Holy Trinity; Adoption; Assurance; Fellowship June 11, 2006
I AM: The One True God!
Vicar Brian Henderson
In the name of the Father, †and the Son and the Holy Spirit. AMEN
Our text this morning comes to us from our Epistle lesson, but for context, let me read this portion of our Old Testament reading: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deut. 6:4)
INTRODUCTION: This first part of our Old Testament reading is historically called the Shema. It was and is what separates God’s people, from those who worship other or many gods. It is in these words that the Church has historically stated that there is but one God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. But we do not stop there do we?
Today is Trinity Sunday - the day we ponder the divine mystery of God in Three Persons. For we confess that there is but one God, the true and living God. Yet, here in His Word, God has revealed Himself to be three distinct Persons –Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And so, we confess that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. This is a strange concept for us. You’ve heard of the new math right? Well this is old math; very old math, because it is God’s math: 1+1+1=1! While this is a mystery that is beyond us, we can with Paul, through faith exclaim, ‘Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!’
So today, rather than try to probe the mysteries of the Godhead, we will examine instead what God has given us to understand and to hold. Here in His Word, God reveals all that He wants us to know and believe about Him and His plan for us. If we truly want to know God, then we do not need to look any farther than our Bibles; because He is here in His Word. And it is within His word where the concept of the Holy Trinity is found. So let’s take out our Bibles or bulletins and have our Epistle lesson open before us (Romans 8:14-17).
TRANSITION: Within our Epistle Lesson today there are 3 key concepts that if understood correctly will help strengthen our faith and draw us into a deeper relationship with our one God who eternally acts in three persons. And if we rightly understand this concept we will also see God strengthen our relationship with Him and with each other. These three concepts are: God’s Adoption; God’s Assurance and God’s Fellowship. All three of these things are the action and desire of one God whom we encounter as 3 distinct persons.
I. ADOPTION: In verse 15 we read: “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!” When we come to Christ, God not only forgives us, but he also adopts us. Through a dramatic series of events, we go from condemned orphans with no hope to adopted children with no fear. Here is how it happens. We come before the judgment seat of God full of rebellion and mistakes. Because of his justice he can’t dismiss our sin, but because of his love he can’t dismiss us either. So, in an act which still stuns the heavens, He punished himself on the cross for our sins. In this one wonderful act, God’s justice and His love are equally honored. And you dear friend, as God’s creation, are forgiven. You see, when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5 NASB).
ILLUSTRATION: Listen to this little story and see if this helps you understand this idea of adoption a little better. A Sunday school secretary once had two new boys enroll for the first time. In order to register them she had to ask their ages and birthdays. The bolder of the two said, “We’re both seven. My birthday is April 8, 1976, and my brother’s is April 20, 1976.” “But that’s impossible!” answered the secretary. “No, it’s not,” answered the quieter brother. “One of us is adopted.” “Which one?” asked the secretary before she could curb her tongue. The boys looked at each other and smiled, and the bolder one said to the secretary, “We asked Dad awhile ago, but he just said he loved us both, and he couldn’t remember any more which one was adopted.”
TRANSITION: Like the two boys in our story God in his wonderful love actually loves us as His very own! Now according to our standards, it would be enough if God just gave us His name; if He simply declared that we were His children, but v.14 says that he does so much more than that; in fact, He gives us His Spirit, which lives within our hearts, “For all who are led by the (indwelling) Spirit of God are sons of God.” Dear friends, think about what this means! The very same Spirit that came upon our Savior at His Baptism, which led Him through forty days of temptation in the desert and then strengthened Him on His painful walk to the cross, was given to us at our own Baptism.
II. ASSURANCE: This leads us into our second concept for this morning, Assurance: In verse 16, we read, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”; (v. 16) another way to say this is that the Spirit joins with our spirit to assure us that we are God’s children. This assuring work of the Holy Spirit is a continual act, a gift that keeps on giving. It is that state of certainty that comes to us only through the work of God’s Spirit. It is through this work, that the Spirit provides assurance to our worried hearts through His presence so that we may approach God and know that He will respond in love. What a blessing this is for us; to know that our “peace of mind” is not based on wishful thinking, but instead it is the very desire of God.
ILLUSTRATION: Former Green Bay Packers’ head coach Mike Holmgren looks back at a heartbreaking moment, when he was cut from the New York Jets as backup quarterback to Joe Namath that directed him to a bigger plan.
“I had committed my life to Jesus Christ when I was 11, but in my pursuit to make a name for myself in football, I left God next to my dust-covered Bible. But after getting cut from the Jets, I pulled out my Bible and found comfort in a verse I had memorized in Sunday school: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths’ (Prov. 3:5-6). I asked Jesus Christ to take control again. (Now) my priorities in life are faith, family, and football—in that order.” Coach Holmgren, like so many of us left God’s assurance for a time, but he found out like so many others, that God’s presence, His assurance never left him!
