What does it mean to be adopted by God?
Russ Moore writes of the occasion when he and his wife adopted two boys from an orphanage in Russia.
“When Maria and I first walked into the orphanage, where we were led to the boys the Russian courts had picked out for us to adopt, we almost vomited in reaction to the stench and squalor of the place. The boys were in cribs in the dark lying in their own waste. Leaving them at the end of the day was painful, but leaving them the final day before going home to wait for the paperwork to go through was the hardest thing either of us had ever done. Walking out of the room, to prepare for the plane ride home, Maria and I could hear Maxim calling out for us and falling down and convulsing in tears.
“When Maria and I, at long last, received the call that the legal process was over, and we returned to Russia to pick up our new sons, we found that their transition from orphanage to family was more difficult than we had supposed. We dressed the boys in outfits our parents had brought for them. My mother-in-law gathered some wild flowers growing between cracks in the pavement outside the orphanage. We nodded our thanks to the orphanage personnel, and walked out into the sunlight, to the terror of the two boys. They had never seen the sun. They had never felt the wind. They had never heard the sound of a car door shutting, or the sensation of being carried along at one hundred miles-an-hour down a Russian road.
“I noticed that they were shaking and reaching back to the orphanage in the distance. I whispered to Sergei, ‘… that place is a pit. If only you knew what is waiting for you: home with mummy and a daddy who love you, grandparents and great-grandparents and cousins and playmates, and McDonalds’ Happy Meals. But all they knew was the orphanage they had come from, and it was squalid. They had no other reference point.
“We knew the boys had acclimatised to our home—that they trusted us—when they stopped hiding food in their high chairs. They knew there would be another meal coming. They wouldn’t have to fight over scraps. This was the new norm …
But I still remember those little hands reaching for the orphanage, and I see myself there.”
Adoption is a beautiful thing. At its best it originates in the in the heart of people who simply want to pour out love. It transforms the lives of the broken and vulnerable. It is a reality that is offered to each of us. For God is an adopting God. This idea of adoption gives us the deepest insight into the nature of God’s love.
Don’t just think of the orphanage, but think of the prison
The Bible presents a very bleak picture of what our lives were before God rescued us. We were lost but Jesus found us. We were slaves to sin and Christ has set us free. We were without hope in the world and now we have a future. We were condemned but our Saviour took our punishment upon his shoulders. We were morally-bankrupt and our debt has been paid. We were in the dark and the Son of God has brought us into the sunshine. We were blinded by the devil but now we can see the beauty of the gospel. We were children of wrath but now we are the beloved of our heavenly Father.
Don’t just think of Jesus coming to rescue us from the orphanage. Think of him coming out into the wilderness, bursting into the courtroom, barging into the prison, paying our debt and placing his light giving-hands over our cloudy eyes. Think of God sending his Son from his home in heaven to experience the rejection, mocking, torture and agony of the cross in order that we could become a part of his Father’s family.
Don’t just think of the lovely child but of the hostile rebel
When our friend Jenny Miller was talking about adopting her daughter, Nisha, she spoke of how there was an immediate bond between them. She said that it seemed as if Nisha had chosen them as much as they had chosen Nisha. They loved Nisha because she is so lovely and she responded with delight to their love.
However, the book of Romans tells us that when Christ came for us, we were hostile towards him (Romans 8:7). John’s gospel tells us that when Jesus entered the world people refused to come into the light because their deeds were evil (John 3:19). We did not seek him, we did not deserve him, and we did not want him (Romans 3:11-18). But God would not leave us be.
‘I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, “Here I am, here I am”’ (65:1). Love initially travelled only one way. Then the Holy Spirit broke our resistance. God gave us a new heart with new affections. We love him because he first loved us (1 John (1 John 4:19). His kindness melted our hatred (Romans 2:4). The great Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, once said, ‘we moved not towards the Lord, but the Lord towards us … The offended God himself, in infinite compassion broke the silence and came forth to bless his enemies.’
Don’t just think of being free from guilt but think of being loved by the Father
God could have simply cancelled our debt and freed us from the prison of our guilt. That would have been abundant mercy and marvellous grace. He could have said, ‘I have done all this for you, now go on your way.’ But he wanted more. The father didn’t want the prodigal to return as a hired man. He wanted to have a son. ‘God sent his Son … so that we might receive adoption as sons’ (Galatians 4:4-5). J. I. Packer writes, ‘In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship—he 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’.
Galatians tells us that in Christ there is neither male nor female because we are one in Christ (3:28). So why does the Bible keep saying son rather than son or daughter? In the ancient world the son was the privileged one. It doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man for all the privileges of a son are yours. Indeed, you are an heir with Christ (Galatians 4:7).
This fact that we are an heir with Christ reveals a wonderful truth about our adoption. In the ancient world the inheritance always passed to a male child. If there was no son then a son was adapted so that inheritance could be passed on. But take note of the fact that the Father did not need to adopt us, for he already has a Son. He did not need to adopt anyone. He did not need to adopt rebels like us. He was not lonely. His life was not empty. This adoption speaks volumes about his gracious heart.
‘Unless you’re assured that God loves you, it’s pretty hard to do anything in the Christian life’ (John Miller). Think of the security that comes when we realise that God is our adopting Father. ‘For if while we were his enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life’ (Romans 5:10). In other words, having gone to the effort of adopting us, he is determined that he will never let us go. As J. I. Packer writes, ‘for only bad fathers throw their children out of the family, even under provocation; and God is not a bad father, but a good one’ (Packer). Your security with him is rooted in his loving commitment to you. In him, you have nothing to fear. In him, you are secure. ‘For I am convinced that neither life nor death, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).