Adopted as God’s children (Ephesians 1:5)
“And he has constituted us as children by Yeshua the Messiah,” (Aramaic version in plain English Ephesians 1:5a)
“Having marked us out beforehand for adoption through Jesus Christ to himself” (Darby Translation Ephesians 1:5a)
We all know what adoption means in Western society and culture. Embedded in the term is somebody from one family legally becoming a member of another family. In the New Testament, it is used of God engrafting human beings who by faith come into relationship with Jesus Christ, into becoming members of His own family, i.e. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The average person in most western cultures straightforwardly understands this. However, there is a little more to it than that westernised sanitised shallow statement.
LEGAL ADOPTION AS PER COVENANT
When the New Testament talks of Christians being adopted in to God’s family, we are talking of covenant language. Christians refer to the Hebrew Scriptures as, “The Old Testament,” or better still, “The Old Covenant.” The New Testament is aka “The New Covenant.” “Cutting Covenant,” though none existent in western culture where covenants are replaced by legal contracts with riders, sanctions and expensive bills, is still entered into in certain parts of the world where written contracts, caveats, signatures, and expensive lawyers are not known. The Bible is a book about covenants. If a person is to seek the full revelation and meaning of both Testaments, one cannot sidestep the issue of defining exactly what a covenant is. It becomes compulsory reading.
A covenant is where two parties or more (and a party could be a single human being all the way up to a nation of millions) swear allegiance, relationship maintenance and support in certain situations defined by the covenant made. The situation may be political, familial, or even militarily protecting one in favour of agricultural favours from the other. A covenant is made with vows and conditions that would bind the party’s together. There would also be curses on each party if anybody from either side broke any of the covenantal promises. One member of each party, usually the senior member – but not always – would make a cut on the palms of their hands, or wrists and join hands together, mixing their blood as a sign of deep commitment. Not all covenants are blood covenants, but blood covenants by their very nature and language are extremely serious and binding. Covenants come out of relationship and are rarely made hastily.
The history and notes of David Livingstone ploughing his way through Africa and then after being presumed lost, being sought after by Sir Henry Stanley are filled with references to Blood Covenants made with African tribes and chiefs as they plodded across what was then the dark Continent. Livingstone cut covenant with people to ensure safety as well as protection across the jungle routes, while Stanley later made covenants with many of the same people to ensure that he too could be kept safe while searching for the lost Doctor.
Let us assume that a man called “John” was the chief of one party. Let us assume I am a member of John’s tribe. I encounter a situation where I need help and I am away from my family members. I go to meet a member of the second party that John had entered into covenant with. Because I was “in John,” People from the other party would acknowledge that I was, by “adoption,” a member of their tribe and they would not – indeed they could not – refuse me help without breaking the Covenant. Adoption is a term most fundamental to blood covenant.
COVENANT LANGUAGE CLARIFIES BIBLICAL TERMINOLOGY
By this extremely brief reference to the culture of covenant, so common and part of social culture in certain parts of the world; we gain insight into the subject of being a Christian by faith. It adds a postscript to the term we discussed earlier, namely the status of being “in Christ.” We immediately have clarifying thoughts of being in Him by covenant and being “adopted” into God’s protective family. In scripture, adoption is merely one of several family-related terms used to explain different aspects of the process of salvation and its ongoing benefits to the believer. God is the Father of Christ, and through the saviour He is the Father of our new birth. He is a father who kindly and graciously adopts believers in Christ into his family and grants them all the privileges of being heirs of His salvation. Salvation is light years more than forgiveness of sins and deliverance from condemnation, no matter how incredible those things are.
THE ALLROUND RELEVANCE OF “ADOPTION” IN GOD’S SAVING PROCESS
The Greek word for adoption literally means to “place as a son” and is used only by the apostle Paul in the New Testament. He mentions adoption five times in his writings. In Romans 9:4 Paul refers to the Old Testament idea of Israel’s special position as the children of God and says, “Theirs is the adoption as sons.” This tells us that although “adoption,” per se is not mentioned in the Old Testament, the spirit of the meaning is very much present in those first thirty-nine books of scripture concerning Israel’s relationship with God. The remaining four references describe how New Testament believers become children of God through His gracious choice.
The full scope of God’s work of salvation past, present and future is seen in the significance of the word “adoption.” The verse we are camping on at the moment, i.e. Ephesians 1:5 explains how God determined the believer’s adoption as a child of His from eternity, that is, before time began. It states plainly that God “predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ.” This adoption, therefore, is not the result of any merit earned on the part of the believer, but solely the outworking of God’s love and grace (Ephesians 1:7). The present reality of the believer’s adoption into the family of God is a literal release from the slavery of sin and the law, giving the believer a new position as a free heir of God. Entering into salvation brings the rights and privileges of free sonship in relationship to God: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father'” (Romans 8:15 ). Paul tells the Galatians that Christians were redeemed from the law so that they might receive adoption as sons. Because of this redemption, the Holy Spirit comes into the believer’s heart crying, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:5). The intimacy of a relationship with God the Father in contrast to the ownership of slavery is a remarkable feature of the biblical definition of salvation.
