Consider 5 things you are grateful for.
Here is something that people who research these things tell us: writing down 5 things we are grateful for each week builds our joy and happiness. Just taking the time to write down 5 things we are grateful for, which refocuses our lives, helps us to remember the good in the midst of struggle or pain or just in the busyness of life where we let gratefulness get swallowed up by that busyness.
Deep in the story of God there is something that causes us to overflow with gratitude. Overflow with gratitude because we all have a deep longing to be wanted, to be loved, to be accepted. We work hard at being wanted, loved and accepted. Depending on the era you grew up you knew the importance of using the right language—was something cool, rad, groovy, bad, awesome—you knew the right language and you know the fall out for using the wrong language. When it comes to clothing, bell bottoms or skinny jeans? Dark colors or light colors? Jeans or Khakis? And on and on it goes. You dress right, you speak right for whatever group you want to think you are awesome, cool, groovy—whatever. And just so we are clear: this longing to be wanted, loved, accepted doesn’t go away.
Deep in the story of God there is something that causes us to overflow with gratitude. The very words of God from Ephesians 1
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:3–6 NIV)
Deep in the story of God there is something that causes us to overflow with gratitude: he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ. Adopted through Jesus Christ: wanted.loved.accepted.adopted by God. It is an adoption that is based in what Christ has done, not what we have done so it is a love, an acceptance that will never go away, nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Adopted. Stop for a moment and think about your favorite adoption story. On the card where you wrote down the 5 things you are grateful for, just write down one word that reflects that story…. For me the word is O’Hare” It was at the O’Hare airport that I saw a group of adoptive parents explode with joy when their children were brought to them for the first time from overseas, it was an amazing scene.
When we think of adoption our minds typically go to an infant, but when Paul writes these words that kind of adoption was not on his mind, Roman adoption looked a lot different. Tim Keller or Redeemer Presbyterian Church brings us into Paul’s world. Let’s start in that great place, the word for adoption in Greek, it’s huiothesia. Thesia means to make something and huios means son: to make you a son. But it is more than that: it is a legal term in Roman days that means you’ve been transferred from one family to another. Once you were part of that family, now you are a part of this family.
This whole transfer deal is because Roman adoption was not about infants, it was about adults. This was the setting: A man who is the head of an estate has no heir. He doesn’t want to see his estate broken up. He sees another man, generally a young man he respects and admires. He goes to him and says, “I’ll make you my son. I want to adopt you so then everything I have will be yours.”
When the rich man would adopt his heir, immediately several things happen legally. Number one, all of the new son’s old obligations are canceled. All debts are canceled. All legal obligations are gone. No longer does he owe anybody anything but his new father. Secondly, this son becomes as wealthy as his father. He immediately gets the father’s name and immediately becomes the heir of everything the father has. Thirdly, the father becomes liable for everything the son does. If the son does something stupid, the father pays. If the son does something ridiculous, the father makes up.
Here’s what we need to get about this adoption: it is not primarily a change of nature, it’s a change of status. It was a legal change, and it’s the highest thing possible.
When Paul talks about God adopting you, there are many other things God gives you in Christ, but this change in status is the highest. Nothing can be higher than this. Some people understand Jesus died on the cross to secure our forgiveness. That’s great. That’s true, but this is higher than that. For not only does Jesus on the cross get rid of and pardon our sins, but his perfect record is transferred into our account. Not only are we not liable for our sins, but we now stand as if we had been righteous. In God’s sight you’re righteous. In God’s sight you’re a hero. You’ve accomplished all the things Jesus accomplished. Keller puts it this way,
It’s one thing for the governor to pardon a criminal and to say, “You don’t have to be executed.” It’s another thing for a governor to give that criminal a medal and a great job in his administration. It would be far greater for the governor to adopt this man into his family, give him his own name. The governor makes him an heir of all his wealth. The governor brings him into his table, brings him into his home, and brings him into his living quarters.
