Good morning. I am so glad you are here today. Over the last couple of weeks, we have been in a series we called Transformed. This series is built on the idea that when people encounter God, when we say yes to Jesus and begin the faith journey of following him, radical changes occur in our lives.
The first week, we looked at how one of the first things that happen when we put our faith in Jesus is that we are taken from death and given life. We said that the same power that raised Christ from the dead, the same power that raised his lifeless body and brought him back to life, is the same power that comes upon us and gives us life.
The biggest problem with this is that most often, we don’t realize that while we may be going through the motions of life, we may currently be breathing, but without Jesus, we are dead. But we don’t have to be. Through Jesus, we can do more than just live. We can experience life.
Last week, Ryan talked about the transformation that God brings in our lives from bondage or slavery to freedom. We do not have to be enslaved to our sin. We don’t have to be enslaved to the Old Testament law, a list of rules and regulations. Christ came to set us free.
But as Ryan also mentioned last week, the difficulty here is that, for many of us, slavery is all we know. And just as in the days of abolition when freed slaves would return to their owners because it was all they knew, we will return to our lives in bondage to sin, or our lives of religious rule-following and bondage to the law, and never truly experience the freedom that Jesus offers.
And today, we will wrap up the series with a transformation that is very close to my heart. It is also one that is often overlooked or unnoticed. And that is the transformation of adoption. When we come to Christ, we are no longer orphans. We are no longer his enemies. We are no longer slaves. We are adopted by God and become the children of God.
Adoption is Close to My Heart
As I said, this topic is very close to my heart. In September of last year, we officially legally adopted three amazing kids into our family. And it has been amazing, it has been a struggle at times, but I wouldn’t change anything. What some of you might not know is the journey that got us there.In 2011, Kerri began to discuss the possibility of us becoming a foster family. To be honest, I wasn’t much interested. Life was good. We had three kids already. Why would we need more? So I ignored her as long as I could. I told her I wasn’t for it. And we moved on.
But one morning, in my office here at church, as I was reading and praying, God spoke to me. There have been a few times in my life where I can say without a doubt I heard God speak to me. Not in an audible voice, but in my Spirit, and I know it was God speaking to me as clearly as I know anything else. That morning, God spoke and honestly broke my heart. He said, “Brent, I want you to do this. I want you and Kerri to be foster parents.” I was honestly broken by it. I sat in the office alone, with tears in my eyes, and I texted Kerri, and it said something like this, “I’m in. Let’s become foster parents.”
We did the training. Some of us still more reluctantly than others. And one of the questions they ask you in this process is what type of license you want; a license to foster kids only or a license to foster and adopt. Knowing that I did not want to jump through any other hoops after the first 30 hours of training we had to do, we said, let’s do both. It was as simple as checking a box on a page. It required nothing additional from us. But we thought, what if. What if we get a placement that is unable to return home. If they’ve been with us a while, it would just make sense that we would be able to adopt, should we see the need. So we got the foster and adopt license.
January of 2012 comes around, and we receive our license on January 1, and on January 4, we get the first call to pick up two kids named Lizbeth and Bernardo. We welcomed them into our family.
Many times over that year, the Department of Human Services tried to reunify them with their mom, but because of poor choices in her life and addictions she was unable to overcome, they were unable to go home. Jazmin comes to live with us in the process as well. When DHS knew for sure there wasn’t a possibility for them to return home, they asked the question, are you willing to adopt these kids?
We said yes. After the kids had been with us so long, they were already a part of our family. How could we say no? And so we began the process of adoption. And in a moment we will never forget, as special to us as the day our biological children were born, September 8, 2014, Lizbeth, Benny, and Jazmin became ours officially. Before, they had been a part of our family. But on this day, it was official. It was legal. And I have the paperwork to prove it. Their names were changed. Now they would be known as Lizbeth, Benny, and Jazmin Clark. They were now and forever a part of our family.
Adopted into God’s Family
In Romans 8, Paul is describing to the churches what it means to be a Christian. He wants them and us to understand what happens in our lives when through faith, we believe in and follow Jesus. In Romans 8, he describes what life in the Spirit is like and how the Spirit changes how we live. As Ryan talked about last week, he begins this section by saying there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We are no longer slaves, but we have freedom. No longer under sin or the law but now living by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In this one chapter, we find the culmination of the messages in our transformation series. No longer slaves but free. No longer dead but alive.
