Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Nothing is the same as the excitement of seeing someone come to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. But if anything comes close, it is seeing believers grasping the truth about their salvation in a deeper way. For that reason, it’s been a delight to fill in at the Thursday evening study through Knowing God by J.I. Packer these last few weeks (If, like me, you haven’t read Knowing God through, I highly recommend doing so as soon as you can).
We’ve been studying what it means to be adopted by God. We often think of salvation in terms of justification, the legal declaration that our sins are forgiven because Jesus has perfectly obeyed God’s law on our behalf. This is absolutely right and true. But there is more to salvation than justification alone. Adoption puts salvation into relationship terms, with clear implications for our experience of the Christian life.
Imagine this: You are arrested and brought to court for a crime you have committed. When the trial begins, you find that the judge is the person you have offended against. He takes no time at all to find you guilty and sentence you. But once he has sentenced you, he declares that his son will suffer the punishment you deserve, so your record will say that you are innocent (This describes the legal action of justification). Then, instead of turning you out into the street to figure out what to do next, the judge publically declares that you are his son, has you transferred from the cells to his home, gives you a place at his table, begins to train you for your new life, and assures you that you will receive the inheritance as his heir. This is adoption. And all these privileges are ours if we are in Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 3:14-15 tells us that we get our name from ‘the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’. Nowhere in the Scriptures do we find God declaring Himself to be the Father of all mankind. He does speak of Himself as the Father of His people, specifically those people whom His Son has saved (2 Corinthians 6:18).
This is not a natural condition, but is the result of adoption. Originally, we were slaves and enemies of God, but He chooses us to be His sons (Galatians 4:3-7). This specifically masculine language is used for a reason: In the first century, it was the male descendants who received an inheritance. As Romans 8:17 and John 1:12 say, Christian men and women are sons of God, equally entitled to the inheritance of eternal life (which is a radical departure from the expectations of the society of the time).
This Father/son relationship is based on God’s predestination of those who will believe in Jesus (Ephesians 1:4-5, Romans 8:29). We know that adoption is the choice of the parent, not the child. God’s choice of whom He would save and make His children happened before the world was made. Therefore, we can be confident that our acceptance as part of God’s family doesn’t depend on what we have done or didn’t do or could do; it depends entirely on God’s decision.
Because we are God’s enemies, we could not come to God without coming under His judgement and condemnation. Instead, ‘while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,’ (Romans 5:8). Since Christ has died for us, we receive the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption, by whom we can cry out to God in trouble (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6). Therefore, we are welcomed into the presence of our Father the King, where we are assured of receiving mercy in our time of need (Romans 5:2, Ephesians 3:12, Hebrews 4:16).
The Spirit is the guarantee that we will receive the inheritance promised to us (Ephesians 1:13-14). And because we have the Spirit, we are commanded to live lives which are fitting for the children of God (Ephesians 4:30). That is the reason that God adopts sinners like us: So that we will become like Jesus Christ, our older brother (Romans 8:29).
If we grasp what being adopted by God means, then we will rejoice in the great blessings God has given and we will see that our great purpose and responsibility is to be like Jesus:
‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.’ Ephesians 1:3-6.
Yours in Christ’s service,