Earlier as I sat on a hotel couch watching a movie with my boys, and now as I sit next to a 16-month girl fast asleep, I am awed by the wonder of adoption. People sometimes wonder if a parent can love a child they adopt in the same way that they love a child who is born biologically into their family. Rest assured—this is not a problem when I look at Caleb, Joshua, and Mara Ruth. My heart sometimes feels like it is literally bursting with love for each of them, and I cannot imagine loving any one of them more…or less. They are without exception fully my children, and I am without hesitation gladly their father.
In this way, simply spending time with my children sometimes seems like a primer on the beauty of salvation. I’m reminded of J.I. Packer’s words:
What is a Christian? The richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father. If you want to [know] how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all.
Oh, to know God as Father…what a privilege! Just let it soak in for a minute. God. Your Father. Let this thought, this reality, this pleasure prompt and control you! And to know that this is possible because He has adopted you. Christian, He planned to adopt you, He pursued after you, and He has paid the price for you to become His child (see Ephesians 1:3-14). This is why Packer goes on to say:
Adoption is the highest privilege that the Gospel offers: higher even than justification. This may cause raising of eyebrows, for justification is the gift of God on which since Luther evangelicals have laid the greatest stress, and we are accustomed to say, almost without thinking, that free justification is God’s supreme blessing to us sinners. Nonetheless, careful thought will show the truth of the statement we have just made.
That justification – by which we mean God’s forgiveness of the past together with his acceptance for the future – is the primary and fundamental blessing of the Gospel is not in question. Justification is the primary blessing, because it meets our primary spiritual need. We all stand by nature under God’s judgment. His law convicts us, guilt gnaws at us, making us restless, miserable, and in our lucid moments afraid. We have no peace in ourselves because we have no peace with our Maker. So we need the forgiveness of our sins, and assurance of a restored relationship with God, more than we need anything else in the world. And this the Gospel offers us before it offers us anything else.
But this is not to say that justification is the highest blessing of the gospel. Adoption is higher, because of the richer relationship with God that it involves.
To think of it…in Christ, we have not only been declared right before God the Judge (as if that were not enough). But we have also been loved by God the Father.
Indeed, salvation is not about reciting a superstitious prayer; it’s about receiving the position of a son. I’m reminded of John Wesley, at one time an honor graduate of Oxford University, ordained as a clergyman in the Church of England. He was active in good works—visiting inmates in prison, distributing food and clothes to the needy, and helping slum children and orphans. He studied the Bible rigorously and went to every worship service he could. He gave generously, prayed consistently, and fasted regularly. He event went as a missionary to what was then the British colony of Georgia to serve American Indians. Yet after all this, Wesley was still not a Christian. He later wrote in his journal,
“I who went to America to convert others was never myself converted to God.”
But his next words in that journal entry were most telling. This journal entry, written after he did indeed receive salvation in Christ, contains the following words:
I who went to America to convert others was never myself converted to God. I had even the faith of a servant, though not that of a son.
In other words, Wesley had never come to know God as Father.
Wesley’s story, Packer’s words, and the truth of Scripture beckon each of us to ask, “Do we know God as Father?” Not, “Do you read your Bible? Do you go to church? Have you prayed the prayer? Have you made the decision?” But, “Do you know that you are a child of God, and does His reality as your Father prompt and control your entire being—your thinking, your talking, your feeling, your working, dreaming, your spending, your praying, your studying, your loving, and your living?”
Oh, be reminded today, in the same way that I am reminded this evening next to my three kids (one from Kazakhstan, one from the United States, and one from China), that our Father loves His children without exception and gives to each of them all the staggering privileges that divine sonship affords.