Alfred Place Baptist Church

The Nature of the Divine Sonship

1 John 3:1 “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!”

What is it to be adopted into God’s family? What would be some of its implications. The first important point to be made is this;

1. ADOPTION IS A CHANGE IN STATUS.

It is not hard for the children to understand this. A baby girl from China is adopted by a family in the UK. The procedures have been lengthy and the cost is high. At times they have thought of giving up the whole enterprise as they’ve run into this snag and that difficulty, but they’d gone to China and had seen a little girl and had fallen in love with her and they were determined to adopt her as their child and so they persisted until finally they brought her home. Now a geographical change has taken place in the life of that child – from the eastern hemisphere to the western. An economic change from poverty to wealth has also taken place, and above all a change in the status of that child as she is now no longer an orphan but legally and officially the daughter of these parents. The child has continued to be a child; her personality is only beginning to develop. That baby girl continued to be of a different race from her parents. The fundamental change that adoption has brought into her life is her new status. She is now the child of these parents legally and permanently.

So it is in the Christian life. We’ve been given a change in status. We’re not to think we’ve been adopted by God because our feelings always tell us this. Of course there are days when we actually feel that we’re the children of God our Father. “What love God has shown me that I can call him Abba, Father, and I do.” Surely such times will come, but just as surely, in times of coldness of heart and guilt and shame we’ll feel, “We can’t be the children of God behaving as we do, feeling as far from God as we feel.” I am saying that the foundation of our adoption isn’t any roller-coaster of feelings that we experience about our relationship with God. Sometimes we are up; then other times we are down, down, down, and yet we are always and eternally the sons of God.  The foundation of our adoption is not our feelings.

Again, the foundation of our adoption is not because of what we’ve done. It is not that God judged our I.Q. and thought it pretty high, and considered our good looks and thought us handsome people, and judged our health and thought that we were athletic and strong. It’s not that God watched how we behaved and judged us to be decent, moral people and because of all that we were chosen to become his children. You know that it is not like that; it cannot be like that. You know your own hearts, that at times you realise who desperately wicked they are, that if the rest of us at times could read what is going on in them we’d never want to speak to you again.

There were two brothers, Jacob and Esau, and before they had done anything good or bad, mysteriously and sovereignly God had made the younger one, Jacob, his child, not the older one; not Esau. I’m saying that it’s not because of our human works that God adopts us. Our adoption is in Christ, through Christ, because of all he is and all he has done for us God has adopted us into his family. Aren’t we mighty glad of that? Maybe when we were younger, and feeling zealous for God, and that we could overcome any temptation that then we entertained a secret feeling that God had been pretty shrewd in making hard-working and righteous men like ourselves his children. No, as we’ve gone on in the Christian life and passed through times of rebellion and winter seasons of the soul, and become acquainted with the cavern of wickedness within us then we thank God that it was rather for his own purposes he loved us and adopted us into his family. Why he adopted us, we have no knowledge at all. We know that it was nothing we deserved or ever will deserve.

So we are not adopted because of our feelings, or because of our good works. In other words, our adoption is not based on anything that we’ve done, and not on anything we are. Adoption is exactly like justification, it is a divine declaration that God makes about our status. Concerning justification God declares us righteous; concerning adoption God declares us sons. We have been awarded the right to be called the children of God. There’s the parable Ezekiel tells in the 16th chapter of his prophecy. He thinks of himself as walking in the country and he hears a sound . . . what is that . . . a bird, an animal? No, it sounds like a baby crying, a very young baby, and he walks into a field and he comes across an abandoned new-born baby girl. Her umbilical cord has not been cut with a scissors or a knife. The mother must have bitten it to cut it, and then got up and staggered away, leaving her child there alone. She hadn’t washed it before she left it; the baby wasn’t clean; it wasn’t washed with salty water; it had no clothes and no blanket to cover it. The mother had disdained her own child and discarded it, but you saw the little girl and immediately you loved her. You cried, “Live!” You were determined it would not die abandoned there, the prey of vultures and jackals. That baby was you! God saw you helpless and totally dependent. What did he do? He adopted you as his own. This is what God did: listen as he tells us; “I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewellery: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, ear-rings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendour I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign LORD” (Ez. 16:9-14).

