The best way to understand Romans 8:1–17 is through a storyline. Many, many words have been written to explain this wonderful story, but I will simply give you the outline of the plot for you to think about in the context of this week’s Sabbath School lesson.
1. Wanted children: God’s and my story always begins with the triune God family wanting children in their image (see Genesis 1:26, 27). And it continues with the assurance that the Family will never turn its back on the wanted children (see Isaiah 49:15). This aspect of God often gets lost in the many ways we think of and study Him/Them.
The God Family chose freely to “have us,” even though, in Their omniscience, They knew there would be a rocky road ahead. They still chose to have children in Their image (see Psalm 139:13–18). The children were given boundaries to protect them, as all adored, wanted children are: “Stay together, and don’t take candy from strangers” (see Genesis 3:2).
2. Born kidnapped: Since the first infraction, the whole human race of adored, wanted children have been born kidnapped, dead in trespasses and sins, hostage “children” of our kidnapper, the devil (see Ephesians 2:1–3).
3. And brainwashed: We are also completely infiltrated by our kidnapper’s value system and thought patterns (see John 8:44).
4. The ransom plan: But the God Family has, from the beginning, had plans to rescue us and bring us back home (see Jeremiah 29:11–14). “By infinite love and mercy the plan of salvation had been devised” (God’s Amazing Grace, 246).
5. For the God Family’s adored, wanted, only child: “One soul is precious, very precious, in the sight of God. Christ would have died for one soul in order that one might live through the eternal ages” (Testimonies, Vol. 8, 72). That makes each person potentially God’s adored, wanted, only child for whom the entire ransom demand was paid in full.
6. After the rescue: But a child born kidnapped and brainwashed, even after they realize they have been ransomed, has a lot of “unprogramming” to go through. Some kidnapped children can never come to understand who they really are, and that they have been rescued. Occasionally kidnapped children choose to continue identifying with the kidnapper.
Others finally realize their true identity, but have to go through a process of un-brainwashing to come fully into their true and joyous identity.
“To restore in man the image of his Maker, to bring him back to the perfection in which he was created, to promote the development of body, mind, and soul, that the divine purpose in his creation might be realized—this was to be the great work of redemption” (God’s Amazing Grace, 246).
David seemed to understand this process, and he outlined it in Psalm 51:5–13.
7. The Holy Spirit, the un-brainwasher: Each member of the triune God Family has had a vital and distinct role in the dramatic ransom and rescue. The Holy Spirit is the primary un-brainwasher as the adored, wanted children focus on the “firstfruit” Elder Brother who provides the example of what it is like to be a true, adored, wanted only child of the God Family.
“When one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3:16–18, NKJV).
8. There is no condemnation. There is therefore no condemnation to those who have accepted the ransom, embraced their true identity, and who walk following the Elder Brother pattern, Jesus Christ, through the indwelling Spirit of the God Family. They know they are free from kidnapped bondage. Sometimes they may stumble. Sometimes their “being un-brainwashed” minds go back to ingrained patterns of negative, selfish thought and action. But they are living by the Spirit of their family of origin. They keep returning to the wonderful Good News that they are brothers of Jesus, sons of the Father, protégés of the Spirit who dwells in them.
The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. When we stumble we cry out, “Abba, Father, Help.”
There is therefore no condemnation. There is only loving un-brainwashing. “By the transforming agency of His grace, the image of God is reproduced in the disciple; he becomes a new creature. It is the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, which Jesus said He would send into the world, that changes our character into the image of Christ; and when this is accomplished, we reflect, as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord.”
Where could condemnation possibly fit into this storyline? There is condemnation only for the kidnapper, and all those unfortunate children who never accept that they were free to choose their real Father, and to go to their true home.Kathy Beagles Coneff is editor of Guide Magazine.
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