One of the most special teachings of Scripture is the doctrine of adoption. The Bible says that at the point of salvation, the person accepting Christ is both born again and adopted by God. These two different ideas show two aspects of our relationship with God after conversion.
But both new birth and adoption point to the truth that there was a point when we were not part of God’s family. There was a point, before we accepted Christ, when we were separated from God, when we could not truly call Him “Father.” We see this in what the Bible says about those who have not yet accepted Christ. Ephesians 2:2-3 says, “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation [lifestyle] in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” When we were dead in sin, we were not children of God. We were children of disobedience; we naturally disobeyed and turned away from God. We were also children of wrath. We rightly and justly deserved God’s wrath because of our sin. We were children of wrath “by nature.” That is who we naturally were. So in time past, we were not God’s children, but children of wrath and disobedience.
Not only were we separated from God and not God’s children, but we followed Satan. In John 8, Jesus spoke with some of the Jews who rejected Him, and He confronted them for their unbelief in the truth. John 8:44-45 says, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.” In very direct language, Christ says that those who rejected him were sons of the devil. It is not a very pretty picture, but the Bible says there is a point where people are not God’s children. They are children of wrath, deserving God’s punishment, and they are children of Satan, following in the way of Satan instead of God.
But at the point of conversion, when someone accepts the Gospel and places faith and trust in Christ alone for eternal salvation, then God adopts that person as His own child. John 1:12 says, “But as many as received him [Jesus], to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” When a person places faith in Christ, then he has the power to become a child of God. God adopts that person as His very own. As Charles Ryrie said, “Children of wrath become sons of God.” Although adoption is not known to be widespread in ancient Israel, it was very popular in Greco-Roman culture. Particularly if a rich couple did not have children, they would often adopt a child as their heir. Even if the child’s parents were still alive, they were often willing to give up their child if it meant that the child would have a better life with a richer family. But it also meant that the biological parents had no more claim over their child; the child was now completely in the family and care of the new parents. In a similar way, when God adopts us as His child, we are completely in His care, and we no longer need to turn back to our previous relationship with sin and Satan (one obvious contrast here is that Satan does not willingly give up those who followed him as ancient Greco-Roman parents would willingly give up their child to a better life).
This adoption is part of what God planned for those who would accept Him. Ephesians 1:5 says, “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” God predestinated us to be adopted. Before the world began (vs. 4), God had already chosen and determined that those who would later believe in Christ would also be adopted as His children. We were not yet God’s children at that point, but He had already determined that we would be in the future if we accepted Christ. Adoption would take place by the will of the parents. Perhaps a child would seek adoption, particularly if he was an orphan. But ultimately, the parents needed to voluntarily choose to adopt a child. Likewise, God chose to adopt us through the gift of Christ. Galatians 4:4-5 says, “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.” Christ voluntarily died for us, and that opened the way for us to be adopted as God’s children. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, not only can we be saved from sin and its eternal consequences, but we can also be adopted as God’s children.
Adoption means that we can turn to God as a child turns to his father. Romans 8:14-15 says, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” Since we have been adopted by God, we can turn to Him as our Father (Abba is a Semitic word for “father”). An enemy and traitor comes cowering before a King. A servant comes humbly and meekly before a King. But a son can come boldly before the King, who is also his Father. When we have a need, when we have a problem, we can come boldly (yet humbly) to God, seeking His help. As a father helps his son, God will help us, since we have been adopted as His children. This does not mean that God will give us everything that we want or neglect to discipline us when needed, because a good father knows when to say no as well as yes (Hebrews 12:5-11). But it is an encouragement and reminder that God loves us as His own children. One of the most special teachings in Scripture is the doctrine of adoption.