In studying the biblical truth of adoption we have seen that election is the eternal source of our adoption as the children of God. The wonder of “the adoption of sons” is first revealed in the fact that it is “predestinated,” and the close relationship between election and adoption reveals the sovereignty of God’s predestinating purpose. Even the earthly picture of adoption reflects the fact that it has its source in a sovereign choice. Nevertheless, that relationship between election and adoption also shows us that election is not a mere arbitrary, intellectual choice of certain persons, but rather a revelation of the fountain of love and mercy that flows forth from the heart of God Himself. Election is the marking out of sons and daughters unto the closest possible relationship of love and fellowship with the living God in Christ. That too, as we have seen, is reflected in the earthly picture.
God further reveals that wonder of adoption in the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Adam, by virtue of his creation in the image of God, was also a son of God in paradise, and as God’s son he reflected in an earthly measure the glory of God, his Father. But God, in His inscrutable wisdom, chose to reveal the full glory of our adoption not in the first Adam but in the second, and through Him in the way of sin and grace. In the redemptive work of Christ, therefore, the full breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of God in Christ shines forth.
As election then, is the eternal source of sonship, the work of Christ incarnate provides the legal basis for sonship. Even in the earthly picture there must first of all be a legal basis for adoption. When we adopt children we must, before anything else, obtain the legal right to make those children ours. There are certain procedures which must be followed, certain legal formalities to be observed, court appearances to make, and documents to sign—all part of the legal process of adoption. We obtain the legal right of sonship through Christ. It is as though our adoption papers are signed with His blood and sealed with His resurrection power.
This legal basis for sonship is necessary because of sin. Just as in the earthly picture, the adoption of grace implies that those who are adopted are, by their first birth, strangers. We do not have to adopt those who are born as sons and daughters, nor need we obtain the legal right to be their parents. But we are not born as the children of God. By nature we are strangers and aliens to the covenant of grace (Eph. 2:12) and have forfeited all the rights of sonship in our father Adam. By nature we are children of the devil, as Jesus told the unbelieving Jews (John 8:44). And through death, which is the penalty for sin, God actually puts Adam and Adam’s’ children out of His house and consigns them to the house of their father below.
Yet the wonder of adoption is exactly that through Christ’s work God adopts these children of death and hell and the devil as His own children. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:13, 19, “Ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ . . . . Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”
And notice once again the emphasis on the sovereignty of our salvation in this connection. Even in the earthly picture of adoption it is not the adopted child who seeks and obtains the right of sonship, but the adopting parents. So also God in His infinite mercy obtains for us in Christ all the rights and privileges of children. Galatians 4:4-6 emphasizes this both in connection with the work of Christ and in the application of adoption by the Spirit of Christ.
But what we must notice especially in Galatians 4:4, 5 is the tremendous truth that adoption is the great purpose of all the work of Christ. Christ was “made of a woman, made under the law” first of all for the redemption of those who were sold into the horrible slavery of sin. But even that is not the ultimate purpose of Christ’s entrance into the world. Even the purpose of redemption is to be found in the adoption of sons. All of Christ’s humiliation when He emptied Himself and came in the form of a servant, all His agony, His cross and His tomb have one grand purpose in the counsel of God, that “we might receive the adoption of sons.”
The supreme importance of the work of Christ for us is seen in the contrast that is drawn in Galatians 3, 4 between the church of the Old Testament and the church of the New. Because Christ had not yet come, the church of the Old Testament did not enjoy the blessings of sonship as we do. To be sure, the Israelites were also the children of God. In Exodus 4:22, 23 God sends Moses to Pharaoh. with these words: “Thus saith the Lord, Israel is My son, even My firstborn; and I say unto thee, Let My son go, that he may serve Me and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.”
Nonetheless, as Paul points out in Galatians 4:1-3, the children of Israel, though sons, were in fact no better than servants in the house of God because they were under the law as a tutor and governor. Under the law they were “in bondage” and did not fully enjoy the rights and privileges of sonship, because the legal basis of adoption, though promised, had not yet been provided in the work of Christ. That which makes all the difference between the Church of the Old Testament and the Church of the New Testament is the “sending of the Son” at the time appointed by the Father. In the fullness of time Christ came that we might receive the adoption of sons.
It is in this connection that we may also understand what Scripture means when it speaks of Christ as the “firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). That concept of the firstborn is very rich and beautiful. That Christ is the firstborn means, first of all, that He is first in God’s counsel as the One in Whom God purposes to reveal His glory (Col. 1:15-19). And especially in connection with our adoption this means that Christ as firstborn is the head and ruler of the whole of God’s family. That was one of the privileges of the firstborn already in the Old Testament (Gen. 27:29, 40; Gen. 49:10, etc.), and it is also Christ’s privilege as the first begotten in the house of God (Ps. 89:24-29, Heb. 3:6).
In the second place, that Christ is firstborn Son means that He represents His brethren before the Father. This too was true of the firstborn son in the Old Testament and was prophetic of Christ’s place and calling in God’s family. It is for this reason that Israel is often called “Ephraim” in the Old Testament Scriptures (cf.Jer. 31:9), for although Ephraim was not the firstborn son of Jacob or of Joseph, he nevertheless had the place of the firstborn in that he received the birthright of the firstborn (Genesis 48). And Christ the firstborn speaks as the representative of His brethren in Hebrews 2:13 where He says before God the Father, “Behold, I and the children which God has given Me.”
Even more importantly, the firstborn is presented in Scripture as the one who opens the way for his brethren. Thus it is that the firstborn son is commonly called throughout the Old Testament “the one who opens the womb” (cf. Ex. 13:2, 12-13, etc.). Christ as firstborn is the one who opens the way for us into the presence of the Father where we are received as God’s children (cf. Heb. 10:19-22).
Christ, the firstborn among many brethren, therefore, is the one who through the grace of God opens the way of sonship for us by laying its legal foundation in His blood. He gives us the right to all the privileges and blessings of sonship. In Him we have the right to God’s love and the privilege of calling Him “our Father.” In Him we may come to God with our needs and cares expecting that He cares for us and will not fail to give us what we ask. Jesus points this out in Luke 11:10-13: “For everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? of if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” The right and confidence of all our prayers is built upon the work of Jesus Christ as our elder brother.
Even our attitude toward trial is tempered by this knowledge of our legal right of sonship in Christ. As Hebrews reminds us, if we are “wearied and faint in our minds” then it is because we “have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto (us) as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him: for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth” (Hebrews 12:3-6).
These things are but a few examples of the importance of this blessed truth of adoption for all of life. Its comfort is without end. Because of the legal basis for sonship which is laid in the blood of Christ there is no one who can lay anything to the charge of God’s elect—not even their own conscience—and no one or anything that can separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord: “Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, Who is even at the right hand of God, Who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:33-39). In Christ God says of us, “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:22-24).