God’s act of salvation: Adoption

Important points:

  • Abraham was a sinner saved by grace
  • Abraham believed God and received the gift of righteousness
  • Our natural birth does not make us children of God
  • The Holy Spirit gives us a new birth to be adopted as God’s children
  • The Holy Spirit applies the righteousness of Christ to our lives
  • Through Jesus Christ, we are adopted as sons
  • By being adopted as sons, we became heirs of the kingdom of God
  • We stop living for ourselves and begin to live to God’s glory only

We need a new birth

At Christmas, we celebrate the birth of Christ.  We usually hear sermons from the first few chapters of the Gospels.  You might have listened to a sermon from John Chapter One, teaching about the deity of Jesus Christ, who 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1–2, ESV)

Paul puts it this way:  

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:15–20, ESV)

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews states the same truth:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1–4, ESV)

Going back to John 1, we read about the sad news that his own people rejected Him. This was in spite of John the Baptist, and many other prophets before him, directly pointing to Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah.

He [John] came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (John 1:7, 10–11, ESV)

Some, however, did believe and receive Him.  The question is now, “How is it that some could see the light and others not; why did some receive Him and others rejected Him?

Before we get to verse 12, which all of us should know by heart, we need to understand what verse 13 says:

… who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:13, ESV)

What does verse 12 say?  

But to all who did receive Him, who believed in his name, He gave the right to become children of God, (John 1:12, ESV)

All of us are born in sin, and as such we cannot see the Kingdom of God.  Yet, some people can now see the kingdom of God while others can’t.  Why? 

Between seeing the kingdom and recognising Christ as Saviour, something momentous needs to happen:  a new birth.  Our eyes are opened only after the Holy Spirit gives us a new birth.  We are not children of God by birth, or by a husband’s will, but from God (John 1:13).

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:

None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:8, ESV)

Paul continues in verse 14:

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14, ESV)

Galatians 3 spells it out very clearly:

…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ. (Galatians 3:26–27, ESV)

Israel the adopted “son” of God

When God called Abraham, we read Abraham was living in sin, worshipping foreign Gods. 

Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac. (Joshua 24:2–3, ESV)

God “took” Abraham (this “take” is another term for “call” as we will see later). Within the context of the rest of the Scripture, this “take” means to take as his own or to adopt.  To Abraham, He gave extraordinary promises, which were not only for the generation of Abraham but all generations born along the line of Abraham —they became the Covenant People of the Lord.

God gave Abraham spiritual eyes (Hebrews 11:10) to see a spiritual kingdom as God regenerated Him to become his child (Romans 4:19-21).  God imputed his own righteousness to him, not based on good works, but only because he believed in God.

To Abraham God made this promise: 

“Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. (Genesis 15:13–14, ESV)

His descendants surely went into Egypt to serve as slaves for 430 years.  But God did not forget his covenant promises to Abraham and his people.  Exodus 3:3 is the Gospel in a nutshell:

“I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey … (Exodus 3:7–8, ESV)

Israel did not save itself.  Their salvation rested in the faithful love of God promised and sealed to Abraham.  Years later Isaiah describes God’s love for his people at that time in these words:

In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. (Isaiah 63:9, ESV)

In Exodus 4:21-23 Israel is described as the son of God.  God adopted Israel from among the nations as his own.

And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’ ” (Exodus 4:21–23, ESV)

So, when Moses called the people and announced their deliverance from Egypt, he spoke the Word of God:

Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’ ” (Exodus 6:6–8, ESV)

Moses reminded them:

It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 7:7–8, ESV)

Israel had a spiritual father, Abraham.  Like him, they were called to trust the Lord, love Him, obey Him and believe in Him.  By bloodline, they were included in the Covenant of God, but this heritage alone would not save them.  When John the Baptist commenced his preaching he said to the Pharisees and Sadducees:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. (Matthew 3:7–9, ESV)

They thought that their blood relationship with Abraham made them children of God.  Our Lord confronted them with this truth:

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” (John 8:39–41, ESV)

Jesus then drove the nail very deeply into their spiritual state:

Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.  You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:43–44, ESV)

How are we adopted as sons of God?

Let’s turn to a verse in 1Corinthians 2.  Paul here quotes from Isaiah 64:4.  Let’s read 1Corinthians 2:9

None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1Corinthians 2:8–10, ESV)

The quote from Isaiah 64 recalls God’s extraordinary act of salvation from Egyptian bondage.  Such a thing no-one has ever seen:  a God who controlled the heavens and the earth, who could cause mountains to shake and fire to descent from the skies called a people for Himself, saved them and made them a kingdom of priests for his glory.

Paul now says God reveals these things to us by his Spirit.  He continues:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:12–14, ESV)

In Galatians 4:4-7 we read:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  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, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4–7, ESV)

By the Spirit, we receive what John is referring to – “not by a man or through the will of a husband, but born of God” – the adoption of sons. 

On what ground does God make us his sons?

The Spirit takes what Jesus Christ has done, and applies it to us so we can understand who Christ is, what He has done, and how God saved us from sin (John 14:26, 16:13-14).  In other words, the Spirit applies the righteousness of Christ to our lives—as we saw it in the first chapter.  

The Spirit does not awaken us to do good works to get a righteousness and be accepted by God.

Ephesians 1:4-5 is clear:

… even as He [God] chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him [God]. In love, He [God] predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will … (Ephesians 1:4–5, ESV)

Through Jesus Christ, we are adopted as sons.  Another verse:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4–5, ESV)

This brings us back to John 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, ESV)

What are the rights of adopted children of God?

a. Love drives out fear

Fear for God’s punishment on sin is replaced with love for God.

