We love adopting children. With one adopted daughter (Lidi) we look forward, Lord willing, to adopting her aforeblogged brother and sister next year. Amy and I would’ve loved to have children biologically but God custom designs our sanctifications; therefore, we’ve increasingly delighted in his Maxwell-specific plan. Natural childbirth carries with it a glorious thrill found nowhere else. The same holds true for adoption. Both biological parents and adoptive parents can rightly exclaim, “You don’t know what you’re missing!” We’re thankful that God ordains both so all his children can glory in the gospel. Which brings me to the reason for this post.
I now pay more attention to adoption themes in Scripture. The gospel is a fabric richly woven with a thousand threads. You can follow one thread for a lifetime and would still not see the whole tapestry. And God has woven those threads in and out of our experience so we can touch, see, smell, taste and hear the incarnate gospel. Every good gift is sacramental and designed for the exaltation of Jesus. God has ordained we adopt children, so I love the biblical “thread” of adoption, so I can exalt Jesus more.
In human experience natural childbirth and adoption stand as mutually exclusive means of building a family. You either birth a child or adopt one (or both). But you don’t adopt a child you’ve birthed and you obviously don’t birth a child you’ve adopted.
So how does God build his family to exalt Jesus? Is one born into his family or adopted, because human experience tells me both cannot be true. (Seriously, these are the things I think about at red lights. . . please pray for me!) Yet in Scripture, both themes (new birth & adoption) explain how one becomes a son of God.
The answer to the question “Is one born into God’s family or adopted?” is “Yes!” Both are necessarily true. We are born again with a spirit of adoption. In Jn 3.1-8, Jesus explained to Nicodemus that he must be born of the Spirit to be God’s child (cf. Jn 1.12-13; 1 Pt 1.23). You must be born into the family to bear God’s name.
In Rom 8.9-17, Paul explained that the sons of God are those indwelt by the “spirit of adoption” (cf. Gal 4.4-5; Eph 1.5). You must also be adopted (i.e. have received the spirit of adoption) to bear the family name. Is the “spirit [or Spirit] of adoption” a different spirit than that of new birth? Does the Holy Spirit regenerate us than another spirit (of adoption) live in us? Of course not, they are one in the same Spirit. The Regenerating Spirit is the Adopting Spirit. New birth gives us life and adoption helps us live. New birth makes us sons and adoption makes us live as sons. Understanding both themes helps us glory in Christ’s gospel more.
I wonder if the “lost son” of Luke 15 illustrates this principle. He was born into this father’s family but disowned his father and natural standing. Years of hedonistic estrangement squashed any future claim on sonship (v19, 21). But his father “adopted” him back as a son with full rights and privileges thereof (an act of sheer grace because no law compelled to do so). Interestingly, the father explained his son’s return as being born again (v24)! The reborn, adopted son then knew the glory of sonship and cried out, “Abba, Father!” The older son, conversely, knew what it was like to be born but not adopted because he never knew how estranged he really was from his father.
What joy there is in being adopted! Whatever kingdom privileges we’re born with are quickly squandered with loose living (Lk 15.13). Like the lost son, we’re born dead. Our father, Satan, lied to us and abandoned us like slaves in the orphanage of sin. Before long, we like living in the orphanage and see no reason to leave.
But Jesus was born in the orphanage (Gal 4.4) and told us about his Father who adopts every child given to him. He told us that his children are not treated like slaves, but friends (Jn 15.15). He told us that God’s house is not a place to stay, but home (Jn 14.3). He told us that his Father sent him to lead slop-loving strangers home. Then Jesus broke the brain-washing power of the orphanage over us and gave us his Spirit of Sonship. And we forever honor our Father when we act like adopted sons, not merely redeemed slaves.
We have a court order saying Lidi is a Maxwell daughter. However, I pray she never sees it (although she knows she’s adopted). She doesn’t honor us if she obeys because a judge says she has to. And we will never appeal to the court order to force her obedience. She honors us most when she behaves like a Maxwell, when she acts out of the “spirit of Maxwell” that indwells her.
Further, we did not start loving her as our daughter when the judge signed the order. The judge signed the order because we already loved her as our daughter. She was ours long before the legal transaction was ratified. What a beautiful picture of God’s electing love and Christ’s atoning sacrifice! Our Father did not start loving us when Jesus made us lovable (at the cross). Jesus made us lovable because the Father had already loved us from the foundation of the world (Jn 3.16).
The cross was the Eternal Judge declaring what he knew was true from all eternity: he loves the children he’s chosen and he will stop at nothing to adopt them.
Thankfully for you, the light has turned green.