That, I say, is what God has done to us; he has taken the full responsibility for our survival, and for our nurture, blessed us abundantly with every spiritual blessing in Christ, adorning us with righteous robes, feeding us with the best of foods and drawing out our beauty. You were once a helpless babe. Then you weren’t present your case to the Lord, “Now this is what I want you to do, to take me, and wash me, and feed me, and protect me, and clothe me and give me all the privileges of being your child making me your heir.” You could speak to God as much as a newly born child can hold a conversation with its parents. You were that abandoned baby, but he adopted you as his very own child because he loved you, and why he should love you no one knows but God. Adoption is a change of status. It is an act of God. It is a divine declaration. It is an irreversible action of the Almighty. Adoption hangs entirely on the immense love of God. Adoption is God saying, “I shall become your Father and you shall be my child for evermore.” When crippled Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, was adopted by King David then as a personality Mephibosheth did not change, but his status changed; from that time onwards he had the right to eat at the King’s table.

When we came to God from the distant city then all we brought to God was our tremendous need; we were weak and helpless; we were like that baby in the field, alone in all the universe not knowing why we were here, where we were going, what life was all about. That’s all we brought to God, and then he intervened in love. He smiled at us. He told us of his Son Jesus Christ. He offer
ed us forgiveness and eternal life. He made himself known to us. When we received Christ into our lives our whole status changed. Adoption is not some second blessing. You don’t need to ‘agonize’ to get it. You don’t have to ‘lay all on the altar’ to receive it. The terms of gaining adoption into the family of God are exactly the same as being justified, and pardoned, and joined to Christ. It is by faith alone in Christ alone. “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gals. 3:26). Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be called the children of God. So adoption is not a change in nature but a change in status. Our old status is gone for ever, slaves, aliens, strangers, without God, children of our father the devil – all gone for ever! When Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress came to the cross where Jesus Christ became the Lamb of God then the great burden he was carrying on his back, weighing him down step by step, fell from him and tumbled down the hill of Calvary. It fell into the darkness of the empty sepulchre, never to be seen again. All our obligations to guilt and sin, and to the law of God, and to the devil have all been discharged by Christ, every single one of them. They have all been dealt with by Christ’s agony and bloody sweat. The burden of our past is gone out of sight. The great chains that bound us to that burden have all been broken never to be repaired again. No devil can repair what Christ has shattered. Now he has bound us to him with cords of love and they are unbreakable. We are the children of God for ever through faith in Christ and the finished work of his redeeming love.

2. ADOPTION RESULTS IN A CHANGE OF CONFLICTS.

So often the natural man battles against his own humanity. He thinks his problem lies in his own personality, his molecular structure, his temperament, his personhood in all its individuality.  “Why am I so slow, or why do I have such a short fuse? Why am I so dull, so boring? Why do I have such weaknesses? Fundamentally this is what’s wrong with me.” He battles with his own psyche. Or he thinks his problem lies in his own physique or physical appearance, and that if only he could undergo cosmetic plastic surgery he would be transformed, more at peace, more lovable. Or he thinks his problem is his race and nation and if only he could emigrate somewhere else then he would be a new person. Or he thinks his problem is the temptations of living in the world and if only he could live in total isolation, go to a desert cave, or live in a monastery, or on top of a pillar, or if he could shun marriage then everything would improve, and so he battle with creation and being God’s creature.

The adopted child of God does not battle with those things. In some areas he was born weak and he remains weak. He knows, for example that he’ll never have a high I.Q. He will never have great talents. He will always be quiet, and withdrawn, and slow, and shy. A child of God often gets to the stage of thanking God that he was made weak in those areas because they drive him to God, and he thanks God for grace given to him to live just as he is. Paul knew that he was no great orator as Peter was. They said about Paul, “His speech is contemptible.”

