The Spirit of Adoption
© C. O. Bishop 1/21/16 THCF 1/24/16
We have studied the book of Romans over the last several months and we are currently in the middle of the eighth chapter. The key point in Romans eight is that “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus….”
But there are various ramifications to the fact that there is no condemnation awaiting us. One is that, as believers, we are all indwelt by the Spirit of God. Another is the fact that we still have our old sin nature, and a constant battle of vigilance, as we learn to walk steadfastly with Christ.
But a third aspect of our new life in Christ is a subject that sounds familiar (because we use the same word in our culture) but which actually is much more profound than seems immediately obvious. This is the subject of Adoption, and along with it, the Spirit of Adoption.
There are numerous points made in verses 14-27. I am going to touch on just 15 of them:
- We are already the Sons (Greek huios… “heirs”) of God.
- We have …present tense… the Spirit of Adoption.
- The Spirit assures us that we are the children, (Greek tekna: “born-ones”) of God.
- Because we are the offspring of God, we are his heirs, but specifically “joint-heirs” (as opposed to co-heirs; which we will discuss later.)
- We believers will all inherit in Christ; but how much we inherit is conditional upon how we serve and “suffer” with Him. (This is not asceticism, by the way. The word “suffering” is associated with the concept of submission, not specifically pain.)
- There is Glory coming for all re-born believers, to one degree or another.
- That Glory will be revealed when the Sons of God are announced and presented publicly.
- The whole creation is waiting for that moment, because the whole creation labors and groans under the curse of God, and cannot escape it until the time appointed by God.
- The World will enjoy freedom from the curse after the “Adoption” (Greek huiothesis: the placement of sons) which will occur at the redemption of our physical bodies.
- We live and suffer through the indignities of this life in hope of the coming release.
- That release is NOT yet seen …we live by faith, hoping in the promise to come.
- The Holy Spirit indwells us, helping us to bear the infirmities of this life, and its trials.
- We don’t even know how to pray, or what to ask, in prayer.
- The Spirit prays for us, speaking the true needs of our hearts before the throne of God
- God calls us Saints!
Now! That is a lot of information! Let’s break it down, idea by idea:
Who or What is the “Spirit of Adoption?”
The “Spirit” of whom Paul speaks, in the context of Romans chapter eight, is the indwelling Holy Spirit, not the human spirit (compare verse 16), nor our modern usage of, say, “getting into the spirit of things”. He says, in verses 14 and 15;
14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
He is talking about the same thing that he said in Ephesians 1:13, 14, where he says that we have been sealed in Christ by the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest, (or “down-payment”) of our inheritance until (there’s the “time clause”) the redemption of the purchased possession…” There in Ephesians, we can see that we are not yet in full possession of our inheritance, in the most practical sense; but we have the indwelling Holy Spirit as a continuing token of the coming fulfillment. Here in Romans, we have the indwelling Holy Spirit as a promise of our coming “placement as sons”. It is the same idea, but in a different context.
Galatians 4:6 echoes this concept, too, stating that “…because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father.’” Here in Romans 8:16, 17 it says,
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
We are sons, and heirs, but we are not yet in a position to use all of our prerogatives as sons. Galatians 4:1 says that “the heir, so long as he is a child, differs nothing from a servant.” Until the day when God places us in full authority and honor, with Himself, we’re going to struggle along in this flesh, looking and feeling just like all the other people in the world.
The Holy Spirit keeps us safe until that day, and He reminds us constantly of who we are in Christ. So, then; why is he called the Spirit of “Adoption?” I thought we were to be born again as the children of God, not adopted, as if we were homeless puppies at an animal shelter. Well, unfortunately, we haven’t got an appropriate word in English to serve as the equivalent of the Greek word that is translated “adoption.”
What’s Hard to Understand about Adoption?
Let me preface my answer with the fact that “It isn’t what we might have expected it to be!”
Remember that, from God’s perspective, we are the Sons of God now (Greek huios) …already heirs, and already in perfect standing with Him. But we have very little authority, with good reason. We are too immature to safely use the authority of God, so He measures it out carefully, in small doses, and we live by faith, relying on His Wisdom, His provision, and His Grace.
Notice, too, (verse 16) that we are the “children” (“tekna”: off-spring…born-ones) of God. We are not waifs whom He has graciously rescued off the street, bathed, fed and clothed, and accepted as simply being his wards. “Offspring” (born-ones) means that we are his own progeny. That is what the new birth is all about. We are His legitimate children, not someone else’s kids for whom He has simply accepted responsibility.
Adoption, Then and Now:
In our culture, “adoption” virtually always means “legally taking charge of someone who is NOT your offspring, and accepting all future responsibility for their well-being, as well as (usually) affixing your name to them.” That is all great, and a wonderful, honorable thing, but, in most cases, a simple glance makes it obvious to anyone that the adopted child is not your “offspring.” (They don’t look like you!) But here’s the contrast: anyone who has been “born from above” is literally the offspring of God, whether they are really cognizant of that fact or not. To one degree or another, we will look like, act like, and smell like Jesus!
The New Testament word translated “adoption”, here, is the Greek word “huiothesis”. It means the “placement of Sons.” It is a reflection on the Greek and Roman practice of publicly recognizing one’s heir, so that all the people would know that that particular Son held the authority (and riches) of the Father. There was usually only one “heir”. All the others were “sons,” in the usual sense, but this one was the head of the family. With very rare exceptions, the heir was a natural son of the father. Adoption, as a rule, was only applied to one’s own offspring. And, in fact, in the Biblical sense, God only “adopts”, or, “recognizes as heirs”, those who have already been born as his children. No one else is eligible. (Remember, back in verse 9, he said if you do not have the Holy Spirit, you are simply not his.)
