6 Min Read


Adoption is one of the primary benefits of the saving work of Jesus Christ applied to the elect by faith. In justification, God vindicates guilty sinners in the divine law court by declaring them righteous in His sight. In adoption, He makes the justified His beloved children with whom He dwells. According to God’s covenant promise, believers are made sons and daughters of God—heirs according to the promise of redemption. Like justification, adoption is a once-for-all, nonrepeatable act of God. Though distinguished from the ongoing process of sanctification, adoption ensures the restoration of God’s likeness in His adopted sons and daughters. The doctrine of adoption is taught in redemptive history in Old Testaments types. It is fulfilled in Christ and comes to full spiritual fruition in the New Testament. As with the other benefits of redemption, the Holy Spirit is particularly revealed in our adoption. The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of adoption” on the basis of His work in this act of redemption.


The doctrine of adoption is one of the central benefits of redemption applied. In justification, God forgives guilty sinners and accepts them as righteous in His sight only on account of the blood and righteousness of Christ. In adoption, He brings those who were once enemies into the family of God—giving them an eternal inheritance. In this way, the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection bring sinners from the law court to the living room. Though adoption logically follows justification in the ordo salutis, it is no less important in the Christ’s experience. Adoption is similar to justification and different from progressive sanctification in that it is a one-time act of God.

In Knowing God, J.I. Packer famously observed, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.” The English Puritans held that adoption was the central benefit of redemption, inasmuch as it encompasses the totality of what it means to be brought into a saving relationship with God as our Father. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Our Father . . .” The Apostle Paul noted that every believer has the “Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15). The Christian life cannot be lived in fruitful service to God unless it is lived in light of the truth of the believer’s sonship in union with Jesus Christ. When believers fail to live in light of their sonship, they will assume a slave mentality with regard to their relationship to God.

This sonship is rooted in the eternal relationship between God the Father and God the Son. There is only one eternally begotten, infinitely beloved Son of God. However, this sonship is also rooted in the Son’s covenantal standing that He obtained by accomplishing the work of redemption. Though the Son is eternally the Son of the Father within the Godhead, according to His humanity in redemptive history, He gained a covenantal standing as the adopted Son by accomplishing the work of redemption. As Psalm 2 predicted, the messianic king would achieve the right to be adopted as the covenantal Son of God and head of a new humanity. This is not be confused with the early church adoptionism of the heretic Arius. Rather, Jesus is the eternal Son of God, who, as the head of the redeemed humanity, the last Adam, gained a covenantal status of sonship on account of His saving work. Therefore, all who trust in Him now have the right and privilege of being the children of God (John 1:12).

The doctrine of adoption is built both on the Son’s relationship to the Father within the Godhead and on the promise of the everlasting inheritance in the covenant of grace. In redemptive history, there were allusions to the doctrine of sonship from Adam to Israel and from Israel to Christ. In the New Testament, the adoption of believers is rooted in Jesus’ eternal relation to His Father and in His redeeming work as the last Adam. In Jesus’ genealogy, Adam is called “the son of God” (Luke 3:38), for God made Adam in His image and likeness. However, Adam marred the image and likeness of God, bringing himself and all his offspring into the bondage of sin. Since the fall, all mankind proceeding from Adam by ordinary generation are slaves of sin rather than sons of God.

The history of redemption is the history of God turning slaves into sons by forgiving their sins and restoring His image in those He redeems through His eternal Son. When He redeemed old covenant Israel from their bondage in Egypt, God was forming a covenant people who would function as His corporate firstborn son in the world (Ex. 4:22). Adam was the protological son of God; Israel was the typological son of God. Both Adam and Israel anticipated the coming of Christ, the eternal Son of God—the last Adam and true Israel. When Jesus came into the world, He fulfilled everything that Adam and Israel failed to fulfill, thereby securing the adoption and everlasting inheritance for believers.

The theological concept of the firstborn is central to the doctrine of adoption in the history of Israel in redemptive history. The firstborn was to be consecrated to God from the womb (Ex. 13:1–2; 22:29). God pronounced judgment on all the firstborn of Egypt as the climax of His plagues, since Israel was His firstborn son (Ex. 4:23; 12:29). The firstborn son was the heir of the father’s inheritance (Deut. 21:16).

In the New Testament, the concept of the old covenant inheritance is expanded and fulfilled. The firstborn son and the inheritance were typological of the new covenant blessing of our saving adoption in union with Christ. The writer of Hebrews expressly declared that Jesus is “heir of all things” (Heb. 1:2). As the son of Abraham, Jesus received the covenant promises of God, kept God’s law perfectly, and took the curse of the law in His own body on the tree. By His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus merited the everlasting inheritance promised to Abraham by faith. By faith, every believer become a firstborn son—and heir of the everlasting promise—in the firstborn Son, Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:17; Gal. 3:29; Titus 3:7).

The Holy Spirit is the primary agent of adoption inasmuch as He unites believers to the Son and applies the saving work of the Son to believers. Nevertheless, the Father and the Son are both active in this work of adoption as well. The Spirit assures believers that they are the children of God. The Apostle Paul explains the significance of the role of the Spirit in the adoption of believers in Romans and Galatians. As he explains in Romans 8:14–17: “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

In Galatians 4:4–7, the Apostle Paul ties together the work of the Son and the Spirit in bringing about the adoption of new covenant believers when he writes, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

Although adoption is a once-for-all, nonrepeatable blessing of redemption, there is an eschatological (end times or last things) aspect to it. In Romans 8:23, the Apostle Paul explains that believers “groan inwardly,” eagerly waiting for the “adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” The bodily resurrection on the last day will be the full manifestation of our adoption.

The Reformation was not simply a recovery of the doctrine of justification by faith alone; it was a recovery of the biblical doctrine of adoption. The Westminster divines summarized the essence of the doctrine of adoption in the following way: “Adoption is an act of the free grace of God, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, whereby all those that are justified are received into the number of his children, have his name put upon them, the Spirit of his Son given to them, are under his fatherly care and dispensations, admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, made heirs of all the promises, and fellow-heirs with Christ in glory” (Westminster Larger Catechism 74).


Because of the Father’s love for Christ, the Father has adopted us into the royal family, making us joint heirs with Christ. We are beloved of the Father because He is beloved of the Father, and we ought never to forget that. He is the eternal object of the Father’s affection, and we are the Father’s gifts of love to His Son. We are adopted by the Father in Christ, and the Father loves us because we are in the Son.

R.C. Sproul

The Eternal Love of God

Tabletalk magazine

In His divine nature, Christ is God’s Son from all eternity, yet as the true Israel and the true son of David, He is the heir of all of the promises of sonship made to Israel and to David. As a result, when we are united to Christ by faith, we too receive a share in that sonship and the privileges that go along with it. As John puts it: ‘To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’ (John 1:12). Our adoption as sons of God thus comes through union with Christ and cannot be experienced apart from it. In Christ, and in Him alone, we receive the adoption that gives us an undeserved share in the promises that were made to Him and the privileges that He has earned as God’s Son (Gal. 3:29). Indeed, the reason that Christ came to this earth was so that He might give us adoption as God’s sons (Gal. 4:5).

Iain Duguid

The Family of God

Tabletalk magazine