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February 1, 2013

In light of the recent post on Abba, it is only fitting that we explore the NT doctrine of adoption, one of the most consoling, comforting and encouraging truths in Scripture. While most saints understand that salvation brings God’s forgiveness of sins and deliverance from divine condemnation, they do not fully comprehend adoption, one of the priceless crown jewels of our “great  salvation” (Heb 2:3-note). Martyn Lloyd-Jones observed that “for some inexplicable reason, it is a doctrine about which we very rarely hear. How often have you heard sermons on it?”  Indeed noted Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe feels that a proper “understanding of adoption is important if you and I are to enjoy our Christian life to the fullest.” J I Packer goes even further, adding that an understanding of our adoption is the foundation of a vibrant, victorious Christian walk, writing that “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the NT new and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God.” Note that while this post will use the term “sons of God” obviously “sons” includes daughters for the Lord Almighty declares “I will welcome you. And I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and DAUGHTERS to Me.” (2Cor 6:18-19-note, cf Isa 43:6-note).    

WHAT IS SPIRITUAL ADOPTION? Our English word adoption is filled with the ideas of love, grace, compassion and intimate relationship.  In the ancient world the adopted person lost all rights in his old family, gained all the rights of a fully legitimate son in his new family and “In the most literal sense, and in the most binding legal way, he got a new father (cf 1Jn 3:1-note).” (Barclay). In addition, all his debts were legally canceled (cf Col 2:14-note), his old life was completely erased and he was regarded by the law as a new person (cf 2Cor 5:17-note). Similarly, in spiritual adoption, the moment undeserving sinners are adopted by their heavenly Father as His sons, their entire status is eternally changed — they receive a new name, a new family, new rights, new expectations, but unlike human adoption they also receive a new nature, actually becoming “partakers of the divine nature!” (2Pe 1:4-note) Indeed, it is probably not an overstatement to regard spiritual adoption as the greatest benefit of “the Gospel of our salvation.” (Eph 1:13-note) John Piper agrees remarking that “Adoption is one of the most profound realities in the universe. I say “universe” and not “world” because adoption goes beyond the world. It is greater than the world and it is before the world in the plan of God (Eph 1:4-note “before the foundation of the world”), and it will outlast the world as we know it. Indeed it is greater than the “universe” and is rooted in God’s own nature.” The Greek word for adoption is Huiothesia (see word study) which literally means the “placing of a son” which in turn came to mean placing a son into a family that was not one’s biologic family. While there were allusions to adoption in the OT (cf Mephibosheth crippled by a fall [does that sound familiar?], “adopted” by a King, invited to dine in the intimacy of the king’s table all the days of his life [cf Rev 3:20-note] and graciously given an undeserved inheritance! [Do any of these “benefits” sound familiar?] 2Sa 9:1-13-see commentary re: David’s bestowal of lovingkindness to Mephibosheth), the scope of divine adoption was not fully revealed until the NT in the writings of Paul who used huiothesia 5x (Ro 8:15, 23, Ro 9:4-note, Gal 5:4-note, Ep 1:5) to describe our spiritual adoption, which is the PAST, PRESENT and PROSPECTIVE (future) possession and privilege of every believer!

While adoption is not the way we get into God’s family, it is the way we come to fully enjoy God’s family. “Adoption gives us the rights of children. Regeneration gives us the nature of children: we are partakers of both of these, for we are sons.” (Spurgeon) In other words, we get into God’s family by regeneration (being “born again” = the new birth) when we are “born of the Spirit” (Jn 3:7-9-note), for “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children (literally “born ones”) of God, even to those who believe in His name.” (Jn 1:12-note) In regeneration the Spirit makes us children of God, while in adoption He gives us the position, privilege and responsibilities of the “sons of God.” God could have regenerated us (a new life), but, praise His Holy Name, He also graced us with adoption as His sons. As Wayne Grudem says “When we begin to realize the excellence of these blessings (as adopted sons of God), and when we appreciate that God has no obligation to give us any of them, then we will be able to exclaim with the apostle John, “How great is the love the Father has lavished (bestowed profusely) on us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!” (1Jn 3:1NIV-note) Indeed, “How Great Thou Art!

