The Beauty of Adoption: Part ThreePosted: April 23, 2008
The Canonicity of the Pauline doctrine of Adoption
Paul, in Romans 8:15 – 17, states:
“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears 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.”
By using the term “adopted as sons” to gentiles, Paul created the image of what exactly had happened at the act of justification for the believer, which was having become a part of the family of God. Paul used this to show that the believer at the time of justification took on all privileges of the family in becoming a child of God. Paul’s purpose here is different from all other writers in the New Testament who speak of “adoption”. Whereas John uses the phrase “sons of God” to express the new relationship between God and believers, Paul uses “adoption” to also include the benefits of being a “son of God.” To state it again, Paul’s concern is not being a son of God but the result of being a son of God. This is why he is the only writer who uses the term “adoption” and shows here in this text that the believer has the Spirit who cries, “ABBA” in our hearts to the Father. In the Old Testament, the Israelites did not need this full confidence to call upon their father. Here Paul gives us the main concern of the text: the believer has all certainty in calling upon the Father with the Spirit that cries, “ABBA.”
Calvin also elaborates on this doctrine, coming to the same conclusion: “but now, since an entrance has been opened to us by the blood of Christ, we may rejoice fully and openly that we are the children of God.” Calvin goes on in his commentary to bring home the reasoning behind using this term adoption. It is not to that the believer is given a better status by being adopted, but that the believer has the benefits, blessings and all the privileges of being in the family of God. Calvin again makes this clear when he says, “our spirit is made assured of the adoption of God… For when the Spirit testifies to us, that we are the children of God, he at the same time pours into our hearts such confidence, that we venture to call God our Father.”
There are three examples of how Paul uses the term “adoption” throughout the New Testament to explain the reasoning of adoption and bring home to the first-century believers the reality of the being adopted into God’s family, some of which I will briefly cite. My first example is in Romans 9:4, which demonstrates the difference between the “adoption” in the Old Testament and what it means now for the believer in the New Testament. Paul uses this term adoption saying, “4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.” Paul is telling them that the sense in which Israel was adopted was different from that which now exists in Christ. Paul means to show the Romans that salvation now adopts men differently than it did under the old dispensation. Whereas before God had called in covenant a whole nation under his blessing to partake in this adoption, now today God makes particular who is his in adopting them with the sealing of the Spirit. Paul uses the words “holy”, “covenants”, “service”, and “promises” to show that the adoption in the Old Testament is not the same as what is now given to the gentiles.
The second meaning Paul gives to the term “adoption” is that adoption is the way in which believers are relieved of the burden of law-keeping as a way to justify themselves. In Galatians 4:5 he says, “…to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Here he tells the church that once they were of another family, i.e. the family of Satan. For what is not of the family of God is still a part from which it is born; this is the nature of Satan, a nature that follows its own desires and does what it pleases. Paul shows that they (the readers of this text) had been redeemed from the law that they thought they had to still follow in order to be a part of the family of God. Paul shows them in verse four the reason that they do not to look to the law for redemption saying, “God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,” then he reveals to them the great doctrine that they now belong to in verse five saying, “to redeem those who were under the law.” Paul then gives the gospel, letting them see that they are adopted into God’s family saying, “so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Paul explained to the readers of his letter that they are the ones who were the offspring of another family from which God graciously brought them out of and into his own family. (This reaffirms what we saw in Romans 8:15-17, in that this is the only way possible for man to be adopted into the family of God.) But more, he does this next in verse six, saying exactly the point of his theology of adoption saying, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” That he wants them to see that Spirit of God is what confirms them in their relationship to the family of God. Paul wants them to see this term of kind word that only children can say to their father, “ABBA.” Being a part of the family of God and having this Spirit is essential to justification and salvation; these are necessary in order to be free from the law.
Lastly, Paul uses “adoption” in Ephesians 1:5. Here Paul does not change, but brings out the beauty of the Father even more, and again reveals that they have been predestined to partake in this great doctrine of adoption. Paul explains to them the new nature that God has given them, focusing on the fact that this new nature is the nature and image of Christ himself.
Without knowing this gospel truth of adoption and the importance of it, one cannot glorify God to his highest ability that he could, as one is able to when he knows this benefit of being able to cry, “ABBA” to the Father. With this, we may look at the center passage of Paul’s theology of adoption and focus on the truths for the believer to be more satisfied in the family of God, and most of all glorify God to his fullest, in seeing and knowing the joy of Christ in adoption.