A New Family

boice_1_2Author – James Montgomery Boice held a B.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Theology from the University of Basel in Switzerland. He was the pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and was the author of many books, including three volumes in the series, “Foundations of the Christian Faith”. This article is taken from volume three of that same series, entitled Awakening to God.

In the opening pages of A Place for You, the noted Swiss psychologist Paul Tournier tells of a young man he once counseled. He grew up in a religious home, but it was unhappy. Eventually there was a divorce. This produced unfortunate psychological symptoms in the young man’s life. He developed an acute sense of failure, first in not reconciling his parents, then in his studies, then in an inability to settle down and achieve in any area of life. At last he came to see Tournier. They talked, and on one occasion, as if summing up his thought, the young man explained, “Basically, I’m always looking for a place—for somewhere to be.”1 The need for a place is virtually universal. On the human level the principle is easy to discern. “The child who has been able to grow up harmoniously in a healthy home finds a welcome everywhere. In infancy all he needs is a stick placed across two chairs to make himself a house, in which he feels quite at home. Later on, wherever he goes, he will be able to make any place his own, without any effort on his part. For him it will not be a matter of seeking, but of choosing.” On the other hand, “when the family is such that the child cannot fit himself into it properly, he looks everywhere for some other place, leading a wandering existence, incapable of settling down anywhere. His tragedy is that he carries about within himself this fundamental incapacity for any real attachment.”2 On the spiritual level, the problem is detected in the alienation from God we feel as a result of the Fall and of our own deliberate sins. Saint Augustine once wrote, “Thou hast formed us for thyself….” That is our true place. But he added in frank recognition of our dilemma and sin, “And our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”3

God has dealt with this great problem of alienation through adoption, taking a person from one family (or no family) and placing him or her in a new family—the family of God. Sometimes adoption has been thought of merely as one aspect of justification or as only another way of stating what happens in regeneration. But adoption is nevertheless much more than either of these other acts of grace. “Justification means our acceptance with God as righteous and the bestowal of the title to everlasting life. Regeneration is the renewing of our hearts after the image of God. But these blessings in themselves, however precious they are, do not indicate what is conferred by the act of adoption. By adoption the redeemed become sons and daughters of the Lord God Almighty; they are introduced into and given the privileges of God’s family.”4

Only adoption suggests the new family relationship which is ours in Christ and points to the privileges of that relationship. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom. 8:14-17). Continue reading

Adoption

“The divine judge not only acquits, but invites the sinner home — and not just for an evening. He adopts us as his own forever and makes us heirs to all he has”

Donald Macleod – Adoption: A New Father and a New Heart (original source here)

Martin Luther, whose tormented conscience and anguished thinking launched the Protestant Reformation, once remarked, “If the doctrine of justification is lost, the whole of Christian doctrine is lost.” It is hardly surprising, then, that there is voluminous Protestant literature on justification.

The doctrine of adoption, by contrast, has been largely neglected. Yet the two are inseparably linked.

Grace Beyond and Above

Which is not to say that they are identical. Adoption is a grace beyond and above justification. In justification, God acquits sinners of all the charges against them. Indeed, he goes further still and declares that in Christ their righteousness meets the highest possible standards. They are as righteous as Christ himself (2 Corinthians 5:21). There is not a stain on their characters.

At this point, in normal human systems of justice, the accused is then simply free to go, and both he and the judge hope they will never see each other again. But the divine judge not only acquits. He invites the sinner home — and not just for an evening. He adopts us as his own forever, tells us we are to call him “Father,” and pronounces us lawful heirs to all he is and to all that he has.

Paul is the only New Testament writer who uses the term adoption, but he is not the only one who speaks of believers being God’s children. John also highlights it, particularly in 1 John 3:1. “See,” he exclaims, “what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” Yet while they speak of the same subject, the two apostles use different language, and to get anything like the full doctrine we need to look carefully at each.

Change in Status

The word adoption, like the word justification, refers not to a change in our disposition and character, but to a change on our status. It speaks of a revolution in our relationship with God. As unbelieving sinners, we were utterly alienated from him: total outsiders, as far as his family was concerned. Now we belong, and by using the term adoption, Paul is using formal legal language to remind us that our membership of our new family is absolutely secure. It can never be undone.

