The Father’s Love in Adoption

This post continues a series on The Love of the Father. Below are the prior posts.
Reasons We Struggle to Experience God’s Love
Seven Features of God’s Fatherly Love
God’s Love in Revealing Himself
The Father’s Love in Sending His Son

I’m thankful for the forgiveness of sin, the removal of condemnation and punishment, and the promise of eternal life in a resurrected body. I’m thankful I don’t have to carry guilt and shame because Christ took it away. But of all the blessings we have in Christ, there is none greater than being adopted by God so that we become his beloved sons and daughters. J. I. Packer states that adoption is “the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification…. Adoption is higher, because of the richer relationship with God that it involves.”[1]

God the Father’s love can be seen in the friendly and familial vocabulary describing a believer’s relationship with him. We are called his beloved sons and daughters. He is called our Father, an endearing term unlike the formidable Deity of other religions. We are known as God’s children, sons and daughters, beneficiaries of adoption, and heirs. J.I. Packer writes, “What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father.”

We are not orphans. God does not pay our court fee through atonement but then leave us on our own. He reconciles us to himself, adopts us as his children, and bestows on us all the wonderful rights and privileges in sonship (a term which enfolds men and women). We belong. We belong to God and we belong to one another as family members. It’s only by God’s grace that enemies of God become children of God and strangers become siblings.

God wants to be known and seen in this way, which is why he draws on the affectionate language of Father and 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.” (Gal. 4:4-7)

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1)

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” (Gal. 3:26)

Too Good to Be True

Adoption refers to God’s saving activity of bringing into his family and the declaration that we are now his sons and daughters. We gain a Father, an elder brother in Jesus, a family in the Church, an unfading inheritance, and all the joys and blessings that come with being God’s child. Richard Phillips explains that adoption conveys both privileges and responsibilities:

“Adoption makes us full members of God’s family, not second-class children. It provides us all the privileges of sonship, with obligations as well. What are these privileges? First, we have a relationship with God as our Father; we come to him familiarly, calling him Father, with open access to his presence. Second, we have God’s care and provision, materially and spiritually through the Holy Spirit. Third, we have the privilege of God’s fatherly discipline as he works in us for a harvest of righteousness and peace. Fourth, we become heirs of all our Father’s goods. With these privileges come responsibilities; they include bearing God’s name nobly in this world, doing his will, obeying him as our Father and sovereign Lord, defending and advancing the cause of his household and reign. The final privilege we receive in adoption is acceptance as beloved brothers with Jesus Christ.”[2]

Being God’s children—with full access to God and all the blessings of being a child of his—can almost seem too good to be true. Like the prodigal son in Luke 15, we can sometimes feel like our sins bars us from such intimacy with and favor from God. We offer to be God’s servants and work for him, but he will have none of it. We’re more than willing to settle for a room in the detached garage, but God invites us into his home and seats us next to him at the table. He warmly wraps his arms around us and assures us we are his beloved children, and he is our perfectly loving Father. He combats tendency to act as servants who work for him or fear by assuring us that he has made us full-fledged heirs by his grace.

This is why theologians sometimes talk about how adoption is the highest privilege. It’s not that other blessings in Christ are of lesser value, but none express the grace and the intimacy of our relationship to God like adoption. As Ray Ortlund writes, “Justification clears us legally of guilt before our Judge, but adoption includes us emotionally in the heart of our Father.”[3]

The longing in every person’s heart for a father who cares, loves, and protects points us our need for God to be our Father. Our greatest earthly examples of fathers are but a tiny glimpse of what God is like. It’s not simply that God acts fatherly toward us but that the becomes our Father. “God does not just think of us AS IF we were his children; we ARE his children through our participation in his Son.”[5] That’s the beauty of adoption as a legal, definitive act where we are made God’s sons and daughters.

