne, and you’re going to be anonymous? You have no idea what God has prepared for you. None of us really does apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Now, here’s what we’re going to do. Because the word adoption as sons occurs in a number of different passages, we’re going to turn to three of them. In each passage we’re going to learn something. The first two we’re going to try to do very quickly so that we grasp the main point, and then we’re going to move to the third. And that’s where your mind is going to be so stretched that when we are finished you are going to say, “Can this really be true about me?” And the answer is yes if you are among the redeemed.
The first passage is Ephesians 1. It’s in Ephesians 1 that we learn very quickly that adoption as sons is actually a part of God’s eternal program, and that it was His intention to save you. We’re going to jump right into verse 4: “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless (He didn’t choose us because we were holy and blameless but that we would become holy and blameless before him, and now notice this) in love.” And it must have been done in love because once you understand this you know your heart is going to be so stretched. “In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his will to the praise of His glorious grace with which He has blessed us in the beloved.” Wow!
So that’s why God saved us. And we think to ourselves, “Well, you know the real reason God saved us is just to take away our sins so that we could be in heaven and not hell.” His intention in eternity past (the reason that he chose you) is because His intention is that you would be adopted into the family of God.
Now let me say that obviously God took the initiative. And in adoption procedures parents always take the initiative. The child never gets to choose his parents. We know someone who was in an orphanage, and this was a very mean way to do it, but the kids lined up because parents were looking for a child, and this one was always neglected and somebody else was chosen. Well, none of these children said, “Well, you know, I don’t like these parents. I want to wait until there are some better ones coming along.” God made the choice, and as a result of that, why did He do all of this? You’ll notice it’s “to the praise and the honor of His grace,” so that throughout heaven we would be Exhibit A of God’s matchless, unbelievable grace toward sinners. Unbelievable! God is going to say, “I’m going to take the people who are of the lowest and deepest sin, and I am going to exalt them in ways that perhaps have never entered into the human mind.” Throughout all of eternity we are going to be exhibits of God’s grace and to His praise. Well, that’s the first passage. It was all rooted in God’s eternal plan and was the end result of our redemption.
Next Galatians, and in my Bible you only have to turn one page back. Now you know that some of you don’t bring Bibles, and some of you have telephones, and oh yeah. (laughter) Yeah, welcome, and you know, look at them. Galatians chapter 4, and I have to summarize this also. What Paul is going to argue here in Galatians 4 is that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything. You could be born into a family where there were hundreds of millions of dollars, but you as a child can’t really benefit from it. You can’t write any checks. You can’t buy a car. You can’t go and have lunch in a wonderful restaurant. You can’t enter into it because you are a child. And Paul would say that these kinds of children are under tutors, under instructors, and they are under rules. And, of course, they are. Our children had rules when they were very, very young. You know you don’t play with the outlets, the electrical things. You don’t have a knife in your hand. You don’t touch a hot stove. But after they get old you don’t need those rules anymore.
What Paul is going to say here is that the rules represent Israel under the Law. Under the Law they were like children. They were given the Law, they were supposed to order their life according to the Law. But now that Jesus Christ has come, all that has changed, and they are being adopted as sons. So here we get to a definition of adoption.
Adoption really, and this of course was true also in Roman adoption, means that God puts you into His family as an adult son or daughter, and therefore you have all the rights and the privileges, and all of your inheritance comes along with that adoption, and you can begin to enjoy it right away on earth, though of course, its eventual enjoyment will be heaven.
What I mean to say is this. Let’s suppose that you have been saved for 40 years. You’ve walked with God all these years, and some of you have. But among us there may be those who are brand new Christians. Maybe you received Christ as Savior last Sunday because you prayed that prayer in sincerity and you were born again. And of course, your state is quite different from someone sitting next to you who has been saved so many years. Your state is different, but your status as a son or daughter is exactly the same. You see, it’s one thing for you to have a condition. Your condition might be a baby, but your position is an adopted son or daughter of God and all that it entails, and it’s all because of the coming of Jesus, making this available.
