Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Romans 8:12-17 NIV
On this Memorial Day weekend, it would be natural to quote a different scripture: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” That’s John 15:13. It’s an appropriate scripture, but today, I want to consider what all those men and women were fighting for. What motivates us to put our lives at risk for a country?
Today’s scripture would be considered radical in many countries. There are very religious societies that consider calling Jesus the Son of God blasphemy deserving of death. Today’s scripture goes a step further. In this passage, WE are encouraged to see OURSELVES as sons and daughters of God. Some societies would forbid such a thought on religious grounds. Others just don’t want ordinary people to elevate themselves like that.
Say what you will about our society, but let’s confess that we are free to make both of these radical statements: That Jesus is the Son of God and we are children of God. We are free, in this country, to call God, “Abba! Father!” These are not required beliefs, but they are not forbidden. Indeed, they are common, and they are concepts worth fighting for.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” That’s what the Founding Fathers believed, and that’s worth fighting for. If we are sons and daughters of God, then we are inherently important and equal. The Declaration of Independence goes on to say that the only proper role of Government is to secure those rights.
The United States is not officially a Christian nation, but our founding principles absolutely borrow from Christian values. We are a living, growing nation, and when we change, we change in support of those values. At first, all White Men were considered equal; then all men; then both men and women. It does not matter what race or gender, what religion or nationality, what language we speak or what culture we practice. Somewhere deep inside we accept that everyone is equal in the eyes of God and should therefore be equal under the Law. When Peter was sent to the Gentiles, he said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right.” (Acts 11:34-35) As God does not show favoritism, our Government’s goal is to practice equality as well. That is worth fighting for.
We read about King David, called “A man after God’s own heart,” overly blessed and surely favored by God. But God didn’t let David get away with having Uriah killed in battle and sleeping with Uriah’s wife. Because of that sin, David was to be at war the rest of his life, and he was not allowed to build the Temple. Everyone is equal under the law. (2 Samuel 10) That is worth fighting for.
We are allowed to believe and teach things that some people consider wrong, unholy, or even blasphemous. We teach that everyone is welcome to take communion. We teach that we have no creed but Jesus, the Christ. We teach that our leader is Jesus Himself, and no one else.
Having said this, we remember and believe that all people are equal under the law. That means that they, too, can preach and things that we don’t believe in, that we consider blasphemous and unholy. We can’t force anyone to believe like we do. That would be illegal, and it would also go against the teachings of Jesus. Jesus praised Samaritans and Roman Centurians, whose religion was not Jewish and not Christian. Paul reasoned with Greeks and Jews alike, without condemnation. There were people in Jesus’ day driving out demons in his name, even though they were not his Disciples. The apostles complained, an Jesus said leave them alone. “Those who are not against us are for us,” He said.
Here’s what Paul said about people who don’t believe and practice exactly like we do: “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”
There are a lot of people we disagree with, but if we convince them they are wrong, then we are responsible for the result – and we better not be wrong. It’s better to demonstrate our own faith, to show our loyalty to Christ by obeying the teachings of Jesus, than to insist on our own version of doctrine and orthodoxy.
In America, we have the right to disagree. We have the right to walk away from a debate, and to stop the debate in our own homes, in our own churches, or at our own places of business. We have the right to stand up for our rights in the public square – which means that others can stand up for themselves as well. These are principles worth fighting for.
We have every right to call ourselves Children of God. A lot of people have died to defend that right, and the rights of all others to express their own opinions and to worship according to their own consciences. So we are free to accept the teachings of Paul in today’s scripture, and I heartily endorse these teachings.
Let’s hear them again:
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”
I pray that we will receive this teaching. We are children of God. We have received not a spirit of slavery, but the Spirit of adoption. We boldly cry to God, “Abba! Father!” Paul told Timothy that God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and discipline. God has given us the freedom to come boldly to God’s throne. We live by the spirit, not by the flesh, and our brothers and sisters in the military have sacrificed to protect both the spirit and the flesh. I do honor those who have given so much to secure our freedom. But in that Spirit of boldness that God gives us, let’s express our gratitude by living in freedom, not as slaves, but as children of God.
In the name of our Father, and His Son, and the Holy Spirit …