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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:The gospel promises -- You're adopted! --
Text:LD 13 QA 33 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Revelation of the Gospel
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-10-17
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 77

Psalm 89:1,2,9,10

Hymn 48

Hymn 1

Psalm 98

Scripture Readings:  Romans 8:1-16, Ephesians 1:1-14

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 13, QA 33

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,

About a year ago, my sister and her husband adopted a three-year old girl from an orphanage in China.  They’ve brought her into their home.  Anna is now a part of their family.  She has their last name, she’s their daughter.  As she grows up, they’ll always be “Mom” and “Dad” to her.  She’ll be treated exactly the same as if she was their biological offspring.

Adoption is an amazing thing when it happens here on this earth among human beings.  Could anything be more beautiful than two strangers taking an unwanted child and saying, “You are wanted.  You are loved.  You are ours.”?  I don’t know about you, but I’m always deeply impressed by couples who take this step. 

More than that, it’s a moving reminder of what God does with us.  God comes after us and brings us into his family.  He adopts us for his children and heirs.  He says to us, to you, “You are wanted.  You are loved.  You are mine.”  Summarizing Scripture, our Catechism says that we “are children of God by adoption.”  We need to remember that this too is part of what the gospel promises us.  One of the most wonderful and encouraging truths of the gospel is that God calls us his children and really means it.  This afternoon, we’ll consider what the gospel promises us in the biblical teaching on adoption.  We’ll consider that our adoption:

  1. Was predestined by the Father
  2. Is grounded in the Son
  3. Is guaranteed through the Spirit

There’s a bit of debate among Bible scholars about the concept of adoption.  Paul is the one who develops the doctrine in the New Testament and the issue is the background.  Was Paul working with the concept of adoption from the Greek or Roman world?  Or did he base it on Jewish practices?  Or was it something that he drew from the Old Testament?  I’d say that we don’t need to choose.  Certainly the concept of adoption was there in the Old Testament.  In 2 Samuel 7, God uses the language of adoption when he makes his promises to David.  Paul later takes on that language in 2 Corinthians 6:18.  After exhorting the Corinthian Christians to avoid being unequally yoked with unbelievers, and encouraging them to holiness, he quotes 2 Samuel 7:14, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 

So, the Old Testament is in the background, for sure.  However, we can also be sure that when Paul wrote to the Romans or the Ephesians and mentioned adoption, that would have had a certain meaning to those Christians in their particular context.  Paul would have known that. After all, that context was also part of his frame of reference.  But most importantly of all, the Holy Spirit would also have known that and he was the one who inspired Paul.  So, when Paul mentions adoption, it’s a concept that evokes the Old Testament and God’s adoption of his people, but it also evokes adoption as it existed in the days of Paul.  That concept is much the same as what we have today.  Adoption is a legal procedure whereby a child officially becomes a part of a family to which he or she is usually not biologically related, at least the parents are not his or her biological parents.  The important feature is that the child is officially and legally part of that new family and receives all the rights, privileges and responsibilities which go with that.  Included with that would be an inheritance for the sons.  In the biblical world, sons would be the recipients of the inheritance.

That brings us to Ephesians 1:4-5.  Paul writes there that “in love God predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”  We usually turn to Ephesians 1 to find a biblical basis for the doctrine of election.  We believe that the Bible teaches that God sovereignly chooses us for salvation, not because of anything in us, but out of his grace and good pleasure and will.  That’s the doctrine of election.  Adoption is included in God’s decree of election.  Being chosen to salvation means also being chosen to be a part of God’s family.  There are a couple of things that we need to consider about that.

First of all, when did this happen?  According to Ephesians 1, we were chosen before the creation of the world.  We were chosen as part of God’s family before we existed, even before the world existed.  That underlines the fact that we had nothing to do with it.  God didn’t choose us to be a part of his family because of anything that he saw in us, or because of anything that we’ve done or didn’t do, but only out of his pleasure and will. 

It was also out of his love and that’s the second thing we need to focus on here.  “In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons...”  God does not fall in love with us; rather he sets his affection on us.  There is nothing in us to compel God’s love.  The New Testament scholar D. A. Carson gives a good explanation and I’m just going to quote what he says:

When he says he loves us, does not God mean something like the following?  “Morally speaking, you are the people of the halitosis, the bulbous nose, the greasy hair, the disjointed knees, the abominable personality.  Your sins have made you disgustingly ugly.  But I love you anyway, not because you are attractive, but because it is my nature to love.”  And in the case of the elect, God adds, “I have set my affection on you from before the foundation of the universe, not because you are wiser, or better, or stronger than others but because in grace I chose to love you.  You are mine, and you will be transformed.  Nothing in all creation can separate you from my love mediated through Jesus Christ (The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, 63)     

You see, God’s love is completely free and uncompelled by anything in us.  We were chosen to be a part of his family, to be adopted, through that kind of love.  We see something of a parallel in this world with parents who sometimes choose to adopt babies that have obvious defects, deformities or disorders.  They know that the baby has serious problems, some might even say that the baby is ugly, but they choose to love that baby and bring him or her into their family and make them one of their own.   Salvation is not about earning, but about grace.  We need to keep that firmly fixed in our minds so that we when we stumble and fall short of God’s love in our own eyes, we can remember that we never belonged to God because of who we are or what we’ve done.   

