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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

  1. We were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world
  2. The Father planned our adoption in eternity
  3. All of this is for the praise of God's glorious grace

According to Galatians 4:4-7: 

  1. Our adoption happened on time (in the fullness of time) … God is never late.
  2. Redeemed from under the law: we had a different master.
  3. Redeemed so that we might receive adoption: set free from; adopted into
  4. Adopted as sons; now you are sons: we are legally as much sons as Jesus.
  5. The Spirit is given because we are sons.
  6. The Spirit in us cries Abba Father.
  7. We are now sons, not slaves – and therefore heirs.

According to Romans 8:15-17:

  1. We have received ‘the spirit of adoption’, not slavery.
  2. By the Spirit we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’.
  3. The Spirit confirms to our spirits that we are children of God.
  4. If we are children, we are heirs.
  5. To be an heir means we share in Christ’s inheritance.

In summary:

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:

  1. Presence – we get to be with the Father
  2. Pleasure – we get to enjoy the Father
  3. Purpose – we share in the Father’s mission
  4. Provision – we share the family inheritance
  5. Protection - we share the Father’s blessing

Four Action Points

  1. 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?
  2. 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
  3. Make room for natural children: could it be that God wants you adopt or foster children who need a family?
  4. Partner with our families who are adopting: prepare to provide support and encouragement for those families in our church on the adoption journey.

God the Father has made room for us; let's make room for others!