Adoption and the Gospel
Scripture: Galatians 3:26-4:7
On Monday, my family celebrated Adoption Day, the sixth anniversary of L and A officially joining our family. In God’s perfect providence, this is also the week when Galatians introduces the concept of adoption as it relates to our relationship with God! And so, I’ve had the pleasure of reflecting on all of this.
Remember last Sunday, we talked about the purpose of the law. Paul teaches that formerly, the Jewish people were enslaved under the law. It was their guardian until the promise of God was fulfilled in Jesus.
And so, before we begin reading, I want to explain the difference between legal guardianship and adoption. It worked very much the same in the ancient Roman empire as it does today.
Guardianship is temporary. In ancient times, the guardian was often a servant or a slave. Today, it might be a relative or a foster parent. But when the child becomes an adult, the rights of the guardian are completely terminated. There is no lasting, legal relationship.
Adoption is much more permanent. In fact, in most states, adoption cannot be reversed at all unless it was fraud. You can legally divorce your spouse. You can’t legally unadopt a child. They even change the names of parents on a child’s birth certificate!
Galatians borrows the idea of guardianship to explain our relationship with the law and adoption to explain our relationship with God. Let’s begin – chapter 3 verse 26:
26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
Before we talk about adoption, we need to see the context. How are we sons of God? In Christ and through faith. Adoption is an important doctrine, but union with Christ is more fundamental. Adoption is one of the many blessings possible because of our union with Christ.
27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
We should be careful with this verse. Some interpret this to mean that water baptism is necessary for salvation. But remember Paul’s purpose in this letter. He’s arguing that the sign of circumcision is not necessary for salvation. It’s impossible that Paul would now say that baptism is necessary for salvation, especially when he argues that baptism replaces circumcision in Colossians 2.
Instead, Paul is talking about an outward sign demonstrating an inward reality. Being baptized into Christ means joining the visible family of God – the Church. We have “put on Christ”. We are now dressed for the part – the role of being a son or daughter of God.
It’s like a wedding ring. The ring doesn’t make me married, but it tells people I am married.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Literally, we are all one person in Christ Jesus. Unity – incredible unity. Why are we one? Because we share the same faith, the same baptism – we have put on the same Christ.
This verse is one of the most powerful statements in the history of the world and it was WAY ahead of its time.
We are united in such a way that the typical barriers in society have no power over God’s church. We are children of God first. We are united in Christ first. In other words, we are Christians before everything else.
But I want to be clear. These distinctions still matter. In isolation, this verse seems to erase all distinctions between people entirely. But we know from context that can’t be Paul’s meaning. The Jews were still Jews. The Greeks were still Greeks. Men were still men. Women were still women. Some Christians were still slaves.
What then does Paul mean? He means to say that being united in Christ is our primary distinction. Everything else comes second. For instance, I am not a white Christian. I’m a Christian who also happens to be white. In other words, my “whiteness” is less important than my faith.
I don’t decide who I worship with (or don’t worship with) based on categories the world has established. My faith in Christ is more important than my culture. Sunday morning is still the most segregated time of the week for American Christians because other things have become more important than our union in Christ. We are not White Christians, Black Christians, or Latino Christians. We are Christians. We are One in Christ.
I’m not suggesting color blindness. The Gospel does not erase our ethnicity. It’s about where we find our primary sense of belonging. I’m not a social label. I’m a human being. I’m a child of God. I’m also not a victim. Look at what Paul says next:
29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
I can’t possibly overstate this. Christians are not victims. Let me say that again. Christians are NOT victims. We are heirs with Christ Jesus – heirs of the kingdom. All the promises of God for His children – we get those promises. That’s who we are.
Of course, bad things happen to us. I’m not trying to diminish the pain or hurt you may have experienced in the past. Suffering is also part of the Christian life because the world hates Christ. Paul himself experienced shipwrecks and beatings and discrimination and all manners of persecution.
And yet, Paul was no victim! Why? Because Paul knew the promises of God! He believed the promises of God. He didn’t believe he had earned those promises. He did not feel entitled to them. But he trusted God to follow through.
Look at how he explains this:
4:1 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.
He’s saying that an inheritance can’t be accessed by a child until the child becomes an adult. Until then, a child is practically no different from a slave. And in Roman society, children had basically the same rights as a slave. Everything changed when they reached adulthood.
