Being adopted is not the magic elixir for having a grand and successful life, but it almost always puts an adopted person on a better path than what might otherwise have been.
As we look at what the Scriptures teach about the doctrine of adoption, let us consider two primary passages that are just a couple pages apart in your New Testament – in Ephesians 1 and in Galatians 4. Relative to the concept of being adopted into God’s family as children of God, I think there are four summary statements we can make about this teaching. We’ll look just at the first of these today, covering the second through fourth tomorrow.
- Adoption leads to an entirely new and better situation for the adoptee.
Children who are in need of adoption are in that desperate place because something has gone terribly wrong …
… They could be orphans due to some disaster befalling their family.
… They might have special physical needs, requiring medical care beyond the resources of their natural family.
… Their parent or parents may be so impoverished as to be unable to care for them.
… Their parents might be impaired through mental disease, or even imprisoned for a crime.
Whatever it is, it is almost always something very bad. And the child is unable to do anything about it.
And so it was for all of us, spiritually speaking. Sin had created a total mess. We had become children of the Evil One. There was an inherited family curse of death upon us that would lead to eternal separation from God. And just as an infant cannot help himself out of his bad situation, so we were lost without God’s intervention and reaching down to us.
Galatians 3:23 – Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
You may recall about the Galatian church, that though most were Gentiles, Judaizers had come in and discredited Paul’s teaching and the gospel message of grace in Christ. They taught that the Law of the OT must still be followed. So, the Galatians were impressed by the Law, and Paul is writing here to give them a proper understanding of the purpose of the Law. It was not to give life, but to rather give strict guidance morally.
Paul illustratively likens it to what little children might have in a home in the culture of that time. There would be a guardian – often a slave of the household – who would strictly make the child behave. At a later time, this oppressive person was no longer needed and was done away with when the child became an adult. And that is the role that the Law played. But now that a full faith has come in Christ, it is no longer needed.
Galatians 3:26 – So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
So the time had come – with the coming of Christ – that God’s children through faith became fully a realized part of God’s family. The baptism mentioned is of the Holy Spirit, an act which identifies the believer with Christ and the church. So there are no longer special categories (spiritually speaking) for Jews or Gentiles or slave or free or men and women – all are one in Christ. As such, they are also heirs of the promises made to Abraham – promises about faith and life.
Galatians 4:1 – What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. 4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
Paul is saying that there are no great advantages to being under the law or to being underage, even though an heir of a household. It was no better at that time than being a slave. The child had to obey the slave, just as the slave guardian had to obey the master. And spiritually speaking, before Christ, a person was enslaved to the natural forces of this sinful world.
BUT at the perfect time, God sent Christ to change all of this – to set things right by paying a price of redemption and making a full adoption possible.
All of this (in Paul’s argument to the Galatians) is to ask them why in the world they would want to go back to something like that? That would be a bit crazy, but that is what they were doing.
In this passage we see the beautiful concepts of spiritual adoption – an act that was done to change what was a bad situation.
And as we said earlier in this series, it is all too common for people to underestimate or to not really comprehend the gravity of their situation due to sin. And though not seeing themselves as perfect, neither do they see themselves as so bad as to be spiritually lost/dead, and separated from a Holy God. But people who are apart from Christ need to feel lost before they submit to accepting the directions to be found. Sometimes, in counseling, people don’t “get” the problem they have and the consequences of errant behaviors, and you have to “bring the floor up to them” because they’re going to hit the floor sooner or later. And so it is with explaining the gospel to people who have not yet trusted in Christ alone.
It is good for us remember from whence we’ve come and to recall what our situation might have been prior to salvation – not just for eternity, but for this life as well.