Now, all of that to set us up for the real passage! The real passage that I want to turn to is Romans 8. Everyone look at Romans 8 please. You know, if the Bible were a ring I think that the diamond would be the book of Romans, and then the very tip of the diamond would be the 8th chapter. What a marvelous chapter!
Well, let’s read it, and then we’re going to see this. Not only was adoption in eternity past in God’s mind. Not only is it because of grace. That’s what the Apostle Paul is saying. It’s not under law – it’s under grace, because you see, grace doesn’t take into account any of the ideas of merit. It is totally independent. That’s why it is that great sinners can be saved, and lesser ones can be saved because grace doesn’t pay attention to merit. It’s unrelated to it.
Now with that background let’s look at Romans, chapter 8. Now let’s look at verse 12: “So brothers, we are debtors not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh, 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. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God.” Let’s stop there before we get to this entire Trinity that you’re going to be involved with.
You know, sometimes we think, “Well, you know, we’re led of the Spirit because we make this decision and that decision, and it’ll keep me from bad decisions.” Not necessarily! What he’s talking about here is being led of the Spirit and being free from the impulses and the tyranny of the flesh and being able to walk in the Spirit. That’s really what the Spirit helps us do.
He says, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear.” Now, if you don’t know Christ as Savior, I suggest that you ought to live in fear. You ought to live in fear when you go down the streets of Chicago, and with all of the crime that is happening you ought to live in fear because of what is happening on our expressways. And you should lay down and put your head down and know that you could die during the night. You ought to live in fear. But that’s not true of the inheritance of the redeemed because we have not received the spirit of bondage to fear. There is fear and there is bondage to sin. That’s not the spirit that we’ve received.
And now what I want you to do is to open your mind and your heart to understand what Paul is actually saying. What he is going to say here is that when it comes to the matter of adoption and becoming the sons of God, the entire Trinity is involved in this. Let’s look at the text: “For you have received not the spirit of fear for slavery, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry Abba Father.” Just that much!
The first thing we receive when we believe on Jesus, and are adopted into His family, is a welcome from our Father – Abba Father. Abba, as you know, is a term of endearment. Some people want to translate it Daddy – something like that. It’s maybe not quite that informal because adult children sometimes used it, and Jesus used it in the Garden of Gethsemane. Someone has suggested that maybe the best way to translate it is “dearest Father.”
Now, you see, obviously the reason why this happens is because we’re adopted sons. Let us suppose that you were up for adoption, and to choose a name randomly, let’s suppose that you were adopted by the Smith family. Okay? You wouldn’t, after your adoption, say, “Now, Mr. Smith and Mrs. Smith…” Of course not! It’s Dad and Mom. You’ve received the spirit of adoption now. You have this family relationship, and what that means is that you have access to your Father at any time. In the dead of night, during the day, when you are in trouble, and when things are going well, you have access to the Father because He’s never too busy to be able to handle you. He’s got a lot going on but He has time for you.
Many of us are young enough to remember that there was a picture circulated I guess in the sixties obviously when President Kennedy was president of the United States, and he is sitting behind his desk in the Oval Office. And little John-John, as he was called at that time (the little 2-year old boy) was playing under the desk of the president. It was a lovely picture. How in the world did the kid get there? I mean, supposedly there are Secret Service agents guarding the Oval Office. There are members of the military that are also at the ready. This little boy snuck through them all – walked past all of them. Why? He’s a son.
When you become a believer in Christ as a son or daughter, you always have access to the Father, and you get right into the Throne Room. I can show that scripturally if I had the time. Right into the citadel of where God is we come because we’re sons, and He says, “I always have time for you.”
Not only do we find that we have access. We have security. In Roman times the adoption was irreversible. Once you are a child, you are a child. You’re a son; you’re a daughter, and your inheritance… Trevor Burke who wrote a book on adoption said, “If adoption is about anything, it is about belonging, a belonging where God as Father occupies center stage in the midst of His family. This is God’s family. He’s center stage and He adopted you with all the rights and privileges of sonship.
