Words of Life
5. Adoption: Plenty of Room in the Family
Adoption is not a subject we talk about very much in church. People who have been adopted, or have adopted a child, or were raised in a family that included adopted children, probably have a better understanding of the biblical teaching than those who have never experienced adoption first hand.
1. Adoption Defined
Many Christians don’t realize that adoption is a profoundly biblical concept. It is one of the key words that the Apostle Paul uses to describe our relationship to God. We can summarise this concept in 3 statements:
1. There is a person who is not a member of your family by birth.
2. There is a legal process.
3. There is now a new member of your family as a result.
The NT uses the word adoption to describe how we come into God’s family (Romans 8:15, 23, 9:4; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5). Galatians 4: 1 - 7.
v. 1, 2 - describe a common situation. Imagine a son whose father is extremely wealthy. One day the son will inherit the entire estate for himself. Under Roman law, because he is a minor child, being raised as a minor child, he is treated no differently than a slave.
v. 4, 5 - we see what God did by sending his Son to the world: 1. God sent him to redeem those under the law. 2. That we might receive full rights as sons.
When we come to Christ, God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts to give us new life and the assurance that we are God’s children. This is the “still, small voice” of God that speaks to the soul and whispers, “You are now a child of God.” That same Holy Spirit within us cries out “Abba, Father.” It is an intimate, personal word of affection - “Dad” or “Daddy” - very tender way of talking to our Heavenly Father. No longer is he some distant God up in the sky. Now he is our “Heavenly Dad.”
If we know Jesus as Saviour, God is now our Heavenly Father and we can come to him in prayer anytime, anywhere, for any reason, and he will never turn us away. When we are in trouble, when the world has turned against us, when we are so discouraged that we feel like giving up, when we are confused about what to do next, the Holy Spirit whispers, “Talk to your Father in heaven. He’s waiting to hear from you.” The Spirit within us brings us back to our Father again and again and teaches us to say, “Abba, Father.”
Here are 6 blessings Paul mentions in Galatians 4 that flow to us because Christ came -
1. We are redeemed.
2. We are adopted.
3. The Holy Spirit now lives within us.
4. We call God Father.
5. We are now God’s children.
6. We are the heirs of God.
Christ came to redeem us and to adopt us into God’s family. To redeem means to set free from slavery by the payment of a price. You redeemed a slave by paying the purchase price and then setting him free. Now suppose that in addition to freeing that slave, you also said to him, “Come with me to my home and live with me. I want you to legally join my family, take my name, and take an equal share in my inheritance.” As amazing as it sounds, that’s what God did for us the moment we trusted Christ.
In the Jewish culture, young boys are considered men by going through a ritual called a Bar Mitzvah. You might say that when we come to Christ, we are “Bar Mitzvahed” into God’s family. We come in as full members of the family with rights and privileges equal to those who have been there for 40 or 50 years. We can pray and claim God’s promises on the same basis as everyone else.
In our relationship with God - Our standing isn’t based on our performance. That’s good news because we all fail sooner or later. Our standing is based on God’s grace, which means it doesn’t depend on us. Once a child of God, always a child of God. We may do things that displease our Heavenly Father. If we persist in disobedience, we will be disciplined by the Lord. But that discipline, painful though it may be, comes to us because we are God’s children (Hebrews 12: 4 - 11). It is a mark of our salvation. We are disciplined because we are the children of God, not in order to stay in God’s family. Our standing is secure because it is not based on our performance.
2. Adoption Explained
When Paul talks about adoption, he is not referring back to the OT. He is referring to the Roman law of his day. Wealthy childless couples often practiced adoption to provide a legal heir for their wealth. They would adopt a slave and bring him into their family so that their wealth could be passed on to another generation. There are 3 keys to understanding Roman law regarding adoption.
A. The absolute right of the father.
Under Roman law fathers had absolute right over their entire estate. They had rights over all that they owned, and their children were considered to be their personal property. In fact, a father in ancient Rome had the power of life and death over his children and in the early days of the Roman Empire, if a father wanted to put his children to death, he could legally do it and nobody could say anything to him about it. So great was the power of a father under Roman law that the son would never be out from underneath his father’s authority as long as the father was alive. A son could be 70 years old and the father could be 93 years old, and under Roman law he was still under his father’s authority.
B. The right of the adopted son.
If a son was adopted into a new family, he was guaranteed legal rights to his father’s property. That is always one of the questions if you have biological children as well as adopted children. How will it all work in terms of the family inheritance? Roman law made it clear that an adopted child had exactly the same rights as all other children and no one could come before the adopted child - not the biological children and not other adopted children. He gained full inheritance rights with all the other children of the family.
