“I am a child of God.”
The perfect answer to the query of the Christian, “Who are you?”
I am commenting on the third section of Packer’s book*, the section where he discusses “the most important matters” of knowing God and in this case, I want to concentrate on his strong position that when we express our honest faith in God and dedicate our lives to serving Him, we achieve “sonship.”** That part is not unusual; depending on your knowledge of Christianity; declaring “sonship” may be expected. What is not expected is Packer’s emphasis on adoptive sonship.
How many of you thought of yourself as adopted children of God when you made your profession of faith? Why does Packer make such a fuss over adoption?
He explains that adoption was an expected practice in Roman times. Any adult who wanted an heir to carry on the family name adopted a male as his son. The son was usually of age rather than an infant. This is mirrored in Scripture when we see in Galatians 4: 4-5 the words “But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” Ephesians 1: 5 we are “foreordained unto adoption as sons by Jesus Christ unto Himself.”
I guess adoptive sonship stands out for me due to the fact that I have known many adoptive children in my life and some of them have struggled. Several adopted children I know have worked hard to find their natural “birth parents.” I know firsthand that their adoptive parents loved them and gave them anything they wanted. There is a body of research that states that adopted children often feel rejection and abandonment from their natural parents. They can have a damaged sense of self-esteem. Adopted children often feel guilt due to their feeling of disloyalty toward the parents who have adopted them; they are naturally curious about their natural birth parents. Adoptive kids do suffer ridicule at the hands of some. I knew a boy who was a “natural” son of a dad and mom, yet he did not look like them or his two brothers. He was frequently introduced to others as the “adopted one” because of his facial features. He told me that he never appreciated the intro. There is a body of research that states that adopted children often feel rejection and abandonment from their natural parents. They can have a damaged sense of self-esteem. Last is the search for self-identity. It is common for adopted children to not feel they have a strong sense of identity.*** One can cite example after example of problems associated with adoption. Sometimes the process of adoption is excellent but often it seems fraught with problems, the adopted child can feel “less than” the natural child.
Packer cites the Westminster Confession [Chapter 12] as a formal definition and analysis of adoption as the parent-child relationship that we have with our Heavenly Father. It does not express a “less than” attitude toward our Father. Christians “ are the partakers of the grace of adoption: by which they are taken into the number, and enjoy the liberties and privileges of the children of God; have His name put upon them, receive the Spirit of adoption; have access to the throne of grace with boldness; are enabled to cry, Abba, Father; are pitied, protected, provided for, and chastened by Him, as by a father, yet never cast off, but sealed to the day of redemption, and inherit the promises, as heir of everlasting salvation.”
After reading that, I feel that maybe some of God’s divinity has rubbed off on me. Indeed First John 3: 1 says that believers are to cherish sonship as the supreme gift of God’s love; God has “lavished” His love on us. Fellowship with God is a privilege, righteousness and avoidance of sin is evidence of His love [and I might add a magnificent benefit]. Packer cites four things that happen to us as we declare our relationship with our Heavenly Father. One is that God is our authority. As Jesus came to earth to do the will of Him who sent Him, we are to do the will of our Heavenly Father. He “commands and disposes” our behavior. Secondly, as the Father loved Jesus, He loves us. Thirdly, we are never alone. Having a relationship with God means that He is always with us in the good times and in the bad. Last, Fatherhood implies honor. Just as the Father glorifies the Son, the Son should honor and glorify the Father.
All of this extends to God’s adopted children. As God loved His natural Son, He loves His adopted children. John 16: 27 says “The Father Himself loves you [you and me]” [italics mine]. As God had fellowship with Jesus, so He does with us, but our fellowship is not only with God but also His Son Jesus Christ. Packer writes “the Bible teaches us to understand the shape and substance of the parent-child relationship which binds together the Father of Jesus and the servant of Jesus” .
Packer has taught me so much as I have read his book; I have “known” God and His Son Jesus myself since 1998 when I gave my life to Him as a believer, but I have never thought of being the adoptive son of God. Without Packer’s explanation, I am not sure that I would like that description, but now I see why it is appropriate and how it is supported in Scripture. My worldly notions about adoption seem very wrong in this spiritual context.
Now that we have laid the foundation about adoptive sonship, Packer has even more to say. In his continuing discussion of “the most important matters” he will elaborate on adoption as a child of God as the highest privilege a Christian can have.
After I discuss his thoughts on “the highest privilege” in the next post, maybe I will begin to describe myself as I am “an adopted child of God.”
That will be a better description, a higher blessing than just “child of God.”
*from the book Knowing God
**Packer makes no effort to acknowledge females in the process of giving one’s life to Christ, so I will use “sonship” as he does.
***Allan N. Schwartz “Psychological Issues Faced by Adopted Children and Adults” on Mental HealthNet website accessed on April 30, 2020.