God Takes Mankind into His Family: Adoption
His drunken parents sadly neglected Louis. He lived a life of misery, fear, and hardship. Gradually he became hardened in his attitudes toward people and bitter in his outlook on life. The government welfare agency placed him in a number of foster homes, but because of his hardened condition no one kept him very long. Many families who knew his pathetic story could have taken him in, but they would not. Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Burnett decided to adopt the boy, and all the legal arrangements were made to complete the adoption. However, at this point the family who would have adopted him could not because Mr. Burnett died suddenly.
At last another family took Louis and eventually adopted him. He responded to their love and concern for him and grew up to be a well-adjusted adult, later entering the ministry. Today, his life is a source of blessing and comfort for others. But it all began when he was adopted into a family whose compassion, love, resources, and name gave him a place of acceptance in society.
God has done the same thing for us. For in addition to forgiving our sins and giving us life through the new birth, He has placed us in His family as sons and daughters with all the rights and privileges that accompany family membership. The wonder of this act of adoption is that, knowing our awful, sinful, lost, rebellious condition, He would expend heaven’s resources for us. None of us can ever doubt that He could redeem us; the wonder will always be that He would. He is our Heavenly Father, and we are His children! Is He not, therefore, worthy of our unending praise and devotion?
- Nature of Adoption
- Time of Adoption
- Experience of Adoption
When you finish this lesson you should be able to:
- State the biblical teaching concerning adoption into the family of God.
- Describe the relationship between regeneration, justification, and adoption.
- Explain the means and benefits of adoption.
- Appreciate God’s great love and goodness in adopting us into His family.
NATURE OF ADOPTION
Adoption, like regeneration and justification, is a work of God in the person who turns to Christ. It deals with a person’s position in the family of God and concerns his or her privileges as a child of God. As we have seen, God’s purpose for the one who turns to Him is more than just freeing the person from slavery. His aim is to make sons and daughters. Paul declares: “He chose us in him before the creation of the world. . . In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4,5).
Meaning of Adoption
Objective 1. Identify the explanation of the word adoption as it is used in the New Testament.
The word translated adoption literally means “to place a son.” It refers to a place and condition given to one who has no natural claim to it. Most of us are familiar with the act of adoption. An orphaned child is taken into a new family and treated as a natural son or daughter and given all the rights and privileges that belong to this relationship. However, the apostle Paul deals with the idea of adoption in a spiritual sense. He uses the term adoption to indicate the act of God’s grace by which the one who receives Christ becomes a child of God. This believer’s relation to God as His child is made possible by the new birth (John 1:12,13). However, the adoption is the act of God by which the adoptee has been placed in the rank or position with God of an adult son or daughter (Galatians 4:1-7). He thus has all the privileges of being a natural child and is regarded as a natural son.
Now that we have introduced the concept of adoption, let us review briefly. You undoubtedly remember that in regeneration a person receives a new life and a new nature. In justification he receives a new standing. And in adoption he receives a new position.
The Greek word translated adoption does not appear in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, but examples of adoption are given. These Old Testament examples show that certain customs were common in patriarchal times. According to these customs, a childless husband and wife could adopt an adult son who would serve them in life and bury them at death. For this service the adopted son would receive an inheritance unless the parents had a natural-born son at a later time. If this happened, the natural-born son would become the heir and the adopted son would forfeit (give up or lose) his rights. This custom may help to explain the relationship of Abraham and Eliezer (Genesis 15:2-4). In addition, if a wife were unable to bear children, she might provide a slave to produce children for her husband (See Genesis 16:2). Should the slave maiden bear children, law forbade the wife to send her away. This helps to explain Abraham’s concern over Sarah’s conduct (Genesis 21:11,12).
In the Old Testament the concept of sonship is more important than the concept of adoption. Likewise, being a son by divine regeneration receives primary emphasis, but the concept of adoption is not excluded.