Finally, why did God do all this?  What was the ultimate reason for his choosing to adopt us into his family?  The reason is right there in verse 6:  “to the praise of his glorious grace.”  It all serves to magnify and amplify the glory of God.  If it had anything to do with us, we’d surely try to take some of the credit.  Even though Scripture says otherwise, there are people who do it just the same.  But we ought not to rob God of the praise due to him, not even the smallest little bit.  God’s decree to adopt us is for the praise of his glorious grace – taking some of the credit for ourselves empties the word “grace” of its meaning.  Grace means that we receive the opposite of what we deserve.  Instead of eternal punishment, God sovereignly chooses to make children out of his enemies.  Wow!  What a humbling thought.  For that, we ought to praise God and praise him forever!  Our Father has been gracious and he is worthy of our love, adoration, and thanksgiving.

So is the Son.  The Catechism tells us what Scripture says:  we are adopted for the sake of Christ.  Where does Scripture say that?  Well, we could begin with what we have in Ephesians 1:5, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ...” When God chose us to be adopted, he did so through Jesus Christ.  In other words, our Saviour would be the one who would make the adoption happen.  There were legal requirements that needed to be fulfilled, and our Lord Jesus fulfilled all of them for us.  The law required that these rebels needed to have their sins paid for.  Jesus Christ went to the cross and did it for us.  The law requires that we be obedient to the law.  Jesus Christ lived a perfect life and he did it for us.  The legal requirements for our adoption have all been fulfilled in him.  He’s done everything. 

We’re called to place our faith in him.  We need to rest in him and trust in him that he has done it all for us.  That because of him and him only, we are part of the family of God.  Because of Christ, God’s love for us is secure and can never be lost.  Loved ones, this is a powerful doctrine and it has enormous comfort for those who believe it and rest in it.      

In his book on adoption, Robert Peterson has a section where he quotes from a woman named Lisa.  It’s a bit of a long quote, but it is powerful and reminds us of the true riches of adoption and of the gospel.  This is what Lisa wrote:

Adoption is attractive to me because it is the perfect antidote to legalism...Legalism was the driving force in my life.  I kept trying to be good enough for God but despaired at how impossible the task was.  At the very heart I was afraid of one thing.  At some point I would do something terrible and consequently lose my salvation.  Although the church I was raised in preached assurance of salvation, I often wondered if I believed it mostly because I wanted it to be true.  The confusion came from the fact that although the churches I attended said that they believed in the assurance of salvation, they preached a list of things one had to do to be a “good Christian.”  I got the feeling that if you failed in any one of those areas you probably were not saved to begin with. 

The study of adoption has clarified the confusion I once felt.  Adoption is a legal procedure which secures a child’s identity in a new family...God didn’t choose to be our foster parent.  We don’t get kicked out of the family because of our behaviour.  We don’t have to worry day to day whether or not we are good enough to be part of the family.  In his infinite kindness, God made us a permanent part of his family...Nothing can undo the legal procedure that binds me to Christ.  He died to redeem me.  He signed the adoption papers, so to speak, with his blood.  Nothing can cancel the work he did for me.  I am free from the fear of falling away.  Hallelujah!   

Hallelujah!  Praise God, indeed!  There’s a woman who understands how good the good news really is. 

But now I can hear someone thinking to themselves, “You’re making it too easy.  What about obedience?  Aren’t you making God’s grace cheap?  Aren’t we supposed to try hard to please God and obey him?”  Those are good questions and I’d like to spend a minute or two answering them for you.

First of all, I’m going to reaffirm everything that I just said.  When we have faith in Christ, we can truly rest.  We don’t have to be concerned about measuring up for God.  As someone once said, “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace.”  You are never beyond God’s love.  There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  When you rest and trust in Christ alone, your place in God’s family is 100% secure. 

