Adoption makes the believer an heir of salvation through Christ

(Guest post by Maarten Kuivenhoven)

Adoption makes the believer an heir of salvation through Christ. The adopted child of God becomes the recipient of salvation through Christ, for “the name of Christ excludes all merit, and everything which men have of their own.” Christ’s merits, through His obedience, death and resurrection, are what secure the believer’s adoption. This is clear from Calvin’s writing on the purpose of why God had to become man. He had to become man to rescue us from our self-made hell, to conquer death, and to procure salvation for his people. This too, serves the believer’s assurance of salvation and heir to the Kingdom, “for the Son of God, to whom it wholly belongs, has adopted us as his brothers.” This work of salvation was achieved through the Incarnation, when “ungrudgingly he took our nature upon himself to impart to us what was his, and to become both Son of God and Son of man in common with us.”

In his application of the doctrine of adoption, it must be noted that John Calvin was discriminatory, opening up its comforts to believers, but also preserving this doctrine from those who would abuse it in unbelief. This discriminatory note can be detected when he cautions that the Incarnation must not be used to automate adoption. Just because Christ came in human flesh does not mean that all are the children of God. He argues rightly that

“when we say that Christ was made man that he might make us children of God, this expression does not extend to all men. For faith intervenes, to engraft us spiritually into the body of Christ.”

The fact that the believer becomes an heir of Christ also has eschatological dimensions. Although this is present in the Pauline doctrine of adoption, Calvin also brings it out in the Johannine complement of the same doctrine. He clearly brings out the ‘now-not yet’ tension of the enjoyment of the inheritance that believers receive through adoption. In his Commentary on 1 John, especially 1 John 3:2, Calvin notes that the believer’s condition as an adopted child of God has not yet reached full fruition and the believer is subject to death, misery, and all manner of evil. He counsels the believer to consider the privileges that yet await being stored up in heaven, looking to the coming of Christ which sustains faith,

“because the fruit of our adoption is as yet hid, for in heaven is our felicity, and we are now far away travelling on the earth.”

This tension is also apparent in his Commentary on Romans in which he highlights the fact that the believer’s inheritance through adoption will be fully realized in the future. He states that

“we shall partake of it in common with the only-begotten Son of God,” which requires patience and endurance in the present Christian life.

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