ILLUSTRATION OF ADOPTION: A young mother wrote: “I stayed with my parents for several days after the birth of our first child. One afternoon, I remarked to my mother that it was surprising our baby had dark hair, since both my husband and I are fair. “She said, ‘Well, your daddy has black hair.’ “But, Mama, that doesn’t matter because I’m adopted.” “With an embarrassed smile, she said the most wonderful words I’ve ever heard: ‘I always FORGET!’” (Reader’s Digest) And in a similar way, as God’s adopted children, we too should come to cherish our heavenly Father’s choice to forget our wayward past (Ps 103:12-note, Isa 38:17-note, Isa 44:22-note, Mic 7:18-note, Mic 7:19-note), and to treat us as His sons and daughters, as His blessed children who because of His grace and unconditional love will forever enjoy full family privileges. Thomas Watson alludes to the wonder of God’s choice to adopt us reminding us that “God has a Son of His own and such a Son, how wonderful God’s love in adopting us! We needed a Father, but He did not need sons!”

PAST ADOPTION: Paul explains that our Father “chose us in (Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In LOVE He predestined us to ADOPTION AS SONS through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed (literally = graced) on us in the Beloved (Son).” (Eph 1:4-6-note) From these passages we can see that our adoption was planned by our Father in eternity past, was made possible in time by His beloved Son, and finally was made effective by the Spirit. Indeed, the Son of God, willingly became the Son of Man, that the sons of disobedience (Eph 2:2-note, Eph 5:6-note), sons of Adam (Ro 5:12-note, 1Cor 15:22-note), sons of the devil (Jn 8:38, 41, 44-note, 1Jn 3:8-note, 1Jn 3:10-note, Mt 13:38-note) might be adopted as the sons of God and receive the gift of “the Spirit of His Son” (Gal 4:6-note [R M M’Cheyne]]), Who is the Father’s “pledge (Gk = down payment, earnest money, “engagement ring”) of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Eph 1:14-note, 2Cor 1:22-note, 2Cor 5:5-note) Indeed, our sonship leads to heirship (FUTURE ADOPTION – see below). So even as earthly adoptive parents exercise free choice, so too did God. He had a natural Son and did not need to adopt other sons, but choose to do so based on His costly love, His provision of “grace upon grace” (Eph 1:4-5-note, Jn 1:16-note) accomplishing it all for His glory (Eph 1:6-note, cf Ps 115:1-note). How can we not respond with hearts overflowing with gratitude and a Spirit enabled desire to “be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph 5:1-2-note), motivated by filial love, not pharisaical legalism.

PRESENT ADOPTION: Paul’s readers were familiar with Roman laws governing adoption, the most famous example being Julius Caesar’s adoption of Octavius as his son and his legal heir, which allowed him to succeed his father as emperor Caesar Augustus. It was into this cultural-political background that Paul introduced the glorious doctrine of spiritual adoption, albeit not by an earthly emperor, but by the “great King” Who alone “reigns over the nations” (Mal 1:14-note, Ps 45:6-note), proclaiming that “you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again (slavery to sin brings slavery to fear, esp fear of God’s righteous judgment, cf Ro 8:1-note), but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Ro 8:15-17-note)

To the saints in Galatia Paul explained that “when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law (which Jesus kept perfectly), in order that He might redeem (pay the price to set slaves free [1Pe 1:18-19-note]. Redemption brought about a change of masters) those who were under (subject to) the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Gal 4:4-7-note). We do well to continually ponder the amazing truth that because the Son of God cried “Abba! Father!” in the Garden and submitted to His Father’s will (Mk 14:36-note), He gained the right for us, His adopted brethren, to cry “Abba! Father!”

