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Covenant Theology: Adoption
Westminster Presbyterian Church ^ | Dr. James E. Bordwine

Posted on 02/12/2004 9:08:08 AM PST by sheltonmac

Covenant Theology: Adoption

(Sermon Number Fourteen)


James E. Bordwine, Th.D.


We are examining the doctrine of salvation as understood within Covenant Theology. For our study of the doctrine of salvation, we are using the ordo salutis (order of salvation), which is a logical formulation of how the various elements in our salvation are related to one another and to the overall event of our redemption. As I stated previously, the order of salvation consists of five parts: effectual calling, justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification.

Thus far, we have analyzed what the Bible says about effectual calling and justification. In this sermon, I will deal with the doctrine of adoption. Let us recall that the sinner's conversion, as he experiences it, commences with God's call through the gospel. God's Spirit brings the sinner's dead heart to life in regeneration and enables him and moves him to embrace Jesus Christ as He is freely offered in the gospel. At God's biding, then, the sinner exercises faith in Christ's finished work and is justified. God's sentence of condemnation is lifted and, in its place, is God's declaration of the sinner's righteousness, which is based solely upon the completed work of the Savior.

Now we must ask, what happens next? If we consider the elements that make up the sinner's conversion, what follows effectual calling and justification, logically speaking? According to the Reformed understanding of the matter, the next element in our redemption is adoption. Therefore, I want to give you a definition of this doctrine by referring to the Westminster Larger Catechism, question 74, where we read:

Adoption is an act of the free grace of God, in and for His only Son Jesus Christ, whereby all those that are justified are received into the number of His children, have His name put upon them, the Spirit of His Son given to them, are under His fatherly care and dispensations, admitted to all the liberties and privileges of the sons of God, made heirs of all the promises, and fellow heirs with Christ in glory.

This definition tells us that adoption is concerned with an act of God whereby the justified sinner is received into the family of God and enjoys all the blessings of sonship. Adoption, like justification, is concerned with a change in the sinner's status. The sinner who is declared righteous in the sight of God, is received by God as a son. Thereafter, the adopted sinner enjoys all the benefits of having God as his heavenly Father, which include possession of the Spirit of adoption by which he is sealed unto the day of redemption.

My outline for this sermon consists of three points: 1. The Act of Adoption; 2. The Nature of Adoption; and 3. The Spirit of Adoption.

1. The Act of Adoption

Under this point, I will refer to verses from the first chapter of John's gospel. This first chapter contains John's testimony regarding the incarnation of the Son of God. Having established the deity of the Son, having indicated the Son's role in creation and having declared that life, itself, is in the Son, John summarizes the event of the incarnation in these words:

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

The apostle teaches that, in the incarnation, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into this world, which was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to His own creation and His own people (this is the meaning of v. 11) did not receive Him. These two statements contain a tremendous amount of information. The One through whom this world came into existence did not recognize its Creator; something, therefore, must be wrong with this world. The One who has the life that enlivens every man came to His own people, but was not accepted by them. Again, something must be wrong with those creatures.

Obviously, John means that sin had so disrupted this world and had so corrupted the creatures that live in this world that God was not recognized or embraced when He came in the flesh, even when He came to those who had been told to watch for Him, even when He came to those who had been waiting for Immanuel. But John continues and says that the incarnate Son of God was received by some. This was not of their doing, he says plainly, it was God's doing. These who received the incarnate Son of God and believed in Him and trusted in Him for salvation did so not by their own devices or inclinations, but because God operated in their hearts to bring them to faith. John states it this way: “[Those who believed in Christ's name] were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” This is the common teaching of the Word of God; salvation is a matter of God's calling, regenerating and justifying the sinner, it is not a matter of the sinner coming to God on his own or providing a righteousness acceptable to God.

For our present purposes, we want to concentrate on v. 12: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.” Those who received the incarnate Son of God were granted a special privilege; they were afforded a new status and that status is described as “children of God.” This is the doctrine of adoption: those who were not the children of God, become the children of God; those who were strangers to God's household, become beloved members of God's household. This is such a wonderful doctrine; God takes those who were estranged, those who were hateful, unlovely, unkind, practicers of every kind of wickedness and makes them His children! What could be more encouraging than this doctrine? What can you imagine that better exemplifies the incredible power and love of God made known to us in the Savior?

We will see more explicit statements of the doctrine of adoption in later passages, but the importance of this verse from John's gospel is in what it tells us about the act of adoption itself. Notice that the sinner does not declare himself one of God's children; the sinner does not “automatically” become one of God's children upon a profession of faith or upon reception of Christ. To be declared a child of God is a separate act; it is a distinct and significant act of God whereby He counts the faithful sinner as one of His own children. Look at the sequence in v. 12: the right to be numbered among the children of God follows the reception of Christ as He is offered in the gospel. God responds to our faith, as it were, by bestowing upon us the right of sonship.