Don’t you see? The highest possible thing God could do for anyone would be to adopt.
Slow this down a moment.
Not only is there no punishment for our sin—the kind of punishment that would separate us from the love of God, from being accepted by him, wanted by him. We no longer despair in our lives that there will be a time when our Father will walk away from us because we haven’t pulled off what he wanted. We no longer live in fear that our Father will not want us because we are not good enough.
For all of us—which is all of us— who long to be wanted.loved.accepted and never have to fear that love, that acceptance, that joy of being wanted will disappear comes this good news: when we accept the sacrifice Jesus made for us with a believing heart then we are adopted by God, we are adopted children of God, transferred from one family to another. From the moment we are transferred into the family of God we are forever loved, forever wanted, forever accepted, forever adopted.
As God adopts us as his children he pledges himself to us, promises himself to us. As a bride pledges herself to her groom, as the groom pledges himself to his bride with every promise made—the promises to love, to honor, to cherish, to stay for better for worse, for richer for poorer, with every promise made bride and groom pledge themselves. So God with every promise pledges himself to us.
Stand up for a moment, imagine that you are at your wedding ceremony. It’s time to make the vows. Only standing before you is not your future spouse, but God, the great king of the universe, one before whom it is only right we bow and give our all, he takes your hands and and begins to speak. “I pledge myself to you, I give myself to you, I promise to rescue you from the sin that destroys you, I promise to turn your heart of stone into a heart of flesh, I promise there is no condemnation when you are in my son, Jesus, I promise that when you close your eyes for the last time that I will be there to welcome you home, I promise that the life you are living right now is but the title and cover page of a story so great you really can’t imagine it, I promise that I have an inheritance for you that will not perish spoil or fade, I promise… God, the great king of the universe make promises and with every promise he pledges himself to us.
Wanted. Loved. Accepted. Adopted.
Transferred from one family to another. Let’s round all of this out with a parable, one that gets its inspiration for the Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.
Imagine Chris, a day laborer living in a great kingdom. Chris never dreamed that the emperor knew that he existed…so what an honor it would be to be just see the emperor—this is something he could tell his children, his grandchildren..that great day when he saw the emperor. But then the unimaginable happened—the emperor sent word to this Chris that he wanted him for his son, he wanted him to be part of the family, he wanted him to become one who will rule and reign over the kingdom. From a human perspective this would be odd, Chris had nothing the emperor could want, indeed, he would probably be an embarrassment at the court. After all, he didn’t know the ways of the court, he didn’t know how the government worked, he had nothing to commend him for this position. Why him? Certainly this was a mistake.
But the call is real, the the emperor wants this common Chris as his son. Chris, how knows and owns how high and exalted the emperor is suddenly at a crossroads. To see the emperor once, to perhaps even have a word with him, that would be amazing, a story to tell. But that’s not what’s happening. The emperor is calling Chris let go of his present life. To give up all the things that he is used to, the little comforts that he believes are so necessary to life, the things that he has held precious, an entire way of life actually so that he can become a child of the king. But not just a way of life, Chris is going to have to give up his own identity and take on the identity of being a son of the Emperor. Kierkegaard writes,
The day laborer says, “Such a thing is too high for me, I cannot grasp it; to be perfectly blunt, to me it is a piece of folly.”
It would be a wonderful thing to have the king give him some money, maybe a letter he could show to his friends, a favor from time to time, but to actually be a son of the king, to move into such a place seems like folly; it is too much. Chris wants to keep his own life and get a bit of help from time to time, not change his identity, not become part of the king’s family, not move into the king’s house as the king’s own child. But that is what the king wants, what the king longs for, he wants Chris to move into castle, to learn the ways of the king, live the ways of the king, it’s what the king longs for and what Chris needs. Todd Billings in his book Union with Christ writes,
…so it is with God, the King. Yet adoption by the King is such a radical notion, we resist it. We would rather have an occasional brush with God’s presence, or a relic of his solidarity with us, so that God can be an added to our identity. But God wants more than that; he wants our lives, our adopted identity. …few things are more countercultural than this process of adoption—losing your life for the sake of Jesus Christ, to find your life again by being a adopted child of God.