How many of you remember that story in 1992? Derek Redmond was running in the Olympics in Barcelona - the four hundred meter dash. Now he had won that previously. He was basically a world champion, but as he was running, he broke a hamstring in his leg and he had searing pain. But instead of falling down he decided to continue to hobble to the finish line, and of course, everyone else went past him. And suddenly out of the stands comes a man dressed in a white tee shirt and he’s going past security, and he’s shouting, “That’s my son, that’s my son.” And they allow him to go onto the field, and it’s interesting the conversation they had. The father said, “You don’t have to do this.” He said, “I know I don’t have to but I have to make it to the finish line.” And the father said, “If you have to make it to the finish line we have to make it to the finish line together.” And he put his arm around his son and helped lift him, and together they went all the way to the finish line.
My friend, you may feel today that you are in pain, and that everybody else is running past you to the finish line. You’ve been sidelined for a hundred different reasons. You have a Father in heaven who is willing to come alongside of you, help pick you up and take you all the way to the finish line. (applause) I love the last words of Jesus before He died. The last words were, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit.” I don’t know what my death will be like. I hope it’s still a long way off, but if I am conscious enough, those would be the last words on my lips. “Into Thy hands I commit my spirit.”
So the Father is involved. He is welcoming you. He is loving you and caring for you. The Spirit is involved - the assurance of the Spirit. The welcome of the Father – the assurance of the Spirit!
Your Bibles are open. “We have the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry ‘Abba Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” Now in Roman adoption not only were there a number of judges that were present, but also there were witnesses. There were witnesses there at the adoption that said, “We are here to be sure to witness to this, and if anybody ever doubts that this child was adopted, we’re here to prove that he was.” That’s the role of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God gives the assurance to the human heart, and that is the only religion in the entire world that offers personal assurance. And the personal assurance comes because of the Spirit of God witnessing within our spirit that we are the children of God, and granting us that assurance. No other religion has that. “Oh,” you say, “but other religions believe that they’re right too.” Yeah, I know.
Could I take the liberty of telling you that on Friday I caught a cab to the Union League Club because our Moody luncheon was there. And along the way I engaged the driver. I could see that he was very religious, and I didn’t know exactly what to say. I was just throwing out a couple of questions, and I said, “Do you have the right religion?” “Oh yeah!” There was no question about the fact that he had the right religion. I said to him, “Do you have the assurance that when you die you’re going to be in heaven?” “Yeah, that’s what our religion teachers say.” Oh, okay. So we went along a little more and I asked him a couple of other questions, and he said, “Of course, I don’t have any assurance.” He said, “Allah can do whatever he likes. Nobody can have assurance.”
Do you see this? It’s a very important principle. It’s not just true about Islam. It’s true about the other religions of the world. They say, “We have the right religion,” and they are convinced that they have. What they do not have is personal assurance because only the Holy Spirit of God ministers to our spirit, and through the peace that He gives and the assurance that He births in our hearts we know that we belong to God.
I love to use the example of my mother. My mother died at the age of 103. If you think that’s a long life, my father died at the age of 106. Many of you have heard this, but many of you haven’t. I always say that my parents lived so long that I’m sure that until my father died all of their friends in heaven thought that they just didn’t make it (laughter). But they made it.
One day when she was probably 95 or 96 (I don’t know) I called her. I used to call her every Saturday night, and she’d always ask me what I was preaching on, and assuring me that she was praying for me. What a godly woman! But one day I just said to her, “Mother, are you sure that when you die that you are going to go to heaven?” And she said, “I am as sure as if I were already there.” Now where did that assurance come from? Is it because she studied books on apologetics? No, she never read those books. She never read all the books that her son wrote. (laughter) No! She always read her Bible. It’s a better deal, by the way, I guess. It’s because walking with God for 75 or 80 years she had the deep down settled assurance that is really given to a new baby in Christ. “I belong to God.” Why? It’s because the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.
Do you have that witness? If you don’t have that witness, you probably have never been born again. “Oh,” you say, “I’ve prayed the prayer. I’ve walked the aisle. You know when I was a baby I was baptized.” It doesn’t matter. Have you the witness of the Spirit that you belong to God?
