The Work and Witness of the Holy Spirit

The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption - Reflections for Personal Devotion and Conversation with Others

(Sermon 9 in the Standard Sermons of John Wesley)
By: Lauren DeLano

Reflections for Personal Devotion and Conversation with Others

John Wesley’s Sermon #9 – “The Spirit of Bondage and of Adoption”

1. What are the three “modes of living” Wesley expounds upon in this sermon? How do humanity and God interact in these different modes?

     The three states are the natural, the legal, and the evangelical states. When we are in the natural state we are asleep. We do not know God, nor do we worry about following God’s law. We do not experience fear because we do not know that we should be afraid. Instead, we have a false sense of security and peace in our lives. A person in a natural state thinks highly of themselves and their wisdom. Yet, those in a natural state are a “servant to sin,” feeling no bondage or condemnation for this sin.

     One in a legal state is inwardly awakened and begins to know and experience God’s presence in their lives. The result of this awakening is a sense of fear. In the legal state, we begin to see our sinfulness as we become aware of God’s law. No longer are we unaware of God’s presence or God’s love in our lives, yet we have come to realize that we are accountable to God. As we realize we cannot break free from the chains of bondage on our own, we cry out asking, “Who shall deliver me from this bondage of sin, from this body of death?”

When we come to realize that God is who breaks us free from this bondage, we enter the spirit of adoption or the evangelical state. Wesley says in this state, “heavenly, healing light now breaks in upon [our] soul.” This evangelical state is also called the state of love. We come to know the depths of God’s love and the witness of the Spirit, that we are God’s children.

2. As you think about your faith journey, which of these three states are you currently in: the natural, legal, or evangelical state? Can you recall other times in your life where you’ve been in another state?

     We will not always find ourselves in the same “mode of living” or state. Depending on the work we put into our relationship with God, where we find ourselves in this journey will vary. When we feel a closeness to God, we may experience what it feels like to be in the evangelical state, knowing fully and truly that we are children of God. But, other times we may relate to God out of fear and feel that we have to proof something to avoid God’s punishment. At other times, we may be disconnected from God and not even realize how far we have strayed. Which state are you currently in? Can you recall other times in your life when you’ve been in another state?

3. How do we as people of faith impact the world when we are in the evangelical state?

     It is in the evangelical state that we receive confirmation that we are children of God, and when we hold this truth in our hearts we are able to share God’s love with others. For we know that God’s love is not for us to keep, but for us to pass on to others. Thus, we seek to be in the evangelical state, or state of love, because this is where we experience God’s love and grace and in turn offer that to others. On Pentecost, the church was born into a state of love as they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-21). Since this Pentecost moment, the church has been tasked with proclaiming and sharing this love they received in the world. The church is called to continue professing the truth that we have all received a new Spirit, a Spirit of adoption. In this Spirit, we are called to be Christ-like bearing good fruit in the world. As we show this example to others and invite others into this Spirit of adoption, God’s peace and love spreads.