John says that the right to become a child of God was given to those who received His Son. There are two words in this verse that need to be emphasized. First, we have the word “gave” (didomi) which means just what we suppose: “to give, grant, bestow.” I realize that it may seem unnecessary to emphasize this simple word, but I don't want there to be any misunderstanding of the fact that adoption as a child of God is something that God grants us; it is something He gives us, something He bestows upon us. Adoption as a child of God, like every element of our redemption, is not something we earn, it is not something that God is forced to do. The status of sonship is a loving and merciful gift from our heavenly Father.

Second, there is the word translated “right” (exousia) This word means “power, authority, right, liberty.” The fact that this right is given to us by God indicates two things: 1) we don't have the right to be numbered among God's sons until God gives it to us; 2) we could not, by our own devices, achieve this right or authority to be numbered among the children of God. Therefore, in our salvation, God bestows upon us the right or authority to become one of His children. Sonship is, once again, a gift from God; it follows the exercise of faith by which we are justified before God and it puts us in the category of family in our relationship to God.

Please notice that a distinction is made in this verse. The distinction is between those who receive Christ, and are granted sonship, and those who do not receive Christ and are not, by way of implication, granted sonship. One pressing practical reason for treating the doctrine of adoption as a separate act of God is to counter the wide-spread, but unbiblical notion of the universal Fatherhood of God. The Bible teaches that there is a sense in which God is the Father of all men due to the fact that He made us and, therefore, we depend upon Him for everything. But the Bible does not teach the universal Fatherhood of God in the matter of salvation.

On the contrary, as John teaches us in v. 12, having God as Father in a redemptive sense is reserved exclusively for those who come to Him in and through Jesus Christ. The doctrine of adoption, therefore, bears frightening implications for those who reject Christ and those who comfort themselves with the false teaching of God's universal Fatherhood. There are those who believe that God will, in the end, accept all of us, regardless of our spiritual state. But I say that the implications of this doctrine of adoption are frightening for such people because if you do not have God as Father, then you have Him as Adversary; if God is not favorably disposed toward you as one of His children, then He is disfavorably disposed toward you as one of His enemies. The doctrine of adoption spells doom for all those who are not numbered among the children of God; and being numbered among the children of God is a right that is granted by God to those who come to Him by faith.

This leads me to include a brief exhortation at this point: Let us be done with the unbiblical idea that all men are children of God and that God savingly loves all men. Let us restate and believe the doctrine of adoption, which teaches a division among men, a division of eternal proportions. The Church today is afraid to speak with such certainty and boldness; the Church today is afraid of offending someone or appearing to be authoritarian. But look at the Scripture! God declares through John that there is a correlation between faith in Christ and adoption as a child of God. One cannot be adopted as God's son unless one has first exercised faith in the Savior. This is the gospel.

Therefore, let those who find themselves outside the family of God and, therefore, subject to His consuming fury, fall on their faces in repentance and seek redemption in God's only begotten Son, the Mediator between God and men, our Savior, Jesus Christ. And let those of us who know the Scripture's teaching stop placating the fears of unbelievers and stop watering down the clear teaching of God's holy Word and stop being so shy and timid that we fail to say what God already has said. Let us speak the truth, for it is only the truth that God uses and honors and it is only the truth that will bring redemption to that loved one, that friend, our community, our nation and the world. When we get over our fear of speaking God's truth and when we stop letting the faint of heart dictate the tone of our voice, then God will pour out His Spirit and we will see conversion on a world-wide scale.

2. The Nature of Adoption

Under the first point, I explained what adoption is and how it comes about. Under the second point, I want to continue the explanation of what adoption means by looking more closely at the nature of adoption. I will begin with Gal. 4:4-7:

4 But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

The preceding context of this passage is Paul's explanation of the purpose of God's Law (cf. 3:19 ff.). It was given, he says, to expose sin and, therefore, emphasize the sinner's need of a Savior, a Savior who would deliver the sinner from the constant accusation of the Law. The Law was a “tutor to lead us to Christ,” Paul adds; the Law's rigorous demands taught us that we cannot supply the righteousness that God requires. Therefore, the Law pointed us to Another; it pointed us to the Savior who would take our place, keep the Law perfectly for us and give us His righteousness. By faith, the apostle states, we trust in the Savior and believe all that God has promised in Him.

