Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Adoption - A Neglected Biblical Doctrine

Secular view: the universal fatherhood of God and universal brotherhood of man
Scriptural view: God is Father to His people, His children, the elect, not all universally.

The word Adoption implies that we are neither God's children by birth nor by rebirth directly.

Jn. 1:12-13 "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (NKJV)

John 1:12-13 tells us that the privilege of adoption is realized by those who believe. Thus, it follows faith as does justification. The text also says that those who belief have been,~ were~, born of God - i.e. reborn.

Note what rebirth is not from, and to what it is due. Like our natural birth, it seems obvious that our rebirth would not be up to us. By divine fiat the same creative force which called the universe into existence out of nothing creates spiritual life in us. (2Cor.4:6; 1Pe.2:9) Like Lazarus.

Adoption is distinct from rebirth, or regeneration. Stephen Charnock wrote, "Adoption brings the privilege of sons, regeneration the nature of sons." The nature given us at rebirth is characterized and evidenced by hearing and believing the word of God (Jn.1:12-13; Jn.8:47; Jn.10:26-27) which leads to faith - faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of God. (Ro.10:17)

Adoption is also distinct from justification. Justification refers to Christ's work performed on our behalf being imputed to us once and for all through faith alone - peace. Adoption refers to the believer's ongoing relationship to the Father as sons and daughters through Christ - access. (Ro.5:1-2)

So, the logical order in our salvation becomes: rebirth & word -> hearing & faith -> justification & adoption

What this does for us...

1. Because adoption is a much neglected doctrine there has been much confusion in the area of law and grace. Stopping at justification has led to antinomianism and neolegalism. The key is to see that the Christian's obedience and discipline needs to be viewed in light of adoption, not justification. In the area of adoption - as sons, we are being transformed to His image. (2Cor.3:18) In the arena of justification - we are now seen by God as righteous. It is as sons that we are disciplined and chastised; not for justification.

2. Our view of God should be expanded - As Christians we tend to be more comfortable relating to God the Son or God the Spirit and less with God the Father because we see God the Father as a stern judge. But, it is through the Son that we have access to the Father and it is the Holy Spirit which prompts us to cry out to God as our Father.

1 Jn. 3:1a "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called children of God,"

We are directed to behold the manner of the Father's love in adopting us. God the Father predestined our adoption before the foundation of the world even though He already had a Son. (Eph.1:4-5) Not only that, but He gave His only begotten Son for us and it is by Him we have adoption, and all other blessings. (Ro.8:32)

We should not take for granted our privilege to call God our Father. (Gal.4:6) It is distinctively a Christian practice. Christ used the name Father frequently and instructed us to use this address in our prayers. (Matt 6:9)


Through adoption we are "heirs--heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ." (Ro. 8:17) "Heirs according to the promise." This promise is associated with eternal life. (Tit.3:7; 1Jn.2:25) Rest in Christ. (He.4:1) Believers are also called the children of promise. (Gal.4:28) Given, and sealed by, the promise of the Spirit, who is called the Promise of the Father, the Spirit of Promise and the Spirit of Adoption. (Acts1:4, 2:33; Eph.1:13)

There is a 'not yet' aspect implied by the terms heir and inheritance. Those who believe have entered rest in Christ and ceased from their works in a justifying sense. (He.4:3&10) But there is a final rest that is promised as an inheritance and we look forward to the resurrection of the body and its glorification. (Ro.8:22-23; 1Cor.15:1-9)

Fellow heirs - our brothers and sisters

Ro. 12:10 "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;"

Adoption should change the way we view ourselves and other believers in God's family. We should keep in mind that all believers have God as their Father and are treated as sons and daughters belonging to the same family of God. So, we ought to love one another. (1Jn.3:23) Our relationship with other believers should be deeper and more intimate.

Believers universally are fellow citizens of the household of God. (Eph.2:19) We are in the world but not of the world. Our citizenship is above. The world rejected and despised Christ. It will reject and despise us. As children of God we should expect to partake in the sufferings of Christ. (Ro.8:17) This is not a license to be offensive. Do not confuse offensiveness with partaking in His sufferings. On the other hand, in our efforts to make the gospel attractive we should not forget the cost associated with following Christ.

We are to relate to one another as members of the same family - God's family. (1Tim.5:1-2) Not one member but many - a flock. This transcends nationality, race, age, class…

1Co 12:13a "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body"

Assembly of the people of God, not a building. A body, not an organization. Body implies intimacy, closeness, being joined together with each part contributing to the whole, we are mutually dependent on one another, we need each other - even those that seem to us to be weaker (1Cor.12:22), when one member suffers we all suffer. There is no place for apathy in the body of Christ.

Unity & division

We are told to "keep the unity of the Spirit." (Eph. 4:13) We do not produce this unity. This is the work of the Spirit. We are to simply keep it. Christians may cause divisions and schisms concerning non-essentials - e.g. personalities, diversity of gifts. (1Cor.1:10f; 12) Ex. of petty things our child fight over. Important to them. We
should expect differences over nonessential doctrine. That is not to say they are unimportant. It would be great if we were perfect and without error. But, no one and no church is free from error.

Division over the essentials is another story. (Ro.16:17ff)

Q: What are some essentials?

In an assembly of believers there will be some who are not believers. There will be tares mixed with the wheat. These may, or may not, be known to us. I believe this number will be reduced in a `true church.'

Marks of a true church are: 1 - Teaching and preaching the word of God, 2 - Administering the sacraments like the Lord's supper, & 3 - where church discipline is present.

We must not be schismatic or divisive but we should separate ourselves from apostate assemblies.

Adoption should provoke us to live like children of God, give us confidence when we approach Him, give us hope, confidence and assurance for the future...

Points to reflect on throughout the week:

Christian's ID Card
"I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Saviour is my brother; every Christian is my brother too." (JI Packer's Knowing God, p.207)

Read 2Samuel 9 and take note how Mephibosheth is an OT example of NT adoption.

Other resources:
1. J.I. Packer, Knowing God, chapter titled 'Sons of God,' IVP 1973,
pp. 181-208.
2. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, IVP 1994, pp. 736-745.
3. John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Eerdmans 1955,
pp. 132-140.

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