1 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children,were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:1-7, ESV)
A Great Gift
Of all of the gifts that Christ has purchased for us through his death, burial and resurrection, adoption may be one of the greatest. I am not trying to categorize the benefits of our fellowship with God. We receive and enjoy them all at once even though our focus may be on one at any given time. What I am trying to demonstrate is that one of the fundamental realities that is true now, that was not true before our faith in Christ is that the very nature of our relationship with God has changed and shifted. We are no longer enemies deserving of wrath and punishment. We are now sons and heirs who are disciplined and restored by a loving father.
A Spiritual Reality
God has chosen to give us all of the rights and privileges that belong to Jesus!
When Paul was teaching the Galatian church about this new relationship with God he used the concept of adoption. This was something that they would have been familiar with, not because of its tender-hearted nature. Adoption had a greater legal implication for Paul’s hearers which we must understand as well.
Most scholars agree that Paul borrowed the concept of adoption from Greek or Roman law. The Jews did not practice adoption, and the word never appears in the Hebrew scriptures. In The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris says adoption is “a useful word for Paul, for it signifies being granted the full rights and privileges of [belonging to] a family [in] which one does not belong by nature.” One is not born a Christian; one becomes a Christian. This reminds me of my three-year-old friend Grace, who was not born a Roberts, but became a Roberts when her parents adopted her.
Morris continues, “This is a good illustration of one aspect of Paul’s understanding of what it means to become a Christian. The believer is admitted into the heavenly family,” a family to which the believer has no rights of his or her own. Not only did the concept of adoption help Paul explain how gentiles and Jews could be part of the same family of God, but it also allowed him to emphasize that salvation is not achieved through birthright but through God’s act of grace alone.
An adopted child is received as a gift by her new family, just as the adopting family is a gift to the child. In the same way, the spirit of adoption that Paul commends to the reader is one of gift. It is Paul’s way of describing the gift God gives to us in Christ. [Source]
As Paul considered how to best explain what Jesus had been able to do for the person who trusted in Him, he found this concept of adoption to be one of the clearest. It is important that we do not think of some kind of benevolent activity on the part of God. What God did in bringing us into His family was no small miracle (if there are any small miracles), nor was it something that was provided for us with little effort. The implications of what this means can NOT be exagerated.
By using the word “adoption,” God emphasizes that salvation is permanent for the Christian.
At the heart of this expression of faith is the confidence that God gives to His children. We grow in confidence because we are given access to God himself and not merely some celestial secretary that makes us wait in line.
The Greek word translated “adoption” is huiothesia, and it occurs only five times in the New Testament, all in the Church Epistles (Rom. 8:15, 23; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5). According toVine’s Lexicon it means: “the place and condition of a son given to one to whom it does not naturally belong.” Louw and Nida’s Greek Lexicon says: “to formally and legally declare that someone who is not one’s own child is henceforth to be treated and cared for as one’s own child, including complete rights of inheritance.” Huiothesia literally means, “to place as a son.”
… By using the word “adoption,” God emphasizes that salvation is permanent for the Christian, which is why it appears only in the Church Epistles. Some versions translatehuiothesia as “sonship,” but we believe that is not as good as “adoption.” While it is true that someone adopted into the family attains sonship (the status of a son), “adoption” is more accurate to the Greek meaning of the word, and it correctly expresses the fact that the adopted child is permanently placed in the family.
Birth seems so much more desirable than adoption that it is fair to ask why God would even use “adoption.” The answer is that the Romans recognized that when a baby was born, “you got what you got,” whether you liked it or not. This would include the sex of the child, birthmarks, etc. Thus, according to Roman law, a naturally born baby could be disowned from the family. However, people adopting a child knew exactly what they were getting, and no one adopted a child unless that specific child was wanted as a family member, so according to law an adopted child could not be disowned. He or she was permanently added to the family. Many early believers were Roman citizens, and using the word “adoption” was one of God’s ways to let the Church know that He chose the children brought into His family, and they could not be taken from it. The Roman historian William M. Ramsay writes:
“The Roman-Syrian Law-Book…where a formerly prevalent Greek law had persisted under the Roman Empire—well illustrates this passage of the Epistle. It actually lays down the principle that a man can never put away an adopted son, and that he cannot put away a real son without good ground. It is remarkable that the adopted son should have a stronger position than the son by birth, yet it was so.” (W. M. Ramsay, A Historical Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1979; p. 353.) [Source]
The Bible clearly teaches us that adoption is the method that God used to bring us into his family. Because of this God has chosen to give us all of the rights and privileges that belong to Jesus! Not only is this incredible, but it should also inspire our faith to cry out our loving father with more earnestness than ever before.
A Personal Story
My dad was raised by his grandmother because he was abandoned by his parents when he was about three years old. I have heard about growing up without a father or a mother and what effect that had on him. When I went to college I majored in Sociology and I began to have a better understanding of the dynamics and results of growing up in families that were not the ideal. You know.. the two parents, two and a half kids, one dog, one cat, and a house with a two car garage kind of family. It was during this time that a greater awareness of what my father could have been emerged.
Is he a perfect man? No, he is not. But, in light of the experiences that shaped and formed my life the one fact I am most thankful for is that my dad had a relationship with Jesus. My dad has said that he has always had a difficult time thinking of God as a father. This is understandable. What helped my dad was that the Bible also talks about relating to God as a friend, and it was this understanding that helped to shape my dad into the man and father that I have had to benefit of knowing and having in my life.
I am so thankful to that Friend of my father’s. Because of Him I never had to wonder or question my dad’s love for me. And because of my earthly father I have never struggled to remember that my heavenly Father’s love is enduring and unchanging.
Faith truly is crying out to the heart of God because God has adopted us into His family and has given us permission to call out to Him.