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!” (Romans 8:15, ESV)

This speaks of a very intimate relationship with the Father through  Jesus Christ.  The Spirit testifies with our spirits:  “You are children of God.”

Although we naturally live in fear of God because of our sins and sinfulness, God accepts us through the work of the Holy Spirit based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

b. We are not treated like slaves

We are no longer treated as slaves, but as sons, and therefore heirs.  This expression has two meanings.  

  • In the first instance, it speaks of the tyranny of sin that has been broken and replaced with a new master.  Paul, in Romans 8:12-14, writes:

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:12–14, ESV)

The righteousness of Christ dealt with sin—completely.  The price and the penalty of sin is paid.  Christ has become our propitiation—on Him, the wrath of God rested because of our trespasses. He crushed the head of the serpent.  Hebrews 2:14-16:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that He helps, but He helps the offspring of Abraham. (Hebrews 2:14–16, ESV)

Paul declares:

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him. (Colossians 2:13–15, ESV)

  • But we are not slaves in another sense too.  The basic principles of this world, the sacrificial system with all its trappings are fulfilled in Christ.  If Christ did not come, we would have been treated as slaves, Paul says:

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way, we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. (Galatians 4:1–3, ESV)

c.  We became heirs of God’s Kingdom

By being adopted as sons, we became heirs of the kingdom of God.  Paul writes:

and if [because] children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. (Romans 8:17, ESV)

So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:7, ESV)

d. We look forward to a future that cannot be shaken  

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:22–25, ESV)

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11, ESV)

What obligation do we have as adopted children of God?

We will not go into this deeply, because it touches the next topic.  For the moment just this:

So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. (Romans 8:12, ESV)

Or as Paul puts it in another verse:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:16–17, ESV)

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24–25, ESV)


Lloyd C. Douglas in his religious novel The Robe helps us to understand something of our adoption into the family of Christ.  He uses the Roman practice of adoption.  

Marcellus describes the occasion of him becoming a Roman citizen to a friend named Paulus: 

“When a Roman of our sort comes of age, Paulus, there is an impressive ceremony by which we are inducted into manhood. … Well do I remember—the thrill of it abides with me still—how all of our relatives and friends assembled, that day, in the stately Forum Julium. My father made an address, welcoming me into Roman citizenship. It was as if I had never lived until that hour. I was so deeply stirred, Paulus, that my eyes swam with tears. And then good old Cornelius Capito made a speech, a very serious one, about Rome’s right to my loyalty, my courage, and my strength. I knew that tough old Capito had a right to talk of such matters, and I was proud that he was there! They beckoned to me, and I stepped forward. Capito and my father put the white toga on me—and life had begun!” 

Montgomery-Boice comments:

I am convinced that this is what Paul has in mind in verse [Romans 8:23]. You will recall that earlier he had spoken of our being “heirs of God and co-heirs of Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings” (v. 17). We are sharing in the sufferings now, but the day is coming when we shall enter into the full rights of our inheritance in glory.



1.  Read  Joshua 24:2-3a

1.1 Who did Abraham and his forefathers worship before God called Abraham?


1.2 Do you think Abraham deserved to be called by God?  Why/why not?


1.3  What is the meaning of the expression “I took your father Abraham from the land …”?


2. Read Genesis 12:1-3

2.1 Abraham did nothing to deserve the grace of God, yet in these verses, we find one promised blessing after the other.  Do you see any privileges pledged for Abraham and his descendants?  If so, what are they?


2.2 Is there any promise of protection in these verses?


3. Read Romans 4:1-13 and Genesis 15:6 

3.1 Did Abraham receive righteousness before he was circumcised?


3.2  Did Abraham receive righteousness because he kept the Law?


3.3  What was the righteousness of Abraham?


4.  Read Exodus 4:21-23

Israel, the descendants of Abraham, is the Church of Christ in the Old Testament; what applied to that nation then now applies to the Church of Christ in the New Testament, but in a much fuller and complete sense. What does God call his people in verse 22?


5. Read Exodus 6:6-8

5.1 Do you think the expression “I am the Lord” at the beginning of this verse means anything special? Why/why not?


5.2 God’s saving act to rescue Israel out of Egypt is described in three different words.  What are they, and what do they mean in the light of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ?


6. Read Hosea 11:1-4

6.1 What does God call his people in verse 1?


6.2 Describe some of the acts of mercy that God bestowed on his son, Israel.


7. Read Galatians 3:26-4:7

7.1  According to 3:29, what are we called if we belong to Christ? Can you see the continued line of the grace of God’s covenant right through the Old into the New Testament?


People living under the Old Covenant lived “under the basic principles of the world” (4:3); that is “before the faith came” (3:23) which led us to Jesus Christ (3:24).

  • Verse 5: What did Jesus Christ come to do?  


  • Verse 5: How did it change our relationship with God?


  • Verse 6: How does the Holy Spirit help us to understand our relationship with the Father?


  • Verse 7: What is the privilege of being an adopted son of God?


8. Read Ephesians 1:3-8

In the first chapter we learned about God’s gracious gift of the righteousness in Jesus Christ: He justifies us in the salvation of his Son.

8.1  Verse 4: How can we be “holy and blameless” in the sight of God?


8.2  Verse 7: tells us how we are saved and by what means.  What are they?


8.3  Through Jesus Christ we now have a special relationship with God.  Verse 5 talks about it.  What is it?


8.4 As sons (children) of God, what is our sole predestined purpose (verse 6)


9. Read Hebrews 12:6, 10

As legitimate children of God, what does God do to make us share in his holiness?


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: