Sermon for Sunday, June 7, 2009
Dr. Dan Doriani
CHILDREN OF GOD
Romans 8:12-17, I John 3:1-2, Galatians 4:47
There is nothing like a trip to the third world to remind us of our material privileges. Don't drink the water! Don't put it on your toothbrush. When you take a shower – a trickle of cold water – keep your mouth closed. When you go to a meal, don't presume it will meet your definition of edible. Stick with bread, fruit and nuts. When you breathe, the air may choke you. When you get home, your food, air, water, and bed may bring ecstasy, but after a few weeks, you take it for granted again. That is true for material privileges and for spiritual privileges.
Basic idea: Adoption is our highest privilege. Savor it; never take for granted, let it lead our thoughts, feelings.
1. The idea of adoption
There is a common, plausible idea that can keep us from savoring our adoption. It's the half-true idea that everyone is a child of God. The Bible makes two powerful, positive statements about everyone's relation to God.
1. Every human is created by God, who cares for everything and everyone he makes. "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45).
2. Every human is made in the image of God. Everyone has God-like capacities – a rational mind, a moral sense and agency, a sense of eternity. Everyone has the potential to reflect the character of God.
Because of this, people sometimes say that God is the father of all. It is certainly true that God gives life to all and cares for all, however these are things fathers do. So, if I'm in a casual conversation, I'm not going to correct someone who says, "God is the father of mankind." But something vital is lost when we say that, for He has something better, richer for His people than for the world at large.
People speak of the miracle of childbirth. They mean it's a great thing to bring a child into the world. I agree. But if we call childbirth a miracle, and three hundred and fifty children are born per minute, what can we call the works of Jesus, one-time events in the plan of redemption? Super Miracle Plus? Save the term miracle and save the term "child of God" for its highest use: a relation of singular tenderness and intimacy.
Adoption is the act of leaving one's natural or physical family and entering another family, with all its privileges and responsibilities. In the Bible, adoption is a chief benefit of salvation. God graciously brings believers into His spiritual family and grants us all the privileges of a child and an heir.
We have quite a number of adopted children in this church. The parents go through a long process and solemnly hear that they have every duty, every privilege and responsibility – exactly the same as if the child sprang from their body. Joys and sorrows are shared just the same. So it is with God.
John 1 says God created this world, but we ignored Him. Then God's Son came and we failed to recognize him. He came to people he created in his image and they didn't welcome him (John 1:10-11). Yet some did recognize and receive him.
They believed in him and he gave them the authority – the rightful power – to become children of God. They were His creatures and His image. They became His children. Who is God's child? "Those who believe in his name" (1:12). So those who believe in Jesus are born of God. Literally, they "were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (1:13).
Paul says the same thing: God sent His Son, born of a woman, under the law, "to redeem those who were [born] under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons." This brings benefits we must savor and claim. The weather has been wonderful lately, but we must savor it. Go outside, walk, do sports, garden!
So, too, it is with our adoption. "The Spirit teaches us that we can cry, 'Abba! Father!'" We must know that God hears our cry – and call him. (Galatians 4:6). We are now God's sons [& daughters] "and if a son then an heir" (Galatians 4:7).
Some say we cannot appreciate the Fatherhood of God if we have a foolish, cold or hard father. That can't be true. Living under a bad boss can and should motivate us to seek a good one – or be a good one if we can. We don't lose interest in "good bossness"!
It is better to say, "I had a good father, but a flawed man, too; God is the best father." Another: "I had a harsh, uncaring father; the Lord is the Father I sought."
How then is God our Father? The Bible says two things about the relation between God the Father and Jesus the Son and they speak to us. First, the Father has authority; the Son does what the Father tells him to do, says what the Father tells him to say. So he has authority over us. Second, the Father has affection. Father and Son share affection. The Father loves the Son and the Son the Father. So, too, the Father loves us.
A brief history of adoption
In the Old Testament, God is mankind's creator and king (not Father). He makes covenants, redeems and gives laws to His people. But you see the note of distance. In the Old Testament, God is holy, holy, holy and we are not (Isaiah 6). No one can look at Him and live (Exodus 33:20). The sacrificial system shouts, "Don't come too close. Come through a priest and bring a sacrifice for your sins."
The primary name for God in the Old Testament, Yahweh, means "I am" or "I am what I am." It presents God as He is in Himself, not who He is in relation to us. The Old Testament never commands us to call God "Father." At most, the Lord occasionally says, "Israel is my son" or tells Pharaoh, "Let my son go" (Exodus 4:22). But in the Old Testament, sonship is a minor theme and God never says, "Call me Father."
In the new covenant, God remains holy, self-existent. But things change when Jesus comes. In the Incarnation, the Lord began to draw nearer to us. He knows our temptation, our weakness and sin, and has come to us to deliver us.
In the New Testament, God has new names. We have a human name – Jesus of Nazareth. And Jesus gives us a new name for God: Father! God is "our Father in heaven." Our Father knows our needs, sends good gifts and cares for us. Our Father hears our prayers, forgives us, rewards us (Matthew 5:45, 6:1-6, 7:11, 10:29; Mark 11:25).
It is no longer dangerous to draw near to the holy God. Jesus offered an atonement for sin. If we receive him by faith, we have bold, confident access to God. Hebrews 10:19, 22 says, "We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place [God's presence] by the blood of Jesus… [So] let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith." Our heart is clean, our conscience no longer accuses, for Jesus has redeemed and adopted us.
God's way of adoption is distinct from human practice. In America, we adopt adorable little babies….
In the Old Testament, a childless couple might adopt a faithful male servant to keep the family name alive and pass on their land to a worthy man. In ancient Rome, childlessness was common among the elite because they used lead water pipes. Such couples searched for a noble young adult. The adopted man continued the family name and privileges. So the wealthy adopted worthy adults.
God's ways are as far from ours as possible. In adoption, parents love and care for children because they choose to, not because they have to. That is a blessing for adopted children to treasure.
God the Father adopts neither babies nor worthy adults. He adopts unworthy adults, men and women whom He loves even though they do not and will not merit His love. I do not say we are worthless or unlovable. Rather we are a mix of attractive and unattractive traits, skills and deficits, virtues and vices. Because of His love, because of Christ, God chooses to see and act on our virtue and beauty.
See yourself this way – as God's beloved children. I know that many have been told you don't deserve love, that you are unlovable. People who were supposed to love and protect you have said terrible things to you. Or maybe people just say nothing to you. It hurts, oh how it hurts!
But the Lord says you are loved, treasured, protected, now and always. Believe that and let that word of God outweigh anything else you hear.
I also want you to do an exercise: Think of a fellow believer you don't particularly like. Remember why, if you wish. Now remember this: the Lord has more reasons to dislike that person than you do. He is more aware of their flaws. They hurt Him more. Yet He loves that person and has adopted him or her as His child. So it is with all the unlovely people in God's family. When a fellow believer vexes you, remember he/she is God's child.
2. The supreme privilege of adoption
Adoption is probably the highest privilege of the Christian's life. Adoption is not God's greatest act – that is the Incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son. Nor is adoption our foundational blessing – that is justification. But think:
- In justification, we stand before God as defendant. He is our judge and declares us innocent. In adoption, we stand before God as a child. He is our Father and He declares us beloved.
- In justification, He tells repentant sinners they are no longer liable to the punishment their sins deserve. In adoption, He tells children they will always be loved and protected.
The Bible calls us God's people, His servants, friends. We are His sheep, His treasure, but nothing surpasses this: We are God's sons and daughters, now and forever.
I know: there are days when we don't feel like God's children. We're busy, sick, worried. We work on things that seem meaningless. It doesn't always seem right to say we are God's children. But lots of truths don't seem right. Does it seem right that the universe is expanding? That atoms and molecules are mostly empty space? That electrons have a cloud, not a specific location? Lots of truths are baffling at times. So accept it; meditate on it: we are God's children.
Let our adoption leaven the dark days. Calm us in chaos. When life seems meaningless, remind yourself of it. Claim the privileges of adoption. The Westminster Confession of Faith says that in adoption, believers are taken into the number and enjoy the privileges of the children of God. First, God's name is placed on us. We are "called by his name" (Jeremiah 14:9). Jesus says, "I will write upon him the name of God" (Revelation 3:12).
2. The particular privileges of adoption
Adoption means protection and provision
God protects us. Solomon says God's children have a place of refuge (Proverbs 14:26). Peter says, "Cast all our cares on him, because he cares for us" (1 Peter 5:7). And Jesus says, "So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, but your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (Matthew 6:30-32).
One day I was running along a country road and a little yellow finch fluttered to the ground before me and lay there struggling, breathing hard. I watched a while, but my exercise program demanded that I press on. I passed by the spot on the way home. The bird lay lifeless. God doesn't have exercise programs. He doesn't have to move on to the next things.
Our Father clothes the flowers, feeds the birds, even watches as their little hearts fail. If God expends such interest on birds, so that "not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of the Father," how much more will he clothe, feed and watch us. "So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows" (Matthew 6:25-26, 10:29-31).
Our adoption gives us direction
We can see the conduct of the Christian life through the lens of our adoption. The Sermon on the Mount stresses it.
First, the disciple imitates God. Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God" (5:9). It's good to help people find peace when they are at odds. It's also good to help them find peace within. It is a God-like thing to do, for He makes peace between people and makes peace within people.
Later, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." That is, we act as sons when we love our enemies, for God "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (5:44-45).
