Last Friday, after two and a half years as foster parents, my wife and I finally adopted our five-year-old son.
Surrounded in the courtroom by loved ones, fellow church members, and case workers, we felt the weight of paperwork and legalities dissolve away, replaced by peace in our veins and tears in our eyes as the judge finally pronounced our son’s new name.
Lots of factors originally led us on this adoptive journey, but one memory that stands out was a sermon John Piper preached on Ephesians 1, which I heard just two days before learning about this then-three-year-old’s need for a foster home. Three verses stood out:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3-6)
That sermon seared the passage from Ephesians on my heart. My wife and I had been open to foster care and adoption for a while, but from that point, we agreed that, having been adopted through Christ, we ought to at least prayerfully consider adopting someone else.
The gospel is more than rescue from hell; it is also the announcement of God’s free choice to lovingly embrace scoundrels as his children. In the gospel, we sin-addicted delinquents are appointed by the tribunal of Almighty God to belong to heaven’s forever family. And the legal fees are covered by the blood sacrifice of God’s only Son.
Finally adopting our son after these last 847 days re-impressed these gospel realities upon us, and the result was three meditations how understanding adoption enriches our view of the whole gospel.
1. We are Elected Without Condition
Many foster and adoptive families wrongly assume that they can gallivant into the child welfare system, get emotionally cut, and automatically bleed unconditional love. In parenting, contrary to the Beatles’ ethnic, love is not all you need. Parenting a child—any child—is harder than that, especially because sinners are involved.
But the Father is not a naïve caretaker who ignorantly picks children sight unseen, only to be surprised by our miserableness when we show up on a Sunday. God elects his children unconditionally, yes, but he knows full well what he’s signing up for.
Scripture insists that his choice isn’t predicated on some sort of anticipation on his part of our eventual merit or even our decision to choose him, since God is depicted unilaterally knowing and loving us—not knowing about us, but knowing us (cf. Rom. 8:29). In eternity past, the Triune God had full, vivid knowledge of all the sins we’d commit and their heinousness. He was intimately acquainted with our vileness. He’s got our file memorized. Yet he chooses us as his treasured children, taking rebels and declaring them beloved saints—all to magnify the freeness of his grace (Eph. 1:5).
Simply put, we are not lovely to God. God did not select us out of a catalogue of generic, adorable infants. We are only made lovely by virtue of the worth of the One who loves us.
As a selfish sinner, I struggle enough to show adequate fatherly love to my son, who happens to be genuinely charming. But the Father shows perfect, steadfast love to elect sinners who are genuinely worthy of sheer wrath. I’ll never out-love the Father, nor ought I even pretend to try.
2. We Have Permanence Apart From Our Performance
Legally speaking, our state requires concurrent planning; that is, if the stated goal of a child’s case is reunification with biological family, adoptive options must still be kept on the back burner. The inverse is also true. There must be a “plan B.”
God, incidentally, has no backup plans. He isn’t waiting to see how we do until he decides upon our permanency in the family. Or, put another way, justification doesn’t come with an asterisk pointing to a set of conditions we must later meet. The banner “no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1) flies over the entirety of our lives, from now into eternity.
That isn’t to say, however, that God doesn’t plan; he plans good works for his adoptive children, for instance (Eph. 2:10). He is committed to our sanctification. But his standards for our performance don’t creep into our relationship as a set of hidden terms and conditions, invalidating the freeness of the gospel offer. Rather, God’s will for our lives, which is our holiness (1 Thess. 4:3), comes to us as a set of wedding vows (pardon the mixed familial metaphor)—willingly embraced standards flowing from delight. Sanctification always follows justification, but it doesn’t enter into the adoption equation.
I don’t have to perform to a certain degree to remain a permanent son of God. Christ purchased a permanence for me with his perfect performance, and the prize he procured included my own perseverance (2 Cor. 5:21, 1 Cor. 1:8-9). I am free to fail. I am free to belong.
3. We Receive New Identity Without Embarrassment
After the adoption hearing was over and all the pomp had subsided, several hours later at home, my wife made an off-handed remark to our son: “You know, now that you’re a Kocman, you need to act like one.”
His reply: “Does that mean I have to like the Eagles?” (Out of the mouth of babes.)
The point is, no change of identity is complete without a change of behavior. Names and numbers can be edited on paper, but what we need in terms of our spiritual adoption is a new nature—a new me altogether. Otherwise, in our filth and depravity, certainly we’ll be an embarrassment to our Lord whose name we now bear, right?
But God isn’t embarrassed by us. The Father himself loves us (John 16:27), Christ isn’t ashamed for us to be called our brother (Heb. 2:11), and the Holy Spirit personally pours God’s love into our hearts (Rom. 5:5).
So when it comes to our identity and how we now represent our Father in the world, God doesn’t merely adopt us and hope we turn out alright. He isn’t nervously wringing his hands hoping our collection of traumas doesn’t drive us back into sin’s arms. He has already guaranteed the outcome of our faith. And because God has staked his glory, in a sense, on our assimilation into his holy family, he gives us not only a new name but the new nature we need.
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came… I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezek. 36:22, 25-27)
To be in Christ is to have a new identity. The sins once loved are growingly hated; the holiness once defied is now savored. God has not only sworn himself to me in the state I’m currently in; he is devoted with all his omnipotent energy to rescuing me from the power of indwelling sin and delivering me into the final state of glory.
In fact, this final arrival into the fullness of our new identity in Christ—at which point we will have new, sinless bodies which will never bring shame upon the new family name—is what the Apostle Paul elsewhere refers to our ultimate “adoption” (cf. Rom. 8:23).
Our adoption as Christians means we are elected unconditionally, permanently welcomed irrespective of performance, and given an unshakable identity free from fear of bringing shame upon heaven’s family.
If the Lord is moving in your heart to open your home and share in this ministry of mirroring God’s own adopting love in Christ, I encourage you to take a prayerful risk and try.
And as my wife and I now step into the next saga of our lives as parents grasping these realities, I pray our story—with all our flaws and occasional successes—continues to adorn the gospel.