We see the idea of adoption was not foreign to the people of God in Old Testament times. However, the Old Testament practices of adoption don’t seem to have direct bearing on the New Testament teaching. Instead, it is the Graeco-Roman custom of adoption that appears to have formed the background for the apostle Paul’s use of the term, for it contrasted the freedom of a son in the household with the bondage of a slave.
Adoption was a very common practice in the Graeco-Roman world. If a husband and wife had no children, the husband could adopt a son who would become his heir. The adopted one might have living parents, but this did not interfere with adoption. For often families were willing to give up their children in order to give them better opportunities in life. Once a child was adopted, however, the natural parents had no further control over him, while the adopted father had complete authority over his adopted son. He regulated his son’s relationships, controlled whatever the son might own or earn, and had the right to discipline him. However, he was also liable for anything his son might do, and he was required to provide for the needs of his son.
Being a part of an extended family gave an adopted child the training he needed to be successful in his future life. He learned to respect elders and to assume responsibility. And through loving correction, he learned valuable lessons in discipline that prepared him for the tests and demands of life. As he matured, he also acquired the social graces that prepared him for adulthood. All in all, the new family relationship gave great advantages to the adopted son or daughter.
Paul’s teaching on regeneration, justification, and adoption reflects this idea of adoption. He describes the process by which God takes us out of our former state, introduces us into His family by the new birth, forgives us for the actions of our former lives, and places us in His family as an adult son or daughter. The adopted child is thus made a part of the family of God, with its privileges and responsibilities. As a result, all time, possessions, and strength should be subjected to God’s control. Adoption, then, is the act of God’s grace by which He places as sons and daughters in His family the ones who receive Jesus Christ. He confers on them all the rights and duties of family membership
Adoption is a key teaching of the New Testament, even though it is mentioned in relatively few Scriptures. Since it is so closely related to regeneration, some people may feel that its discussion is less important. Nevertheless, adoption is an important teaching of Paul, and it is one of the most beautiful and touching teachings in the New Testament.
Notice how in Romans 9:4 Paul refers to Israel’s relation to God as one of adoption. From the order in which he places adoption in this Scripture we see that all the blessings flowed from Israel’s special relationship with the Lord. The specific reference here is to the nation of Israel. But in view of the New Testament teaching that the church is the true Israel, it is fitting for us to see similar principles of operation in each. In a sense, then, our special relationship with God is the basis on which we receive all the blessings He bestows. What good thing will He refuse His children? (See Psalm 84:11.) Paul responds, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). And while we may not always know what is best for us, God works only for good with those who love Him—those whom He has adopted (Romans 8:28). However, we must always remember that the blessings we receive are not ours because we deserve or earn them.
As His adopted sons, we are to recognize that all our efforts are unworthy of the great love He has demonstrated in bringing us into His family and placing us as His sons and daughters. Moreover, the benefits of the relation continue as our Heavenly Father ministers to our needs.
Mr. and Mrs. Potter adopted a young man from another country. They gave him the first name Dan and of course Dan assumed the family name in the process of adoption. Dan blended into the family life completely and he was treated with all the rights and privileges of the Potter children. The Potters became legally responsible for Dan. They made it possible for him to receive a good secondary education and to attend college also. As an adopted son, Dan was well fed and clothed, and on special occasions, such as his birthday and Christmas, he was remembered just like all of the other family members. In short, he was loaded with all of the family benefits because of his adoptive relationship. This is but an inferior illustration of the kind of love that our Heavenly Father demonstrates in saving us, making us heirs of His promises, and daily loading us with benefits.
TIME OF ADOPTION
Objective 2. Explain the significance of the three phases of adoption.