He also accepted the fact that he was a son of Abraham and he made his nationalism a great strength so that it became integral to his evangelism. He always called in the local synagogue on his first visit to a new town. He spoke Greek, a Gentile language, but he didn’t try to become posh and eradicate his Jewishness. That was not the focus of his battle. Paul’s problem was not his Jewishness. Paul did not think that his problem was the human body and that he needed to get away to a wilderness and live on locusts and wild honey. In fact he warned of the coming of false teachers who would say that marriage was wrong, who would say that all Christians should be celibate. He told the Christian husbands and wives in Corinth that neither of them had power over their own bodies, but that their bodies belonged to their partners, and that they should not deny the other God-created pleasures. So the child of God knows he is not in conflict with his own humanity.

Nor is the child of God in conflict with his conscience. There was a time when Saul of Tarsus arrested and tortured Christian people. He was kicking against the goads of conscience throughout the time. There was an inner voice saying to him, “What are you doing behaving like this? How dare you hurt people who are kind and holy?” But Paul fought against the voice of his conscience. He lashed out against that testimony and hurt himself all the more. The unbeliever will seek to dull the voice of his conscience; he will seek to drown it in a haze of alcohol; he will attempt to go on drug- fuelled trips; he will get into suicidal despair as he fights against his conscience.

How different the child of God. He has no conflict with his conscience. Of course he educates his conscience by the Bible. The conscience of an age is no safe guide to how we should live, the conscience of the majority, the conscience of the Nazi, the conscience of the cannibal are all uneducated consciences and we need the light and wisdom of Scripture to enlighten them. Let us gain as strong and holy and wise a conscience as we can and not fight against it. It is God’s great monitor that makes us the men and women we are, not beasts of the field who lack a conscience. It commends us when we do right and rebukes us when we do wrong. We have no battle against a Bible-based conscience.

Again, our conflict is not with the word of God. The Creator who in the beginning made the heavens and the earth is also the God of revelation. He has spoken through Moses and the prophets, through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and the apostles. God is, and God is not silent. He has told us about himself; he has given us his great diagnosis of what’s wrong with mankind, of why men and women behave as they do, why they treat one another as they do, why they behave so selfishly and cruelly. We are fallen men and women; we are living in defiance of God, but in his mercy he has sent his own Son into the world to become our Redeemer, to deal with our blame and shame. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Why live in conflict with God? Why this opposition to Gideon Bibles. Why are you so determined you will never study the Bible? Why are you so adamant that you will never go to a gospel church? Why do you wipe out of your mind every thought of gentle Jesus, meek and mild? Why do you scoff at Christian people? Why do you read difficult books written by the atheists and refuse to read the lucid Ultimate Questions? Men battle against God because of our hearts; the New Testament tells us that the natural man is at enmity against God.

So those are the fields of conflict on which men and women fight who are not the children of God. They fight against their basic humanity and personhood; they fight against the consciences; they fight against God. How different the conflicts of a son of God.

i] He battles first of all against remaining sin. When God adopts us into his family he doesn’t remove every bit of sin from us. That is the hope of heaven. It will be when the sons of God see God that they will be like him, but not before that. So while we are here we have to fight against lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the mind – pride, self-pity, anger, bitterness, retaliation, contempt, slothfulness, greed, covetousness and so on. They are our enemies and they can act together in combination in different times and in different ways like a small army declaring war on my adoption. They can act singly; one powerful sin; it just takes one fiery dart to get through. They can with two other sins. There are terrible times when every one of our sins seems to be acting together and attacking us like a swarm of wasps.
Of course, remaining sin is not in control; they are like an underground movement; they are like terrorists and they want to destroy me as a child of God, and there are times when they seem to be taking me over, and I cry out, “The good that I would I do not, and the evil that I would not that I do.” I sigh, “O wretched man that I am who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” But I do not leave that question hanging in the air. I cry, “Thanks be to God it is through Jesus Christ’s love and determination to take me to heaven that I will be delivered from this body of death.” So I wage war on the flesh; I put to death its deeds; I don’t feed it any tit-bits to keep it alive. I seek to kill it every day. That is the first conflict of every son of God.

