My Hope: Adoption
3/1/2017 1:36:39 AM
“My Hope: Adoption”
February 26, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Genesis 3:8-24
Have you ever thought about adoption? Perhaps some of you here are adopted yourselves, or have siblings who are adopted. To my knowledge, though, none of us who call Priory home have actually adopted any children ourselves. [pic]
Last week, I told you about my friend Mike Nicholson and his conversation with a person in his church about Calvinism. Mike and his wife Rachael adopted a little girl. They know her grandparents through church. The girl’s biological mom is a troubled young woman. Her first daughter lives with the grandparents because mom has some issues with drugs. So when she became pregnant with a second child, Children’s Aid Society immediately told her she could not keep the baby. She approached Mike and Rachael, who had done some babysitting for the grandparents, if they would be interested in adopting this second child. Mike and Rachael thought and prayed about it and agreed. They had just a matter of months to make the decision; the mom was already pregnant!
That adoption surprised Mike and Rachael. They had not pursued adoption. They had not been looking for a child to adopt. Literally, somebody rang their doorbell one day and asked if they would like to adopt a baby!
Now, imagine this. My parents live near Wheaton College, a Christian school outside Chicago. Over the past few years my parents have gotten very involved with international students studying for the ministry at Wheaton. They have gotten to know a number of African and Chinese students.
One of the African students who recently graduated is from Uganda. His name is Robert and he is a Bishop for the Baptists in Uganda. (You can go puzzle out Baptist Bishop on your own….) Robert and his wife had no children of their own. They had tried but seemed unable to conceive. A number of years ago, a Muslim woman with 5 children became a Christian and started coming to Robert’s church. I don’t know if her husband had become a Christian or not, but died while his children were young. Then the mom died. It was very sad.
Rob did the funeral for the woman. And as is customary at the funeral, which was a public event with many people present, Robert also read the woman’s will. It is done this way in public so there is no question of what the will said within the community.
As Robert was reading the will, he came to the place where the woman described her wishes for her children’s care. Imagine Robert’s surprise as he was reading this woman’s will when it said that it was her will that he, Pastor Robert, and his wife have her 5 children!!! I can imagine he stopped, reread what was on the page, and, being in front of everybody, had to keep going! Amy and I met Robert on one of our visits with my parents. I remember he said he was completely shocked! He had no idea this was the woman’s plan! He looked at the 5 children, sitting in the front row of the church, and then at his wife. She nodded. They took the children home!
You see, the mother had converted to Christianity from Islam. But she was the only member of her family to do so. Had she not willed these children to Pastor Robert, the Muslim uncles would have swooped in to take the kids. Not only would they raise them as Muslim, but they would be eager to sell off the daughters in order to get a “bride price” from prospective grooms! The mother, knowing this is what would happen, put it in her will that Pastor Robert be given her children to raise and care for!
Since then, Robert and his wife have taken in a total of 20 children! That’s amazing! It is also extremely rare in Ugandan culture. Robert told my dad that in his native language there is no word for adoption. The concept does not exist. So it is all the more remarkable that Robert and his wife have adopted 20 children! Robert told me about one child they adopted. Robert was at a nice restaurant with some people and a beggar boy, dirty and in ragged clothes, came into the restaurant and started begging from the people there. Robert told him that it was inappropriate for him to do this, especially in such a nice restaurant. The boy fled crying. Robert realized he had caused a scene and followed the boy outside. He sat down next to the boy and asked him why he was begging? Why did he go into the restaurant? It turned out that boy and his older brother were orphans.
His older brother had gone to jail for some reason and the boy was all alone. Robert got up and went to call his wife. He brought the boy home with him and raised him as his own.
A few years ago, after adopting 20 children, Robert’s wife discovered she was pregnant! Not only that, but with triplets! Last winter, Robert went home to Uganda after his school term ended in time for his wife to deliver their 3 babies.
Mike and Rachael, Robert and his wife, all have transformed the lives of children through adoption. Imagine the change in each child’s future, each child’s life brought about by being adopted. Not only adopted into a good family, but into a family that will teach them about Jesus Christ! A family that will show them the love of God. Specifically, think of the first children adopted by Robert, willed to him. Those children would have been taken by Muslim family members, the girls essentially sold to husbands for profit.
Adoption is what we are going to talk about today. The New Testament speaks of Christians as being “adopted” by God, as being God’s sons. Now, before we get upset about “sons” and not “daughters” we need to remember that in the ancient world typically only sons were eligible to inherit! So it’s relevant that the NT refers to us as the “sons” of God because of the consequences for inheritance. So when our text says we are to be adopted as sons, please either read “sons and daughters” in your mind, or understand that in the original context being adopted as a son had special privilege that went with it.
