Six Facts of Scandalous Grace, Pt 4: Adoption
What a toddler's lack of worry, anxiety, and fear teach us.
This is part 4 in our series, Six Facets of Scandalous Grace.
My Fundamental Identity
We began this six-part series in Ephesians 1 with the doctrine of predestination. Talk about scandalous grace! 😁 While we touched on the subject of sonship in that post, I want us to go a bit more deeply into that theme.
One reason is that, even if being a son or daughter of God isn’t the only biblical image for one’s identity as a believer, it is the fundamental image.
In his modern-day classic, Knowing God, the late J.I. Packer writes, “The entire Christian life has to be understood in terms of (adoption). Sonship must be the controlling thought—the normative category—at every point.”1 Packer goes on to state something without reservation or qualification that folks might find shocking, writing, “Adoption… is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification.”2
If sonship is the fundamental identity of the believer and our highest privilege, it would serve us well to marinate our hearts in the scandal of adopting grace.
A Disposition of Love
The apostle John marinated his own heart in grace, calling himself “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Amazingly, that designation is true for anyone who belongs to Jesus. But how many of us see ourselves that way? “I am the disciple whom Jesus loves.” Not just a disciple but the disciple—a fundamental, personal identity!
Rather than arrogance, feel John’s sense of sheer wonder as writes with humble joy in 1 John 3:1, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God!”
The Greek word translated “how great” is paptapos, which implies not only the size of something, but the kind, type, or variety of something. In Classical Greek, the word implies rarity, as if from another world. I think John is not only describing the massive scope of God’s love but is highlighting its otherworldly nature. It is not the kind of love we tend to expect or experience on earth. As an otherworldly love, it is a transformational love, which is why it is so crucial we come to grips with the centrality of our sonship.
A Practical Doctrine
Embracing the biblical teaching on spiritual adoption is profoundly practical for the daily life of every Christian. In particular, sonship addresses our fears, insecurities, and anxieties. This is the application Paul makes in Romans 8:15-16. In these two verses, Paul contrasts being a slave to fear versus having the peace of a trusting toddler when his big, strong Daddy is near.
The lesson for us is toddlers don’t worry. Maybe it is time for us to become children again. Actually, that is what every believer is—an adopted child of God.
15 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.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
When I think of fear in my life, there are several distinct categories that come to mind.
First is fear of uncontrollable outcomes. For example, waiting on a job application or a test result.
The second category is fear of people’s opinions. What will so and so think of me? What if I disappoint them? What if I overdress or underdress or say the wrong thing? What if I fail to meet their expectations?
The third category is fear of death and judgment.
In Romans 8, Paul assures us that adopted sons and daughters are no longer slaves to fear. You are not a spiritual orphan. You have an Abba, Father to whom you may cry and in whom you may trust. By trusting him, you are able to replace worry with peace.
If I had a worry scale for you to stand upon, what would you register? Let’s say 0-3 is low anxiety. Four to seven would be average with eight to ten excessive. Maybe you are off the charts when it comes to being a slave to fear.3
I get it. I know what it feels like to be off the charts.
But do you realize that when we are consumed with worry, we are forsaking the privileges of our sonship? Allowing ourselves to be enslaved to fear is to deny that we have a strong, wise, good, and loving Abba, Father.4
Do Not Worry
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus gave a very specific command, “Do not worry.” Such a statement has a similar weight of any of the other “do not” commands such as do not worship any other gods, do not make idols, do not misuse the Lord’s name, do not bear false witness, do not covet, do not kill. And do not worry.
So, what is the opposite of “do not?” Do.
But what is it that we are to do? Try harder to keep the rules? Try harder to not worry? No. That has never worked for me, either.
Commands to obedience—like the command do not worry—are applications of what it looks like to live as adopted sons and daughters who have a strong, wise, good, and loving Father.
The focus of biblical commands, including “do not worry,” is not about keeping rules. The commands (on one hand) show us how orphan-like we tend to live and (on the other) encourage and challenge us to trust God as Father.
I have a ten-year-old rescue dog named Butter whom we adopted after finding her under a car in our cul-de-sac. We lavish love on her, spoiling her to the point of letting her sleep on the sofa. Even though she is a treasured part of our family, Butter still exhibits “orphan tendencies.” When I give her a special dog biscuit, rather than eat it on the spot, she wanders away to hide it for later. There is something within her that still feels the need to hoard, as if I one day will cease to love and provide for her.
She isn’t an orphan. Why does she still live like one?
I could ask the same of myself, especially when I allow myself to be filled with fear, anxiety, and worry. But I don’t have to live that way. I have a Father whom I can trust.
You have heard of a worry wart, haven’t you? Think about the image. What is a wart? It is an unsightly skin growth that most folks prefer to hide or remove.
We can’t hide worry warts. The symptoms of sleeplessness, irritability, headaches, and tension in the back and shoulders are hard to mask.
Thankfully, worry warts and the symptoms they create can be removed by dissolving them with a special solution. You can’t get it over the counter or with a prescription. The same apostle who wrote about the “otherworldly love of God” goes on to reveal the solution in 1 John 4:18, “Perfect (otherworldly) love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
According to John, my fear of uncontrollable outcomes, my fear of people’s opinions, and my fear of death and judgment is a failure to believe my Father truly loves me.5
At this point there is good news, because upon a realization of how orphan-like I tend to be, I am presented with an extraordinary opportunity to dissolve the wart of worry. How? By confessing my anxious fears, resting in my Abba’s perfect plan, and believing he is sovereign, wise, good, and views me with delight as an object of his deepest affection.
Confessing, Resting, and Believing
Confessing, resting, and believing is possible because of the cross, where God proved his heart for his children by giving his own Son, Jesus, to suffer the judgment I deserved. By that act of perfect love, the way has been paved for sinners to be reconciled to God without fear.
Do you see what this means? Since his love is perfect, the Father cannot love us more and will not love us less. His love is perfect. It is complete, total, and filled to overflowing.
His promise is that when we confess, rest, and believe, our hearts will “runneth over” with his perfect love, casting out fear, and giving us peace beyond understanding as the beloved children of God.
Arise, My Soul, Arise
In 1742, in the midst of the First Great Spiritual Awakening in England and America, Charles Wesley wrote a hymn that reflects the heart of what it feels like to enter into spiritual adoption. It is titled Arise, My Soul, Arise. Here are a few of the stanzas that I trust will help you savor the promise of adopting grace.
Arise, my soul, arise! Shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding Sacrifice In my behalf appears.
Before the throne my Surety stands; My name is written on His hands.
Five bleeding wounds He bears, Received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; They strongly plead for me.
Forgive him, O forgive, they cry, Nor let that ransomed sinner die!
To God I’m reconciled, His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child, I can no longer fear.
With confidence I now draw nigh, And Father, Abba, Father, cry.
J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 209.
J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 213.
I realize there is a clinical form of anxiety and in no way intend to diminish the suffering of those afflicted.
The Lord is sovereign over all outcomes, working each detail of our lives with a redemptive purpose. The only opinion that matters is his. Nobody gets to define your identity except Jesus—and with his imputed righteousness, you are perfect in the sight of God. And because of his shed blood, there is no more condemnation for those in Christ.
Because of our natural human condition as spiritual orphans, the human soul grows worry warts from the viral influence of fear. Sadly, anxiety is natural. So, if you are a slave to fear, you are not alone. Everyone grows worry warts. But they can be dissolved.