ii] The second new conflict that engages me is with Satan and all his devices. While I ignore God then Satan will ignore me. The god of this world won’t bother me; I am no threat to him and his kingdom of darkness. He is happy for me to sleep on year after year, but the moment I am translated from his kingdom to coming under the rule of God’s own Son then Satan gets cracking. He begins to shoot his fiery darts at me, and I need to put on the whole armour of God to resist him. A time of Satanic assault come to Peter and Jesus warned him that it was coming. Satan desires to sift you as wheat, putting you in the great sieve and shaking you all about. Peter had to watch; Peter had to pray; Peter’s only comfort was the Jesus Christ his great High Priest was praying for him. Peter was doing battle with the enemy of his soul as Jesus had had to do battle in the wilderness with him, and as every son of God must.

Thomas Brooks the Puritan preacher, has a very useful series of messages on this theme, called Precious Remedies for Satan’s Devices, and they are well worth reading. Satan comes to us and he wants to pull us back into his kingdom, and so he accuses us of not being children of God at all considering some of the things we do and say. How can we possibly claim to be adopted into the family of God? We sin persistently. What hypocrites we are. Every son of God feels like that at times, and we have to face our fierce accuser and tell him that Christ has died. The debt has been paid for our guilt to the last penny. We keep the shield of faith high, that is, we keep trusting in God when we are low and when we’re under pressure, and then the darts of the evil one can’t get through. In fact we must clothe ourselves with all the armour of God in order to stand in an evil day, the breastplate of righteousness, the helmet of faith, the belt of truth and the sword of the Spirit. We are called to a holy war.

iii]The third new conflict that characterizes the children of God is against ‘the system.’ In other words, the world order in which we have to live which is structured by unbelief, motivated by hostility to God, resistant to the gospel, indifferent to the claims of Christianity, ignoring Jesus Christ, encouraging men to do what they feel is right, to do it their way. Paul refers to all of that as, “this present evil age” (Gals. 1:4). Much of the media are in their pockets, the publishing houses, education, politics both local and international, scientific pretension, entertainment, sport – little of it is run in a way that honours and glorifies Almighty God. Dishonesty, violence, greed and covetousness characterize so much of it. It suggests to you that it’s impossible to be a Christian and also to be intelligent and consistent. The world offers its fame, its glittering prizes, its honours and rewards to those who live just like it lives. So there has to be constant battle with the world, many a skirmish and a life-long war. We are exhorted not to love it, the lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the eyes and the pride of life that characterizes ‘the system.’ We have to live our entire lives in this world; there is no opting out to some high Himalayan valley, but while we live in the world our years will pass by as those who don’t belong to it, who feel we are strangers here on earth, who are just passing through it, that our home is in heaven and soon we will be there.

This world is not my home; I’m just a passing through.
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
My Saviour beckons me from that far golden shore,
And I can’t feel at home in this world any more.

The world doesn’t know the sons of God because it didn’t know the Son of God. No one nudges another person in the street as we are seen approaching, “Look, here come a child of God.” They don’t believe we are such and that is part of our conflict with contempt and ignorance. There are new conflicts that characterize God’s own children.

