One way that the Bible refers to Christians is that they are “adopted” into God’s family:
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.Galatians 4:4-7
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.Romans 8:14-17
Let’s think about a couple of things that adoption means….
It means that the child is wanted. A person can become the parent of a biological child without planning to do so. That is not true with adoption: That process is very planned, with tons of red tape, time and money invested. So when that child joins the family, it means that he or she is welcomed and greatly desired.
It means that the child now has a place. “Orphaned” is a very lonely, disconnected place to be. Nothing is stable; there is no consistency on which the child can depend. They may get bounced between foster homes or relatives, who may or may not be prepared to give the attention a child needs. Once adopted, though, the bouncing stops. There is a dependable home base.
It means that the child has a future. The adopted child is legally just as much an heir to the family’s legacy as a biological child. Whatever the parents have to pass on, this child has a right to an equal share.
It means that the child has a new name. The surname at their birth is replaced. Even if they are on good terms with their birth family “Smith”, to the world they are now a “Jones”.
In the Roman world in which the New Testament was written, all of the above was true but magnified 1. A Roman man with no sons would adopt one specifically in order to have an heir to carry on the family name. He often did not adopt a child, as we think of adoption. Instead, he would choose a man that he trusted to continue his line 2. The adoptee could even be a slave, but that slave was first freed and made into a Roman citizen, and then adopted.
This is the background to the Bible’s teaching that those who accept Jesus are adopted into God’s family. God is now their loving Father. They are welcome and wanted in the family. They have a new, permanent, dependable name and home. They are even co-heirs along with Jesus Himself!
Note that none of this speaks to the qualifications of the “child”, the Christian. All of the initiative is on God’s side; all of the work is done by Jesus. The Christian simply gains all the benefit, just by acknowledging that they are an orphan who needs a home, and allowing themselves to be adopted (John 1:12-13).
What is the benefit of being a child of God, the Heavenly Father? For examples, consider the benefits of having a loving earthly father 3. Although both parents provide the environment in which a child grows, fathers especially are a source of security for their children. When the world seems too big to the child, too scary, the father is there to shelter them (Psalm 91). He makes a safe place for his child to live and grow free of fear.
God provides all of these things for His adopted children. His children are not special in themselves. But they are greatly blessed, because their Father is so very special!
To be honest, I have a tendency to take these blessings for granted. Writing them down for this article made me appreciate them anew. It reminded me to join the Apostle John in saying:
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.1 John 3:1
Footnotes and Scripture References
- One of the more prominent occurrences of this was Caesar Augustus, a relative of Julius Caesar. In his will, Julius adopted Augustus in order to have an heir to continue as Emperor after him!
- Here, I am referring to good fathers, not perfect but doing their best to carry our their God-given responsibility to their children.