The climax: "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." Our first thought is, “This is impossible! We will never be as holy, just, mature and complete as God.” Yet He is our Father and that gives hope.
He is our Father in heaven so that He is far above us. Yet because He is "our Father," He is near us. The standard is high, yet sensible. We are members of God's family, we should aspire to be like our Father. In the physical family, it is natural for a child to look, walk, and talk like his father. In the spiritual family too, we should expect to be like our Father – for example, out gestures.
Second, disciples please the Father. Jesus said, "Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. Don't fast and give to the poor and pray in order to show men how pious you are! Don't aim for that reward. Let the Father see your devotion. Honor him and you will have reward in heaven (6:1-18).
Third, disciples pray to God their Father and He hears. We pray to "our Father" and good fathers surely want to hear their children. Adoption means He especially hears our petition for guidance or direction. Romans 8:14 says, "those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God."
Rebekah Sasse played the prelude on May 24. She was torn between two choices: a Chopin prelude or Mendelssohn's piece "Confidence." She liked the Chopin better, but after praying, she felt God's leading to play the Mendelssohn. Then she saw the bulletin: the theme of the service was assurance and confidence in our salvation. She was stunned. It was the perfect piece for the day! Through her prayer, the Lord led her. So in ways large and small, the Spirit leads us.
Of course, we can also resist God's direction. When we do, He disciplines. We often use the words discipline and punishment interchangeably, but we shouldn't. The government isn't sure if it is punishing or disciplining criminals and the result is confusion. But God, as a good Father, is not confused. He does not punish – Jesus suffered that for us. Now He corrects and disciplines.
Punishment aims at justice. Discipline aims at reform. Loving parents discipline their children and God is no different. Hebrews 12 says that when God sent hardship to the Christians in Rome, they should endure it a father's discipline:
“What son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined… then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. [We] all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness (Hebrews 12:7-10).”
Discipline can be kind and loving. A simple reminder: What you just did isn't who you really are. I recently sent three allergy prescriptions to a ninety day supply service. There was a problem with one, so they sent none for three weeks. I called and got nowhere for a while. The customer service said that it would be another three weeks. I asked to speak to the supervisor. At first, she sounded defensive – another upset customer? I said, "I love your company! You've offered terrific service to our family for years. That's why I was surprised when my medicine didn’t come and you didn’t contact me. It's not like you! Your service is great." The woman was laughing as she promised to get my medicine out that day, shipped overnight – no charge of course. My call was a form of discipline, but hardly painful. Be who you are!
By His discipline, He protects us for day of redemption.
Our adoption grants us honor
Disciples seek to glorify the Father. Jesus said we are the light of the world. Therefore, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (5:16). This is the highest goal – that men see our good deeds as the result of God's work in us, so that they praise God, not us. How? They don't see a good person; they see the work of God in a person.
When my children were young, the sweetest thing anyone could say to me was, "As I watch your children, I know you must be a good father and good parents." Now imagine that an older child might think, "I hope that my life, my conduct brings honor to my parents." Rare, but this is what we should think – even pray, "Lord, let my conduct bring honor to you, my Father.”
God also brings honor to us. John 1 says we have the right, the authority, to be called sons of God. Hebrews says Jesus is "not ashamed to call" us his brothers. He says, "I will proclaim my name to my brothers" and he tells the Father, "Here am I and the children [you] have given me" (Hebrews 2:10-15).
He could be ashamed. Every family has someone who is embarrassing – loud voice, bad jokes, no taste, dreadful clothes, criticizes others, body odor. In God's family, I could be that guy. But the Lord is glad to have us in the family. Indeed, He made us His witnesses; ambassadors and representatives of His resurrection.
Because of our adoption, God empathizes with us. "As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him" (Psalms 103:13).
Because of our adoption, God hears us. In our offices, there are just a few callers that men and women take every time – spouse and children. But sometimes we're already on the phone. But the Lord always takes our call. Paul says we have free and bold access to His presence, His throne, the source of grace. He hears our prayers and we have a right to petition Him. Even more, He gives what we need even if we don't know how to pray (Ephesians 3:12, Romans 5:2, Hebrews 4:16, Romans 8:26). God doesn't hear us because we use many words or perfect formulas. He hears because H is our Father. He knows what we need before we ask (Matthew 6:7-8).
And the best is yet to come. John says, "Behold!" Look and consider "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (1 John 3:1-2). And the future is better than the present. "When he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
Two things remain: If you don't yet know God as your Father and you feel God calling you to faith, why delay? Receive the blessings of adoption today
Believers, savor the blessings of adoption: provision, protection, discipline, direction, honor and affection.
Note: This message (like all) is indebted to various sources. The Westminster Confession of Faith summary of adoption is so compact and concise, it has shaped many a source. I found most helpful the chapters on adoption by J. I. Packer, in Knowing God and Jerry Bridges, Gospel for Real Life.