Of the cardinal benefits that believers receive by faith in Jesus Christ, adoption is perhaps the most overlooked. Justification is much discussed, and sanctification is part of our day-to-day life as believers. But adoption is important as well, and understanding it and resting in its precious truths can bear fruit in the lives of believers. Here are five things you should know about adoption.
1. Adoption is one of the benefits of union with Christ.
Like justification and sanctification, adoption accrues to believers by virtue of their union with Jesus Christ by faith alone. The Westminster Larger Catechism states:
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. (WLC 74)
Adoption is a one-time, definitive act that flows from the work of Jesus Christ and that brings us into the family of God, with all the privileges that that new status brings (John 1:12).
2. Adoption means becoming a member of the family of God.
In our natural state, we are alienated from the family of God. We are of the devil, enslaved to sin (John 8:44; Eph. 2:1–3). But in adoption, we are received into the family of God and numbered among His children. The Apostle Paul writes of this glorious change in status: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19).
3. Adoption means that we have God as our Father.
In the late nineteenth century, the prominent liberal theologian Adolf von Harnack distilled the essence of Christianity down to two truths: the universal brotherhood of man and the universal fatherhood of God. While God is the Creator of all people, He does not stand in a fatherly relationship to all people. To have God as one’s Father and to be a son of God is a privilege reserved for those who have been adopted into His family (John 1:12). This is why the Apostle John says with reverence, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). It is why the Pharisees were so scandalized by Jesus’ calling God His Father (John 5:18) and why Jesus taught His disciples to pray to God as their Father (Matt. 6:9).
4. Adoption means that we have access to God.
One of the great tragedies of Roman Catholic theology is its theology of the saints. Roman Catholics are taught that God is too busy to hear their prayers, so they should ask the saints—especially the Virgin Mary—to intercede on their behalf. This is a horrible doctrine. True believers have no need to ask for intercession, for through Christ, the one Mediator, they have access to God Himself (John 14:13–14; 1 Tim. 2:5). Paul writes: “For through him we both [i.e., Jewish and gentile believes] have access in one Spirit to the Father” (Eph. 2:18; see Rom. 5:2).
5. Adoption means that we have rights as sons of God.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God by nature, and we are sons of God by adoption. That status brings with it a host of rights and benefits that we enjoy alongside our Older Brother. Those rights and benefits include the gift of the Spirit, the bestowal of the name of God, freedom from the slavery of the law, a share in the suffering and glory of Christ, and especially an inheritance that is stored up for those who are in Christ. The Apostle Paul writes:
For 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 spirit 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. (Rom. 8:14–17; see Eph. 1:11–14)
May we live in the comfort and confidence that comes with knowing that our heavenly Father has adopted us in love.
This article is part of the 5 Things You Should Know collection.