3. ADOPTION RESULTS IN A CHANGE OF AFFECTION.

One of my abiding memories of the recent funeral service of the Rev. Malcolm Jones of Mount Pleasant, Maesycwmmer, was the tribute paid to him by his son Andrew. There had been fine singing, and grand preaching; the meeting was chaired warmly by Malcolm’s successor, David George, and God was honoured in it all, but the words of Andrew Jones contained the most pathos for me. He said this; “My father was a remarkable man in that he was able to change the name of one of the days of the week. He was quite happy with ‘Sunday’ and ‘Monday’; he was O.K. with ‘Tuesday,’ ‘Wednesday’ and ‘Thursday,’ but he didn’t call ‘Friday’ by that name. ‘Friday’ was renamed ‘Andrew Day.’ It was the day Andrew left his home 150 miles away and traveled to spend a day or two caring for his father and helping his mother Barbara. It was the best day of the week for the housebound, dying father as his only child was coming to see him. ‘Andrew Day!’ The love of Malcolm for his son came through so powerfully in the tribute and in that one illustration.

There are many wonderful comings that delivered us in our Christian lives. Think of the divine justification; it was from condemnation. Think of the divine sanctification; it delivered us from contamination. Consider regeneration by the Holy Spirit; it delivered us from death in sin. Or think of our union with Jesus Christ; it delivered us from separation from him. Then there is this great truth of adoption, and what does it deliver us from? Not being an orphan so much as being a slave! That is how Paul declares the contrast in Galatians chapter four and verse 7, “no longer a slave, but a son.” Once we did everything sin told us to do. We ignored God. We refused to pray. We wouldn’t think of our soul. We would not consider the certainty of death and eternity. We would not listen to the gospel because we served our master Sin. We did what Sin told us and all the time we were bragging just how free we were. Deluded men and women! Then God intervened in our lives and ended that cruel slavery. When the Son makes you free you are free indeed. But what a freedom this was; it was not from slavery to a paid job as a servant; this was from slavery to sonship! He not only released us from slavery, he adopted us into his family. He made us his sons because he loved us. Henceforth every day in our heavenly Father’s eyes became Geoff Day, and Iola Day, and Eleri Day, and Catrin Day, and Fflur Day. Every Day was Gary Day, and Glyn Day, and Ian Day or whatever your name might be; your Father loved you that day. Each day was the day he made for you and for him to be together as Father and child. Here again is biblical teaching that speaks of a new status, but what affection is built into this relationship. This is my Father who has made me his son.

Can I ask how much my Father loves me? The answer is quite staggering. The response is unbelievable. It is found on the lips of Jesus Christ as he prays fo
r us. He says to his Father, “You sent me, and have loved them even as you have loved me” (Jn. 17:23). The very same love with which God the Father loves his only begotten Son he loves us. Not the same kind of love; not the same kind of love at all, the same love! God loves his Son Jesus Christ, and just as warmly and deeply and passionately and constantly he loves his children. It is as high and deep and dear and tender as his love for Jesus. So he loves us everlastingly. Will he ever stop loving his Son? If not then he will never, never cease loving any of his children. Here is an immutable love. The mountains may depart, and the hills may be removed but his love will never depart from his people. Loved with everlasting love. Your wife says to you, “I love you,” and you say back to her, “I love you more.” But when God says to you, “I love you,” you will never be able to say to him, “I love you more.”

The Father loves his children with an infinite love. His love is like himself. His love is himself. Can there be any degrees to the infinite? Can you say his infinite love is 90% when it is directed towards us but it is 100% when it is focused on the Lord Jesus? No you can’t. It is infinite love. No one can measure the love of the Father to us. In vain the first-born seraph tries to sound the depth of love divine. He loves us exactly as he loves Christ. What would or could stop him from loving us like that? Our sins? But has he not dealt with the consequences of all our sins in Christ, all our past sins, all our present sins, and all our future sins? Then our state is this, that we are now as sinless as Christ. We are clothed in his righteousness. We are one with him. One! He has made us lovable, eternally lovable. Christ is his beloved, in whom he is well pleased, and all who are joined to Christ are also his beloved. He cries, “My beloved is mine and I am his.” Whom God loves he loves in Christ, and therefore whom God loves he loves as Christ, just as he loves his only begotten Son.

