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The Children of the Promise

July 13, AD2016 0 Comments


Though I am the father of two adopted children, I have long neglected considering the topic of adoption, and how all people are the adopted children of God, from a scriptural or theological perspective.  Years ago, I remember I harbored a certain animosity toward God, thinking that I was somehow less than completely beloved by Him because of my “adopted” status.  However, I have never felt that way toward my kids, quite to the contrary: our journey to adoption made them both particularly special.  So, I decided to take a closer look at God’s perspective on the matter.  What I discovered, both theologically and within my own heart, was amazing.

The theme of adoption in the scriptures, particularly in the New Testament, is one of the most overlooked, yet striking frameworks for understanding our relationship to God.  Adoption is part and parcel to a central theme of Christian salvation- the fatherhood of God.  Fatherhood speaks to God’s identity, of His closeness, His care, and His love.  Adoption speaks to our identity as His children.  As is often the case in a culture removed from the time and context of the original writings, we’ve lost and misconstrued the weight of what it means to be adopted.

When In Rome

While the entirety of the Old and New Testaments draw the Christian into ever deeper relationship with God, the relationship of God as Father becomes predominant in the Gospels.  Jesus constantly refers to God as Father.  St. Paul, in his writings, brings the profound meaning of this relationship into a tangible form for every follower of Jesus.   

St. Paul references “adoption” on five occasions.  St. Paul, as a Roman citizen, had a particularly ‘Roman’ understanding of the concept of adoption.  Under Roman law, parents of a naturally born child could reject and abandon a child for any number of reasons, including physical or mental disabilities, and even the sex of the child.  No such provisions were available for parents in the case of adoption.  Adoptions were ‘irrevocable’.   The reasoning for this was the simple logic that “you knew what you were getting”.

Under Roman law, the adoptee assumed the identity of the adopting parent.  The child assumed the parent’s name.  Any debts or other obligations associated with the child were simply wiped away.  On the day of the adoption, the child became a new person.  It is with this understanding that St. Paul places before us the profoundly rich meaning of our relationship with God as our Father.   

From the Beginning

St. Paul makes is clear that Adoption is one of, if not the greatest blessing of the Gospel.  The five Pauline texts that reference adoption demonstrate that it is integral to understanding our relationship to God, and understanding salvation history itself.  It is a key component of redemption.

In the first chapter of the book of Ephesians, Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father …as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ…”  St. Paul is making it clear that our adoption is not an afterthought of a God who was surprised by the sin of Adam and Eve.  After the fall, the Father was not sitting on His throne, saying to Himself, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!  I guess I better find a band aid for this mess.”  The Father, from before the very foundation of the world, destined us for adoption in love.  With complete forethought and foreknowledge, He destined us in love, not shame, disappointment, frustration or anger, to be His beloved children.  The Father knew full well “what He was getting” in us- broken, wounded, petulant children.  Yet, the depth of His love would not be denied, and His love for us brought forth His plan before the foundations of the earth were even created.  

You Will Be My People

In Romans 9, Paul places before us the integral role of adoption within the history of God’s people.  As he writes about Abraham, Isaac, and the people of Israel, St. Paul reminds his readers that they and their descendants are the ‘children of God.’  He writes, “They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.”  

As readers, we tend to gloss over lists like the one in this verse. But ancient writers, including St. Paul, often developed their lists in the order of their importance.  If we make the reasonable assumption that St. Paul did so when he wrote this verse, the greatest of the blessings that Israel received from God was ‘adoption’, their status as His children.  That blessing was greater than the glory (pillars of smoke and fire in the desert), the covenants, the law, etc.  St. Paul is stating that one of the greatest privileges of God’s people is their adoption as children of God.  In simple terms, adoption is the blessing at the center of redemption.  God redeemed the children of Israel because of His love for them.

Our Father

In Galatians 4:4-5, St. Paul connects redemption and adoption in an even more powerful way.  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.” St. Paul places adoption squarely at the heart of redemption.  The Father sent His Son to redeem us to fulfill the promise of adoption.  Jesus came so that we could become irrevocably bonded to God as Father.  In St. Paul’s vision of salvation, adoption is intricately connected to the key events in redemption.  In the same way that God redeemed Israel so that He might adopt them, He has redeemed us through Jesus Christ in order that the Father might adopt us!

The Promise of Adoption

St. Paul brings this amazing theme all the way to the conclusion of salvation history.  He even goes so far as to link the redemption of our bodies to our “eagerly” awaited adoption as sons and daughters of God.  In Romans 8:23, Paul writes, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”.  Our adoption by God will allow us to enjoy every privilege and blessing that exists in heaven and on earth.  

Adoption, in St. Paul’s eyes, incorporates us into a family and marks us as chosen by a Father who is lavish in His love and who delights in His children.  The Father’s heart for us has always held the deep desire to love, to cherish.  He loved us so much that He asked His Son to join that same love, to cancel the debts that were due in sin and death, and to bestow a new identity upon each of us, to claim us into the deepest places of a Father’s heart.  

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Ken is the Executive Director for the John Paul II Healing Center, based in Tallahassee, FL. He is a frequent speaker at Center events and his extensive ministry experience includes teaching apologetics, retreat presenter and volunteer youth ministry. Ken holds a Bachelors in Psychology and a Masters in Counseling, both from St. Louis University. Ken has been married for more than 25 years to his wife Sharon. They have two children.

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