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Sunday, 21 January 2018

Theology of Adoption

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All life is valuable since everyone is made in the image of God. As Christians and believers in the Word, we do all that we can to support life and fight for justice, whether that be for the unborn or the unwanted. We are a people who value life. One of the ways that we do that is through adoption. It is no secret that I have worked to build a culture of adoption here at Trinity Baptist. I want us to see the need and do all that we can as a church to meet the need. I am blessed to be a part of a community of faith that embraces that work. Glenna and I have personally seen and experienced the heart of this church for adoption. I thank you for that.

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As we celebrate the Sanctity of Human Life this morning, I want to take a look at what the New Testament says about our spiritual adoption. I want to do this for a few reasons. First, Paul begins the letter to the Ephesians by reminding them of the blessing of being adopted into God’s family (see 1:5-6 and below). Since we are currently working through that letter, I thought it would be good to consider further the teaching on adoption. Second, the New Testament teaching on adoption is a great encouragement to us as followers of Christ. Packer calls it “the highest privilege that the gospel offers.”1 It is good for us to meditate upon this doctrine. Third, I want us to see some of the connections between our spiritual adoption and the practice of physical adoption so as to encourage us in our support of the latter. I believe there is a connection between the two and I want to help us see that.2 The term for ‘adoption’ is only used a few times in the New Testament, even though the idea of our sonship to God is more frequently. This morning I want to look at three of those passages and from those build a theology of adoption that focuses on the work of the three persons of the Trinity. We will begin with the Ephesians passage and the work of the Father.

Our adoption was planned by the Father (Ephesians 1:5-6)

Adoption involves a choice. A person decides to be a parent. Anyone familiar with the adoption process will tell you that you must make that decision again and again as you work through the paperwork and legal proceedings and ‘unknowns.’ Our spiritual adoption began with a choice as well. God chose to adopt us. He chose to make us His children. Look at Ephesians 1:5-6 with me. As we saw a few months ago, Paul begins his letter to the Ephesians with a list of spiritual blessings that we have from God. One blessing that he mentions is our adoption as sons through Jesus Christ. This happened because God chose us in him (Jesus) before the foundation of the world (v. 4). It happened because God predestined us for adoption. And it happened according to the purpose of his will. No one becomes a child of God by accident. He had a plan to make us His children. He had a purpose to bring us into His family. He chose to adopt us.

God’s love demonstrated through our adoption cannot be overstated. Packer writes: “But when you realize that God has taken you from the gutter, so to speak, and made you a son in his own house--you, a miraculously pardoned offender, guilty, ungrateful, defiant, perverse as you were--then your sense of God’s “love beyond degree” is more than words can express.”3 God has chosen to make sinners like us into His children. We are not owed that privilege. God was not obligated to rescue us from our miserable condition. He did so out of love, which is why Paul adds that our adoption is to the praise of his glorious grace.

Russell Moore describes in his book on adoption the orphanage in Russia where his two boys spent the first years of their lives. He says that he and his wife almost vomited the first time that they visited because the smell was so bad. The children there were in terrible conditions. It was a hopeless place. On their last visit, before they would have to come home and wait a few weeks for the paperwork to process, Moore told them: “‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.’” These are the Words that God spoke over us before the foundation of the world. We were sons of disobedience and children of wrath (see Ephesians 2:2-3). We were hopeless and without God (2:12). We were far worse than those two little boys in Russia. But the love of God and the grace of God whispered over us: ‘I will not leave you as orphans.’ It was always His plan to adopt us and make us His own.

