“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…” (Romans 8:15).
Whereas Jesus speaks of our being born into the family of God (John 3:3), Paul uses the term adoption. Both are pictures of the same spiritual reality. The emphasis is on a relationship – Father and child. God’s ultimate goal in our salvation is the relationship made available to us through our adoption as His children.
God does not intend for us to consider Him a stern Judge peering over the bench at the accused. Yet many believers have this perception of Him. I’ve actually talked with Christians who fear the gavel may strike again – this time with a guilty verdict. For some reason, they never get out of the courtroom and into the family room. To them, God is always a Judge and never a Father. This view is so unfortunate. But even worse, it is a precursor to doubt basic doctrines of the faith.
The good news is after the Judge pronounces us not guilty, He welcomes us into His family. That is apparent from Jesus’ words in John’s gospel: “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not be judged, but has crossed over from death to life” (5:24). As believers, we will never be judged for our sins. That is a settled issue. It is so settled in the mind of God that at the moment of our salvation, knowing all the sins we were yet to commit, God adopted us as His children anyway. I have heard of many unwanted pregnancies, but I have never heard of an unwanted adoption. Couples adopt children because they want children. God adopted us for the same reason. He knew our shortcomings. He knew our inconsistencies. He knew all about us. But He wanted us just the same.
The concept of adoption is a strong argument for the doctrine of eternal security. To lose our salvation, we would have to be unadopted. The very idea sounds ludicrous. If the logistics of such a belief system are not enough to make us wonder, consider the relational problems. Can we really put our total trust in a heavenly Father who may unadopt us? Let me put it another way: can we pledge unconditional loyalty to a God who promises only conditional loyalty in return? Isn’t it unrealistic to think we could ever grow comfortable with God as our Dad when we know if we drift away and fall into sin, our relationship will be severed? I can remember one of the very first sermons I preached. I asked the congregation if they thought a father would stop loving his child if he fell while learning how to walk. “Of course not,” was the unanimous response. The same is true with us as God’s children. He will never stop loving us even when we stumble.
Persons holding to a view that allows for someone to be unadopted must confront another major theological hurdle. Why would an omnipotent God choose before the foundation of the world to adopt someone He knew would eventually be dismissed from His family? To believe we can be unadopted is to believe we are able to thwart the predestined will of God.
The permanency of our adoption is best illustrated by the parable Jesus told of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32): “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate” (v. 11-12). With those words, Jesus had His audiences’ undivided attention. In first century Jewish culture, no son with any respect for his father would make this sort of demand from him. To make matters worse, it was the younger son who was making the demand. What he did was unthinkable!
Jesus continued, “So he divided to them his livelihood. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living” (v. 12-13). Not only did the son demand his inheritance, but he left town with it and squandered his gift. Apparently, he had no concern for his father’s welfare. He was concerned only about himself. No doubt Jesus’ listeners were rehearsing in their minds what they thought the disrespectful brat deserved. How dare he take such a large portion of his father’s hard-earned estate and throw it away!
But then the story took a surprising turn: “But when he had spent it all, there arose a severe famine in the land, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed swine. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, but no one gave him anything” (v. 14-16). The crowd must have become almost nauseous as Jesus described the condition in which the son found himself. The Pharisees would not go near swine, much less feed them. By definition the boy was ceremonially unclean.
The crowd listened carefully as Jesus continued: “When the son came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father” (v. 17-20).
I imagine everyone who heard Jesus that day had an opinion about what the father should say or do when the son began his speech. I doubt any of them would have ended the parable the way Jesus did: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (v. 20).
The Pharisees must have cringed at the thought of embracing someone who had spent time feeding pigs. Jesus then added: “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate and were merry” (v. 21-24).
Culturally speaking, what Jesus described in this parable was a worst-case scenario. The son could not have been more disrespectful. He could not have been more insensitive. And he certainly could not have been a greater embarrassment to the family.
No one would have blamed the father if he had refused to allow the son to work for him as a menial servant. The son didn’t deserve a second chance, and he knew it. He recognized how foolish it would be to return as a member of the family. In his mind, he had forfeited all the rights to sonship. He was of the conviction that by abandoning his father and wasting his inheritance, he had relinquished his position in the family.
His father, however, had a different perspective. In his mind, once a son, always a son. The father’s first emotion as he saw his son returning wasn’t anger. It wasn’t disappointment. He felt compassion for him. Why? Because the boy was his son. The father said, “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again.” He did not say, “This was my son, and now he is my son again.” On the contrary, there is no hint that the relationship was ever broken, only the fellowship.
The imagery of adoption is a powerful one. It is powerful because it is volitional on the part of God; He chose to adopt us. It is also powerful because it is permanent: once a child, always a child. At the moment we trust Christ as Savior, we are justified (declared not guilty) and adopted into the family of God. The truth is, once a family member, always a family member. Nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing can remove us from God’s hand (John 10:28-29). God is both willing and able to guarantee and maintain the salvation He has given us (Jude 24).