Rev. Steven Key, emeritus minister of the Protestant Reformed Churches and
member of Loveland PRC in Loveland, Colorado

When we speak about the theological concept of adoption, we do well to remember that adoption is about the reconciliation of rebellious and estranged children. To understand this is important to our confidence in our Father’s commitment to our safety. We were named God’s children from eternity by His eternal and unchangeable decree of election in Christ (Eph. 1:4-5). But in Adam we who had the perfect place in Father’s fellowship forsook Him. Adoption is about God taking into the fellowship of His covenant life those who had rebelled against Him and who had left Him to make their home with the Devil. We not only had run away from home, but we also had entirely lost our way to our return. Adoption, therefore, is the demonstration of God’s faithfulness in bringing to realization His covenant with us, a covenant that is not only unconditional but in which God embraces us with an unbreakable embrace. Adoption is the result of His coming to save us.

As rebellious and estranged children, we were held in what I will refer to as an orphanage. It was a miserable place called The Law. There are orphanages run by Christians that truly make a home for the children in their care and that provide loving care for the children. But The Law was a most unpleasant orphanage. In that orphanage we who had run away from home were held in bondage. We could not do anything right there. We always came under the thunder of condemnation. “By the works of the law there shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16) was the voice we heard constantly under the roof of The Law. We lived in bondage from which we could not free ourselves. Nor could anyone else free us. Not only that, but having made ourselves filthy with sin, there was nothing in us that would give anyone the desire to adopt us. Anyone, taking one look at us and understanding what we are like, would immediately turn away in disgust. Again, it was not that we were placed in that position by circumstances outside our control. It is not that God had forsaken us. We put ourselves in that position!

“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us” (Eph. 2:4) would give us a new life, life in the fellowship of His love and in safety. God, who has “predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself” (Eph. 1:5), would reconcile to Himself those who had been estranged from Him. He would do so by Jesus Christ. I John 4:9 puts it this way: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” The Father’s gift was to send His Son “to redeem them that were under the law” (Gal. 4:5). He could not redeem those who were under the law unless He Himself came under the law. He entered our “orphanage” where He heard the thunder of God’s curse. He heard it while bearing our guilt that He had taken upon Himself. God laid on His only begotten Son the iniquity of us all (Is. 53:6). And in perfect obedience to His heavenly Father, our Lord Jesus Christ freed us from the curse of the law.

Christ redeemed us “that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:5). In redeeming us, Christ not only purchased our adoption, but sealed it with His own blood. Our adoption papers were signed as it were with indelible ink. Moreover Christ, by right, entered to call His own by name and to lead them out (John 10:3). He goes before us and we follow Him, for we know His voice (John 10:4). He gave us the right to all the blessings of Father’s house and made us co-heirs of all that He possesses. The essence of that inheritance is that we might know God and enjoy His blessed fellowship forevermore.

Because we are now His children, God sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:5; Rom. 8:15). The Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, is the One who cries eternally, “Abba, Father.” In the love of His heart He draws near to His Father. When God sends forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, He works in us that very same testimony, bringing to expression the knowledge of faith that we are sons and daughters of the living God! So Scripture speaks of the Spirit also as the Spirit of adoption. “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” (Rom. 8:15). When the Spirit of the Son makes His dwelling place in our hearts, He works as the Spirit of adoption, ministering to us and applying to us the wonder of what it means that we are children of God by adoption, taken into the fellowship of His life and love. He gives us to hear and to know the wonder of what God has done in and through Jesus Christ in securing our place in His family.

The truth of our spiritual adoption is absolutely amazing. There is no gift more profound than our being taken into the family of God, the fellowship of His triune life and love. That is true not only considering the profound price of Christ’s precious blood. But it is also true when we consider that the Spirit of adoption realizes in us that profound wonder that we are the children of God. He does that by the wonder of regeneration. We are born again, conformed to the image of God’s dear Son. The Spirit of adoption gives us the gift of faith—not only the essence of faith, that bond established at regeneration, uniting us with Christ. But He works in us the activity of faith, by which we know Christ as our own and are assured of our adoption in Him who died for us. Making us conscious partakers of that wonder of our adoption, He realizes that adoption in our hearts, so that we begin to live as children of our heavenly Father. He does that by sanctifying us, instructing us as children of God, leading us, protecting and defending us, and guiding us all along the way to our heavenly home. All this He does as the Spirit of adoption, sent by Christ into our hearts.

