Evening Sermon: What Is Adoption?, Baptist Catechism 37, Romans 8:12-17

Baptist Catechism 37

Question: What is adoption?

Answer: Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God.

Scripture Reading: Romans 8:12-17

“So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:12-17, ESV)

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Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church, but without the benefit of proofreading.

Introduction

So we are considering the benefits or blessings that belong to those who have been effectually called, that is to say, to those who have believed upon Christ. The first blessing that they receive is justification. Those who believe upon Christ are pardoned by God, who is the Judge of all the earth. And having been pardoned, or declared “not guilty”, these are accepted as righteous in God’s sight. That is quite the transition! These who believe upon Christ are in a moment moved from standing guilty before God to standing as righteous before him. And all of this is possible only because Jesus the Christ lived a righteous life on their behalf and paid for their sins when he died on that cross. He takes away the sins of those who believe upon him and he gives them his righteousness as if it were their own. To illustrate, he removes our garments that are stained with sin, and he clothes us in garments that are gleaming white and pure with righteousness.

It is right that justification is listed as the first blessing that those who believe upon Christ receive. The problem of sin and guilt is so very great that it would be impossible to receive any of these other blessing that we will soon discuss unless that problem is taken care of. If we stand guilty before God — if we are his enemies and under his wrath — then it is impossible for us to be blessed by him. The problem of sin and guilt must first be addressed, and so it is. The moment we believe upon Christ, we are justified by his grace. 

But that is not all, friends. I do love how our catechism brings this out. The forgiveness of sins is not the only blessing that comes to those who have faith in Christ. No, we must also talk about adoption, sanctification, and the many other blessings which either accompany or flow from theses.      

I have noted in the past that justification is a legal term. The image that we should have in our minds is that of a judge dressed in his black robe with a gavel in his hand making the declaration, “not guilty”, as he slams his gavel down. What a wonderful relief those words must be to the one on trail! And what a wonderful relief those words are to the sinner saved by grace! But as I have said, the courtroom is a cold environment. I don’t know if you have ever been in a courtroom before or witness a trail. The atmosphere is not one of warmth, love and affection. It is cold. It is legal. 

And I am so very glad that when God the Father sent Christ to save us from our sins he did not merely intend to pardon us and to send us away “not guilty”, but to redeem us, to reconcile us to himself, and even to adopt us as his beloved children. 

Adoption is a family term. It is not legal and cold, but familial and warm. When you think of adoption you are to think, not of the courtroom, but family room and the dinner table. You are to think of a father, a mother, and a child. You are to think of love, discipline, and education. You are to think of relationships bound together forever. You are to think of shared moments, life lived together with laughter and tears.

Brethren, in Christ you are not only justified by God. No, you have been justified so that you might also be adopted by him. And this is why we call him Father.

There are many who teach that God is the Father of all, and that all are his children. And there is a sense in which that is true. If we are using the term Father to say that God is the source of all, or Creator of all, then of course we agree with that. But when the scriptures speak of God as Father it is not often in that sense. Instead, God is called Father not because he is our Creator but because he has set his love upon us, cares for us, disciplines and instructs us,  protects us, and has an inheritance prepared for us. And if we use the name Father in this sense (as the scriptures do), then we must confess that not all have God as Father. In fact, when Christ spoke to those who persisted in unbelief he said, “You are of your father the devil…” (John 8:44, ESV). And Paul also teaches that we are by nature “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3, ESV). So no, all do not have God as Father, but only those who are united to Christ by faith, Christ being the only begotten Son of God. We are son and daughters of God, only if we are in the Son. 

We should remember that Christ taught his disciples, and not the unbelieving world, to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven…” 

And we should remember the teaching of John, who said, speaking of Jesus Christ, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:9–13, ESV).

Who are those who have the right to become children of God? They are those who believe upon Christ, the eternal Son of God come in the flesh to atone for sins and to reconcile us to the Father.

This teaching about adoption is so very important. Sometimes it gets lost. I’m not sure the reasons for it. But sometimes this doctrine seems to be pushed to the side as theologians debate about justification and its relationship to sanctification. We must be careful to not neglect the doctrine of adoption. 

