Adopted by the Father

You’re a Christian, you’re a son of God, you claim all the privileges of being a son but you will not obey your Father? You live as a slave to your sins—your lust, your greed, your alcohol, your food—you cling to your bitterness, you cling to your pride—but you claim the rights of a son: inheritance from God, relationship with God? What about the duties of a son?

[You] are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God…

Led not in some mystical, “what side of the street should I walk down” kind of nonsense, but led by the Spirit of God into obedience to God;

“All who are being led by the Spirit of God, these”—and these alone—“are sons of God.”

The 2012 ClearNote Summer Conference was titled I Believe in God the Father Almighty. Here is the sermon titled Adopted by the Father, preached July 7, 2012 by Stephen Baker.

(This is sermon 3 in a series; see also sermon 1, sermon 2, and sermon 4.)


Outline

Introduction
God’s adoption of us is vital for us to understand and believe
Like father, like son
We need a new father
What is adoption?
Adoption has a legal aspect
Adoption has a relational aspect
Adoption has experiential aspects
Those God adopts need—and get—a new nature
The point of your adoption is obedience
You claim all the privileges of being a son but you will not obey your Father?
Conclusion: Honor your Father

Introduction

God’s adoption of us is vital for us to understand and believe

The word adoption shows up only five times in the New Testament, and of those five times, only three of them are talking about the Christian’s present relationship with God; and yet J.I. Packer wrote things like this in his book Knowing God—that book is back on the book table, and the chapter that I think is called “Sons of God” is one of the best things you’ll read on the doctrine of adoption.

But he says things like this. He says,

You sum up the whole of New Testament teaching in a single phrase if you speak of it as a revelation of the Fatherhood of the holy Creator.

That’s what the whole testament is about.

And in the same way you sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s Father.

Or he says things like this,

If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and whole outlook of life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.

Or things like this, he says,

Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption.

Adoption. Our adoption as sons by God the Father is a very big deal. And as I’ve thought about God’s adoption of sinners to be his sons I’ve begun to see how vital it is to understand and to believe it, because almost everything in the Christian life depends on understanding and believing this, and there is a lot to understand so that we can believe it.

Like father, like son

But before we get into the biblical teaching about our adoption as sons we need to understand the backdrop. The most basic question we can ask a man is this: “Who is your father?” because the proverb is true, “Like father, like son.” That’s a proverb that gets clearer to me the older I get and the older my sons get—I see my Dad in me all the time, for better and for worse. (He’s sitting right here.) And I see myself in my sons all the time, for better and for worse. And the proverb is true, “Like father, like son.”

But I’m talking about a greater reality than that. Your paternity determines your nature. In other words, the most basic question we can ask about a man is this: “Who is your father?” Literally, who you are in the depths of your being flows from your father. Now I’m not talking about genetics, I’m not talking about hair color and stature and cholesterol levels, or even things like habits and personality traits and propensities—I’m talking about nature; being; essence: who are you? The Bible answers that question over and over again by pointing to your father. Often Scripture points to your earthly biological father. We read this kind of language all the time: “Sons of Noah.” The sons of Noah did such and such. The sons of Ammon. The sons of Jacob.

But more importantly, God speaks of a different, more basic kind of paternity. So for example, the Holy Spirit uses a vivid description of bad men in the Old Testament over and over again, and our modern translations of Scripture completely obscure this vivid description of wicked men. Here’s one example. 1 Samuel 2:12-13 says,

Now the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the LORD and the custom of the priests with the people.

Or Judges 19:22,

While they were celebrating, behold, the men of the city, certain worthless fellows, surrounded the house, pounding the door; and they spoke to the owner of the house, the old man, saying, “Bring out the man who came into your house that we may have relations with him.”

We’re all supposed to think Sodom and Gomorrah when we read that, but it’s not Sodom and Gomorrah—it’s Israel. But look at those words. How does the Holy Spirit actually describe these men? Our translations say they are “worthless men” or “worthless fellows,” but what the Holy Spirit actually calls them is sons of Belial, literally “sons of worthlessness.” Why can’t we just translate it that way? Sons of worthlessness.

Who are these men? What are they? The sons of Eli are actually sons of worthlessness. They have Eli’s DNA, but Eli is not their most formative father. Their real father is worthlessness, and so they themselves are worthless. Like father, like son.

