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Monday, May 21, 2007

The Contrast of Slavery and Adoption

In preparation for this week’s worship service, and in continuing reflection of the Baccalaureate and Commissioning services for our graduates, I have been confronted with a particular dichotomy in Scripture. When Jesus is sending his disciples into the world he promises them the Comforter who will be the Spirit of Truth, who will guide them in their ministries. This Spirit is contrasted in Romans by Paul as the “Spirit of Adoption” rather than the “Spirit of Slavery.” Why would such a contrast be made? And what possible implications for 21st century disciples could this argument hold?
In days long past, when slavery was still an accepted form of cultural and economic status, many new Christians found themselves as household and agricultural servants. They were completely at the mercy of the master, who could at a moment’s whim have them flogged or killed. So harsh was the punishment of some slaves at the hands of the aristocratic ancients that all slaves lived in fear of unjust and cruel treatment.
What is more, there is Biblical argument that the Law itself, both to the covenantal Jew and the ignorant Gentile, was a bane to righteousness. Paul himself claims that the Law brought judgment and death on the people under the Law. They lived in a constant bondage to the life-script that was proscribed in the Mosaic Law; they were constantly under the threat of God’s punishment for sins for which they could not atone.
But Paul offers something completely different. He contrasts the “Spirit of Slavery,” which, according to earlier arguments, can be associated with the law, and the “Spirit of Adoption” which is something new entirely. With one simple turn of phrase Paul has taught the fundamental work that Christ accomplished for God’s people: by faith in Christ we are not bound to the constant fear of punishment as those under the Law, but instead are adopted children of God. Unlike the slaves of old, who earned no retirement or inheritance, the adopted children of God work as children do – they participate in the actions of the family and are due an inheritance.
This is the model that the children of God in any generation should follow. We are not slaves to ritual or even to the Law. Such bondage would have us living in fear for our lives and our eternal salvation. Rather, we are filled with the Spirit of Adoption, the one who constantly teaches us how to act as a proper child of God. May none of us be timid, may none of us live in fear or bondage. We are children of the Great Father through Jesus Christ. And soon we will all indeed share in his great inheritance.

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