The Agora
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Abba, Father

A surprising number of New Testament passages, from Paul and others, arise out of the events of our Saviour's birth. They suggest many valuable lessons. A look at several:

Romans 8

Man in his natural state is heir only to death; more precisely, he earns death as his "wages" (Rom 6:23). There is only one way of escape from death, and that is to die! This the believer does in baptism:

"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?... For he that is dead is freed from sin" (Rom 6:3,7).

But true baptism is more than a mechanical process. It is validated only by belief, before baptism, and obedience, after baptism. Otherwise it is a meaningless show.

But for those who have escaped death, even if only prospectively, what a wonderful blessing!

"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom 8:1,2).

What exactly is this "law" of sin and death? This passage refers back to Rom 7, where "law" means either the law of Moses (vv 1,2,6-9) or our sin-prone natures. Moses revealed, in those who heard it and tried to keep it, the "law" or principle within themselves that tended solely toward sin.

How is it that God, through Christ, has made us free from this two-faceted law of sin and death?

"For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in (the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in (he flesh" (Rom 8:3).

God's first step in releasing man from this bondage was the begettal of a Son in the likeness, or sameness, of our flesh.

Here was one who though "in the flesh" physically, did not "walk after the flesh" (v 4). Instead, he walked "after the Spirit" by being "spiritually minded" v 5) -- giving us an example to follow.

In following Christ's example, we are "born" again: Although we remain physically "in the flesh" -- and nothing can change this in the present age -- we must walk "in the Spirit of Christ (v 9). In other words, Christ is "born" again in us (v 13), and we become new creatures. We are "led by the Spirit" (v 14) -- not the Holy Spirit in its miracle-working manifestation -- but rather the spirit, or teaching, or example, of Christ. In following this path, we become the "Sons of God" -- patterned after His first Son born long years ago in Bethlehem.

In the exalted language of the Spirit John describes the birth of Jesus -- and our "rebirth":

"But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (John 1:12-14).

Of course, Jesus here is unmistakably "the Word made flesh", reflecting the glory of the Father. Not so obvious perhaps is the teaching in vv 12,13, that we may also become "the word made flesh" by a rebirth of our "spirits". Which is just another way of saying that as we read and believe the gospel of Christ, and as we put his principles into practice in our lives, then God is impressing His word upon us, and we are in the process of becoming individual "writings" of God.

John concludes his gospel with these words:

"And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written" (John 21:25).

There is no limit to the works of Jesus. His work continues even to this very day, in all those who believe. By receiving the written word of God in their hearts and conforming to its impulses, those who believe become at last the other "books" of which John spoke. The life story of each one is another "gospel," another "book" telling of the works of Christ! So many are they that the world will scarcely be able to contain them -- a multitude which no man can number.

"Adoption" or "Sonship"?

Paul continues his theme in Rom 8:15:

"For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father."

The RSV more correctly renders "adoption" as "sonship," which is quite proper -- the root word being "son." "Adoption" gives the unfortunate idea, to modern minds at least, of a distinctly second-class relationship. It is a word that in no way does justice to the blessed state to which God has elevated us. In one sense there is, of course, just one "only-begotten" Son. But in a broader sense we are all "begotten" by the Word of God to be His sons, and no son of God is "second-class"! But then again, in the very fullest sense, there is only one Son of God, for we are all sons only in that we have become "the body of Christ"!

Paul next pictures the whole creation in birth-pangs, groaning to be "delivered". It is the universal longing, almost inexpressible, for the fulfillment of God's purpose in the "birth" of sons (vv 19,22). These "sons" will be born as the dew from the womb of the morning (Psa 110:3, RSV). They who have been "dwellers in dust," and God's dead men, will awake and sing for joy, as dew of light upon the earth (Isa 26:17-19, RSV).

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom 8:28-29).

All things, even trials and suffering, have a place in God's overall purpose for His children. This purpose calls for their spiritual development in conformity with His Son "the firstborn", whose character was formed and tested in the things which he suffered (Heb 5:7-9). In learning of Christ and emulating his character, we "die" to our sins and "live" again according to his righteousness (1Pe 2:19-25).

"What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall He not with him also freely give us all things?... Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (Rom 8:31-35).

Galatians 4

After concluding in Gal 3 that we may become the children of Abraham by faith in Christ, and therefore heirs according to the promise, Paul proceeds in Gal 4 to consider the preeminent "heir," the "one seed" of Gal 3:16:

"Now I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all" (Gal 4:1).

