"For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs---heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory". - Romans 8:14-17 NIV
"Josh* will come with his foster carer to your home on Wednesday morning; they will both stay for the day and then, before dinner, she will go home and leave him with you. Does that sound OK?”
And with that phone call we were plunged into the fearful, messy, beautiful, messy world of adoption. Our nine month journey of training, interviews, residentials, home visits, angst, more interviews, and waiting led to this moment when we anticipated Josh’s “coming home.” In due time, Josh would be transferred from one family to another, become a Proctor, and receive all the privileges and responsibilities according to his new status.
We see the equivalent of the word adoption, in this context, in five places in the New Testament; all in Paul’s letters (Rom 8:15, 8:23 and 9;4; Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5). Uihothesia is the Greek word translated in our King James, NIV, NRSV, NASB and ESV Bibles as adoption. Strong’s Greek Dictionary tells us it’s a compound word derived from 2 other words: uihos (“son”, the same word used to describe Jesus throughout the Gospels) and tithēmi (“to place”). So uihothesia literally means “to place as a son” - to make him who was not a son into a son. This single word gives us some remarkable insights into our status as children of God:
The writers of Scripture make no distinction, linguistically, between Jesus and believers regarding their status before God the Father. The Father boasts over his beloved uihos in Luke 3:22 (the same word used in the compound uihothesia Paul uses in Romans), Galatians, and Ephesians to describe the purpose of our adoption. Think about that for a moment - God the Father, while being in perfect, fulfilling, mutual, coeternal and consubstantial relationship with the Spirit and the Son, with no need for more children, still desires to make of us sons and daughters as though we were his own. This is why Paul can go on, in Rom 8:16, to speak of us being co-heirs with Christ to share in his glory. Indeed, Roman law (with which Paul’s readers would have been familiar) made provision for a natural son to be “disowned”, placed outside the family order and the line of inheritance. Roman adoption law had no such provision. Once you were in, you were in, and the adoptive father was committed to bestowing all the blessings of family, present and future, upon the adoptee. “No power of hell, no scheme of man/can ever pluck me from his hand” as Townend & Getty wrote.
It is God who takes the initiative in an adoption. Tithēmi suggests a passive “placing" whereby the thing placed has little influence in the event. Just as Chantal & I chose Josh to be placed into our family, just as Josh as an infant had no influence in the decision, so the Father chooses us to be his children. Yet, the Spirit who "brought about [our] adoption" we receive (Gk. lambanō, “take, get hold of”) not passively but by actively embracing and laying hold of our new identity as sons and daughters. Consider this - our understanding and embracing of our position, our destiny, our authority as co-heirs and co-regents (2 Tim 2, Rev 20) with Christ will, to an extent, determine the degree to which the reality of that position and destiny is made evident in our lives.
When was the last time you heard and received the whisper of God over your life - “my child”?
Last week, while I was driving, I glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw Josh grinning back at me. He was exhausted from hyper-stimulation and sleep-deprivation (who are these parents?!) after a worship conference where the 10,000 Fathers guys were ministering, and his defenses were down. He grinned his delight that he had his Daddy all to himself for a few hours. His smile broke me, as it has so many times before, and I heard the Father whisper to me, “I love it when you smile at me, Oli. Do it more”.
As pastors, let us give our people the vocabulary to smile at Father God. Let us receive his smile in return, secure in the knowledge that we are forever chosen, forever his children, forever his heirs. Not by any effort of our own, but simply because his love and grace compels him to make children of us.
Oli graduated 10,000 Fathers in November 2016. Oli and his wife, Chantal (who will graduate in May 2018), serve their local church in worship, leadership and discipleship. They live in northern England.
*Name changed for anonymity