As glorious and wonderful as is the physical birth of a new-born baby, it pales in comparison with the spiritual re-birth of a person and the new life in Jesus Christ that they receive by God’s mercy and grace. I don’t mean to downplay the beauty of physical birth. It is truly a miracle and puts on display God’s creativity and power. But the second birth, being born again, as the NT describes it, is greater still. Physical birth only gives us physical life. Being born again gives us eternal life as the children of God. So let’s look at ten things we all should know about what it means to be an adopted child of God.
(1) Although we should be careful when we compare the goodness of God’s gifts, I believe that spiritual adoption is near the top of the list. This isn’t in the least to slight justification or forgiveness or the indwelling presence of the Spirit. All God’s saving gifts are precious and perfect. But next to the love demonstrated by the cross itself, I consider adoption to be the most marvelous proof of God’s love for us. I draw this conclusion from what John said in his first epistle:
“See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).
John’s tone and terms virtually bristle with urgency and excitement. “Come quickly and see! Look! Listen! You can’t imagine what I have to tell you!” Here’s an elderly man nearing the end of life who still gets excited about the love of God. And he did so because he knew that God’s love has bestowed on us the greatest of all blessings: sonship. Here is the measure of God’s love. Here is the test of how deeply he treasures us. J. I. Packer sums it up well when he writes:
“God receives us as sons, and loves us with the same steadfast affection with which He eternally loves His beloved only-begotten. There are no distinctions of affection in the divine family. We are all loved just as fully as Jesus is loved . . . . This, and nothing less than this, is what adoption means. No wonder that John cries, ‘Behold, what manner of love . . .!’ When once you understand adoption, your heart will cry the same” (Knowing God, [Downers Grove: IVP, 1973], p. 196).
(2) Becoming one of God’s children is not a “right” that is yours naturally. You don’t have a “right” to be God’s child simply because you are of a particular ethnicity or because you hold citizenship in the United States or any other country. You don’t have a “right” to be God’s child simply because you exist. Being born physically of a father and mother and having been created in the image of God does not make you a child of God. Whereas it is true that all human beings are God’s “children” in the sense that he created each and every one, not all human beings are God’s adopted children who will inherit eternal life. Only those who have been born again spiritually by the power and grace of God and thus have received him and believed in who Jesus Christ is and what he has done are members of God’s spiritual family.
(3) It isn’t enough that you were created by God! You must be re-created by God! Being created by God only gives you physical life on earth. Being re-created by God gives you spiritual life now and forever on the new earth. The biblical doctrine of adoption and the love that accounts for it makes sense only when we remember that we are not naturally God’s children. It is, of course, true that God is the Father of all men and women insofar as he is the Creator and all humanity are shaped and fashioned in his image. But many such “children” of God will spend an eternity in hell. One does not become a spiritual child of God by being born, but by being born-again.
(4) We are all born spiritual orphans. Apart from Jesus Christ we are abandoned, stricken with a fatal disease called sin. We have no family, no father, no future. Here is where God’s incalculable love makes its appearance:
“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Galatians 3:26).
You become a son or daughter of God “through faith” in Christ. This declaration of Paul’s makes it inescapably clear: there is no saving relationship to God as Father without a living faith in Jesus Christ. Being a child of God, therefore, is not a universal status upon which everyone enters by natural birth. It is rather a supernatural gift one receives by believing in Jesus. Adoption is wholly and utterly an act of God’s spontaneous and uncoerced love.
(5) J. I. Packer reminds us that in the ancient world,
“adoption was a practice ordinarily confined to the childless well-to-do. Its subjects . . . were not normally infants, as today, but young adults who had shown themselves fit and able to carry on a family name in a worthy way. In this case, however, God adopts us out of free love, not because our character and record show us worthy to bear His name, but despite the fact that they show the very opposite. We are not fit for a place in God’s family; the idea of His loving and exalting us sinners as He loves and has exalted the Lord Jesus sounds ludicrous and wild – yet that, and nothing less than that, is what our adoption means” (Knowing God, p. 195).
