Adoption is a central metaphor for understanding the gospel; whereas justification teaches us that we are not guilty, adoption says, 'Welcome to the family!'.
Paul uses adoption as a picture of salvation in Ephesians 1:5-6, Galatians 4:4-7, and Romans 8:15-17. All three of these churches were in areas or cities directly under Roman rule, and it is this Roman cultural context that helps us understand something about adoption.
Adoption is a family term that in the ancient social world of Paul’s day denoted the transfer of a son (usually an adult) from one family to another with all its attending privileges and responsibilities. Like justification, adoption is a forensic term and denotes a legal act or transfer from an alien family (sons of disobedience, Ephesians 2:2) into the family of God.
It was particularly in the public consciousness at the time Paul wrote these letters because of its prominent practice by the Julio-Claudian dynasty. The Caesars depended on adoption to keep the dynasty going. When a Caesar would adopt a son, that son became - not only the official son of the emperor - but the designated inheritor of the empire.
Drawing on scripture, we can make some power-statements regarding our adoption:
According to Ephesians 1:3-6
- We were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world
- The Father planned our adoption in eternity
- All of this is for the praise of God's glorious grace
According to Galatians 4:4-7:
- Our adoption happened on time (in the fullness of time) … God is never late.
- Redeemed from under the law: we had a different master.
- Redeemed so that we might receive adoption: set free from; adopted into
- Adopted as sons; now you are sons: we are legally as much sons as Jesus.
- The Spirit is given because we are sons.
- The Spirit in us cries Abba Father.
- We are now sons, not slaves – and therefore heirs.
According to Romans 8:15-17:
- We have received ‘the spirit of adoption’, not slavery.
- By the Spirit we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’.
- The Spirit confirms to our spirits that we are children of God.
- If we are children, we are heirs.
- To be an heir means we share in Christ’s inheritance.
1. Adoption is needed: we were born slaves to an alien father (Ephesians 2:2).
2.Adoption is Trinitarian
- Planned by the Father
- Paid for by the Son
- Accomplished by the Spirit
3. Adoption is comprehensive:
- Brought into the Father’s family
- Brought into the Father’s blessing
- Given responsibility
- Share in the inheritance
In the words of J. I. Packer: 'Adoption is … the highest privilege that the gospel offers; higher even that justification’. That's because justification says, 'You're not guilty'; adoption says, 'Welcome to the family'.
Finally, observe these five characteristics of God's adopted children:
- Presence – we get to be with the Father
- Pleasure – we get to enjoy the Father
- Purpose – we share in the Father’s mission
- Provision – we share the family inheritance
- Protection - we share the Father’s blessing
Four Action Points
- Know who you are: understand what it means to have been adopted into God's family - what are the rights and responsibilities that come with this?
- Make room for the spiritual children God wants to adopt: there are many others the Father plans to bring into his home, and we have to make room for them
- Make room for natural children: could it be that God wants you adopt or foster children who need a family?
- Partner with our families who are adopting: prepare to provide support and encouragement for those families in our church on the adoption journey.