Here’s another example of this basic principle. It’s from Ephesians 2. The Apostle Paul says,

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.

Sons of disobedience!

Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

What’s the most basic thing that you can say about an unbeliever? What is he by nature? He’s a child of wrath. And so at the most basic, fundamental level, an unbeliever is the object of God’s wrath—the wrath of God is his father.

Another example: Ephesians 5:6,

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

There’s that term again. Disobedience is the unbeliever’s father, and so what does the unbeliever do? He disobeys. Like father, like son.

The fullest expression of this comes from our Lord Jesus Christ in John chapter 8. Pastor Tim Bayly read a part of this last night, but I want to read it again. It’s so formative and so central to understanding who you are. John 8:31,

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him…

Notice these are Jews who had believed him—so there are people sitting in this room right now who fall into that category, people who have believed Jesus; and yet look at what he says. He says,

“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.” They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father.” They said to Him, “We were not born of fornication…

(Like you were)

…we have one Father: God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God…”

We should hear “born of God,”

“He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” The Jews answered and said to Him, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. But I do not seek My glory; there is One who seeks and judges. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he will never see death.” The Jews said to Him, “Now we know that You have a demon. Abraham died, and the prophets also; and You say, ‘If anyone keeps My word, he will never taste of death.’ Surely You are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too; whom do You make Yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’; and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His word. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.

This passage speaks for itself: like father, like son. All those who do not have God as their father have the devil as their father. And remember, this is Jesus talking to people who claim to believe him—all of this was to people who claimed to believe him!

We need a new father

Some of you are sitting here this morning claiming to believe in Jesus Christ, and yet your father remains the devil—you’re a liar. How do we know? Your life tells us. You do the deeds of your father.

Now some of you might think that I just went too far. Some of you might think that everyone is a child of God. You believe in the liberal doctrine of the universal fatherhood of God, the universal brotherhood of man, and you might even think that you have Scripture on your side, because after all the Apostle Paul in Acts 17, when he’s speaking to the Athenians, says, “Being then the children of God”—he quotes one of their prophets, ‘We are all God’s children;’

“Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.”

See, there it is, we’re all children of God. Even the pagans in Athens were children of God.

Well, all men are in fact children of God in one sense: we’re children of God in the sense that we’re all God’s creatures. That’s what Paul’s point is in Acts 17: God created us, therefore God cannot be something that we create with gold and silver and stone.

But unless the Apostle Paul is a crazy man, unless he’s lost his mind, he can’t mean that every man, woman and child is a child of God in the salvation sense. He can’t mean that, because Paul says that all unbelievers are children of wrath and sons of disobedience.

Others might object like this: you think that these terms are reserved for really, really bad people, sons of worthlessness, sons of wrath, sons of destruction, sons of the devil, and you say, “That’s true of really, really bad people but it’s not true of me, it’s not true of most people.”

The problem with that is, it denies the plain teaching of Scripture. The Apostle Paul says “we were all by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” This is who you and I are, coming into this world, and in 1 John 3:8-10 the Apostle Paul says in his typical, wonderful black-and-white way, he says this:

the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

Ultimately there are only two paternity options: you are either of God or of the devil. You are either a child of God or a child of the devil. That is true of every one of us in this room right now.

These statements of Scripture universally apply to all men and all women and children; they describe every unbeliever; they describe everyone who is born into this world. You came into this world a child of worthlessness, a child of wrath, a child of disobedience, a child of the devil; and like father, like son. That is what you are. It’s what you and I are.

And so what do we need? We need a new father. The most basic thing we need is a new father.

And so what does God the Father do? He adopts us as his sons. God the Father rescues his elect by making them his children through adoption.

What is adoption?

So what is adoption? Let me read to you the definition that has been handed down to us by the Westminster Confession of Faith, this is chapter 12. Listen to this and read it carefully. It says,

All those that are justified, God vouchsafes…

That’s an old word that means he stoops down and he makes promises to us by oath—guarantees.

…God vouchsafes, in and for His only Son Jesus Christ, to make partakers of the grace of adoption, by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God, have His name put upon them, receive the spirit of adoption, have access to the throne of grace with boldness, are enabled to cry, Abba, Father, are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by Him as by a Father: yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption; and inherit the promises, as heirs of everlasting salvation.

