It is not unusual for adopted children to struggle with a sense of past rejection, particularly if they do not know their birth mother's story. As a result, some adopted children will wrestle, sometimes intensely, with the thought that they were rejected by their birth parents. This can potentially result in a haunting fear that deep down their adoptive family really hasn't accepted them either.
If your adoptive family is anything like mine, your adopted children are probably too young to be struggling with this issue, at least as intensely as a young teenager would (my adopted children are 5 and 4). As a result, it may be hard for you to picture your children having this particular inner-struggle. But if you are wise, you will think through this issue now and consider how you might be proactive in addressing it.
If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know that I believe the Bible's doctrine of adoption has much to contribute to our understanding of the earthly practice of adoption. Nothing can enrich an adoptive family's experience like Scripture's teaching on this great doctrine. As you might expect, it even addresses the problem mentioned above in Galatians 4:4-6.
When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
In Galatians 4:4-6, Paul not only informs us that God sent His Son into the world to give us the status of sonship, he also tells us that God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts to give us the experience of sonship as He cries, "Abba! Father!" Have you ever wondered why it is we need the Spirit to cry "Abba! Father!" in our hearts? We might think that it would have been enough just to be told that we have received the Spirit. That seems like blessing enough! We probably would not have thought twice about it if Paul had only written, "And because you are sons ( i.e., because you have been adopted), God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts" (emphasis mine). After all, Paul says elsewhere that the indwelling Spirit is the firstfruits of the consummation of our adoption , which is the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). But Paul wants us to know that the Spirit who indwells us cries something within us.
So why did God send the Spirit of His Son into our hearts to cry "Abba! Father!"? I think Sinclair Ferguson touches on one of the reasons for this activity of the Spirit in his book, Children of the Living God. In his discussion on the parable of the prodigal son, he writes:
Jesus was underlining the fact that—despite assumptions to the contrary —the reality of the love of God for us is often the last thing in the world to dawn upon us. As we fix our eyes upon ourselves, our past failures, our present guilt, it seems impossible to us that the Father could love us.
Many Christians go through much of their life with the prodigal's suspicion. Their concentration is upon their sin and failure; all their thoughts are introspective. That is why (in the Greek text) John's statement about the Father's love begins with a word calling us to lift up our eyes from ourselves and take a long look at what God has done: Behold!—look and see—the love the Father has lavished upon us (p. 27)!
Christians often find it difficult to believe that God's unfailing love is real. This is where the knowledge and increasing assurance that we are children of God is a refuge and shield against the attacks of Satan. Just as part of his plan of action in his temptation of Jesus included the issue of whether he was really the Son of God (compare Matt. 4:3, 6), so a parallel issue arises with us. Satan will cast up to us the sins of both the past and the present; he will allure us with temptations to sin to which we may fall in the future, and then lead us to question, the reality of our relationship to God. Can we be God's children after all when such thoughts lurk in our minds and such deeds lie in our past (p. 30)?
I believe that our propensity not to believe that God is really committed to us as our Father because of our own sin and Satan's accusations is one reason why God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts to cry, "Abba! Father!" We need the assurance of our adoption as sons, and God has gone to great lengths to provide us with this needed assurance. Because of the self-sacrificial, self-donating work of God's Son at the cross, God has given us none other than the Spirit of His Son to place "Abba! Father!" in our hearts and on our lips. God the Father graciously sent His Son to become a curse for us (Galatians 3:13) that we might not only receive the status of sonship but also be eternally assured by the work of the Spirit that we are His children. God the Father spared no expense to convince us of His unfailing commitment to us as our Father.
Adoptive parents would do well to make it a habit to meditate on God's commitment to assure them of their sonship. God did not wait to address our struggle until after we began to doubt His unfailing love. He was profoundly proactive. Consider the lengths to which God has gone to assure us of our sonship. First, He demonstrates (notice the tense of the verb - see Romans 5:8) the commitment of His unfailing love for us by sending His Son into the world to become a curse for us (Galatians 3:13) so that we might receive the status of sonship (Galatians 4:4-5). As John Piper has written, "It cost God the price of His Son's life" to adopt us. If that does not prove God's unfailing love for His adopted children, nothing else could.
Second, God demonstrates (notice, again, the tense of the verb) His unfailing love for us by giving us the Spirit of Adoption (Romans 8:15). The Spirit that God the Father has given us, the one who is co-eternal, co-equal with the Father and Son, is the Spirit of Adoption; and one of His main responsibilities as the Third Person of the Trinity is to cry "Abba! Father!" in our hearts. The Triune God does not assure us of our sonship from across the universe or even from across the room. He assures us by witnessing with our spirit, from within our hearts, that we are indeed the children of God. God did much more than just come alongside us. God the Father sent His Spirit to actively indwell us that we might be assured that He delights in us as His children.
Now, here's my question to adoptive parents: Given what God has done to assure us of our sonship, to what lengths can we go to assure our adopted children that our love for them has come to stay, that they are forever in our hearts, that we are committed to love them through thick and thin? What are some practical things that adoptive parents can do to assure their adopted children of their sonship?
If we have good participation in the comment section, I'll turn the practical suggestions into a regular blog post. Thanks for participating!