(6) The reality of our spiritual adoption is made even more explicit when we contrast it with physical adoption in human relationships. Today many adoptions, perhaps most, occur without the adoptive parents first seeing the child. But it didn’t use to be that way. When couples would visit an orphanage with a view to adopting, they invariably based their choice on physical beauty and intellectual skills. Rarely did one hear of a child with Downs syndrome being adopted. Rarely did the orphan with spina bifida go home with new parents.
Prospective parents wanted to know about a child’s natural father and mother. Was this child the product of rape? What is his ethnic origin? Did she come from “good stock”? What is her IQ?
But God’s choice of us is utterly and eternally different. He didn’t make us his children because we were prettier than others. Divine adoption isn’t concerned with physical health or financial wealth or potential or a person’s past history. God loves the unlovely and unappealing. That is why you are his child. Because he loves you.
(7) I rejoice in the fact that I’ve been justified and forgiven and granted eternal life. But to know and experience God as my Father, Abba, Daddy, is greater still. When you are justified by faith in Christ, you stand before God as Judge and hear him declare: “Not guilty! Righteous through faith in Jesus!” Praise God! But in adoption God the Judge steps down from behind his legal bench, removes his stately robes, stoops down and sweeps you up into his arms of love and says softly: “My son, my daughter, my child!”
I relish the experience of every divine blessing. I thank God daily that I am a member of the body of Christ and a citizen of the kingdom. But nothing can quite compare with knowing that when I was homeless, helpless, and hopeless, God rescued me from the gutter of sin and made me his child. Nothing can compete with the thrill of being adopted as a full and coequal heir with Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:17).
(8) Spiritual adoption comes to us at a very high price; indeed, an infinite price that none of us is capable of paying. We are the spiritually adopted children of God our Father only because Jesus Christ our brother has endured the wrath of God in our place. Paul says it clearly in Galatians 4:4-5,
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5).
It was redemption that secured our status as God’s children, and redemption was made possible when Christ suffered in our stead on the cross, satisfying God’s wrath and delivering us from our well-deserved punishment (see Gal. 3:10-14).
(9) It is because we have been adopted by the Father that we now possess the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit:
“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” (Gal. 4:6-7).
The Spirit is given to us to confirm that the legal transaction of spiritual adoption has been carried out by the Father. We don’t receive the Spirit so that we may experience adoption. No, it’s the other way around. We are first adopted so that we might receive the Spirit.
And the purpose of the Spirit’s presence and power in us is to awaken in our hearts a joyful, confident assurance that we are God’s children and to deepen our affection for and intimacy with the Father. The result is that we freely and passionately and joyfully cry out: “Abba! Father!”
And note well: we “cry” Abba. We do not merely draw the logical conclusion that he is our Father. We “cry” Abba! We do not merely affirm theologically that God is our Father. The work of the Spirit is designed to spark and stir and awaken and energize heartfelt affections for God as Father such that we cannot help but “cry, Abba!” We do not merely make a statement of fact that we are the spiritually adopted children of God. We “cry” out through the Spirit: Abba!
We don’t merely infer that we are God’s children. We enjoy it through the Spirit! We do not merely deduce that we are God’s children. We delight in it!
Do not overlook the passionate, even boisterous way in which we give expression to this incredible truth: we cry, Abba! Father! Paul isn’t talking about the sort of voice cadence or robotic instructions you hear when you type in an address on your phone GPS to help you find your destination. The monotonous, computer-generated voice you hear telling you where to turn is never to be compared with the heart-felt, loud, exuberant, and joyful CRY of the born-again child of God.
(10) Therefore, we see that entrance into God’s family is on a different plane from entrance into one’s earthly family. One does not become a child of God by the same process one becomes a child of a physical parent. In other words, spiritual life is not genetically transmitted (see John 1:13).
My earthly father was a Christian. So, too, is my mother. But that isn’t why I am a Christian. Your father and mother may not be Christians. But that has no ultimate impact on whether or not you are. The DNA of one’s parents has nothing to do with becoming a child of God. Your heritage, ancestry, family tree, no matter how glorious and impressive, have nothing to do with your entrance into heaven. The fact that you have descended from noble blood or are the product of peasants is irrelevant.
The only explanation for our spiritual adoption is that God, in utter defiance of and without regard for our moral status, has graciously chosen to cause us to be born again unto faith and repentance, the result of which is that we are given the authority to become God’s sons and daughters, heirs of eternal life (John 1:12-13).