Now think about what this says. This is a boiled-down, this is the essential oil of adoption.

Adoption has a legal aspect

Adoption has a legal aspect: it allows us to receive an inheritance from God the Father. Adoption makes us heirs of God.

Galatians 4:1-7,

Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. 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.

Colossians 1:12,

the Father…has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.

This is what it means to be an adopted son of God. It means to have a legal standing with God where we stand to receive the inheritance—everything that God has in God the Son comes to us through our adoption. We stand to inherit all that God has for us. Now that alone is amazing.

Now by the way, this whole issue of inheritance is why Scripture almost always speaks of our adoptions as sons. Both men and women receive the inheritance of sons.

Galatians 3:26,

you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Not ‘children’, not ‘sons and daughters,’ but sons. In the ancient world, sons got the inheritance.

This is a great blessing: we all now receive the inheritance. When God adopts he gives all of us the legal status of sons.

Adoption has a relational aspect

But we could think, hearing that, that adoption is a cold, detached, legal formality, something that just kind of happens on paper. But adoption is not that. It’s also all about relationship. When God adopts us, he becomes our Father truly and relationally, not just legally. As the confession says that I just read, we are “pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by [God] as by a Father.” Think of all the places where God connects being a Father with loving us.

Psalm 103:13,

Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.

Ephesians 1,

In love He predestined us to adoption as sons

1 John 3:1,

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are.

John 16:26-27, Jesus says,

“In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say…that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.”

Direct access to him.

John 17:23, in Jesus’ prayer to the Father before the crucifixion, he says to God the Father, “I in them” — he’s talking about his people—

and You [Father] in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.

Now think about what he just said. “Father, I want the world to know that you love your people just like you love me”—look at the words, that’s what it says, right?—“You have loved them, Father, you’ve loved them even as you have loved me.” God the Father loves his adopted children just like he loves his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. That’s what Jesus says. In other words, the Father has the same relationship with you that he has with Jesus. He has the same love for you, if you’re an adopted son of God, that he has for his natural Son. No difference! None. He loves his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. He loves his adopted sons in exactly the same way—that’s what Jesus says.

Adoption is all about relationship. I can tell by looking at you that you don’t feel that yet, do you?

Adoption has experiential aspects

As the Confession reminds us, adoption is also about discipline. We are

pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by [God] as by a Father

You remember the words of Hebrews chapter 12: if you’re a son, the one thing you know you get from your father is discipline. And discipline is love:

“MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD, NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM;
FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”

Brothers and sisters, these are wonderful blessings, and Packer was right: if you don’t get this then you don’t get Christianity. If you don’t believe this then you are not a Christian. If you don’t taste this then how can you be a son of God? because over and over again Scripture tells us that the realities of our adoption are tasted, experienced, known and felt by the sons of God.

Romans 8:15-16,

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!”

Galatians 4:6,

Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Is this true of you? This is what a Christian does: he calls out to God as Father. That means that when a Christian prays he prays to God the Father. Not just to “God,” not just to “Lord,” but to Father. But it has to mean more than that, because you can have a mouth that says the right sounds: “Father.” But this is a cry of the spirit, this is a cry of the heart.

God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God

Is this true of you? Is God your Father? Do you know it and taste it as real? If it’s not, then come to him. Come to him like the prodigal son came to his father. Come with humility and awareness of your sin and the Father will run out to greet you—he will clothe you with the robes of righteousness—he will accept you and rejoice with you and pity you and love you.

Those God adopts need—and get—a new nature

So adoption has legal aspects—inheritance; it has relational aspects—love, pity, and discipline; adoption has experiential aspects—“Abba, Father.” But there’s still more. There’s one aspect of God’s adoption that’s very different from our adoption of children into our families. It’s very easy to think that God’s adoption is like our adoptions. When you decide to adopt a child from Ethiopia or China or from here in the States it’s primarily a legal process. Some you have been through it. There’s the paperwork; there are the evaluations; there’s the paperwork; there are the home studies; there are court dates; there’s more paperwork; and finally there’s a legal declaration by a judge whereby he awards you, the adoptive parents, all the legal rights and responsibilities of parenthood. The name is changed, the legal status is changed, the relationship is changed—but what does not change? The nature of your new child did not change. His DNA did not change. The child’s ethnicity did not change. Tate is an Ethiopian. Josiah is an Ethiopian. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin?” The child’s eye color, hair color, skin color doesn’t change to match yours as soon as the judge’s gavel hits the sand. None of that changes. Legal status yes, rights and privileges as a son yes, relationship yes; nature, no. But that is not how God’s adoption works, thank God.

