I have discussed J.I. Packer’s thoughts found in the first two sections of Knowing God. The first section is entitled “Knowing the Lord” and second is entitled “Beholding Your God!” Now we are in the last section of his book “If God Be for Us.” This section is broken down into chapters and we are in a chapter entitled “Sons of God,” content emphasizing a familial relationship with The Father. One would expect extremely important material to be in a chapter exploring how we connect with God. “Sons of God” does not disappoint. In recent posts, I have spent some time writing on Packer’s emphasis on the Christian believer as God’s “adopted” child. Now we will turn to what our “adoption” shows us. The fact that we are His adopted children can control our thoughts and our lives and exploring the idea of adoption can give us deep insight into the meaning of the New Testament.
Packer knows that his thoughts expressed in these pages are very important. Let me quote him on how important “adoption” is. “The word adoption appears [in the Bible] only five times, and of these occurrences, only three refer to the Christian’s present relationship to God in Christ (Romans 8: 15; Galatians 4: 5, Ephesians 1: 5). Yet the thought itself is the nucleus and focal point of the whole New Testament teaching on the Christian life…were I asked to focus the New Testament message in three words, my proposal would be adoption through propitiation and I do not expect to meet a richer or more pregnant summary of the gospel than that [bold italics mine]” [Packer, 214].
“Richer and more pregnant summary of the gospel than that”…
Pause for a second and consider the gravity of Packer’s wording. Of course I had many discussions on propitiation from the previous chapter, the “Heart of the Gospel” chapter. For review, propitiation means Jesus saved us from God’s wrath which we deserve because we sin. He saved us from the danger brought about by those sins when He atoned for our sins in His sacrificial death. “It is the focal point of the whole New Testament view of the saving work of Christ” .
Now Packer combines this heart of the Gospel with the heart of our “sonship” (our adoption into the family of God) and he tells us that four benefits come from the New Testament message regarding our “adoption.”
First, our adoption into the family of God shows us the greatness of God’s love. One cannot discount the importance of the gift of pardon as Christ gave His life for us, but Packer writes that adoption affords us the gift of “immunity and acceptance now and for the future.” In the ancient world, to be adopted meant that one was deemed fit to carry on the family name. However, God adopts us out of unconditional love, because He knows we are not really fit to be a member of His family. “The idea of His loving and exalting us sinners as He loves and has exalted the Lord Jesus sounds ludicrous and wild—yet that …is what our adoption means” . Think of that, we are on par with Jesus? It does not stop there; God seeks a relationship with us as any parent adopting a child would seek. A childless couple in the ancient world made a full commitment to their adoptee. We don’t deserve His commitment, loving us as fully as He loves Jesus. But that is what we get; He chooses to love us as we are; all we have to say is that we have chosen to love Him.
Secondly, our adoption shows us the glory of the Christian hope. “New Testament Christianity is a religion of hope, a faith that looks forward” . What this means is that we can always say the best is yet to come. Our adoption means that we are guaranteed a “promised inheritance,” our share in the glory of Jesus Christ. That means at our individual resurrection day, we are promised the full experience of a heavenly life. Packer goes further by stating that the experience of heaven will be a family gathering, when we will come face-to-face with Father God and Jesus, our brother. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” [Matthew 5:8]. “To see, and know, and love, and be loved by, the Father and the Son, in company with the rest of God’s vast family, is the whole essence of the Christian hope….If you are a believer, and so an adopted child, this prospect satisfies you completely; if it does not strike you as satisfying, it would seem that as yet you are neither” .
Next, our adoption gives us the key to understanding the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Packer feels that the working of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life has always been difficult to understand. He describes our knowledge as full of “pitfalls and perplexities.” We know the Spirit teaches us the mind of God, and He glorifies the Son of God. We also know the Spirit energizes, sanctifies and gives us joy, peace and power and other special gifts. Many Christians say they understand these kinds of statements but struggle to recognize the Spirit working in their practical everyday lives. Packer feels the problem with lack of understanding occurs due to the fact that Christians think the working of the Spirit means some type of magical supernaturalism. They think they need what he calls a “transforming touch.” Instead of this life-changing manifestation of the Holy Spirit, Packer feels that most of us would understand God’s working in the context of the truth of our adoption into the family of God. The work of The Spirit is formed through a gradual process in our lives, through a deepening of our faith, a realization of our assurance and the manifestation of joy in our day to day living. This occurs gradually over time. The work of The Spirit is akin to human trust; it takes time to trust another and it takes time to trust Our Father. The difference between human trust and trust in God is that God is rock solid in His promises. Therefore our trust can be unlimited. Transformation is part of the process of joining the family of God, but it is not instantaneous. Packer calls this a “confirming” process, as we begin to manifest the “family likeness.” This is a change of character and it does not occur overnight. It is not something we should expect quickly, but over time it will be visible in our lives as God has His way in our lives.
Finally, our adoption into the family of God shows us the meaning and motives of gospel holiness. “Gospel holiness” is a Puritan term meaning authentic Christian living. It is not legalistic living that is grounded in man performing tasks as he earns his way to heaven. It is everyday life that is true to The Father, to His Savior. It is simply day-to-day life as a good son or good daughter. It is knowledge that one day we will be fulfilling our destiny to be as much like God and His Son Jesus as we can be. What about the troubles of life? We all have periods when we feel we have gone astray. The Christian can take hope from the fact that God has a plan for our life which will include learning through trouble. When we are in the midst of difficulty, it is very easy to lose sight of The Father, but He is there. But does this not fly in the face of a Christian who says that when I gave my life to Christ, I don’t have to experience certain parameters in my life? I am pardoned from sin; I am now free from the law. Certainly justification frees us from the need to keep the law as a means of earning our reward in heaven, but before we go too far, keeping the law is still important as a way to please The Father. It is a natural process of “keeping” which pours out of a life that is dedicated to Jesus. We know what The Father wants. He wants us to be as righteous as we can, even though He knows we will sin. That sinning does not destroy the relationship we have with our adopted Father, but gradually over time, we will sin less and less because we will learn to please our God and we will learn to confess our sin and ask for forgiveness and move forward with our relationship. It is all part of a gradual learning process.
All of these ideas are not easy to grasp and as we contemplate what it means when we become the “adopted” children of God. To be honest, it is about our identity; it’s about our destiny. We are quick to use stock phrases like “born again,” “I am a new man in Christ,” and “I am a new creation in Christ, the new has come and the old has gone.”
But really, what does all of that mean? It is easy to say these phrases as our ticket into a “new club”—the “Christian club?” We can say them and really not know what they mean. We can say them just to fit in.
Packer is trying to explain to us that when we become a believer, we have taken on a whole new role in life and we should gradually see increased commitment to living out that role. It won’t happen suddenly, but it will happen, because we gradually come to see that our new Father has made a commitment to us.
This is the Christian’s secret to a happy life. We are moving forward to a deeper and more profound relationship with God. We are moving forward to that day when we will see The Father and The Son and the rest of God’s vast family.
This is our identity and that is the essence of our Christian hope.