So, first of all, the Father welcomes us. What does the Spirit do? He gives us assurance. Third, and now (oy oy oy), I don’t know if I can go on. This is so amazing. (Thank you, brother. I heard “Please do.” For you I will and the others can listen in.)
Look at this: “And if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided that we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” What does the Son do? The Son shares with us His inheritance.
Do you realize, my friend that there is nothing that belongs to Jesus that He does not share with all of us, because we are joint heirs with Him? What happened is He wrote us into the will, and then what He did is He died on the cross, and shed His blood to ratify the agreement and to seal the deal. And today He tells us this cup is the cup of the New Covenant, the New Covenant in my blood, and we become a part of that New Covenant. And after He instituted that, He went to heaven to probate the will. Probation means that what He’s doing is He’s making sure that all of the legal requirements, which have already been won on earth, will eventually be applied to all of us so that when the last will and testament is read, our names are there, and we are joint heirs with Him in whatever it is that He does and whatever it is that He has. Are you not yet amazed?
Now let’s think of it a little bit. In 1 Thessalonians 4, when Jesus Christ comes for His church, the Bible says that the trumpet of Lord shall sound, and Jesus is going to come, and who does He bring with Him? It says, “With him are all of the saints who have died – those who have slept in Jesus.” So to be very direct and practical, let’s suppose now that Jesus were to rapture us today. Coming in the air to receive us would be my parents. It would be your parents if they were believers, friends and relatives and all those who have gone on, and their spirits. And their spirit, by the way (would be able to have all of the many attributes of the body and that’s why they can communicate in heaven today), would connect with their bodies because their bodies are then going to be then raised. And the dead in Christ are going to be raised, and those who are alive are going to be instantly transformed. And the Bible says, “And so shall we ever be with the Lord.” Jesus doesn’t go anywhere unless He brings His people along with Him.
And then you have Revelation 19, which seems to clearly indicate a different event at the glorious returning because many of us believe that the return of Christ comes in two stages. You can read those passages and they are radically different. Jesus is coming from heaven on a white horse to execute judgment and to set up His kingdom. And who in the world does He bring with Him? It says He comes with His holy ones, those whom He has made holy. That’s you and that’s me, by the way, coming to the Mount of Olives.
And if you have never been to Jerusalem because you can’t afford it and it doesn’t fit your schedule, don’t be too worried about it. You’re going to get the tour of your life when you descend on the Mount of Olives with Jesus. (applause)
But then you say, “Yeah but! What about ruling with Jesus? What about that?” Oh, listen. “He who overcomes, to him I shall grant to sit with me on my throne, even as I overcame and sat with my Father on his throne.” You say, “Pastor Lutzer, you’re making that up.” No, I’m not. You just ought to read your Bible a little better. I see it there. Revelation 3:21: “He who overcomes, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, even as I overcame and sat with my Father on his throne.” Sitting on the throne of God! You are! Turn to the believer sitting next to you and say, “Some Day you’re going to sit on the throne of Jesus.” Do that right now. Watch who you say it to. That’s incredible.
You say, “Well, how big is the throne?” (laughter) Well, I don’t know how big it is, but apparently there’s room for all the saints. Jesus says, “You are a joint heir with me, so you get to rule with me forever and ever. And you participate in my suffering when you receive me as Savior.” It doesn’t say that we have to suffer for Him. We suffer with Him in His suffering in receiving Christ and in living for Him, but the fact is that whatever Jesus inherits, you get.
Do you understand now? (chuckles) I mean no wonder we’re going to be trophies of God’s grace forever. I mean He’s going to put it up there and say, “Look at that sinner, the guy who was in the depths of sin, and I elevated him. He was in the mud, and now I’ve put him up here with Me on the marble.” Ruling with Christ! We’re going to say, “Wow,” throughout all of eternity, and more formal things also I’m sure.
