Q34: What is adoption?
A: Adoption is an act of God’s free grace (1 Jn. 3:1), whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the
privileges of the sons of God (Jn. 1:12; Rom. 8:7).
I. Adoption, the concept.
A. Generally in antiquity. The initiator of adoption was always the adoptive father, who found it suitable to adopt to have a family. The custom differed among peoples. In Greece a male citizen may be adopted into the privileges of a son on the condition he accepted the legal obligations and duties. In Rome one adopted became virtually a slave, as he was “sold” by his natural father, who surrendered his parental rights to the adoptive father. Both were done before a judge. Oriental nations allowed slaves to be adopted, but the Greeks and Romans only rarely allowed non-citizens to be adopted out of concern for the adopter’s honor.
B. Pauline: adoption is exclusively a Pauline concept. Paul was familiar with Roman, Grecian, and other adoptive customs. His analogy must not be pressed too far.
C. Divine adoption is God’s act, whereby He judicially takes strangers and makes them members of His family. They are given all the privileges of His children and are enjoined with duties. This adoption is two-fold.
1. Externally: common to the visible church: Israel of old (Ex. 4:22-23; Rom. 9:4), which was not saving (Matt. 13:24-30; Rom. 9:6-7); now to Gentiles (Ga. 3:26-27).
2. Internally: saving adoption is peculiar to the invisible church who are engrafted into Christ (Jn. 1:12-13).
a. This does not change a sinner’s nature, only his status (Eph. 2:19).
b. This is not done in degrees (Rom. 8:1), but logically (not chronologically) follows justification.
(1). Adoption is enjoyed now, but the full possession of the inheritance is waited upon (Rom. 8:23).
II. Adoption, the process in general and its two parts.
A. In general. God the Father is the adopter (Eph. 1:3, 5; 1 Jn. 3:1); the elect sinner is the party adopted (Eph. 1:5); the natural father is the devil who has a world of people in his family (Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 5:19); the suitableness of this adoption is God’s glory, for the sons in both His upper house (i.e., angels [Job 38:7]) and lower house (i.e., men [Lk. 3:38]) fell, bringing death (2 Pet. 2:4; Rom. 5:12) and severing the filial relationship. This Adopter’s honor is maintained, for it is in Jesus Christ, the God-man, that adoption is possible (Heb. 2:11-12, 14, 17), based upon His obedience and satisfaction (Ga. 4:4-5). God sends His messengers to proclaim the offer of adoption (2 Cor. 5:17-18), and though the devil blinds minds (2 Cor. 4:4), the Spirit opens the ears of the elect, drawing them to Christ (Job 36:10; Jn. 6:44-45), wherein the Father, for the sake of His Son, receives them into His family, annulling the relationship with their natural father, and giving them all the privileges of sons (Jn. 1:12).
B. Part one. Reception of the sinner into the number of God’s family. This number is threefold.
1. Jesus Christ: eternal Son of God, declared Son by His resurrection (Ps. 2:7; Rom. 1:4), who is not ashamed to call us His brethren (Heb. 2:11).
a. He is the fount of all blessing to the family: the royal dominion is His (Ps. 2:6; Col. 1:18); the priesthood is His (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 5:6); the blessing is His as Elder Brother (Gen. 27:35; Rom. 9:5); the fullness of God dwells in Him (Jn. 3:34; Col. 2:9).
2. Angels: sons of God by creation (Job 38:7; Heb. 12:22), who as pure spirits man is made a little lower than (Ps. 8:5), and who yet minister to the elect (Heb. 1:14).
3. Saints in heaven and earth: sons by regeneration and adoption (Eph. 3:15), who share a special bond of love (1 Jn. 3:14).
C. Part two: giving the adopted sinner a right to their privileges, and which also enjoins upon him duties.
1. The privileges are several.
a. The Spirit of adoption engendering love to God and confidence in Him as Father (Rom. 8:15-16).
b. Access to, communion with, God (Prov. 15:8; Rom. 8:26; Eph. 3:12).
c. An inheritance, being joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).
d. The Spirit seals us with Himself as a deposit guaranteeing the fullness of the inheritance (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:13-14) received on the culmination of redemption (2 Cor. 5:5; Eph. 4:30). It is an incorruptible inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4).