3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world.
He’s repeating what we studied last Sunday – under the law, God’s people were enslaved under the conviction of sin. Just as elementary school lays a foundation for greater learning, the Old Testament laid a foundation for God’s plan to be fulfilled.
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.
These two verses are incredibly rich. It’s another summary of the Gospel message. It tells us when Jesus came, who He was, what He accomplished, and why He did it.
At just the right time – at the perfect moment – God sent Jesus. And sprinkled all over these verses are reminders that this is not a man-made Gospel.
It’s just not the way humans do things. Only God would do it this way. The origin stories of other religions were written during or after the lifetime of one person. Muhammed. Buddha. Joseph Smith.
Not the Gospel. God had spent a few thousand years preparing the world for His Son BEFORE his arrival. Generations upon generations, leaving no doubt in my mind that God wrote this story.
And the virgin birth? Not even Joseph would have believed that if not for divine intervention. Nothing explains why the disciples of Jesus were willing to die for this story except maybe that it wasn’t a story… it was the truth.
They really believed Jesus carried the curse of the law – crucifying their sin, conquering death, and redeeming the children of God. Why? 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!”
In other words, if you are a child of God, then you will know it. God will seal that knowledge with the presence of His Spirit. Our hearts will cry out to our Father the way the heart of Jesus cries out to His Father. Papa! Daddy!
7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
The Bible describes our salvation in many different ways, but this is perhaps the most personal and the most precious.
It is especially true today when so many people have terrible or non-existent relationships with their earthly fathers. The failures of men in our culture to stay and love their children is a crushing blow to society and it will have devastating impact on our future.
But here in the Gospel we find hope. In fact, this was always part of God’s plan. 42 times in the Old Testament, God speaks directly to people known as “the fatherless”. And with so many in our community and even in our church who struggle with this identity, I want to clearly connect these dots for us.
When Jesus was baptized, the Father spoke to Him directly. He said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Those are the three things every son desperately wants to hear from their own father. You’re my son. I love you. I’m proud of you.
If we don’t get that, it leaves a deep wound. Jesus heard those words, but do you know what happened next? Let’s look at Matthew 4:
1 Immediately, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
How is that for a parting gift? You’re my son. I love you. I’m proud of you. Now, go battle the enemy. Also, don’t eat.
2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. Understatement of the year.
3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
Jesus responds with Scripture. Three times Satan tempts Jesus, and each time Jesus resists with Scripture. But look more closely at the words of Satan in verse 3.
The real strategy was not to tempt a hungry man with food. That’s too simple. The real strategy was to sow doubt in the mind of Jesus. “IF you are the Son of God”. In other words, is that really who you are?
Jesus had just heard the voice of His Father, but that’s what Satan attacks. Prove it. Prove to me you’re God’s Son.
And Satan is still doing that to us. You don’t belong to anyone. No one cares about you. No one loves you. No one is proud of you. No one claims you. Prove it. And with sad and angry hearts, so many people hear those lies and they crumble.
But here’s the good news. If the Gospel is true – if I can be united to Christ Jesus by faith, then everything God says of Jesus is also true of me – because of my union with Christ. That’s what adoption means! I have a Father in heaven who claims me. He loves me. He’s proud of me – not because of my own righteousness, but because of Christ. And I belong with His people. We claim you because He claims us.
You don’t have to be an orphan. You don’t have to be a victim. You don’t have to be alone. Everything true of Jesus is now true of God’s adopted sons and daughters.
With my wife’s permission, I want to close by reading part of the Facebook post she wrote to celebrate Adoption Day:
“Today is a day to celebrate how we became a family of 6 but also to allow room to feel ALL the feelings of today – of the many things gained but also many lost – that shattered hearts can feel the cracks and broken places and simultaneously feel the places Jesus is healing back together. Adoption is such a beautiful picture of the Gospel – of being adored and chosen and brought into a family, and it’s more beautiful in contrast to the depths of the brokenness. We pray that our children see and understand how their own story is a beautiful contrast of hardship and hope and that Jesus shines all the more brightly and receives all the glory and honor and praise.”
God writes every good story. Brothers and sisters, we are no longer slaves, but children, and if we are children, then we are heirs through God.