Ephesians 1:4&5 “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will”
“Praise be to God!” Paul cries, because God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For example, God chose us, he tells the Ephesian church, before the creation of the world. God made up his mind that a vast number of sinners would become holy and blameless in his sight, that is, as righteous as the angels themselves, but then Paul praises God for something more wonderful than that. God actually has adopted all these chosen people as his sons, and that is something the angels themselves have never known, nor ever will. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for such a blessing!” Let us look at the wonderful privilege of being adopted into God’s family. Let us begin by clearing away some of the debris that clutters our understanding of this truth.
1. THERE ARE SOME MISUNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT ADOPTION.
i] ADOPTION IS NOT A PRIVILEGE GIVEN TO ALL MANKIND.
Of course, all men are made in the image of God, the most handicapped – physically and mentally and morally – all bear something of the divine image. All men have one great Father who made them all. That image has been ruined by sin, but it is the ruin of the image of the one true and living God that we see in them. When you walk south on the promenade and come to the ruins of Aberystwyth castle you know that it is not the ruins of a semi-detached house, nor of a lighthouse, nor of a factory, nor of a skyscraper. With its towers and immense walls we know that this was once a vital inhabited castle. So it is with men and women. When you see atheists who are yet compassionate mothers, and loving fathers, and creative composers or writers, and brilliant scientists, and patient doctors and nurses, and wise judges then you know that the fine qualities they possess reflect the God who created them and had been so good to them, who, further, is going to hold them to account for how they have lived in his creation. Their creativity, aesthetic sense, moral convictions, compassion, towering intellects, faithfulness to the vows they have made all reflect the divine image of the one great Father who has made all mankind. That is why we can benefit from the lives of Mozart and Shakespeare and Einstein and our favourite columnists. They are made in the image of God, but all of them have been ruined by sin.
Aberystwyth castle was ruined by the gunpowder of Cromwell’s soldiers after the Civil War so that the walls and towers have fallen. All men have been ruined by the fall of our father Adam. The moral image has been utterly perverted. We are sinners by nature and practice. Those brilliant people, somehow reflecting God’s own likeness – what immense wickedness they are capable of! By nature you are children of the devil, said the Lord Jesus; children of wrath, said Paul. Only some become the sons of God. This is made very clear in the opening chapter of John’s gospel when the apostle writes that, “to all who received him, to those who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12). So divine sonship is not a privilege given to all mankind. Our text is making clear that only those who are chosen and predestined are adopted as sons of God.
ii] ADOPTION IS NOT THE SAME BLESSING AS ELECTION.
Paul begins with the doctrine of election: “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world” he says (v.4), and then he moves on: “In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ” (v.5). This is another distinct blessing from election. The Queen might choose a servant to work for her in Buckingham Palace. Because she has selected that person it doesn’t mean that he has become her child. Selection does not mean adoption, but the Lord in heaven has not only chosen us, he has adopted us. Think of a childless couple who adopt a child into their family. There will come a time when they will break the news to him or her that he or she has been adopted. I presume they will say something like this, “You know how precious you are to us. Your friends were born into their families. Their Mummies and Daddies had no choice at all, but we loved you so much we chose you to be our child, and look here is the legal document that has made you our child for ever,” and they show to the child all the certificates, signed and sealed, that mean that they did not choose this child only to be fostered and to live in their home, but to be adopted into their family as their own child.
When James Kennedy’s daughter Jennifer was about five years of age she picked up the habit of calling her parents ‘Anne’ and ‘Jim’. She heard all their friends come into the house and address them like that, and so she did the same. After a few weeks of this Jim sat her on his knee and he said to her, “Jennifer, do you know that there are thousands of people in the world who can call me Jim, but there is no other person in the whole world who can call me ‘Daddy’ except you, and to you, alone, my dear Jennifer, my name is . . . Daddy!” So it is with us Christians: while being chosen by him is a wonderful blessing, even more wonderful is that he has predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ. We can look into this God’s wonderful smiling face and we can cry “Abba, Father.” When the Lord Jesus taught his own disciples to pray he said that they were to say, “Our Father which art in heaven . . .” So adoption is not the same blessing as election.
iii] ADOPTION IS NOT THE SAME BLESSING AS JUSTIFICATION.
