Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a marvelous statement of gospel doctrine and practice. He writes to remind the believers in Ephesus of the glorious realities of their salvation and the great responsibilities that fall on them to walk “worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).
For Paul, there can be no reflection on these themes except in the context of praise and adoration of the God from whom all the blessings of salvation flow. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he says at the outset of his letter, “who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (Eph. 1:3). Here Paul uses the word bless in the form of an adjective, a verb, and a noun. God is blessed. He has blessed us. He has given us every blessing. In Christ, God has done for us what we could never have done for ourselves, and He deserves all the glory for it.
Among the blessings God bestows on us in Christ is the blessing of adoption. We have been brought into God’s family and made God’s children. From God we have received “the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father’” (Rom. 8:15). As far as our status is concerned, we are no longer “strangers and aliens” to the people of God but “members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). The Christians in Ephesus may have no natural affinity to the descendants of Abraham, but God in His grace has addressed the issue of their spiritual alienation from His covenant by making them His sons and daughters.
In the opening section of Ephesians, our attention is drawn to four issues in connection with our adoption. The first is that we were predestined to our new status. “He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:5). God’s adoption of us was initiated by God Himself, and the decision to make us His children was made before either we or the world existed. There is a determination — a purpose — on the part of God to enlarge His family by bringing rebels and sinners like us into it. It is one thing for human parents to decide to adopt someone who will fit into the family and enhance it; God, however, purposes to adopt those who are the very opposite of Himself. The second aspect of adoption is that it is “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6). Our adoption into God’s family is not so much something that confers a benefit on us; in the first instance, it is something that enhances the reputation of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has opted to become our God and Father too. All the praise is His. Our adoption arises out of His choice, and focuses on His glory and praise. We did not deserve it and could not achieve it. But God, by His mercy and favor, conveys this blessing on us that He will be praised throughout endless ages of eternity.
A third focus of Paul’s doctrine of adoption is that it is in Christ. Some eighty times Paul uses the couplet “in Christ” or “in him” in the course of his letters. There is no spiritual blessing outside of Christ. But once we are in Him, there is no spiritual blessing that is not ours. Notice the concentration of emphasis on this in Ephesians 1:3–6: we are blessed “in Christ” (v. 3); chosen “in him” (v. 4); predestined “through Jesus Christ” (v. 5); blessed in the Beloved (v. 6). The whole complex of our adoption finds its center and its meaning in Jesus Christ.
Moreover, if we want to know that we have been adopted into the family of God, then we must look to Jesus Christ. God has no focal point or ground upon which to secure our status as His adopted children except what He has done in His only begotten Son. He sent the one Son He had from all eternity into the world with the purpose of enlarging His family, so that He would bring many sons with Him into glory (Heb. 2:10). To be adopted is to be able to stand where Jesus always stood, looking at God and calling Him “Abba.” Jesus, who always addressed God as “My Father,” teaches His people to say, “Our Father.”
What a glorious, magnificent, aweinspiring, and humbling doctrine. We who were enemies of God are made the sons of God, only because the Son of God was set apart to be regarded as the enemy; He was made a curse for us, so that the blessing of Abraham would come on the Gentiles (Gal. 3:14) — the blessing in which God says, “You are Mine.”
Finally, we are adopted so that we will, in fact, bear the family likeness. We are chosen to be holy and blameless (Eph. 1:4). These are the characteristics of the children of God. They are set apart to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation” (Phil. 2:15). There can be no adoption without a conferring of the family likeness and the implanting of a new impulse toward holiness and godliness.
It used to thrill me when my children were younger to hear one of our boys say, “I want to be like my dad.” I know of nothing that better evidences our adoption into God’s family than to wish, more than anything else in the world, that we could be more like our Father. That’s why He adopted us, after all.