Adoption occurs in three phases. First, we see that there is a past phase. In Ephesians 1:4-6 Paul says, “Before the creation of the world. . . he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”
Notice that God is the prime mover in adoption. It proceeds from His love according to His will, returns to Him in an adopted family, and ends in the praise of His glorious grace. Notice at the end of verse 4, and in verse 5, that God’s decision in eternity to adopt us as His sons is based on His love. His love alone prompted the eternal decision to adopt us. And since adoption results from the free exercise of God’s grace, all human merit is ruled out.
We see in this Scripture that while adoption brings tremendous privileges, it also involves responsibilities: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4). If we claim God as our Heavenly Father, then we must live so that He will not be ashamed to call us sons. The experience of adoption involves more than simply securing a ticket to heaven. It requires us to allow the Holy Spirit to demonstrate that we are obedient sons and daughters as we reflect the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:6). What impression would you have of a person who always wore white, clean clothing but who never took a bath? The person’s inconsistency wouldn’t make sense, would it? How much more inconsistent it is for a person to claim the righteousness of Christ and yet live in a manner unworthy of Christian adoption?
Then there is a present phase: “Dear friends, now we are children of God” (1 John 3:2). Notice also that Paul uses the present tense in Galatians 4:6: “You are sons.” The fact of our present sonship should do several things to us. First, it should free us from any doubt about the future. We do not have to wait until we stand in God’s presence to know whether we are His children. We know now on the authority of His Word and by the testimony of the Holy Spirit that we are God’s children (Romans 8:16).
Second, it should impress us with the necessity of living in this world consistent with our status as sons of God. John says that those who look forward to Christ’s appearing keep themselves pure, just as Christ is pure (1 John 3:3), while Paul urges us to “say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12). Godly living is therefore appropriate for the children of God.
Examine carefully Romans 8:14-17 and Galatians 4:4-7. These Scriptures speak of adoption as present experience. They show us that adoption delivers us from slavery, enables us to address God as Father, and makes us heirs of God. Once indeed we were slaves to sin, Satan, and self. We were haunted by fear, especially the fear of death (Hebrews 2:14,15), for we knew that judgment awaited us. But Christ Jesus came to redeem us from the bondage of sin, giving His life to pay the redemption price and to set us free to be the sons of God. Therefore, we need not live in fear any longer: neither fear of death nor fear of God.
But we are not to be afraid of God. Fear of this kind is not pleasing to Him, for it arises from guilt and has to do with punishment. Rather, as our lives become one with Christ’s, His love is made perfect in us (1 John 4:16-19). We are able to “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Adoption permits us to call out directly to God, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). This expression has a tone of familiarity and endearment that arises out of our love, respect, and appreciation for our Heavenly Father. As we pray thus, we experience His gentle assurance that we are His children and that He loves us. The Holy Spirit guides us in appropriate worship to the Father. And He enables us to come courageously and lovingly to the Father in accordance with His will (Romans 8:15-17, 26,27).
Another present benefit of adoption is that we are heirs of God. And while we have not yet received our full inheritance, we are heirs just the same. Paul declares that God himself has set us apart and has placed his mark of ownership upon us, and has given us the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the guarantee of all that he has in store for us (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 5:5). The Holy Spirit in our life is the seal that we belong to God. Paul also claims that the experience of the Holy Spirit is a foretaste of the blessedness of heaven; and it is the down payment, the guarantee, that some day the redeemed will inherit completely the blessedness of God.
In Romans 8:18-23 Paul paints a magnificent picture. He speaks with a prophet’s vision. He sees all creation waiting for the glory that shall be. At the present he points out that creation is in decay. It is longing for sin’s power to be broken, for decay and death to be banished, and for liberation from the effects of the curse. We Christians, like nature, long for release from the present world with its physical limitations, pain, and death. Even now our physical being is gradually decaying (2 Corinthians 4:16). Through the experience of the Holy Spirit, however, we have received an earnest or down payment of the future glory. But we yearn for the full realization of what adoption into the family of God means.