So say your name is John, and you want every day to be a John Day in the love of God the Father for you then there is one thing you must do. You must be joined to Christ by faith. You must entrust yourself to him. You must say, “Take me, Father, and let me be thine through Jesus Christ.” No one who has ever prayed that prayer in Jesus’ name has been rejected. The same honour God gives to his Son he will give to you. The same place in glory occupied by the Son you too will occupy, seated in the heavenlies in Christ. The same inheritance that he receives you too will receive, incorruptible, undefiled and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.

Then do not doubt God! Do not doubt his love for you! Depend upon him at all times, and never distrust him even when your heart is breaking. Nothing he does to you or for you or in you does he do apart from his infinite love in Christ. Commit all your ways to him and trust him perfectly. More than that, love him in return. Love him sincerely and warmly and growingly. Isn’t this fulfilling the greatest of all the commandments? Why should it be hard to love with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength one who loves you as much as he loves his blessed Son? Do not respond to that great love which like a fire burns in him with some fake love! Destroy all such pretend love and love him as much as you can. Pray this;

And yet I want to love Thee Lord, O light the flame within my heart,
And I will love Thee more and more until I see Thee as Thou art.

It’s so important. The Saviour came to Peter and asked him three times, “Do you love me? Do you love me more than these? Do you love me?” And can’t we all say, “Lord, you know everything. What can I hide from you? You know that I love you.” Jehu once questioned Jehonadab, “Is your heart right, as my heart is with your heart?” God says, “I love you as I love Jesus my eternal and beloved Son. Is your heart cold, and hard, or do you love me back?”

I urge you to be at peace with the love your Father has for you. Reckon on it every day. God has begun to love you; then he’ll never stop loving you. He has loved you from the beginning, and then he will love you to the end. When he stops loving Jesus Christ then you can begin to doubt that he stops loving you. When he turns his face away from Christ only then will he withdraw his heart from you. You and Christ stand together; you are yoked together; you are in him and he is in you, then you must fare together, sink or swim together. If Jesus Christ is the object of that warm, omnipotent, fervent love of God then you too are the object of the same love.

So never fear falling from that love. God won’t let it happen. Though you often fall into sin God will love you as the father of the prodigal son loved him. God’s love is large enough to cover a multitude of sins. Nothing shall separate you from the love of your Father which is in Jesus Christ his Son. You are all wrapped up in Christ, so much so that it impossible for him to say where his love for Christ ends and where his love for you begins. It is the same love.

So what should you expect for the future? For the immediate future, for the next hours and days and then for the next years and decades? What should you expect for eternity if your heavenly Father loves you as he loves Christ? What expectations do you have of the boundless love of such a Father? What will God refuse to do for you? What won’t God forgive you for? What needs will God refuse to supply? If God loved you with an ordinary love then you might have cause to doubt him, but since there is no height, or depth, or length, or breadth to his love how can you think that he will stand by and watch you decline into ruin while doing nothing about it? Suppose it were Jesus Christ who was in the pickle that your life is in right now? Suppose it was the Lord facing this particular difficulty and trouble that you are facing right now, then how tender would our Father be to him? Wonderfully understanding and wise and helpful and supporting and inspiring and delivering? Can you imagine the Father saying to his Son, “That’s another fine mess you’ve got into. Get out of it yourself!”? Never! His Father would yearn over him and hurry to help him, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. How can I help you Son, my dear, dear child? I yearn for you. I long for you. I will help you. I can’t bear you to be in such a misery” that is how God would respond to his Son Jesus Christ in any distress. He responds to you in just the same way.

So when your sins lie heavy on you, and you vex every day at what you have done, then you’re not dealing with the love of men who get exasperated and frustrated with other men. Here is measureless mercy, love without end. Do not limit it! Set no bounds on it. It is a bottomless love for you. He will hear you. He will never cast you off again. He will deliver you. He will uphold you. He will assist you every day and hour that lies ahead, and he will do so lovingly because he loves his children with an everlasting love.

8th August 2010   GEOFF THOMAS