Our adoption was accomplished by the Son (Galatians 4:1-7)

Yet, how exactly did God accomplish our adoption? What price did He pay to bring us into His family? Paul speaks of it in his letter to the Ephesians. He does the same in Galatians 4. Turn to that passage with me. Paul has been writing about the purpose of the Law at the end of chapter 3. There were those in Galatia who were teaching that the Law must be kept in order to be faithful Christians. Paul was countering that argument by teaching that we are saved by faith in Jesus and not by works of the Law. So what purpose did the Law serve? It was the guardian until Christ came (see 3:24) and now that Christ has come it is no longer needed as a guardian. It is this language which prompts Paul to tell the Galatians that through faith in Jesus they are all sons of God. He builds on this idea in chapter 4. In those days, the heir did not have control or authority over his inheritance until a certain time. Until that time, it was managed by others. Paul compares that with the Law. It watched over God’s people until the set time. And when was that? Look at verses 4-5. The set time was the incarnation of Jesus. When Jesus took on flesh, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross for our sins, we were redeemed from the Law. We were set free from it and brought into the family of God through adoption. Now we are sons. Look at verses 6-7. We are no longer slaves to our sin, which the Law revealed. Now we are sons.

And getting back to our original question, how did this adoption take place? It took place through the person and work of Jesus Christ. He took on flesh to save us. He lived a perfect life to make us righteous. He died on the cross and rose again to make us sons of God. Our adoption was purchased with the blood of the Lamb. By turning from our sins and placing our faith in Jesus, we are welcomed into the family of God. Jesus fulfilled the Father’s plan and secured our adoption through His work at the cross. He accomplished our sonship.

Our adoption is applied by the Spirit (Romans 8:12-17)

Well then, since Jesus died for our adoption, does that mean that we are all sons of God? The Bible answers that question with a clear ‘No.’ How then can we be a part of God’s family. How can we know that we are adopted sons of God? Paul answers this question for us in our last New Testament passage on adoption which is found in Romans 8. Turn there with me. Paul has been laying out the gospel for the believers in Rome during the first eight chapters of this letter. He has taught that we are all sinners (ch. 1-3) and that we can only be saved through faith in Christ (ch. 4-5). As Christians we are to live righteous lives not to earn our salvation but to evidence that through faith in Jesus we are no longer slaves to sin (ch. 6-7). Instead of living in the flesh, we are to live according to the Spirit, which means a life of love and obedience to God (ch. 8).

He is describing life in the Spirit in verses 12-15. Look at those with me. We do not live by the flesh (in sin) but by the Spirit (in obedience). All who live by the Spirit are sons of God. They have received the Spirit of adoption as sons. All who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus receive the Spirit of God. And the Spirit is not a spirit of slavery but a Spirit of adoption. If you want to be a child of God, then turn from your sins and trust in Jesus. He will give you the gift of the Spirit so that you can live for Him in obedience to all that He commands. And the Spirit and His work gives us assurance that we really are sons of God. Look at verses 16-17. The Spirit assures us that we belong to the family of God. Through faith in Jesus, the Spirit applies His work of redemption to us. Those who continue to live in the flesh are not sons of God, but those who repent and believe in Jesus are brought into God’s family, given the Spirit, and can call God “Abba! Father!” The Spirit applies our adoption and assures us that God is our Father.

The teaching about our adoption in the New Testament is amazing and humbling. That God would plan our adoption before the foundation of the world, accomplish it by sending His Son to die on a cross, and apply it through the gift of His Spirit is incredible. God is our Father through the work of our Brother and the power of the Spirit! This is what we mean when we speak of our spiritual adoption. And as recipients of such an adoption, we should seek to invest in physical adoption as well. The One who made us His own has taught us to value all of the creatures made in His image. Moore describes the connection in this way: “As we become more attuned to the gospel, we’ll have more of a burden for orphans. As we become more adoption-friendly, we’ll better be able to understand the gospel.”4 Our spiritual adoption through the gospel and physical adoption of children go hand-in-hand. So then, my challenge to you today is to begin with the theology of adoption. See it in all of its glorious splendor. Then ask the question: how can I fight for life by supporting adoption? As those adopted into God’s family, we should lead the way in the pro-life movement by supporting adoption however we can. Amen.

1 J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 206. Packer’s entire chapter, “Sons of God”, supports this second reason
2 See Russell D. Moore, Adopted for Life (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009) for more on this reason.
3 Packer, p. 215.
4 Moore, p. 18.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Friday, 26 January 2018 )

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