“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 8:15
Anytime, anytime while I was a slave, if one minute’s freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it—just to stand one minute on God’s earth a free woman—I would. -Elizabeth Freeman
My mind struggles to understand slavery. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to wake up chained—metaphorically or literally—and owned by another human being. When my mind goes there, when I allow myself to try to put my feet in a slave’s shoes, I all but fall down in sorrow.
Slavery was an atrocious institution in the early days of our country, and it didn’t exist only in the South. A slave named Elizabeth Freeman actually took the new state of Massachusetts to court, seeking to be freed. She fought for her freedom. And she won! She became the first African-American slave to be set free under Massachusetts law and is credited with informally abolishing slavery in the state.
Elizabeth Freeman’s burning desire to stand on the earth for even one minute as a free woman isn’t hard to imagine. And once she tasted the sweetness of freedom, surely she would never, ever have desired to return to slavery.
And yet we sometimes do just that, in a sense. Though we are free in Christ, time and time again our hearts return to that time when we were slaves to our flesh, slaves to our fears, slaves to the law and the law’s demands on us. We fall back into old, fearful ways of thinking. In this text we see Paul reminding the church that God doesn’t want that for us. God desires our freedom—and He provides it through His Son and through our adoption as His children (8:15).
To the first-century church, this reminder of freedom from slavery would have great significance. Slavery was a daily reality in that culture, so people in that day would instantly understand the analogy of being released from slavery and not falling back into it. Like Elizabeth Freeman, they knew in their bones that there was a big difference between being a slave in someone’s household and being a free member of the family!
We may not witness slavery on a daily basis anymore, but Paul’s analogy still holds powerful truth for us. We were once slaves to our sin (Rom. 6:20), but once we’re in Christ this is no longer true. We do not have to submit or obey or entrust ourselves to those old ways. God has made us new, and as new creations we have the privilege of adoption. Now we are not only free, but children of almighty God. And not only children, but beloved children who can relate to our Father intimately.
It is no small thing that we can use the word Abba as we cry out to our Father. This Aramaic word for Father is an intimate term, even somewhat childlike—it could also be translated as “papa” or “daddy.” Significantly, it is also the name Jesus used in addressing God. It is a grace to us that we can cry out to the Lord in prayer in such intimate and personal ways. He gives us that access. Theologian Douglas Moo puts it this way: “In ‘adopting’ us, God has taken no half measures; we have been made full members of the family and partakers of all the privileges belonging to members of that family.”
Today remember this great access you have to your Abba. When you have to fight not to fall back into your old ways of thinking, cry out to your heavenly Father, who is available to you and listening. Remember that you are His, that you’ve been bought with a price. And that means you are truly free.