Then how does that connect to our lives?  Does that mean that we’re now going to go and do whatever we please?  Are we free to just live loosely and think that nothing we do matters because God loves us anyway?  The key thing is to go back to the Bible.  The Bible tells us that God is the Father of believers, they are his children and he loves them.  What comes of that?  1 John 4:19 tells us, “We love him because he first loved us.”  The person who truly believes in Jesus Christ will love him and will love the Father too.  John said it in 1 John 4:7, “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”  The person who loves God will want to do what God says, not because she’s afraid of God’s condemnation – “perfect love casts out all fear.”  She’s not afraid of judgment or not measuring up.  “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear...” (Romans 8:15)  The person who loves God will want to do what God says, because he loves God and desires to please him and follow in his ways.  The Holy Spirit lives in him, and the Spirit leads him to put to death the misdeeds of the body, as we read in Romans 8.  Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”  Obedience is the fruit of love.  We obey because we love God and we want to honour him, we want to please him more, and thank him.  It’s a natural outcome of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and our union with Christ.

Brothers and sisters, please listen carefully:  we need to be aware of the great abiding love of our Father and our Saviour.  Think of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:18.  He prays that the Ephesian Christians would grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.  He loves us, he loves you – he really does!  The Father too.  He gave his only Son for you – if that’s not love, what is?  When we accept these things and believe them, we naturally love him in return.  There can be no unrequited love for God in a Christian.  It might wax and wane, sometimes it’s greater than at other times, sometimes less, but it will never be entirely non-existent.  And love for Christ and love for God drives out love for the things of the world.  Obedience is the way that love responds to God’s affection.

So when a believer reads the Bible and comes across these passages where we find commands and imperatives, exhortations and admonitions, what does a believer do?  He or she says, “This is the will of my Father.  I love him and I will obey him.  My Father wants me to do this or not do that, my Father loves me and I love my Father and so here I go.  I don’t need to earn his love, in fact I can’t, but I do want to express my love by doing his will.”  You see loved ones, that’s where the gospel of God’s grace and adoption brings us. 

That good news only gets better as we also reflect for a moment on the work of the Holy Spirit in our adoption.  In Ephesians 1, we find him mentioned as the one through whom we’re marked.  We’re told that the Holy Spirit is a deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance.  The idea of an inheritance is directly connected to our adoption.  Remember what I mentioned earlier: we are adopted as God’s sons – sons are the ones who receive the inheritance.  The Holy Spirit lives in us as a guarantee of what is to come.  He is living in each one of us and he creates and sustains faith.  Faith is the evidence of the presence of the seal or the mark of the Spirit of God, because without the Holy Spirit we couldn’t and wouldn’t believe.  And without believing in Christ, there would be no adoption and no inheritance.  The Holy Spirit is the seal, the guarantee, not only of present realities, but also future ones.  He is dwelling in our hearts, creating faith, and so we can also be confident that someday we will receive the inheritance.  What is that inheritance?  A place in God’s kingdom.  A part in the new heavens and new earth.  A crown.  A seat at the marriage feast of the Lamb.  Joy and peace eternal.

The Holy Spirit, he is a powerful witness to God’s adoption of us.  Paul says that it is by the Spirit that we can cry out, “Abba, Father.”  “Abba” is simply the Aramaic word for “Father.”  The Jews would sometimes use that word when addressing God in prayer and that’s why it shows up here too.  The Holy Spirit lives in us and when we say that beautiful word “Father” when we pray, that’s the work of the Holy Spirit in us.  He is telling us and reminding us that we are God’s adopted children.  We are part of the family.  That’s why Paul, in Romans 8:15, Paul calls the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of adoption.  We have the received the Spirit of adoption.  We have received the Holy Spirit who tells us that the papers have been signed and we are part of God’s family, and our place is secure.  Because this is all so, Paul takes us to the same place that he took us in Ephesians:  to our inheritance.  We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.  We will someday share in his glory.     

Brothers and sisters, the gospel promises us that we’re adopted.  God now regards us as he regards his own natural Son.  The love that he has for his Son is the love that he has for us.  Just as the Father will never take away his love from his Son, so he will never take away his love from us, from you.  What comfort, what joy to belong in this family, to have this Father, to have this elder brother, to have this Spirit who dwells in us.  Love him, praise him, live for him.  AMEN. 

Prayer:

Eternal God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

We are deeply grateful for the width, and depth and height of your love.  Father, we thank you for your eternal decree by which you graciously chose us for your own.  Lord Jesus, we thank you for bringing about our redemption and fulfilling all the legal requirements so that we can be adopted.  Holy Spirit, we thank you for living in our hearts and testifying that we are children of our Father in heaven.  O Triune God, all praise, honour and glory be to you.  Help us to always be assured of your love and our place in your family.  Help us to grow in our love for you.  Help us to grow in our obedience to you. 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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