Adoption involves God the Father, Supreme Ruler and Judge legally declaring new believers in Christ to be His children and treating them likewise.


Adoption explained


Adoption involves God giving new believers in Christ the privileges or “rights”, legal standing and responsibilities of being His sons and daughters. Adoption involves becoming heirs to God’s inheritance. The glorious New Testament doctrine of adoption occurs only in the Apostle Paul’s writings (see Romans 8:15, 8:23, 9:4, Galatians 4:5 and Ephesians 1:5).


When does adoption occur?


Our adoption by God occurs at the moment we first receive Jesus Christ and His grace through faith. Romans 8:15-16 shows God became our Father the same moment we were born again by the Holy Spirit: “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, Abba, Father. The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”


Key characteristics of adoption


The New Testament teaching on being adopted as sons and daughters of God has the following key aspects to it:


·         Our adoption as sons and daughters was predestined by God before the foundation of the world (see Ephesians 1:4-5) and before Adam and Eve brought sin into the human race.

·         Our adoption is based on the fact God loves sinful human beings so perfectly, He craves to have them as a part of His family (see Ephesians 1:4-6). God does not adopt us because of some selfish advantage to Himself. He adopts us because He desires our greatest good.

·         Adoption refers to being placed into a family to which we did not belong. We were previously called children of wrath (see Ephesians 2:3), meaning we deserved severe judgement and never-ending punishment in the lake of fire.

·         Ephesians 1:5 reveals our adoption occurs through Jesus Christ. Without Jesus’ terrible death and subsequent resurrection, no human could be adopted by God as His child.

·         Galatians 4:4-5 links our adoption to Jesus’ death redeeming or buying us out of bondage: “…God sent forth His son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” God has bought believers who were previously slaves to sin, Satan and eternal condemnation, so He could adopt them as His children. What God has done is similar to an ancient king and master purchasing (redeeming) a slave and then adopting him as his son.

·         Ephesians 1:5 states God adopted us “according to the good pleasure” of His will. This shows He did not adopt out of mere duty or because He begrudgingly felt obliged to do this. This verse shows God felt enormous pleasure adopting wicked humans into His family.

·         Adoption is based totally on God’s unmerited free grace (see Ephesians 1:5-6).

·         Adoption by God is received by faith in Jesus Christ. Galatians 3:26 says: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

·         Galatians 4:5-6 links our adoption by God to the time of our receiving the Spirit of His Son. Adoption makes us God’s children in status. Being born-again or regenerated results in us becoming His children by nature.

·         Adoption by God means also we are made completely free in relation to our former relationships. Prior to our initial receiving of adoption by God through Jesus Christ, we were in a slave-like relationship to:


(a)    sin (see Romans 6:16-17),

(b)    the flesh (see Romans 8:8-9, Ephesians 2:3 and 2 Peter 2:10),

(c)    the world of sinful unbelievers and their attitudes (see Galatians 4:3),

(d)    the sentence of eternal punishment for anyone who does not obey every command in the Law of Moses every day (see Galatians 3:10, 3:13 and James 2:10),

(e)    Satan and his demons (see Ephesians 2:1-2, 2 Timothy 2:26),

(f)     various types of idols. Idols can be anything, not just pagan statues or images (see Ephesians 5:5, Philippians 3:19 and Colossians 3:5),

(g)    the fear of death (see Hebrews 2:15) and other fears (see Romans 8:15).


·         In another sense, believers can think of themselves as being adopted by their original real Father – God. In Luke 3:37, Adam is called “the son of God”. This shows Adam was originally created with God as His Father. If Adam and Eve had not fallen into sin, their human descendants would have been immediately born into a Father-child relationship with God. But Adam and Eve’s turning away from God resulted in them and their descendants being not His children in terms of status or nature.

Adoption involves the restoration of spiritually lost children of God to being what they were before the Fall – children of God with all the privileges and responsibilities of such a status.

·         After being adopted as God’s sons or daughters, we still have the flesh to battle with (see Galatians 5:13), continue to live in the world (see 2 Corinthians 10:3) and still have Satan and demons tempting us (see 2 Corinthians 2:11, 1 Peter 5:8-9). But through adopting us, God wants us to be free from the rule of the flesh, the world, Satan and demons.

There are many in the Church today who treat the Biblical facts about our adoption by God as mere intellectual truths. They do not emphasise the Bible teaches we must continually aim to live as adopted sons, free from our past masters. They make the Bible into a book of truths or doctrines to be only believed and verbally confessed, not also lived. Paul and the other New Testament writers taught practical doctrine, not just a set of truths to be believed.


What type of adoption?


There are differing opinions among Bible commentators about what type of adoption Paul was referring to when he used the word. Some say Roman. Others say Greek. Yet others argue Paul was alluding to God’s adoption of Old Testament Israelites. Others say it is a combination of two or all of these. It is difficult to prove conclusively which alterative is correct.

We can say with certainty Paul was not referring to ancient Israelite adoption of children nor modern Western adoption. The ancient Israelites did not have any form of legally adopting children. The Law of Moses contains no instructions about adopting children. The only mention of adoption of children among Israelites in Old Testament times was of Esther by her cousin Mordecai (see Esther 2:7 and 15), but this was in a foreign land under Persian rule.

Paul was definitely not referring to modern Western adoption in which some, but obviously not all, adopted children are often allowed to do almost anything they want, are poorly disciplined and are given few responsibilities. Often when modern Westerners read in the Bible about God adopting us, they wrongly think of it in terms of things such as these. But Galatians 5:13 shows that God’s adopted children are not given freedom by Him to do what they want.

It is probable Paul was speaking of God’s adoption of new believers in Christ mainly or wholly in terms of His adoption of the Old Testament Israelites. Verses such as Exodus 4:22-23, Deuteronomy 14:1, 32:6, Isaiah 1:2, Jeremiah 31:9 and Hosea 11:1 refer to God’s adoption of the Israelites. Romans 9:4 shows God adopted the Israelites in Old Testament times: “Who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises.”


Relevant Greek word


In the original Greek New Testament, the word used for adoption is “huiothesia”. “Huiothesia” is used in relation to those who “are accepted by God as His sons”. [1]



Bible Study Questions


1.         Describe what it means to be adopted by God?

2.         When are humans adopted by God?

3.         When did God predestine our adoption as His sons and daughters?

4.         What relationships are we completely freed from through our adoption by God?

5.         What does Galatians 4:4-5 reveal about the relationship between our redemption and adoption by God?

6.         What does Ephesians 1:5 mean when it says God adopted us “according to the good pleasure” of His will?


[1] Bauer, page 833.



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