It is the most comforting gospel revelation that in Christ Jesus, God from eternity has adopted us and chosen us to be His children. It was definitely a manifestation of Christ’s sincere love for His disciples when He called them His “friends” (John 15:14), but the term “sons and daughters,” which Scripture ascribes to Christian believers, implies far greater privileges than that of “friend.”
In his monograph The Reformed Doctrine of Adoption, R. A. Webb writes of God’s gracious adoption of believers as His dear children: “When calamities overcome us and troubles come in like a flood, we lift up our cry and stretch out our arms to God as a compassionate Father; when the angel of death climbs in at the window of our homes and bears away the object of our love, we find our dearest solace in reflecting upon the fatherly heart of God; when we look across the swelling flood, it is our Father’s House on the light-covered hills beyond the stars which cheers us amid the crumbling of the earthly tabernacle” (p. 19).
Consider with me the ineffable solace of the biblical doctrine of adoption.
I. DEFINITION OF ADOPTION
In his Systematic Theology, A. H. Strong offers a definition of the doctrine of adoption: “This restoration to favor, viewed in its aspect as the renewal of a broken friendship, is denominated reconciliation; viewed in its aspect as a renewal of the son’s true relation to God as Father, it is denominated adoption” (3:857). Similar is the definition given by another theologian: “Adoption . . . is that act of God’s free grace by which, upon our being justified by faith in Christ, we are received into the family of God and entitled to the inheritance of heaven” (McClintock and Strong, Cyclopaedia, s.v. adoption). According to these definitions, adoption embraces both the renewal of the soul’s true relation to God as Father and the bestowal of the privileges of sonship in this life and that to come. Thus, we who by nature were alienated from God are received by Him as His dear children and heirs of eternal life.
II. ADOPTION IS AN ACT OF DIVINE GRACE
The doctrine of adoption embraces Jesus’ incarnation, vicarious atonement, and resurrection, for “when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Gal 4:4–5). Therefore, the adoption is an act of God’s free grace and excludes all human merit; it is absolutely solagratia. We have been redeemed purely by grace; so also we have been adopted purely by grace. Thus God heaps grace upon grace in electing, redeeming, and adopting us.
While Scripture ascribes to the Father the adoption and to the Son the redemption, it ascribes to the Holy Spirit the sanctifying act by which we become believers in Christ and so God’s dear children. The apostle teaches this truth clearly in Romans 8:14–17. In this life the assurance of our adoption is apprehended merely by faith, but on the day of the final resurrection we will be delivered “from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). By becoming a believer in Christ, “you are all children of God through faith” (Gal 3:26). This means that at the very moment of conversion to Christ we are children of God. But in that very moment we are also justified, or declared righteous before God. The apostle stresses this comforting gospel truth in Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” But this verse also declares that we are in possession of reconciliation with God. According to Scripture, reconciliation is that very act of divine grace through which we are granted peace with God by His forgiveness of our sins.
But by faith in Christ we receive also regeneration or the new birth, as John writes, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1). This, moreover, means that we are converted, since conversion in its proper sense is the turning “from darkness to light” by faith in Christ (Acts 26:18). The estranged sinner, who was turned away from God, is now turned toward his divine Lord with genuine trust and sincere love (see 2 Cor 4:6). The regenerated believer is given the firm conviction that Christ is his personal Savior who has redeemed him from sin and death. So also by faith in Christ the believer obtains the gift of sanctification or the gradual putting off of the old, which is corrupt, and the gradual putting on of the new (Eph 4:22– 24). Thus our faith in Christ accomplishes the entire renewal: our justification, reconciliation, regeneration, conversion, sanctification, and last but not least, our adoption to sonship. Paul sums up this whole spiritual process of the believer’s turning from unbelief to faith, from sin to holiness, from death to life, in Ephesians 2:8–9 and 2 Corinthians 5:17. There is in all of this a note of triumphant rejoicing in the sweet gospel proclamation that we are God’s dear children (1 John 3:2). Thus the adoption may be regarded as the crowning act of God’s saving love.
III. THE BLESSINGS OF ADOPTION
Scripture is very clear in describing the ineffable blessings of our adoption. According to Romans 8:14–17 there are five blessings:
- The sanctifying leading of the Holy Spirit.
- The removal of the servile spirit of fear.
- The filial trust by which we call God “Abba, Father,” joining two words and giving emphasis to our endearing relationship with God.
- The witnessing of the Holy Spirit with our spirit that we are children of God.
- The assurance that we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
The blessing of the Spirit’s witness in our hearts is stated with the same emphasis in Galatians 4:6; here the joyous prayer “Abba, Father” is ascribed directly to the Spirit’s witnessing. Accordingly, we call God “Abba, Father” as the immediate effect of the assuring testimony of the Holy Spirit. The spirit of adoption assures us of God’s fatherly love toward us and of our sure salvation. In times of trial we, because of the weakness of our faith, may not always perceive the Spirit’s witness, but it is nevertheless there as long as our faith in Christ prevails; for in the final analysis faith itself is nothing else than the Spirit’s persuasive witness in our hearts.
As adopted sons and daughters, we enjoy all the benefits of redemption and we have everything. What can children in a father’s house have more than a full place there? Their position, privileges, and prospects are as high as they can be. If a father who is good and rich and influential gives his children a happy home under his roof and treats them as children in all respects, there can be no more that would be good for them to receive. If this be so in the human relationship, must it not be yet more so as between God and His people? If He is the Father, and I am the child, then there is nothing between me and infinite wealth and goodness and blessedness. If He is my Father, He can give me everything I need. If I am His child, I can receive His benefaction, up to the limits of my nature and circumstances.
Our conviction as Christian believers is that, in Christ Jesus, we are God’s dear children, and that is deeply written in our hearts with all those who “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:2).
Rex D. Edwards is a former vice president for religious studies at Griggs University.