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The Figure of “Adoption” in the New Testament

By Kyle Pope

T

he figure of adoption is one of many figures used to describe our relationship with God. As with all figures there are limitations to its application. We see this from another common figure used to describe man’s relationship to God. Isaiah (Isaiah 64:8) and Paul (Romans 9:21) both use the figure of God as the potter and mankind as the clay. This beautiful figure illustrates how God as Creator has shaped us and formed our very existence. Yet, does that indicate that we are nothing more than inanimate clay? Obviously not. The Bible teaches that we are not a lifeless lump—we are souls made in the “similitude of God” (James 3:9).

What is illustrated by the figure of adoption?

All of us are the “offspring of God” (Acts 17:29)—we are all children of the “Father of spirits” (Hebrews 12:9). However, sin changes that. Sin takes one who is a child of God in their creation and makes them a child of Satan. Jesus told the Jews who rejected Him, “you are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (John 8:44). The grace of God brought to us through Jesus Christ allows those who have forsaken their spiritual Father (like the prodigal son)—a way to be adopted as sons of God, and thus “heirs of God and joints heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).

Who Chooses Whom?

Does the figure of adoption indicate that man’s relationship with God, like human adoption, involves a choice by the parent (i.e. God) alone? What does Scripture say? Certainly in human adoptions of babies the child has no choice in the matter. However, even in human adoption it isn’t always the case that the child has no choice. When older children are adopted the preferences of the children are often taken into consideration before the adoption is finalized.

Ephesians 1:5, uses this figure in declaring that God “predestined us to adoption as sons BY JESUS CHRIST to Himself” (Emphasis mine). We can notice in the context of this passage how often the emphasis is on what Jesus accomplished for us. God “chose us IN HIM” (Ephesian 1:4, emphasis mine); “He made us accepted IN THE BELOVED” (Ephesians 1:6, emphasis mine); “IN HIM we have redemption” (Ephesians 1:7, emphasis mine); which is something that God “purposed in Himself” (Ephesians 1:9, emphasis also mine). God chose that all in Christ will receive the adoption. This is God’s choice, but it is the election of a class of peope—not individuals.

Where Do We Fit In?

Does our choice have a bearing upon whether we are “in Christ” or not? Paul told the Galatians, “you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). We choose to accept the message of the gospel—the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). This message produces faith (Romans 10:17) which leads us to confess Him, repent of sins, and be baptized. Paul says, in doing this the one who has been baptized has “put on Christ.” Thanks be to God for this wonderful offer of adoption!

Pope, Kyle. "The Figure of 'Adoption' in the New Testament" Biblical Insights 10.3 (March 2010): 24  

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