“Father, Father!” Literally that is what Paul says we cry out to God through the work of the Spirit. The Church of the first century was a place that still retained some of the Aramaic language that had been used by Christians in Palestine in the very beginning. We see an example here, where Paul first uses the Aramaic word for “father” and then adds the Greek word. He writes, “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!’” The apostle tells us that the Spirit poured out on Pentecost now leads us to cry out to God as “Father” on the basis of the new status we have received in Christ.
Tonight the Church begins her celebration of Pentecost – the event in which Christ poured out the Holy Spirit upon the first disciples in Jerusalem. Pentecost marks a new and final stage as God’s saving work unfolds and moves towards its consummation. Our incarnate Lord, Jesus Christ, having completed his mission of death and resurrection for our sins, ascended into heaven and was exalted to the right hand of God the Father. On Pentecost he poured forth his Spirit whose work it is to extend the saving reign of Christ through the Gospel.
In Paul’s writings, the work of the Holy Spirit clearly identifies the time we live in as the Last Days. Paul says that the resurrection of the Last Day has already started – it started on Easter in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As he told the Corinthians, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.”
Just before our text, Paul had told the Romans that the Holy Spirit was involved in the resurrection of Jesus. And he went on to say that the presence of the Holy Spirit within us – the Spirit poured out on Pentecost – is the means through which God will also raise us up. He wrote: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
The Holy Spirit is the One through whom the resurrection power of Christ is at work in us. And in our text, Paul goes on to teach us about two important implications of the Spirit’s presence within us. Paul writes, “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!’ 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.”
The first implication has to do with our status. Because the Spirit of the Son is within us – the Son who has won for us forgiveness and defeated death – we have received the Spirit of sonship. We are no longer slaves to sin, death and the devil. Instead we are the sons and daughters of God. The Spirit is the One who has created faith within us and enables to cry out to God in faith, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit is the One who testifies within us that we are the children of God – the One who gives us the peace of knowing that fellowship with God has been restored in Christ.
And Paul tells us that if we are children of God, we are also heirs. We are heirs of God and coheirs with Christ who was not afraid to call us brothers and sisters in order to bring us back to the Father. The Spirit within us testifies to the saving work of Son and in doing so assures us that we will share in all that Christ was won for us – resurrection and eternal life.
This is all good news – it is Gospel. But Paul also tells us in our text that for the present, those who are in Christ are also called to suffer with Christ. The outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost was a joyous event for the Church. Moved by the Spirit she went forth to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. Yet in that work, the book of Acts tells that Stephen and James were soon martyred, and that the church in Jerusalem was scattered by persecution. The call to live Spirit motivated lives in Christ is a call to take up our cross and follow our Lord.
And it is also the call to live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh – the sinful, fallen nature. At the beginning of our text Paul says, “So then 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.”
Life led by the Spirit calls us to struggle against sin within ourselves. It leads us to return to our baptism in repentance – to return to our own personal Pentecost in which the Spirit was poured out upon us and joined us to Christ. For in our baptism we find forgiveness for our failures. And in our baptism we find the source of renewed life – renewed life in Christ as we are led by the Spirit.
Our celebration of Pentecost begins tonight. Paul’s words teach us that through the work of the Spirit we are able to call out to the Father in faith. We are able to live in the knowledge that we are the sons and daughters of God. And we are able to look forward to sharing in resurrection glory with Christ.