C. The disappearance of the old life.
Adoption not only gave you a new name and a new family, it also means your old life was gone forever. So complete was the transformation that if you were adopted into a new family and you had old debts, at the moment of adoption all those old debts were canceled, wiped away forever. The adopted son in Rome was regarded as a new person, entering a brand-new life.
It is Paul’s picture that when a man became a Christian he enters into the very family of God. He does nothing to deserve it. God, the great Father, in his amazing love and mercy, has taken the lost, helpless, poverty-stricken, debt-ladened sinner and adopted him into his own family, so that the debts are canceled and the glory inherited.
3. Adoption Distinguished
Doesn’t the Bible say we are born into God’s family? The answer is yes (John 3: 3; 1 Peter 1: 3). If that is true, how can we be adopted? Are we born again or are we adopted? The answer is yes.
Both are correct because - We are both born again and adopted into God's family. Here is the difference. The new birth establishes a new relationship with God. That is why Jesus said to Nicodemus, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again" (John 3: 3). The new birth emphasizes how we come into God's family—as helpless children who are born into the family only by God's sovereign grace (John 1: 13).
We are born into Gods family through the new birth and through adoption we are immediately advanced to a state of full privilege and responsibility. From the moment of salvation God treats us as full adults, not as little kids. The following chart makes the difference clear:
New Birth Adoption
New Life New Standing
From Spiritual Death From Slavery
Children needing growth Full rights and privileges
Adoption guarantees the following 7 things to every believer: 1. You are a full member of God's family. 2. You have full rights and privileges in heaven. 3. You have immediate access to God. 4. You belong to his family. 5. You bear his name. 6. You have a full share in the inheritance he promises his children. 7. Satan has no claim on you because you are no longer a part of his family and he is no longer your father.
4. Adoption Applied
A. Adoption means that you have a new family.
The old family is gone forever. The old master is gone forever. The old name is gone forever. God is your Father, the Lord Jesus is your Savior, and the Holy Spirit lives within you.
B. Adoption means that you have a new privilege.
You have the same right as the oldest saints of God. In our world there are exclusive clubs with members dependent on who you know and how much money you have. God only has one level of membership. Everyone who comes into the family of God comes in the same way because the ground is level at the foot of the cross. He only has one class. Everyone in God's family has gold card standing. Everyone is born again. Everyone has full rights. Everyone is at the head of the class. Everyone comes in at the best possible level.
C. Adoption means you have a new responsibility.
What God says to any believer he says to every believer. The same Holy Spirit who is given to the gray-haired Christian is given to the new Christian. No one need feel like a second class citizen. No believer can use that as an excuse. You can never say, "Well, I don't want to read my Bible. I am just a new Christian." That won't wash with God. Nobody can say they can't pray because they are just a new Christian. God will not accept that excuse. You can't say you won't testify for Christ because you have recently been born again and aren't as good as those who have been saved for a long time. That is not a biblical thing to say because what God says to any of his children, he says to all his children. The responsibility that is laid on one is laid on all.
There are great advantages in being born again at an early age. If you have been saved for a long time, you ought to have a deeper understanding of God. You should be more skillful in walking by grace. But God does not give anything to the oldest saint of God that he doesn't also give to the newest Christian. The moment you come to Jesus Christ, all the resources of heaven are put at your disposal.
What does all this mean? You are rich now. Don't live like a pauper. You have the Holy Spirit. Don't live in the flesh. You have access to God. Use it. You have brothers and sisters. Lean on them. You have spiritual gifts. Put them to work for Christ. You have been set free from Satan's power. Don't mess around with the devil anymore. You have a new family. Stop living like you belong to your old one.
Earthly adoption offers a wonderful picture of God's gift to us because for adoption to happen, the parents must be willing to do it and they must be able to do it. They must choose to do it. If they understand this truth, adopted children can say, "Someone must have loved me very much." Adoption never just happens. There is no such thing as an accidental adoption. It takes trouble, time, expense, effort, sweat, heartache and tears. Somebody has to open their heart and their home for children to be adopted. In the very same way, biblical adoption is only possible because God is willing to add more children to his family. That is one of the sweetest thoughts I have ever come across.
On earth, adoption gives a child a new name, a new home, a new address, a new history and a new destiny. God's adoption gives the child of God a new name, a new home, a new address, a new history and a new destiny. Home is "the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in." Brothers and sisters, God is our true Heavenly Father because he chose to add us to his family. Because of adoption, when we go to him, he always opens the door and says, "Welcome, my child. This is your home forever." Amen.