Like many aspects of salvation, there is an eschatological component of adoption. Believers “wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23 ). The full revelation of the believer’s adoption is freedom from the corruption present in the world. Being a member of God’s family includes the ultimate privilege of being like him (1 John 3:2 ) and being conformed to the glorious body of Christ ( Philippians 3:21 ). This is part of the promised inheritance for all God’s children ( Romans 8:16-17 ). In the light of all this we declare adoption a most marvellous truth for inculcating a genuine peace of heart and mind in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
ADOPTION AS PER ENTRY INTO THE FAMILY WAY
Think of Him who was the eternal son, made flesh. Jesus of Nazareth lived a perfect life. Jesus did not ever think evil, plan evil, dwell on evil or commit evil. His Heavenly Father utterly approved of Him in the most positive and affirmative manner. His obedience to the plan and precepts of the Father’s instructions and directions was absolute and total. Hebrews tells us that Jesus Christ was tempted in every way such as us, “yet without sin.” When Jesus asked the highly critical Pharisaic public who had been studying His every word and move, “Which of you convicts me of sin?” there was utter silence from His most severe and murderous critics. From the combination of these biblical statements we take the ground to declare that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life. If the “lamb of God that takes away the sins of the whole world,” had any sins of His own to account for it would have disqualified Him from dying for the sins of anybody else.
At the age of thirty, Jesus had seen no miracle, preached no sermon, and led nobody to faith. This writer utterly rejects some of the legends and stories that the academics of Roman Catholicism suggest of Christ performing miracles in his childhood. Stories like the one promulgated in some Catholic circles concerning Jesus in his youth, raising a teenage friend of His from the dead purely to prove that He did not push Him off a roof in order to kill him, I personally find ridiculous. It is an incredibly important observation to make that Jesus did not, would not, and I would add, even could not minister until three things had happened.
- WATER BAPTISM. Jesus had to identify with fallen humanity and submit Himself to John’s message and be baptised in water. John’s baptism, of course, was a baptism of repentance. However, Jesus had nothing to repent of (1 Peter 2:22), so why should He be baptised at all?
By being baptised in water and by the descent of the Holy Spirit and thereafter His remaining upon Jesus, and also by the Father’s pronouncement, it verified to John that Jesus was the Lamb of God sent to take away the sins of the world, a fact that the Baptist declared clearly. The baptism of Jesus, performed by John the Baptist, showed the people that were present, that the voice of the Father, the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the response of the Son of God Himself were all concurring together of one mind and one purpose. It was to declare that Messiah had arrived and had come to the moment when His life’s ministry was to commence in earnest. They are seen as three different persons, knowing that the Hebrew scriptures had declared that, “The Lord our God is one Lord.” Christ’s baptism in water and the experience that immediately followed was necessary before any Messianic ministry could begin.
- SPIRIT BAPTISM. This was the experience immediately after. The descent of the Spirit empowering and anointing Jesus for His ministry was the fulfilment of that last phrase of Daniel 9:24 (See Acts 10:38). I would like to call this the point where the man, Jesus of Nazareth, was also immersed in the Holy Spirit. However Scripture does not use this appellation at all when referring to Jesus. The truth however, surely must be that the experience of the descent of the Spirit in the form of a dove and the fact that the Spirit remained on Him, were all necessitated for Christ’s ministry as it is necessitated by fallen mankind in the same criteria of ministry via the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Jesus was fully human, and fully God, His life was perfect and sinless YET even He could not minister without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2 it was a mighty wind, tongues of fire, and a gush of tongues of various languages from the mouth. It was a crisis moment, a one off. With Christ, in the same manner, it was the heavens opening, the wings of the heavenly dove descending upon Jesus, and the voice of the Father declaring His approval of His family member from heaven itself. Even though it was a one off experience the rest of His life was lived under the anointing and the empowering that was imparted at that moment (Acts 10:38. The anointing referred to was imparted at the Jordan.). In the same manner the entire Christian life is to be lived under the anointing and enduement of power that comes with the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
- SEEING WHAT HEAVENLY FATHER WAS DOING AND HEARING WHAT HE WAS SAYING –CONTINUEING IN HIS WORD. It was not only the one off anointing of the Spirit that was essential, but living under the power of the Holy Spirit was also a prerequisite. The water baptism was an exemplary act of Christ to be emulated by all sinners converted to the faith, an example that was to be emulated and experienced every believer that has ever lived. That is the first outward demonstration of knowing Christ, a wilful choice to be baptised. The descent of the Spirit was a precedent of a gift from the Father to the Son that was to be repeated in and with every Christian believer. As the Father sent the Spirit to rest on Christ, in the same way Jesus Christ is the baptizer in the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God, sent by Christ, falls on men and women for exactly the same reason that the Father sent the Spirit to rest on Christ. My point from these observations is that if Jesus Himself dared not commence ministry until He had enjoyed a supernatural experience of an encounter with the Holy Spirit, how dare we attempt the same kind of ministry without the same process. It isn’t the way of the heavenly family. We are made partakers of the divine nature by the exceeding precious promises of God
The temptation of Christ, and His successful victory over such a temptation caused Him to return to society in the “power” of the Spirit. The ultimate lesson is that human beings cannot minister for God without the power of the Holy Spirit resting on their lives. Jesus said that He only spoke what He heard His Father say and did what He saw His Father do. The miracles He performed, therefore, were miracles that His Father did through means of the Holy Spirit through the faith of human person. As the King who rules the kingdom of God, as the son of David who was the rightful heir to the Davidic throne, He was the son of God. Father Son and Holy Spirit were the complete and harmonious family of heaven.
