What does it mean that Christians are adopted by God?
Adoption is a process that makes one a legal son or daughter in a family they were not born into. The metaphor of adoption is used throughout the Bible to give a picture of how we become sons and daughters of God through the sacrifice of Jesus. God sent Jesus to earth "so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:5).
Once we have been adopted into the family of God, He indwells us with the Holy Spirit who reminds us that we are God's children: "And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God" (Galatians 4:6–7; see also Romans 8:14–17). Adoption grafts us into a new family line and gives us a new inheritance. When we are in a family, we experience joy and suffering alike alongside our other family members and we do what we can to support each other. When we are adopted into God's family, it is the same way. We become kingdom co-heirs with Christ, sharing in His glory and suffering, and supporting each other as the body of Christ (Romans 8:17; 1 Corinthians 12:25–26).
The concept of adoption into God's family is another name for being "born again" like Jesus talked about with Nicodemus (John 3:3–6). In the ancient Jewish society, adoption was not a normal part of culture, which is why Jesus used the more common Jewish idea of being born again when speaking with Nicodemus. A person's status was based exclusively on birth and there were systems in place to ensure a family heir in a family where the father had died before an heir had been born. In both the metaphor of being born again and of being adopted, we become children of God when we were not originally born into His family.
We see adoption happen more frequently in ancient Roman culture primarily as a legal arrangement rather than anything else. Roman culture generally required that men pass on their inheritance to their sons, but if a given man felt that his sons were not up to the task of managing wealth, he could adopt any other man that he wanted to as his own son and give him the inheritance instead. The adoptee would get a legal name change, his existing debts would be cleared, and he would have all the same rights as a natural born son. A Roman father could disown his son, so in fact, adoption in Roman culture was a more powerful bond than natural birth because it was irreversible.
While the language of the Bible uses the word "sons" when talking about adoption into God's family, it is important to keep in mind that Paul was writing to both male and female believers. While in Jewish or Roman culture, daughters could not be heirs, in the kingdom of God, both men and women are adopted into God's family, becoming heirs with Christ. In God's kingdom, men and women are equally valued and have equal rights.
When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we are adopted into God's family; He cancels our debt to sin, gives us His name, and makes us heirs of His kingdom. We are not adopted by God because He thinks we will make the best heirs. Rather, He adopts us because of His great grace and love for us. Ephesians 2:4–6 describes this miracle: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." Adoption by God is irreversible, and we can be thankful that! As Christians, He has added us to His forever family (John 1:12).
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