Further, Paul writes, that before the coming of Christ, those of Abraham's house were not in possession of the inheritance that God promised to them (cf. 4:1 ff.). They were like under-aged children, awaiting the day when they would come into full possession of their inheritance. That day arrived when Jesus Christ came to this earth, Paul says. At a time appointed by the Father, the Son was sent forth. He became one of us and lived under that Law that was hostile to us. Once the atoning work of Christ was completed, the way was opened for all of Abraham's offspring to come into possession of their inheritance. As Paul puts it, we received “the adoption as sons” upon the finished work of our Savior; that is, we came into full sonship, counted among the members of God's house, counted as precious in His sight.

Paul uses two purpose clauses in the Greek to underscore the goal of Christ's work of atonement: “in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law” and “in order that we might receive the adoption as sons.” He means that Christ came into this world as the God-Man and lived under the Law to free those who were being accused by the Law and to make it possible for them to be adopted into the family of God. The word “adoption” (huiothesia) is a combination of two words: the first, which means “son” or “child” and the second, which means “to appoint, put or make.” Adoption is the giving to one the name and place of a son who is not a son by birth. This is a legal term used by Paul to describe that act whereby God brings us into the number of His redeemed family and makes us partakers of all the blessings He provides.

Make sure that you understand the significance of this phrase, “adoption as sons.” Paul is telling us that adoption is the means whereby both Jews and Gentiles can be considered sons of God. In chapter three, the apostle rules out the possibility that the promise of salvation comes only to those who are descendants of Abraham according to the flesh. He teaches that it is those who exercise faith like Abraham who inherit the promise. This means that there is no existing “connection,” we might say, between God and those who become part of His family. Any sinner who becomes one of God's children, therefore, has to be adopted by God because sinners are not children of God by nature; in fact, Paul says in another place, that sinners are children of wrath (cf. Eph. 2:3).

Once this adoption takes place, however, a wonderful change in our status occurs. We are considered beloved sons by our heavenly Father; He sends forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts and this tender relationship is expressed in the cry that arises from our redeemed souls, “Abba! Father!” We are children no longer; we have reached maturity, as it were, and have come to possess the full privileges of sonship. “Abba! Father!” is a joyful cry of fondness, trust and intimacy; it expresses the nature of our new relationship with God; He is our Father and we are His children. What a glorious truth! What a comforting thought! Those who think that Covenant or Reformed theology is cold and calculating are so mistaken. Our theology is warm and encouraging; it shows us just what we were, just what Christ has done and just where we stand now. We are sons in the house of God and we will abide in His house forever.

Another passage that describes the nature of adoption is found in 1 John. In the first two verses of the third chapter, John speaks of the nature of that relationship that believers have with God the Father:

1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is.

Just prior to these verses, John writes on a number of matters to counter some false teachers who were trying to deceive his readers (cf. 2:26). He has established the necessity of knowing and confessing Christ if one wants to know and be loved by the Father. In light of their sure standing in Christ and, in Him, their standing before the Father, the apostle urges his readers to “abide in [Christ],” faithful and strong, until the day of His appearing (cf. 2:28). This part of John's exhortation leads to this marvelous declaration in 3:1, 2.

I want to point out that in his description, John draws a parallel between adoption and the love of God. In fact, he equates the sinner's adoption into God's family as a “great” love that is bestowed upon the sinner. In the doctrine of justification, as I mentioned, the justice of God is preeminently displayed, along with the mercy of God, as seen in His provision of a Substitute so that the sinner does not have to face the justice of God himself. In the doctrine of adoption, it is the astounding love of God that is preeminent.

In the Greek, the meaning of the phrase, “See how great a love,” emphasizes the peculiar quality of God's love. John's choice of words points to the unusual character of this love, a character not of this world, but uniquely manifested by God in our adoption. When defining the nature of adoption, therefore, we must emphasize the amazing love of God. He has shown a love for us that results in our being called His children. And notice again, as in John 1:12, a distinction is produced by the manifestation of this love. Believers are the exclusive subjects of this love by which they are separated from the world.

And John teaches that adoption into God's family involves more than what we experience in this life (v. 2). To be sure, we are presently the children of God by adoption, but there is a greater measure of this privilege awaiting us when we join our Savior. Adoption means that we enjoy certain benefits in this lifeGod's protection and provision, His particular favor toward us as His special peoplebut it also means that a unique benefit is yet to come and that is the sweet fellowship that we will share with the Savior throughout eternity.

