For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
A Little S, The Big S
Though I’ve yet to bump into any scholarship confirming it, Paul’s preferred construct for breaking down spiritual principles seems to be “Not that, but this.” Steering his readers from old habits and ideas into new light certainly reflects his own experience as a captive of legalistic bigotry set free by Christ’s laws of love and tolerance. Maybe that’s why the approach gains such prominence and power with his pen. Take his finest literary moment, for example. Nearly two-thirds of 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s most celebrated ode to love, lists behaviors and attitudes lacking or contradicting love. After establishing what it isn’t, Paul sails through what real love is. He uses the same structure to explain the Holy Spirit’s function in securing the right of inheritance to God’s grace. “You didn’t receive a spirit revoking your freedom from fear,” he says. “You received the Spirit of adoption entitling you to call God your Father.” Not that, but this.
The contrast is blatantly visible in print. Re-enslavement to fear is the work of a spirit—indefinite modifier, little S—while the Spirit—definitive singular, big S—seals our adoption by God. Even without deeper consideration, Paul’s premise speaks volumes. Doctrines or messages aimed at reviving anxieties about God’s acceptance take shape under a devious influence, one spirit among many in opposition to Christ’s truth. The lowercase S strips away all pretense of divine authority, while the uppercase S legitimizes any advocate of God’s unconditional will to welcome everyone into His household of faith. The Holy Spirit stands alone as the sole Agent of our adoption, making It the single Source of confidence in God’s embrace and provision
Commissioned to Speak
In John 16.12, Jesus identifies the Holy Spirit as One commissioned to speak the mind of God. Numerous epistles advance this concept, most notably 1 John 5.6, which casts the Spirit as primary witness of Jesus’s Lordship. Paul reaches the same conclusion in reverse, teaching what’s said on God’s behalf proves the validity of its source. If it contests our status as God’s children and rightful heirs, Paul says it’s an imposter misrepresenting Christ’s gospel of love as a ministry of fear. But if it supports our legitimacy via divine adoption, it’s the Holy Spirit speaking for God. His Word is final and immune to courts of human opinion. The Spirit steels our assurance in Who God is, who we are, and establishes the nature of our relationship to Him. He’s our Father. We’re His children. He sent the Holy Spirit to grant us full access and rights to Calvary’s legacy. Paul does such a fine job of documenting this in black-and-white that any believer who continues to struggle with doubts about his/her acceptance does so voluntarily and needlessly.
Notice how Paul describes what we haven’t received—“a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear.” The reference to slavery is more than a dramatic flourish. It conveys two walloping nuances. First, it alerts us to discount any negative manipulation out-of-hand and second, it reorients us to prize freedom as part of our godly inheritance. When a former pastor preached against permitting anyone or anything to steal our liberty in Christ, he boiled his message down to this: “So you want to go back to Egypt?” That’s Paul’s message in a nutshell. Ungodly influences enslave us to fear. They push us as far back toward Egypt as we’re willing to go, often ending up worse than where we started. The Holy Spirit never resorts to pushy manipulation. It leads. Jesus promises, “He will guide you into all truth.” (John 16.13) And Galatians 5.18 says the Spirit is sent to lead us to freedom, not return us to lives held hostage to terror and doom: “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Indeed, liberty is Its hallmark; 2 Corinthians 3.17 unequivocally states, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” We may think going back to Egypt—enslaving ourselves to fear-based values and beliefs—will please God when, in fact, turning back is how we part company with the Holy Spirit.
Being led by the Spirit removes us from spiritual degradation and poverty to live freely and openly as God’s children. In the verse just above his comparison of enslavement and adoption, Paul writes, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Following the Spirit’s lead, listening and believing only what It says, finalizes our adoption. It affords us the privilege of addressing God in a most pleasing manner to Him and us. “By the Spirit,” Paul says, “we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” He couples the Aramaic and (originally) Greek words for “Father” on purpose. In Aramaic, Abba denoted an intimately trusting, mutually respectful relationship between father and child. It was spoken with tenderness and pride, acknowledging the wealth of love and security the child receives from the father. “Father” balances this with paternal responsibility for the child’s growth and wellbeing, guaranteed for life. God sent the Holy Spirit to unite us with Him, opening a two-way channel to express our shared love and happiness. God’s will for us is just that, a testament of care and concern for His children. Since He’s eternal, our adoption and inheritance transpire simultaneously. When we say, “Abba, Father” we execute His will—in every sense of the word.
The Holy Spirit finalizes our adoption and inheritance simultaneously.
(Tomorrow: The Comfort of Counsel)