TRANSITION: So here is God’s truth that we have received so far: Without adoption there can be no assurance. Without assurance there can be no relationship with God. But by rightly seeing God as He reveals Himself, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit, we may now see our adoption rightly and then find assurance as He leads us into our final concept for today’s message, fellowship with God and each other.
III. Fellowship — If I asked you this morning to write down examples of fellowship with God and with your neighbor, I am certain that a great many of you would include things like prayer, Bible Study, and community service; these would be great examples but they would not really explain what fellowship is. To understand fellowship, we must first go to its source; we must go to God Himself. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1) Allow me to point out that the Word for “God” here in the original language is “Elohim”, which is the plural form for God. Listen now to another example and this will become even clearer: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen. 1:26-27) What we learn here, and with the rest of God’s Word is that while the Lord our God is one, he exists in a fellowship of three persons. This fellowship is the very image of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Further, because we have been made in the image of God, we too were created to be in fellowship with Him and with each other, “In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” So what does it mean, to be in fellowship with God?
True fellowship with God consists in knowing God’s will; being in agreement with that will; loving God as He loves us; finding time and enjoying time spent with Him; being conformed to his image; and participating in the things that please Him.
But another form of fellowship happens with other Christians. It consists in faithfully joining together in worship and performing the work of the church; being filled with God’s grace, love, joy, and sharing these things with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now there is one more type of fellowship, and this happens with our unbelieving neighbor. Our Gospel lesson tells us that we must seek to create and strengthen relationships there as well: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” But how can they believe if they have not been told? As many of you know, our congregation agreed that we are seeking God’s will through prayer for a period of 40 days. In addition, we have given you an opportunity to receive His Word through a series of daily devotions that will also help us to know and follow His will. Now we know His will already, “To seek out and save the lost.” But what we don’t know is how to carry this out; how can we build these relationships of love with our neighbors? How can we help God bring them into fellowship with Him? This is what we hope God will teach us after a lot of prayer and application of His Word. If you have not committed to this process of prayer and seeking yet, may I encourage you to get involved? If you do, you will begin to see fellowship develop with God, your church, your family and your neighbors in a way you never before knew was possible.
Now much of what God has challenged us with today sounds, well overwhelming, and that is because it is! I know you must be feeling a bit like I am right now, convicted because you have not been doing enough, and that is because we haven’t! But do not let your hearts be troubled, because we have hope in our Epistle lesson that has not yet been declared, and it is this: In all of this work, we have the assurance of our one true God that He will work with us to ensure that day by day we become more and more effective in growing in fellowship with Him, our church and our neighbors. In verses 16 and 17 we read: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 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.” What we learn here is that the Holy Spirit comes along side of faith, and He approaches the Father with us and ensures that we receive the very same strength and inheritance that Christ received so that he could be obedient to the Father’s will and thus find peace. “Obedient?” you ask, “How can we use that word? We are sinners; haven’t we failed God in so many ways?” And to that I answer, AMEN! We are sinners in every way, but our obedience isn’t measured in our success at being good, but in our refusal to give up! Yes we fail, miserably sometimes. So many opportunities have been missed to grow deeper in a relationship with God, church and neighbor, but there are still more opportunities for us to grow.
It is painful to fail and it is painful to admit that we have not really been trying. But that is precisely the type of suffering that verse 17 is talking about. Listen again and hear God’s promise: “we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” The point here is that even though we have failed and will continue to fail, we do not give up. We continue reaching for the prize. We forget what lies behind and work towards what lies ahead: Eternal life with God.
ILLUSTRATION: Chuck Swindol, a Reformed Preacher tells this story in a book he wrote on leadership: “A number of months ago, I ran into this fellow, and after we’d talked awhile, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You know, Chuck, the only thing I still miss is that old fellowship I used to have with all the guys down at the tavern. I remember how we used to sit around and let our hair down. I can’t find anything like that for Christians. I no longer have a place to admit my faults and talk about my battles—where somebody won’t preach at me and frown and quote me a verse.”
The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit that there is to the fellowship Christ wants to give his church. It’s an imitation that dispenses liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality—but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets, and they usually don’t tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit fellowship at the price of a few beers. I believe that after understanding God’s plan of Adoption, Assurance and fellowship, Jesus wants his church to be this kind of place as well, but for God’s good and not by the way of man.
CONCLUSION: Dear Christians, we are part of Christ’s universal church; a church that desires to be a fellowship based on God’s plan of Adoption and Assurance, and we are a congregation that people can come to, where ever they are and say, ‘I’m lost and at my final end. I’ve had it. Prove to me that God still cares. Prove to me that you care.’ As God’s church, we shall do exactly thatr. We will prove to them that we to have been lost and at our final end, and that God has proven to us, yes even us that He still cares and loves us! How could we do any less for those who still do not know Him who first loved them: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; one God now and forever. AMEN
And now, may “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen” (2 Cor. 13:14).