“Because of Christ’s work, our thick file listing our debts is replaced with adoption papers granting us an inheritance. We’re not just declared not guilty by the Judge and set on our way. We’re actually adopted by the Father and now loved more than we could ever imagine.”[6]

The Atmosphere and Aroma of Grace

Imagine two people in your mind’s eye. First, imagine someone you feel comfortable with because you know how much you’re loved and accepted. Maybe that’s a spouse, parent, best friend, or a person at church. When you’re with them you don’t ever have to worry about being anything other than yourself. Now visualize a second person you feel like you always have to measure up for, or who you don’t ever really feel at ease with because it seems you always have to impress them or be on your best behavior. You think if they saw the real you or you don’t do things just right then they wouldn’t like or accept you. Maybe this person is a parent, an employer, or a “friend.”

Imagine two people in your mind’s eye. First, imagine someone you feel comfortable with because you’re loved and accepted. Maybe that’s a spouse, parent, family member, or best friend. When with them you don’t ever have to worry about being anything other than yourself. Now visualize a second person who creates an uneasy sense of the need to measure up or being on your best behavior (possibly an employer, acquaintance, a parent, grandparent, or a friend who always make you feel uneasy). Think of the difference if you were just sitting in your living room with either person watching TV together or talking. How free do you feel with the first person versus how hesitant or anxious you feel with the second?

Unfortunately, many of us think about God as if he’s this second person. We’re often unsure if we’re wanted and welcomed just as we are and we second-guess if we should even be here. We relate to him as if we’ve got to impress him or convince him we’re good. We don’t think he loves us and accepts us. This changes our relationship and how we act. 

While this can be our fallen way of thinking about God as his children, the Bible paints a very different picture. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15). Because of our justification and adoption in Christ, the Bible describes God the Father as the person in the room we should completely trust and therefore find rest with—awake to the fact we are truly known and yet fully loved and accepted. The Father doesn’t hold back love until we do change or earn it. It’s a full stream of love that is unconditional.

If you are his child, there is nothing you will ever lack. If you are his child, his love will never grow cold, his patience will never wear out, his commitment and care to you will never run dry, and his joy in you will never fade. You will never be a bother to him, an interruption, annoyance, embarrassment, or unwelcomed. The Father’s smile is forever upon his children. His heart is warm toward us. His posture is that of open arms in love not crossed arms in disappointment. And we are always welcome to draw near to him, whether for rest, for comfort, for help, or for strength. As a perfect Father, his shoulders are strong enough that we can lean on him and yet he is gentle enough that we can rest on him.

We not only our on his heart but we have his ear. God listens to us when we talk to him. I know my own dad is never bothered by me sharing my burdens with him, whether it’s tied to asking for help, bringing up a need, or just sharing what’s troubling me. And I feel the same toward my own kids. Though I’m not perfect at this, my desire is that my daughter and son would know they always has my ear. They can always come to me. There is no “more important business” or “better things to do” beyond talking with them. This is the privilege we have that as sons and daughters, we can cry out to our Father (Rom. 8:15).

Adoption: Living with Freedom Rather than Fear

Imagine if we thought of and related to God as his adopted, beloved sons and daughters. How different would your Christian walk be if you believed and experienced that God is completely for you? This freedom puts oxygen back in our lungs that had been sucked out by fear. It’s the difference of practically living according to the gospel versus practically living according to works.

God is a Father who sees us and knows us, yet still loves us. He doesn’t put up with us, instead, he loves us and even likes us. This releases us from anxiously keeping up a façade or toiling to attain his love. We can rest in the way he delights in us. We don’t have to dress up before him in our nice clothing like we’re entertaining a guest. Instead, since he’s family, we can put on our jeans and enjoy the company. 

Adoption offers me comfort, hope, and assurance. It tells me I belong to God as his son and he is my Father. And not temporarily, but forever. Not because I deserved it or caused it, but because he is full of compassion, kindness, and love.


[1] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 206-07.

[2] Richard Phillips, Chosen in Christ (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2004), 64.

[3] Ray Ortlund, The Gospel, 69.

[4] David B. Garner, Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2016), 25

[5] Marcus Johnson, One with Christ.

[6] Dustin Crowe, Finding Satisfaction in Christ.

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