Paul uses the image of adoption five times in his writings. Once describing the adoption of Israel by God (Romans 9:4) and 4 times describing the adoption of pagans into his family (Romans 8:1523; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5).
But what does Paul mean by being adopted by God? The answer to this query is more complicated than we’d suppose from contemporary adoption practices.
Adoption within the Roman world
Today’s adoption is often for infants or young children, normally as a consequence of an inability to have children or to offer a house for youngsters who wouldn’t otherwise have a loving family. But adoption was completely different in roman world from the primary century.
At that point and place, adoption was all about securing an heir. Among the Roman aristocracy, families were generally small, child mortality was high, and the absence of a son to inherit a fortune was not unusual.
Adoption provided a method of preserving the family name and property when a natural son was not available.
There are certain elements of Roman adoption which might be particularly relevant to Paul’s use of the word adoption. First, as mentioned above, adoption was about inheritance. The reason for the adoption was to offer an heir when one was not otherwise available.
Only free Roman residents may very well be legally adopted. Non-citizens and slaves couldn’t be adopted. However, a slave may very well be freed after which adopted as a freedman.
If a slave were owned by someone aside from the one who freed him, he would first must be bought. And when the acquisition price was paid, the slave may very well be let out.
When an individual was adopted, they got a latest name, the surname of the family into which they were adopted. If the adopted person had not previously been the top of the family, he contributed nothing to the adopted family.
However, if he was the top of his original family, anything that got here with him would change into the property of his latest father. So adoption mainly meant a fresh start in life.
Paul uses the term adoption shouldn’t be a straightforward adoption of 1 Roman citizen by one other. Instead, it focuses on the adoption of 1 who was a slave and who should be redeemed and free of slavery before adoption.
Sin shouldn’t be used here to mean individual acts of disobedience. Rather, sin embodies our fallen human nature.
We weren’t free to decide on our own future. We were slaves and had no prospect of escaping this bondage. Although we had limited freedom to direct our lives, in the long run we were still slaves to sin, owned and controlled by this nature.
Redeemed and let out
Romans 6:17-18confirming that we were slaves to sin, he says that we at the moment are free of this slavery of sin.
1st century Revelation 5:9heavenly hosts sang about Jesus: “Worthy art thou to take the book and open its seals, because thou wast slain, and by thy blood thou hast purchased men for God from every tribe and tongue and folks and nation.”
God did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. He paid the worth for our freedom to our former master. And he set us free.
Adopted to God’s Family
As noted within the introduction, Paul uses the phrase “adoption as son” five times in his writing. We weren’t originally born into God’s family as little kids. We were slaves of one other master. But God, who purchased our freedom, took us into his family.
We are not any longer outside and looking out inside. We at the moment are close members of God’s family. In Romans 8:15, Paul said that “The Spirit you’ve got received has caused you to be adopted as sons. And through Him we cry: “Abba, Father”.
Abba is the Aramaic word for father. According to the Vines Expository Dictionary, that is the word a young child would use to explain their father, making it the equivalent of our “daddy.”
While God’s love extends to the entire world (John 3:16), it is very given to those that at the moment are members of His family, His beloved children.
In the Roman world, adoption was primarily for inheritance. It isn’t any different within the adoption into the family of God, which we have now experienced. Romans 8:17 he tells us that “if we’re children, we’re heirs – heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.“
But this adoption as heirs differs from the Roman adoption of an heir. In the Roman world, inheritance occurred only after the death of the owner of the property to be inherited. But we’re heirs of God without his death.
This legacy is now something we sit up for. In Ephesians 1:14Paul tells us that the indwelling Holy Spirit is “the pledge of our inheritance until the redemption of those that are God’s property.”
Our inheritance awaits not God’s death, but ours. Today we’re experiencing only a foretaste of what awaits us. But when our redemption is complete, we are going to fully experience the inheritance prepared for us.
The idea of being joint-heir or joint-heir with Christ seems a bit strange at first. Surely our place within the everlasting kingdom shouldn’t be similar to Jesus’ place, which might mean a standard inheritance.
But as believers, we’re in Christ. And in Christ his experience becomes ours. Now we take part in his life. And we will probably be for eternity. So, as we’re in Christ, we could be joint-heirs with Him.
Putting all of it together
Paul’s use of adoption images is most evident in Galatians 4:4-7.
But when the appointed time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we may be adopted to sonship.
Because you might be His sons, God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of His Son, the Spirit that cries out, “Abba, Father.” So you are not any longer a slave, but a toddler of God; and since you might be his child, God has also made you an heir.
This passage begins with our redemption from the slave market, results in adoption, becoming beloved members of His family, and ends with becoming heirs of God.
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