Adoption, Inclusion, Divine Sonship

By Neil Earle

“All you need is love, yeah, love is all you need.”

As a life-long but eyes-wide-open Beatles fan I enjoyed the shrewd comment a Christian writer abstracted from their famous anthem “All You Need is Love.”

As Steve Turner said in The Gospel According to the Beatles, the Beatles danced skillfully and artfully close to raising the theme of what really makes the universe tick (love) but missed the full truth. In not knowing that, while God is Love, Love is not God, said Turner, the Beatles were bound to end up in a blind alley. After all, love is a word that can be pushed and stretched till it means very little. Ditto for the word “Truth.” “Instead of believing that the truth would set us free,” said lead guitarist George Harrison, “we believed that the freedom would make us true” (Turner, page 205). The Beatles had inverted John 8:32.

Nice point, Steve Turner.

But at least the Beatles had enough spiritual emphasis and religious interest in where the world of the 1960s was headed to make even Christians drawn to their more meaningful and what Turner calls “transcendent” lyrics. Love, yes, love is a lot of what we need. The plan of God very much revolves around Love, especially about His adopting us in pure unselfish love as his special children. Ephesians 1:6 tells Christians and all who have ears: “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will.”

Pastor-Theologian John Stott commented on this verse: “When people ask us the speculative question why God went ahead with the creation when he knew that it would be followed by the fall, one answer we can tentatively give is that he destined us for a higher dignity than even creation could bestow on us” (The Message of Ephesians, page 39).

As Stott adds, in Romans society the adopted child enjoyed exactly the same rights as the natural children. The mighty Julius Caesar adopted his own nephew, Octavian, as son and heir and so it turned out.

A Love Bestowed

There is of course a whole world of Christian doctrine wrapped around the word “adoption.” Paul pushed on to say that the purpose in our adoption was not to make us smug or feel superior but “that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4). That is the Christian’s goal, only to be achieved by the cleansed process of God’s grace (Ephesians 5:27).

But to plumb the real depths of the greatness of God’s love in including us in his divine family we have to read the book that defines God as love. That book is the first letter written by Saint John, commonly known as First John.

It goes like this:

“How great is the love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God! And this is what we are!” (1 John 1:1).

The apostle is clearly excited about this subject. He was, after all, the disciple whom Jesus loved and love is a major theme of this letter. By receiving the powerful invitations to hope and inclusion contained in the Gospel, however it reaches us, and taking it deep down inside us through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, we do become in actual fact the children of God, adopted sons and “participants in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).


Travelling Incognito

But most people do not see any of this. To our workmates and fellow subway passengers or car pool partners we Christians are just ordinary common clay, maybe in some ways not even as fine and as noble as the people we engage every day. This is because of two reasons:

  1. God has called the sinners to repent – that’s us. We responded because we saw our need for God.

  2. God’s people are the weak of the world not the high and mighty, not even the tremendously strong and resourceful people of great will power we would like to be (1 Corinthians 1: 26).

Hundreds of years ago the Presbyterian scholar Matthew Henry put it this way: “Little does the world think that these poor humble condemned ones [Christians] are the favorites of heaven – little did the Jewish nation think how great a person was sojourning here – little did the Jewish world think that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was one of their blood a dwelt in their land [though for a little season].

He came to his own and his own received him not (see 1 John 3:2).

He came to his own and his own crucified him” (Commentary on First John).

The children of God do not expect any “breaks” or special deals from this world. Just the opposite. The rain falls on the just and unjust. We suffer along with those who suffer. But there is an inner joy and happiness in the daily Christian experience for one great reason – he or she has Jesus and the Father living inside of them through the miraculous presence of the Holy Spirit (John 14:23). And that Holy Spirit is a well-spring of living water ceaselessly bubbling up inside of them.

Benefits of Sonship

When we were adopted at conversion – also called “born again” – a small part of the mighty power by which God created the universe was added to our minds, namely, the Spirit of power and love and of self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). That selfsame Spirit is a personal presence and connects us back to God which allows the eternal Father to trust us with even more of his life deep inside us as, purging our consciences and making us more like our Father in heaven as our time in the flesh unfolds. It’s a win-win situation. The Christian life pays off in compound interest. Here are just some of the many benefits:

– a clean conscience when we admit our sins

– mercy and grace to help in time of need

– a sense of resilience when life throws curve balls at us

– a confidence that God will not let anything come our way that is too great for us to handle

– a family of spiritual brothers and sisters to lean on when things get tough

– healed by his stripes

– not moved or alarmed by what we see

– not overly affected by the “passing show”

– having access to a renewal of mind every day

– access to an inexhaustible supply of optimism, joy and comfort for the asking.

In 1 John 1:2 the apostle sketches out the even wider contours of the irresistible Christian hope, a hope that is literally out of this world: “Dear friends, now are we the children of God and what we will be has not yet been known. But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

Paul picks up this theme when he writes that “the creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:19) and that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Timing is Everything

Thomas Johnson writes of this hope-filled future, that, while there is much we cannot know at this time, we can know something assuredly, “that we shall continue on our present trajectory of being like Christ.” That is the Christian’s goal, to be accomplished at the Resurrection of the Just (1,2 and 3 John, New International Series, page 68).

Matthew Henry made the same point in commenting on “now we are the sons of God.” He wrote: “We have [even now] the title, spirit and right to the inheritance of sons by ADOPTION.” But Christians must also know this: “The glory pertaining to the son-ship and adoption is adjourned and reserved for another world. The sons of God must walk by faith and live by hope [for the present dispensation].

“The time of the revelation of the sons of God in their proper state and gory is determined and that is when their elder bother comes to call and collect them all together. They shall be like him. They shall be filled with life, light and bliss from him” (Henry’s Complete Commentary: First John). As Johnson adds “There will be a transforming vision at the return of Christ in which believers will be purified of all that still separates them from complete likeness to Christ – see 2 Corinthians 3:18 (Page 68-69).

Thank God for that, that we will not have to be perfect in this life before we enter into the fullness of our inheritance as sons of God. Else no one will”make it.” Instead, as the writer C. S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glory, we shall be well received, we shall be celebrated, we shall be invited into the Great Party, excluded no more, alienated never again from the real Source of all we ever wanted and needed in the first place (Revelation 2:7).

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.