SOME PRIVILEGES OF PRESENT SONSHIP: We can now experience freedom from fear of condemnation, for our Father has not “given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2Ti 1:7KJV-note, cf release from fear of death – Heb 2:14-15-note). In short, God says we need no longer fear condemnation (Ro 8:1-note), for our acceptance in His family is not based upon our performance but our position as sons, fully and eternally “accepted in the Beloved.” Amen! (Eph 1:6KJV-note) We can daily bask in a Spirit awakened assurance that we truly belong to God (cf Gal 4:6-note [CHS]). And we can forever enter into intimate and confident communion with “Abba,” our “Dear Father!” Kenneth Wuest encourages us as to meditate frequently on our sonship – “THINK OF IT (cf Php 4:8-note), to occupy a place in God’s family in which He loves us just as much as He loves His only-begotten Son (ponder the profundity of Jesus’ prayer in Jn 17:26-note – Read CHS sermon!). THINK OF IT, to have a place in God’s family just as eternal and secure as His only-begotten Son (cf Jn 10:28-29-note). THINK OF IT, to have a place in God’s family in which all the loveliness of God’s Son is ours (cf Solomon’s words to his beloved – Song 2:16-note). Paul also reminds us that sons have the privilege of suffering now with Jesus and sharing later in His glory (Ro 8:17-note). As someone has said “The ultimate privilege of life is to be entrusted with God’s glory. God puts us through suffering that He might be able to share His glory with us (cf 1Pe 4:14-note). That is an amazing thing!” Thomas Watson adds that “Affliction is a badge of adoption.” Calvin agreed that “Persecutions are in a way seals of adoption to the children of God.” Finally, while divine discipline is not enjoyable when we are experiencing it (speaking from painful personal experience!), we would be remiss to not acknowledge divine discipline as a great benefit of adoption for “God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?” adding that “if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” (Heb 12:7-8-note) Divine discipline is also evidence of our Father’s love (Heb 12:6-note) and is “for our good that we may share His holiness” (cf Job 5:17-note [AM]) and ultimately “produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Heb 12:10-11-note) So even when we are chastened by our Father, we praise Him, acknowledging that “reproofs for discipline are the way of life.” (Pr 6:23-note)

FUTURE ADOPTION: The best is yet to come! Our adoption as sons of God makes us joint-heirs of the everlasting Kingdom of the King of kings and Lord of lords! (Rev 19:16-note, cf Da 7:27-note). In a wondrous display of God’s marvelous grace, one day in the future God’s own sons and daughters will actually inherit “the unfathomable riches of Christ!” (Eph 3:8-note), “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for” us! (1Pe 1:4-note) Spurgeon encourages us to meditate on “what the everlasting God will give to His equal Son, Who took upon Himself the form of a Servant, and was made in the likeness of men and Who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross (Php 2:7-8-note).” He then adds “Never mind how poor and needy you are…lift your head. Envy no man his dukedom. Think no man’s princeship worth coveting. You are greater than the greatest, for you are joint heir with Christ. In dignified relationship, you have no superior upon earth. And except those who are joint heirs with you, you have no equal since you are joint heir with Christ!” John writes that in the New Heaven God promises that “He who overcomes shall inherit these things (What things? See Rev 21:1-6-note and the 7 promises to overcomers in Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26-note, Rev 3:5, 12, 21-note, where “overcomers” describes EVERY son or daughter of God [1Jn 5:4-5-note]), and I will be his God and he will be My son.” (Rev 21:7-note) As Watson says “The world is but a great inn, where we are to stay a night or two, and be gone; what madness is it so to set our heart upon our inn, as to forget our home.” Another has said “Unless there is within us a yearning for that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is about us.” And so Paul adds that one day in the future “we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan (inwardly crying sorrowfully for deliverance from the things present which are painful, passing and unsatisfying) within ourselves, waiting eagerly (expectantly as our daily lifestyle) for our ADOPTION AS SONS, the redemption of our body” (Ro 8:23-note) adding that “we eagerly wait (in great anticipation) for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; Who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” (Php 3:20-21-note) Yes, we have been redeemed and adopted in the PAST, are now experiencing the firstfruits in the PRESENT, but one great day in the FUTURE will experience the consummation of our redemption (Eph 4:30-note) and adoption, that great day when we will see Jesus face to face “and will be like Him,” (1Jn 3:2-note), glorified brethren of whom Jesus is not ashamed (cf Heb 2:10-11-note), God’s sons and daughters finally and forever free from the pain, the presence and even the passing pleasure of sin! Hallelujah! Maranatha! Amen!

Let us Worship our Father in Spirit and Truth as we ponder the words of this modern hymn…

How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
by Fernando Ortega

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His Only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

Click for additional notes on Spiritual Adoption

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  1. I love these thoughts on various subjects. Thank you so much, they are of great help to me as I meditate on the Word. God bless you sir.

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