There is a parallel to all this in the story of Moses. The abandoned Hebrew baby, born as a slave under sentence of death, is taken into the palace by a royal princess, and formally adopted as her son. It is just so with believers in relation to God. He is committed to us. He has given us his name. He has made us his heirs, and solemnly pledged that as our heavenly Father, he will provide for us with the lavishness that befits his means as possessor of all the riches of glory (Philippians 4:19).

He has said, in effect, “From now on, you have nothing to worry about (Matthew 6:26). I will care for you (1 Peter 5:7), and if you do ever find yourself overtaken by anxiety, come and talk about it to me at once (Philippians 4:6–7). Always remember that I am your home, and that I will never disown you; and should you ever go astray, I will always take you back (Luke 15:20). My love will never let you go.”

Transformation in Heart

But adoption as a human transaction leaves the heart unchanged, and this is why the language of John is such an important complement to the language of Paul. Where Paul speaks of “adoption,” John speaks of being “born again”; and where Paul emphasises our being God’s “heirs,” John speaks of our being his “children.”

Adoption, whether in the ancient world or the modern, gave rights, but it did not transform; but when we are “born of God,” his “seed” (sperma) is in us (1 John 3:9). This is why Peter can even go so far as to say that we become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), while Paul declares that at the heart of God’s purpose for the universe lies his determination that one day every one of his adopted sons and daughters will be as glorious as his only begotten Son (Romans 8:28–29).

For the time being, sadly, this is not how we appear: To deny that we are sinners is to deceive ourselves (1 John 1:8). But by the time Christ returns, our likeness to our Father will be unmistakeable (1 John 3:2), and he will have no hesitation about making us stand in the full light of his glory (Jude 24). We will be his pride and joy.

A New People

Divine adoption, then, secures what no human adoption can secure. It is always accompanied by a radical and total transformation at the very core of our being. Not only have we a new status. We are new people (Ephesians 4:24).

Should we, then, just sit back passively and let grace do its work? Not for a moment! Indeed, the seed that God has implanted in us won’t let us sit back, nor will the hope that God has given us. The assurance that our destiny is to be “like him” impels us to set about purifying ourselves, and to do so with the utmost rigour, satisfied with nothing less than to be as pure as God himself (1 John 3:3).

As John sees it, the Christian believer should react to the discovery of any personal impurity with the same shock-horror as God would react to the discovery of a blemish in himself.

The Melody of Joy and Salvation

Adoption was widely practiced in the ancient world, but there was one crucial difference between secular practice and what we see in the New Testament.

In the secular world, adoption was usually for the benefit of the adoptive parents, not for the benefit of the child. For example, a farmer might want help with tilling his land, or a childless couple might want someone to look after them in old age, or an aristocrat might want someone to perpetuate the family name. In the New Testament the benefits are all the other way.

While we may be sure that adoption gives God immense satisfaction, he never adopts in order to meet some need of his own. He adopts us because he loves us, not because he needs us.

And far from exploiting us and subjecting us to a life of drudgery, he showers upon us every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3) and fills our lives with the melody of joy and salvation (Psalm 118:15).

Donald Macleod was professor of systematic theology at the Free Church of Scotland College in Edinburgh for more than 30 years. He is author of The Person of Christ and most recently Christ Crucified.

God as “Father”

In this excerpt from R.C. Sproul reminds us of the privilege we have to address God as “Father.”

Transcript

Go with a group of Christians and listen to them pray in a home prayer meeting or Bible study, and invariably as Christians pray out loud one after another will address God how? They’ll start their prayer by saying, “Father,” or “our heavenly Father.” It’s the most common expression that we as Christians use to address God. And why not, when our Lord taught us to pray, He said, “When you pray” say what? “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name.” What could be more basic to Christianity than to address God as Father? Joachim Jeremias, the German New Testament scholar has done research on the prayers of the ancient Israelite people, and it is his conclusion that there is not a single example anywhere in extant Jewish literature, including the Old Testament, the Talmud, the Targums, and so on until the tenth century AD where a Jewish person addresses God directly as ‘Father.’ That is, it simply wasn’t done. People would speak of the fatherhood of God among the Jewish people, but no one would address Him directly as, ‘Father.’ Jeremias says you don’t find it until the tenth century AD in Italy. Yet in the New Testament we have the record of a Jew, a Jewish Rabbi, who has many many prayers recorded for posterity, and that in every prayer that he prayed, save one, He directly addressed God as ‘Father.’ And that is Jesus of Nazareth.

