Several years ago I was just becoming involved in Christianity and I started to make friends with some other young Christians around me. One of the most mature guys I got to know soon provided me the opportunity to meet his family. His parents looked nothing look him and I quickly surmised my friend was adopted as a toddler. As I got to know the family it became obvious my friend was the spitting image of his dad in every way but physical appearance. The friend’s mother eventually told me how blessed she was with her son and how he had always been a very kind and obedient child since they had adopted him from a situation where he may not have exactly ended up thriving. Not every adoption involves taking in a (humanly speaking) innocent, beautiful baby. Imagine a couple who are as upright as can be and have an unquenchable love for everyone around them. Now imagine that couple adopts a son or daughter unlike the cute sweet kids I have known. This child strives to violate every value the couple holds dear. This child is selfish and hateful, there is no end to what evil act the child might do and despite all that our upright couple takes the child as their own and even gives the child the upright family name. That story sounds more than a bit outrageous and you probably think it is a bit absurd to even consider. However, that is the story of my adoption and the story of every true Christian to ever live. As Christians we are adopted lawbreakers and thus the theology known as adoptionism is a pillar of our faith.
As creations of our God and bearing His image we are all in one sense the children of God. We are his greatest creation and display of His love. Since the fall of Adam, we have not been primarily considered children of God any longer. Scripture suggests sinful men and women are not mainly children of God, they are children of Adam (Romans 5:12-21, 1 Cor 15:22) and even more so children of the devil (1 John 3:10, Acts 13:10, John 8:44). Galatians even recognizes us as being slaves not sons before we have come to Christ in faith. We have disowned God and are no longer covered in His inheritance on our own. It is a startling idea to suggest that on our own we are children of the devil, but it is a Biblical truth and demonstrates our great need for adoption. We are the rebellious orphan but as with many orphan tales we have hope of adoption.
The God with a heart for the fatherless is the God of orphans, the God of adoption. The Father did not merely leave us to rot in the cold orphanage of sin, but God actively pursued our adoption. The story of Christ’s incarnation is fundamental to the idea of Christian adoptionism. The Father knew that only the incarnate Christ could reconcile our relationship with Him. Jesus died on the cross in our place, taking the punishment that we deserve. While the death of our Lord is a lesson in salvation from sin, it is almost equally a lesson in adoption from slavery. Jesus had to pay the penalty for our sins so that God could adopt us as sons and upon the cross rebels become sons in Jesus. Galatians 3 and 4 herald this truth of Jesus dying for our adoption. When Christ died for us we are considered by the Father to be at one with Jesus and we inherit everything that is His. Jesus did not merely take our sins, He also gave us His perfect obedience and His inheritance as the only true Son of God. The cross makes us sons of God because in it we are identified with Jesus who is THE Son of God.
This adoption is no mere theological point it changes everything. If we are adopted sons and daughters of God it changes how we view the orphan, our relationship to other Christians, the insignificance of our differences, it even helps us have a more intimate relationship with God. Christian, you are God’s son or daughter (let that sink in a bit). God is YOUR good father if you trust in Christ for salvation and he is the absolute best father imaginable. You do not have to earn God’s love for you and there is nothing you could do to make God love you any less because you are His son or daughter. When you sin and you’re tempted to think God will punish you or you are unable to go before God, God receives you as His beloved child and showers you with love. We can do nothing to separate ourselves from God’s love because that love is the love of a father to His children that can never cease to be His children. When we came to Christ we stopped being children of the devil and children of Adam. God gave us His name, His inheritance, and greatest of all His love when he plucked us out of the orphanage that was headed for hell. No matter what you have done or will do, you are His and He dotes over you each and every moment. As sons God loves it when we serve Him or talk with Him (he even rewards it) but when we fail Him he still loves us perfectly. Though God will sometime discipline us in His love to show us a greater pleasure, He has not nor ever will send you his wrath against sins if you are a Christian son or daughter.
As adopted sons and daughters, God has put us into the greatest of brotherhoods. Baptists like to call each other brothers and sisters (sometimes as a meaningless greeting), but does not this illustrate such a profound truth. Other Christians are our brothers and sisters more than any physical family ever could be because we will be united together with other Christians in the inheritance of eternal life with God that we all have received in Jesus. The bond we will have in eternity with other Christians is a bond closer than even the very best marriage. If we are brothers and sisters in the most important relationships, should anything else matter? In Christ there is neither Jew or Greek because we are bound by something infinitely deeper than skin color, anatomy, financial status, nationality, or personal preference. It is not even the case that certain groups are greater children of God than others, we are all equal before God as brothers and sisters if we know Christ as our lord and savior. Once at church I saw a pew with a single Caucasian mother, a middle class South American, an African-American seminary student, and a Caucasian businessman. In normal life these individuals likely would never have even met, however they all loved each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and their differences didn’t matter. Adoptionism will kill your stereotypes, prejudices, and arrogance because when we realize all Christians are rebel orphans adopted by God everything else fades away.
Realization of the truth of adoptionism has caused many changes in Christian culture, not least of them has been the massive Christian embracing of adoption. The Christian adoption movement going on right now is nothing short of incredible. Adoptionism teaches us that adoption is not merely an alternative for those who are without “natural children” for whatever reason or a charitable endeavor, it is living out the character of God. If we believe the Biblical truth of our adoption we will understand that the adopted child in your congregation that looks nothing like their parents is just as much their parents child as a biological child. Christians should never differentiate between sons and adopted sons because our God has declared us His own through adoption. This truth of adoption should spur us to support the adoption of the orphan both domestically and internationally. Adoptionism means the barren couple that chooses to adopt is not taking in an “adopted son or daughter” but their very own son and daughter . Adoptionism encourages parents who already have a house full of children to bring someone who looks nothing like them into their household as their family. Adoptionism encourages those with a bit to spare to donate their hard earned money to enable other Christians to unite with their son or daughter they haven’t yet met in some other side of the world or other side of their neighborhood. Adoptionism means a nursery worker asked by a child why his friend doesn’t look like her parents responds by showing the child a family is neither about appearance nor even genetics.
Adoptionism is a vitally important doctrine that is neglected only to our detriment. Knowing we are adopted as sons of God in Christ has a great deal to say to our lives and our relationship with God. The applications of this doctrine are simply innumerous. Perhaps adoptionism comforts you when you feel you are separated from God. Maybe adoptionism enlivens your prayer lives by knowing you talk to your Abba father. Suppose adoptionism challenges your prejudices towards those who are your brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s possible even adoptionism is convicting you to open up your family to a helpless orphan. Could it be that adoptionism shows you your need for a new saving relationship with Christ? The biblical truth of adoptionism is both a comfort and a challenge to our lives and the more we meditate upon this reality the more we will begin to live as sons or daughters of the most high king.
For some good reading on this doctrine and its application check out Adopted into God’s Family by Trevor Burke and Adopted for Life by Russell Moore