From that reading I would like to focus on this particular verse (14): “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”  Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

As you know, I open every sermon with that same sentence, which echoes the opening greeting St. Paul uses for several of his letters (what we call “Epistles”) including Romans.  And it really is a foundational statement.  What more could a pastor want to accomplish in a sermon than to bring to his family in Christ the grace and the peace that are only available through God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ?!

Yet, while this is foundational, something seems to be missing.  Actually, someone seems to be missing.  Truth be told, over the 500 year history of Lutheranism, other Christians have at times criticized us for seemingly forgetting about—or at least underemphasizing—this someone.   Does anyone here know what, or who, I am talking about?

I am referring to the Holy Spirit!  Paul’s oft-used greeting refers to grace and to peace, which come to us from God our Father, and His Son Jesus, our Lord and our Savior.  But it would seem as though Paul has forgotten about the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit of God, who is equal to the Father and to the Son, without whom the gifts of grace and peace could not even be delivered to God’s children.

But don’t worry… neither Paul nor Luther forgot—nor under-valued—the Holy Spirit and the vital role the Spirit plays in the life of God’s children.  As a matter of fact, both Martin Luther and St. Paul refer to the foundational work of the Holy Spirit throughout much of their writings.  Yet both Luther and Paul also warned against the potential problems that can occur if the work of the Spirit is misunderstood or over-emphasized.

Early this past week, as I prepared for our family vacation, I took a look at the three texts for today and read a few commentaries.  One in particular caught my eye, pointing to the key role of the Holy Spirit in our reading from Romans.  So during the week I gave some thought to what I might preach regarding the Holy Spirit in light of Paul’s emphasis in his letter to the church in Rome.  The problem is, yesterday as I looked a lot closer at this text I noticed that with the exception of chapter 8, Paul hardly ever even mentions the Holy Spirit in this letter… which got me to thinking a little more deeply about what I might cover in this message.

Let’s start with this: Many different terms have been used to describe the role and work of the Holy Spirit, including advocate, comforter and counselor.  Each of those traditional descriptions portrays powerful truths.  But a less common description that’s stuck with me through the years is the understanding of the work of the Spirit as being similar to that of the director of a play. 

The director does not take center stage during the drama, and yet the director’s role is absolutely essential.  The main responsibility of the director is to use the script, the staging and the lighting and everything else in such a way as to make sure that the audience’s attention is focused where it ought to be.  The main task of the Holy Spirit of God is to keep our attention where it ought to be, and that is on the redemptive work of God our Father, who has reconciled the world to Himself through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, from which sixteen consecutive weekly readings are drawn during the season after Pentecost, and which contains the core theology of the Christian faith, helps us to better understand this balance between underscoring the vital work of the Spirit and yet not over-emphasizing the Spirit to the point that the Spirit becomes the center of attention.  

As I said, with the exception of chapter 8, Paul doesn’t refer to the Holy Spirit very much at all in Romans.   Back in chapter 1:4, he refers to the “Spirit of holiness” in relationship to Jesus being declared the Son of God through His resurrection from the dead, and then in chapter 5, Paul writes of how “God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”   But then Paul does not have much to say about the Holy Spirit in the final eight chapters of Romans.

But please note: while there are only two references to the Holy Spirit in the first seven chapters of Romans, those two references reflect how incredibly important the Spirit is!  It is the Spirit who declared Jesus to be the Son of God through the power of His resurrection, and it is the Holy Spirit who serves as the means through which God’s love is poured into our hearts.  In other words, without the Spirit we would have neither faith nor love.

Then, in Romans 8, Paul finally does emphasize the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of God’s children, referencing the Spirit 17 times.  And, again, this role is absolutely essential.  Not only does the Spirit of God create faith and serve as the channel through whom God’s love is poured into our hearts, the Spirit becomes absolutely essential for our ongoing lives as children of God.   We are both called and empowered to live as children of God through the power of the Spirit.

Listen to just some of what Paul has to say about the Spirit in this chapter:

Verses 1&2: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.  The Holy Spirit sets us free!

Verses 5&6:  Those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.   The Holy Spirit inspires and empowers us to live in the way of Jesus, which brings life and peace!

Verses 14-16: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, "Abba! Father!"  it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God… Through the Holy Spirit we are assured that we are the children of God!

And from verses 26&27 (next week): Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  The Holy Spirit is there when we need Him the most, helping us in our weakness and even interceding for us!

Obviously, Paul understands how important the Holy Spirit is, and even though outside of this chapter, he only refers to Him a handful of times in this letter to the Romans, Paul will have much, much more to say in his other letters. 

In Galatians, Paul will write about the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.  In 1 Corinthians and in Ephesians, Paul will go on to point not only to the work of the Spirt, but also to the variety of gifts of the Spirit that God gives to the people of His Church, a wide variety of gifts that are all given for the common good. 

And so there is much, much more that needs to be said about the Holy Spirit.  And, the truth is, as part of the infinite and mysterious personhood of God, we dare not pretend to be able to adequately understand or explain the Holy Spirit of God.   What we need to do most is to both appreciate the Spirit, and to seek the Spirit. 

I will conclude with words from Martin Luther in his explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed.  You know, the part about the Holy Spirit.  I believe that I cannot, by my own understanding or effort, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.  But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and kept me in the true faith.  In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.  In this Christian Church, day after day, He fully forgives my sins and the sins of all believers.  On the last day He will raise up me and all the dead, and give me and all believers in Christ eternal life.  This is most certainly true.

Amen.

   November 2018   
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