Please turn with me to Ephesians 1:3-8.
What It Says
So what does this passage say? This is the opening of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Christians. Usually Paul opens his letters with a thanksgiving section. Here, he postpones the thanksgiving because he first has a passage about praising God. That is how he opens his letter of encouragement to Christians living in a city, Ephesus, where they were surrounded by pagan temples, the city where Paul had to flee for his safety after a riot started about the threat the gospel posed to the idol industry. Paul begins, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…” who has done all of these things for us. Praise is a key theme in this chapter, appearing in verses 3, 6, 12 and 14! [Peter T. O’Brien, Ephesians, p. 103]
The first thing Paul says we should praise God for doing is blessing us. But Paul isn’t talking about earthly blessings. Paul says that God has blessed us “in the heavenly realms” with every “spiritual” blessing in Christ. This is important for us to see. Today, many pastors make a lot of money and lead churches with a lot of money because they have perverted the gospel of Christ. They have perverted the gospel by teaching people that God will bless them financially, will bless them with material possessions. While it is true that God does bless some people, including some Christians, this is NOT a promise in the Bible. There are examples in the Bible of people being blessed financially, but these are descriptive passages, describing individual events, not prescriptive passages that apply to all of God’s people!
But what does it mean to be blessed in the heavenly realms? This is another important feature in Ephesians. Paul speaks of the heavenly realms 5 times in Ephesians! [Frances Foulkes, Ephesians, p. 54] As you may recall from previous sermons, we as Christians are living in 2 competing realities at the same time. [diagram] We are citizens of God’s Kingdom, the Age to Come, which is breaking into this world. But we also live in and experience the Kingdom is this world, the Present Age, the Age of Sin. And these two competing realities often baffle and confuse us. However, the fact is, we are living in two competing realities. When Paul speaks of us having been already given every blessing in the heavenly realm, he is speaking in terms of the Kingdom of God, the Age to Come, which is both a present reality and a future reality for us.
Sometimes our experience of this world, the Age of Sin, is in contradiction to the spiritual reality of God’s kingdom. Sometimes we don’t see clearly, or fully, or don’t seem to experience tangibly the spiritual reality of our being saved, of being God’s children, of being citizens of the Age to Come. But that doesn’t change the reality that we are in fact these things. This is Paul’s reminder to the Ephesians, and to us, that we are to remember what God has done for us and understand that the blessing has already taken place, even if our experience of that blessing is not yet complete.
What else does Paul say about these blessings we have in Christ? What are the blessings God gives us in Christ? Paul says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”
There is some question in the Greek as to whether the next word, “in love,” apply to how we are to live, holy and blameless in love, or if they apply to the following words, that God, in love, predestined us to be adopted as his sons.” You see, in the Greek, this is all one long, run on sentence! But in the end, I’m not sure if it makes a huge difference if “in love” applies to our holy living or God’s loving choice to adopt us. Both are true!
All this predestined adoption, and the blessings in the Heavenly realms, is according to God’s good pleasure and will. It is in Christ that God has blessed us, it is through Christ that he has adopted us. It is in Christ that God has given us his glorious grace, it is in Christ we have redemption through his blood, and the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with that same grace that God has lavished upon us!
Two points about this. First, about “God’s glorious grace.” The word for “glorious” has to do with God’s self-revelation. God’s glory is related to God revealing himself to us, displaying his glory to us. So God’s glorious grace has to do with God displaying or revealing his gracious nature to us. God’s glorious grace is God’s self-disclosure as a gracious God. [Foulkes, p. 57]
Paul then speaks of this glorious grace as something God has “freely given us in the One he loves.” It’s interesting in the Greek that “freely given” is actually from the same root as grace! So God’s self-disclosure as a gracious God is shown in his gracious giving of his Son, the One he loves. [O’Brien, p. 104] So God’s glorious grace is best demonstrated by his gracious giving of his Son, which is God’s way of revealing to us the very essence of his character, of his nature, to give to us generously and without our merit something as precious to him as his Beloved Son!
In the Son, we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. You may recall two weeks ago that we spoke of redemption having to do with setting people free from bondage. We said that this word is equally well translated “emancipation.” [pic] Redemption has to do with God setting us free from sin and the bondage that goes with it. This is in accordance with the riches of God’s grace, which he is disclosing or revealing to us in Christ in order to show us what God is really like!