No “Universal Fatherhood of God”
Here’s something else to consider: we were not children of God before being born of God. (How can I say such a thing? Aren’t all people the children of God? Everyone assures us that this is the case.) Well…not everyone! Jesus told the Jews of His time (who called themselves the children of God) that they were not the children of God, but of Satan! He said (John 8:44) “Ye are of your father, the Devil!” That is pretty strong language! But Paul echoes it in Ephesians 2:2, 3, saying that we were “the children of disobedience”, and that we were “by nature the children of wrath, even as others”. The Bible does not teach the “universal brotherhood of man”, nor, most emphatically, the “Universal Fatherhood of God” Those are pious-sounding falsehoods taught by false teachers, to blur the perception of our need for redemption. Jesus said “Ye must be born again!” and “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” We have a terrible need, with terrible consequences for failure to meet that need.
All the “predestination” passages we can read are only true of us because we have been born again. We are now predestined to become like God. We are now predestined to be glorified as the heirs of God. We are literally His children, and (though it is not always readily apparent in this life) we are joint-heirs with Jesus. I am told that the word “joint-heir” is a legal specification, and is different than “co-heir.” I was a “co-heir” with my brother and sister. All the inheritance from my Mother was divided equally between us. But being a joint-heir means that all the inheritance in Christ is equally mine…not to be divided. All that the Father has given to Jesus is mine in Him. That is the advantage of being a “joint-heir.”
In terms of “glory” and “rewards,” though, it is apparent that equality is not the norm. When “awards ceremonies” occur in school sports programs, not every player gets the same awards. But: every player has the recognition of having participated. They were on the team.
1st Corinthians 3:10-15 makes it clear that not everything we build into our lives will stand the test of the “refiner’s fire.” Much of what we count valuable will simply burn away, leaving only what was done in us by the Holy Spirit as having lasting value. There is a bit of a rhyme, saying:
Only one life; ‘twill soon be past! Only what’s done for Christ will last!
Our salvation is never at risk: That is definitely something the Holy Spirit has done in us. But our reward and eternal honor may very well be endangered by sloppy living as servants of God.
What About Suffering?
“…We suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”
The Biblical word “suffering” does not mean “pain”, necessarily: it means “allowing Jesus to do in us the work He needs to do.” When Jesus came to John the Baptist, and John hesitated to baptize Him, Jesus said “Suffer it to be so for now…” The meaning, of course, was “submit to this: allow it to be the way I say.” We are to allow in our lives the things God decrees, and accept them as a way of glorifying The Savior…willingly accepting the burdens He assigns, and glorifying Him in them. Paul says,
18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
We do already have the first-fruits of the Spirit (because He lives in us), but we are waiting for the “Placement of Sons”—the “adoption”—which will only occur when we get our new bodies.
19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
21 Because the creature [creation] itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
The reason the whole earth is waiting for that day, is because, from earthly perspective, it will occur at the beginning of the Millennial Kingdom: When Jesus finally reigns on Earth the curse will be lifted. Peace will reign for the first time since the fall of man. Predators will become herbivores. That’s what we will see the “leopard lying down with the calf,” and the “lion eating straw like an ox,” etc. We will receive our new bodies at the beginning of the tribulation, or thereabouts, actually, as far as I can tell, but the tribulation is anything but peaceful. The world will see the heirs of God for the first time at the beginning of the Millennium.
Therefore, in this life, we go ahead and suffer, to varying degrees. Philippians 1:29 says “for unto you it is given on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on His name, but also to suffer for His sake.” In this country we have had a pretty easy time, whether we recognize it or not. But all believers, wherever we live, are looking forward to the same Blessed Hope. We are hoping to see the return of the Bridegroom, and we lift our heads expectantly, trusting in His Word, as opposed to our own eyes or public opinion. We see the increasing ruin around us as a symptom of the approaching Day of the Lord, and we hope more strongly in His imminent return.
24 For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for?
25 But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.
And we don’t wait alone: we are not left to our own devices: we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead. We can count on Him to know what is really best, and to pray for us and with us as we struggle to walk with God. Paul says,
26 Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
27 And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
Notice that it does not say “groanings which cannot be uttered in English”. It says “…cannot be uttered!” There are people who attempt to use this passage as a justification for “tongues” being used as a prayer language: Sorry, but, that is not what it says. The Holy Spirit knows the real needs in our lives, and He prays accordingly. I am honest enough with myself to admit that I frequently don’t even know what to pray. This passage confirms it, and tells me that it’s OK: God the Holy Spirit does know, and He takes over and gets the message across. I don’t hear it, or see it, and it does not result in my speaking in some other language. It is the Spirit of God, interceding before the Throne of God, on behalf of a Child of God. And he identifies those children—all of them—as Saints. That’s pretty deep stuff. God declares that you are Holy before Him, and set apart for His Service. Take that seriously, please! It is a precious truth.
What can we do with all this? Perhaps the only result of this teaching is that, as believers, we may accept the truth that we have each individually been “born from above” as the literal children of God, through faith in His shed blood. We have been created anew in His likeness, and we should expect to begin seeing His attributes in our lives. We should expect to resemble our Father. He says we are already holy to Him, and we are each, individually, called to His service.
We are frustrated, as was Paul, by the sin that still so easily besets us, but we can recognize that God has made a separation between ourselves and that old “Sin nature”: He is no longer concerned with it. He wants our new nature to come walk with Him, and learn His ways.
We can trust in God’s Holy Spirit to continue to lead us, and comfort us as we struggle and learn, and as we are grieved by the sin in ourselves and in the World. But we can also live in Hope, looking forward to our final release, relief and reward, in Him.
Lord Jesus, make real in our hearts the truth of Your Word, and teach us to live by faith. We look to You, moment by moment, for our strength and sustenance, as we live by faith in Your Name.