In today’s article, Wilson Murigi explains the blessing of adoption extended to all sons of God. He developed this article from a sermon he preached recently at Hope City Bible Church. Wilson’s piece first got published on the church’s website. To read more of his work, find his previous post here.
“In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”Ephesians 1:5
The highest blessing of our salvation is adoption, the idea that God has made us his sons. Yet many have ignored this doctrine, hidden in the rumbles of our laziness and the contemporary innuendos of adoption. J.I. Packer, in his classic book ‘Knowing God,’ writes, “Were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that.” Thus, it is worth our time to consider the historical context of adoption, its theological aspect, and, finally, its implication to Christian living.
A Historical Context
Of all the biblical authors, only Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, used the word adoption. He used it in his letters to the churches in Rome, Galatia, and Ephesus. All of these churches were under the Roman protectorate. He used this word with no explanation or qualification. He assumed that these people knew what he was talking about.
Adoption was a prevalent practice and thus well known in the Roman Empire during the New Testament times. It differed from contemporary adoption in that adult males in their 20s-30s could be adopted as suitable heirs and family heads. An adopted son assumed the role of a firstborn and, thus, the primary heir. Indeed, most emperors, including Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Hadrian, and Trajan, assumed the throne through adoption.
The adoption process involved a big ceremony, more significant than a wedding, with at least seven witnesses with irrevocable implications. Biological sons could be disowned but never an adopted son. The adopters bestowed the adoptee with a new status and surname, and links with the past life cut. A large amount was paid for adoption. The giving up of a son for adoption was never begrudgingly. Though the two families maintained their relationship, there was no requirement of the past family to join the new family.
Paul’s adoption message to the saints in those churches communicates a truth about their salvation, and indeed of all the saints’ salvation, which parallels adoption as they knew it. Adoption is a reality that falls within what theologians call the order of salvation. The salvation of man is the most remarkable display of the majesty of God, superseding even creation. God set the plan of salvation in motion in the eternity past. He chose a people for himself among the world’s lost multitude. As the Bible says, he predestined them for adoption as sons (Ephesians 1:5).
These elect of God were in sin and lost. God had to purchase them to redeem them from the tyranny of sin. He did so by sending his only begotten Son to the world in time, to live a perfect life that they couldn’t, and to obtain a righteousness that they could not achieve. The Son of God also died a substitutional atoning death on the cross. The sins of God’s elect were placed on him (Galatians 4:4). The application of the cross’s work to the elect is achieved through the Holy Spirit. He convicts them of sin and judgment, and through the effectual call of God, they see the need for a savior, repent, and are justified. In justification, God declares them righteous in his sight. Adoption goes beyond justification. Though justification is the primary solution to our primary need, there’s no intimacy between the judge and the justified.
An Acquired Status
When a believer places their faith in Christ, they acquire a new status. They become sons of God, and they get the right to call God “Father” (John 1:12-13). Indeed, “Abba” which is even more intimate. The idea of calling God “Our Father” is exclusively Christian. No other religion in the world has conceptualized such an idea. (Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:15)
A witness that never lies
As in the Roman law where there were witnesses of adoption, the Holy Spirit witnesses our adoption as believers. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). “We are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit who is the guarantee, (earnest) of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14). God has placed his Holy Spirit in each of his adopted sons as proof that indeed they are his forever, and that will never change.
The language that Paul uses, especially in Ephesians, is to communicate assurance. As we are to see soon, adoption was for inheritance. God will give us this inheritance in full upon the glorification of our bodies in heaven. However, he has given us an earnest, a pre-payment guarantee that the rest will be paid. If one was to buy something, he could commit himself to buy it by paying a non-refundable amount. God’s earnest is his Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity dwelling in his sons. As surely as the Trinity cannot be broken, these sons will receive their full inheritance.
An inheritance that we can never lose
A father gives an inheritance to his sons, and thus in adoption, the adoptee receives the right to inherit. Jesus Christ, being the only begotten son of God, is the primary heir of God. Adoption qualifies one for inheritance with Christ (Ephesians 1:13-14, Galatians 4:7).
We must be careful to note that this inheritance is far more than the material blessings promised by the prosperity gospel. We are co-heirs with Christ, and God did not promise Christ material blessings. Indeed, when Christ was on earth, he did not enjoy these things promised by prosperity gospel preachers.
In the second place, the inheritance is futuristic and not in this life. Yes, there are blessings, earnest, that we have already obtained, but not entirely. The lie of the prosperity gospel is referred to as over-realized eschatology, where the proponents claim the promises of the future for this life.
Yes, a time will come when we shall own mansions built with gold, we shall be prominent. Indeed, rulers wherewith Christ we shall reign and judge even the angels, we shall never go hungry, sick, or feel pain of any sort. But now, we are despised, afflicted, perplexed, persecuted. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19).
Implications of Adoption
The truth of adoption should affect every sphere of the life of a Christian. Consider these four areas;
The truth of adoption reminds a weak heart who fears getting cast out of the household of God that he has been given an irrevocable status. It propels him to look beyond the humanistic shibboleths that view salvation as a self-help program for humans and sees it as it is, the grandest display of God’s majesty. God draws his child to scripture and shows him the price that he paid for his adoption. Though the world’s whirlwinds are many, the words of Paul in his desolation reverberate, “what can separate you from the love of God?” The search being futile, he rests in the promises of him who began the good work in him, for he surely will complete it. He thus joins the hymn writer in melody;
My name is graven on His hands My name is written on His heart I know that while in heav'n He stands No tongue can bid me thence depart
The realization of our status is a motivation to live a godly life. We do not live holy lives so that God can make us his children; we are children of God, which is why we walk like so. Every royal child trains on how to live according to his status. We realize that our sanctification is training for the responsibility that we shall be given as heirs and co-heirs with Christ. We work out our salvation in fear and trembling – trembling not out of fear of losing our status but out of reverent fear of knowing that God is working in us.
We realize that God has adopted us to his household with other brethren. The word “brethren” becomes a theological term. That whenever we call someone a brother or a sister, we testify to our joint adoption through Christ. This makes our love for one another greater. We will care for the physical and spiritual needs of one another.
If we share in such beautiful and marvelous blessings of adoption, why would we not be willing to let others share in such benefits? Shouldn’t we be more intentional to reach the lost? By all means, we should! The desire to spread the good news to those in sin is rooted in our Father’s love for the lost, and our desire to please him.
Ultimately this will affect our worship. It is to the glory of God’s glorious grace. When you realize what God has done, the wisdom in his actions humbles you. It leads you to your knees to sing with Charles Wesley;
O how shall I the goodness tell, Father, which thou to me hast showed? That I, a child of wrath and hell, I should be called a child of God, Should know, should feel my sins forgiven, Blest with this ante past of heaven!
You can be a son too.
In case you have not placed your faith in Christ Jesus, the reality of adoption is alien to you. You are still separated from God, and you do not have the right to call him “Abba, Father.” Still, he bids you come now. Believe; place your hope in Christ. Trust not in your understanding anymore. Look to Christ, and you will be made a son through the Son.