Life in the Forever Family of God

A sermon idea based on Romans 8:12-25.

The Big Idea

God is growing his forever family, and to everyone, he offers an open invitation on the basis of his own redemptive work in Christ. And being a member of God’s forever family comes with some special spiritual privileges.

Romans 8:12-25 NRSV

[12] So then, brothers and sisters, 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 children of God. [15] For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” [16] it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [17] and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

[18] I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. [19] For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; [20] for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; [23] and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. [24] For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? [25] But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

What’s a “family” anyway?

My family (my household including my wife and three biological children) love watching movies together. One of my favorites, when my daughter was little, was Lilo and Stitch, which tells the story of a little girl, Lilo, who had been orphaned (we aren’t ever told what happened to her parents) and lived with her big sister and presumed legal custodian, Nani.

They struggle. They need therapy. But instead of therapy, a destructive, mischievous little alien lands near their home in Hawaii and passes himself off as a puppy at the shelter, whom Lilo adopts and names Stitch. And according to the mad scientist-alien who is hunting him, Stitch’s tendency is to “be irresistibly drawn to large cities where he will back up sewers, reverse street signs and steal everyone’s left shoe.”

A social worker / Men In Black-kind of secret agent going by the ominous name Bubbles gets involved. The family of three (the sisters and their pet alien) is nearly torn apart by the end of the film, but love winds up winning (as it has a tendency to do).

Several times throughout the movie, Lilo reminds Nani that the meaning of the word ohana in the native Hawaiian language is that “nobody gets left behind.” And according to Hawaiian culture, the word refers to a kind of familial, loving embrace of the whole human family rather than simply a group of people related by blood.

When I read this part of Romans 8, Paul’s language reminds me of the concept of ohana. He’s spent the bulk of the letter to the Romans layout out his case for the fact that God is building a new kind of forever family on top of the ruins of a doomed and divided humanity. And God’s ohana invites and includes all who want in and are simply willing to follow Jesus by simple faith and trust.

God’s family is made up of people from all walks of life, all ethnic backgrounds, genders, cultures, and personal stories. And on the basis of God’s loving and sacrificial act of redemption, accomplished in Jesus’ death upon the cross and resurrection, God is establishing and expanding his forever family throughout the world through the work of the church.

In this passage, Paul begins to celebrate some of the blessings of being part of God’s forever family. For example:

Members of God’s forever family possess (and are possessed by) the Spirit of God.

And in Paul’s view, this means two things.

First, we are led by the Spirit. We’re never left on our own to wander the world aimlessly again.

And second, we are loved by the Spirit and brought into an intimate relationship with the Father. It’s the kind of relationship in which we lose our fear that God wants to harm us and, instead, flourish in the assurance that God seeks our good.

Members of God’s forever family inherit the glory that follows the end of all suffering.

We should never make the promise that following Jesus ends suffering. Rather, we can say with boldness that our suffering is joining us with Jesus and leading us somewhere better.

Paul’s remarks about all of creation groaning and suffering are an amplification of his point rather than being the main point. We’re all part of creation, and as such, we’re all suffering together.

Members of God’s forever family have an unshakable hope for eternity.

This isn’t to say that we have certainty in an intellectual sense that life is eternal. Rather, by virtue of the character of God, which we experience in our intimate relationship with him each day, we trust and hope that what God has spoken and demonstrated concerning the resurrection of the body and the age to come is trustworthy.

Hope is as essential as food and shelter. Without it, we wither. With hope, we survive and we thrive.

I can’t prove by empirical means that there is life beyond death for the soul, but I believe it because of the hope and faith I’ve placed in a faithful God who has offered eternal life to all who are willing to follow him.

No matter who you are or what your story is, you have an open invitation into the forever family of God!

Photo by Heshan Chamikara on Unsplash

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Romans for Normal People: A Guide to the Most Misused, Problematic and Prooftexted Letter in the Bible (The Bible for Normal People)
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Romans: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Volume 6)
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