December 18, 2017

Adoption: The Precious Truth of Belonging

Robert Condict

A reader might be tempted to quickly gloss over a list of technical terms that relate to our salvation: justification, sanctification, conversion, repentance, election, adoption, perseverance (or was it preservation?). The list may appear to be tedious. Perhaps we should just thank God we are saved. Why make this precious truth any more complicated? Each of these technical terms, however, describes a precious facet of our salvation. As men of God studied, they classified some of this richness with terms that will reward today’s diligent students. The study of adoption will yield a deeper appreciation for our God and His salvation. Having experienced the joys of spiritual and physical adoption, I hope to illuminate the Biblical adoption with personal illustrations to make our understanding more joyous.

Adoption Moves Us with God’s Planning

I can remember sitting across from our doctor and hearing the stark reality: the probability that we would never be able to have children. Since there is always room for error, I held tenaciously to the fallibility of diagnoses. I had been raised to believe that when things became difficult, you could always do something about it. By sheer determination you could will your desires into reality. After all, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, Manoah and his wife, Elkanah and Hannah, and Zechariah and Elizabeth—all of them were able to arrive at happy endings. Certainly it would be no different for us. It took me much longer than it took my wife to see and accept the gracious inheritance offered to us.

The term used for adoption is the Greek huiothesia. Both Thayer and BAGD divide the concept of adoption into three distinct usages. The first usage is the election of Israel. In Romans 9:4 Paul writes, “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.” The thrust of the text is that God had chosen His people, but they had rejected Him. Adoption describes that act of grace whereby God chooses for Himself those who are undeserving. Verses four and five demonstrate why Israel’s failure is relevant. They had been given a tremendous opportunity, but they failed to see the benefits of the adoption that they possessed.[1]

Modern adoption is much different from the ancient adoptions (from which we should gain our understanding of Paul’s use in Scripture).[2] Childless couples would frequently adopt an adult male. This was a business arrangement. The adopted son would become heir to the aging couple, but he was to discharge his duties of care and service. In this we learn that adoption is born in the heart of the adopting parents. It was often their need or their desire that initiated adoption. Since God has never needed anything, our adoption was motivated by His desire. Our adoption was initiated by our Heavenly Father.

In our family, we have adopted two children. While we acknowledge God chose them for us, we also realize that we chose them as well. One daughter was adopted from an orphanage in the Ukraine. There were so many children. Yet when we met Amanda, we knew that God had brought us together. While our adoption of Christina was under different circumstances, the principle of choice was just as applicable. It is a great comfort to know that God has initiated our adoption. He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.

Adoption Blesses Us with a New Relationship

The second way that huiothesia is used is to describe “those that turn to Christianity and are accepted by God as his sons.”[3] Romans 8:15 teaches, “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” When we compare this with Galatians 4:4, 5, we see the bondage to fear is a clear reference to the hopelessness and condemnation that is found under the Law. Hendricksen explains that being “under the Law” was not just an issue of Old Testament economy, but that being under the Law implied a complete inability to meet the Law’s requirements.[4] The blessing of adoption is not simply the removal from an economy of condemnation, but the placing of the adopted child into an economy of grace; greater yet, an economy of acceptance and love. Second Corinthians 8:9 teaches the blessedness of this arrangement: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” The riches addressed in this verse are not simply the riches of heaven, but all the riches that accompany the given title “child of the King.” The Scripture indicates that in the glorification of Christ, He will put all things under His feet. Yet the believer has been made by adoption a joint-heir with Jesus Christ. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”[5] The believer is given more than a hope of inheritance, though an inheritance is certainly one of the adopted son’s privileges (Col. 3:24; 1 Pet. 1:4). He is given a family. “Through adoption into the filial relationship between Jesus as the Son and God as his Father, believers all share alike in the new family of God. Within the body of Christ, each person has full parity, a full share of the blessings of the covenant, as brother and sister to Jesus and to one another.”[6] It would have been possible to have been pardoned and justified without being adopted. Nothing but the love of God compelled Him to bring believers into His family. In physical adoption a child is chosen that might fill or fulfill a family. But in spiritual adoption, the one being adopted brings nothing to the table. The entire process is a measure of God’s grace. As J. I. Packer points out, this family relationship is one of two elements that are given as measuring devices of the love of God. The first way to measure God’s love is by what He did on the cross (Rom. 5:8; 1 John 4:8–10). The second is found in 1 John 3:1, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.”[7] The adoption of the believer gives him the confidence to come into God’s presence (Eph. 3:12; Heb. 10:19–22). John 1:12 says; “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”

Adoption Guarantees to Us a Wonderful Future

Adopted children can sometimes feel insecure. Will some other bad thing happen, and will they lose this set of parents too? But adopted children can feel just as secure as natural children. In the ancient adoption practices, as well as the present, the adopted child cannot be disinherited. In both of our adoptions, the presiding judges reminded us that adoption is permanent. Once we adopted our child, we could not remove that child from our family.

The third way that huiothesia is used is in reference to a future aspect of man’s redemption. The first reference looked back upon God’s kindness to Israel. In the second aspect there is the present reality of the redeemed. While the believer possesses his right as an adopted son, there remains a future work as well. This reflects the culture of Paul’s day. Often a wealthy family would adopt simply to have someone to whom they could bequeath their goods. This is why the adoption of sons corresponded with the making of a will.[8] Those who have experienced the physical concept of adoption today can relate well with the “already—not yet” concept of adoption. Today, children are given, in some cases, into the custody of the adoptive parents before the adoption is finalized, but there remains more work before the adoption can be final. In much the same way, the Holy Spirit is granted to the believer as a seal of the authenticity of the transaction (Eph. 1:13, 14; 4:30). Yet, like those who wait for the legal requirements to be completed, so the believer waits for the full redemption of his body at the coming of the Lord. In the meantime, the adopted child of God, by the Spirit, learns to call God his Father. So it is in waiting for legal finalization. The child takes his place in the home learning and growing into his new status as a member of the family. Romans 8:23 says, “And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” Unlike the literal human adoption process, the seal of the Holy Spirit is sufficient to guarantee the veracity of the adoption. None of God’s adoptions ever fall through.

Dr. Robert Condict pastors Upper Cross Roads Baptist Church in Baldwin, Maryland.

(Originally published in FrontLine • November/December 2004. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. For an excellent treatise on this text, see Thomas Schreiner’s comments in the Baker Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament, pages 476–90. []
  2. One of the best historical and cultural studies that this author has found on the nature of adoption in ancient cultures is William Barclay’s Letter to the Romans, pages 109–112. []
  3. Walter A. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), 833. []
  4. William Hendricksen, New Testament Commentary: Expositions of Galatians and Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 160. []
  5. Romans 8:15–17, AV. []
  6. Beth Spring, “When the Dream Child Dies,” Christianity Today, August 7, 1987, 28. []
  7. J. I Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1973), 214. []
  8. For a discussion on the legal nature of adoption, see Kittle’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, page 398. []

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