Happy Thanksgiving! During this season as we stop to reflect on our many blessings, I am posting the last in a three-week series of reflections on finding my birth mother after nearly 55 years. This discovery has also helped me understand more of what my adoption meant to both my mothers and the many blessings I received as a result. The biblical passages about adoption have come alive to me in new ways, causing me to be even more thankful for what it meant for God to adopt me, and the many blessings I have received from Him as a result.
3. The Glory of Adoption as a Model of Redemption
When I became a follower of Christ at 17 years of age, I began to read about God’s adoption of me into His family. I immediately saw many parallels to what I had experienced as a child who a human family adopted.
The words translated “adopt” or “adoption” are used three times in the Old Testament and five times in the New Testament. Two of these occurrences are metaphorical (Job 15:5 and Psalm 106:35). The other six times they refer to adoption into a family.
When the turn came for Esther (the young woman Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her.
Esther, a baby girl in this time and culture, was of little value. But Mordecai didn’t see it that way. He adopted her, and God ended up using her in mighty ways to bring redemption and well being to so many others. This a beautiful picture of how God can redeem any life and make something beautiful out of it, no matter how broken the situation. God also did this in providing a family to adopt Moses. The royal family could give him opportunities to flourish that his birth parents could not. And God did this for me as well. Esther, Moses and I are examples of God’s loving-kindness – “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
I’ve often thought that I didn’t deserve to be adopted by such a loving mother who offered such goodwill and love for me. But once this act of love was complete by signing the adoption papers, I immediately received all the rights and privileges of being her son, regardless of how that came to be. I was not a “second-class Wallace.” From my first day with her, she gave me the right to relate to her as my true “mommy” without fear of that relationship ever changing.
The same is true when God adopts us. He doesn’t just give us “access” to him as a slave might have access to a master. The relationship is more than one of proximity. It is one of intimacy. He brings us fully into his family, as his full sons and daughters. He even lets us call him by the name that is most intimate—“daddy” (Abba). We are His true sons and daughters. Therefore, we no longer have fear about whether this may be the day He banishes us again. He will always love and care for us as his the children He adores. We do not deserve this. It is purely due to his good will and love for us.
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
The term “adoption”—in our society as well as biblically—is a legal term. It signifies a forensic act, authenticated by one with the power to make it so. In my adoption, this authority was the presiding judge. The State of Ohio gave him the authority to decree that I shall forevermore be of the Wallace family. This action by one empowered to make such decisions gave me the legal security that I then, and throughout my life, would have all the rights and privileges of a Wallace.
In my adoption as God’s son, the presiding authority is God himself. He has the power and right to decree that I am legally now a part of his family. His decision to grant me adoption into His family likewise gives me the security of knowing that I will always enjoy the rights and privileges of a true son of God.
This passage also reminds us that our adoption is totally—all is redeemed (literally “bought back”). In my adoption as a Wallace, every aspect of my well-being was “bought back.” My new family provided me an environment to flourish physically, mentally, emotionally and socially, in a way that I could not have otherwise.
In the same way, in my spiritual adoption, God redeemed all that I am—body and soul. We often fall into the “Gnostic” heresy of believing God is only concerned with our “spiritual” redemption (see here fore more on this). As stated in this passage, and illustrated by how my adoptive mother was concerned with my flourishing in every way, so too is God concerned with our complete well-being—body, mind, emotion, will, relationships. All is not yet entirely made right again, but some day everything spiritual and physical will be fully redeemed. We all wait eagerly for this glorious day!
…the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.
My adoption made me a full son, equal to any biological sons my parents may have had. In the same way, my adoption as God’s son makes me equal to any “natural” sons God has. Of course, He has one “natural” Son—Jesus, the Son who has existed eternally with God the Father and enjoyed the richness of this relationship from eternity past. Through God’s adoption of me, I am a brother of Jesus, enjoying with Him our Father’s limitless affection.
One promise I received from my natural adoption is a share in my family’s inheritance. My legacy is completely due to their good pleasure, based on my being a true son. The relationship, not my performance, guarantees this. In the same way, as God’s adopted son he, due to his good pleasure alone, chooses to share with me the inheritance that He could have chosen to reserve for his “natural” Son alone. I, and all who God adopts into His family are blessed beyond comprehension, being “heirs of God and coheirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:17)
This should drive us to worship, thanksgiving and service to our Heavenly Father every day, in light of what He has done for us out of His great love for us, “while we were still his enemies” (Romans 5:8)!
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
We have all broken the eternal law of the universe by rebelling against the one true God, and so were rightly condemned as criminals under the law’s demands (“everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” Romans 3:23 NLT). In the same way, I was born physically into a broken circumstance that required redemption.
Both my birth and adoptive mothers—at just the right time, when my life was on the brink of disaster (in the womb and as a newborn)—intervened to redeem me. So too God, at just the right time entered the flow of human history to redeem us all. He did this by sending His Son, the only one who was capable of paying the price for our redemption.
(The Redeemer had to be “his Son”—fully God, to be completely holy and able to pay for another’s sins and not his own. The Redeemer also had to be God for his death to be of infinite worth as an adequate payment. The Redeemer had also to be fully human, for his payment to be an equal substitute. See here for more on why the Savior had to be fully God and fully human.)
He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—
There are three essential truths here. First God determined before our adoption that we should be his sons. There is much debate over how this occurs. I’ll share in a future post how I believe this is best understood. But the point here is that God always wanted us. Before we were born, He knew He would adopt us. So too, my adoptive mother, before seeing me, knew she wanted me. To comprehend this is very humbling and gives me a deep sense that I was desperately wanted and deeply loved—both by my earthly mother and my heavenly Father.
Second, through Jesus Christ we were adopted as sons. This refers back to the legal action that God required for our adoption. Just as there were legal requirements that had to be met for me to be adopted into the Wallace family, there are legal requirements that must be met for our adoption into God’s family.
We all stand legally guilty of rebelling against the Sovereign Ruler of all Creation, telling Him we want nothing to do with him. As a holy Judge He cannot look the other way and ignore what Justice demands in response to such rebellion—eternal separation from His presence.
But He did not want to have to sentence us to this horrific fate. So Jesus, as the one and only “God-Man,” chose to pay the penalty for our crime, taking our place. This cleared the way for God to declare (forensically—legally) that the demands of the Law are met. He paid in full the debt we owed for our rebellion, paving the way to legally adopt us into His family.
Third, God—like my mothers—was not compelled to do what He did. My birth mother didn’t have to give me life and my adoptive mother didn’t have to fulfill the legal requirements to adopt me. In the same way, God did not have to endure so much to intervene on my behalf and redeem my life. But He desperately wanted an intimate relationship with me, so He chose to do so anyway. Understanding how hard it was for both my birth mother and adoptive mother to intervene in these ways to see my adoption through, and how much more difficult it was for God to intervene to adopt me into His family, causes me to be deeply thankful!
Adoption is a theme through Scripture. Being adopted myself, and recently reflecting on this history as I’ve met my birth mother, has helped me understand a bit more deeply what my adoption into the family of God means. I hope these reflections, by one twice adopted, are helpful to others without this background.
Until next week, grace and peace.