The final phase of adoption will be the adoption of our bodies. Paul did not think of a person in the state of glory as a disembodied spirit (2 Corinthians 5:1-5). A person in this present world is a body and a spirit; and in glory the total person will be saved. However, the glorified body will no longer be subject to decay and the impulses of sin. It will be a glorious spiritual body fit for the life of a spiritual person: “The Lord Jesus Christ. . . will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20,21). See also 1 Corinthians 15:35-54. When our adoption is at last completed, then our bodies will have undergone a marvelous transformation. Because of this future phase of adoption, let us, with Paul, rejoice that life in Christ is an eager anticipation of a liberation, a renovation, and a re- creation worked out by the glory and power of God. Speaking of the future change we shall undergo, Paul declares “it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 5:5).
In adoption, God’s grace flows like a river out of eternity into time and back into eternity again. And His grace, like a strong current, engulfs us and carries us along toward the goal of future blessedness and glory and immortality.
EXPERIENCE OF ADOPTION
Means of Adoption
Objective 3. Select a statement that identifies the means of adoption.
You may ask, “How is adoption brought about?” God brings about adoption through the agency of the Holy Spirit as people respond to the truth of the gospel.
A person’s part in adoption is to believe in Jesus Christ and to receive Him. As we have seen previously, however, this belief involves the total person: intellect, emotions, and will. It involves knowing the truth of the gospel (John 8:32) and giving heart assent to it (Romans 10:10). And to receive Jesus and to make a complete commitment of one’s life to Him requires a definite act of the will. The faith we demonstrate in believing and receiving does not produce adoption; it does, however, set the stage for it (Galatians 3:26). John adds “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
God’s part in adoption is, of course, primary. A person’s response to His offer of salvation gives Him the opportunity to begin His transforming work. In an instant He forgives sin, imparts a new nature, gives a new standing before himself, and accords a new status in His family. As the Holy Spirit makes our sonship real, we are able to respond to God, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15) with a sense of amazement and wonder. Our adopted status is not the result of any merit in us. It is God’s love and grace alone that bring us into His family where there are no distinctions, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). And all, through the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, cry out together, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6).
Distinctiveness of Adoption
Objective 4. Identify similarities and differences among characteristics of adoption, regeneration, and justification.
We have viewed salvation as a single work of God. And we have used the illustration of a chain reaction to describe how the various aspects relate to other aspects of the work. Each of the doctrines of salvation has special meaning as well as meaning in relation to the others. Let us review briefly some of the similarities and differences that exist among regeneration, justification, and adoption.
We see that adoption and justification involve the administration of divine justice; therefore, they are considered judicial acts. Both of them give status: justification gives the guilty sinner the status of acquitted, while adoption gives him or her the status of adult son (about which we shall comment further). And both involve a relationship to God. However, the character of the relationship is different. Justification is a relationship between a righteous Judge and a “guilty” sinner; whereas adoption is a relationship between the Father and a child. Justification is basically legal; whereas adoption is basically paternal. Justification proceeds from righteousness; whereas adoption proceeds from love.
Regeneration and adoption are concerned with our being in the family of God. Regeneration is the experience that introduces us into the family of God; adoption follows and gives us the status of adult offspring.
The unique position we occupy at the moment of regeneration is this: being born of God, and therefore His legitimate offspring, we are advanced in relationship and responsibility to the status of adult heirs. However, all the experiences of childhood and adolescence, which are normal in human life, are excluded in spiritual adoption. And as a result, we are instantly free from tutors or governors and are responsible to live the many-faceted spiritual life of adult offspring in the Father’s household. In the spiritual realm there is no period of irresponsible childhood. The Scriptures recognize no distinction in conduct between beginners in the Christian life and believers who are mature. What God says to the mature and established believer, He says to all other believers—even to those who are newly born again. Lest we stumble at these responsibilities because of Paul’s reference to Corinthians as “mere infants in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1), we must recognize that Corinthian Christians were babes because of carnality, not because of the length of time they had been Christians. As adult offspring, therefore, we are immediate heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. And this privileged status enables us to inherit immediate blessings and benefits, as we shall see.