Notice, before we move on, the central role that Jesus takes in all of this activity on God’s part for which we are to praise him. We have been blessed in Christ. God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world. We are predestined to be adopted through Jesus Christ, his glorious grace is given to us in the One he loves (Christ), in Christ we have redemption and forgiveness of sin! “It is only through the work of God’s Son, the Beloved, that believers can be adopted as sons.” [O’Brien, p. 103] That we are chosen in Christ the Beloved is why we are dearly loved by God. [O’Brien, p. 105] It is the work of the Beloved that we are adopted and become the dearly loved children of God. We join in the loving relationship between the Father and Son, gaining entry into that loving relationship through the work of the Son.
Sometimes, when Amy and I are hugging, Megan sees us and wants to join in. Amy and I open our arms and say, “Family hug!” and Megan runs in and joins us and we enfold her in the hug with our arms. It’s kind of like that with God. The Father and Son are in a loving relationship. They turn to us and hold out their arms. Through the arms of the Son we are welcomed into a diving “family hug” joining in the love of the Father and Son, being enfolded into that relationship through the work of the Son on the cross because of the glorious grace of God. This is the spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm that God has given us and for which Paul calls us to praise!
What It Means
So what does all of this mean? How do we explain what Paul is saying? I want to begin with the difficult concept of predestination. We spoke about this last week as well, looking at Romans 8. Predestination is mentioned 6 different times in the NT. Always, predestination is to emphasize God’s “sole initiative and authority over our salvation.” [O’Brien, p. 102; cf Foulkes, p. 55] Regardless of how we understand the nuances of predestination, however we wrestle with the combination of God’s sovereignty and our free will, the point of predestination in the NT is that we do not obtain salvation through our own work or merit. God initiated our salvation before creation even began!
Here, predestination is applied to our adoption as sons (and daughters) of God. Adoption indicates being elevated to a privileged position. “It is an incredible privilege, because those now able to call upon him as Father were at one time ‘sons of disobedience’ and ‘children of wrath’ (Eph 2:2, 3).” [O’Brien, p. 103] We are changed from people destined for eternal separation from God, eternal punishment and darkness, to people who anticipate
eternal union with God, fellowship with him, living in eternal praise of God in the presence of his light.
Take a closer look at God’s predestination in this passage. Notice, God chose us for a purpose: to be holy and blameless in his sight. This is about righteousness! Remember, righteousness is when God declares we are in a right relationship with him. For him to do that, we must be blameless and holy in his sight. For that to happen, we must be redeemed and find forgiveness of sin. This is accomplished through the blood of Christ! This passage is another outline of God’s plan of salvation! See how many of the elements of God’s salvation plan are here! And take special note that it was all planned before creation began. Jesus was not God’s “Plan B!” It was “Plan A” all along!
But election, redemption and adoption are not just for our salvation. They are intended to produce a holiness of life. [Foulkes, p. 55] We are not just saved when we die, we are to be transformed as we live! We are to be set apart as holy for God, living accordingly, living out a joyful response to God for what he has done. We live a joyful life in the new family of God, having been adopted and elevated to a new status. We try to learn what God is like so we can live up to him. We want to live out our new family values, living up to our heavenly, gracious Dad’s example, as we see in our big brother Jesus.
Now, some of us have had crappy Dads. Some of us have had crappy brothers. I don’t want our experiences of fallen family members to cloud our understanding here. Remember Robert, the pastor who adopted 20 kids? Some of those kids were orphans, but not all of them! Some of them had escaped abusive homes. Some were abandoned by their parents. One girl, the first one of Robert’s kids to get married, was abandoned by her biological father. But that is why she loved her new family to much! She didn’t hate Robert because her experience to date was of a bad father. Rather, because of Robert’s kindness and love, she loved him even more because he was so different than her biological father. Don’t you think she appreciated being adopted and finding a good dad? How much more should we love our new, perfect, gracious, self-giving Heavenly Father? How much more should we appreciate our amazing, loving, self-giving Heavenly Big Brother Jesus?
Salvation, adoption, redemption: this was not something God did begrudgingly. He didn’t do it reluctantly. He was not compelled to do it! Rather, it was all in accordance with his pleasure and will and to lead to his self-revealing grace in Christ being praised. That is where the paragraph began- the praise of God! Why do we praise God? For 2 things: for what he has done, but even more so for his loving gracious nature, which is demonstrated in what he has done. We praise God for saving us, yes, but even more for being the loving gracious God whose will and pleasure was to save us. As mentioned earlier, praise is a key element in this whole chapter. Why do we praise God? Our pleasure in God is a response to our delight in God doing good for us! And our pleasure in God prompts us to praise him and his glorious, self-revealing grace demonstrated in Christ Jesus.
Why It Matters
So why does all of this matter? How does it shape our Christian experience? How does it shape our daily life?
First, God’s love for us comes first. That means, God loves us long before we love him! He loved us, chose us and predestined us before creation even began! That is astounding!