Now, we need to nail this down. We need to understand its relationship to life here on earth while we’re waiting for the final inheritance. First of all, let me say that some Christians are sons and daughters but they live like slaves. What’s the difference? Let me analyze this very quickly. The difference is this. A son belongs to the family. A slave doesn’t. Not only that, but the son has the nature of the father. The slave doesn’t. It says that when we trust Christ we are partakers of the divine nature. There’s the nature of God. There is family resemblance – sons and fathers.
Not only that, the slave serves because of fear. You know. “I’m going to get in trouble with my master.” We serve because of love. Dr. Wiersbe, who preceded me in this pulpit many, many years ago, said that two boys may be… And this is the way I remember it. They want to do some mischief in the neighborhood. One boy says, “No, I won’t because if I do, I’m going to be hurt by my father.” The Christian boy says, “No, I won’t because I don’t want to hurt my father whom I love.” You see, we are sons and daughters, and that’s the way we serve Him.
But there are some Christians who are in the far country like the Prodigal. The Prodigal was in the far country and eating there with pigs, and then he comes back to his father when he gains his senses. And I am always amazed at all that God has to do to bring prodigals back. I mean he has to drag them through all kinds of grief – some of them. But he comes back and what does he say? He says, “I am unworthy to be called your son. Make me as your hired servant.” And the father says, “Oh yeah? You think you’re going to be a hired servant? You’re not a son in order to be a hired servant. Uh-uh! No, no way! Bring hither the robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet. And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill him, for this my son was dead and is alive, and was lost and is found.”
When you come back to God after your wandering, and after your time in the pigsty, He welcomes you as a son and a daughter of the Most High. (applause) Jesus didn’t die so that we become hired hands. (applause) So come back. If you’re living in the world, you’re living in sin, you’re neglecting everything, and you’re a believer, come to the Father, and He’ll come to you and honor you as a son or daughter.
Next, it’s very important for us to realize that one of the marks of sonship is discipline. It says in Hebrews 12: “What son is there whom the father doesn’t discipline?” He says, “If you aren’t disciplined, you might not be a son. If you can live in sin freely and manage your conscience in such a way that you’re at peace, you are probably not redeemed.” Sons of God can’t do that. They can do terrible things. They can insult their Father in heaven, they can give Him a bad name, they can live in the world and for the pleasures of the world without restraint, but when they do, they are so miserable because they are being disciplined by God.
People need to understand that discipline is part of the Christian life, and discipline is part of your life and mine too. God shows us a lot of things, and sometimes we suffer, and we have no cause-effect relationship. It may not be because of specific sins, but God is purifying us. He’s saying, “I want that son to look like Jesus.” And Jesus suffered. He is going to suffer too, or she.
Finally what we must understand is the blessings, of course, are limited to those who trust Christ. Now let me be clear the way you become adopted. You’re not adopted directly as such, though the minute you receive Christ as Savior you are. But to put it clearly, we enter this blessing through what is called in the Bible regeneration. It’s called in other places the new birth. What happens is this. Two parents get together and they regenerate you. Without the two parents you can’t be regenerated – not one parent, not a single parent! Two parents bring about regeneration. The Word of God combines with the Spirit of God to create within you the life of God. That’s the way conversion happens - the Word of God combining with the Spirit of God creating in you the life of God!
If you don’t know Christ as Savior but you say, “I sure would like to receive Him,” listen to that voice and respond to it, and receive Him as your Savior. And if you have no assurance that you belong to God, probably you are not converted at all. And you say, “Well, I’m not sure.” Well then, nail it down. Make it sure. Don’t live the rest of your life on the precipice of doubt. Receive Christ. Claim His promises. And I believe that the Spirit of God births within us the knowledge that you are the son of God – the daughter of God. And when you pray, the first words out of your mouth will be Father. And the second words out of your mouth, birthed in our hearts by God, is, “I love You. I only wish I loved You more.”
Father, who are we to try to convey this truth so that it is believed and acted on? We thank You, Father, for Your indescribable grace. We thank You that Jesus died, not that we might be hired hands, but that we might be sons and daughters of the Most High. Help us to worship better, to contribute better and to sacrifice better by Your example and Your love, in Jesus’ name, Amen.