Now we are children of God, but children not yet at home. One day we will arrive at our home and will bask in all the beauty of heaven and rest in all the security that God can provide. Adoption, then, brings us sure comfort in this life, but also turns our gaze toward heaven, which is our home. No matter how much we enjoy in this life, no matter how kind God is to us, nothing can compare to that great day when we will leave this world behind and, as children ending a long and tiresome journey, be welcomed into our Father's kingdom.

John continues and applies this aspect of the doctrine of adoption in v. 3: “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” The hope referred to in this verse is what was just described as one of the benefits of our adoption, namely, the joyful reunion of all the adopted saints in heaven. With this destiny on our minds, with this confident hope and expectation in our hearts, the apostle teaches that we will purify ourselves, we will flee from sin because it is so incompatible with the state and the hope of adoption.

3. The Spirit of Adoption

In Gal. 4, we read that God sends forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts upon our adoption. Under this third point, I want to make a few brief comments about the Spirit of adoption. I will refer to Rom. 8:12-17:

12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh 13 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. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 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!” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

This chapter begins with that wonderful statement that I've referred to previously: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1) The apostle follows this declaration with an explanation of how Christ fulfilled the Law for us and how we are to be characterized by the things of the Spirit since we have been redeemed. We are, according to Paul, to live according to the Spirit that indwells us. He means that Christians are to reflect godly principles, desires and priorities in their lives, rather than ungodly principles, desires and priorities, as was true of us before our conversion. Living according to the Spirit, that is, living a life that demonstrates submission to the Word of God as the Spirit indwells us and gives us knowledge of the truth, is a sign that we are God's sons (cf. v. 14).

Paul teaches that we receive a “spirit of adoption as sons” upon conversion. This “spirit of adoption” is none other than the Holy Spirit who comes to indwell us, as Paul states earlier. There are at least three things that are important for us to grasp in regard to this teaching about the Spirit of adoption. First, it is the Spirit's presence in us that seals and attests to our sonship. The Spirit is sent only to those who are adopted as children of God. This presence of the Spirit is proof of God's acceptance of us as sons. We are able to cry, “Abba! Father!” because the Spirit resides in us and moves us to such an utterance. God the Spirit initiates this cry of sonship, as it were, and directs it to God the Father.

Second, it is the Spirit's presence that convinces us that we do, in fact, belong to God. The Holy Spirit, Paul says, “bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Paul describes a supernatural testimony from the Holy Spirit to our souls that we are God's own. It is the testimony of the Spirit that serves as an evidence of our salvation. It is the Spirit who convicts us of sin, who gives us understanding of the Scripture and who bears patiently with us as we are conformed to the perfect image of God's dear Son. The Holy Spirit is sent forth into our hearts to begin and continue the work of sanctification by which we are shown to be children of our heavenly Father.

Third, it is the Spirit's presence that guarantees our eternal redemption. In another place, Paul says: “In [Christ], you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvationhaving also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Eph. 1:13, 14) The Holy Spirit indwells the children of God and His presence is God's pledge of full and final redemption. The Holy Spirit accompanies us, as it were, as we make our way to heaven; His presence with us is evidence of God's intention to bring us to Himself, to perfect and glorify us, and to allow us to dwell with Him forever. The Spirit's presence assures our standing as “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,” Paul adds. There is an inheritance awaiting us and it is one that we will share with Christ. This inheritance is eternal dominion, eternal joy and companionship; it is heavenly bliss and peace. The Holy Spirit who is sent forth into our hearts upon our adoption is God's promise that these blessings await us.


In the application, I want to make a few observations about the believer's status as a son of God. Just what does this Biblical doctrine mean to us in a practical sense? What bearing does it have on our day-to-day lives? We can answer these questions, at least partially, by thinking of the relation between a child and his earthly father. What qualities exist in a father-son relationship? Specifically, from the son's perspective, what does he experience? What are the benefits of sonship? Obviously, there is much that could be said here; but I want to cite four benefits of sonship just to help you see the quality of your status as a child of God.

First, a son knows security. In a parent-child relationship, the child knows that he is secure; he knows that his place in the family is set and cannot be altered. A son finds protection under the authority of his father and this protection, this sheltering concern for his welfare, leaves the son with a sense of contentment. If an earthly father does his job correctly, his son gains confidence about his status. If this is true of earthly sons and fathers, how much more is it true of our relationship with our heavenly Father? If, as children, we gain a sense of security as our father watches out for us and ensures that we walk in the right way, what greater sense of security ought we to have as we think about our sovereign heavenly Father watching out for us and ensuring that we walk in the right way? Children of God know security and contentment and confidence that far surpass anything experienced in this life. It is this sense of safety that stabilizes them during times of tribulation. If we turn to our earthly fathers when we are frightened and receive comfort, how much greater will be the comfort of our heavenly Father if we turn to Him in a time of distress?