Maybe this is a little theological quibble, but there are some Christians who have said that adoption is simply the positive side of justification. You know that in an act of justification God has imputed our sins to Christ and imputed Christ’s righteousness to us declaring us to be righteous in him. We are freely pardoned of all our sins. There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. He has been made sin for us – he who knew no sin, and we are made the righteousness of God in Christ. Now we may face the devil, our fierce accuser and tell him that Christ has died and that is the all sufficient answer not only to the devil but to God himself. He is satisfied with the death of Christ, and so we must be. Let our consciences be at peace because Jesus has died. Certainly all who are justified are also adopted, but the New Testament never confuses these two acts of God.
The Americans we met in the summer in Georgia were fascinated by the case of the couple who tried to cheat the organisers of the TV programme, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” out of a million pounds. What they found so amusing was their names were Charles and Diana, and for them that meant only one famous royal couple. Now you remember that they were found guilty but freed. They were not given a custodial sentence because of certain responsibilities they had towards some needy children. They were given their liberty, but they had been declared guilty. Many other accused people are freed because they have been found “Not guilty”. As they walk home through the streets of the town as exonerated individuals, they don’t have the remotest thought that the next inevitable step is going to be this, that the judge who freed them is going to adopt them into his family. Justified, and at liberty – yes, but not taken into the judge’s home and given all the privileges of being the judge’s children. It is important for us to realise the multiplicity of blessings that make up our salvation, elected – yes, and justified – yes, but even more, adopted as his child. It is an additional blessing.
iv] ADOPTION IS NOT THE SAME BLESSING AS REGENERATION.
We are tempted to think like that because in regeneration the Christian is someone born from above. He is the recipient of a new birth. So we might imagine that adoption is simply another way of describing the consequences of being born again. It is not so. These are two distinct blessings, even though all who are born again are adopted, and every one who is adopted is born again. You see this clearly in the opening chapter of John’s gospel and in the 12th and 13th verses which we’ve already referred to: “to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” That is the grace of adoption, but then notice how John goes on and says, “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, or a husband’s will, but born of God,” and that is the new birth. That is regeneration. What we must bear in mind is that these two graces deal with two different problems. Adoption deals with our status. We are by nature children of wrath and children of the devil; our status is one of alienation and condemnation, but because of the sin-removing work of Christ our whole status has changed and we can now be called children of God. Regeneration, on the other hand, deals with our natures, those sinful hearts of ours that drink iniquity like water. God changes those sin-loving personalities of ours by the new birth. In other words, after changing our status and adopting us into his family as his sons God won’t allow us to go on behaving like children of the devil. He takes steps to make sure that we cannot. He gives us the nature and likeness to match our sonship by a birth from above. Our title as ‘a son of God’ then becomes really related to our own experience. We are not what once we were. “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God” (I Jn. 3:9). God has done what no human father and mother can do when they adopt a child, change the personality and the nature of the child they’ve adopted so that it is like theirs. But God has done that in regeneration so that his born-again children are just like the loving holy natures of our Father in heaven.
v] ADOPTION IS NOT A PROCESS.
Adoption is an act not a process. It is punctiliar not linear. We are not progressively adopted, becoming more and more the children of God. We are not half adopted one day and then sometime later the process is completed. Adoption is no more subject to degrees of adoption than justification. I am not more adopted into the family of God today than I was when almost fifty years ago when I became a Christian. I was made a full child of God then, and I remain a full child of God now. In a moment we are adopted. Justification declares us to be righteous – in a moment! We go sinful and naked to God, and ask him to forgive us our sins and he replies exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think. In a moment God changes our status for ever. We become his children, sons and heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ. It is one of the great climaxes of our redemption. It is up there alongside union with Christ as the greatest privileges anyone can enjoy.
vi] ADOPTION IS NOT A NEGLECTED DOCTRINE.
