If you were to ask the average person on the street for a definition of the word “adoption,” he or she would probably reply, “It’s a married couple’s legally taking a child of other parents and making him or her their own child.” They would be right, but there’s another kind of adoption—the one mentioned in the New Testament in Ro. 8:15,23; 9:4; Gal. 4:5 and Eph. 1:5 where it refers to the act of God which places the believer in His family as an adult son with all the privileges that go with that position. By the redemption accomplished through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, all—without distinction—who put their faith in Christ and His atoning work, not only become “children of God”/ “sons of God” (Jn. 1:12; I Jn. 3:1,2; Ro. 8:14), but are also introduced into the full blessing of sonship. In Romans 8:15 Paul writes: “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out ‘Abba Father’.”
When we are “born again,” (Jn. 3:3), i.e., regenerated by the Holy Spirit when we trust Christ as Savior, we are born into the family of God as a child who needs to grow and develop. Peter said, “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that you may grow in respect to salvation” (I Pet. 2:2). At the same time, the “newborn’s” position is one of full privilege as an adult son. As believers, our position will never change. From the moment of salvation, we are “seated in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). But practically, we are a babe in Christ and have lots of “room for growth.” In fact, we should continue to grow during our whole lifetime here on earth as we get to know God better and better and learn to obey and serve Him. Peter’s challenge is to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 3:18). As we grow, we are being conformed to the image of Christ (Ro. 8:29). In that sense, we continue to be “work in process” until God calls us home. We never “arrive” this side of heaven. Even the Apostle Paul had as his goal “That I might know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Phil. 3:10). But He admitted, “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on that I may lay hold of that for which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (vv. 12-14).
The Greek word for adoption, huiothesia, literally means “the placing of a son.” Notice it is not the making of the son. Spiritual adoption takes a child who is God’s own through faith in Christ, and places him as an adult son with all its privileges and responsibilities. A Roman custom illustrates this principle so well. When a son born into a Roman family reached the age of 14, his father would take him to a public platform, place him on it and say, “My son has reached the age of 14, and he is now my adult son with all the privileges and responsibilities.” He was always a son from the time of his birth (actually conception!), but it wasn’t until he became 14 that all the privileges and responsibilities were turned over to him.
But, we don’t have to be a Christian for 14 years to become an “adopted son.” We are one at the moment of new birth. It is our unchanging position in Christ, as an “heir of God and fellow heir with Christ” (Ro. 8:17). The one thing we have to wait for as “adopted children” is the redemption of our bodies, which are still under the curse of sin and death. Paul addresses that in Ro. 8:23: “And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” So, the culmination of our position as adopted sons is the resurrection state, “For our citizenship is in heaven from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:20). No wonder the Apostle John wrote: “Beloved, now we are children of God and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” ( I Jn. 3:2,3).
Although we have an amazing position as adopted sons of God, we have so much to look forward to in the future. But meanwhile, we, as children, have lots of growing to do!
Forever His adopted son,