Do you remember the first time you met someone who’d been adopted? I do. We were living in the Canadian Arctic and there was this family in the church we were attending. Like my Dad, the father in the family was an RCMP officer. They lived in our neighbourhood and we spent a lot of time together. They had a son and he was a little bit younger than me — he had been adopted. Had I not been told, I never would have guessed. They treated him exactly like one of their own. I was fascinated by this concept of a mother and father taking a child that, biologically speaking was unrelated, and adopting him for their own.
Flash forward some years later and now I have a niece who was born in China. She spent the first couple years of her life in an orphanage, abandoned by her birth parents. My sister and brother-in-law adopted her. She’s now really part of their family. My sister and brother-in-law are the only mother and father that she’s ever known and will know. Her older brothers love her dearly. It’s a beautiful thing. Even though I haven’t yet met her, I feel like she’s just as much a beloved part of our clan as anyone else.
Adoption amongst human beings can be impressively beautiful, but even more beautiful is divine adoption. Even more amazing is how a holy God who was once our judge and our enemy becomes our Father through Jesus Christ. Adoption brings us into this close family relationship with the King of the cosmos. That is astounding if you pause to reflect on it. And we should reflect on it often. Reflecting on it leads us to praise and wonder. Reflecting on it leads us to marvel at grace and this leads us to love the one who first so greatly loved us.
I can think of no better concise definition than that given by the Westminster Shorter Catechism in QA 34:
What is adoption?
Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God.
Adoption is an essential part of the Christian’s experience of salvation. If you are saved by God’s grace, you’re adopted into his family. The two can’t be separated. All those who have been declared righteous by God (justified) are also adopted. Everyone who has been justified is brought from the court room to the family room. More, just as with justification, the only basis for our adoption is the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.
What is the instrument through which we receive this benefit? Faith. Galatians 3:26, “…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” While we are promised adoption in the covenant of grace, we only receive what is promised by placing our trust in Jesus Christ. You cannot be adopted into God’s family apart from faith in Jesus Christ.
Once you are adopted into God’s family through Christ, your adoption is irreversible. God writes your adoption certificate with indelible ink on indestructible paper. When God is your Father, he is your Father forever. Nothing and no one can ever take that away. Your place is secure. You don’t wake up each morning and have to wonder whether you’re still in the family. Once adopted, you are securely in that loving relationship.
From God’s side, this glorious truth of adoption results in several outcomes. Chief among them is the new way God relates to us. He is our Father, not our Judge. As a Father, he dearly loves us as his children — “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). What “kind of love” is this? It’s a love where we have the care of a Father. He pities us, he protects us, and he provides for us. Moreover, if we should stray from him, like any good earthly father, our heavenly Father disciplines us for our good (Heb. 12:6-10). As our Father in Christ, he also invites us to free and open access to his throne of grace. Our Father is a great and awesome King, but yet his children are welcome to approach him boldly — no need to dread! Romans 8:15 encourages us, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!'” Finally, from God’s side, he promises that we will receive his rich inheritance. We are the heirs of the Father’s kingdom, to the new creation. It’s all promised to his children and his children will receive it with joy!
There are also outcomes on our side of this relationship. We love and worship this God who has freely adopted us as his children. We love to be in his presence in public worship. We look forward to eternity in his blessed presence in heaven. While we still live here, we call on God as our Father. Our Saviour Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven” to impress on us the nature of our relationship with the Triune God. This is going to be reflected in our prayers. We regularly confess our sins to our Father, look to him for fatherly forgiveness through Jesus Christ. In prayer we also express our dependence on our Father. Without him, we have nothing and are nothing. Finally, in this adoptive relationship, we aim to obey the will of our Father because we know this pleases him. We want to please him — children who stand in awe of their earthly fathers and love them want to please them. Similarly, God’s children through Christ aim to please him with their lives. We do that by striving to imitate our Father. I always wanted to be like my Dad. Dad was a pilot, I wanted to be a pilot. The same happens with the true adopted children of God. They want to follow in their Father’s footsteps.
I love the Christian doctrine of adoption! It gives such comfort and assurance to be reminded that we have this intimate relationship with the mighty God who created the universe and holds it in his hands. Along with all other Christians, I am his beloved son, really part of his family. What a position to be in! Nothing can ever take that away from me. It’s a gospel truth that’s locked up and secure in Jesus the only Saviour.