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  • Writer's picturePage Brooks

Theology of Adoption

One of the greatest joys in my life was when my wife and I stood together with our newly adopted daughter, Karis, as the judge’s gavel sounded. The judge declared our Karis, who was about 6 months old, to finally and forever be part of our family! No longer was she parent-less, but instead she had parents. No longer was she name-less, but instead she had our last name. It was at that point that I realized, as an adoptive parent, that our actions in adoption have so many biblical parallels to adoption.

Having a solid theology of adoption is important for several reasons. First, it helps us to have a biblical grounding for the church of Jesus Christ as a whole to be involved in orphan care and adoption. Second, it helps believers understand how their actions in orphan care and adoption are central to carrying out the biblical mandate to take care of orphans. Third, and most importantly, it explains how the act of adoption specifically reflects the work of Christ on the cross in redeeming the world to Himself.

J. I. Packer states this about adoption:

“Adoption is the highest blessing of the Gospel, even higher than the gift of justification because of the richer relationship with God it involves.”

He continues,

“ Justification is a forensic idea, conceived in terms of law, and viewing God as judge…Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as a father. In adoption, God takes us into His family and fellowship, and establishes us as His children and heirs. Closeness, affection, and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the father is greater” (Knowing God, 186-88).

Packer’s words give a beautiful description of how precious the doctrine of adoption is to a believer, both theologically and emotionally. Theologically speaking, adoption as a believer happens at the moment of our conversion. While the timing of the various parts of our salvation (regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption etc.) may not be discernable to believers on this side of heaven, we can rest assured that our adoption has happened if we are true believers in Jesus Christ. The peace and comfort of God literally come on us because of the great doctrine of adoption. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ the legal demands of the law have been met. In adoption we are able to enjoy the fruits of a relationship with the God of the universe and truly call him “Abba Father!”

The Old Testament and the Church’s Role in Society

In the Old Testament we see where care for those who cannot care for themselves is woven into the very fabric of the precepts of God. With the progressive nature of God’s revelation, God first reveals His mercy and love to those who cannot take care of themselves and gives the commands for the Israelites to do the same. As the Old Testament unfolds we see where reveals Himself and His fatherly nature.

First we see this theme is Exodus 22:21-24. God gives commands to take care of the sojourner and the foreigner, as well as to the widows and fatherless. In the ancient times, every person in the family needed a provider and protector. This was especially true in the patriarchal society where widows and the fatherless were certainly vulnerable. Notice in this passage that God makes a personal promise of action on their behalf if the widows and fatherless are not cared for. This shows the immense mercy of God for them but also shows the seriousness by which God’s people should take His commands.

The theme of God being a personal protector continues in Psalm 68:1-5. The first four verses communicate glory to God for His majesty and how the righteous can rejoice in His joy. Verse 5 gives the wonderful truth that God Himself becomes a father to the fatherless. God Himself becomes the Protector of the widows. Making the bridge into New Testament times, we see where through our relationship with Jesus Christ, God moves from simply being a God of the Universe, or even a father in particular, but to becoming our personal Heavenly Father.

In other places throughout the Old Testament, the theme of caring for the fatherless and the widows are used is connected with the idea of justice. On several occasions in the Old Testament, God specifically condemns Israel for not standing up for the justice of those around them. Often Christians are criticized for taking certain stands on political issues. However, the Bible does not necessarily command Christians for taking a stand on political issues. Rather the Bible (Old Testament in particular) commands Christians to stand for justice and fairness in society. By caring for orphans and widows, Christians help fulfill this theme in the Old Testament law. Taking such a stand rises above politics and political parties and ultimately points to the truth of God and His law.