When God makes you a son through adoption, he does not stop at legal standing; he does not even stop at relationship; unlike human adoption, God’s adoption changes your nature—this is exactly what we need. Remember what we are by nature: sons of worthlessness, sons of wrath, sons of disobedience, sons of the devil. That’s what we are by nature, and so we need more than a change of legal status. We even need more than just a new relationship with God. We need a new nature. And this is exactly what God gives us in our adoption! God makes us his children. He gives us a new nature, a new heart. That’s what it means to be born again—it means to receive from God a new nature. It’s what we mean by the term ‘regeneration’—he makes us new.

2 Corinthians 5:17,

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

2 Peter 1. Listen to these words:

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord;
seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

The point of your adoption is obedience

What wonderful news: a new nature! A nature like God’s, like the Father: like Father, like son. No longer sons of worthlessness or sons of wrath or sons of disobedience or sons of the devil—now, sons of the living God, brothers of our Lord Jesus Christ, children of light. God’s adoption produces in his children a fundamental change, and that fundamental change of nature results in fundamental change of life. Over and over again that’s the point of your adoption. The point of your adoption by God the Father is that you would live like a son. The point of your adoption is obedience. Not just obedience to a master, not just obedience to a king, but obedience to a Father. The highest call to obedience is this (Ephesians 5:1-2)—

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us

God adopted you so that you would be an obedient, beloved son. This is why whenever the Apostle John mentions being born of God in 1 John he always ties it to obedience:

If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.
No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.

Over and over again, whenever John mentions adoption or being born of God it’s always talking about obedience. This is why when the Apostle Paul speaks of our adoption as sons, he obligates us to obedience.

Romans 8,

If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness.
But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 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.

You claim all the privileges of being a son but you will not obey your Father?

You’re a Christian, you’re a son of God, you claim all the privileges of being a son but you will not obey your Father? You live as a slave to your sins—your lust, your greed, your alcohol, your food—you cling to your bitterness, you cling to your pride—but you claim the rights of a son: inheritance from God, relationship with God? What about the duties of a son?

[You] are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God…

Led not in some mystical, “what side of the street should I walk down” kind of nonsense, but led by the Spirit of God into obedience to God;

“All who are being led by the Spirit of God, these”—and these alone—“are sons of God.”

You think your adoption, your sonship makes sin and obedience irrelevant? You could not be more deceived.

Let me read one last passage of Scripture to you, Ephesians 5:3-8. Listen carefully:

But immorality…

Think of all that that word means,

…or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God….

Doesn’t even have the legal rights of a son.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light

Conclusion: Honor your Father

Brothers and sisters, walk as children of light! Be done with your lust. Be done with your addictions. Be done with your foolish rebellion. Be done with your immorality. Fight your sin and kill it by the power of the Spirit of adoption. You were formerly darkness but now you are light in the Lord—walk as children of light. Live like a son of God. The blessings of adoption are yours if you’ve come to God the Father through faith in God the Son, you are a son of God through faith in Jesus Christ—now, honor your Father. Obey him, for this is right. You say it to your children all the time and you make sure they know it. It applies to you. Honor your Father. Obey him, for this is right.

Let’s pray. Father, we know that we displease you as your sons. And we know that you are filled with compassion so that you discipline us—let us rejoice in that. I pray Lord, for those here who are adopted sons of God and yet don’t taste it and don’t feel it. Lord pour out your Spirit of adoption into our hearts that we may cry out “Abba, Father.”

I pray for those here who are utterly deceived, thinking that they have the rights and privileges of sons and yet they’re rebels. Open their eyes. Give them a new birth. Change their nature. Let them come to you as a son comes to a father, we pray in Christ’s name, amen.

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