When the wonder of one truth of God hits you then it is easy to think, “This is the key to the Christian life. If only the church could grasp this doctrine it would revolutionise the faith.” I can remember a conference in January 1959 when Elwyn Davies taught me to the truth of justification by faith and the impact that it had upon me, to realise that I was clothed with the righteous robes of Christ’s obedience! It seems that I walked in the strength of that for months. Then a year the theme of the conference was that man’s chief end was to glorify God and enjoy him for ever, and that was such a profound insight into the nature of Christian living. I recall another student conference here in Aberystwyth over forty years ago (they are such crucial times on the learning curve, and blessed is the student who sits under godly teaching in that time) when Gareth Davies spoke on adoption and I told all my family what I had learned as soon as I got home. Some of the things he said I still remember and no doubt they will find their way into this sermon. Again it was another powerful time when the truths of God’s sovereign grace gripped my heart in the late fifties, and their relevance to evangelism and worship and submission were overwhelming – the “Geneva blessing” some have called it.
You will all have had experiences like that under the word of God when your hearts burned, and may we have many more of them. Seeing this truth of the adoption of grace is one such blessing. It will not be neglected by the church just as long as any preacher expounds and applies the whole counsel of God. Such truths will leap out of the sacred page and inform our minds and illuminate our souls and delight our affections. We will be stronger as Christians when we grasp this great truth of adoption, as any of the great truths of the Word.
There is one thing though that preachers must avoid and that is preaching one theme – sonship or whatever – over and over again. For some people adoption has become the one string on their banjos. That results in shallow repetitive teaching, lacking in true Bible exposition. We have to resist any attempt to absolutise the truth of adoption, to “dig yet deeper into sonship” as some would exhort, as this string is plucked for all its worth. It is a great mistake to repeat the same things about adoption or any truth over and over again to convince ourselves as much as others that there is more to the doctrine than there is. There is no one master-key to the Christian life that will open any door, whether it is abiding in Christ, baptisms of the Spirit, justification, Christian hedonism, whole body ministry, adoption or whatever. The Bible nowhere presents us with a master-key, but rather a key ring on which is every text of the Bible. Every text is needed to open the labyrinthine passages of our souls to divine influences To all of Scripture we will return again and again during the course of this uncertain pilgrimage. It is the totality of the Bible that is calculated to make us whole men and women. Think of how Paul deals with the different problems in the Corinthian congregation. It is the very antithesis of a single answer to every problem. That would be like the suit sale in the clothes shop in which we are told, “A Single Size Fits All.” There is no one specific truth that so conveys the grace of Christ to us by the Spirit that it becomes the key to living the Christian life. Different keys at different time. All the keys at some time or another.
So those are some of the misunderstandings concerning adoption cleared away.
2. WHAT IS THE BIBLE’S TEACHING CONCERNING ADOPTION?
Adoption is an act of God whereby he makes us members of his family. Adoption is freely taking a stranger into the family and making him a son and heir. If the choice of a son were being made by us then we’d first go for a healthy, handsome, intelligent child. God doesn’t! Can you believe it? God chooses people utterly unlike himself, morally and spiritually. He chooses not to adopt the righteous but people who are small and weak and stupid in comparison with himself. He chooses people who are making a terrible mess of their lives, someone like Saul of Tarsus who was doing everything to antagonise and grieve God. He will even picks his very enemies to adopt as his sons.
In the Gentile world of New Testament times there was legal adoption, and Paul was aware of it. How different it was from Christian adoption. Why would a Roman adopt someone? It was in order to get benefits from the person adopted. They would have a ready-made servant, and a protector, and a nurse for the parents then and particularly in old age. That is why they adopted, to guard against the rigours of lonely senility. There were even cases when they adopted someone actually far older than themselves who wouldn’t be alive for much longer because then they would inherit the possessions of the person they adopted. So adoption in the Roman Empire was always for personal gain not to safeguard the rights and privileges of the child.