The imperatives from the Old Testament also speak to the contemporary church as we have a prophetic role in society. There has been a recent resurgence in orphan care and adoption as local churches and entire denominations seek to reconnect to and address problems in society. Especially in Western nations, much of the role of charity work has been given up by the church to the government. Nevertheless, the Bible is clear that the church should have been and always should be involved

The New Testament and the Believer’s Ministry of Adoption

The doctrine of adoption becomes central in the New Testament as a fuller understanding of salvation is revealed. Two central passages to help us develop a theology of adoption is Galatians 4:4-7 and Romans 8:15-16.

In Galatians 4:4-7, Paul gives a wonderful exposition of how the Gospel came to be in God’s timing. Paul explains how Jesus came at just the right timing of God to reveal God’s plan of salvation. Paul uses the metaphor of an heir who is being groomed and parented until the right time when he is to inherit his portion. In the same way, Jesus came at the right time to introduce the New Covenant and redeem God’s people who were under the enslavement of sin. When Paul states “in the fullness of time,” he is stating that God had exactly the right timing in revealing the Gospel. What central truth of the Gospel does God reveal through Jesus Christ? Adoption.

Paul explains how quite literally adoption IS the Gospel. Believers have been transferred our of the kingdom of darkness and into the family of God. Believers then become co-heirs with Christ and have access to all the power, authority, and heavenly riches that Christ has. Further, Romans 8:15-16, as well as Galatians 4:7 give the wonderful truth that God the Father becomes our personal father. Those who were once fatherless now can claim God as Father.

All of these wonderful truths are reflected in the actions of adoptions. In many ways, family adoption should parallel and reflect a believer’s adoption into the family of God. It is through the action of adoption that we proclaim the truth of God’s redemption of people through salvation.

Practical Implications of a Theology of Adoption

What might be the practical implications of a theology of adoption? Our theology must always drive our practice. As we carry out the ministry of adoption, it should reflect our theology of redemption and salvation. The postmodern generation of our world values seeing a belief system that is practical. They want to see a religion that not only beliefs something higher than themselves, but also has a practical impact on society. In many ways, they have to see the religion “prove” itself to them. Saint Augustine is said to have stated, “In every way, preach the Gospel. And when necessary, use words!” Adoption of orphans is a primary example of how believers can truly live out the Gospel to a world that is longing to see religion truly have an effect on society. How does adoption of orphans reflect the reality our theology of adoption?

First, adoption reflects the love of God.

Galatians 4:-7 speak of God’s timing in revealing His Son. Verse 4 states, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth His Son….” God’s primary motivating factor in sending His Son was love (John 3:16). God paid a great price for the redemption of humanity through sacrificing His Son.

Often times adoptive parents sacrifice a great deal in order to manifest their love for children through adoption. Some parents choose government agencies for adoption, while others choose private agencies. Nevertheless, the love manifested for these orphans manifests itself through a willingness for extreme sacrifice. Many times I am asked, as an adoptive parent, “How can you find the love in your heart to love someone who is not your own?” I quickly answer that God did the same thing for us through Jesus Christ. We did not belong in the family of God, but God in His love reached out to bring us to salvation.

Second, adoption involves a legal change of status.

As mentioned previously, I remember the first time we stepped into the courtroom for the final court hearing for our oldest child. When the judge drove down the gavel, my wife and I were finally made parents. Though she was not our daughter previously, she was now our daughter legally. We already had a love for her that made her our daughter, but now it was right in the eyes of the state.

Paul uses adoption language in Galatians 4:4-7 that references the Roman legal code of adoption. The biblical term regarding the legal status of adoption literally means to receive rights or recover rights. In Roman adoption law, once an adoption was completed, there was no revocation. There was no “undoing” of the adoption for the family. In the same way, our adoption in Christ cannot be undone. Once we are settled into God’s family, we cannot be taken out. As Paul is referencing the Roman legal code, he is showing how adoption into God’s family leads to permanence in that spiritual family.