(1). Sealing is aorist tense (Eph. 1:13) signifying an accomplished fact, the believer is a child of God forever.
e. God’s fatherly love and pity (Ps. 103:13; Mal. 3:17; Heb. 4:15); protection (Pss. 37:4; 91; Prov. 14:26); provision (Ps. 84:11; 1 Pet. 5:7); persevering power (Phil. 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:5); God’s fatherly chastisement (Heb. 12:6-8), though He does so reluctantly (Lam. 3:33).
2. The duties attached are several.
a. Join your interests with Christ (Matt. 16:24).
b. Be obedient children (Col. 3:20; 1 Pet. 1:14), internally as well (Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28).
c. Imitate your Father (Eph. 5:1); and walk as Christ walked (1 Jn. 2:6), in love (Eph. 5:1-2), in light exposing darkness (vv. 8-11), cherishing your brethren (Rom. 15:14; 1 Jn. 4:20-21).
d. Persevere to the end (Jn. 8:35; Heb. 10:38).
III. Adoption, its various elements.
A. Precious relationship: costs Christ’s obedience and satisfaction (Ga. 4:4-5).
B. High and honorable relationship (Jn. 1:12).
C. Freely given (Eph. 1:5).
D. Never-ending relationship (Ps. 89:30-34; Jn. 8:35). Though a son wander from his father’s house, he
will be sought and brought back.
1. Modern error is that all are “God’s sons.” All are God’s “offspring” (Acts 17:28), but not all are His sons (Jn. 8:44).
A. Use, of knowledge.
1. The gospel calling is the highest calling men are capable of (Phil. 3:14); the unconverted man is of Satan‘s family still (Jn. 8:44).
2. The world hates the people of God (Jn. 15:19), hence love of the brethren marks the child of God (1 Jn. 3:14); “brethren” (cf. Gen. 13:8) should live together in peace and unity (Ps. 133:1).
B. Use, of testing.
1. Consider how to be sure one is adopted:
a. First, the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit. Only when the two speak the same thing at the same time do we have this joint witness.
b. Second, Scripture is the Spirit’s testimony (Isa. 8:20). We can never be sure it is the Spirit speaking (could be an evil spirit or our own heart) unless it’s in accordance with Scripture. The witness of the Spirit with our spirit is experienced only when God enables us to say ourselves what Scripture says about true believers. Example: Scripture says whenever one believes on Jesus he will never perish but have eternal life (Jn. 10:28). If God enables me to sincerely say, “I belong to Jesus,” then I can say “I’ll never perish” and have this joint witness. For, I can say of myself what the Spirit does in Scripture.
2. Marks. The image you bear, children bear the image of their father: affections to the family of God (Eph. 1:15; 1 Jn. 5:1); love to God for who He is and not only for what He has to give (Ps. 73:25); love of God’s commandments (Ps. 119:97; 1 Jn. 5:3); hatred of evil (Ps. 97:10).
C. Use, of exhortation: sinners and saints.
1. Sinners. The call of the gospel is to leave the devil’s family (Ps. 14:1) and come to Christ, the Head of the family of God (Matt. 11:28; 1 Pet. 2:4) and partake of this adoption (Jn. 1:12-13).
a. Motives to ponder: the wretched family you are of (Jn. 8:44) and the end thereof (Rev. 20:10;
(1). Case one: “I am too vile…too many sins.” Answered: (Isa. 1:18; 55:7).
(2). Case two: “I too frequently backslide.” Answered: (Jer. 3:1, 4).
2. Saints. Consider: the great cost of adoption, the high privilege of it, and the manner of life that we should live in such a light; how we are to treat our family members here on earth as we realize that we shall live for all eternity with them in heaven.