Made Sons through the Son
"_ In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will" _
_ Ephesians 1:5 _
The highest blessing of our salvation is adoption, the idea of being made sons of God. Yet this is an ignored doctrine, hidden in the rumbles of our laziness and the contemporary innuendos of adoption. In his classic Knowing God, J.I. Packer writes, "Were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation, and I do not expect ever to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that." It is thus worth our time to consider the historical context of adoption, the theological aspect and finally the implication to Christian living.
Of all the biblical authors, it was only Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, who used this word adoption. He used it in his letters to the churches in Rome, Galatia and Ephesus – all of which were under the Roman protectorate. He used this word with no explanation or qualification for he took it for granted that these people knew what he was talking about.
Adoption was a very common practice and thus well known in the Roman Empire during the New Testament times. It differed from contemporary adoption in that adult males in their 20s-30s were adopted as suitable heirs and family heads. An adopted son assumed the role of a firstborn and thus the primary heir. Indeed, most emperors including Tiberius, Caligula, Nero, Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius, Hadrian, and Trajan assumed the throne through adoption.
The adoption process involved a big ceremony, bigger than a wedding, with at least 7 witnesses with irrevocable implications. A biological son could be disowned but never an adopted son. A new status, a new surname, was bestowed upon the adoptee with links with the past life being cut. A large amount was paid for adoption. The giving up of a son for adoption was never begrudgingly and though the relationship was maintained, the past family would never be dragged to the new family.
When talking about adoption to the saints in those churches, Paul communicated a truth about their salvation, and indeed of all the saints, which parallels adoption as they knew it. Adoption is a reality that falls within what is called the order of salvation. The salvation of man is the greatest display of the majesty of God and supersedes even creation. The plan of salvation was set in motion in eternity past where God chose a people for himself among the lost multitude of the world. As the Bible says, he predestines them for adoption as sons ( Ephesians 1:5 ).
These elects of God were in sin and lost. God had to purchase them, to redeem them from the tyranny of sin. He did so by sending his only begotten Son to the world in time to live a perfect life that they couldn't and to obtain a righteousness that they could not achieve. The Son of God also died a substitutional atoning death on the cross where the sins of the elects of God were placed on him ( Galatians 4:4 ). The application of this work to the elects is achieved through the Holy Spirit who convicts them of sin and judgments, and through the effectual call of God, they see the need of a saviour, repent and are justified. In justification, they are declared righteous before God. Adoption now goes beyond justification for though justification is the primary solution to our primary need, there's no intimacy between the judge and the justified.
A believer, upon placing their faith in Christ, acquires a new status. They become sons of God and they are given the right to call God "Father" (John 1:12-13), indeed, "Abba" which is even more intimate. The idea of calling God "Our Father" is exclusively Christian for no other religion in the world has conceptualized such an idea. (_ Galatians 4:6 _ , _ Romans 8:15 _)
Just like in the Roman law where there were witnesses of adoption, the Holy Spirit of God is the witness of our adoption as believers. – "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16). "We are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit who is the guarantee, (earnest) of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory"(Ephesians 1:13-14). God has placed his Holy Spirit in each of his adopted sons as prove that indeed they are his forever and that will never change.
The language that Paul uses especially in Ephesians is to communicate assurance. As we are to see soon, adoption was for inheritance. This inheritance will be given in full upon the glorification of our bodies in heaven. However, he has given us an earnest, which is a pre-payment as a guarantee that the rest will be paid. If one was to buy something, he could commit himself to buying it by paying a non-refundable amount. God's earnest is his Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity dwelling in his sons. As surely as the Trinity cannot be broken, these sons will receive their full inheritance.
The father gives an inheritance to his sons and thus in adoption, the adoptee receives the right to inherit. Jesus Christ, being the only begotten son of God is the primary heir of God. Adoption qualifies one for inheritance ( Ephesians 1:13-14, Galatians 4:7 ).
We must be careful to note that this inheritance is far more than the material blessings promised by the prosperity gospel. We are co-heirs with Christ and God did not promise Christ material blessings. Indeed, when Christ was on earth, he did not enjoy these things promised by prosperity gospel preachers.
In the second place, the inheritance is futuristic and not in this life. Yes, there are blessings, earnest, that we have already obtained, but not fully. The lie of the prosperity gospel is what is called over-realised eschatology, where the future promises are claimed for this life.
Yes, a time will come when we shall own mansions built with gold, we shall be prominent, indeed, rulers wherewith Christ we shall reign and judge even the angels, we shall never go hungry, or sick, or feel pain of any sort…But now, we are despised, afflicted, perplexed, persecuted. Creation groans with us as we wait for the full revelation of the sons of God ( Roman 8:19 ).
The truth of adoption should affect every sphere of the life of a Christian. Consider these four areas;
The truth about adoption reminds a feeble heart in fear of being cast out of the household of God that he has been given an irrevocable status. It propels him to look beyond the humanistic shibboleths that views salvation as a self-help program for human and sees it as it is, the grandest display of God's majesty. The child of God is drawn to scripture and shown the price that God paid for his adoption. And though the whirlwind of the world be many, the words of Paul reverberate in his desolation, "what can separate you from the love of God?" The search being futile, he rests in the promises of him who began the good work in him for he surely will complete it. He thus joins the hymn writer in melody;
My name is graven on His hands
My name is written on His heart
I know that while in heav'n He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart
The realization of our status is a motivation to live a godly life. For we do not live holy lives that we may be made children of God, we are children of God and that is why we walk like so. Every royal child must be trained on how to live per his status. We realise that our sanctification is training for the responsibility that we shall be given as heirs and co-heirs with Christ. We work out our salvation in fear and trembling – trembling not out of fear of losing our status but out of a reverence fear of knowing that it is God working in us.
We realise that we have been adopted to the household of God with other brethren. The word "brethren" becomes a theological term. That whenever we call someone a brother or a sister, we are testifying to our common adoption through Christ. This will make our love for one another greater. We will care for the physical and spiritual needs of one another.
If we share in such beautiful and great blessings of adoptions, why would we not be willing to let others share in such blessings? Shouldn't we be more intentional to reach the lost? By all means, we should, for our desire to reach many is rooted in our Father's love for the lost and our desire to please him.
Ultimately this will affect our worship. It is to the glory of his glorious grace. When you realise what God has done, the wisdom is his actions humbles you and leads you to your knees to sing with Charles Wesley;
O how shall I the goodness tell,
Father, which thou to me hast showed?
That I, a child of wrath and hell,
I should be called a child of God,
Should know, should feel my sins forgiven,
Blest with this ante past of heaven!
In case you have not placed your faith in Christ Jesus, the reality of adoption is alien to you. You are still separated from God and you do not have the right to call him "Abba Father". But he bids you come now. Believe; place your hope in Christ. Trust not in your understanding anymore. Look to Christ, and you will be made a son through the Son. Amen.
Wilson Murigi is a theology enthusiast, who is passionate about Evangelism, Church History and Cult Apologetics. He is currently a Masters student in the department of Mechanical Engineering in Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology