What is Adoption? The Westminster Shorter Catechism provides the answer, “Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God” (WSCQ. 34).
In justification, our legal status before God’s court of justice has been stamped “not guilty”. In adoption, we have been, by grace, received legally into the family of God. Adoption grants the believer the blessed status of sonship. This privileged status, however, comes at a high price – the precious blood of our Saviour. Not only did He pay the penalty of our sin with His life blood, He also perfectly obeyed the law of God, on our behalf, to gain for us the access to all of the promised heavenly privileges – “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven” (I Pet 1: 4).
The practice of adoption in ancient Rome was performed by the upper classes to ensure their inheritance was legally passed down. Hence, adoption guarantees succession of a family legacy. Though this may be reasonable to the people of the world, this can never apply to an infinitely just and loving God. He did not choose to adopt children because He saw any good in them, but purely “according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph 1: 5).
Under ancient Roman law, a slave did not qualify for adoption into his master’s family. He was regarded as a property to be bought and sold at will. However, it was a common practice for Roman owners to free their slaves to become Roman citizens – some outrightly while others were allowed to buy their own freedom. With this new-found freedom, a slave could qualify for Roman citizenship which in turn allowed them to be adopted.
Like these slaves in their captivity, we were living in bondage to sin and heading towards a lost eternity in the Lake of Fire. We “were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph 2: 12). But by God’s grace, we have been delivered from sin’s bondage by the blood of Christ: “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (v 13). In a similar way, we have now been adopted as heirs of God: “Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Gal 4: 7).
What are some marks that identify us as God’s children?
1. Submission to our Father’s bidding
As an adopted son, the Christian can address God as “Abba, Father” – an intimate term like “Papa”. The apostle Paul highlighted this blessed privilege in Romans 8: 15: “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” A true child of God will gladly submit to his Father’s bidding, not because he is afraid to incur the wrath of God, but because he desires to honour and please Him.
2. Willingness to suffer for Christ
As “joint-heirs with Christ”, we must be prepared to suffer with and for Him. “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Rom 8: 17). When we live faithfully for the Lord, we can expect that Satan will be ever ready to hurl his fiery darts at us. Though we may be beaten down at times, we must never give up the good fight of faith, knowing that God has chosen us to be overcomers in Christ: “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 Jn 5: 4).
3. Patience under discipline
A true child of God will not despise the chastening of the Lord, or live in sin without being disciplined by Him: “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (Heb 12: 6-8). Instead, we will bear His discipline patiently that the Lord might do His work of grace upon our lives: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him” (Heb 12: 5b).
Beloved brethren, do we bear the marks of a child of God and appreciate the blessed inheritance that Christ has bought for us? Are we willing to suffer with and for Jesus our Saviour and our Brother? God’s gracious act in adopting us and obtaining for us an inheritance comes at the heavy expense of the death of His Son. If we reject these privileges, we are likewise rejecting the One who has bought them for us. Let us not be like Esau, “who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” (Heb 12: 16-17). May we appreciate the blessed inheritance that Christ has purchased for us, and take heed, lest we be found wanting. Amen.
– Pr Kelvin Li