As part of our blog’s adoption interview series, I’m interviewing several theologians and New Testament scholars about the doctrine of spiritual adoption and its implications for earthly adoption. I believe that the practice of earthly adoption will be significantly enriched as we grow in our understanding of what it means to be adopted by God.
Because of the length and richness of Dr. Timothy Trumper’s answers, his interview is being posted in six parts. If you are interested in deepening your understanding of the doctrine of adoption significantly, you will want to take the necessary time to carefully read his answers.
5. What difference should the doctrine of adoption make in a Christian’s spiritual life on a daily basis?
As stated earlier, adoption affords us the opportunity for a renewed appreciation of the Fatherhood of God, the life to which in Christ we have been redeemed and adopted, a new sense of filial identity and of the new household into which we’ve been introduced by grace. These factors can significantly impact our spiritual outlook. But there are other lessons too, which can be applied more personally.
First, the son or daughter of God is a person who is free. We no longer need to justify ourselves. Rather, we look to our elder brother, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, in his life, kept the law at every place we break it. Does this mean that we are free to live lawless lives? No! For the freedom we have in Christ is a liberty to keep God’s law. We keep the law, however, not as a way of salvation but as an expression of how thankful we are for the grace we’ve received in the gospel. That said, the law does not cover all the affairs of life. There are what we call “things indifferent” which we have the freedom to decide one way and then sometimes another.
The first sphere in which this new liberty manifests itself is prayer. When we come to faith in Christ and have placed on our lips by the Spirit the word “Father”, we cry out to God with what Ridderbos calls a “cry of liberation”. This cry is an essential evidence of the Spirit of adoption.
Implied in this cry (Paul uses the verb krazō) is not only the greater boldness, confidence and assurance of the church in general in the new covenant era, but also the brand new boldness, confidence and assurance each person experiences on entrance into the household of God. No longer do we pray unto God in some estranged manner. Rather, we pray to him as “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant [us], according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:14b-16 [NKJV]).
Also to the fore in talk of adoptive sonship is God’s rich providence. While he provides for all in a general sense, God is especially committed to providing for his family. The essential elements of his providence are preservation and protection. Interestingly, Calvin understood the Lord’s Supper to be a most graphic portrayal of God’s paternal providence. While we might question some of what he says of the Lord’s Supper (some of his language is positively cannibalistic), nonetheless his depiction of it as a banquet laid on by God the Father for his sons and daughters captures the imagination. By this banquet the Father nourishes his children, the language of which refers to the believer’s communion with Christ (interestingly, it is also found in the Westminster Standards). This communion is possible not because Christ descends from heaven — thus becoming present in, with, or under the bread and wine (the Lutheran view) — but by our ascent to heaven. This ascent occurs when we participate in the sacrament by faith. If Calvin is correct in this, the Lord’s Supper is more than a memorial; it is a real means of grace.
Then there’s obedience. The sons and daughters of God have responsibilities as well as privileges. Our chief responsibility is obedience to the will of God. This obedience shows itself in prayer and in adherence to the Ten Commandments. True obedience to our Father is born of filial gratitude. Such gratitude checks a licentious abuse of filial freedom on the one hand and a legalistic approach to obedience on the other. It resonates, however, with the example of Christ, who lived his earthly life in constant reference to his Father. His example of obedience helps us to focus aright; that is, not so much on the law as on the Christ who daily expressed his love for his Father. In such an atmosphere the commands of God become a delight, and are received as opportunities to honor our Father and to aid our brethren.
Important to note in all this is the thought that, as great as are our filial privileges, our Father stops short of spoiling us. By calling us to live lives of self-denial and of cross-bearing, he ensures that our blessings beautify us rather than corrupt us. After all, spoiled children reflect poorly on their parents! It is the knowledge that our Father loves us enough not to spoil us that helps us receive his chastening patiently, and to die to self. By doing so, we gradually conform to the image of Jesus, the Father’s only “natural born” Son.
Finally, adoption speaks of hope. This hope Paul depicts by means of the word “inheritance” (Rom. 8:17f.). Not only has God given his family members a promise of the inheritance, in granting us his Spirit he has also given us a downpayment on it (Eph. 1:13-14). We come by the inheritance not because of what we do, but because of who we are in Christ. The inheritance is, then, a free gift of the grace of adoption. This we shall come into in its fullness on the day of redemption (“the adoption” [Rom. 8:23]). From that day on we shall experience the consummation of God’s saving purposes, and shall do so as much in our bodies as in our souls.
Nothing indicates the grace of our Father more than the realization that he shares with us the inheritance regardless of the fact he never dies! It is the knowledge of this inheritance, coupled with the experience of the other more immediate privileges of adoptive sonship, which helps us to ride out the challenges of life, to die to self, and to take up our crosses. For the inheritance reveals to us most powerfully the gracious character of the gospel, from beginning to end; a grace it ought to be said that issues in future glory: God’s glory revealed in us (Rom. 8:18) and manifest in the perfect liberty of life on the new earth. And to think that this is what the Father envisioned for us way back in eternity past when pre-horizoning us to adoption!