How different was adoption in the kingdom of God. The men and women adopted by God were always under the power of darkness, slaves of sin, at enmity against the Lord who was adopting them. They weren’t healthy people, rather, from the crown of their heads to the sole of their feet there were wounds and bruises and putrefying sores everywhere, immensely ugly to behold. The Lord who adopted them had no wants of any kind whatsoever. He wasn’t poor. He wasn’t lonely. He didn’t need children or helpers in any way. Whatever he willed he could do. These adopted children would be of no benefit to him whatsoever. He still chose sinners and predestined them to become his own sons through Jesus Christ.
There is a common difficulty such weak, poor and stupid people have when they are told that they have been adopted as children by a wonderfully loving and generous person. They believe that they’ve been brought into this family under probation, to see if they measure up and so earn their right to stay there. I was taking part in a conference this summer with Dr Don Carson, and he told us about one of his fellow professors in the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago. He and his wife were remarkable parents who fostered and adopted more than a score of children, and they were prepared to take into their homes the ‘rejects’ that nobody else would have. He told Don of two Afro-American brothers aged six who had never stayed long in any home where they were being fostered. They arrived at the end of one afternoon, had a meal and then were put to bed. The husband and wife listened outside the bedroom but they heard none of the usual sounds of two small boys in bed together, no whispered conversations let alone any laughter. Finally they went into the bedroom. They discovered the boys with tears streaming down their faces, and sheets stuffed into their mouths so that nobody could hear them crying. In the previous house in which they had been fostered if they made any sound after they had gone to bed one of the parents came into the bedroom with a rod and beat them. In the next years there was a remarkable change in these boys. The love of the parents conquered all their fears; they grew in the assurance of that love; they began to do well in school. This professor ultimately adopted those boys. They both became Christians and did very well academically, going to a fine university.
You have to multiply that by infinity. We are sinners, and God is a consuming fire. He has adopted us, we are told, but how can I whose native sphere is dark, whose mind is dim call the great Ineffable one, “My Father”? What God does to deal with this is not only to tell us in his word it is so, but to put a new spirit in our very hearts, the spirit of adoption. Consider what Paul says to the Romans: “you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Roms. 8:15&16). Those two black brothers were first of all like fearful slaves in that home, thinking they were going to be beaten, and if they did not pass muster they’d be thrown out again. That was a spirit that had them in bondage to fear, but that is not the Spirit God puts within his adopted children. He removes that cringing fear and gives a spirit of assurance and filial love.
3. WHAT DOES THE SPIRIT OF ADOPTION DO IN US?
There are three things certainly which we may highlight:
1] WE ARE LED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD (Roms. 8:24).
Like any loving father will give guidelines to his children as to how they are to behave so from regeneration the Spirit of adoption leads us, not in some periodic and occasional sense. It is not that at times of crisis when we need his guidance that then the Spirit leads us. It is not when we are contemplating changing our jobs, or getting serious with someone, or going into the ministry or occasions like those that then the Spirit is going to lead. Paul is speaking of something that is perpetual. When your children get married and move far away and raise their own children they still instinctively turn to you for counsel and you just as instinctively are guiding them in the way they should go.
Here, within this human being, given this extraordinary status of being adopted as a child of God, the Spirit of adoption has settled and taken up his residence permanently within this person, and the Spirit is modifying and influencing the deepest recesses of his personality. He guides our thought processes habitually. He sustains within us a new mind. He formulates our objectives. He modifies our instinctive reaction to all kinds of circumstances so that our constant and habitual state of mind is that we are spiritual, that we are indwelt by the Spirit. It is not that occasionally in some punctuated and periodic or episodic way he will prompt us, but that our entire life as sons of God is a supernatural life. The life of the Spirit is a constant element and atmosphere. The children of God are all led perpetually by the Spirit of God.