"The heir" is singular; Paul is speaking of Christ -- although the principles may have application to those in Christ as well. He refers to (he standard wisdom of his day, that even the heir of a great estate must be subjected to discipline in his early years, as a preparation for the great work of rulership that awaits him. In such a preparatory stage, then, the heir is essentially no different than the lowliest of servants, and is placed under "tutors and governors" (v 2) who later will be his servants! This is precisely the situation in which God placed His Son; even after Jesus had begun to recognize his divine mission, he was still for some years "subject unto" Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:51).

Paul argues further, to those who were once in bondage to the law of Moses, that Christ has come to lift them from a lower state, servitude, to a higher one, sonship.

"But when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, horn under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir" (Gal 4:4-7, RSV).

Though the elevation to sonship necessitates a further discipline of servitude, it is now a servitude (as was Christ's) in full awareness of the potential heirship of all things. How could "sons" of God, once delivered to this higher tutelage, with the wonderful vistas it provides, how could they ever desire to return to a degrading bondage which offered no release but death? But this is precisely what the Galatian believers were doing!:

"My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you" (v 19).

"Listen to the law," says Paul, and he illustrated the two states by reference to the two sons of Abraham. One (Ishmael) was never more than a slave and the son of a slave because of his foolish reliance on the flesh. The other (Isaac), though younger, was the son of the freewoman, and himself the child of promise and heir of all things -- although he was first subjected to persecution. Paul concludes for us all:

"Even so it is now ... So then, brethren we are... children... of the free (woman)" (vv 29,31).

1 Peter 1,2

Peter also takes up this theme of the believer's new birth, in language patterned upon the birth of Christ:

"Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever" (1Pe 1:22,23).

Christ was "begotten" by the special procreative power of the Holy Spirit. We too become "sons of God" when His Holy Spirit-word acts upon our minds. The incorruptible seed is planted in our minds and takes root in a "plant" that is radically different than the natural growth of "grass" and "flower" (v 24), because it has the potential to endure forever (v 25). This is the only sense of course, in which believers have eternal life now (1Jo 5:12,13)!

So, Peter continues, Christ is "born" in you, although at first he is only a "baby". As newborn babes then, he says, you must earnestly desire the "milk" (1Pe 2:2) -- as did the babe in Bethlehem. Do not seek high things, but bide your time, trusting in the Lord, resting upon His gracious care -- as did Jesus before you. Then grow up in the Lord, again as did Jesus, to a full maturity of sonship.

Christ appears to us first as a newborn babe in a manger. And so are we, "newborns", when first called by the glorious gospel. Yet, as with that babe, there is a wonderful hope for the future, in the flowering of youth and strength, and fin -- ally in supreme manhood. Our faith and character must grow and will grow, until we approach to "the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:13).

It can be done! If we stand at the beginning of our probations and look right to the end, seeing Christ in his perfection, it may seem an impossible task! But even a "marathon" is the sum total of so many single steps, and God has told us that He will give us strength to run that race! He has commanded us to follow His Son, and to grow up -- as he did, step by step, learning obedience through trials. And to those who obey, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, and the sufferings through which they pass in the "fellowship." of His Son. More and more, step by step, they will learn who Christ truly is, and become more conformed to that image.
The baby in the manger uttered his first cry, and thereby his Father slaked a claim upon our lives. Thereby the Mighty God of all creation became also "Abba" -- the tender Father of a little child; and our Father as well! The God of remote abstractions and technical theories. He is a God who loves people, a Father who holds back no blessing from His "children", who searches out and loves even the least worthy and most neglected.

A tiny cry in a manger. It was truly a miracle. It was the greatest of all miracles -the birth of God's own Son! But isn't every birth a "miracle," and a mystery? Isn't every child a "holy child," because he or she receives life from the God of holiness? Isn't every child a "gift" from God, showing His continuing love for man, showing that even yet He has not "given up" on us? And isn't every child a special child -- like Samuel or John or even Jesus -- to be dedicated by righteous parents to the service of God? Like Mary and Joseph, many of us have been entrusted by God with future kings and queens -- who will one day, by God's grace, sit upon thrones and apply to the nations the lessons learned in their parents' homes.

And, in fact, aren't we all "children of God," begotten by His love, who manifest our "sonship" in our love for one another? If there is a lesson in the "nativity," it is this: the preeminence of love. We love Him, because He first loved us. For, after all, "sonship" is not what we do, but what we receive. Not what we earn, but a gift.

"Behold the amazing gift of love
The Father hath bestowed,
On us, the sinful sons of men,
To call us sons of God."

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