July 20, 2016: The Holy Spirit, Part 4 - Reassurer
When I was a small boy, my dad would often drop by his office on a Saturday morning and, if I promised not to do any damage, I was allowed to go with him. Part of the office complex was comprised of an old warehouse that was four stories high with a basement and a large elevator that ran through the center of the building. It was an ancient relic of an elevator with large metal gates that shook the building as they manually slammed shut. To me, it appeared to be more like an iron cage. It is amazing what captures the heart of a six-year-old boy but riding that elevator on my own was an adventure, particularly if in my own mind I was James Bond or Batman or Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man. The elevator had just two buttons: a green one and a red one. My dad’s only instruction was that I was not to press the red one. I obeyed but on the way home I got curious and so I asked my dad what would have happened if I had “accidentally” pressed the red button. “Son!” he said gravely, “If you had pressed the red button the elevator would have come to a halt and I would never have been able to find you!” If my dad was seeking to put the fear of God into me, his success was monolithic. For months all I could think about when I went to bed was pressing the red button and condemning myself eternally to being holed up in a dark elevator shaft!
All children need reassurance. I see it in my own children and, notwithstanding all that Jesus has done for us upon the Cross, the Father graciously realizes this need within His own children. It is, therefore, a truly wonderful thing that an integral part of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit is to continually reassure us of our status as God’s beloved children. Paul writes, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 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!’” (Romans 8:14-15) Paul’s reference to adoption is very deliberate. To his first-century Roman readers, families were the building blocks of Roman society. Under Roman law, in the process of adoption, the adoptee received an irrevocable new identity. His old obligations and debts were wiped out. The adopted son (or daughter) became a member of the family, just as if he had been born of the blood of the adopter; he was invested with all the privileges of a filius familias. In the same way, Paul is able to write, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ…” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18a NRSV)
The Holy Spirit brings us that reassurance to our hearts in relation to our adoption as God’s children. Paul explains, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” (Romans 8:16) Jane Williams writes, “The Spirit’s job is to make us able to stand in Jesus’ own place in relation to the Father.” This is a profound truth. Yes, we are that loved; yes, we are that secure; and yes, we belong that much. And the Spirit embeds that assurance within us, applying a familial belovedness to our deepest place of desire.
Of our need of reassurance, Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff writes, “The most frightening and unbearable feeling is abandonment and rejection, knowing that we are not accepted. It is like being a ‘stranger in the nest,’ experiencing psychological death. When I say ‘Father,’ I seek to express the conviction that there is someone who accepts me absolutely. My moral situation matters little. [Because of Jesus] I can always trust that there awaits a parental lap to receive me. There I will not be a stranger but a child, even if prodigal, in my heavenly Father’s house.”
Several months after the fated elevator conversation, my dad came home late one night from work and came upstairs to my bedroom to check on me. He caught me sobbing into my pillow, living in fear of being lost forever. When he finally convinced me to tell him what was upsetting me, I recall his response, “Son, if you had pressed the red button, I would have come looking for you. I would not have stopped looking until I had found you -- and I would have found you!” That was all I needed to hear.