Adoption by God: a radical notion. The process of adoption: countercultural as we lose our lives to gain them, to gain a new identity as part of a new family. Radical, countercultural and yet here is this amazing truth: the high King, the Lord of the universe desires for us to be his children. To move into his house, and in his house to learn and live the ways of the king. And it is in being connected to this king, learning the ways of the king, living the ways of the king that we finally find life.
And it’s when we move into the king’s house as his adopted children that we begin to live the ways of the king. Live the ways of the king out of gratitude for being adopted. We don’t live these ways fearing that is we fail we will no longer be wanted or loved or accepted. We don’t fear that failure means that God will walk away from us. No, for as Paul says in Romans 8.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1–2 NIV11)
There is no condemnation and more, our life as adopted children of God is empowered by God’s Spirit. This is not a do it yourself project, learning to live over our entire lives into our new identity as adopted sons and daughters of the king is something that is empowered by God’s Spirit.
How does the Spirit do it? Think about how this happens in a family. You live in the house, you hear the family stories, you talk with your parents, you share meals together you serve each other and you serve people outside your family. You see how the parents in the family take care of the family, using the resources they have through jobs to feed, clothe and care for the family and you see how those parents also display generosity to others by giving away some of those resources to make the world a better place. As all of these things happen for better or for worse you are shaped into a person who knows and lives the ways of the family. Here’s something we know about families. While all members of the family may contribute resources at some level it is the adults, the parents that especially know they have a responsibility to make sure there is food on the table, a roof that covers them, that the kids in the family, the needy in the family are cared for, the parents, the adults in the family know they have a particular family responsibility to use their resources to make sure that the family thrives. To not do so takes us outside not just of how we should be treating our families, but outside of what it means to live as a person of the gospel. Paul writes to Timothy and says,
“if someone doesn’t provide for their own family, and especially for a member of their household, they have denied the faith. They are worse than those who have no faith.” (1 Timothy 5:8 CEB)
At the same time, the adults in the family use the resources of the family in such a way to assure that they have resources to bring healing to the brokenness of the world. The parents make sure that the family doesn’t consume so much that it can’t be amazingly generous in a world that needs great generosity.
So here it is: It is not some secret sauce that makes us into people who live the ways of our family: it is simply living in the house and being part of the family day after day.
How does the Spirit shape our identity as adopted children of God? In the same way. We feast on the stories of God, we talk to the Father in prayer, we join in the family meal called the Lord’s Supper, we serve other members of the family and we serve outside the family. And we use our resources to both serve the family and give to those outside the family so the world becomes a better place. And like parents in that family we know that our first responsibility is to this family of God that God has made us a part of. We know we are responsible to make sure that the kids have what they need to thrive, that the needy members of the family are cared for, that there is a place to gather to worship, to learn, and to serve. But we also know that like good parents we don’t consume so much in our own family that we can’t be amazing generous to the world outside this family that needs great generosity.
So here is it. It is not some secret sauce that make us into people who live as adopted children of the great king. No, it is living in God’s house and enjoying every benefit, immersing ourselves in the ways of the family that we find the Spirit shaping and molding us into those who live as adopted children of the king. This is not a “put your nose to the grindstone and try harder” no this is a “Enjoy the benefits of being part of the family and immerse yourself in the ways and stories of the family” and you will live more and more in the ways of an adopted child of the king. And as we live these ways our gratitude becomes deeper and deeper toward the king.
Now remember, once you are adopted God sees you as his beloved child. Moving into the house is not a matter of getting God to accept you or like you, that’s Jesus work. But God does long for you to move in because he knows that it is only in his house that you can fully live out being his adopted child, only in his house will you have a fully and complete life.