Author: David Cleland, Pastor at Hope Bible Church
The writers of Scripture use different metaphors to picture our salvation in Jesus Christ. This is no accident. Different metaphors present different and important facets of what our salvation in Christ has accomplished. Probably the best-known metaphor is justification but there’s also redemption, reconciliation, and propitiation. And then there’s adoption. (See Ephesians 1:4-5; Romans 8:15.)
The word adoption appears only five times in the New Testament but the idea of adoption is present every time we read about God as Father or other followers of Christ as brothers and sisters. In justification, we are brought into a right standing before a holy God. In adoption, we’re able to call God Father. Had God simply brought us into His Kingdom as citizens we would have every reason to praise God for all eternity. How much more amazing is it that we’ve been brought into His family?
Our family has adopted five times. Those five different experiences of bringing a new child into our home have given me ample opportunity to think deeply about the realities of spiritual adoption.
Adoption is Necessary Because Sin Entered the World
God created human beings to live forever with Him and God intended children to be raised by their biological parents. Sin in the human race caused us to be spiritual orphans. Only at great cost to Himself did God make a way for us to be a part of His family.
Every adopted child has experienced great loss. I’m acutely aware that the joy we experience in raising these kids began with the pain of a birth mother (and, in some cases a birth father) who for various reasons had to relinquish the opportunity of raising her children. Some of our children know their birth parents and the circumstances of their adoption. Others have no idea what steps led to them being in our home, our family, or even our country.
Apart from the fall, adoption, spiritual or otherwise, would never have been necessary. We can all be thankful that God chose adoption as a picture of His great plan of redemption.
Adoption Comes at a Cost, Even to the One Being Adopted
The first time I saw my son Archie, he was wearing a big puffy blue coat and pants with the face of a panda on the seat. It was a warm December day in Southeastern China but the Chinese people dress for the season, not the weather. Archie is known for his smile but there were no smiles that day. He sat next to me almost expressionless. Occasionally a big tear would run down his cheek. Later, when he could speak English, he told us that he had decided to be brave. To him that meant he would do everything in his power not to cry.
Many people have a Little Orphan Annie view of adoption. This kid’s life is improving; he’s leaving an orphanage, he’s getting parents, siblings, a backyard, three square meals a day and then some. Everything I have is now his. His adoption certificate explicitly states that he has all the rights and privileges of being a Cleland. Who wouldn’t be excited about that?
But Archie was leaving everything. It may have been an orphanage but that was everything he’s known for five and a half years. He had caretakers, not parents, but those were the people who took care of him. His world consisted of 4 rooms: a bedroom, a bathroom, a cafeteria and a classroom. Sitting in that room next to that brave but unfamiliar little boy, Jesus’ words in Mark 8 kept running through my mind:
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.
Archie was losing his life. It may not have been a very good one from our perspective but it was the only one he had ever known.
There are Always Challenges to Joining a New Family
When a new child comes into our home that child is expected to live by the rules of our household. Cleland children take baths. They eat their vegetables. They enjoy golf on Sunday afternoons. And they like cats. Some of them had to come around little bit on that last one.
The day Archie came home from China he was a Cleland. He had all the rights and privileges that come with being a part of the Cleland family…on paper. He was a Cleland but he didn’t resemble a Cleland. And somewhere along the way he started to become a Chinese boy whose mannerisms and habits resemble mine.
Having been declared sons and daughters of God we start to take on a family likeness. At the moment we were saved one could say that our participation in the family of God hardly exceeded the fact that it was official on paper. But the longer we live in the family of God the more we learn to behave in a manner worthy of our Father.
One of the great benefits of spiritual adoption is that God Himself is at work changing us into the image of His Son. He has placed His Spirit within us. We take part in this transformation by crying out to God the Father as sons. We have a family relationship with Him and therefore we can come to Him and ask for help. In all of this He is changing us into the likeness of His Son.
Archie learned to call me Baba within hours of us bringing him back to our hotel. He was even enthusiastic about it at times. But as the days and weeks went by it became increasingly evident that he had no idea what that meant.
For two weeks we walked everywhere in the fourth largest city in China with a not-so-steady Chinese speaker in tow. I would hold his hand as tight as I could every time he started to stumble but his instinct was to let go. As he stumbled his little hand would go limp and slide right out of mine. He had to learn to come to us when he needed something. He had never had anyone to depend on but himself.
This too, I believe, pictures our spiritual adoption. We are all in the process of learning to turn to God our Father when we are in need. He wants us to reach out to Him when we are hurt. But our instinct is to pull away.
Part of the process of sanctification is learning that the nearness of God is our good. We’re the ones who want to slip our hands out from his when we start to stumble even though He’s strong and perfectly able to keep us from falling.
When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray He began with the familiar words, “Father, hallowed be your name…” Is it possible that these words have become too familiar? When is the last time you considered that God, the creator of the universe predestined you to be His child? You can burst into the very throne room of the King. These privileges are only possible because God has adopted you. You’re taking on more and more of a family resemblance. And one day He’s going to take you home to live with Him forever.
Adoption is important to Veritas. If you would like to support adopted students through our James 1:27 Fund, please read more here.