Among the truths which Paul expresses great amazement over as one spiritual blessing after the next gushes forth from his pen, is the matter of adoption. Nestled here in the midst of verse 5, following the grand and sublime doctrines of election and predestination – before we read the glorious expression, to the praise of the glory of His grace and learn of our being accepted in the Beloved – is the equally glorious, though admittedly less often considered, subject of our adoption as sons. Paul is ravished by the joy of being a son of God, and he cannot leave that matter out of his doxology here in Ephesians 1. John with similar enthusiasm writes in 1 John 3:1: Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Just a bit of reflection and meditation on the doctrine of adoption will bring us a great thrill. We have been adopted into a better lineage than one who is able to trace his genealogy to an uninterrupted line of princes and kings. Luther said that if we but knew what this privilege [of adoption] was, all the riches of all the kingdoms of the world would be but filthy dung to us.
Just as it could be overlooked here in the midst of verse 5, the doctrine of adoption has also been neglected by much of the church throughout its history. With the exception of John Calvin, and some of the Puritans, this beautiful truth has often been forgotten amidst discussions about other doctrines which surrounded the formation of creeds, confessions and statements of faith. One shining exception to this rule was when the Westminster Assembly’s Divines decided to include a statement on adoption in their resultant confession. Chapter XII of the Westminster Confession of Faith states:
All those that are justified, God vouchsafeth, in and for his only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption: by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God; have his name put upon them; receive the Spirit of adoption; have access to the throne of grace with boldness; are enabled to cry, Abba, Father; are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by him as by a father; yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.
Richard Sibbes has written, “All things are ours by virtue of our adoption because we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. There is a world of riches in this, to be sons of God. And what a prerogative is this . . . that we have boldness to appear before God, to call him Father, to open our necessities, to fetch all things needful, to have the ear of the King of heaven and earth, to be favorites in the court of heaven.”
William a Brakel beautifully writes on the glory of adoption, “From being a child of the devil to becoming a child of God, from being a child of wrath to becoming the object of God’s favor, from being a child of condemnation to becoming an heir of all the promises and a possessor of all blessings, and to be exalted from the greatest misery to the highest felicity—this is something which exceeds all comprehension and all adoration.”
Christians are not sons of God by nature; we lost our status and privilege as God’s image-bearers with Adam’s fall in the garden. But as God chose us in Christ, in eternity past unto adoption as sons, our status and privileges are returned to us based upon the merits of our older brother, Jesus Christ. As adopted children we belong to a family with which we have no right to belong, but because of a legal transaction which has occurred, we are freed from the obligations of the family from which we came, having become vested into a new family, with all of its rights, privileges and advantages.
In Christ, you are a child of God by faith! What an amazing fact! May you take comfort in this fact in the face of the reality of your own unworthiness, poverty, infirmities, afflictions, and persecutions. Samuel Willard concludes: “Be always comforting of your selves with the thoughts of your Adoption: Draw your comforts at this tap, fetch your consolations from this relation; be therefore often chewing upon the precious privileges of it, and make them your rejoicing. … Let this joy dispel the mists of every sorrow, and clear up your souls in the midst of all troubles and difficulties.”
This week chew on the doctrine of Adoption – pick up a Systematic Theology and read the chapter on Adoption. One good one that is available on the Internet is that of James P. Boyce: http://www.founders.org/library/boyce1/ch36.html. Look up the cross references below and take pleasure in the fact and privileges of being an heir of God in Christ!
Cross References: John 1:12, Rom 8:14-17, Gal 3:23-26, 4:4-7, 28, Eph 5:1, Heb 12:5-6, 1 John 3:1.