Adoption is an act of God making born-again believers members of His family. The Greek word for adoption stems from two words: huios, meaning “son,” and thesis, meaning “a placing.” Thus, the word huiothesia conveys the idea of “placement into sonship.” This biblical term is meant to include both males and females.
From a first-century legal perspective, adoption meant taking a person from another family and making him or her legally a child in a new family. The son’s or daughter’s former relationships were severed, and the adoptee became a member of the new family under the father’s authority.
The New Testament concept of adoption is more sublime since it brings God and redeemed people into an everlasting relationship. Believers in Jesus are both born again and thus reckoned as children, and adopted into God’s family with the full benefits and responsibilities of adults.
Here’s how it works: In regeneration, the Holy Spirit makes us spiritually alive. That is, we are born again, or born from above (John 3:3-8). God considers us as newborn babes and addresses us as children. In adoption, the Spirit brings us into such a relationship with God that we are not only His sons and daughters, but joint heirs with Jesus, having the full privileges of adults.
God’s plan for His children
Adoption into God’s family is part of God’s plan for everyone who believes. As the apostle Paul writes, God has “predestined us to be adopted as sons through Jesus Christ for himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:5). It may help to see adoption in light of other elements of God’s work of salvation:
In calling, God extends to us an offer of adoption as the gospel is proclaimed and the Holy Spirit draws us to Christ.
In regeneration, the Holy Spirit awakens our dead human spirits, which have been cut off from the life-giving presence of God by our disbelief and rebellion.
In indwelling, the Spirit takes up permanent residence in our human spirits, the most holy place in the temples of our bodies.
In justification, the Father declares us righteous based on the imputation of our sins to Christ and the imputation of His righteousness to us.
In Spirit baptism, the Holy Spirit places us into the body of Christ, where we share the common presence of the Spirit with all other followers of Jesus.
In sealing, God places His mark of ownership on us, securing our salvation and distinguishing us from those still in the domain of darkness.
In sanctification, the Spirit sets us apart as holy and then engages in the lifelong process of making us so.
And in adoption, the Father brings us into His family as sons and daughters, ensuring us of the same intimacy the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have enjoyed as persons of the Trinity throughout all eternity.
All of these elements of salvation work together and provide the follower of Jesus lasting benefits, including: a new life; the forgiveness of sins; a right standing with God; a new family; a new destination; a new journey; and a new hope. Jesus may have had the ultimate fulfillment of all these benefits in mind when He declared, “Look, I am making everything new” (Rev. 21:5b).
A treacherous journey
The journey into adoption is a treacherous one. Because every person is a naturally born sinner, the New Testament describes us as “children under wrath” (Eph. 2:3) and “children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2; 5:6 KJV). We are citizens of Satan’s kingdom, a domain of darkness. We are spiritually blinded (2 Cor. 4:4), captives to the will of the evil one (2 Tim. 2:26), and dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1). As such, we are under divine wrath (John 3:36b).
But God doesn’t leave us there. He sends His Son, who goes to the cross, bears our sins, and then rises from the dead to conquer Satan, sin, and death for us.
By God’s grace, through faith in Jesus, we are purchased out of the slave market of sin, released forever from the clutches of the evil one, and welcomed as adopted children into God’s family.
Although believers are now and forevermore in the family of God, we won’t experience the full benefits of adoption until we are raised from the dead in glorification (Rom. 8:21-23). Only then do we receive our full inheritance, being conformed to the image of Christ and enjoying eternity in a sinless state in new heavens and a new earth purged of sin and its consequences (2 Peter 3:10-13; Rev. 21-22).
Adoption means we may rest assured of our salvation, for just as a Roman father could not disown an adopted son, God is faithful to His promise to conform us to the image of His eternal Son.