Pillar Journal

The Trinitarian Foundation of Adoption

All the persons of the Trinity are involved in our adoption.

Believers are not sons of God by nature because we lost the status and privileges of sonship in our tragic fall with Adam in Paradise. Adoption is possible only when God’s electing grace calls us into all the privileges and blessings of being His children. When we are born again, Christ delivers us from Satan’s slavery, and as grace upon grace, transfers us to the Father’s sonship. God calls us sons because we are adopted into His family.

Adoption in the time of John usually took place in adolescence or adulthood, not infancy. Under Roman law, adoption was a legal act by which a man chose someone outside of his family to be the heir of his estate. Likewise, believers become children of God through the gracious act of God the Father, who makes them heirs of the kingdom of God and of His covenant. The Father seals and witnesses that “He doth make an eternal covenant of grace with us, and adopts us for His children and heirs, and therefore will provide us with every good thing, and avert all evil or turn it to our profit.” Therefore, our children are also “to be baptized as heirs of the kingdom of God and of His covenant.”1These emphases, quoted from the Dutch Reformed liturgy for baptism (The Psalter [Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 1999], 126), also come shining through in the directions of the Westminster Assembly for the administration of baptism (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 165–67).

Sometimes adopting parents announce the reception of their adopted with the words “our chosen son.” Likewise, dear believer, God the Father set His heart upon you while you were a stranger and rebel, and in no way a member of His family. He called you, drew you to Himself, brought you into His family, proclaimed you to be His child, and now reserves for you the eternal inheritance of the kingdom of God.

The story is told of a king who found a poor man’s child, took him out of the gutter, and made him a prince in the royal household, with all its status and privilege. The gospel story is not fiction, however, for Scripture reveals that the Almighty God and Father has set His love upon you (Jer. 31:3), brought you up out of a horrible pit (Ps. 40:2), brought you into His household (Heb. 3:6), and gave you all the privileges and blessings of being His child (Rom. 8:16, 17).

“Beloved, now are we the sons of God,” says John in verse 2. This is not merely legal language. We believers are, indeed, God’s chosen ones, as Ephesians 1:5–7 says. How astonishing that we, as God’s adopted children, share the privileges that belong to God’s only begotten Son! Have you grasped the astonishing truth of what Christ prays in John 17:23: “…that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me”? This love is the essence of God’s fatherhood. The love of the Father for the Son extends to all who are in Him, as adopted sons and daughters of God. It shows us how far God is willing to go when He adopts us into His family.

We become children of God, that is, God becomes our Father, by substitution or, as John calls it, propitiation: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10; cf. 1 John 2:2). Propitiation may be a strange term to us, but it is a vitally important one, for it contains the heart of the gospel.

Let me explain. We are not sons and daughters of God by nature. Many live under this false idea. They think that everyone is a child of God because we all come from the same Father. It is true that we are all creatures of the one divine Creator, but the Bible nowhere tells us that we are children of God by nature. Rather, it tells us that by nature we are children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). Because of the fallen, sinful nature that we inherit from Adam, we are the objects of God’s wrath, anger, and judgment. As Watson writes, “We have enough in us to move God to correct us, but nothing to move him to adopt us, therefore exalt free grace, begin the work of angels here; bless him with your praises who hath blessed you in making you his sons and daughters.”2Watson, A Body of Divinity, 160.

God has only one natural Son, the eternal Word who became flesh as the Lord Jesus Christ. His only begotten Son is the Son of His love. Now God’s amazing love to sinners is revealed in the way He makes children of wrath to be the sons of His love. The Father loves the Son, but in the astonishing substitution that God accepted in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the wrath of God against us was poured upon His only begotten Son, who thereby became the atoning sacrifice or propitiation for our sins. We who were sons of wrath become the sons of His love, because the beloved Son of God became the bearer of His wrath on the cross.

This is the astonishing biblical doctrine of penal substitution. Dear believers, Jesus Christ, who deserved eternal heaven, bore our eternal hell as the punishment of our sins, so that the gates of hell may be eternally closed for us and the gates of heaven be eternally thrown open. Oh, what a price Christ had to pay to accomplish this task! He had to hang in the naked flame of His Father’s wrath and be cast into outer darkness, crying out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46)—all so that God could, for Christ’s sake, bring us, who were by nature estranged and rebellious sinners, into the family of God and acknowledge us as His children.

This is the only way to become a child of God—only through Christ as the propitiation, the atoning sacrifice, the penal substitute, the Lamb of God, delivered up for our sins. Only for Christ’s sake does God become the Father of His people. What country does this love come from—a love that would cause the holy God of all eternity to accept this transaction on behalf of poor, hopeless, hell-worthy sinners such as we are?

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God—we who deserve His judgment, dethroned Him from our lives, spurned His love, and defied His laws. We can never earn God’s love, yet He graciously lavishes love upon us in Christ. Here, surely, is the great assurance of the child of God, that he was not chosen for any good in him but simply because God the Father loved him even when he was bound for hell (Rom. 5:8). God loved the sinner who had no thought of God in his heart, and God adopted him to be His son. How wonderful is the assurance of the Father’s words: “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3)!

All the persons of the Trinity are involved in our adoption. Adoption is the gracious act of God the Father whereby He chooses us, calls us to Himself, and gives us the privileges and blessings of His children. God the Son earned those blessings for us through His propitiatory death and sacrifice, by which we become children of God (1 John 4:10). And the Holy Spirit changes us from children of wrath, which we are by nature, into children of God by means of regeneration, or the new birth, sealing our adoption with His own witness.

Excerpt From
The Beauty & Glory of the Father
Joel R. Beeke