25 February 2013
The radical imagery of adoption
God’s adoptive grace not only forms but also shapes His family, writes Marijke Hoek…
Adoption. It’s part of the grand plan. It’s key to the love narrative. “In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:5). In the New Testament, the ‘adoption’ metaphor is uniquely used by Paul. The apostle’s ‘spirit of adoption’ imagery describes salvation (Romans 8:15). Grounded in God’s initiative and Christ’s sacrifice, we now have a secure relationship with the Father through the Son. The ‘adoption’ metaphor opens the window on a rich family motif: sons, Father, children, heirs, co-heirs, firstborn among many brothers (8:14-29). All in all, it reflects Paul’s relational understanding of the gospel. Furthermore, ‘adoption’ (huiothesia) is a great way to communicate his consistent message that God is creating one people composed of Jew and Gentile. It’s a radical piece of imagery that portrays the egalitarian character of salvation. All need to be adopted. All can be part of God’s family and all will receive a rich heritage.
Paul’s ‘adoption’ term is probably borrowed from the Greco-Roman law and custom, which concerned the adoption of adults in familes. For the Roman world, as for Paul, adoption is not just a change of a legal status, but also the experience of being favoured.
You can hear it in Ephesians 1: “We were chosen; predestined according to His plan; included in Christ.” Favour indeed. God’s love initiated the adoption. Jesus signed our adoption papers with his blood. No wonder Paul includes the ‘Abba, Father’cry as an expression of our assurance. This passionate cry is the response of the heart to the divine work of our adoption. We know for sure we belong to Him and His family.
At the time, the family structure formed the bedrock of society. Following the adoption, the development of the adoptee takes place in a new set of relations, according to new values, and is highly dependent on the family environment in order to succeed. So, the metaphor gives foundational images for life: being placed in God’s family; the gaining of a new identity; the re-socialisation in terms of new family values; the understanding of vocation and being invited to a new future.
The notion of adoption is also rooted in the Old Testament where the theme of adoptive sonship derives from the idea of God’s election of Israel as His chosen people (eg Exodus 4:22-23). “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son… I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love” (Hosea 11:1-4). The notion of adoption is found in the lives of Esther and Moses. The adoptive heart can de detected in the parable told in Ezekiel 16 about God’s dealing with a nation in which the prophet takes care of an abandoned baby. No wonder James describes the care for orphans as the pure religion the Father accepts (James 1:27). The God who places the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6) inspires His family to do the same. His adoptive grace not only forms but also shapes His family.
Ephesians speaks of the Father’s pleasure to adopt. It thrills Him to add new members to the family. It is a joy to invite people to a new future. No longer orphans but heirs.
I know something of that pleasure when I listen to the children of Kampala Children’s Centre of which I am a trustee. Kids without a family find a home, a mother who cares for them, education, food, clothing, play, siblings, faith, Christ, joy, a hope and a future. You can hear it in their introduction: “Hi, I am Destiny, and when I grow up I want to be a dancer and a nurse.” Closer to home, many kids and youngsters in the UK need a family. They need a life-changing environment rooted in the character of God where they are chosen, included and favoured.
In a culture of abandonment and fractured family life, we need to hear what the Spirit of adoption is saying to us - individally and collectively. May the scriptures speak to our hearts, inspire and empower us to be a God-sent response. Let’s pray along with Paul:
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen us with power through his Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. And I pray that we, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:14-20).