we have been adopted
18 February 2023
“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (v. 4). That’s how a text in Galatians which I want to consider begins. One might say that it’s a sentence pregnant with meaning!
It continues in verse 5, “in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” The apostle Paul is speaking of us, but adoption isn’t limited to the human race. Our local paper frequently features dogs and cats who apparently are able to introduce themselves. They speak of their likes and dislikes. And, of course, they all are seeking a fur-ever family!
The scripture in Galatians points to two aspects of salvation—justification and adoption.
Justification can be seen as a negative work. It involves—in Christ—a redemption from, a restoration from, an erasing, of the mark of sin. That doesn’t sum it up, but it can be seen as a removal. Adoption, on the other hand, is more of a positive work. Something new is brought into being. Something new, something tangible, is created.
In his book, Knowing God, the late J. I. Packer made the distinction, “Justification is a forensic [or legal] idea, conceived in terms of law, and viewing God as judge.” At the same time, “Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as Father.”
Paul says to the Galatians that the birth of Jesus is the story of a new member in the family. Applied to us, it means that we have been adopted into God’s family.
So there are different images at work. A prisoner who has served a term may be cleared legally, but whether he or she is received back into the family of society is an open question. It’s likely that the stigma of being in prison will continue to be carried. I would ask that we put each of ourselves in the position of someone who has served time. How would you like to be received? We don’t quite get the sense of warmth from being justified that we do from being adopted.
This is not to deny that God’s justifying us is an act of love, or that God’s adopting us is done without regard to what is just. It is simply to highlight the different perspectives of what has happened in Christ, and I should add, what continues to happen in Christ.
“When the fullness of time had come.” When the time was just right. That is how the passage begins. The Greek (πληρωμα, plērōma) means “make replete, fulfill, accomplish.” When the stage was set, this grandest of all plays began.
We might think of stories in which a scruffy wandering youngster is taken into the king’s court and raised as part of the royal household. The Bible even has examples similar to this. We can point to Joseph and Moses. After years of imprisonment, Joseph, who has become known for his interpretation of dreams, is brought to the Pharaoh and deciphers his dream. Long story short, Joseph is given the position of prime minister, or something equivalent to that.
Moses’ mother hid him among the reeds of the river, afraid that he might be killed. It was not lost on the Egyptians that the Hebrew population was reproducing more quickly than they were. The decision was made to dispatch the baby boys. Thus, the decision of Moses’ mother to conceal him. As it happened, the daughter of the Pharaoh found him and took him as her own.
We might think of “My Fair Lady” in which the illiterate flower girl, though not adopted in the strict sense, receives the proper care and attention, and blooms into an articulate and beautiful young woman. (“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!”)
There is something about adoption that is noble and calls forth the best in us. Remember the doggies and the kitty cats!
For me, the imagery of adoption is especially meaningful, because I was adopted as an infant. Once in a great while, someone asked what it felt like to be unwanted. Precisely because I was adopted, while growing up, I never questioned whether or not I was wanted. I knew that I had been chosen, and I knew that my parents had to go through a lot of screening and jumping through hoops as a result of that choice.
On a side note, in February 2018, I was located by my birth mother.
Here’s the thumbnail version. I received a letter in the mail from the Children’s Home Society in Florida, verifying they had the right person. Skipping through all the details of the process, we linked up and starting doing Skype and Zoom calls. I was introduced to my half-brother and half-sister. The father wasn’t in the picture. He had taken off back when she was a teenager. She told me she has thought about me every day of her life, wondering what became of her firstborn son.
She, with my sister and her daughter, visited us in September of that year, and Banu and I have been to Pensacola twice now. The relationship has continued to evolve.
So I think I’ve always had, even if subconsciously, some sense of what it means to be chosen by God. I have had the sense of being brought into a family, into a way of life. Clearly, my experience has been my own. Everyone who has had the sense of being chosen has their own story.