Think about that profound gift! Your value before God is not found in what you have done or what you might be able to accomplish. Your value certainly is not in what others think of you. Your value is found in your relationship with the living God for Christ’s sake. You are children of God, members of His family, partakers of His covenant life! No one can take that from you! You have received that Spirit of adoption. The Bible is consistent in emphasizing the gift and the Giver. You and I are assured, therefore, of the safety found with Him who adopted us to be His children.

How important it is for us to understand that!

You understand that the Holy Spirit cannot lead us to God without giving us the deep sense of that from which we have been delivered. Adoption presupposes that we cannot overlook our past. It is not necessary that every person who is adopted by human parents seeks to know all the details of his or her roots. My son-in-law who was adopted, for example, has no interest in going back to the country of his roots and trying to find out who his parents were and the circumstances behind his spending the first four or five years of his life in an orphanage. He has no desire to introduce into his life the misery and sorrow that pre-dated his being taken in by adoptive parents with the loving care and joy that followed. Some might want to do that, but that is not necessary for all. But one thing that he cannot overlook is the fact of his adoption. Adoption is to be taken out of a bad or difficult situation. And when we talk about our spiritual adoption, we talk about being taken out of the bondage of sin and death, misery and sorrow.

There is for us a sense of fear when the Spirit reveals to us our sin and death. You cannot stand before the majesty of God without a sense of fear, knowing very well your own filthiness and sin. But that too is only by the Spirit’s work, convicting us of our own sinfulness and unworthiness to be called children of God. The Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth must produce in us this knowledge of our own inability, our helplessness, to do anything to contribute to our salvation. The Spirit convicts us of our need for Christ, through whom alone our adoption is effected.

And so, among the privileges that come with being children of God is that we are no longer under a spirit of bondage. The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. What is the testimony that He bears? It is His witness to us of our election in Christ Jesus, of our redemption by Christ Jesus, of the truth that the righteousness of Christ is ours, and that we are God’s children for Christ’s sake. He gives us this testimony by the faith that He works in us and by which we rely entirely upon Jesus Christ, convinced that His blood alone is sufficient to cleanse us from all our sin and that He alone is powerful to have reconciled us unto God. The Spirit testifies to us as the Comforter, who assures us of our Savior’s presence and our Father’s love. He gives us to know by faith that our Savior walks with us, and that our heavenly Father embraces us even in the most painful difficulties of this earthly sojourn.

In that new relationship we live. We live in Father’s house. The Spirit of adoption confirms to us our relationship with the Father, so that we serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, expressing our thankfulness for the life He has given us in the fellowship of His own family. The service He requires of us is a reasonable service (Rom. 12:1). A child of God lives out of love, not as a slave. We delight to do His will, knowing that His will is best for us and that all that He does and has done for us is expressive of His great love for us.

Our soul is satisfied in Father’s house. There is safety there. There is no possibility of our being sent back to the orphanage called The Law, or the bondage of sin and death. There is no possibility of being robbed of our inheritance. As adopted children of the living God, we are heirs in Christ Jesus of that “inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (I Pet. 1:4-5).

We know that our failures do not cost us His love. He will not cast us off. After all, the certainty of the inheritance rests upon Him who has promised it, the unchangeably faithful covenant God. That must be our comfort, too, because on the way to that inheritance we must bear much suffering and many assaults by the Evil One.

The suffering serves God’s purpose in leading us to glory. The suffering we face in this earthly sojourn must be understood as unfolding God’s promise. To be joint-heirs with Christ is to be one with Him. That applies to suffering as well as to the glory. As the apostle wrote in II Corinthians 1:5, “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.”

But we must also face the assaults of the Evil One. He would constantly attempt to twist our perspective, to corrupt our thinking, to have us question the faithfulness of our Father. Satan would point us to our past sins, our present failures, and would attempt to persuade us that it is impossible that the One we claim as our Father could love us. But our heavenly Father—yes, our adoptive Father—holds us in His everlasting arms. He reminds us by His gospel that the covenant He has established with us is unbreakable because it depends upon Him. The life into which He has taken us in Christ Jesus is life everlasting! We confess, “What his soul desireth, even that he doeth. For he performeth the thing that is appointed for me; and many such things are with him” (Job. 23:13b-14). The Spirit of adoption testifies of this and assures us of the glory that awaits us.

Rejoice in the Spirit’s witness, and live in the knowledge of the safety of your spiritual adoption!