The Spirit is leading us to our appointed destination. The children of God have to walk every step of the way, and there are times when we grow weary and faint-hearted. There are times when he leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. Usually we walk through the wilderness of this world, under the heat of the sun, and we are not being anaesthetised against the pain. The Spirit is leading us, but we walk every foot of the road ourselves. Christ did his work in our place, but the Spirit does not. Christ bore our guilt in our stead but the Holy Spirit does not do the walking and the carrying and the suffering and the enduring of temptations. He is always leading and enabling the sons of God, but he does not eliminate the burden; he gets under it with us. Many a day we find the burden crushing us, and our own stamina being sapped, and this life is taking a fearful toll on us, but the Holy Spirit is always leading the children of God home.
ii] THE SPIRIT OF ADOPTION HELPS US TO KILL OUR SINFULNESS (Roms. 8:13&14).
There is the closest possible link between mortification and adoption. See it here: “If by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God” (Roms. 8:13&14). How can you tell if someone has been adopted as a child of God? Paul’s answer is strange to our ears. “The Spirit of adoption murders sin,” he says. How can you tell a child of God? He is putting to death remaining sin. His heart is filled with a hatred of sin. He has an overwhelming desire to wage war on sin and he is given spiritual energy and stamina to do that. What do you know of that? You think of the great words of John about sonship, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called the sons of God”, and then he says this, “and those who have this hope – that they are sons – purify themselves as God is pure” (cp. I Jn. 3 and the opening verses). The purity of God is their standard, and they are intolerant of a speck of sin in themselves as God would be of any speck of sin he found in himself. What do they do? They actually purify themselves. They do not wait for God to do it. They deal with the problem of remaining sin. Of course they do it by the power of the Spirit, but they themselves do it.
The drunk and the addict will say that he wants the power that is greater than him to deliver him. In other words, they want to wake up one morning with the habit clean gone. But there is no way without the new birth, the coming of the Holy Spirit into their lives convicting and illuminating and elevating that an eternal change can be wrought. The life before them, which is also before each one of us, is one in which we have to wrestle and fight against sin, crying mightily to God every day to help us. A son of God might have to pluck out the right eye by God’s enabling, or cut off the right hand. There is a terrible cost. I am saying this, that because it is a Spirit guided and a Spirit assisted action it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be painless and easy, because you are not putting to death something outside yourself, or alien to yourself. You are mortifying yourself, something so precious to you, something so valuable and cherished. That beloved flesh of mine is what I have to weaken and strangle. I am saying to you that only as the Spirit leads the sons of God can they behave consistently like that.
iii] THE SPIRIT OF ADOPTION GIVES US AN INTIMACY WITH GOD. (Roms 8:15).
I seem to have observed that this intimacy customarily begins at a crisis. Paul brings before us a Christian and he is crying aloud, “Abba!” The word ‘crying’ in the New Testament is often a shriek of anguish as it is used to describe the pains of a woman at childbirth. The picture is not of the believer resting in his Father’s arms with child-like trust, but the child with a bleeding nose running in from a fall in the street crying for its parent: “Daddy! Daddy!” That cry is the mark of the strength of our new relationship with God. There is a crisis and we instinctively turn to the Lord, to the God we have come to know and trust; the God we need. The Spirit of ado ption is the cause of this, and it is he who enables a man, woman, boy, girl to go the throne of God and say, “Abba, Father!” In other words they all have this assurance before God. They have a confidence to know that God is their Father. It has enormous consequences that the sons of God know they are God’s children. They know their Father is very loving, and kind, that he provides and cares. He protects them and he is always on their side. If God be for us who can be against us? The adopted children of God say, “He loved me and gave himself for me.” They know that they have passed from death to life. They are conscious that they are poor and needy; they are of no consequence at all in the eyes of the world. When they walk down the High Street people don’t nudge one another and say, “Look, there is a son of God walking by. Take your hat off as a sign of respect.” No. This little chap doesn’t matter to anyone, but his Father in heaven is the mighty Creator and he thinks of him. God manages the affairs of the whole universe and he loves him now as he loved him before the foundation of the earth.
What a privilege a believer has of knowing that he is a child of God, and that he can say to the Creator, “Abba! Father.” Do we cherish that? Do we realise that we are the most immensely privileged people in the world? We can talk to God, and instinctively we do so, in all kinds of circumstances. We can lay all our cares before him. You go back to your childhood and you remember how you could sleep on the back seat of the car because Daddy was driving. Your parents did the worrying. If there was a slate off the roof you didn’t lose a minute’s sleep. You didn’t worry about the bills or about the food. It is the same with ourselves and our Father in heaven. We have no right to be torn and divided about things that should be matters of trusting prayer, laid before God and left to our Father to look after – all to our complete satisfaction.