And what Jeremias demonstrates is that Jesus’ use of the term Father for God was a radical innovation; completely unheard of in Jewish liturgy. And what he did in his radical departure from convention He invited his followers to be involved with. Because what Jesus teaches about the human race is that by nature we are not the children of God. This was the dispute our Lord had with the Pharisees who thought that just because they were born Jewish that they were children of Abraham, that they were therefore the children of God. Jesus said ‘you are of your father the devil. God can raise up children of Abraham from these stones.’ Because what Jesus does is define sonship in terms of obedience to God. And because we are not by nature obedient to God, we are by nature children of wrath, the New Testament teaches us, and not universally children of the Father.

The only way we ever have the right to call God “Father,” to cry “Abba” in his presence is because we have been adopted. And the biblical message of sonship and daughterhood in the body of Christ is rooted and grounded in this concept of adoption—that only Christ is the natural son of God. And only if you are in Christ do you become a member of the household of God. It is the church in the New Testament that is called the family of God. It is the church in the New Testament that is called the household of God. And that unique concept of redemption through adoption is completely obscured when we talk about the universal fatherhood of God. Do you see that?

Adoption (Follow Up)

On Tuesday, I wrote a brief article on the subject of adoption, making reference to the very heart warming story of little Lydia who was adopted by a Christian family here in the United States. I just received this short letter:

John,

How delightful to come across this post! I love all that you wrote and quoted about adoption. Here were the judge’s words the day this adoption became final, as I was there (in the court room):

“NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED that the minor child is declared to be adopted by the Petitioners, ____ and _____, that the minor shall henceforth be regarded and treated as the Petitioners’ NATURAL child and have all the lawful rights as their own child, including the rights of support, protection and inheritance, and the minor child henceforth bear the name: LYDIA JOY ____.”

To be declared a “natural” child by an earthly court of law is but a foreshadow of how permanent our seal of adoption was with our Heavenly Father. Thank you so much for sharing this blessing with others.

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Adoption

It is often said that a picture paints a thousand words. How true this is in this case. The city where this photo was taken is Bangkok, Thailand and the little girl in the photo is called Lydia. Since the photo was taken, Lydia has now been adopted by an American Christian family. The gentleman holding her hand is actually her new father, Josh. You can see the photos of Lydia’s arrival in the USA here.

What a beautiful illustration this is for the Christian. Think about it. God actually chose you to be part of His family. You were not just a nameless, faceless person in the crowd. He chose you personally. He set His love on you in eternity past, before the world was ever made. God revealed this in His word, not to cause controversy amongst Christians. It is not in the least bit controversial to Him. He revealed this because as His child, He wanted you to know this truth. God forbid that it should be obscured from you. It is part of your inheritance to come to understand that He has had no momentary, temporary interest in you. God has loved you from eternity.

God did not have to tell us about His electing love, but there is no doubt that He has done so many times over. The reason for this is clear. He wanted you to know that He actually chose to save you. He did so for reasons known only to Him (though we know it was for no reason found in you at all). His choice was without conditions because born spiritual dead, there were no conditions you could ever fulfill. When you were without God and without hope in this world, God took the initiative in sending His Son into this world to do whatever was necessary to bring you to Himself. This is radical, overwhelming, all conquering love. Nothing could suceed in standing in His way. Once the choice was made, there would be no possibility of failure. Jesus said, “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me” and He will raise them all up to eternal life (John 6:37-39). Not one will be lost. This is true for all of us who believe in Christ. Forever we will stand amazed by the grace we have found in Christ. Forever we will sing of His great love!

“In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” – Ephesians 1:4-6

Most Christians have not really grasped this amazing truth of their adoption in Christ. Many have heard about justification by faith alone, but far fewer have understood the doctrine of adoption. In a sermon entitled “God as Father: Understanding the Doctrine of Adoption” (based on Galatians 4:1-7), C.J. Mahaney speaks about some of the important connections and distinctions between the two: Continue reading