God, by adopting us into the family, invites us to realize our full potential. That’s a note of great joy—and great concern. I think there’s no greater challenge than realizing one’s full potential. There are many forces working against that—forces outside us and forces inside us. Among those many internal forces is sloth.
Wendy Wasserstein has spoken on its effect on our potential. “When you achieve true slothdom,” she says, “you have no desire for the world to change. True sloths are not revolutionaries… Sloths are neither angry nor hopeful. They are not even anarchists. Anarchy takes too much work. Sloths are the lazy guardians at the gate of the status quo…
“Whether you’re a traditional sloth or a New Age übersloth, we are all looking at the possibility of real thought, and rejecting it. Better to fall into line than to question the [party line].”
There’s a disturbing trend in America that’s taken on a life of its own. Actually it is happening in countries all around the world. It involves being “cancelled.” That is, being censored or shamed or denied employment due to saying or writing the wrong thing. Really, it tends happen anytime an authoritarian mindset sets in.
I have noticed something similar to that myself. People who once were critical of big pharma and censorship, people I once considered to be philosophical allies, have almost done a 180 degree turn. And I must say it’s been during these past years of Covid. Perhaps Covid simply exposed fissures that were already there.
Owen Edwards, in language reminiscent of science fiction, comments on our “[drifting] toward our digital dream.” The longer we stay plugged in—to the internet, to our cell phones, to television, whatever—the less time we have for real world, real time, face-to-face interaction. And the lockdowns (sorry to keep harping on this) only reinforced that trend.
I hope we can take to heart the warning about being “lazy guardians at the gate of the status quo.” Something I would like to highlight is this: never be satisfied. That is, never stop asking questions, keep stretching yourselves, doing your own research.
For years I’ve had a cartoon I always put on the wall. It’s one done by Ashleigh Brilliant. It features a fellow who’s wearing glasses not properly positioned on his face; they’re slanted. There’s a caption stating, “Nothing is beyond question—and you can take my word for it.” So friends, don’t take my word for it; check things out for yourselves.
Despite all that confusion and nonsense, verse 6 tells us because we’ve been adopted, “because [we] are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” That Spirit recognizes and calls out to the Father. We are energized from within toward our God-given potential, which I noted earlier is no easy task. The good news is that God refuses to leave us alone.
We need to bear in mind that the Spirit who recognizes the Father isn’t a spirit of private revelation. This Spirit is the one who teaches us our growth is tied to the rest of the family. Sometimes that means doing stuff we don’t want to. We try to move heaven and earth to avoid it. But it also means experiencing life more deeply than we possibly could alone. The spirit of adoption, the Spirit that sounds the cry of “Abba, Father” deep within—this is the Spirit that renews us in the family likeness.
I should say the idea of “family likeness” is contingent on many factors. For example, you know the promises many businesses make. “At Bubba’s, we treat you like family.” Bubba’s promise may or may not be a good thing.
I don’t have to tell you families are tricky. Families are the source of joy and sorrow, affirmation and rejection, pride and embarrassment. Family is where we hear, “Nice job. Nice job.” Family is where we hear, “Well, you screwed up again.”
Another effect of the lockdowns was something quite horrendous for some people. For some, home doesn’t feel like home. For some, home is not a safe place. Home is a place of neglect, of violence, of perversion. A lockdown really does feel like prison.
The perfect image of family is the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each member plays a role in the intertwining of selfless love. Each one looks out for the other. They all say, “I’ve got your back.” It’s an endless circle of support. It’s the perfect place to hear, “We treat you like family.”
It’s a family who cares. It’s a family who cares about others. When something horrible happens, like a horrific earthquake, they reach out and ask, “How is your family?”
So—what of all this? What does our adoption mean? The passage ends in verse 7 by saying that we have become heirs. No longer slaves, we have become adopted children, and so, heirs to what God has in store.
We accept the privileges and responsibilities that come with membership in the family. We seek to find our place, our role, in the family.
We have been adopted.
 in Kathleen Norris, Acedia and Me (New York: Riverhead Books, 2008), 326.
 in Norris, 325.