It is not an understatement that the highest privilege God has given us in the gospel is the reality of adoption – we have been made sons of God![1]  In this short, reflective essay I will not lay any theological foundation for the reality of adoption – for an explanation of it I would refer readers to Sinclair Ferguson’s Children of the Living God and Michael Milton’s What is the Doctrine of Adoption? [2] Instead, I will simply unpack seven ways that the doctrine of adoption impacts life and ministry, making a few references to Scripture and to these two books.

First, the doctrine of adoption confirms to us that we are totally secure in our salvation.

Michael Milton opens his book with a prayer for the reader – that we would know that we are happy, secure children.[3] There is absolutely nothing that can change the reality that we are now in God’s family. What a tremendous blessing it is to know, not just intellectually, but also emotionally, that we are safe in the Father’s care – present and future. This means that whatever worry, grief, suffering, or difficulty we may encounter in life and ministry, our Father has his protective, providential arms around us. We have absolutely no reason for any insecurity. We belong to God. We belong with God.

Second, the doctrine of adoption confirms to us that we have been completely embraced by the lavish, overwhelming, gracious love of God.

The love of God is not contingent on our actions and attitudes – it is contingent only on the immovable, rock-solid union that we have with Christ – in other words, it’s not contingent at all. Now that we are “in” Jesus, the Son of God, the Father regards us with the same love and affection he has for Jesus. Ponder that last sentence again slowly. By the Spirit, we now have the same access to “Abba” that Jesus had (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). What a wonderful reality to embrace in the challenges of daily life – how much more does our Heavenly Father freely give to us than our earthly fathers (Matt 7:11)?

Third, the doctrine of adoption confirms to us that all our longings for intimacy are satisfied in God the Father.[4]

What do we desire more than to be known and to be loved? Many people know us who don’t love us. And others love us who don’t really know us. But God the Father both fully knows us and fully loves us. It is only the doctrine of adoption that provides that level of intimacy.

Fourth, the doctrine of adoption confirms to us that we have God’s favour.

We don’t need to earn God’s favour. We never needed to. It was given. The same favour when God said, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” is now given to us (Matt 7:13).[5] What a tremendously liberating thought for life and ministry. How many church leaders are slaving away seeking to earn God’s favour? We work so hard to please God, and in one sense that is right – we should always seek to please him (Heb 11:6; 1 Thess 2:4). But we must be careful in this, lest we take on the heart of a prodigal striving for fatherly acceptance. At the most foundational level, we only please God by virtue of the fact that we are sons of God in Christ! Therefore we have all the fatherly acceptance we could ever ask for. We have all the favour we could ever want.

Fifth, the doctrine of adoption confirms to us that we no longer need to be driven by any slavish fears.

“So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Rom 8:15 NLT). The doctrine of adoption does not remove our fear of God – he is still an awesome and terrifying King. However, if that same fear is a servile, hyper-submissive, groveling fear that makes us scared to enter the presence of God then we have not come to realize what the doctrine of adoption really means. We are no longer slaves; we are sons. We now have a dignified intimacy with the most terrifying and majestic Being in the universe. This is a wonderful truth because it means that we have full access to God the Father as sons. We can come before his throne of grace boldly (Heb 4:16). And this is something we need to remember in life and ministry. Satan can make no more claims on us. He will entice us to question our adoption. But his accusations that we are illegitimate sons are ultimately unfounded because we will have already lost our slavish fear of God and it has been replaced with the witness of the Holy Spirit, who confirms the witness of our own spirit, that we in fact are true sons.[6]

Sixth, the doctrine of adoption confirms to us that we have a new freedom, a new humility, and a new direction, in this new family.

My friend Phil Webb told me yesterday that in the Christian life we first belong, then we find our identity, and then we find our purpose.[7] How true is this when we consider adoption? We belong in God’s family. And that gives us a rare and sublime freedom. In that belonging we also discover our identity in humility. We are just little kids playing with our “Abba” Father. The pressure to perform is off – for He is strong and we are weak. So this new identity as tiny, dependent children means that we get to have fun with God as we serve him. There is nothing to prove. Finally, arising from this new filial connection to God we find our purpose. Freedom and humility give way to direction as we serve our Father, resting in the assurance of his good favour. This is particularly important in ministry. We do not need to be driven by the fear of man, always pleasing people and seeking to earn their favour. Instead, we need to experience the freedom of being kids again, and then lead and serve from that place of security and dependency on the Father.

Seventh, the doctrine of adoption confirms to us that we are united to a new family, the church.

One of the best chapters in Ferguson’s Children of the Living God was chapter four, which is entitled “family traits.” The idea is that in a family, the siblings have unifying features and also distinguishing features. I am so different from my two brothers, Gareth and Stanley, and yet in many ways we are profoundly similar. For example, we are all quite musical…and lanky. Yet my older brother is passionate about medicine; my younger brother is passionate about mechanics; and I am passionate about theology. What the doctrine of adoption means is that in the local church we should expect a similar sort of unity and diversity in God’s family. We are all to grow up into the image and likeness of Jesus, our Elder Brother, and so we should increasingly be displaying some of the same traits – godliness, holiness, faith, and love. And yet we ought to recognize our differences! There should be no sibling rivalry between us, only brotherly affection (Rom 12:10). We ought to recognize and appreciate the way that we all contribute differently, serve differently, lead differently, and we also interpret events, situations, and even the implications of truth differently. As my pastor, Jason Hagen, recently said, we need to realize that the devil is always substituting unity for uniformity.[8] And we need to reject the latter. The local church should never be uniform, but it should be united. So we need to grow in our sense of belonging with one another, and unity, despite the ever-present differences in temperament, personality, and interpretation of events that can so quickly divide us.

Conclusion

I can think of no higher blessing and privilege that being adopted by God. This doctrine is what produces the most meaningful and emotional songs of praise to God. The prodigals have come home. The fattened calf has been killed. The robe and the ring have been placed on us. And our job now is to learn how to embrace all the many implications of this wonderful new identity that is ours by virtue of our union with Christ.

[1] A brief comment on gender pronouns in this paper: I use the word “sons” here rather than “sons and daughters” not to be insensitive to women but rather because I am about to write for six pages unpacking the reality of “sonship” which really has nothing to do with gender but everything to do with status. We are all sons of God because Jesus is the Son of God. I like the word “children” but again, it is really the biblical notion of “sonship” that I am really trying to get at – a notion that relates, to our gender, but to the new identity we have because of grace, as men, women, boys, and girls, within the pre-existing Trinitarian relationship between The Father and The Son.

[2] Sinclair B. Ferguson, Children of the Living God (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989); Michael A. Milton, What is the Doctrine of Adoption? (Philipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2012).

[3] Milton, What is the Doctrine of Adoption?, 12.

[4] Ibid., 24.

[5] All scripture citations are taken from the English Standard Version.

[6] Milton, What is the Doctrine of Adoption?, 35.

[7] Personal conversation, November 4, 2015.

[8] Jason shared this thought in a church meeting on Sunday night, November 1, 2015 in discussion the integration of our Spanish and English congregations.

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