I remember the adoptions of each of our four children. They were from different countries, and come home at different ages, but each of them had in common that God was bringing beauty out of brokenness.
Adoption is a beautiful thing. It is the joyful connection of deep desires in the hearts of parents, with deep needs in the lives of helpless children. It brings abiding pleasure to both parties, and lovingly unites former strangers for the rest of their lives. Most beautiful of all, however, is that adoption is a picture of how God brought us into his own family.
This is why Paul describes salvation as “adoption” in Ephesians. In his wonderful, purposeful, unconditional love, God “predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:5).
Predestined To Adoption
How wonderful is the grace of God, that before the world was even created, he had already planned our salvation! God predestined—not just places and events, but—people.
The fact that God predestined his people to be adopted reminds us that none of us are by nature children of God. In fact, as Paul explains in the very next chapter of Ephesians, we are “by nature the children of wrath, like the rest of humankind” (Ephesians 2:3). There was nothing in the nature or moral makeup of any human being that inspired God to choose them for salvation. We are all sinners by nature, and we are all, therefore, children of wrath by nature.
This is doubtless why Paul uses the imagery of adoption. We are not natural children of God. We were not originally children of God. Let this sink in! We live in an era and culture in which there is almost a universal sense of personal entitlement. As a result, even Christians tend to think of ourselves as in some way deserving the blessings of God, or as God being somehow morally obligated to save and bless us. But nothing could be further from the truth.
We were strangers and enemies of God by nature. We were walking in rebellion against him, we were living “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Ephesians 2:3). Yet God chose to adopt us into his family, to make us his own, to give us every “good thing” as his children. God owed us no inheritance, care, or blessing. But because of his wonderful, gracious love God chose to adopt us into his family.
Adoption By Jesus Christ
How could the holy and good God accept sinners into his family? He will not lower his standard, for this would be to compromise his own perfection. He will not dispense mercy at the cost of justice.
Our adoption, therefore, Paul reminds us, is by—or through—Jesus Christ. Jesus is the way dirty; rebellious strangers become pure and devoted children. Adoption has nothing to do with our sweetness, cuteness, or inherent value. Our adoption is entirely due to the love of God in planning, and the perfection of Christ in atoning.
When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5).
According to his perfect, pre-world plan, God sent his only natural Son Jesus Christ into the world. Jesus took on our human nature in order to become our representative before God. He perfectly obeyed the law on our behalf, then died under the punishment of the law on our behalf. All this so that “we might receive adoption as sons.”
We are children of God because Jesus is the perfect Son of God. We are adopted because Jesus shared his sonship with us. We are in the family of God because Jesus called us his brothers and then performed the agonizing task necessary to make this loving purpose a reality.
Adoption To Himself
When does this adoption occur? Although God purposed salvation before the world began, as we have already noticed, he predestined us to be adopted – a change of status that takes place sometime during the life of each saint. And the great goal of adoption is not merely to save us from hell, but to draw us “to himself.” The great blessing, the great inheritance that comes to every one of God’s children is a relationship with God himself, through Jesus Christ. Any other inheritance would, of course, be nothing without Jesus. Being saved to heaven without being drawn to Christ himself would be no paradise at all.
Paul explains in Galatians that we are adopted as children into the family of God from the moment that God draws us to himself through faith in Christ’s work on our behalf. We are “all sons of God, through faith” (3:26). According to the sovereign purpose of God to adopt, and based upon the perfect work of Christ on the cross for us, God sends his Spirit into our hearts changes us forever. He turns us from darkness to light, he heals our broken and rebellious wills, he opens our eyes to see the beauty of Jesus Christ, he works faith in our hearts, he draws us to himself.
This is how we can know whether we are indeed children of God. Are we trusting in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation or our place in God’s family? Are we led by the Spirit of God to seek God’s fellowship and glory?
“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 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” (Romans 8:14).
Every believer in Jesus Christ, whose heart is drawn to obedience and faith by the Spirit, is divinely assured of their place in God’s family. Every child adopted by God, through Jesus Christ, is, therefore, an heir of God himself. And the great blessing of being a child of God is that we have the opportunity to suffer with our Savior, for the glory of his name.
Justin Huffman is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary and pastored churches in the States for over 15 years. He is currently lead pastor of Morningstar Christian Fellowship in Toronto, where he lives with his wife Chau and their four children. Justin is the author of the “Daily Devotion” app, as well as numerous books and articles, including his newest book Behold: an Invitation to Wonder. Connect with him at justinhuffman.org.