Adoption is one of those words that can’t help but evoke emotion. This last summer I witnessed the beginning of this first-hand, in the middle of an English camp in the middle of Albania. After lunch we got the prayer request. A young mother had abandoned her baby in the hospital. He had a few minor birth defects, but was generally healthy. If left in the care of the state, he almost certainly wouldn’t make it. Would the church help? Would someone help him find a family?
The Need for Adoption
This is not unlike how we are described in the second chapter of Ephesians. We were “children of wrath” who were “following…the spirit at work…in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2–4). We were alienated from God’s people, “strangers to the covenants of promise,” “without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). That is to say that we were helpless and hopeless children, destined to be God’s enemies. We needed someone to intervene. We needed a new Father and a new family.
Luckily, God already had a plan. “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ…to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:5). Before we had done anything to deserve it (Romans 9:9–11), God had already perfected a plan to call his sons and daughters to faith (John 1:12–13; 1 John 3:1–2). By sacrificing his own son for us, in an opulent outpouring of his grace (Ephesians 1:7–10), he secured not only forgiveness but also a family (Hebrews 2:12–14; Romans 8:29) and an inheritance beyond imagining.
Adoption in Salvation
As the Bible describes salvation, the doctrine of adoption is often intertwined with the doctrines of regeneration and justification, though it is distinct from both. Like justification it involves a legal declaration. But, where justification is a legal declaration that we are righteous, adoption is the legal declaration that we are in fact God’s children. Justification frees us from the penalty of sin because Christ has satisfied our legal debt. Adoption entitles us to all the rights and benefits of being part of God’s family and makes us co-heirs with Christ (Ephesians 1: 14; Romans 8:16; Galatians 4:4–7].
The ideas of regeneration and adoption also sound quite similar, since being born and being brought into a family are often synonymous, but in salvation, these ideas describe two different aspects of how God saves us. Regeneration precedes our conversion and happens through the preaching of the word (James 1:18; Romans 10:12–17; John 3:3–8). It is this work of the Spirit that enables us to demonstrate the faith necessary for conversion; however, adoption comes through faith as a result of conversion (Galatians 3:24–26).
The Benefits of Adoption
Adoption begins at our conversion, but the benefits don’t end there. Since we are now God’s children, we can pray to God as our heavenly Father (Matthew 6:9). Grudem summarizes it this way:
This relationship to God as our Father is the foundation of many other blessings of the Christian life, and it becomes the primary way in which we relate to God.…But the role that is most intimate, and the role that conveys the highest privileges of fellowship with God for eternity, is his role as our heavenly Father.
Second, adoption entitles us to an inheritance which includes God’s providence in the present, our future resurrection and eternal life in God’s future kingdom where Christ is all in all (Ephesians 1: 19–23). It was secured for us by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and we are positionally in possession of it now, already being seated with him in heaven (Ephesians 2:6) and waiting for the day when the fullness of that reality will be ours in heaven. The next verse (Ephesians 2:7) also points out that this good is not the end but that our relationship with Christ will be the means by which God continues to show new aspects of his grace to us in the coming ages that we live with him in eternity.
The Spirit is also at work in adoption. As we wait for the final benefits of our adoption, it is the Spirit who reminds us that we really are God’s children now (Romans 8:15–17). Even though we might struggle with doubt, it is the Spirit who helps us to feel that we are really part of God’s family and to hold on to the hope of the good things he still has in store for us. Not only that, but the Spirit actively prays for us, according to God’s predetermined plan, so that we will receive good from God now (Romans 8:26–29) and are certain of the inheritance waiting for us at the time of our glorification (Ephesians 1:13–14).
What should we say to all of this? First, we should be full of gratitude for what God has given us. When we were at our worst and weakest, he not only made us alive, but made us family. As family, we should trust our good and loving Father as he lovingly disciplines and cares for us, helping us to grow up into the person he has created us to be. Last, we should enjoy that family that God has made us a part of and seek to serve in it to make our heavenly Father proud.
This is essentially what happened back in Albania. A few weeks after we had prayed for the baby in the hospital, we welcomed Emiliano into our church family. Two different families had stepped in to get him the care he needed until he was able to find a permanent home. Though we were uncertain at the time how God would work everything out, we were certain that God had given us this opportunity to show love in the way that he had already loved us. How could we not respond to others in the same way?