In the same way, a legal adoption is not based upon anything the child has ever done. We are not able to look forward to seeing how the child will grow up, what type of personality they will have, or how they will do in school. In some ways, adoption is an act of unconditional love by the parents. This too, reflects our adoption into God’s family. A believer does nothing to earn being adopted into God’s family, but instead God reaches down to graciously bring a believer up out of their sin and experience the blessings of His family (Ephesians 1:3-4).

Our adoption of orphans involves a legal change of status that should reflect the spiritual reality of our adoption into God’s family. Once a child comes into a family, they are part of that family for life. We know that God has ordained these families to be together, and that provides a trust and security that has to be exercised during the entire adoption process as well as in parenting.

I like to imagine that every believer has a spiritual birth certificate. Before entering God’s family, a believer has a spiritual certificate that has Satan’s name on it as father. Jesus stated if we are not children of God, we are children of Satan. But, when we experience the grace of God in salvation and adoption, our spiritual birth certificates are changed to have God as our Father and Christ as our brother. Just as the names of my wife and I were permanently placed on the birth certificate of our adopted children, so God the Father’s name is permanently placed on our spiritual birth certificates when we are adopted into His family, and no thing can remove us from that family.

Third, adoption involves a unique relationship.

Notice in Galatians 4:6 and Romans 8:15-16 that Paul says we are able to cry our “Abba Father” because of our adoption through Jesus Christ.

It was be quite strange if I had my children refer to me by my titles (“Reverend Doctor Brooks”) just because they were my adopted children. Yet, often times we approach God with the same mentality that He should be seen as remote and distant. It does not matter if they are adopted or not, they are still my children and they can call me “daddy.” The term Paul uses (“abba”) is a very intimate term to denote a familial relationship between a father and child. Even today in Middle Eastern countries, when a child is calling out for their father, they cry out “abba,” or “daddy.”

Adoption of orphans reflects a wonderful truth that God becomes our heavenly “daddy.” In the same way our adoption of orphans reflects the intimate relationship with find with adoptive children. When these children are invited into our home, they are treated and loved as if they were naturally born children. Just as Jesus Christ is able to call God His heavenly father, so too believers are able to call God their heavenly father and use the most intimate of terms to describe the relationship.

Finally, adoption brings blessings to any adoptive situation.

The wonderful truth about a believer’s adoption into the family of God is that he or she receives the full riches of heaven. Notice in verse 7 that Paul states we become co-heirs with Jesus Christ. This means whatever riches, authority, and blessings Christ has due to his status as the Son of God now belongs to a believer as well.

Paul addresses everyone when he states that we have become an adoptive “son.” In the Roman legal code, a boy could be adopted whereas girls were not afforded such rights. The adoption of a male was permanent and the male had all the rights and privileges as if he had been born into the family. So, Paul is not being sexist when he states that we all become “sons” of God with regard to our adoption. He is stating that we receive the highest blessing and honor that God can bestow through adoption into God’s family. The blessing of spiritual inheritance through Christ is reflected in the status of a believer before adoption. No one is deserving of adoption into God’s family, and yet when a believer is adopted, he or she receives the full blessing of God’s riches.

Often times the circumstances of adoptions may seem regrettable: abuse, neglect, possible abortion, lack of care, malnutrition, and other factors. And yet these orphans who possibly had nothing are brought into loving homes and lavished with the grace and mercy that God gives to Christian families. Though my children are all adopted, that does not mean that I will skip over them in whatever inheritance I have to give them. Instead, they will receive all the inheritance as if they had been naturally born in our family.

In the same way, our adoption before God reflects the deep love He has for us. God takes us and calls us out of our situation that is mired with sin. He calls us to salvation not based on anything we have done but purely out of His love and grace toward humanity. He then gives us every spiritual blessing that can be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

The way we love our adopted children and care for orphans should intimately reflect the love Christ has for us as believers. Every person is called to care for orphans as James commands in James 1:27, but I believe a special blessing is given to those who specifically adopt. We must remember that all of us, if we are believers, have been adopted as well. Adoption does not just reflect the Gospel, it is truly at the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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