In a previous Theology Basics post we looked at Justification, perhaps the most fundamental gospel blessing. In this post we are looking at the doctrine of Adoption, which is one of the most amazing.
An Amazing Doctrine
Adoption is one of several different but inseparable doctrines that describe various aspects of salvation. Just as all God’s people are regenerated, justified and sanctified, so are they adopted.
Although not explicitly mentioned, adoption is right in the middle of the famous ‘golden chain’ in Romans 8:29-30, ‘For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.‘
Adoption is closely linked with justification but is a higher blessing. You might think this is a strange thing to say given the great emphasis placed on justification by faith in the Reformed church ever since the Reformation, so let me try to explain.
When God justifies his people, he deals with them in a legal way as a judge, forgiving sin and taking away guilt, this is vital. Adoption then builds on this – God deals with his people in love as their heavenly Father. Joel Beeke and Mark Jones write, ‘adoption is a richer blessing because it brings us from the courtroom into the family‘ .
So, adoption is an amazing doctrine, teaching us that when God saves his people it is not in a distant or remote way, but in a very close, personal way. God doesn’t just save his people then go on his way with no further interest in them. Rather, he welcomes them into his family. As he says, ‘I…will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters‘ (2 Corinthians 6:17-18).
A New Family
We all know what adoption means in a natural sense. A mother and father take someone who is not their biological child and bring them into their family. They become full, permanent, legal members of their new family, having the same status within that family as biological children.
This helps us to understand what adoption means in a spiritual sense.
Firstly, adoption gives us a new spiritual family. We’re no longer part of our old family, the world, and we no longer answer to our old father, the Devil. We now have a new family – God’s. This is why Christians often feel like strangers on the earth. In our new family, we have many brothers and sisters – God’s people – with whom we have fellowship. Greater than this, we have a heavenly Father whom we love, wish to please and to whom we are free to come with our concerns – ‘ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.’ (Romans 8:15)
Jesus – Our Elder Brother
Secondly, a key part of natural adoption is that the adopted child has the same status as biological children. God’s only begotten Son is the Lord Jesus Christ. Incredibly, God’s adopted children (his people) share a similar status to the Lord Jesus and he becomes their Elder brother (see Hebrews 2:11).
This helps us to see the greatness of the love God has towards his people. Think about John 3:16, ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.‘ – because of the love God has to his people, he willingly gave his ‘beloved son’ so that they might be saved. John sums it up like this, ‘Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God…‘ (1 John 3:1). This should fill us with awe and praise and give us great motivation to honour God in all we do, and ‘walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.‘ (Ephesians 4:1)
Access, Care and Correction
Thirdly, adoption brings many blessings and privileges. These are illustrated by the father-child relationship:
- We have access to God (Ephesians 2:18). We can come to him, humbly but with boldness, and tell him about our worries and concerns. Perhaps you look back on a time when you were small and your parents could fix anything for you. Well, almighty God as our heavenly Father takes that to the next level, and, he desires us to pray in faith to him for help and guidance (see Jeremiah 29:11-13, Ezekiel 36:7, James 5:13, 1 John 5:14, 1 Thessalonians 5:17).
- God cares for us, protects us and provides for us. Just as those of us who are parents love and care for our children, so God cares for his children (see Psalm 121, Matthew 7:7-11) – ‘If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?‘ and ‘…he kept him as the apple of his eye‘ (Deuteronomy 32:10).
- God corrects us (see Hebrews 12:6-7). When we go wrong, God ‘chastens’ us. And we’re told very clearly that this is done in love, for our sanctification ‘Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.‘ (Hebrews 12:11)
Finally, we have an inheritance. In Roman times, when Paul was writing his epistles, a major part of adoption was that it enabled someone with no natural children to have an heir. As God’s adopted children we share in Christ’s inheritance.
‘The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.‘ (Romans 8:16-17)
This inheritance is the kingdom of God, glory, eternal life, heaven and happiness, with Christ, reigning as kings. United to Christ we may have much suffering whilst on earth – ‘we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God‘. However, as we must suffer, so we must then enter the kingdom. The inheritance is certain and as such adoption is an encouraging doctrine that can increase our assurance of our salvation.
More than this, unlike an earthly inheritance, our spiritual inheritance is ‘incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.‘ (1 Peter 4:1)
This brings us to a last point. How can we receive the blessings and privileges of adoption?
Joining the Family
Coming back to where we started. As justification is the gift of God, received through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, so it is with adoption – ‘But as many as received him [Christ], to them gave he power [the right] to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name…‘ (John 1:12), and, ‘Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will…‘ (Ephesians 1:18).
Are you attracted by these things, want to know them for yourself, but don’t feel to yet? If so, keep on praying. Ask God for faith to trust in Jesus. Ask him to bring you into his family. He promises,
‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?’Matthew 7:7-11
And, God always keeps his word.
Note 1: A Puritan Theology, Joel R Beeke & Mark Jones.[A00151 – 13/02/2021]