Think of what happens if we do. If we neglect “adoption” and focus only on “justification” and “sanctification” then we begin to think that Christ died only to forgive our sins, to save us from the just wrath of God, and to make us better people as we live in this world. Indeed, Christ did die to accomplish these things. But we must not forget that he died to reconcile, or bring us back, to the Father so that he might be our Father, and we his children. 

Do you remember that parable that Jesus told about the prodigal son? That is a wonderful parable, and there is so much  to learn from it, but I’ll use it now to illustrate what I am saying. Do you remember the story of how the son disrespected his father by asking to have his inheritance early before his father died, and then took his inheritance only to waste it on filthy living? Do you remember how the son after growing destitute came to his senses and said to himself, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants’” (Luke 15:17–19, ESV). Notice that the prodigal son did not expect much from his father. He only wished to be forgiven so that he could serve in his father’s household at a distance. He certainly did not expect to be reconciled to his father and warmly embraced. But what happened? “He arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:24, ESV). 

This parable is not exactly a parable about adoption, but it does illustrate what I am saying here about salvation. When we come to faith in Christ we are not merely forgiven by the Father. No, we are warmly embraced and lavished with every spiritual blessing as beloved children of God. 

The doctrine of adoption compels us to draw near to God as Father in a way that the doctrines of justification and sanctification do not. To know that we have been adopted as beloved sons and daughters should move us to come to the Father, to speak to him in prayer, to trust him for provision and protection, and to rejoice in his discipline, which always proceeds from his love for us. The doctrine of adoption is warm and familial. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-17, ESV).

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 Catechism Explained

Let us now briefly consider the catechism piece by piece. 

What is adoption?

First, we learn that “adoption is an act of God’s free grace…” 

Adoption, like justification, is an act. It is an action that is accomplished all at once. You are not justified progressively, nor are you adopted progressively. You are justified and adopted fully and finally in the moment that you turn from your sins to trust in Christ. 

Adoption, like justification, is an act of God. If you are in Christ, God justified you. You did not justify yourself. And so it is with adoption. God adopted you. You did not adopt yourself. Justification and adoption are things that God does to us and for us. We contribute nothing at all. 

And “adoption is an act of God’s free grace.” “For by grace you have been saved [justified and adopted] through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV). You did nothing to earn your justification and adoption, and neither can you do anything to lose your justification and adoption — they are the gift of God. If you are justified, you cannot be un-justified. And if you are adopted, you cannot be un-adopted. You did not earn these blessings  in the beginning, nor must you earn the right to keep them, for they are acts of  God’s free grace. 

The word “whereby” indicates that we are about to be told what adoption involves. 

First, when we are adopted “we are received into the number.” This means that we are numbered as one of God’s children. We are made to be members of his household, citizens in his kingdom, and sheep of his pasture. As Christ said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27, ESV). Brethren, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1, ESV).

Secondly, when we are adopted we come to “have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God.” And what are these privileges? I suppose they are too numerous and too great to list! But three things come to mind. One, we have access to God as Father. We can come to him in prayer, crying out “Abba! Father!”, as Romans 8:15 says. And what a high privilege this is! Two, we have the assurance of God’s love. Truly, this is also a great privilege. It should bring peace and comfort to our souls even as we experience difficulty in this world or come under the Fathers discipline. Do not forget that “ for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28, ESV). And do not forget that “ Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6, ESV). When those who are alienated from God because of their sin experience difficulty in this life they assume that God is against them. But when a child of God experiences difficulty they may rest assured that God loves them, for they have been adopted as beloved children by his grace. Three, we have the privilege of a sure and unfading eternal inheritance. As Paul says, “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17, ESV).

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Conclusion 

As we conclude I wish to encourage you to think of your salvation in Christ, not merely in terms of the forgiveness of sins and of rescue from the wrath of God and flames of hell for all eternity — indeed, you have been saved from these thing in Christ Jesus, thanks be to God — but think also of your adoption. Remember that you have been forgiven so that God might reconcile you to himself. His aim was to draw you near, to bring you in, to make you sons and daughters so that you might be his, and he might be yours. Truly, God is glorified in us when we  draw near to him as Father, rely upon his sustaining grace, and enjoy his loving presence. Indeed, this we will do for all eternity if we are in Christ the Son.

Question: What is adoption?

Answer: Adoption is an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God.

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