The purpose of the King in His earthly mission was to pay for sin and to bring others into the joy of God’s family. This is plainly the entire purpose of spreading the word of God in order to expand God’s kingdom.
By faith in Christ, we are born of the Spirit of God. Jesus was also born (literally and physically) of the Spirit of God, yet still required the enduement of power from heaven by means of being “anointed” – or should we say “filled” – or should we even say “baptised” in the Holy Spirit. Just as the Spirit falling on the house of Cornelius settled the issue with Peter that they were all adopted members of the family (even though they were gentiles), the process of faith, water baptism and Spirit baptism, followed by a life of obedience is validation to this world of adoption ( see Acts chapters 10 and 11).
Justification by faith is therefore a complete transaction, it cannot be added to or subtracted from. There are no degrees in justification. Justification before God is a biblical term for an absolute resolution of anything and everything to do with sin and evil, by action or by thought, by motive or by inward selfishness that stands between a sinner and Almighty God. If one is justified by faith in Christ one is declared clean, without blame and spotless. The battle and goal of life is to walk in that justified state and to stay clean. The account is settled, and was settled before the foundation of the world.
Nevertheless, having settled the account of a sinful state, i.e. sins committed against the Father, one then has to function in a Godly manner whilst the account is in the black. It may or may not be possible to hereafter walk in a sinless manner, but we MUST be blameless. If we cannot become sinless, we are called to be blameless. That’s what faith in Christ resolves. The power to “walk the world in white,” comes by no other way that walking in the power of the Holy Spirit under the grace of forgiveness that is absolute. Short accounts with God, meaning confession of any wrong doing quickly is a profound secret of the Christian life.
When seen in their proper light these issues are revelatory. Lights are switched on in the inner man. We all need faith in Christ. This is what saves us. Faith that is given us from God to believe that Christ is who He said He was and that His death, burial and resurrection was for us. It brings home to the heart of all believers that their birth in the Spirit was a direct act of God in our lives. The issue thereafter is not sins and forgiveness, but obedience and power, and therefore water baptism is a statement of what has already happened, not a part of the saving process per se, but a statement of the transaction with heaven that has already taken place. Christians are baptised in water because they are already saved, not in order to be saved. Salvation is a thing of the Spirit effected purely by faith in Christ’s atoning death. To suggest that one needs to be immersed in water to “aid” being saved or to “complete” becoming saved can only be seen as nonsense; in effect blasphemously claiming that what Christ achieved on the cross was insufficient. We are justified by faith, not by immersion in water. Obedience to the model of the life of Christ, requires and anointing and infusion of the power of the Holy Spirit. The cross of Christ is about forgiveness. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is purely about power.
It must always be kept in mind, that even though Christ had told the twelve that they were all clean – apart from Judas Iscariot – and even though He breathed on them after His resurrection and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus still “commanded” the disciples (some translations say He “ordered them”) not to even think of preaching until they had been baptised in the Holy Spirit.
- God’s Covenants & the Relevancy of the Old Testament for Christians (924jeremiah.wordpress.com)
- An Analysis and Review of Kingdom Through Covenant.1 (memoirandremains.wordpress.com)
- Ephesians Chapter One- Part Three (mcfalger.com)
- Do you know which Covenant you are in? (liftingjesus.org)
- What’s the Difference Between the Old Covenant & New Covenant in the Bible? (meanlittleboy2.wordpress.com)
- The Baptism of Jesus (travismikhailblog.wordpress.com)