What it Means to be Adopted into the Family of God (Romans 8:15-17)
How my God Father Made Me an Offer I Couldn’t Refuse
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
For he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. (Romans 3:26, New Living Translation)
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)
Adoption is how we access the rights and privileges of the New Covenant (the Kainos or Christ Covenant, see previous posts). When we accept the Lord Jesus the Christ as our personal savior, we become part of the heavenly family. When we do this, we are then entitled to certain rights and responsibilities as citizens of heaven. We need to understand a little about our new relationship if we are going to understand some more about being a new righteous creation.
When the Lord Jesus the Christ talked to the Jews, He talked to them about being His children through birth. To be a Jew, you had to be physically born a Jew from Jewish stock. This is why the Old Testament and the Gospels were concerned with genealogies. The rabbis were concerned about lineage. (Father God was concerned about this too, as the messiah had to come from both the house and the lineage of David. More about this later in the fall.) This is what Nicodemus was asking in John 3:4 about being born again. But when the Gentiles as a “race” was worldwide able to be part of the family of God at the Resurrection, Jesus talked about them as “adopted.” As Jesus talked to Nicodemus some more, He wasn’t talking about natural birth. (John 3:5-7)
(Whether you are a naturally born Jew or a Gentile, you must be born again from above. Dear reader, have you made that decision?)
God’s problem was how He could be consistent to offer salvation to the entire world if the only people who could be saved because of their birth were the Jews? The answer: adoption.
When Paul spoke of adoption, he was using a metaphor of an established Roman procedure that everyone knew. In the 21st century, we only understand it in part. But it had profound implications for allowing complete access to the riches of God’s family. I’m going to use to some technical terms here, but don’t freak out. For further study on Roman life see F. Lyall, ‘Roman Law in the Writings of Paul: Adoption’, Journal of Biblical Literature 88 (1969), 45(K)8.
Christians need to understand that the Roman adoption is a type and shadow of how we are removed from satan’s family and placed in the family of God. You and I were taken out of our previous state and placed in a new relationship of son and daughter to a new “paterfamilias”. Old debts were canceled, and you and I started a new life as part of a new family. From that time on the “paterfamilias” had the same control over his new “child” as he had over his natural offspring. Literally, “paterfamilias” means the “Father’s Household or Head of the House.”
Roman adoption was always rendered more serious and more difficult by the Roman patria potestas. The patria potestas was the father’s power over his family; that power was absolute. Fathers had the absolute power of control, and in the early days the power of life and death. A Roman son never came of age. No matter how old he was, he was still under the patria potestas, an absolute possession, and under the absolute control, of his father. Obviously this made adoption into another family very difficult and a very serious step.
In adoption a person had to pass from one patria potestas to another. He had to pass out of the possession and control of one father into the equally absolute control and possession of another. There were two steps. The first was known as “mancipatio,” and it was carried out by a symbolic sale, in which copper and scales were symbolically used. Three times the symbolism of sale was carried out. Twice the father symbolically sold his son, and twice he bought him back; and the third time he did not buy him back and thus the “patria potestas” was held to be broken.
After the sale there followed a ceremony called “vindicatio.” The adopting father went to the praetor, one of the Roman magistrates, and presented a legal case for the transference of the person to be adopted into his “patria potestas.” When all this was completed the adoption was complete. Clearly this was a serious and impressive step.
But it is the consequences of adoption which are most significant for the picture that is in Paul’s mind. There were four main consequences.
1. The adopted person lost all rights to his old family, and gained all the rights of a fully legitimate son in his new family. In the most literal sense, and in the most legally binding way, he got a new father.
2. It followed that he became heir to his new father’s estate. Even if other sons were afterwards born, who were real blood relations, it did not affect his rights. He was inalienably co-heir with them.
3. In law, the old life of the adopted person was completely wiped out. For instance, legally all debts were canceled; they were wiped out as though they had never been. The adopted person was regarded as a new person entering into a new life with which the past had nothing to do.
4. In the eyes of the law the adopted person was literally and absolutely the son of the new father. The adopted son acquired the right of succession and he could not be disinherited.
‘In Whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory’ (Eph. 1:13,14).
W. E. Ball translates the latter part of the passage: ‘Until the ransoming accomplished by the act of taking possession (of the inheritance)’:
‘When a slave was appointed heir, although expressly emancipated by the will which gave him the inheritance, his freedom commenced not upon the making of the will, nor even immediately upon the death of the testator, but from the moment when he took certain legal steps, which were described as “entering upon the inheritance”. This is “the ransoming accomplished by act of taking possession”. In the last words of the passage – “to the praise of His glory”, there is an allusion to a well-known Roman custom. The emancipated slaves who attended the funeral of their emancipator were the praise of his glory. Testamentary emancipation was so fashionable a form of posthumous ostentation, the desire to be followed to the grave by a crowd of freedmen wearing the “cap of liberty” was so strong, that very shortly before the time when St. Paul wrote, the legislature had expressly limited the number of slaves that an owner might manumit by will’.
The word slave (doulos) is mentioned some 130 times in the New Testament. In Romans chapter 8 and again in Galatians 3:13 and 4:5, God purchases us out of the slave market and removed from further sale. The Greek word for purchase is: exagorazo: To purchase out of the market. God purchases us out of the hands of slave master from whom we cannot escape into the hands of another master from whom we cannot escape (John 10:28.) Who would want to?
I know the foregoing was pretty technical, but I want to make the point that our adoption as children of God is a well thought out process by and should not be taken lightly. Secondly, the Jews and Gentiles at the time of Paul fully understood this phrasing because it was settled Roman law. Thirdly, I don’t know how more clearly God could demonstrate to you your new standing with Him is one of joint heir and not subjugation.
I can’t tell you how many hours I have spent in prayer before the altars of various churches, fasting, wailing, begging God to answer a prayer hoping He was in a good mood and my recent actions pleased Him. What I should have done was approached Him as a covenant adopted son and cut to the chase. I would have gotten prayers answered sooner.
I’m going to talked about the effects of a righteous God answering the prayers of His righteous children in the next installment.