4. HOW DOES THE SPIRIT GIVE US THE ASSURANCE THAT WE ARE THE SONS OF GOD?
There are three great sources:
i] THERE IS THE WITNESS TO OUR ADOPTION OF THE SPIRIT-BREATHED WORD.
The Bible addresses this theme of our sonship. It has this teaching about adoption, as we have seen. The devil will say to us, “Look, a man like you couldn’t possibly be a child of God. Only the good, and sincere, and conscientious, and law-abiding, and godly are the sons of God.” But the Bible says, “No. God justifies the ungodly who believe in Jesus.” The Scripture says to me that sonship does not depend upon works; it depends upon faith in Christ. It doesn’t say, “You, particularly, are a child of God because you are a righteous man.” No. My name is nowhere to be found in the Bible, but it says, “Sinners like you . . . men who believe what you believe, and hang on to God as you do, and respond to providences as you do, are the sons of God. Men who acknowledge that they need a Saviour, they are the Sons of God.” That is what the Bible says. Rabbi Duncan said, “Sin is the handle whereby I get Christ.” That is the Bible’s witness to my sonship, a man whose life is indefensible, who often cries, “O wretched man that I am who shall deliver me . . .” then the Bible says that such a man can be a child of God if his trust is in the Lord. That is the witness of God’s word.
ii] THERE IS THE WITNESS OF OUR OWN CONSCIOUS CONVICTIONS THAT WE ARE CHILDREN OF GOD.
I know that I’m a believer in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe I would die for that faith. If I were to be confronted with the alternative of cursing Christ or being shot, then I would choose the coup de grace; I believe that I would. I hope I will never be tested about this, nor any of you. I know that I pray to God in the name of Jesus. I know that I believe he died for my sins on the cross. I know I love the gospel, and I love to hear the gospel, and I love books about the gospel, and I love the gospel people of God. I know that I don’t encourage sin; I am not pro-sin, and I grieve when I do sin, as I do every hour. Now the Spirit’s personal witness to me can only be made within that context. It is made in the context of a life that has declared war on sin. It is in that context that I cry, “Abba! Father.” So a conscious persuasion has built up over many years that I am the sort of man of whom the Bible says, “This is a son of God.”
iii] THERE IS THE SPIRIT’S OWN WITNESS TO MY SONSHIP.
What the Spirit does is to drive home the message of the Word. He helps me believe the incredible fact that God justifies the ungodly. It is simply incredible. You know that all the structures of hypocritical men rise up against that statement, “God justifies the ungodly” All my pride, and all my egotism resists those words, but the Bible says it, and the Spirit assists me to believe it. He guides me in self-examination, and he gives me grace to understand and see the evidences of God’s power and footprints in my life.
I am saying to you that there is Scripture, and there is my consciousness, but it is the Spirit that makes the evidence powerful, who witnesses with the Word, and who witnesses with my consciousness, and gives me the assurance that I am a son of God. The Spirit educates and enlightens me in the law and the gospel, and the Spirit creates understanding, but more, he also creates the right affectionate response to the promises and commandments of the word. The blessed man delights in the law of the Lord (Psalm 1). The Spirit can give me joy that is unspeakable at the promises, so I can lie on my face in wonder at God’s glories. But the Spirit can also create a very different emotional response, as he did in the 51st psalm of King David. He can also make me cry, “O wretched man that I am” as the holy commandments convict. All the time he is energising me to believe and obey and respond to his Word as my delight and praise. There is this inner witness to my sonship.
5. WHAT ARE THE PRIVILEGES OF ADOPTION?
They are manifold:
i] WE ARE GIVEN FILIAL COMFORTS IN THIS LIFE.
