The opposites of slavery and fear are freedom and courage; so shouldn’t St. Paul be saying we receive those spirits instead of a “spirit of adoption”? He talks about bondage to sin and goes on to warn against letting that take a hold of us and drag us into fear. So what does adoption have to do with any of that?
Actually, everything. Our freedom from slavery doesn’t come from our own hard work. The chains of sin are too strong for us to break on our own. Likewise, our courage doesn’t come from an excess of grit and determination, as if we could banish fear simply by wishing it away. Both of these blessings come from our identity in Our Lord. We know that we belong to him, and that knowledge sets us free and encourages us. So it’s totally appropriate to contrast adoption with slavery and fear.
We have all seen a small child stumble or be startled by an intimidating new encounter with a stranger or a barking dog. Instinctively, that child will call out for his or her parents. This is the kind of instinct that the Holy Spirit places in our hearts. St. Paul talks about how the Spirit within us is the One who remembers that our Father will listen to us. So if you are attentive to the Spirit, you’ll remember to call out to God for help whenever you feel threatened, weary, or scared.
And so we are in a good place in order to face up to fear. We just need to remember to tune in to the witness of the Holy Spirit, so that every day we can become more deeply aware of our adoption—and more free and courageous as a result.