And then, in Romans 8:14, Paul brings a new image to the readers. A new picture of what it means to be saved. To be transformed. Look with me at Romans 8:14-17
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.Romans 8:14-17 (NIV)
The Act of Adoption
The Spirit brought about our adoption to sonship. What does this adoption look like? What did Paul have in mind when he uses this term? Well, it didn’t look then like it does today. It was much different.
When we think of adoption today, we think of the story I shared or the family who goes overseas to bring a newborn or an infant into their family. But it happened differently and for different purposes in the first century.
The Jews did not practice the legal act of adoption. If you look at the five times Paul uses the term adoption in the New Testament. It is to places and churches in our right around Roman. Paul most certainly had in mind the Greco-Roman practice when he talked about our adoption. In the first century, adoption was deliberate. Only adult males were adopted. Sorry, ladies. Times were not favorable to you then. And the man was adopted, chosen by the adoptive father, to perpetuate the family name and inherit the estate.
The adopted individual was entirely equal to any natural-born children and had all the rights and privileges of the biological kids, including access to the estate. Adoption was a significant part of Roman society because it protected the family from dying off and ceasing to continue. It provided the one being adopted opportunities they may not have had otherwise.
In the same way, as adoption works today, it was a legal act, a transfer from one family into another. A change in status. A change in relationship.
Francis Lyall, in his book, “Slaves, Citizens, Sons,” writes,
“The profound truth of Roman adoption was that the adoptee was taken out of his previous state and placed in a new relationship of son to his new father … All his old debts were [instantly] canceled, and in effect, the adoptee started a new life as part of his new family … [On the one hand, the new father] owned all the [new offspring’s] property, controlled his personal relationships, and had the rights of discipline. On the other hand, the father was liable for the actions of the adoptee, and each owed the other reciprocal duties of support and maintenance.”
Adoption was truly an important and life-changing event. But we don’t often think of adoption when we think about what Jesus has done for us.
The Importance of Adoption
Often when we hear salvation talked about, or even when we think about salvation, there are many thoughts or ideas that come to mind. We think of justification, maybe not that exact word, but we think about the fact that because of the death of Jesus, those who follow Jesus are declared righteous by God. Our sin is no longer counted against us, and the righteousness of Christ is placed on us.
We might also think of Redemption. Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for us. We have been bought with a price, and that price was the life of Christ. We might also think about one of my favorite words, propitiation. Ok, we never think of that word. But we might think of what it means, that even though our sin merited the wrath of God, the work of Christ satisfied the wrath of God and not just satisfied God’s wrath but brought us God’s favor.
We think about our salvation in the negative, as of only having things taken off of us. My sins are taken away. I’m forgiven. And we might even realize that we are no longer slaves to sin. But we often think now I am a slave, a servant to God. And most of the metaphors dealing with salvation talk about what happens for us. But when we repent and put our faith in Jesus, we don’t just have things removed from us, even though that would have been sufficient and amazing. But because of God and his love for us, we have something amazing put on us. And that is sonship.
And adoption is what happens to us, something we can experience. If all we think Christ came to do was save us, we would miss one of the most amazing and important aspects. Jesus didn’t just come to redeem. He came to adopt. Not only rescue but to embrace. Not to make us his slaves but to make us his child. Think about that. Let that sink in. Let me repeat it, so you don’t miss it. Jesus didn’t just come to redeem. He came to adopt. Not only rescue but to embrace. Not to make us his slaves but to make us his child.
J.I. Packer, in his book Knowing God, writes,
“Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers. Higher than even justification. Justification is the primary blessing, because it meets our primary spiritual need. But adoption is higher, because of the richer relationship with God that it involves.”Knowing God, 231-32
You see, adoption is so amazing because he didn’t have to do it. He could have saved us. He could have justified us. He could have said, because of what I’ve done for you, serve me. Now you are my servants. But he didn’t. He went the next step of adoption.And is there any greater honor than for someone to say to you, I would like you to be a part of my family? I love you so much. I care about you so deeply that I want you and me to have the closest possible relationship, and that is to be family.