Second, a son knows hope. As an earthly son lives his life under the care of his father, he has hope regarding the future. As his father guides him and protects him, the son has no reason to dread the future, but waits for it expectantly because his father is preparing him to assume his rightful place. And so it is with the child of God. If the uncertain efforts of our earthly fathers can give us a sense of hope and expectation about the future, how much more should our heavenly Father's promises make us look to coming days with eagerness and excited anticipation? Things can only get better for Christians! Now that we are numbered among the family of God, our destinies are sealed and things can only get more enjoyable. We know that, as sons of God, a great day of celebration and reunion is coming; we know that we are going to join all those who are members of God's family and we are going to join our elder brother, Jesus Christ, in glory. Together with them we will enjoy all that our heavenly Father cares to bestow upon us. Why shouldn't believers be hopeful? We have nothing but joyful hope when we contemplate the end of our journey.

Third, a son trusts his earthly father. A father is the central figure in the life of a child. That father, if he is performing his duties rightly, becomes his son's instructor, counselor and friend. The son, in response to the loving guidance given by his father, comes to trust his father's judgment and comes to lean on his father's advice. Again, I ask, if this is true of a relationship between a son and his earthly father, how much more must it be true of our relationship with our heavenly Father? God our Father guides us with perfect instructions, He counsels us with perfect wisdom and He befriends us in His Son. In response, we learn to trust our heavenly Father; we learn that He is always right and always seeking our good; we learn that we can believe every word He speaks and we can count on every promise He makes.

Fourth, a son knows acceptance. Although an earthly father must, on occasion, discipline his son and although an earthly father, on occasion, will be disappointed in his son's behavior, that father never stops loving his son and he never ceases to open his arms and receive that son. The son of such a father knows acceptance; he knows that his father loves him, cares for him and is ever willing to forgive his mistakes. And so it is, in a more perfect way, with our heavenly Father. On occasion, He must and will discipline us, precisely because we are His children, and He does disapprove of our behavior when it contradicts His Word, but our heavenly Father never stops loving us and he will never close His arms and refuse to receive us. We are accepted forever in Christ and, therefore, we have the freedom, if I can use this term, to be imperfect in this life and still be loved by God. We can struggle and fall in our Christian lives without worrying about our heavenly Father's rejection, for that will never happen. We are eternally designated as sons of God and He loves us and will continue to love us forever.

Conclusion (Preparation for the Lord's Supper)

I often emphasize that the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is for Christians only. Perhaps it would be proper this morning to emphasize that this is a family matter. This sacrament and all of its benefits belong exclusively to the children of God. This is one of His means of confirming our standing in His family and nourishing us as His children. As you receive the elements, know that this sacrament declares the life and death of our Savior, by which we were made ready for adoption into the family of God. Give thanks for His sacrifice and give thanks for the privilege extended to you as a child of God.

By Christ's own words, we are reminded that this sacrament ought to call our attention to a coming day of reunion in which all the children of God will celebrate with our Savior and Brother, Jesus Christ, in the house of our heavenly Father. May God preserve us unto that day.

This table is open to all who know Christ as Savior and have given an acceptable testimony of this fact to the elders of Christ's Church. Therefore, if you are a member in good standing of this or any other evangelical church, you are invited to partake. If you are not a member of a church, but have been given permission by our elders, you, too, are invited to partake. All others are encouraged to spend this time considering the state of their souls and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

TOPICS: General Discusssion
Threads for previous sermons:
  1. The Foundtation
  2. The Absolute Sovereignty of the Creator
  3. The Absolute Dependence of the Creature
  4. The Absolute Necessity of a Mediator
  5. The Covenant of Works (pt. 1)
  6. The Covenant of Works (pt. 2)
  7. The Covenant of Grace (pt. 1)
  8. The Covenant of Grace (pt. 2)
  9. The Covenant of Grace (pt. 3)
  10. Effectual Calling
  11. Justification (pt. 1)
  1. Justification (pt. 2)
  2. Justification (pt. 3)

1 posted on 02/12/2004 9:08:10 AM PST by sheltonmac
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To: drstevej; OrthodoxPresbyterian; CCWoody; Wrigley; Gamecock; Jean Chauvin; jboot; jude24; ...
2 posted on 02/12/2004 9:09:15 AM PST by sheltonmac ("Duty is ours; consequences are God's." -Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson)
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To: Penny1
3 posted on 02/12/2004 3:22:18 PM PST by irishtenor (If animals weren't meant to be eaten, why did God make them out of meat?)
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