Why is this so important? I know many people who struggle to believe that God truly loves them. I know many people who strive to serve God, to obey God because they are worried, on some level, that God’s love for them is dependent upon them being a good boy or a good girl. They wonder if they are loveable. They wonder if God’s love for them is shakeable. Well, this passage clears that right up! God chose you for adoption before he even made you. Not only that, not just before he made you, but before he made anything! Before creation God had already chosen you to be his boy or girl. He planned on creating you, and then redeeming you and adopting you from before he spoke the world into existence! If he loved you back then, knowing you would screw up and sin, don’t you think he loves you now too? If he knew about your sin before he created the universe, and made you anyway, don’t you think he loves you still? Do you really think you can surprise him and do something that make him stop loving you?
Sometimes we get confused. Sometimes we serve God for the wrong reasons. We serve God in order to please God as if that would make him love us more, or so that he would keep loving us, or so that he wouldn’t let go of us. But that’s not what scripture teaches! What scripture teaches is that we are to love God, serve God and
obey God because we are his adopted, rescued children! And what do adopted, rescued children do? They love their new family and want to live out the new life they have found!
Yes, certainly even adopted children misbehave. I understand that. But the point is that adoptive parents adopt children before the kids have done anything to earn that love. God adopted you before you earned that love. God’s love is so much bigger, better and more complete than an earthly parent’s love too! As much as Robert loves his 23 children, as much as Mike and Rachael love their daughter, there will be times when their kids try their patience, misbehave, act out and even rebel. But that doesn’t change the fact that they are adopted by loving parents. It doesn’t change their identity or that they are part of a new family.
Sometimes we have to force our kids to obey us. Sometimes they obey us because they “have to.” But aren’t the best times when our kids obey us because they want to? Because they love us and know that we want the best for them? It’s the same in our new family of God. Sometimes we have to obey God because we have to. Sometimes we go through the motions of service because we know we should. But the best times are when we do it because we love God, because want to do it because we know God wants the best for us!
But what about those times when we blow it? What about those times when we fail to live up to our new family name, “Christian”? This is where predestination can be so encouraging. Predestination is not designed to cause us to doubt our faith, “Am I elect?” Or to blow our minds with the paradox of divine sovereignty and free will. It’s certainly not something over which God wants his children to divide and squabble!
Rather, predestination is designed to be an encouragement for believers when they fail so that they know their failures do not threaten God’s love for them. [Brian Chapell, Ephesians, p. 30] When we sin, especially when we fall into our old favourite habitual sin, or when we seem to not be able to overcome a particular besetting sin in the first place, it can be quite discouraging. Satan uses those moments to shame us, trying to drive us further away from God. But the doctrine of predestination undercuts Satan’s power to shame us when we apply it correctly. We must use predestination not to question the value of evangelism, not to try to categorize others as “elect” or “unelect.” Instead, we need to use it as a shield from Satan’s lies. We need to use it as an encouragement to come back to God in repentance. It should spur us on to obedience and holy living, knowing God has loved us for so long!
As God’s adopted children, we know that God is pleased to have us in his company. We, too, should enjoy the presence of God. We have been given a new name, and a new identity that goes with it. We are part of a new family. This should spur us on, encourage and equip us to live like our new family. It should lead to holiness and love for God and one another. We may not be big fans of our brothers and sisters in Christ. They may not be the people we would choose! But they are the people that God has already chosen! And so we learn to live with them, work alongside them, worship with them, pray with them and serve them out of love.
The grace that sent Jesus is powerful. Throughout Ephesians, grace is described in a variety of ways. We are saved through grace, we are forgiven in accordance with the riches of God’s grace, we are saved for the praise of God’s grace. Paul also says that is was grace that Paul became a servant of the gospel. (Eph 3:7-8) The grace of God is powerful! It can take an angry Pharisee, secure in his own self-righteousness, and humble him and transform him into the apostle to the gentiles! The same grace that was at work in Paul is at work in you. Maybe you struggle with getting along with certain other believers. Maybe you struggle with particular sins. Maybe you struggle with doubt about faith, or God’s love, or your own value. Look to grace! Don’t just make grace an “out there” concept. Understand that God’s grace is powerful for salvation and for transformation. It was an act of God’s grace that you were chosen to be holy and blameless in God’s sight. The same grace can work in you, if you allow it, to help you live a holy and blameless life now.
Know that you are loved by God, that you have been chosen for adoption so that you will praise God’s glorious grace. So praise him! Praise him for his love. Praise him for his grace. Praise him for his self-giving in Jesus. Praise him for redemption. Praise him for forgiveness of sin. Praise him for righteousness and for reconciling you to himself. Praise him for not only redeeming you, but for adopting you too. “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1) Amen.
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