Everyone has seen those pictures — the ones with the well-off white couple visiting a malnourished child in an impoverished third world country. We think, “how honorable it is that they ‘save’ that poor child.” As misguided as that sentiment may be, it almost provides a helpful picture of our adoption by God.
The reality is, it doesn’t go far enough.
Not only are we entirely helpless to remove ourselves from such peril, but we also spit in God’s face when he says, “come to me, my beloved child.”
A relationship richer than anything
Originally, and naturally, we are “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3) — unrighteous, rebellious, and ignorant — enslaved to a broken and sinful flesh.
Therefore, there had to occur some fundamental change in relationship; namely, from the kind of relationship that enemies have to the kind of relationship that a father and son enjoy. This relationship is marked with infinite forbearance, forgiveness, intimacy, knowledge, tenderness, and joy. The Bible calls this adoption.
Through adoption, we are unequivocally folded into the missional family of God, with a perfect Father and Brother.
This kind of new relationship must confront the tendency for Christians to equate their morning “quiet time” to their relationship with God. What a cheap substitute an hour of reading the Bible, journaling, and prayer is when one is invited to behold and participate in the life of the Trinity – as a son of God and a brother of Jesus!
Adoption: the whole sum of the gospel
But perhaps the most overlooked aspect of our adoption into the family of God is that we are adopted and called God’s children, before we ever act like it. Adoption into God’s family is first (but not primarily) a status change before a behavioral change. In this way, adoption is very distinct from regeneration. Regeneration has to do with recreating our nature, thereby changing our behaviors; adoption is about status. An infinitely improved status is the heart of the gospel.
This is where “adoption…through Jesus” (Ephesians 1:5) comes in. On one’s behalf, this kind of relational change is utterly impossible to initiate with an infinitely holy and just God.
Why? Because we’re in the doghouse. Big time.
But we are offenders right up to our adoption. We are offenders after our adoption. So our improved status from enemies to beloved children is just that — an improved status. It pays no regard to right behavior. The reason that this is possible is because the new status ascribed to us was purchased through Jesus’ sinless life and death in our stead. In other words, we don’t need to behave perfectly because Jesus did.