Blessings of Adoption
Objective 5. Recognize statements that describe the blessings of adoption.
Adoption produces certain benefits that we have chosen to call blessings. One of the greatest is the witness of God’s Spirit with our spirit that shows that our adoption is real and assures us of the Father’s love and concern for us (Romans 8:15). But there are many other benefits.
Notice that all of the preceding results of adoption are present experiences. Note, too, that the emphasis is on what God does. Some additional provisions that result from adoption are:
- Our Father supplies our needs out of His boundless supply (Philippians 4:19).
- He delivers us from legal bondage (Galatians 4:4,5).
- He delivers us from fear (Romans 8:15; 2 Timothy 1:7).
- He brings us into fellowship with himself (1 John 1:3).
These blessings and countless others are directed to meeting believers’ basic needs.
In adopting us God intends to bring glory to His name. In adoption He magnifies His grace and love. In fact, all that God does in saving us will ultimately bring glory to His name. And perhaps His glory is nowhere more evident than in the many blessings that flow out of adoption.
Evidences of Adoption
Objective 6. Give examples of internal and external evidences of our adoption.
Adoption is basically an objective work; that is, it takes place outside of us. We depend primarily on the Word of God to verify the fact of our adoption. It is, then, the chief external evidence of our adoptive status. Nevertheless, adoption becomes apparent to us by the things we experience internally and demonstrate externally.
While none of us is perfect in demonstrating these evidences, we will grow progressively in Christlikeness as we walk in the Spirit and are led by Him (Romans 8:15,16). This progressive change in us will be an obvious demonstration that we are His children.
Knowing that you are a part of the family of God should make you eternally grateful and joyful. This knowledge should also cause you to make a firm commitment: that by the grace of God, you will never do anything to bring dishonor or shame to the family of God. May you ever seek to bear the name with dignity and pride, never forgetting that you are part of a vast royal priesthood of believers whose purpose is to show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9).
The doctrine of adoption calls to mind the case of John and Joan Murphy, a childless couple. The Murphys had been married over 10 years when they were asked if they were interested in adopting a baby who was to be born to a young lady who could not take care of it. The Murphys accepted the offer and rejoiced, believing that this was an answer to their prayers. They eagerly shared the good news with their friends. When little Beth was born, she appeared to be perfect, a beautiful bundle of joy. However, within a few hours the doctor who had delivered the baby telephoned the Murphys and told them frankly that little Beth had a cleft palate—a deformity in the roof of the mouth. He said, ‘Do you still want her?’ John answered without hesitation, “Yes! We’ve told everyone that little Beth is an answer to prayer—a gift from God. And even though this deformity has appeared, we love her just the same.” However, just before the Murphys went to claim the baby, opposition arose about the legality of the adoption, since the Murphys lived in a state other than the one in which little Beth was born. The Murphys’ minister, who had helped arrange the adoption, went to the attorney general, the state’s highest legal authority, for advice. From the attorney general he learned that if the Murphys would immediately take the baby to their home, there would be no legal barrier to the adoption. Thus, the Murphys rushed to the hospital and took little Beth to be their child. Within a few months Beth underwent surgery to correct the cleft palate. The operation was successful and little Beth was perfectly normal.
In this story we see an illustration of the love of God who adopted us when we were lost, hopeless, unfit, and condemned to die. We were tainted by a carnal nature—less than the perfect specimens God desired. But he loved us and drew us to himself. And even as He was bringing us to himself, the archenemy of our souls sought to block the transaction and keep us in bondage. But God through Christ removed the obstacles to our adoption by His death on the cross. And we have now been brought into His family: cleansed, healed, clothed in His righteousness, and made immediate beneficiaries of His blessings. For this transaction that liberated us and brought us into His family we may rejoice throughout eternity.