12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 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!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
It is one of those little scenes that I can picture clearly, years after it happened. We had been visiting friends in Caspar, Wyoming and were leaving in the late afternoon. I looked up a hill in the neighborhood where our friends lived and there was a man mowing his lawn, silhouetted by the sun shining behind him. Walking behind him was a perfect miniature of himself, pushing a toy lawn mower, his young son.
Paul is struggling to put into words the reason we do good things. He has said earlier in the book that we are not buying favor with God. He has loved us freely, graciously. Then why should we do the good which we do. He first says we are debtors, compelled to do it. But immediately he qualifies that statement. it is not the fearful service of a slave but the joyful imitation of a child who does what his or her parents do. Like the little boy who was walking behind his father while he mowed the lawn. That is the source of our obedience.
Now, I have children and a lawn which regularly needs mowing. My children do not compete with one another for the honor of walking behind my lawn mower. There limits to my comparison here. Paul speaks of the length to which our imitation of Christ goes at the end of this passage, it surely exceeds that of a child’s love for a parent. Paul says that in faith, we suffer with Him. Jesus suffered a great deal. I only ask my children to mow my lawn for free and they do it. However, if the day comes when I need it mowed and they cannot and I cannot, I will have to pay someone for their effort and time. That lawn maintenance fellow will not be my son and he will not mow my lawn out of that loving relationship. God values that loving service more than we can imagine. If we suffer with Christ, as his people, in this world, we know that we are like his Son and have the right to call him “Daddy” for that is what “Abba” means.