And that is what God says to us. We respond in faith to him, when we believe in him and in Christ, he says, welcome to the family.
What Happens in Adoption
When God adopts us, there is a significant change in our relationship with God. But it doesn’t just end there. There are other privileges that our adoption brings to us.One privilege is sonship. Notice how Paul uses that word. Sonship. In our modern society, we like to make things more gender-neutral. And we would be tempted to change that expression to sonship or daughters. But we need to think about the implications as Paul used this word. First, all of us are elevated to the status of sons in the adoption. Male and female alike are both given a new status of sonship. And before you think I don’t want to be considered a son, remember the first-century context.
Women had no status. None at all. And as Paul talks to all those who follow Jesus, he is telling men and women alike that we can all be elevated to this status of sons. And the same rights and benefits that came simply because you were a son, those now belong to all of us. And because we all have the same status as a son would have, we are set on the same level in the inheritance with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The same glory that Jesus receives, we, too, will receive. The honor that is his is now and is to come is also ours. We aren’t sub-children or even stepchildren. We are full children.
In the same way, the Father will exalt Christ, we will also be exalted. That ought to excite us. Even though we should be much less, not near the same as Jesus, God the Father looks at us and says you are co-heirs with Jesus Christ. And as full children, we can then relate to God as Jesus related to God. We can cry out to him as our Abba, Father. This expression is the same one Jesus used when he cried out in the garden before his arrest and crucifixion. As he prayed, “Abba, Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”
Abba, a term that children would learn to call their Fathers. A term of endearment. But also a term of respect. But ultimately a term of endearment. A term of love. The intimacy Jesus knew, we can also know. We can look and cry out to our Abba, our Papa, our Dad.
And the word used in our passage for cry is a strong word. To cry out. With passion and feeling. And who wouldn’t cry out when we understand exactly what God has done by adopting us as his sons and daughters.
We are now called the children of God. And as proof of our adoption, we have been given his Spirit. The assurance that nothing will ever change our status as his kids. As children of God. Because just as there was nothing we did to get adopted, there is nothing that can separate us from his love.
We’ve seen the movies where the family goes to the orphanage to pick out a child, and the kids dress themselves well, act as good as they possibly can, all in hopes that they will be chosen. It is not our good deeds that cause God to adopt us. It is what Christ did on the cross that leads to our adoption.
The Heart of Adoption
Knowing that we have been adopted, that we have been given the most intimate of relationships with God through Jesus should change how we live. Matthew Becker recently shared a sheet that lists some of the differences between orphans and those who realize their adoption as sons and daughters.
- Orphans see God as Master, but sons see God as Father.
- Orphans believe they can only depend on themselves, but sons realize their dependence on God, and they trust him.
- Orphans are insecure and are always seeking approval and praise of man and therefore are trying to impress God with their actions. But sons know they are secure in the Spirit and are accepted by God, and any service done is from a heart that is overflowing with love for the Father.
- Orphans always wonder if they have done enough, or if they do specific actions will God love them more, and children of God know they didn’t do anything to merit adoption and there is nothing they can do to make God love them more.
- Orphans feel like a servant or slave. But children of God feel like sons and daughters.
In his book Knowing Christ, Alister McGrath writes,
“Adoption is about being wanted. It is about belonging. These are deeply emotive themes, which resonate with the cares and concerns of many in our increasingly fractured society. To be adopted is to be invited into a loving and caring environment. It is about being welcomed, wanted, and invited. Adoption celebrates the privilege of invitation, in which the outsider is welcomed into the fold of faith and love”
And that is what God is saying to those who follow him. You are wanted. You are loved. You are part of my family because adoption is a family idea conceived in love.
Adoption is often overlooked, but can you see why it shouldn’t be. Can you know understand why understanding that we have been transformed from orphans, slaves, and servants to sons of God is so critical? And God did it not because he had to, but because he wanted to.
God desires an intimate, personal relationship with you. And in order to get it, he adopts us into his family. The question is, how will we respond? How do you view yourself? As a servant or as a son or daughter? Because how we think about this will shape every other aspect of our relationship with God. As J.I. Packer said, “Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption.”
Are you living as a servant or as a child of God? Ask yourself this today and this week? And explore the why behind it.
And let’s live as John writes in 1 John 3:1, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”