God cares for his children. “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matt. 6:8). Every parent provides for his child according to his resources, and so we are told by the Saviour to go to our Father in prayer and say to him, “Give us this day our daily bread.” The promise is that he will supply all our need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). All our needs! God himself will judge this. Whatever the mission, however heavy the burden, if the demands on our strength and time are great, if the pain is excruciating God promises to provide all our needs.
Often as we long for something we can hear a little voice saying, “That’s too good to be true.” Yet frequently God in his grace and mercy has heard us and answered according to his riches in glory. We sons of such a Father are far too pessimistic, always looking at the opposition and remembering the disappointments, bracing ourselves for resignation, and we forget the mighty loving Father who rules the universe and has committed himself to care for us.
ii] WE ARE GIVEN LIMITLESS ACCESS TO OUR HEAVENLY FATHER.
When our children want to be ironic they say to us on the phone, “When is there a gap in your appointments diary when I can talk to you Dad?” Then we blush and huff and puff, because we know that the glory of being a member of any human family is that children have the right of access to their father. That right is unaffected by differences in social status, finance, and IQ. His father may be a pauper, a king, a slave, a president; it does not matter; he has the right to talk to his father. So it is in the New Testament; we read such words as these, “Being justified by faith we have peace with God,” and furthermore, “we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.” We have the privilege to go boldly to the very throne of the universe from whence are issued decrees that determine the fall of sparrows, and the rise or fall of a cancer cell, or the collapse of a distant galaxy. We can easily hear voices saying, “But your Father is in heaven . . .so glorious … very august . . . thrice holy . . . awesome . . .” True, and yet having said all that God bids us welcome. If you are so pleased to see your children coming through the family door into your home then your Father in heaven is pleased to see you come to him. We may be guilty of never relishing that access, and if we are neglectful then will heaven be heaven to us? Because all you have in heaven is the living God.
iii] WE ARE GIVEN FATHERLY CHASTISEMENT.
We sometimes grieve over the behaviour of children, their dirty words, their contempt for people that are different, their lack of respect, their readiness to destroy and steal. We groan at their behaviour, and we know that they come from what we call ‘difficult backgrounds.’ They have no authority figures to advise and rebuke and chastise. But God our Father has assumed the responsibility for our education, and he has told us clearly that he is going to conform us to the image of his Son. That is God’s pedagogy; that is the divine syllabus; that is the great aim of all the lessons to which God subjects us. To that end God will teach us of our Scripture and by Providence, through trials and falls, by correction and chastisement.
Our Father in heaven does not afflict us willingly. He will always reprove us, and then he will also chasten us if we refuse to heed his reprovings. He will first give us words of caution and warning, but if we harden our hearts against him then as reluctantly as any human father he still braces himself and he will chasten us. It is to the New Testament church that the apostle writes, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” If he sees that we are being exalted above measure then he will do for us what he did for an apostle and send a thorn in the flesh. It is not to our sin that God is responding. It is God’s response to our obstinacy and sin, to our refusal to let go of our sinning ways, to our trifling with it, and our playing with sin, and our hanging on to it so defiantly. God says, “I have warned that child of mine again and again but he will not hear me. He is destroying his soul.” Then with the utmost reluctance God sends pain and deprivation.
iv] WE ARE GIVEN A FAMILY TO WHOM WE BELONG.
Christian visitors come here from all over the world, as today from Toledo and Scotland and China and at once they are at home. We ask no questions about their pedigree, or their pre-Christian past, or whether they bear the right label. If they are in Christ they are our brethren. We are family; my brother and my sister and me. So we give them the right hand of fellowship, and we encourage all the coherence, and brotherly love that we can muster, strengthening one another and loving one another as brothers, because by this the world will know that we are the children of God. We are one in Christ Jesus.
Make sure that you are one of his children. Give diligence to make sure of your adoption. Don’t take it for granted. It is too great a privilege to leave it to a hunch. If you are not a child of God then you must begin here: Receive Christ! Receive him as prophet and priest and king. To all who receive him, to them alone, he gives the right to be called the sons of God, even to those who believe on his name.
19th October 2003 GEOFF THOMAS